81 Produce legend. Voice acting skills praised domestically as well as overseas. Owner of one of the most loved voices in the gaming industry. This month we take a look at the career of one of the seiyuu industry’s greats, Hidenari Ugaki.
BORN: July 25, 1963
OCCUPATION: seiyuu, actor and narrator
Hidenari Ugaki was born on July 25, 1963 in Tokyo, Japan. He is currently managed by 81 Produce. He graduated from Toho Gakuen in Tokyo in 1984 and soon joined Bungakuza’s Literature Training Institute in Tokyo.
1991 – 1995
Debut days and nailing the first lead role
Ugaki made his debut as a seiyuu in 1991. His first role was in the comedy and sports anime, Honoo no Toukyuuji: Dodge Danpei as Jun Takayama.
Between 1991 and 1995, Ugaki managed to voice various characters in anime and OVA. He voiced secondary and/or random characters in anime such as Detonator Orgun (1991), The Hakkenden (1991), Oi! Ryouma (1992), D-1 Devastator (1992), Flanders no Inu, Boku no Patrasche (1992), Kyou kara Ore wa!! (1993),☆Hakusho (1992), Nintama Rantarou (1993), Crayon Shin-chan (1994), Sore Ike! Anpanman (1994), just to name a few.
However, 1994 would be the year in which his hard work would finally pay off.
Ugaki was casted to voice Harumichi Bouya in the action OVA series, Koukou Butouden Crows. His portrayal as the carefree and prideful Harumichi Bouya stood out and, although the OVA series was only 2 episodes long, fans of the series still hold his performance dear.
Another character that stood out during this period was Argo Gulskii in the mecha anime, Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994). Gulskii is not a main character in the anime series but still holds some importance in the main story. Ugaki’s performance as a man wanting to repent for his sins, made Gulskii an interesting cast in the classic anime series.
From 1995 onwards, Ugaki started to be casted often in the role of “father” or “uncle” to characters in anime series such as Azuki-chan (1995), Yanbou Ninbou Tonbou (1995), Chou Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru (1997), Pokemon (1999), Bouken Ou Beet (2004), Pretty Rhythm: Rainbow Live (2014), just to name a few.
Ugaki started to be typecasted for characters that were big, imposing or, in contrast, family figures, due to his considerably deep and hearty manly voice.
1996 – 1999
Building up his repertoire
This period proved to be important for Ugaki to build up his repertoire in hopes of nailing yet another main or leading role in an anime series. During this 4-year span, he voiced a wide array of random and secondary characters and 1 main role.
Ugaki was casted to voice Denji Higashi in the 1996 sports anime, Ganbarist! Shun.
Part of the main cast, Higashi is an important character that provides not only comic relief but is also responsible for helping making the story progress by providing training to Toshihiko Sanada, character voiced by fellow 81 Produce talent, Shinichiro Miki.
Ugaki’s portrayal of the muscular, manly-man Higashi made the main cast shine back when the series aired.
Some of the anime in which he voiced characters in include: Doraemon (1996), Bakusou Kyoudai Let’s & Go (1996), Mojakou (1996), Clamp Gakuen Tanteidan (1997), Chuuka Ichiban! (1997), Hyper Police (1997), Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo (1997), Hakugei Densetsu (1997), TRIGUN (1998), LEGEND OF BASARA (1998), BADBOYS5 (1998), Initial D Second Stage (1999), -ZOIDS- (1999), Turn A Gundam (1999), Digimon Adventure (1999), Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 (1999), between many other anime series.
2000 – 2010
The 10s were quite nice on Ugaki. This was a decade filled with interesting projects and intricate characters to portray. It was the decade that helped define his career as a one of the most talented seiyuu in the industry.
Active in both dubbing anime and games characters, Ugaki saw his popularity soar when he took on the role as Goro Majima in the Yakuza franchise back in 2005.
However the popularity from the games industry didn’t exactly transfer to his voice acting career in anime. Ugaki was still underrated and in comparison with fellow seiyuu debuted in the early 90s, he was not that popular among anime fans.
Ugaki was not even once casted in a main or leading role in anime for the whole decade.
Even if a well deserved leading role did not come his way, it does not mean that he didn’t have the opportunity to play interesting, albeit supporting or even random roles in some of the most popular anime series in the 10s such as Inuyasha (2001), ONE PIECE (2003), MONSTER (2004), Naruto (2005), Pokemon (2005), Doraemon (2005), D.Gray-man (2006), Gintama (2006), Bakuman (2010) and MAJOR 6th season (2010).
Regardless of the importance of the role to or in a series, Ugaki always focused on giving consistent performances, adapting quickly to different genres of anime, performing using different registers of his voice – although he is mostly known for his deep voice -, and giving life to his characters with believable, entertaining performances.
He showed producers and anime fans that he would be not portray a character, he would be the character.
Other anime he voiced characters in during this decade include: Kaikan Phrase (2000), Street Fighter Zero The Animation (2000), Kikaider 01 The Animation (2001), Full Metal Panic! (2002), Hungry Heart: Wild Striker (2002), Kaleido Star (2003), PAPUWA (2003), Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY (2004), AIR (2005), MÄR (2005), Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (2007), Hanasakeru Seishounen (2009), just to name a few.
Respect but underrated
In the turn of the decade, Hidenari Ugaki was still considered a legend by many fans at the same time that a complete unknown for others.
The seiyuu industry changed dramatically in 2011 and gradually it was noticeable that starting from there competition would be fierce for roles.
Usually a niche industry, voice acting blew up in popularity around 2009 – 2011 (much due to the new rise of seiyuu idols), leading to thousands of people enrolling in seiyuu schools, hundreds graduating and joining the industry and the not-so-popular names finding themselves in a bind. Competition. How to stand out if their voice and acting was no longer enough.
Having to branch out in order to make a name for themselves. Those that were not willing to branch out would stay where they were, nameless. The unsung heroes in some of anime fans’ memories but for everyone else, that seiyuu that seldom has noticeable roles.
Ugaki earned the popularity and fame he deserved in the games industry but it seems that it did not translate to the anime industry, with Ugaki never being the first choice for a leading role and with this, another long span of time without a leading role ensued.
It was roles like Jinin Akebino in Naruto Shippuden (2012), J. Animal M. in Ace of Diamond (2013), KHAN in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (2014), Batoal Rainhawk in Rokka no Yusha (2015), King of Milidonia in Dame x Prince Anime Caravan (2018) and Alexis Dawson in 2018’s hit anime, BANANA FISH.
He also voiced supporting or random characters in anime series such as GOSICK (2011), Beyblade 4D (2011), Dantalian no Shoka (2011), SKET DANCE (2012), Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 (2012), Kingdom (2012), Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii (2014), Cardfight!! Vanguard G (2014), Detective Conan (2016), Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars (2016), Reikenzan: Eichi e no Shikaku (2017), Juuni Taisen (2017), Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou (2018), Baki (2018), JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken Part 5: Ougon no Kaze (2019). Ugaki’s consistency and quality have helped him keep up with the times and still, among the fierce competition in the seiyuu industry, still show his talent.
Looking at his repertoire, Ugaki does not have as much interest in radio work as he does for dubbing or narrating. Since his debut he only participated in 2 radio shows: Ryu ga Gotoku RADIO STATION in 2008 and theBOOKs no Happy raji! (2014).
Now, if Ugaki is rather unknown among anime fans, the same can not be said about among gamers. Ugaki has a prolific career in this field with most of his iconic roles being from this medium.
His first roles in games were in 1994 in The Legend of Xanadu and MOBILE FIGHTER G GUNDAM. Most of the games Ugaki has voiced characters in since then are often of the mecha, action and/or fighting genre. He excels in drama but is also a fantastic comedic and action voice actor.
Over the years he has voiced a wide variety of characters in the Gundam and Super Robot Wars franchises. Other games include Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XII, Street Fighter V, Shadowverse, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, Fist Of The North Star Lost Paradise, between many others.
But if there is a role that made Ugaki one of the most respected voice actors in the gaming industry it is The Mad Dog of Shimano, Goro Majima from the Yakuza franchise.
The Yakuza franchise kicked off in 2005 with its first game, Yakuza.
Since then 11 Yakuza games were released – with some iterations being new generation remakes of the earlier games -, and almost since the start Goro Majima has ranked on top of the popularity ranks among the whole cast of the Yakuza franchise, even the protagonist of the series Kiryuu Kazama.
The Yakuza games are known for their gripping and heart-wrenching storytelling as well for its shenanigans with over-the-top side quests and a wide variety of activities to partake aside from the main story. Due to this, this is a franchise that appeals to both men and women and is always a much anticipated game whenever there’s a new installment to be released.
Now, Goro Majima is a character that grows throughout the series, the Yin to Kazama’s Yang. The character was first presented to the fans of the franchise in its first game, Yakuza (2005) and soon started to be a fan favorite.
Majima is a charismatic, imposing and resourceful character that is respected by ally and foe alike. His fake persona is of a mentally deranged man although, deep down, he is a polite, caring individual with a strong sense of loyalty and values.
He goes through his trials and tribulations throughout the franchise’s main 6 games, fighting his demons, protecting people he loves while wreaking havoc and having fun. Majima is one of the most intricately crafted characters in the franchise’s main cast, a character with a depth that makes the character believable and instantly lovable.
For this role as Goro Majima, Ugaki used a Kansai accent with a bit of the intonation tweaked making what he and the producing team calls “Majima Dialect”.
His performance as Majima is highly regarded by the franchise’s fans as well as it is one of the first things that stand out to new fans. It is, hands down, Ugaki’s most popular character to date.
Hidenari Ugaki has a prolific dubbing and narration career. He is extremely acting dubbing foreign live action movies and dramas as well as cartoons and giving voice to TV commercials and doing voice over.
He is the official Japanese voice for the South Korean actor, Sung-jin Kang. Due to this he dubbed Get Karl! Oh Soo-jung, Reversal of Fortune, Hi! Dharma! and Break Out.
Aside from this Ugaki has done dubbing work for movies such as The Reef, X-MEN2, The Omen, Kong: Skull Island, The Wraith, The Spirit, POST IMPACT, Saw II, The Butler, LEGEND OF THE WOLF, A Dog’s Purpose, between many other movies.
When it comes to foreign dramas and TV series, Ugaki has credits in ER, CSI, 24, Cold Case, Dr. Who, Power Rangers, El tiempo entre costuras, Sex and the City, Nash Bridges, NCIS:LA and more.
Dubbing cartoons is also something Ugaki does quite often however there is a character that he is best known for: Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Turtles (original from 1987) animated series.
He has done voice over work for NHK’s educational programmes, Nihonjin wa naze senso e to mukatta no ka, 100 Pun de Meicho and Cosmic Front ☆ NEXT. He also did narration for the Japanese TV dramas, Atsuhime (2008) and Heart of a Samurai (2009).
Ugaki has participated in a couple of drama CDs throughout his career however he does not make it a priority as a professional to have lot of work in this area.
Despite the current trends in this field, Ugaki has never participated in a situation drama CD and participated in few otome-driven drama CDs. Most of his work in this field is closely tied to anime series he was a part of or part of manga bundles.
Some of the drama CDs he has participated in include: Weiß kreuz Dramatic Precious 1st STAGE SLEEPLESS NIGHT, WEST END II, CANON, PAPUWA, Nanako Kaitai Shinsho, Hajime no Ippo, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Kamisama Hajimemashita, The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch, between many others.
Just like many seiyuu of his generation, singing was not an appealing nor considered a necessary area for a seiyuu to delve in. And just like many seiyuu of his generation, Ugaki never had a solo nor group career.
Even if he did not endeavor in his name on a career in the music industry, he still lent his voice to a couple of songs in the Yakuza franchise, performing as Goro Majima. His voice has a gentleness that, in the case of Majima, charmingly contrasts with the visuals of the character.
Active as a stage actor
Although Ugaki is mostly known for his work as a seiyuu and narrator, he’s done quite some work as an actor. In 1997, he participated in the play produced by 81 Produce, Yume no kaizoku.
A couple of years later, Ugaki participated on DRAMATIC COMPANY SAKURA’s Adauchi (2003), Gekidan Kishino-gumi’s Ka・Ra・Ku・Ri (2009), Berserk kogane jidai-hen, hao no tamago (2012) and Gekidan hana Shizuoka koen’s Samurai Ondo (2014).
His work in these plays transfers to his work as a seiyuu, being a main reason why his performances are so natural. At the same time, his work as a seiyuu made his participation in the reading plays Sakura ni Gassen (2015) and MOMOTARO (2015) something to look forward to among his fans.
With this we wrap up another Seiyuu Digest. In the meantime, don’t forget to check past Seiyuu Digests (some of those recently updated) – HERE.