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Why Do Voice Actors Work On Yaoi Drama CDs?

by Justin Sevakis,

"Minako Sempai" asks:

So this is something that I've always wondered about, most Yaoi manga tend to get adapted into drama cds or BL cds as some would like to call them. The male voice actors in these things (like Kamiya Hiroshi and Daisuke Ono) tend to be quite popular in anime fandom and have voiced many popular anime characters. Any reason why they lend their voices to these things? Is it to boost their popularity or to make extra cash?

Presumably straight voice actors take on gay roles for the same reason other straight actors take on gay roles, and why gay actors take on straight roles: because it's their job to act like someone they are not, and to pretend to do things they are not doing.

On-screen actors regularly have to make out with people they're not attracted to. All a voice actor has to do is say a few steamy lines and breathe heavily into a microphone, well away from human contact. Their character may do a whole host of things that they, themselves, are not into. The character could be evil, and could torture and kill people. Their character could be really weak-willed and stupid and let themselves be taken advantage of. None of that might line up with who the voice actor is, or who they want to be. But that doesn't matter, because they're an actor.

Anybody who has seriously studied acting can tell you that an actor's job is to empathize with their character, not judge them. Their job is to find the things within themselves that can bring that character to life. This can require them to do things -- sometimes physically -- that they might not want to do themselves. It is not real, and it is not them doing it. For them, it is work. Sometimes, it's very rewarding work.

Drama CDs have been around nearly as long as CDs. (I can't find evidence of drama LPs, but perhaps those existed too.) Often a manga publisher will commission a drama CD to see if there's enough of a fanbase to make an anime. Sometimes they're just made to supplement a franchise. They do sell, sometimes quite well, which means money for everybody. Radio dramas still exist in Japan (and indeed, many countries), and so drama CDs are pretty common things. There was even a drama CD for Perfect Blue, which was actually the drama-within-a-drama series the characters were filming, Double Bind! It's pretty cool.

Yaoi manga usually don't sell in the crazy numbers that more mainstream manga does, but drama CDs are very cheap to make compared to an anime. Even if there's no moving artwork, many fans just want to hear the characters be brought to life in SOME way, and drama CDs are a good way of doing that without having to worry about making back a huge investment.

There are good business reasons to be involved in yaoi. Yaoi fans are extremely passionate, and will likely buy CDs involving the series they like, which a voice actor would get royalties from. Some of those fans may even become a fans of the voice actor, and would then buy their solo CDs, show up at events and get autographs, and follow their work in other works. That's the sort of thing that can really boost a voice actor's career.

Hentai voice acting is, in fact, not something that most successful voice actors want to be caught doing. It pays poorly, it can sully their reputation after the fact, if their image doesn't line up with having dirty material in their filmography. Hentai is mostly voiced by junior level voice actors who are just getting started, and many use pseudonyms. However, nobody is really asking them to take off their clothes, and work is work, so many voice actors do it anyway.

But yaoi is usually not all that dirty. It's clean enough to be aired on television (even if some of it needs to be censored). There really isn't much stigma attached to voicing a yaoi show. Many prominent male voice actors do it, and are quite proud of it. They attend promotional events, assist in marketing the show, and sign autographs on DVDs. And I'm sure they get paid quite handsomely for it.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap. Please note that he does not take question submissions via Twitter.

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