What does Seiyuu mean?
That is question that most of us have made when we first started to get into anime or drama CDs or simply because we came across a GIF or a funny video featuring that Japanese word on the headline.
Yeah, I know, most of you already know the meaning to that word but, as this website and the podcast are “beginner” friendly, this content will be covered so that everyone can learn more about seiyuu in here.
Of course, the focus on this website continues to be on male seiyuu and their music endeavors so don’t expect me to stray away too much from both main themes even for these small bites of the SEIYUU LOUNGE podcast.
If you’ve just come across the word “seiyuu”, like I did in 2009, and have started to search more, chances are that you don’t know what it means or you don’t know well what seiyuu actually do.
And you are curious to learn more, am I right? That’s why I crafted this article about what are seiyuu for you as well as the video you have below that I invite you to check.
Before I kick off this topic, I want you to have 3 notions, so that you can understand the rest of the article.
The Japanese language is overwhelming for newcomers. That is a given.
Japanese have a 3-part writing system that encompasses Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana.
For us, foreigners, we actually use a 4th way of writing Japanese, only for phonetic reasons (to better learn the sounds and overall pronunciation of Japanese words), which is called, Romaji.
So, what are these 4 complex writing systems:
Kanji is a system of symbols that represent words or ideas, and that can have different meanings and pronunciations depending on their context.
It was brought to Japan by the Chinese.
Katakana and Hiragana are phonetic systems in which each character is a syllable.
Katakana is used for foreign and loanwords and, in special cases, for emphasis.
Alternatively, Hiragana is used for Japanese words that do not have an equivalent in Kanji or in cases the Kanji exists but is not considered common.
Romaji consists in using Latin script to write the Japanese language.
Basically, making Kanji, hiragana and katakana readable in a phonetic way that corresponds to our way of writing.
It is simpler to learn how to pronounce Japanese words this way.
Now that we have the basics, let’s kick off with what you really wanted to know.
What is a seiyuu?
Seiyuu is the Japanese word for voice actor (regardless of gender).
While in English and, in my case Portuguese, we have words for each gender (voice actor and voice actress for example) the Japanese language is pretty straightforward and uses one simple word that includes every gender, seiyuu.
In simple terms:
- A voice actor is a seiyuu.
- A voice actress is a seiyuu.
But note that, on Japanese TV, presenters still add the genre before “seiyuu” so that people can understand if they are talking about male or female voice actors.
This is because, most of the times, there are given names that are used for both male and female seiyuu thus, to avoid confusion, the gender is mentioned before the word “seiyuu”.
Still, in its essence, “seiyuu” is a genderless word.
Above is the romaji reading of the kanji 声優.
There’s something really interesting about its kanji reading that I believe deserves your attention.
Although Seiyuu in its common reading translates to voice actor, there are hidden meanings to it.
Seiyuu can also mean: voice superiority and voice gentleness.
Which, in my opinion, aren’t bad translations as well. If you’ve watched Japanese-dub anime, listened to a drama CD, or played a game localized in Japan or really made in Japan, you’ll see that those other meanings are not far off.
Japanese voice actors are really THAT good.
Why do people use the “MALE SEIYUU” and “FEMALE SEIYUU” terms?
Basically, because the word has no gender assigned, so when foreigners want to refer to a certain seiyuu – and don’t want to use the words “voice actor” that are usually used to refer to foreign voice actors –, they have to put the gender before the word seiyuu.
For example, The Hand That Feeds HQ is a website about male seiyuu music. What it means is that I cover music news and a whole lot of things about Japanese voice actors in this website. Not female seiyuu or both male and female seiyuu. Just male seiyuu.
Since it would be confusing to just say seiyuu (you don’t to which gender they refer to), people just use “male seiyuu” or “female seiyuu” instead.
You can use the word voice actor and voice actress – it’s not wrong -, it’s just not common among those that are big fans of Japanese voice actors.
What do seiyuu do?
That’s usually the following question once you get to know what Seiyuu means.
For me, Seiyuu are artists, voice artists.
With this rather cryptic explanation I mean that seiyuu use their voice in a wide variety of ways and are masters at it.
- Voice characters in anime series / movies
- Dub foreign movies and series
- Do narration
- Do radio work
- Do voice overs for commercials, museum guides
- Act – theatre, reading plays, stage plays, musicals, TV dramas
- Sing – solo, band, 2D idol projects
- Are youtubers
A note that I only listed “common” things they can do and that it involves using their voice.
Why is that?
Because there are seiyuu that are authors, designers, lyricists, teachers, TV personalities, jewelry designers and so on and so forth – looking at you again Takuya Eguchi and Yuki Kaji.
Hope that with this brief article you can get a better understanding of what are seiyuu and what do seiyuu do. If you are only now coming across seiyuu, I’d like to say that you will love all that they have to offer.
Seiyuu are amazing and their craft is, most of the times, otherworldly.
You will laugh, cry, get frustrated.
You will live the stories they help craft.
You will get excited about their music releases and will be impressed by how much they continue to push their boundaries, paving the way for future generations of voice actors in Japan to further explore.
And remember, if you start liking a seiyuu, don’t obsess over them, don’t stalk nor harass them (includes sending passive-aggressive fan mail).
Wish them well when they announce their marriage.
Support them in their endeavors but don’t push your feelings onto them as they already live a pretty stressful life, having to deal with a lot of business stuff and packed schedules that only allow them 1 or 2 hours of sleep per day between recordings.
And most importantly, have fun while supporting them.
This content is featured on THTFHQ’s weekly podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE.
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