Blog Archives

The truth about seiyuu

Before I start this wall of text, I’d like all of us to understand one point:
Being a seiyuu is hard. Very hard.

The anime industry is a very difficult one; workers are overworked, underpaid, and overworked some more. But that’s a story for another time. It is fitting for this to be the first true article — I have taken over this position from Mirage — as the focus of this week’s Seiyuu Spotlight is not on just one, but on them all.

Being a seiyuu is hard. Why is this, you may ask? It is because of the following reasons:
• They are underpaid.
Seiyuu receive about 2000-3000 yen per episode. That is roughly $AUD 23-36 at the time of this article. Veterans may receive up to 50000 yen per episode, but this pales in comparison to someone who pursues a desk job and receives promotions and benefits. Part-timers and casual workers at fast food chains earn anything from $AUD 8-20 per hour depending on their position, so as a full-time profession, seiyuu are heavily underpaid compared to their typical white-collar salarymen counterparts whose income are in the seven or eight digit range (this is yen, of course). In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to find a seiyuu at Mcdonalds or a convenience store because many have casual jobs to supplement their low income.

Some seiyuu even turn to adult series or hentai as — believe it or not — it pays higher than regular anime. Many create an alias in order to earn enough to pay off their rent and electricity bills. For example, Itou Shizuka (Hinagiku @ Hayate, Haruka @ Amagami SS, Wilhelmina @ Shana) is also known as Misaki Rina and lends her voice to visual novels and H-anime. Similarly, Imai Asami (Kurisu @ Steins;Gate, Chihaya @ iDOLM@STER, Yuuzuki @ Kiss x Sis) is also known as Eriko Toyama and Keiko Horikoshi. Some may shun them for doing this but at the end of the day, when one struggles to meet ends and put food on the table, who can honestly blame them?

The sad truth, however, is that the really obsessed fans will make a big deal if you’ve been involved in the adult industry in any way. Hirano Aya (Haruhi @ Haruhi, Lucy @ Fairy Tail) receives much harassment from fans on her Twitter and blog solely because she has an active sex life. Some fans have this twisted perception that seiyuu must swear a solemn oath of celibacy and never date a guy, and if they break this vow of chastity then they are filthy and unworthy of their attention. Another example is Miyamura Yuko (Asuka @ Evangelion) who was involved in the AV industry before she joined the voice acting industry, but is denied roles because the media uncovered her past and now no company wants her. A talent is now left unable to blossom due to a mistake she may have done on her past and I believe that is really, really sad.


Azu-nyan and Taketatsu Ayana being stabbed for betraying a fan’s trust.

• They are overworked.
One episode may take anywhere from one hour to several hours to record. If it is a dialogue-heavy episode or series (e.g. Katanagatari, ef, Spice and Wolf), you may either receive a slightly higher pay or none at all depending on your talent agency. Yes, that could possibly mean you will have to say ten times more lines than a side character but still receive a similar income for your efforts. If you have more than one show to work on then you may have to commute to several studios a day and spend many hours at each one. The process will be slower if you or another seiyuu are new to the industry and stuff up your lines more often.

Furthermore, if you really want to earn an income, you will have to participate in radio shows, drama CDs, character songs, idol groups, fan events, concerts and audition for new shows as often as possible. Seiyuu who can truly live off of their voice will always have a packed schedule.

• They cannot find work.
Some seiyuu believe it is a blessing to be overworked rather than not being able to find work at all. As veteran seiyuu Nabatame Hitomi stated in her blog, “You’re extremely lucky if you acquire five roles out of one hundred auditions.” As newer seiyuu flock into the industry, competition is bound to rise and they bring with them talent, a new range of voices and youth. Fans are more likely to idolise the younger and more attractive rather than the middle-aged who are gaining more wrinkles by the year.

Remember that people who voice side characters or supporting roles need to earn money too, and if you only have one line in the whole episode, you aren’t in a very good situation. You have essentially wasted an hour or two commuting to the studio and waiting for your line to come up, and now you must drag yourself to the next studio where you will hopefully have more lines. And who can you blame when you end up having to cancel your phone plan? Yourself, for not having a unique enough voice to score a main role, and the more talented, for being born with a naturally identifiable voice.

• They need luck, or put in a lot of hard work.
There are only a few ways to enter the voice acting industry, and none of them are easy.

You could be extremely lucky, win a competition in a magazine or held by talent agencies and be signed to one immediately. Notable seiyuu who entered this way are veteran Horie Yui and the rising Sawashiro Miyuki. Of course, you would have to undergo some rigorous training if you take this path to make up for the several years you missed.

Another way would be to transfer in from another industry, such as theatre actors, or from within the entertainment industry. For example, Miyano Mamoru (Okabe @ Steins;Gate) was originally part of the cast in the Prince of Tennis musicals; Matsuoka Yuki (Evangeline @ Negima, Inoue @ Bleach) was a former news reporter; and Nakata Joji (Kirei @ F/SN and F/Z) came from movies that rely heavily on special effects.

The bread and butter way to enter would be to undergo a voice training school. This is quite expensive and requires years of work in dubbing, acting, singing and dancing — all of which are necessary if you happen to make it to the big time. Of course, this isn’t a sure-fire way to get in and only 2-3 new seiyuu are selected by talent agencies every year. For your information, there are over 1500 seiyuu in Japan –that’s a 1% chance of making it. Notable seiyuu who have taken this path are veterans Shimizu Ai, Tanaka Rie, Tamura Yukari, Nakahara Mai, Kikuko Inoue and Hayashibara Megumi.


Eggplant, from the AnimeSuki forums, gives his insight on the process of being a seiyuu:

An aspiring seiyuu will usually have to endure 2 years of basic acting training at a vocational school, then enter an agency in Tokyo as a trainee for another 2-3 years of acting lessons before he or she can do any acting work. And that is if the said person is talented enough which is a 1% chance. Even then, such roles for newcomers are sparse, and the prospective seiyuu must win through auditions.
And what is his/her paycheck for this? 12,000 yen (appoximately $110) per episode minus tax deduction and agency commissions, assuming the seiyuu is a member of the Japan Actors Guild. And don’t think that such a union is for the mutual benefit of the seiyuu, as it simply stipulates the unique classification system which is the basis for their appearance fee.

This fixed rate is applicable whether you have one line or a thousand (though there are variable factors that are taken into account), and one’s rank will not be re-evaluated until after 2-3 years, where he/she can only step up to the next level.

The ten tier rating system starting off from Junior (15,000 yen per episode prior to deductions) to Veteran (45,000 yen), plus the special Non-Rank reserved for mainly 60 year olds and above, has hardly any leeway in terms of money. Essentially, a longtime veteran will make only maximum three times that of a rookie per episode. In fact, there are many seiyuus that resist on being promoted to a higher class, as a higher fee will lead to lesser jobs.

Put that into the rookie seiyuu’s shoes. He/she can only earn 60,000 yen per month without stipend, and it is likely that that role is the seiyuu’s only one. No wonder why seiyuus have to resort to other ways to make a living, by appearing in events, doing narration work, dubbing games or commercials, and that’s if there’s such an offer. Otherwise, it’s a continuation of the part-time job he/she did during the trainee days in order to make a living. Since you can only do seiyuu work in Tokyo, and if you’re out here on your own, you must take part time jobs to keep a roof over you.

Seiyuu who are not a union members are forced into worse conditions. Some studios or advertising agencies often hire non-union seiyuus due to budget constraints or animosity towards the union, and there are people who will due whatever it takes to grab a role. There are also seiyuu agencies that are not Management Association members, who exclusively handle non union member seiyuus, although it is up to the individual seiyuu whether to join the guild or not.

Due to the efforts of senior seiyuus, the road for incentives is open, mainly income based on re-runs, but royalties stemming from DVD sales have yet to be in implemented. Simply based on the information laid down here, for example, a 5 year veteran seiyuu with a base wage of 20,000 yen per show who does 4 shows a particular season will earn 240,000 yen a month on anime seiyuu work alone, which finally brings it up to normal living standards.


I could elaborate on this unknown side of the supposed seiyuu glory, but I believe that I have gotten the point across. The bottom line is that they are worked very hard, and do not receive enough recognition for their efforts. Hence, the Seiyuu Spotlight series aims to bring you coverage on different seiyuu every month so that at least their legacy may be made known to some.

TL;DR: Being a seiyuu is hard. Very hard.

-Dan