Continuing our Behind The Scenes month, this week’s anime is the 2015 Seiyu’s Life, which the title of this post may have spoiled just a tiny bit. As did me telling you I was going to review it last week. So, ya know, after the fact spoiler warning and all that.
This 13 episode series from Gonzo was based on a 4 panel dojin manga of the same name, written by an actual voice actress, or seiyu in Japanese, and chronicles many of the ups and downs of being a voice actor. While it’s a bit moe for my tastes, with only Gakko Gurashi ever managing to crack into my favorite series to be moe, I admit that I found myself really enjoying this series anyway.
Part of that is because, as a fan of Critical Role, I’ve gotten to see a ton of interviews with the cast, who are often asked about being voice actors. Based on what they have said about the industry, I found that Seiyu’s Life really does tackle the many different difficulties of the job in a pretty open and honest manner. So, moe aspect aside, I give it a ton of credit for not glamorizing the job, but just showing how it really is.
Naturally, there’s a lot of differences between being a voice actor in Japan, and in the States. We’ll get into those in a bit, as some of them are cultural, and others are business, and I don’t want to clog up the whole front half with getting into that.
The original manga was written by Masumi Asano, a seiyu who is probably best known for voicing Shouta from Haibane Renmei, Risa in D.N.Angel, Yuka in Blood-C, and Hakufu in all the different versions of Ikkitousen. She’s also got a list of video games, OVA’s, and movies under her belt, so basically, she knows the business. Enough to write about it all with authority.
The story of Seiyu’s Life follows three rookie voice actresses as they try to make their way in the industry. The first, Futaba, is talented and hard working, but tends to overthink her performance to the point she almost freezes up. The second, Ichigo, has created a memorable persona as the princess of the strawberry planet, in an effort to get ahead, but is actually a very hard working person. The third, Rin, is still in junior high, but her talent for acting has propelled her into the industry at a young age, creating all manner of difficulties for her.
After the three of them end up working on the same show, a producer sees an opportunity and has them team up for a web radio show, which leads to them becoming an official unit. A unit is when three or more voice actors become sort of a band, putting on concerts and just building a name for themselves in general. I think. It’s a very Japanese thing, and while the way they present it all in the show makes sense, it still kind of baffled me why such a thing would be considered popular. I guess I’d have to be Japanese to really get that part.
Which is probably the only thing about the show I’d have to mark as even close to a negative, really. There’s a lot that people who aren’t familiar with Japanese culture are not going to fully understand. Of course, I take that as an opportunity to learn something new, but others will just be confused as to why a show about being a voice actor has the characters forming a band.
My advice is to just roll with it. It’s a Japan thing. Like tentacles in girls locker rooms.
As I mentioned before, the show doesn’t really glamorize the voice acting industry, but rather presents it all as it is. While Rin is still in school, and lives with her parents, Futaba and Ichigo both live own their own, and work part time jobs in order to pay the bills. Futaba is lucky, in that she got a job at the convenience store next door to her apartment, and the manager is very supportive of her career as a seiyu. He lets her off work and rearranges the schedule as much as he can to help her out.
Ichigo has it less lucky. Despite her strawberry princess persona, she works at a bento packaging plant, and they are much less forgiving of her absences from work, eventually leading to her getting fired. Due to this, she has her electric and gas shut off, and really does struggle just to keep a roof over her head, which includes taking cold showers, in the dark.
The job itself is full of difficulties as well. From only being able to get parts in crowd scenes, known as walla, for long stretches, to discovering the fun of doing voice work for video games. Which includes doing the impact grunts. Which comes in three different intensities. Imagine spending four to six hours in a recording booth just grunting into the microphone, attempting to sound pained. Yeah. Tons of fun.
Even reading a book on tape comes with difficulties as the characters learn to do it for the first time, as does dubbing an English movie. Pretty much every aspect of the voice acting profession is explored at some point, and once again, it is never glamorized. Just presented as the hard work it is.
I remember Travis Willingham, whom most of you will know as the English voice actor for Roy Mustang, talking once about the job of being a voice actor. He said the voice acting was the fun part, but a voice actors real job was auditioning. He and his wife, Laura Bailey, have a small recording booth at home, where they record their auditions, and he talked a bit about spending most of his day in there, waiting for planes from the nearby airport to pass over.
The reason I mention this is because it is really easy to glamorize the voice acting business. That Seiyu’s Life strives to avoid doing so is really something. Especially considering it is an anime, with people actively voice acting in it. That it gives such an honest look at the business is worth praising.
The show also frequently touches on how the public persona of voice actors can be very different from their real persona, and not just with Ichigo and her whole strawberry princess thing. One well known idol that Futaba meets, revered not just for her talent but her beauty, is actually a walking disaster who frequently has candy bars melt all over the inside of her purse, and doesn’t seem to know how to use a hairbrush.
I can’t help but think that Masumi Asano was trying really hard to tell Japan not to hold these people up on a pedestal so much with that character.
All the voice acting side is just half the show, however. The other half is the development of the three main characters into a unit, known as Earphones. In what is a uniquely Japanese aspect of the voice acting business, the characters have to learn how to sing and dance for the concerts they put on. For Futaba, especially, this proves difficult, as she is not naturally talented in those areas. Regardless, to further her career, she has to learn.
The show also touches heavily on the management side of the industry. Futaba is with an agency that will drop her if she hasn’t done well enough after a certain period of time, adding extra stress to her life as she struggles to get auditions and do well. One particular manager at the agency, Aoi Konno, quickly becomes a fan of Futaba and works her ass off on her behalf, not just to help her get auditions, but to to promote Earphones at every possible turn. When I say works her ass off, I mean it, too. Girl busts hump.
Because, when you get right down to it, voice acting is a team effort. It isn’t just the actors, but their agents, directors, producers, and even fellow voice actors, who make things happen. Pointing again to the Critical Role gang, each of them has mentioned how meeting a fellow voice actor helped them further their own career, and how many fellow voice actors becoming directors did the same. This is probably the biggest thing Seiyu’s Life focuses on. That team effort. Nobody gets anywhere on their own in this industry, because no matter how good you are, there’s ten other people just as good, or better, also auditioning for the same roles. You need to be connected, and have a support network, to really get anywhere.
In terms of animation, as I said earlier, I’m not a fan of the moe style, but for Seiyu’s Life, it kind of works. It tends to emphasize the innocence of the characters just coming into the industry, while the older and more professional characters tend to have a more traditional anime look. It’s a clever way of using animation to draw that distinction, and it works well. Outside of that, the show is just pretty to look at, and one of Gonzo’s better productions in recent years.
Seiyu’s Life was directed by Hiroshi ikehata, who has a crap ton of episode director credits, but not a lot of series director work, outside this and Akiba’s Trip. Guess paying your dues can take a while, cause he’s got a good eye for how to frame a scene and does a solid job of presenting the struggles of the characters in a strong way that never undermines them as people.
The series was written by Michiko Yokote, and touching on everything she has done could take a while. Seriously. A few of her more notable works would be the Ah! My Goodess movie, xxxHolic, Red Data Girl, Prison School, Shirobako, Cowboy Bebop, Patlabor, Ranma 1/2, and Bleach. Basically, she’s damn good at what she does, and you really see it here. The story flows very naturally, remains true to the manga as much as possible, and the dialogue just sparkles. Really, this woman should be a national treasure for Japan. She’s an amazing writer, and even has a number of novels out based on Patlabor.
The music was from Yukari Hashimoto, probably best known for working on the score to Toradora! She does a solid job here, as well, presenting a score that really does emphasize the heart of a scene, without overriding it. While it isn’t anything I’m in a hurry to run out and buy, it is solid.
The OP, on the other hand, was just awesome. I really loved it, and may talk about it Friday, unless something else shiny catches my eye.
Overall, Seiyu’s Life is a really well put together show, with good characters, and an honest look at just how hard being a voice actor really can be. The amount of work that goes into it is presented bluntly, the difficulties one can face warned of, and the reward of doing so made clear.
Next week, we turn our attention to the world of manga, with Bakuman.