Throughout their career, seiyuu have to attend multiple auditions. What are these, which jobs require auditions and what are the seiyuu industry’s dirty secrets?
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In the first quarter of 2020, recording for anime was halted.
Recordings then started to resume in May and June.
In October 2020, things calmed down a bit and the anime and seiyuu industries sure took the necessary steps to adapt to the changes that were needed to make it possible to continue to have auditions and, at the same time, recording sessions for anime.
Limiting the number of voice actors in the same room is one of the biggest issues, as it takes twice the amount of time it took with a room with the whole cast available, to pull off a recording for an episode.
Auditions quite possibly continue to be face-to-face, especially when, at home, you can’t ensure that your sound is studio quality or that your camera has enough quality, between many other details that may be taken into consideration by the anime directors and producers.
But how did auditions work to begin with?
In this article I will be briefly exploring this theme, going over what types of work have auditions and what doesn’t; as well as how auditions work and why casts tend to change between drama CDs and anime adaptations.
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 but there will be points in which I will mention briefly female seiyuu. As always note that The Hand That Feeds HQ covers news about male seiyuu.
Seiyuu attend a bunch of auditions throughout their career, especially if they voice characters in anime.
That is part of their daily routine as voice actors, especially if they want to have their name on the map.
Anime is a great outlet to showcase their talents and, possibly, have a consistent stream of work – if cast in long-running series.
But before seiyuu actually voice characters in anime, they have to attend auditions.
Auditions and their importance
An audition is, in its essence, a sample performance.
It involves the voice actor displaying their skills, by performing a special script made just for the audition – this, in the case of anime – for a character or set of characters they are aiming to get or sing a song chosen by themselves or a song out of a pool of songs chosen by the producers of 2D music projects, in case of music projects.
Sometimes, in the case of those 2D music projects that have drama CDs, games, or anime tie-ins, a double audition is made.
In this case, both the acting and singing skills will be tested in order to choose who will be the seiyuu taking each role.
Auditions are important to allow the producers and directors to assess a voice actor’s skills and take note of the tones of voice available and see if those match their initial ideas of how the characters should sound like.
This is pretty interesting as most seiyuu already noted that, sometimes, they go to audition for the main role and end up getting a different role from what they auditioned for because the producers felt that their voice was a better fit for another character.
These might be rigged from the start though.
There is a lot of talk of the “pillow business” in the seiyuu industry, although we all know that this is not exclusive to this industry, and there are some seiyuu that are instant “favorites” of the directors and producers that still hold auditions just to keep the appearance that everyone is being taken seriously when, in fact, they already had their choice made from the start.
This is the darkest part of the seiyuu industry. The manipulation, politics, favors, and the ” you have to sell yourself in every way possible” mentality that is shoved onto seiyuu by their talent agencies.
Which types of media don’t require seiyuu to audition for?
Narration, Pachinko, and Dubbing don’t require auditions. Usually, seiyuu are handpicked by the producers.
In the case of dubbing, if a seiyuu is the “official voice” of a foreign actor, they are always called to dub if that actor is in any movie or series to be dubbed in Japanese.
For example, Toshiyuki Morikawa is the official voice of Tom Cruise in Japan. That’s a consistent stream of revenue for Morikawa.
Drama CDs as well don’t require auditions.
In this case, the mangaka – or sensei – directly choose the seiyuu they want to voice the characters they created. Auditions are not common for this medium of entertainment.
Drama CDs don’t pay that well but as one-offs, they can be an extra source of money for seiyuu, plus, since there is no casting, there is no bias by the directors, only the word of the mangaka is king, which leads to pretty interesting drama CDs casts that you’d, basically, never find in anime.
This leads me to:
Why isn’t my favorite seiyuu, who was cast in a drama CD, part of the anime adaptation?
This is tricky, isn’t it?
It happened recently when the original cast of given was all replaced for the anime series.
given is easily the best BL manga out there.
Prior to the anime announcement, the manga was already a big hit in Japan and beloved overseas.
The drama CDs have been insanely popular since the start and the star-studded main cast consists of Soma Saito as Mafuyu, Makoto Furukawa as Uenoyama, Hino Satoshi as Kaji, and Yasuaki Takumi as Haruki is beloved among the fans of the manga.
Why would they replace a star-studded cast for its anime adaptation?
I have 4 reasons as to why there was a recast.
There are just guesses based on what is common practice in the anime industry.
There might be more reasons or a completely different reason at the core as to why you’d replace the cast from a drama CD when you make an anime adaptation.
Once again, these reasons are not exhaustive and, in no way I am referring to the recasting of given.
This is about recastings in general.
Drama CDs don’t have auditions. Seiyuu are handpicked by the sensei.
And due to that, you often find some pretty unusual casts with seiyuu that you’d normally not find with ease in anime series. You also find cult or lesser-known seiyuu dazzling in some drama CDs.
You can also have a star-studded cast if there is a budget for that and the seiyuu in question accept the offer to be in the drama CD.
Now, when it comes to anime, a director will take over.
The director might not like the original cast – or some seiyuu in the cast – from the drama CD and decides to recast everyone so as to not give the name of who he doesn’t really want in the cast.
This is, usually, the kind of director that plays favorites and if their “favorites” are not in the original cast, there’s also another reason why there would be a recast.
As abovementioned, drama CDs do have pretty luxurious casts at times.
However, when you go anime and you have to take into account that seiyuu get not only a fee per episode but also a fee per rebroadcasts, DVD, and Blu-ray releases… you start budgeting your production and end up recasting to try to get some rookies or lower-ranked seiyuu into the cast to lower production and casting costs.
Sound engineer is not a fan of one or some of the voice actors
It is said in the industry that seiyuu must, by all means, befriend sound engineers as they also have a say in the final cast.
If a seiyuu is on the wrong page with a sound engineer and they are in that adaptation to anime, it is safe to say that they won’t be a part of the cast thus, in order to not give away that there is bias by the sound engineer and, ultimately, by the director, the whole main cast is recast.
Recasting to make things interesting
Sometimes, there is an audition for the anime version and the casting directors invite the original cast to fight for their roles against rookies and other seiyuu that have signed up for the audition.
Sometimes, the original cast loses their spots to different seiyuu, giving way for a whole different cast.
Once again, this is based on what is common practice in the anime industry in Japan. These are not exhaustive reasons.
Now, let’s explore the dark side of auditions and the seiyuu industry.
If you thought auditions were tough, now imagine what is behind them.
There are known counts of bullying in the industry. Most of you may be aware of who are the seiyuu that have bullied their peers.
I won’t name names because the focus of this article is to bring awareness not point fingers.
But if you want to learn more about it, I invite you to search about bullying in the seiyuu industry and several cases will turn up.
Now, let’s do a bit of an exercise. Imagine you’re a seiyuu.
After you nail a tough audition you think, now let’s do my best and work together with the cast, hang out with them to have chemistry during recordings and everything about the recording environment is going to be harmonious.
Unfortunately, sometimes, seiyuu in the same cast don’t particularly like each other’s presence.
Other times, seiyuu like to flaunt their “importance” or “power” and do so by picking on others beyond the friendly tease that all veterans do to make one feel more at ease and welcome.
So, the environment inside of a studio can be cut-throat at times.
And, in the past, it has escalated to targeted bullying of some seiyuu.
So, let’s move on to another awful, dirty secret in the industry:
The pillow business
[TRIGGER WARNING: sexual and psychological abuse]
If you’re okay with the content, just scroll below.
The pillow business is one of the biggest and most alarming problems found in the seiyuu industry.
And unfortunately, the ones that take the brunt of the issue are female seiyuu. In a, still, patriarchal and conservative society, women are in a really sensitive spot when they are not in leading positions.
And, as seiyuu, being freelance contractors – even if represented by their talent agency – they are even more vulnerable.
The seiyuu industry has its demons.
The casting couch or pillow business is yet to be eradicated from it.
There is a lot of talk online and dedicated fans of female seiyuu have documented most of the situations that have happened and that no one batted an eye to it.
For those trying to make it to the seiyuu industry, especially seiyuu trainees and then rookies, there’s a lot of abuse to endure.
And yes, it amounts to the already difficult conditions in which voice actors and actresses live when starting out their career, the low or no wages when they are below rank F as a seiyuu, and the difficulty that is to have their golden chance to shine.
In 2007, Arts Vision, talent agency that houses Tomoaki Maeno, Yuya Hirose, Kousuke Toriumi, and Daiki Yamashita, among many other talents, was under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
The company’s chairman and founder, Sakumi Matsuda, assaulted a 16-year-old that was being interviewed to be a voice actress.
The girl accused Matsuda of having touched her inappropriately in the lower parts of her body. Matsuda soon admitted to the charges but that girl ended up being rejected by Arts Vision following the events.
In 2018, voice actress Atsuko Enomoto shared her experience dealing with the sexual harassment and power plays in the seiyuu industry.
Enomoto mentioned that, early on in her career as a voice actress, no one helped her – not even her manager – and she had no one to turn to when facing hardships.
She wanted someone to vent her frustrations and fears in, the result of her brushes with sexual and power harassers within the seiyuu industry.
Enomoto added that, although the seiyuu industry is dark and dirty, in no way does it come closer to other fields in the entertainment industry, which is worrying.
She added that, what worries her, especially with the predatory behavior of both directors and some male seiyuu, is that, with each passing year, more and more minors are joining the industry and being exposed as victims to those unwanted advances and abuse.
Being aware of the well-known stories in the seiyuu industry, Enomoto started to take matters into her hands to avoid falling victim to a director or a seiyuu with ulterior intentions.
Not only does she go alone by taxi to her home after drinking outings with cast and staff, but she also looks out for other female seiyuu that are alone during those events and keeps them company, lending her shoulder to younger women in the seiyuu industry that may be struggling or being victims of the industry’s demons.
A year later, in 2019, and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, female seiyuu, Hiroko Konishi wrote a lengthy article for a Japanese news outlet in which she exposed part of the abuse – psychological, physical, and sexual – that female seiyuu have suffered or endure in order to be in the industry.
Konishi mentioned that, early in her career (her rookie days), her manager tried to “teach” her how the industry works by coercing her into going on a “pleasure trip” with Akitaro Daichi – director of the original Fruits Basket anime (2001) to “thank him” for all the assistance he had given her.
The “thanking Akitaro Daichi” part included taking Konishi on a mixed bathing spring alone with the director, something that Konishi refused.
That refusal led to Konishi being put on the side, with other seiyuu and staff avoiding her and not inviting them for further social events.
Worse yet, Konishi started to be rejected for roles in anime.
Hiroko Takahashi shed a light on the industry’s parties and get-togethers and how social pressure led her, later on in her career, to attend those.
Her agency told her that, as a seiyuu, “she has to sell herself“, being well known among fellow female seiyuu that talent alone was not enough to land roles in anime.
During one of those drinking parties with staff and seiyuu, Konishi was pressured into agreeing to go on a hot springs outing. That outing was initially meant to be a gathering with everyone working on that series (there is no mention of the name of that anime).
Turns out she arrived at the location and there was only her and the director.
Her manager threatened her when she started to realize what was going to happen, saying that she “had to provide service“ to the director.
She mentioned that she didn’t have a swimsuit to which her manager mockingly replied that she “didn’t need to wear one“.
Konishi recounted as well a case of a manager that physically struck a voice actor he worked with.
The reason was that seiyuu was late for a meeting.
The manager was reported to the head of the agency. He defended himself by saying that he acted within his powers. The company accepted the reason and let him continue his work.
This and all the other cases of abuse and physical abuse led Konishi to quit her agency.
Upon coming forward about the rampant harassment – sexual, physical, and psychological – in the seiyuu industry, she was blacklisted.
As you can see, the seiyuu industry is far from being a paradise and being filled with “angels” among both seiyuu and directors.
While there may be some female seiyuu that actually won’t bother with these kinds of advances, couch auditions, and the sort – there are known cases – many female seiyuu just wanted to make their dream of being a seiyuu, and living off of that work, come true.
And yet, another issue comes into play that may hinder even more the opportunities for Japanese voice actors and voice actresses to actually shine in the seiyuu industry.
Hand-in-hand with the pillow business comes favoritism. This is common among some anime directors and it also impacts how much you see or hear of a seiyuu in a given anime season.
This is often a sensitive theme to talk about because linked to some directors that play favorites come to a lot of beloved male and female seiyuu.
Jin Aketagawa is notoriously known – reported in Japanese newspapers – for playing favorites in almost all the anime series he’s directed. Recently, he was the sound director for Fruits Basket’s 2nd season.
I won’t get into the topic of which seiyuu have been favorites of his but, if it is an indication, looking at the anime he directs and then looking at the casts for each of those series, you’ll find a lot of names repeating themselves.
Take that with a grain of salt though, as nothing is proven and the last paragraph is but my opinion.
Now, let’s talk about favoritism and its dangers.
Seiyuu fans often have the misconception of “if a seiyuu is cast in a lot of anime it sure is because they are talented“.
While I, and most of you, would love for this to be true, know that the seiyuu industry is a business, and having connections goes a long way regardless if seiyuu are talented or not.
Also don’t forget the “favors” and couch auditions as those have a pull and are, in some cases, closely connected to the favoritism.
Food for thought: if a seiyuu is almost everywhere in anime during a specific season, there is a 50% chance they are in some series due to favoritism, others due to sheer talent (because they nailed the auditions).
Now, if that seiyuu and the same directors/sound engineers seem to turn up in the same projects… it is 100% certain that the seiyuu in question got there because of being the favorites to someone in the production team of said anime.
On the other hand, if your favorite seiyuu does have an erratic career in anime, for example, not getting many leading roles, going on long periods of time – a season or more of anime – with no big exposure in anime, or not being part of the cast in mainstream shounen anime when that seiyuu is, actually, pretty popular, it is safe to say that your favorite seiyuu is not part of anyone’s “favorites” list and they have been doing their job in an honest way.
Some will say: even if my favorite seiyuu is being favored, that is good, right? They are getting work, that’s what matters.
Sorry but, no.
Their favorite seiyuu might be awesome and have an excellent track record of being really good at conveying emotions and giving life to believable characters but, by being favored by directors, especially if it is a recurrent thing, they are taking away the chance for other seiyuu to prove themselves and, who knows, maybe impressing with their skills.
Or even to have a fair “fight” for those roles with talented newcomers.
Some fans will also say: Who cares?
The voice acting industry in Japan improves by giving the spotlight to everyone that has an insane level of talent and dedication to their craft.
If it is all the same voice actors everywhere, I guarantee you that people will start thinking something is off, that those seiyuu are being favored and some will, eventually, even avoid watching those anime series because said seiyuu is everywhere and is, in some cases, no longer fitting the roles they are getting.
Imagine that, from 2000 to 2010, all the same, 90s old-school seiyuu were still hogging all main roles in anime and no opportunity was given to the early 00s class.
They are now stars in their own right, having proved time and time again why they are cast in anime.
But for that to happen, they had to have a chance given to them to show what they were made of.
Imagine if they hadn’t and favoritism from the directors towards the same, already established seiyuu, had been a thing.
Yeah, it doesn’t look nor sound good.
Or imagine how what would be if the popular 00s seiyuu were everywhere and being the instant “favorites” to cast in anime in the 10s.
Seiyuu like Daiki Yamashita, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Kaito Ishikawa, Soma Saito, Takuya Eguchi, and more couldn’t have their chance because those seiyuu from the 00s would still be hogging the leading roles.
Does it sound good for the seiyuu industry?
Of course not.
The seiyuu industry needs variety, not the same old faces and voices everywhere. There should be continuity as a seiyuu.
They start their careers by voicing minor characters, then grow more talented and popular and are given a chance to prove themselves in leading roles. Some shine when given that opportunity and turn into stars. Others fail and keep trying.
Time passes and, as seiyuu get older, they give way to younger prospects in the seiyuu industry to get those leading roles.
This is continuity. That is something that also goes down the drain if directors play favorites.
And some of you will insist: let others stop watching the anime! I will watch and the fans of this seiyuu that is favored will continue to watch those series!
That’s right. You will.
His fans will, but all the other people might not.
But you’re most likely not living in Japan so, you watching or not matters little to the numbers that make or break anime series in Japan.
You can, however, influence DVD and Blu-ray sales from those anime series, that’s it, if you purchase those.
But remember, seiyuu are paid by episode, rebroadcasts, and releases on DVD and Blu-ray.
I can assure you that, if an anime is a flop on Japanese TV, it won’t be getting a DVD and Blu-ray.
There goes a paycheck for your favorite male seiyuu down the drain.
If it was a flop, it won’t be rebroadcasted as well.
Another paycheck down the drain.
That’s already 2 paychecks less in their bank accounts.
As you can tell, we need to look at the bigger picture.
Seiyuu need as many people to watch the anime they are voicing characters in, turn it into a somewhat popular series, have it released on DVD and Blu-ray, sell well, and, somewhere down the line, have it rebroadcast.
They want that money.
That is why they work so hard to stand out.
Of course, showcasing their skills is also a focus but in the end, it is money that keeps them afloat in the industry.
Favoritism gives seiyuu a bad name
At the same time, just like we notice favoritism by some producers and directors, all other seiyuu in the industry are also aware.
They know it.
They gossip about it.
Those seiyuu that are favorites of a certain director or producer have a target on their backs.
If your favorite seiyuu is being favored, it is safe to say that few fellow seiyuu in the industry respect them.
There will be, of course, others that will try to latch onto them, seeking an easy way for those connections to somehow, transfer to them.
Not that the opinion of other seiyuu really matters when all they want is to work and, by the end of the day, everyone is fighting to survive but… it sits wrong with everyone that works their ass off only to participate in a rigged audition.
That is why I actually like that some anime directors hold blind auditions.
What are blind auditions?
These are the type of auditions in which all roles are up for grabs for anyone that fits the role.
There is no indication that “henchman #1” should sound manly or that the main character should have this or that voice tone.
There’s only a minimal number of instructions and it is up for the seiyuu to actually craft that character on the spot.
Also, the directors and producers do not have access to the list of seiyuu that will be taking the audition. And won’t see nor interact with them, only listening to them performing the characters they are aiming for.
Shinichiro Watanabe – of Zankyo no Terror, Cowboy Bebop, and Sakamichi no Apollon fame – is known for holding blind auditions.
That’s how he came up with the cast of Zankkyo no Terror, which, in 2014, made a lot of people go “who are they?” or “couldn’t they cast someone popular instead?“.
Both Kaito Ishikawa and Soma Saito were not known at that time. They were mere rookies.
Yet, they managed to nail the blind audition and got the leading roles in the series. And yes, Shinichiro Watanabe is known for being a pain to deal with because he’s a really strict director.
While blind auditions are still a rare thing in the industry, I believe that this is the way to go to avoid directors playing favorites and, at the same time, seiyuu falling victims to sexual and psychological abuse or feeling like their skills are not enough to navigate and survive in the industry.
That is a downward spiral that breaks a lot of seiyuu, with this being more common among female seiyuu that are in a fragile position in Japan.
But you’ll say: blind auditions are still not bias-free!
How much do you think anime directors and producers listen to voice actors? Probably not much or at all outside of their work.
They do not listen to drama CDs as we do, they don’t watch their variety appearances like we do, hell, they don’t even listen to their music.
So, they are not familiarized with their voices like we are, to the point that we can instantly identify a “sigh” of our favorite seiyuu while other people glance at us thinking that we’re either “crazy” or “way too much into” a specific voice.
A blind audition, especially when a seiyuu is crafting a unique voice for a character is the most anonymous setting you could get.
Of course, there will be some directors that know their favorite voices like we do our favorites.
In this case, the only option would be to single out those that play favorites – they are already known in the seiyuu industry and even newspapers in Japan have singled them out -, and those that, basically, abuse their power and status should simply be removed from the industry.
Give way for talented directors that just want to craft the best anime experiences, not those that are almost playing Pokemon, catching and collecting favorites, using them in everything they are directing, and completely forgetting about a sea of talented individuals that could, in normal circumstances, have nailed a role in their productions if auditions had been conducted focusing on talent and performances alone.
Is that easy to do?
Unfortunately, no. Most of those directors that play favorites or demand favors are big shots in the industry, having directed critically acclaimed anime series.
Most, if not, all companies want to work with them because of their talents in the field.
It doesn’t excuse that they are awful human beings but you how this is… Business has a way to ignore these things unless it is a trend or a globalized movement.
The seiyuu industry is not a paradise.
It is incredibly hard to join it.
It is insanely hard to survive it.
It is hard not to give in and take a shortcut, selling yourself in order to quickly stand out from others.
It is hard to reach the top based on talent alone.
And those that do, might very well be a selected few. Even seiyuu that are not in anyone’s favorites lists, seem to get roles in anime always from the same studios or from the same distribution companies.
Is that favoritism or are they just considered reliable, household names to count on?
Once again, I’d like to mention that both the pillow business and the favoritism are really controversial and sensitive topics.
The seiyuu industry had a small, almost unnoticeable MeToo movement that made some female seiyuu come forward about the abuse and all the manipulation that there is in the industry. Unfortunately, it was short-lived and never had as much impact as the movement had in countries such as the United States of America.
You can also guess that, for female seiyuu to tell their stories, they had to step out of the seiyuu industry or they were blacklisted forever and forced to leave the industry.
Sexual, psychological, and physical abuse happen regardless of gender and while not spoken about, I have no doubts that what happens to female seiyuu, in a way, must be happening to male seiyuu as well.
Fear of repercussions might be at the core as to why not more seiyuu speak out about how the industry is at its core.
The seiyuu industry is as dark and dirty as you now have heard.
Do you now understand why some seiyuu try to focus too much on having a music career instead of doing anime work?
They are trying to run away from that pressure, that abuse, and those politics.
They want to be regarded for their talents and skills alone.
They want to actually have enough to survive in the industry.
They joined the industry because they wanted to make their dream come true.
They wanted to have their voice on TV, they wanted to emulate their idols in the industry.
They wanted to earn enough money to live off of their passion.
They didn’t sign up to be abused.
So, appreciate your favorite seiyuu. Support them in the best way you can.
Remember, they are by themselves in this industry and it is far from being easy to navigate.
Unfortunately, there is no bright way to talk about how putrid the seiyuu industry is at its core.
And although everything in this article will be considered, to some extent, controversial, I decided that while having this platform the best I could do, aside from talking and reviewing male seiyuu music, was to raise awareness for what is going on in the industry.
This dark side exists and who knows? It might be as dark as the entertainment industry in Japan is. Perhaps even worse.
Some seiyuu manage to avoid being manipulated but never get to be big names in the industry.
Known by some, yes, massive stars, hardly.
That’s the unfortunate truth. Know as well that seiyuu that are considered to be on “top” today, were once vulnerable to all the abuse mentioned in this article, and that some of those on top perhaps have, in a way, “sold themselves” in order to be there today.
But, of course, not everything is bad.
So, let’s shine the light over more positive things, however, never forgetting the other side of the coin.
There are still good anime directors and producers. Impartial ones that only care about delivering a good anime experience with voice actors that actually fit the roles they have available and have the talent to back up why they were chosen over other voice actors.
There are still good people in the industry. There are still managers that respect, listen and care and that are like family to voice actors and actresses.
There are some anime productions that have awesome environments in which both the cast and directors plus producers hang out in a healthy way, respect each other but also recognize that they shouldn’t have a bias and must give a chance to everyone to showcase their talents.
So, have that in mind as well. The good apples outnumber the bad apples however, unfortunately, the bad ones have all the power to dictate who is the next big star.
This content is featured on THTFHQ’s weekly podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE.
You can find the podcast on the following platforms
Related reads on the topic (in English)
Yurina Hase’s testimony: http://bit.ly/YurinaHase
Atsuko Enomoto’s testimony: http://bit.ly/AtsukoEnomoto
Hiroko Konishi’s testimony: http://bit.ly/HirokoKonishi
Arts Vision chairman case: http://bit.ly/ArtsVisionChairman