Seiyu’s Life: if you really want to learn Japanese, get into seiyuu!

Hot on the heels of SHIROBAKO, I was glad to find another series that gives fans a closer look into what goes on behind the scenes of their favourite anime. In fact, Seiyu’s Life goes further than that, because it actually covers the range of work you might find a Japanese voice actor doing, from narration to audio books. It also shows the harsh reality of the industry: in a saturated market, even those seiyuu who land the occasional bit part are considered successful, and most of them have to support themselves with some other part-time job.

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NB: “Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi” (roughly ‘Japanese plums and peaches are both types of peaches’) is a tongue-twister, which seiyuu and other performers often use to practice their articulation. The opening theme, ‘Seiyu’s Life’ has a grand total of four of them—test your ear and see whether you can work out what the other three are! ^^
(and p.s. the first little ‘blurb conversation’ in the ending theme is about tongue twisters!)

I was aware of most of those details prior to watching this show. A friend of mine told me years ago that she’d once run into one of the Hunter x Hunter seiyuu at a convenience store. I also learned about ‘how kissing sounds are made’ a while back—probably around 2007/8—though I don’t remember which radio show or drama CD free-talk it was mentioned on. And there are a few other realities in the seiyuu industry that would never be covered in a show like Seiyu’s Life, mainly to do with the types of work that you’d never want your kids to listen to or watch (see Koe de Oshigoto). Nevertheless, I was glad to find myself learning the odd new detail, such as the terms used in voice-over sessions (‘koboshi’ = ‘over the cut’). And whilst Seiyu’s Life doesn’t live up to its illustrious predecessor, the messages encapsulated in Futaba’s story—especially the importance of being prepared for anything, of endurance, and of knowing where you want to go and how you are going to work towards it—apply to just about every individual, no matter where you come from or where you want to end up.

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The harsh reality of the industry: four aspirants…one success (?)…

So let me take one goal and suggest how you might work towards it: learning Japanese…by following seiyuu! I’ve been a seiyuu fan since the early 2000s—the friend who introduced me to anime was a seiyuu fan herself, and soon, I also started enjoying the kick of picking out people like Midorikawa Hikaru, Ishida Akira and Miki Shin’ichirou from the shows I was watching. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s, however, that my interest really took off. Peace Maker Kurogane introduced me to Sakarai Takahiro…and as they say, the rest is history. I started listening to anything I could get my hands on—anime, radio shows and drama CDs in particular. I learned the Japanese alphabets—hiragana and katakana—to help my ears get used to the sounds. I even started watching the occasional J-drama, such as Summer Snow and Beautiful Life, though seiyuu always remained my prime interest. And when I finally put in motion a plan to get to Japan in late 2006, I effectively stopped watching non-Japanese media, so as to immerse myself in the language as much as possible.

This all paid off when I got to Japan in 2007, when being surrounded by Japanese really accelerated my progress. It was then that I first started buying books to help with my language learning. My predecessor on the JET Programme left me the introductory book of Genki Japanese, which I devoured before looking for more study tools. And one of Ichigo’s jobs in Seiyuu’s Life reminded me of something I found: an audio book. What I’d like to introduce here is slightly different, but perhaps a little more accessible for anime fans learning Japanese. Especially if you’re a fan or Kamiya Hiroshi or Nakai Kazuya, who can both be heard on Let’s Speak Japanese! Aspects of Japanese Society.

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And yes, Kamiya Hiroshi really is that crazy about cats. What he said about his insecurities also has legitimate grounds—I seem to recall a comment from the director of one of the Bleach movies where he mentioned how difficult it’d been for HiroC to lock down his character. And there’s a making-of video for his first CD single where you can see him struggling with singing—you can probably still find it today.

The dubbing (#7) and narration (#8) episodes of Seiyu’s Life also gave me something of a ‘heh moment’ and brought back some fond memories of my life in Japan. Once, when on a work trip, I was hanging out and chatting with colleagues in our room when I thought I heard a really familiar voice—Fukuyama Jun’s—coming from the TV. I can’t remember exactly what program it was, except that it wasn’t an anime or a variety show, but my suspicions were confirmed when I caught his name on the screen a little later that night. Having been in a FukuJun phase at the time (because of Code Geass and Seven Days), I could not help grinning to myself. These are two areas of seiyuu work that overseas fans normally do not encounter, and I’d half forgotten about the experience, so I’m really glad for the reminder.

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I was also stoked to recognise FukuJun narrating this preview program for the 2009 J-drama, Atashinchi no Danshi. From what I’ve heard, another seiyuu known to have a fair amount of narration work is Namikawa Daisuke…though I find him difficult to pick out.

Looking back now, I guess I should be grateful to all these seiyuu, for I would never have gotten this far with my Japanese if not for them. Thanks to FukuJun, Sakku, HiroC and OnoD, I dived into seiyuu radio and haven’t really looked back. Thanks to You-kyan (i.e. Nakamura Yuuichi), I also plunged into the quagmire of cast and staff commentaries, via Macross Frontier and Durarara!! Admittedly, I actually started with the character commentaries of Bakemonogatari, but nowadays, it really is the behind-the-scenes stuff that I tend to watch and listen to first (the Monogatari and WORKING!! commentaries have been stuck on my backlog for ages). I also got into drama CDs and otome CDs at the time, though that interest has pretty much died in recent years. For some reason, I never truly got into reading their interviews, except the ones pertaining to the shows I love…but that’s where the next phase of my Japanese learning seems to sit, as I’ve now moved on to wanting to read and hear about the entire production process, right from pre-production. The reason I haven’t touched SHIROBAKO yet on this blog is that I don’t know quite where to start!

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It’s also quite interesting to learn about what each of these veterans has to pass on.
I’ll never forget some of the things that Miki Shin’ichirou said at SMASH! a few years ago.

So here’s my tip for anyone who wants to learn Japanese through anime: pick a seiyuu or two, and really start basing your hobby around them. You’ll need to couple this with a serious effort to learn Japanese (I’d recommend Genki or another textbook used for beginner university-level courses), but the point is to give yourself an incentive to expose yourself to as much real language input as possible. Watch the series they appear in, and tune in to their radio shows or their appearances on other people’s radio shows. If the shows you like have commentary tracks, have a listen to those too. Follow them on twitter and try to read any interviews you can get hold of. Don’t worry about not understanding everything, as that’s all part of the fun—when I first started really listening to radio shows, I barely got around 40% of what was being said. The most important thing to do is to try and look things up. Being completely focused on one seiyuu and one or two series of theirs at a time means that you’ll be encountering the same words over and over again, both in written and spoken form. Nothing beats this kind of repetition, except the interest that keeps you motivated. And of course, you can do this with actors/actresses too, if you prefer live-action instead of 2D. For the most part, I personally find the themes covered in anime much broader and thus, more interesting—with the occasional exception.

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If nothing else, it’d be fun to learn more of the crazy things that you’d never know otherwise, right?

To finish off, let me just say this: Good luck! And may you one day find yourself able and willing to partake in a deeper involvement of your favourite shows!

p.s. Just kidding. By ‘deeper involvement’, I was thinking more along the lines of this or this…though getting those seiyuu jokes is a whole lot of fun too ^^

p.p.s. I should also note that this post is directed mostly at those who want to learn Japanese largely through and in order to better appreciate anime. In actuality, what I cover above only formed about half of my motivation and practice; the other half was involved me ‘hanging out’ with friends and colleagues, watching popular TV shows and reading popular manga and discussing these elements of pop culture with them. If you live in Japan, I strongly suggest that you focus on that aspect as well, or even instead. But that should hopefully be unnecessary advice, given that you’re obviously there for a reason. ^^

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist in training. I also love musicals, photography, travel and believe it or not, the game of cricket. よろしく!

One Response to Seiyu’s Life: if you really want to learn Japanese, get into seiyuu!

  1. Pingback: The Five Moments that made Joker Game work for me | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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