If I ever go to a voice actress’s autographing event, I’m going to have her autograph a marriage license from the United States so that later on when she actually gets married I can say, “What about our love?”
Perhaps not all that surprising to those who are entrenched in the world of anime, manga, and to a degree video games, but the dōjin-shi, or self-publication, market is large in Japan. While a large portion of dōjin-shi are parodies of more established works, although I use the term loosely, there are well-known authors who started their careers by self-publishing their works and still continue to do so. I previously wrote about Otoi Rekomaru having a background in adult content, but I failed to mention those works were self-published. So, it’s possible for authors of self-published works to gain a foothold within the broader culture. That’s not to say established authors shouldn’t release self-published works, but I feel many do so as a hobby rather than as another source of income. However, there have been examples of the self-publications of celebrated authors gaining wider exposure. One such series is voice actress Masumi Asano and author Kenjiro Hata’s self-published work Seiyu’s Life! (それが声優! Sorega Seiyū!), which became an anime series in 2015. This was somewhat odd considering very few dōjin-shi ever acquire a large enough following to become an anime series. Yet upon watching the anime adaptation, it’s understandable why it was so popular. It not only examined the grueling hurdles fledgling voice actors in Japan have to overcome to become recognized in the field, but it also did so in a comedic fashion. There was also a wonderful cast and the production team at Gonzo did an amazing job of recruiting renowned voice actors for many of the episodes.
One of the fascinating aspects of the Japanese anime, manga, and video game fandom is how readily they encourage self-published works. That’s not to say fans living outside of Japan aren’t encouraged to produce self-published works, but they aren’t nearly as common as in Japan. In fact, many convention centers in Japan are used for one-day exhibitions for authors to sell their self-published works—arguably the most famous being the Comic Market. While it’s odd many of the works escape copyright laws, one has to concede the positive economic effect as well as the talent that arises from self-publications. For example, I mentioned above the author Otoi Rekomaru. Granted, of his self-publications I’ve personally seen, none were parodies of existing properties. Yet, through his self-publications he’s not only created a popular manga series, Ojisan to Marshmallow, but he has seen it made into an anime series. A fair portion of other established manga authors also release self-published works as well. Most of the authors I follow on Twitter all publish parody works, but this doesn’t mean all established authors use self-publications as a test bed for new ideas they may not be able to publish in magazines.
Consider the source material for the anime series Seiyu’s Life. It started as a collaborative work between the voice actress Masumi Asano and the author Kenjiro Hata before it gained traction in the larger fandom. Surprisingly though, there was no need for either person to work on the series. The reason for this stems from how they are both known in their respective fields. For example, while I can’t say Kenjiro Hata has written a large body of manga series, since 2004 he’s had massive success with his work Hayate the Combat Butler. Let that sink in for a moment, as it’s not common for a manga author to write a series for over ten years. Generally, the turnover rate is high within the manga industry, thus being able to retain a readership on a weekly basis for over ten years is nothing to scoff at. The same can be said with the scenario writer for Seiyu’s Life, Masumi Asano. While she’s had her share of major roles in anime series, she has a litany of minor roles in well-known series as well. This, too, is no easy task when taking into account the longevity of voice actors and more specifically voice actresses. Though there has always been a large pool of voice talent in the anime industry, as with any other major media industry, only a small fraction ever make a lasting impression in the field. Thus, while Masumi Asano may not have a large body of work in comparison to someone like Megumi Toyoguchi, she has etched out her own corner of the industry. So, while I may say Masumi Asano and Kenjiro Hata didn’t necessarily need to create Seiyu’s Life, the sheer fact they did and it garnered enough attention to be made into an anime series was not only a good decision on their part, but well worth their effort.
However, what made the anime adaptation of Seiyu’s Life entertaining was remarkable, to say the least. The strength of the series resulted form a combination of Masumi Asano’s expertise in the field of voice acting and Kenjiro Hata’s comedic sense. I’ve written about this before in regards to the process of creating an anime series in Shirobako, but watching an anime series that deals with adult characters and their work related issues has captured my attention over the past few years. This mainly comes from the fact I’m in an older demographic now, but it’s also nice to see the inner workings of a particular industry. In the case of this series, it was voice acting, or rather breaking into the industry. As consumers of this type of media, we can forget exactly how difficult it is for up-and-coming voice talents to make a name for themselves. By centering on this challenge, it made the series compelling to watch. For example, when looking at the three main characters, Futaba Ichinose, Ichigo Moesaki, and Rin Kohana, they were all struggling to stay afloat as voice actresses as well as, in the case of Futaba and Ichigo, making enough money to pay their bills. Thus, in a handful of episodes there were scenes of Futaba and Ichigo working outside of voice acting. This is a reality that is all too true for people who are trying to subsist on an income derived from being in the field of entertainment, and seeing this fact of life presented in an anime series was rather something to behold.
This begs the question, though, of why Rin wasn’t worried about her finical situation. The simple answer is that she was a middle school student. This, too, provided an interesting look into the life of a young voice talent. Although voice actors generally enter the field after they’ve graduated from high school, there have been examples of some entering the industry at an earlier age. I doubt there have been many who began as young as fourteen or fifteen as was the case with Rin, but it’s certainly possible. Thus, it was fascinating to watch her dilemma unfold because she was placed in a precarious position: either continue working as a voice actress and sacrifice her studies or focus on her studies and forgo her career in a field in which she had already established herself. Unfortunately, the tenth episode of the series was the only episode to truly focus on this issue. Yet, it provided an interesting perspective on child actors and entertainers. In the case of the tenth episode, Rin not only pondered the situation she was in, but how it would affect her friendship with her close friend, Sayo-chan. This was far different than worrying about one’s financial situation, as we saw with Futaba and Ichigo. Thus, watching someone so young feeling she had to deal with her future career in such clear-cut terms was intriguing to say the least.
Outside of the financial and social dilemmas faced by the characters, though, Seiyu’s Life also covered aspects of the voice acting industry one might not consider. While there were certainly discussions about self-doubt throughout the series, each of the early episodes focused on different facets of voice acting. For example, I’ve heard this discussed by voice actors before, but oftentimes many of the throwaway characters in an anime series are voiced by the main cast. Thus, it’s incumbent upon voice actors to be able pick up those minor parts at a moment’s notice. As viewers, unless we are paying very close attention to the voices, this can be lost on us and seeing a clear example of this in the series was rather nice. But, it went beyond what happens inside the sound booth. Even within the voice acting industry, there are people who specialize in niche occupations, such as narration or voice dubbing. Although these jobs are generally found outside of the anime industry, you would be surprised at the number of television programs and foreign films that require a narrator or other voice talent. Thus, while we may not consider this type of employment in regards to anime voice actors all that often, seeing it brought to light was appealing.
It was the humor of Kenjiro Hata that brought the series to life, though. As with any series that examines the human condition, there was a fair bit of humor seen throughout the series. Of course those situations arose from the characters’ occupation, but the memorable moments came from the interactions with other voice actors. One of my favorite examples of this came in the fifth episode. Here we saw Ichigo participating in an event promoting a video game she was cast in and while most of the episode centered on how anxious she was, the appearance of Yui Horie brought out the comedy in the episode. It specifically played on the idea of how we perceive voice actors when they make public appearances and how they dress and act in private. Although this moment only lasted a few minutes, it created a light-hearted atmosphere to break the tension Ichigo was feeling. However, it was the ending credits that truly took the humor of the series to a whole different level. This was no more than a play on the ending theme songs, but they were portrayed as a radio program. Thus, while the melody was always the same, the lyrics reflected the events of the episodes while also incorporating a clip from well-known anime songs with Futaba, Ichigo, and Rin singing and cheering along. This was the highlight of the series and I’m glad the production team at Gonzo chose this method of presenting the ending credits.
One of the astonishing features of Seiyu’s Life, though, wasn’t the examination of the voice acting industry or the humor in the series. It was actually how the anime production company Gonzo was able to recruit well-known voice actors for the series as guest stars. I mentioned Yui Horie above guest starring in the fifth episode, but every episode featured an established voice actor. My personal favorite was Masako Nozawa if only because she’s famous for portraying Son Goku from Dragon Ball. Putting that aside, though, the mere fact Gonzo was able to bring on such famous voice actors for one episode apiece was remarkable. It wasn’t as though their avatars within Seiyu’s Life offered too much to the series, but their presence provided a seasoned look at the industry as a whole.
Yet, it was the voice cast of the three prominent characters, Rie Takahashi, Yuki Nagaku, and Marika Kōno, that added flavor to the series. I say this because, like the characters, each of the voice actresses was a newcomer to the industry when the series first aired. Yes, they had experience working on other anime productions, but looking at their body of work this was among their first opportunities to portray lead roles. I’m sure many of the topics brought up over the course of Seiyu’s Life hit close to home for them and as such I felt each of their performances had the same sense of insecurity as their characters. This ultimately helped bring the characters’ drama to life and enriched the viewing experience.
Seiyu’s Life was an incredibly fun series to watch. Not only did it have a wonderful novice voice cast but it also incorporated veterans for individual episodes, thus giving the series flavor. In the end, though, it was the exploration of the voice acting industry that caught my attention. While it certainly delved into anime voice acting the most, the examination of other facets of the industry were welcome. I specifically discussed narration and voice dubbing, but we can’t forget professions like idol-voice actresses or radio personalities. Granted, the finer points of voice acting may have been glossed over and fictionalized to a degree, but, as with all series that delve into an industry, they must have been mired in some truth. Of course, it was the situations each main character faced that made the series engaging. Though the extent of the drama was how they would survive within the voice acting industry, this was an idea many people, especially those trying to gain a foothold in the entertainment industry as a whole, could relate to. While I wouldn’t call Seiyu’s Life an informative series, it certainly was enlightening. Thus, if you have an interest in the voice acting industry, this is a series I would suggest watching. Even if you don’t have an interest in voice acting, this was an entertaining series that anyone can enjoy.