Newcomers Struggle to Enter Japan's Voice-Acting Industry
posted on by Jennifer Sherman
Anime fans often glamorize the voice-acting industry in Japan. Young people imagine voicing anime characters as a dream job. However, the industry has a dark side, and Futabasha's Nikkan Taishū website posted an article on Sunday to expose the truth of the Japanese voice-acting world.
A staff member at a certain anime production company told the website that "Now, female voice actors are only young, cute girls." They explained that voice actors' faces used to be secondary, but now a good appearance is the first requirement. Appearance is more important to companies now because voice actors appear at more events in person, whereas they used to be able to work behind the scenes.
Because the industry was established with voice actors earning low wages such as 15,000 (about US$137) for a job, young voice actors now still face low pay. When voice actors desire to increase their number of appearances in anime, they often produce CDs and appear at events or perform concerts to promote the CDs. Related merchandise also goes on sale. According to the staff member, receiving earnings from pursuing that path of voice acting becomes an incentive and goal in the industry.
The staff member revealed that networking may play a bigger role than talent in determining which voice actors get roles. They said, "In the end, work is decided by connections." Voice actors favored by a talent agency's president may have a greater chance of securing their desired roles. Therefore, voice actors have to work to build relationships with the office's staff. However, that effort alone may still not be enough to earn work.
Voice actors also have to appeal to people in charge of casting, such as anime studios' sound directors and works' original creators. In order to stand out, voice actors may need to participate in drinking parties where the appropriate people are present.
Recently, aspiring voice actors have been appearing in smartphone games to start making names for themselves. However, such work may only provide income similar to having a part-time job. When word count determines pay, voice actors may bring in little income. Circumstances make it hard for voice actors to break into the industry, but many people pursue games because there is a possibility popular titles will receive anime adaptations.
Supply and demand are at odds in the world of voice acting. Complicating the difficult job climate the phenomenon of idols such as members of AKB48 entering the field. Recently, Haruka Shimazaki declared that she wanted to become a voice actress in a Ghibli film after graduating from AKB48. Before graduating from AKB48 in 2016, Shimazaki played Yukippe in the 2014 anime film Eiga Yo-kai Watch: Tanjō no Himitsu da Nyan!. Various members of AKB48 and SKE48, as well as many other idols, have already established themselves as voice actors. Because they already have supportive fan bases, former idols may find it easier to succeed in the world of voice acting than young people with little prior experience.
Due to all these factors, the world of voice acting is exceedingly difficult for young people to make a name for themselves in. They often resort to taking side jobs. When industry insiders paint a dismal picture of the voice-acting industry for newcomers, the field may not live up to the dreams of those who seek to enter it.
Prolific voice actress Megumi Hayashibara (Neon Genesis Evangelion's Rei, Detective Conan's Ai Haibara, Pokémon's Musashi) offered a similarly critical appraisal of voice acting in Japan last year. She said successful voice actors may be forced to perform cliched and stereotypical lines in an era of modern anime that lacks originality. She also said voice actors may go from hectic lives basking in limelight to falling out of popularity in just a few years.
Voice actors Kousuke Takeuchi and Satomi Akesaka commented in 2016 on fraud in the industry and the difficulties of making a breakthrough.
In addition, the anime industry is notorious for its harsh working conditions and low pay among animators. An episode of NHK's Close-Up Gendai+ program discussed the problems facing animators and studios last week.
Shirobako image via Naver Matome