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A seiyū ( Japanese 声優 ) works in radio , film or video games as a dubbing voice for foreign films, narrator or voice for characters from anime or video games. Usually seiyū is only used to refer to the voice actors in a Japanese series or film.

In 2003, Japan produced 60% of the world's animated series. Because the animation industry is so diverse, seiyū can become famous nationwide and make careers by speaking roles. Seiyū can tackle their careers better than speakers in other countries. Japan has facilities to promote this career path, with 130 seiyū schools and speaking troops working for certain broadcasters or talent agencies. Only South Korea , where the broadcasters also employ speaking troops , is another country with a similar system for voice actors ( Hangeul : 성우 ; revised : seong-u ; Hanja : 聲優 ).

Seiyū often go into the music industry or become film and television actors. It is precisely these programs that are often seen by their own fans who want to hear or see their speaker. Popular seiyū, especially female ones like Kikuko Inoue , Megumi Hayashibara, and Aya Hisakawa , often have devoted fan clubs with members from around the world.

Japanese publications usually use CV ( character voice ) as an abbreviation for speakers who give characters their voice. This term was introduced by anime magazines such as Animec and Newtype in the 1980s .

Actor and seiyū

Originally, dubbing and voice overs were nothing more than the performance of an actor using just his voice. During this work they became "voice actors" ( 声 の 俳 優 koe no haiyū ). For convenience, this term has been shortened to 声優 (seiyū) on the first and last kanji . When this work was booming, the term spread. For this reason, older speakers refuse to be called seiyū, since in their time this term had a different (making small) connotation. The respected Chikao Ōtsuka , who also dubbed Charles Bronson , said in a special edition of Animage : “We are actors. Even if the performance calls only for our voice, we still remain actors, so it is wrong to refer to ourselves as seiyū, right? ”This has been countered by the new trend of separating actors and seiyū, especially when faced with one Genzō Wakayama , who only learned to use his voice and never set foot in the theater.

There are three main reasons that the actors and seiyū began to differ:

  1. their professional training by the Tōkyō Hōsō Gekidan ( 東京 放送 劇 団 , radio drama troupe Tōkyō ), which was founded by the NHK and other private broadcasters during the golden age of radio plays;
  2. the increased popularity of television: due to the lack of Japanese films and series, television companies were forced to broadcast foreign programs, which greatly increased the demand for seiyū;
  3. the boom in the global anime market spawned a multitude of young talent whose goal was to become a seiyū instead of an actor.


There have been speakers in Japan since the first radio. But it wasn't until the 1970s, with the enormous success of Space Battleship Yamato , that the term seiyū came into common parlance. In a newspaper interview, a voice actor manager said, “With the Yamato boom, the word 'seiyū' was instantly popular. When actors introduced themselves as seiyū beforehand, they were often asked: 'Does that mean you work for the seiyū supermarket chain ?' "

Era of radio plays

In 1925 the radio company Tōkyō (the forerunner of the public service NHK) started broadcasting the radio. In the same year, 12 students who specialized exclusively in voice performances became the first speakers when a radio drama was broadcast. Although they called themselves seiyū, this profession was referred to by the newspapers as "radio actor" ( ラ ジ オ 役 者 rajio yakusha ).

The next period began in 1941 when the NHK offered a training program for actors who wanted to specialize in radio plays. This was called Tōkyō Chūō Hōsō Kyoku Senzoku Gekidan Haiyū Yōseijo ( 東京 中央 放送 局 専 属 劇 団 俳 優 養成 所 , German training center for actors of the acting troupe of the radio station Tōkyō Mitte ). This radio drama troupe had its first performance in 1942. This was the second time the term "seiyū" had been used to refer to speakers, and from now on it established itself.

There are other theories as to how the term "seiyū" came about. According to one, a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter invented the term, according to another Tatsu Ōka, a producer of NHK's entertainment programs.

At first, seiyū, like those of the radio drama troupe Tōkyō and similar companies, only specialized in radio plays, but with the advent of television the term acquired the wider meaning of a speaker who dubbed cartoons. When radio was still a mass medium, the speakers already had their fans, e.g. For example, the leading actors in love radio plays by the Nagoya radio drama troupe regularly received many fan letters.

1960s: First seiyū boom

In 1961, in the early days of commercial television, the Five Company Agreement dried up the supply of Japanese television channels with Japanese films. As a result, many foreign films and broadcasts were imported and dubbed for television broadcast in the 1960s.

In the beginning, NHK only subtitled most foreign programs, but dubbing soon became standard. This increased the popularity of the seiyū. At the center of the first boom were actors like Nachi Nozawa , who became known for repeated voice acting by foreign actors - in Nozawa's case, Alain Delon , Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood . Since problems with the payment of film actors arose from the five-company agreement, this was not done when synchronizing foreign films for television. Television actors were also bound by a similar agreement. This caused the studios to turn to actors from the radio era and the Shingeki style. During this time, the synchronization of foreign cartoons was Rakugo -Geschichtenerzählern, Asakusa -Komikern and the like left. Seiyū became talented dubbing ( talent is used to refer to stars in Japan, see also Idol ) when they specialized in dubbing, while those who gave characters a voice were called Ateshi ( ア テ 師 ). During this time, the actors' cooperative Tōkyō ( 東京 俳 優 生活 協同 組合Tōkyō Haiyū Seikatsu Kyōdō Kumiai ), Haikyō for short , was founded. Seiyū managers later left the haikyō and founded their own management agencies.

The first synchronized broadcast on Japanese television was an episode of the American animated series Superman , which was broadcast on October 9, 1955 on KRT (now TBS ); the first non-trick series Cowboy G-Men in 1956 also on KRT. Both were synchronized live. The first broadcast with recorded synchronization was Terebi Bōya no Bōken ( テ レ ビ 坊 や の 冒 険 ) on April 8, 1956.

1970s: Second seiyū boom

During the late 1970s, the boom in the cartoon world allowed good-looking male anime seiyūs to become very famous. Akira Kamiya , Tōru Furuya and Toshio Furukawa were the first to form a band slapstick and perform live. Many other seiyū released their own albums. In 1979, radio programs, such Animetopia that seiyū as DJs could occur very popular, and at the same time the first anime magazines were published. Animage's editor-in-chief at the time , Hideo Ogata , was the first to publish editorials on the transformation of seiyū into idols . Following him, other magazines created "seiyū corners", which came up with information and rumors about seiyū in every issue. This was one of the main reasons young fans longed to become a seiyū. Schools specializing in seiyū increased their student numbers and began to focus on specific fields. For the first time, anime seiyu were young people who dreamed of becoming just that, instead of members of drama troops and theaters who only did it as a hobby. This boom lasted until roughly the first half of the 1980s.

1980s: an interim period

In 1989, the seiyū of the five main characters of the cartoon series Ronin Warriors , Nozomu Sasaki , Takeshi Kusao , Hiroshi Takemura , Tomohiro Nishimura and Daiki Nakamura , formed a singing group called NG5 . This group became so popular that it became the subject of a special documentary on MBS . The untypical popularity of NG5 was not carried over to other seiyū groups.

During this time, the seiyū production companies began offering specialized courses in on-site training schools for animation dubbing.

1990s: Third seiyū boom

The booms of the 1960s and 1970s were mostly centered on general public media such as television. The new boom of the 1990s focused more on more personal communication channels such as radio broadcasts, OVAs , television quizzes, public events, and the Internet. Furthermore, the first specialized in seiyū magazines such as the Seiyū Grand Prix and Voice Animage were published. Seiyū gained new fans in droves thanks to the radio and their CD sales increased dramatically. It was started to hold concerts in larger halls. During the second boom, seiyū, also known as DJs, record companies supported the seiyū's radio broadcasts and large sums of money began to pour in. Megumi Hayashibara , Hekiru Shiina and Mariko Kōda were the first examples of this new trend. Another radical shift to the previous booms and cornerstone of the Seiyū's transformation into idols was that record labels and seiyū schools established and explored new ways to help young seiyū to national prominence.

When seiyū were introduced in television games, their existence became known across the country. As a result, the same seiyū continued to be involved in the television game world, appearing on and participating in radio shows for these games in order to attract the fan base.

In the second half of the 1990s, the boom in the cartoon world led to a sudden surge in animes being shown in the Tokyo area. The Internet made it very easy for fans to gather information about their favorite seiyū, and seiyū began appearing on Internet radio broadcasts.

Ways to Become a Seiyū

When looking at the careers of the best-known seiyū, it is noticeable that the vast majority achieved success in one of six paths.

Member of a radio drama troupe

Trained by radio drama troops, they specialized in speaking roles that required more vocal skills than announcers, especially roles in radio plays.

Former members of the Tōkyō radio drama troupe included Ryō Kurusawa , Kazue Takahashi , Masato Yamanouchi , Hisashi Katsuta , Akira Nagoya and Kiyoshi Kawakubo .

Seiyū, who came from privately financed actors, were, for example, Tōru Ōhira and Tadashi Nakamura of the Rajio Tōkyō Hōsō Gekidan ( ラ ジ オ 東京 放送 劇 d, dt. Radio acting troupe Radio Tōkyō ), Junpei Takiguchi , Nobuo Mukai and Mariko Mukai .

Local radio stations also helped many seiyū in the early days of their careers when television was limited to the Tōkyō area with its overseas broadcasts. Examples of this are the aforementioned Genzō Wakayama by NHKs Sapporo Hōsō Gekidan ( 札幌 放送 劇 団 , German radio drama troupe Sapporo ), Kenji Utsumi from NHKs Kyūshū Hoso Gekidan ( 九州 放送 劇 団 , dt. Radio drama troupe from JKūshami ) and RKushami Mainichi Hōsō Gekidan ( 毎 日 放送 劇 団 , German radio drama company Mainichi ).

Child actor

Some seiyū were talented middle school students who joined children's and youth theaters ( Gekidan Himawari , Gekidan Komadori ), honed their acting skills, and pursued careers as full-time seiyū after graduating from high school.

The first to follow this path included Ryūsei Nakao , Tōru Furuya , Shūichi Ikeda , Yoku Shioya , Hiromi Tsuru , Mīna Tominaga and Katsumi Toriumi .

More modern examples are Daisuke Namikawa , Maaya Sakamoto , Mayumi Iizuka , Akeno Watanabe , Saeko Chiba , Yūka Nanri and Kaori Nazuka .

There have also been cases where young people who were still in middle school took on seiyū roles, e.g. B. Ryūsei Nakao, Tōru Furuya, Miyu Irino , Eri Sendai , Ayaka Saitō , Aya Hirano , Subaru Kimura and Miyū Tsuzurahara .

Theater actor

Sometimes theater actors who were still in high school, college, or university were spotted by scouts of the anime industry. This happened with actors from the Shingeki theater companies ( Bungaku Company , Seinen Company , Troupe Pleiades , Theatrical Group EN and Theater Echo ). Actors from smaller theaters have occasionally been spotted by members of the theater's sound production or managers of seiyū-run management agencies. It is also common for actors from seiyū-led theater groups, such as Nachi Nozawa's Gekidan Bara-za ( 劇 団 薔薇 座 ) or Kaneta Kimotsuki's Gekidan 21-seiki Fox ( 劇 団 21 世紀 FOX ), to become seiyū themselves.

Romi Paku was discovered by animation director Yoshiyuki Tomino , Fumiko Orikasa graduated from the Super Eccentric Theater and Sanae Kobayashi , Gō Aoba , Tetsu Shiratori , Akino Murata and Rieko Takahashi were discovered in local theaters by Kazuya Tatekabe .

Hitomi Nabatame's career is remarkable . Shortly after they completed the seiyū training school and at the same time acted as a theater actress and in the Dorikan Club , a seiyū group in education, which is part of aniradio telecast SOMETHING DREAMS Multimedia Countdown ( SOMETHING DREAMSマルチメディアカウントダウン SOMETHING DREAMS Maruchimedia Kauntodaun shortly ドリカン Dorikan ) of the radio station Nippon Cultural Broadcasting , she showed so much potential that she got a role for Maburaho .

Student at a Seiyū training school

Many seiyū made their debut shortly after years of observing their craft at a seiyū training school, graduating from high school, technical college, or university, or while on vacation. This is the path most young people who watch anime take and want to become a seiyū themselves. It's probably the easiest path to start with, but the chances of a breakthrough are very slim. For example, every school that is part of the Yoyogi Animation Academy has a seiyū talent department with hundreds of new students each year, but only a very small minority of whom manage to become seiyū. Many who fail simply go to another seiyū training school and try again.

Older examples are Megumi Hayashibara , Kōichi Yamadera , Kikuko Inoue , Kotono Mitsuishi , Toshiyuki Morikawa and more recent Ai Shimizu , Rie Tanaka , Yukari Tamura , Mai Nakahara and Kenichi Suzumura .

Some young talent became a seiyū after winning nationwide competitions advertised by magazines or production companies. Nevertheless, they had to attend seiyū training schools to learn the craft. Examples of such winners are Asami Sanada , Masumi Asano , Yui Horie , Miyuki Sawashiro, and Sakura Nogawa .

Other member of the entertainment industry

Junko Iwao and Noriko Hidaka are examples of idols who took on seiyu roles (the latter had previous experience as a child actress). Former Gravure Idols (bikini models) who made the breakthrough to Seiyū include Marina Ōno , Ryōka Yuzuki and Chiemi Chiba . Yumi Kakazu and Yuki Matsuoka were previously reporters. Owarai (television comedians) who retired from the business sometimes made their comeback as seiyū like Yūko Saitō . Yūichi Nagashima was best known as the actor of the main character Chō in the series Exploring My Town ( た ん け ん ぼ く の ま ち Tanken Boku no Machi ) of the NHK's educational channel.



Speaking and recording a role is the main role of a seiyū.


The role of a seiyū in an anime is to synchronize the recording of the voice with the images on the screen. There are two options. In Japan, recording is not usually started until all episodes have been completed, although tight production schedules may not.

In order to keep production costs within limits, lesser known and young seiyū are often used. Famous seiyū are often the selling point for OVAs and fan-oriented productions and products.

Sync into Japanese

For foreign series, films, news and documentaries, localization requires a more precisely timed synchronization with what is being seen. In order to speak the voice-over, the volume of the original voice track is lowered so that only a faint sound can be heard. Voice overs are mainly done for news and series. With the help of auditions, it is decided who will take on the respective roles, whereby the awareness rankings play a major role in the allocation.

Video games

In contrast to anime or dubbing roles, the voice tracks in video games are often recorded separately, as the individual voice tracks are played depending on the progress of the player. Usually a seiyū uses a script, reads a few lines from it and adjusts the timing of the recording. As a result, it is very common that the seiyū in a production never see each other in person. Awareness rankings may play a role in auditioning, but fees may be negotiated if the client requests a specific cast.

Radio and CD radio plays

With a radio or CD radio play, there is more freedom, as it is not necessary to adapt the timing to an original actor or an animated character. That is why the interpretation of a scene by the seiyū or his acting skills is important here. If the radio play is based on an anime, the speakers for the anime are used. Original radio plays or those based on literary works rarely include typical or younger seiyū. Auditions are also rarely held and the cast is selected directly by the production staff.

Puppet shows and kigurumi shows

In puppet theaters , the seiyū has to adapt its voice to the movements of the puppet. While timing is also important in kigurumi shows (people in animal costumes, such as the mascots in amusement parks), the lines of the seiyū are recorded beforehand and the kigurumi performer only has to move and act accordingly.


Seiyū are also often hired as narrators in radio and television commercials, broadcasts, press videos, etc. that require a speaker to read text from a script. While such roles are actually within a seiyū's expertise, it is not uncommon for well-known, regular actors, young talent, or announcers to be picked. The fee depends directly on the level of awareness. Veterans are usually preferred for roles that require high acting skills. Candidates must send in short demo recordings, which play a large role in the selection.

Theatrical acting

Because of the small difference, it is not uncommon for Shingeki actors and those performing in small theaters to attend special speaking courses or schools in order to become a seiyū. Those who have become successful seiyū can choose their stage roles, with the seiyū agencies being excluded, unless the theater management so requests.


It has become common for seiyū to sing the opening or closing credits of programs in which their speaking role is the main character, to take part in offshoots such as audio plays (with the same character in new subplots) and image songs (songs that are not in the actual Broadcast, sung by this character in order to develop it further) and to publish CDs under the name of the character instead of his own. Sometimes the anime character's vocal style is very different from that of the seiyū, and pieces with this vocal style can often be found on CDs released by the seiyū under his name. All of this made singing a central activity for many anime character seiyū.

The restrictions placed on a singing seiyū by their record labels are less stringent than those of regular singers. This makes it possible to publish seiyū CDs of their roles at various companies.

Radio personality

Radio calls - so-called aniradio - further promote the popularity of a seiyū. Originally, the vast majority was broadcast on local channels. But after the communications boom of the 1990s, the larger radio stations began to tune them out as well. While such shows only lasted as long as the popularity of the anime or game in question (usually a year or less), some were aired for more than 10 years. This depended on the popularity among their fans, who saw the radio talks as an opportunity to get to know the seiyū as a person, instead of the voice of the character they play.

Recently, more and more of these radio calls are being hosted on the Internet because of the lower cost and increasing number of listeners.

Other work

Aside from performances related to the character they speak, seiyū are also hired for in-house training videos, supermarket, bus and train station announcements, and as announcers in professional wrestling and other martial arts. These are usually the duties of professional announcers and a seiyū's hiring or name is not always communicated.

Agencies and Management

The relationships between seiyū on the one hand and music, film and anime companies on the other hand are regulated by the seiyū management agencies in Japan. Each specializes in something different. For a fee, they handle all business and advertising from the seiyū. These agencies can also act as a bridge between the entertainment companies and private agencies where the seiyū are employed. Sometimes the producers leave it to the agencies to recruit seiyū for smaller roles or manage their schedule. The job offers a seiyū gets usually depend on the agency they choose, even for very popular anime seiyū. For example, they're unlikely to get voice acting roles if their agency doesn't specialize in this field.

Some agencies and their specializations:

Seiyū for children's roles are often taken from recognized youth theaters such as Gekidan Himawari .


  1. TIMEasia Magazine: What's Right with Japan ( Memento of April 3, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  2. a b Terumitsu Otsu, Mary Kennard: The art of voice acting . The Daily Yomiuri April 27, 2002

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