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Interest in Voice Acting Grows

February 23, 2001
While television cartoons are popular all over the world with young people, in Japan the desire to be a voice actor in such cartoons or in foreign movies that are dubbed into Japanese has been quietly growing. The swelling ranks of aspiring voice actors are the result not only of greater familiarity with the occupation through cartoons that people have grown up watching; they are also an outgrowth of the recent increase in opportunities to launch a career as singers or television personalities after working as a voice actor. There are now a number of training schools and courses for voice acting, including those catering to middle and high school students. Business at these schools is booming.

Only a Handful Succeed
There are currently an estimated 1,500 voice actors in Japan. However, only a handful have successfully been able to make a name for themselves. Even so, there seems to be no end to the number of young people who dream of becoming the star of an animated series, and schools that teach voice acting are packed full. At a major special-training school in Osaka, the voice-acting program has about 250 students, most of them wanting to star in cartoons. Every time there is a new hit anime series or movie, the number of applicants to the school jumps.

Because of the recent increase in demand for multitalented voice actors, students must also take lessons in singing, dance, and drama. The school believes that even after students graduate and join a talent agency, they may or may not be able to find work. And in addition to fundamentals like speaking correctly in a well modulated voice, it teaches students to keep a positive outlook so as to make a favorable impression in any situation.

A Kyoto radio station has developed a unique way of lending support to aspiring young actors. Since May 2000, the station has been creating and broadcasting a 10-minute radio drama late on Saturday nights featuring young voice actors. It began with five actors, chosen by audition. The audience regularly votes for their favorites, who change two or three at a time depending on the results. The director of the program has said that there are many talented young voice actors who never get a chance to perform and that hopefully the program can offer opportunities to some of them.

Introductory courses for voice acting have also appeared, targeting middle and high school students. A course that opened in Tokyo in January 2000 allowed 20 students to experience the challenge of dubbing their voices into an anime. The students were all very excited, but the instructors were not as enthusiastic, offering such candid comments as: "Just having a nice voice isn't enough"; "when you dub voices into a cartoon, the drawings are only outlines so you have to rely on your imagination"; "correct diction is important, but you also need to be able to do a number of different voices, like an expressive voice suitable for commercials"; and "you need to study Japanese more to improve your reading of kanji [Sino-Japanese] characters." These rapid-fire comments demonstrate the demanding nature of voice acting.

Driven by the Popularity of Cartoons
Voice acting was once a largely anonymous profession, limited to radio dramas, and the number of people involved paled in comparison with the population of movie actors and singers. Public awareness of the job was nearly nonexistent until the advent of television. The influx of TV programs and movies from overseas required many more voice actors in order to dub the dialogue into Japanese. Their time had arrived.

But what really placed the services of these voice actors at a premium was the growing popularity of animated cartoons. When high ratings for these shows became commonplace, TV stations couldn't get enough of them. Cartoons became staples of prime-time television, often going head-to-head with each other, and the opportunities for voice actors skyrocketed.

Then came animated cartoons made as feature-length movies. As many of these films did well at the box office, popular actors were increasingly brought in to do the characters' voices. This in turn led to further interest in voice acting.

The opportunities available to voice actors have continued to grow. No longer limited to dubbing voices for cartoons and foreign movies, they can now do narration for commercials, work as disk jockeys, make recorded announcements for buses and train stations, and be involved in other activities too numerous to mention. With some of them going on to enjoy success as singers or TV personalities, it is no wonder that so many young people hope to become voice actors.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.