Blurred Lines between Seiyuu and Talento

Nowadays, male seiyuu have their hands in a little bit of everything, not just voice acting.


By now, and especially if you’ve listened to most – or all – episodes of SEIYUU LOUNGE so far (a big thank you if you did), you already know some of the reasons why male seiyuu do so.

Some are riding on trends trying to emulate other seiyuu’s success, others are on the vanguard, challenging themselves and, at the same time, unconsciously setting those trends, others do it as a complement to the low wages they get, because we all know how little anime work pays.

And others are trying to avoid the abuse and politics of castings and auditions for anime.

Most of all, male seiyuu are trying to stay relevant and, ultimately, survive this tough and hard industry to break into using all the tools they have available.

Some people have started to question whether it is still correct to call voice actors “seiyuu” or simply “talento“.

Not just overseas, but also in Japan. Mamoru Miyano recently represented the seiyuu side in one variety show that discussed this exact question “Are seiyuu already considered talento?”.

I will talk a bit about this and what leads to a seiyuu earning the title of seiyuu and, similarly, the title of talento. Things are no longer crystal clear.

Below is the SEIYUU LOUNGE episode from where this article derivates.

A note that: the information mentioned in this article applies primarily to male seiyuu. There may be some differences for female seiyuu but, then again, that is not the focus of this website.

In this article, the focus is on talking about the lines that are starting to blur between being a seiyuu and a talento.

Of course, before I kick off talking about that, I want to dive into what are seiyuu and talento as well as multi-talented professionals, so that you can then perfectly understand what is going on in this episode.

Seiyuu

As you may already know, a seiyuu is a voice actor.

Being a voice actor includes voicing characters in animation (Japanese or even dubbed), doing narration, lending voice to Pachinko machines, games, radio, drama CDs, museum or city guides, recording announcements for the subway, trains and more.

There’s actually a lot of things that a seiyuu that strictly does voice acting work – the purists – can do. Not everything pays well, but you already know the drill with the seiyuu ranking system and everything.

If seiyuu specialize in voice acting alone, they will be found doing basically most of the work I mentioned a couple of seconds ago.

Good examples of purist seiyuu are Ken Narita and Norio Wakamoto.

Then we have the talento.

Talento

Talento are people that are in the entertainment industry and do a little bit of everything: they are actors, sing, are variety hosts or regular guests in variety shows, they do voice acting at times as well as radio work and modelling.

They are jacks of all trades that you can find all over Japanese television shows.

They really don’t specialize in a specific area and tend to branch out a lot, trying to have their name in as many places as possible. They are paid appearance fees instead of seiyuu’s complex payment system with different fees for different types of jobs.

Idols in Japan are the best example of what talento really are.

They sell their personalities rather than a very specific talent of theirs.

By the way, the word talento comes from the English word “talent” and has the exact same meaning.

Multi-talented seiyuu

At the same time, we have what you usually find in some of the articles on The Hand That Feeds HQ.

I tend to say that, for example, Toshiyuki Toyonaga and Soma Saito are multi-talented.

Simply put, they have multiple talents and are highly specialized in those talents they have.

Both are seiyuu and singer-songwriters and it’s common among seiyuu fans and even the media to recognize that they are insanely good at both.

So, they are what you call, multi-talented.

They are not known for 1 specific talent but by 2 or more talents in which they are extremely specialized in.

They don’t sell their personality like talento do and they are still recognized as being seiyuu, as that continues to be their major source of work.

But have into attention that even these definitions are already pretty blurry.

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s dive into what makes some old-school seiyuu fans incredibly wary of the changes that have been happening in the last decade.

Seiyuu is no longer a strictly “voice acting” job like it was in the 90s or the early 00s.

It has evolved way past that.

Once again, it is safe to say that that change happened with Mamoru Miyano’s popularity boom in 2010 that led to him turning into more than just a seiyuu, turning into a talento.

But you’ll say: Mamoru Miyano was already a talento to begin with!

And you are right.

Most people tend to overlook this but Mamoru Miyano has been a talento almost since the very start of his career as a child actor under Himawari Gekidan.

He never said that he is strictly a voice actor. He also never said that he is strictly a singer or an actor. That’s why I am saying that he never choose to specialize in anything.

Mamoru Miyano
Mamoru Miyano

He did pretty well, early on in his career as a voice actor, with the success of his roles in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and Durarara!!.

His popularity as a seiyuu then imploded with his performance in Death Note and ultimately, he is known for being in Utapri.

But he has always done other jobs at the same time as voice acting.

Theatre and musicals have always been things he’s done in his career. You could tell that he was an actor to begin with. Not specialized, but in his essence, he was a versatile actor.

But then…

2010 happens and the seiyuu industry changes a whole lot thanks to him.

And slowly, you start noticing how much and how frequently he was attending TV shows, variety shows and promoting his music more than he was in the studio recording his voice for anime series.

Miyano started to sell his personality at that time, to the point that, even when he wasn’t promoting anime or his music, he was still invited to variety shows or even music shows to participate and boost his image.

He does a little bit of everything. But he is also really good at what he does. You can say at the same time that he is, in a way, multi-talented.

He sure is a good voice actor and a stunning singer – he has a track record in both filled with accolades -, not to mention a really funny variety host and guest.

He is in that blurred line between multi-talented and a talento, but he certainly has a foot already in the talento side because much of his popularity, and the fact that he is well known in Japan, doesn’t come from anime or his music activities only, he’s actually known as a personality.

Some of you will disagree with me on this point, which is fair. This last part is only but my opinion. So, all things considered, I look at Miyano as a talento.

A note that, there are some Japanese people that use the word “talento” with a depreciative and mocking meaning, which I am not using here.

For reference, what they mean is that those people that have high exposure in the media are only like that because they only sell looks and a personality, and have nothing more to offer.

I believe this different meaning refers a bit to idols but I don’t want to dive into that, as that is far from the scope of this article.

Why are people thinking that being a seiyuu and a talento nowadays is almost the same thing?

If you remember, I mentioned on episode #2 of SEIYUU LOUNGE the reasons why male seiyuu kick off careers in the music industry.

There is a part of them that does it because it is their passion.

They’ve always been part of bands or have composed and written their music and lyrics since forever. They are, as I mentioned before, the ones that joined the music industry with pure intentions.

Then we have those that join in just because it is a trend. And they aren’t even known for their work in anime because they don’t have much to begin with.

I won’t be naming names. But you’ll notice that there are some seiyuu in highly popular music projects that barely have any credits in anime, games or narration to their name.

These are exactly the type of seiyuu that are blurring the lines in a really twisted way.

So those seiyuu that – by sheer luck – have been casted in a popular music project or those seiyuu that are riding the wave wanting to launch music careers like crazy – when both are barely known in the industry for their voice acting work -, are really the reason why the industry is turning into a bundle of talento or idol seiyuu with each new generation of seiyuu that joins in.

At the same time, if you notice, male seiyuu that are already established in the industry have been branching out like crazy in the last couple of years.

Yuki Kaji and Takuya Eguchi are good examples of that, however, for purposes of this article I want to touch a bit into what Yuki Kaji has been doing as he is, out of both, the one that is closest to being called a talento.

A note: Takuya Eguchi has branched out more to the arts side, launching his own apparel and accessories brand, being a host in his own travel show, is part of several music projects, yet he does not do variety appearances on TV shows in Japan to promote himself so he does not count as a talento, he’s more close to the idea of an idol seiyuu.

Back to the theme at hand.

Yuki Kaji is well known for his voice acting work.

He has 2 Best Leading voice actor awards from the Seiyuu Awards and is easily one of the dearest and most recognizable voices among male seiyuu fans.

However, in the past 5 years, he turned into an author, a fashion designer, TV drama actor and musical actor.

He goes and attends various variety and talk shows in Japan per year.

His face and his name sell.

He’s no longer known for his work as a seiyuu and a big part of his massive popularity came from his role as Eren in Attack on Titan and the connected TV promos that were made that took his name from a credit on an anime episode, to an identifiable face that people now wanted to see more of.

Much alike Mamoru Miyano, Yuki Kaji is showing that he is in that blurred line of multi-talented seiyuu and talento, given how much his face actually “sells”.

Seeing the success of Yuki Kaji, many other male seiyuu started to have the courage to branch out and, in one way or another, started to emulate what he and Miyano have been doing in terms of “selling themselves” to an audience, to boost their name and popularity.

The problem is when rookies do that when they do not have a “name to sell” or haven’t showcased their talents enough to warrant them being variety personalities or the sort.

That’s also when the lines start to blur.

At the same time, you don’t find specialized voice actors among the newest generations of seiyuu.

Have you noticed that?

Most talent agencies already look for those that can sing, dance, act, are creative in other areas such as design, music-composition, music theory and variety instead of just people that want to be voice actors. They also look for those with “good looks”.

Last I checked a voice actor didn’t need to be handsome to have a good voice but let’s not question that logic or lack thereof.

Of course talent agencies house other types of talents in their ranks aside from seiyuu. Some agencies represent actors, comedians and MCs.

But to look for – in a prospective seiyuu – qualities way far from what being a seiyuu entails, already tells us how the industry has shifted to the point that talent agencies believe that only seiyuu with good looks, that can sing and act are the ones that will be successful in the future.

What they are forgetting is that most of these seiyuu, unfortunately, will not survive the industry unless they are extremely lucky.

With the seiyuu rankings, the abuse and manipulation in the seiyuu industry that lead to some – unworthy seiyuu – to rise quickly in the ranks and snatch roles from talented voice actors that didn’t even had a chance due to rigged auditions – in which power plays and favoritism end up deciding most of the main cast in anime series – it is hard for seiyuu to thrive.

But focusing on selling a face instead of the voice and the acting skills shifts more towards using the seiyuu industry as springboard to other fields in the entertainment industry, not that seiyuu are diversifying their skills.

Think with me for a second.

If the seiyuu industry is already extremely competitive with highly skilled professionals in the scene, why would the seiyuu industry look for jacks of all trades that are not particularly good in voice acting nor in singing, nor in narration..?

Why would you choose someone that is not specialized over someone that is?

See what I am saying?

What will happen, of course, when the 90s-born generation of seiyuu (i.e. Kaito Ishikawa, Soma Saito, Yuma Uchida, Yuto Uemura, Yoshiki Nakajima, Toshiki Masuda, etc.) is in their 40s, the industry will be pretty watered down.

Do not forget that most seiyuu, past their prime – usually mentioned to be when they are in their 30s – lose the spotlight and stop getting leading roles in anime, as anime productions focus more and more on the new, cheapest talents they can get.

Bringing in big talents, of course, are ranked higher in the seiyuu rankings, ending up being more expensive so, unless an anime production is looking to bring in the fanbase from a specific seiyuu to try to sell more, usually, veteran seiyuu do not get main roles in anime and are not even considered for the supporting cast.

Back to the matter at hand.

When the 90s-born generation of seiyuu reach their 40s, few will be career seiyuu or purist seiyuu around in the industry.

All seiyuu will have music careers, launch apparel brands, be variety personalities and so on, and so forth.

If the veteran seiyuu of today already complain that most seiyuu in the 90s-born generation are not that good and we’re talking about the 90s-born generation, the last generation that is highly specialized, it is worrying.

Can you imagine the next ones that aren’t?

I don’t want to sound like someone that doesn’t see the bright side of things, but truth is, it is ridiculous that seiyuu have gone from voicing characters in radio dramas in the 80s, to starting to show their faces in the 90s, to kicking off careers in the music industry in the 00s, to embracing it in 10s to the point that it turned into a trend and now, in the 20s, we are already seeing seiyuu with less than 3 years of career as seiyuu already launching projects in the music industry.

At the same time, you have seiyuu that are only popular due to a specific music franchise launching apparel brands or releasing photobooks.

Back in the day things like these only came with years of experience and popularity.

You know, naturally.

Now, it seems that everyone is eager to jump into the next trend because they are afraid that they are losing to other seiyuu in the industry when, in fact, the industry is still the same at its core.

There are still seiyuu that are highly specialized or multi-talented that don’t need to have their hands everywhere to be successful.

You don’t need to be a talento or an idol to be successful as a seiyuu.

Unfortunately, many think that this is the way to go. And a big part of the blame is put on the fans.

Fans are getting more and more superficial by the day.

Voice actors should be appreciated by their talented voices and their acting. That’s what they trained for.

Not by how handsome they are or how good they sing or rap.

Fans have helped twist the industry a whole lot to the point that talent agencies push their talents to meet the ridiculous – and shallow – standards that young fans set on seiyuu, and seiyuu no longer believe that their voice alone will help them live off of what they love, which is voice acting.

As a result, the new generations of seiyuu are already being formatted by their talent agencies about how the industry is changing and, that in the future a seiyuu will have to be good at many things that… a re not really connected to what being a seiyuu really means.

So, talent agencies are creating talento or idol seiyuu.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times the words “idol seiyuu”. This is what I believe male seiyuu are actually turning into more so than turning into talento.

Is idol seiyuu that much different from being a talento?

In its essence, no.

Seiyuu do their voice acting work, they sing, they sell their face in various ways. They are revered by their fans who follow them and buy everything they do or appear on – much alike how fans of idols do.

That’s not that different from talento.

Remember when being a seiyuu was only standing behind a mic and no one knew their face and simply appreciated their voices?

Those days are long gone.

Unfortunately, talent isn’t enough anymore if you want to be successful.

It wasn’t already enough to begin with but now it is only but a small percentage of what determines if a seiyuu is deemed popular or not.

Now, it seems like it is a race to see who does the most out of the least they have to offer.

And that’s how you get ridiculous solo or group debuts that go under the radar quickly.

That’s how you have seiyuu that barely have any experience in voice acting itself releasing photobooks as if they were big stars.

That’s why you have so many copycats among seiyuu, trying to see who is at the forefront and immediately following the same pattern without actually adding any value to their career.

That is why the lines have blurred between seiyuu and talento.

Few are the multi-talented.

Few are the purist seiyuu.

Many are following the alleged trend of being an idol seiyuu.

Some, actually are more like talento than anything else.

The lines are really blurred.

I believe being an “idol seiyuu” will be the trend when this decade is over.

I would love for the seiyuu industry to continue to bet on those that are specialized in voice acting – regardless if they are rookies or not -, because these are the voice actors that give life to stories, to characters, to settings.

Those are the ones that move our hearts in the most unexpected ways.

Most seiyuu from the newest generations that are in leading roles nowadays don’t have the same impact, I’ve started to notice that as I returned to watching anime this year after a couple of years of not checking any anime.

If seiyuu start to focus too much on being everywhere just for the sake of it, if seiyuu start to go the talento route, the focus on the art of voice acting is put in the backseat.

The voice acting industry will slowly dilute itself into the entertainment industry if talento turn into the new “normal” among seiyuu.

A couple of idol seiyuu actually move the industry and put a spotlight on it. “Look, we’re here. Seiyuu are talented people!”.

But everyone being an idol seiyuu?

Then we’re no longer talking about the seiyuu industry.

If “seiyuu” stops being a thing and “talento” or “idol seiyuu” take over, it will be a loss for the voice acting industry itself.

Final considerations

Seiyuu turning into talento is something that has been worrying me – primarily as I am a big fan of voice acting as an art more so than a fan of specific seiyuu – since 2017.

While I am extremely supportive of male seiyuu wanting to venture into the music industry or trying their luck in acting, I believe that because of some seiyuu that have tried that and were successful, all other seiyuu now think that they should jump on that train.

And they shouldn’t.

Call me a purist or old-fashioned, but seiyuu should do what fits their talents best. Not jump on trends and see if they can cash in on everything. That doesn’t add value to their repertoire.

While looks can certainly feed the fantasies of the shallow fringes of the current generation of seiyuu fans – those that like to throw around the argument that, since a seiyuu is “handsome” they should get more roles in anime -, and fuel a seiyuu’s career when they are still struggling to get exposure through work as voice actors, it can come later to bite seiyuu in their rear if they don’t specialize in anything.

And on the long run, when they are no longer “pretty faces” and their – now – fans have long moved on to support a different, younger and more “handsome” or “cute” voice actor, they will have little to back up why anime productions should hire them.

That fan “support” comes with ridiculous expectations attached.

There are some fans of seiyuu that act almost like they do with idols.

They don’t want them to date, to marry, to play around with their hairstyle and hair color, they want them to look “cute” and “innocent” at all times and do fanservice all the time.

They force their “ships” onto seiyuu and burden them with that through “fan letters”.

What fans are, unconsciously asking for, is a blend of the “fake” personality of a talento blended with the life restrictions and looks of an idol.

You’ll say: “but seiyuu don’t need to show their true selves!”

And you are right.

But doesn’t it feel refreshing when seiyuu like Kaito Ishikawa, Yoshiki Nakajima, Soma Saito, Toshiki Masuda and Shinichiro Kamio show their true colors with no filters on them? Doesn’t what they do sound more genuine? Don’t you relate to them on some level because they are not faking about the things they are geeks about?

Some seiyuu have started to cater to those tastes and you already can spot “fake” personalities here and there.

If this isn’t the seiyuu industry turning into the entertainment industry and seiyuu turning into talento, I don’t know what it is.

Seiyuu didn’t sign up to be idols.

They are seiyuu to begin with and most of them are only catering to their fans tastes because they fear they will lose their support.

You know how games, narration, variety, drama CDs and other jobs don’t require auditions, right?

Producers have into account the seiyuu’s technique – in case of narration – and popularity (including fanbase size), when casting seiyuu for other jobs.

Of course seiyuu fear losing fans. It will close them a couple of doors.

But should they be catering to fans and sporting fake personas, being locked behind a “you can’t do a thing or you’ll anger your fans” policy on top of all the messed up things that happen in the seiyuu industry that even us, common fans, don’t know about?

Of course not.

However, it is hard to educate and change mentalities of fans that are so used to this new trend of seiyuu being a “face” with a voice instead of just a voice behind a character like they were up until the mid 90s.

The voice acting industry in Japan and many of its seiyuu, especially the newest generations – those that have been debuting in the industry since 2017 – have been focusing too much on the visuals and their variety personas and we all know what will follow: we’ll have a bunch of seiyuu with “good looks” – that’s subjective – and seriously lacking in voice acting skills.

Not to mention the watering down of the seiyuu industry as it is, morphing or blending into the entertainment industry.

I believe that the lines are already blurred and I fear that by the end of this decade, we – fans of voice acting as an art – will no longer be able to tell apart the differences between who is a seiyuu and who is a talento.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you think that seiyuu are losing its defining traces / characteristics and slowly turning into talento? What do you think the seiyuu industry will be like when this decade is over?

Let me know in the comments below!

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