Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - The Complete Series + OVA
Futaba has been a professional seiyuu for a year now, which means that she's struggled to get even small roles while working part-time at a Lawson's convenience store to support herself. While voicing a mascot character for the anime series Boddhisattvon, she meets fellow newcomer Ichigo Moesaki and middle-school-aged veteran Rin Kohana, who are also voicing minor roles. As they each face the daily ins and outs of being a seiyuu, they also come together to support each other, host their own radio talk show, and eventually form the singing unit Earphones.
Between Shirobako and Girlish Number came Seiyu's Life!, an “industry insider” series that garnered so little interest during the Summer 2015 season with its tepid first episode that it wasn't picked up for streaming reviews. Funimation also seems to have had concerns about how well it might sell, since they took the unusual route of releasing the series subtitled-only on DVD. I stated in ANN's preview guide back then that I had trouble imagining how they were going to fill up a whole season and keep it entertaining. I am pleased to say that I underestimated this series, as it has a lot more meat to it than was initially apparent. While I wouldn't go as far as calling it an overlooked gem, it is worth checking out.
The series is based on a 4-koma doujinshi written by Masumi Asano, a prolific seiyuu probably best-known for voicing Hakufu in the Ikki Tousen franchise and Cure Mermaid in the PreCure franchise. She has also done extensive work in video games, drama CDs, and singing, so she would definitely be familiar with the variety of subjects that come up in this series. Seiyu's Life! is essentially a tour of the various aspects of being a professional seiyuu, from dubbing anime, video games, or books on tape to doing radio shows or singing as part of a unit. It also delves somewhat into the talent agency side of the business and the personal struggles of those who are determined to become professional voice actors. One episode takes a break from focusing on the three leads to follow Futaba's fledgling manager, which shows us some previous scenes from a different angle in a side of the business that the actresses don't see.
But this isn't just a laundry-list approach to learning about voice acting through stand-alone episodes. This is a progressive story about the life and times of Futaba (foremost) and Ichigo (to a lesser extent) as they struggle to establish themselves as seiyuu while being paired up with Rin, who's younger in age but more experienced in her career. While Rin has to manage acting with her schoolwork and face possibly attending a different high school from her best friend because it's more conducive to her acting schedule, the other two have to work part-time to support themselves while scrapping for even menial voice work. They have to face the bleak reality of being so poor that utilities get shut off, or being subjected to a demeaning process where newbies at her agency have to stand by the entrance with nametags when they're not working to build up name recognition. The series' climax even involves a make-or-break evaluation at the agency over whether or not each seiyuu is promising enough to be kept on for the long term. This is all shown non-judgmentally, with pains taken to depict both the glorious highs and abysmal lows that can come with the job; if it sends a message at all, it's that you can't be a professional in this business if you can't learn to cope with this uncertainty, something that I have also heard American voice actors allude to on numerous occasions.
Even if you aren't all that interested in the insider details, the stories of the girls – Futaba in particular – are surprisingly relatable. Yes, they may be in the peculiar institution that is show business, but their dramas are only a slightly different flavor than the rest of ours. Anyone who has ever been filled with doubt about the sustainability of their chosen career path, uncertain about being good enough for the job, concerned about being outclassed by co-workers, or even had to endure innumerable failures just to get some work can find something in the series that will resonate, possibly even to an uncomfortable degree.
If that's not enough, then you can watch for the guest appearances. Most episodes feature well-known voice actors playing animated versions of themselves, including Masako Nozawa, Hiroshi Kamiya, Noriko Hidaka, Rie Kugimiya, Rikiya Koyama, Yukari Tamura, and Yui Horie, among several others. Numerous lesser names also play themselves, with the credits having dozens of “himself/herself” entries. In some cases, I have to wonder if some of the portrayals might be in-jokes. If Yui Horie's portrayal here is to be believed, then the dazzling look she has on stage is utterly incongruous with how dumpy she dresses once out of the spotlight.
The artistic effort for the series is nothing special, with a prevailing color scheme that favors pastels and other more muted colors. While the three central girls have more typical anime designs, great pains were taken to make the seiyuu cameos as close to their actual appearances as possible. Contrarily, directors and other key production personnel are often caricatures so incongruous that they can border on being silly. Great detail also goes into depicting studio and other business-related settings, especially in how widely they can vary. Unlike a lot of modern idol shows, the unit performance numbers don't resort to CG for their dance animation, making those easily the most ambitiously-animated scenes in a series that already has decent animation when not relying on still shots. Fanservice is virtually nonexistent until some hot springs shenanigans in the OVA episode, which are probably what single-handedly earn the release a TV-14 rating. Also watch for numerous references to studio Gonzo in the backgrounds, along with place names and a couple of references to other anime titles in wall posters. (The name of one of the leads of Noir pops up multiple times, for instance.)
The musical score remains a light complement throughout, rarely distinguishing itself outside of the performance numbers but always serving its purpose. The performance numbers both for Earphones (which is an actual performance group composed of the three lead seiyuu) and for Yui Horie are fairly standard J-pop songs: somewhat catchy but nothing too special. Opener “Sore ga Seiyu!” by Earphones, where they're singing about their backgrounds and jobs as seiyuu, sticks out a bit more, but the most enjoyable number is closer “Anata no O Mimi ni Plug In!” also by Earphones, which updates for each episode to feature clips from a number of classic anime opening themes, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Slayers.
Aside from the various guest appearances, the Japanese casting choices for the main roles are a little interesting. Of the three seiyuu playing the leads and composing Earphones, only one had a leading role before this project and none had substantial anime résumés at the time. (Rie Takahashi, the voice of Futaba and Korori, in particular has had numerous major roles since then, including in School-Live!, Fate/Grand Order, KonoSuba, and Re: Zero.) I have to think that was deliberate, given that they are supposed to be playing up-and-coming seiyuu.
This is a bare-bones release by Funimation's standards, with no Blu-Ray option or English dub being available. Extras only consist of clean versions of the opener and closer for episode 1, which is curious because Funimation typically includes clean versions of all closers even when there are only minute variations. It does, however, include the half-length OVA episode set at the hot springs. While episode 13 brings the series to a proper stopping point, the OVA makes a fitting epilogue.
For all its serious content, Seiyu's Life! is never too heavy and just as commonly lighthearted. It may not be raucously funny but nonetheless finds plenty of humor in the idiosyncratic behaviors of its characters and the odd demands sometimes made of seiyuu. It also finds room for a couple moments of true poignancy. Like its trio of leads, this series will always live in the shadow of its better-received fellows, but it still has a lot to offer.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Offers a wealth of behind-the-scene details about the voice-acting industry, the leads' struggles are compelling
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