From suspenseful fantasy dramas like Death Note to silly action spectacles like Dragon Ball Z, anime has something for everyone. Knowing how to become a voice actor for anime is not really the same as a career of animation voice actor. Although Japanese storytelling is one of the oldest traditions of civilization, the Western World has only become interested in manga and anime in the last ten years.
Now the millennial generation is increasingly becoming involved in the stories East-Asian children have been enjoying for decades. The biggest evidence of this new trend is the recent success of the Big Hero 6 franchise based off of the Japanese movie Baymax by Haruki Ueno. As more Asian films, anime series, and comic books get translated into English, the need for voice actors for anime is only going to increase and many more aspiring thespians will be interested in know how to become a voice actor for anime movies.
Here are some tips to become a successful anime voice actor in the United States.
Do Your Research
If you read for a part in an anime and don’t know who Totoro is, there is something seriously wrong. It is important to understand the history of any craft you want to dedicate yourself to, but it is especially key when entering a story-telling genre that represents a culture extremely different than your own.
When you begin to watch anime, it is often immediately clear how not-Hollywood the storylines are. Instead of the handsome hero, pretty heroine, clear-cut villain and wise-cracking sidekick archetypes you will see in every Western movie, anime operates on completely different stock characters. Typically the main character is a young girl with qualities East-Asian cultures appreciate, usually high energy and honesty.
The supporting cast is often other-worldly and strange, and unlike the often supportive-to-the-point-of-blindness helpers found in Western stories like Falcon in the recent ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’ movie or Ron and Hermione in ‘Harry Potter’, anime supporting characters are usually harsh, ugly, and uncooperative. While most reveal themselves to have a heart of, well, maybe not gold (but something shiny) they usually act aggressively and antagonistically in the beginning. It is not unheard of for the audience to think of the sidekick or accomplice as the villain for at least half of the story.
Don’t worry, this is by far the most entertaining homework you’ll ever had to do.
Find Some Favorites
While the key to voice acting is originality, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. While you do your homework I mentioned above, begin to listen for the differences between good voice acting and bad voice acting. Also try to transfer from the original Japanese voices and the English dubs.
Notice if the English actor seems to have studied and tried to emulate the original voice or has done their own interpretation, and decide for yourself which is usually more successful. Once you have found some talented actors, look into their background and career choices. It’s a great idea to see how your favorites got to the successful place they are in show-business, and try to follow their example.
A few good role models in the anime voice acting profession are Travis Willingham and Monica Rial. They would be a great place to start.
Travis Willingham is a Texas Christain University graduate most known for his role as Roy Mustang in the Fundamental Alchemist for which he won the BTVA People’s Choice Voice Acting Award. Travis also regularly voices Thor for Marvel projects like Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.. He is known for the loud, booming quality of his voice. He got into voice acting through theatre and small television roles in Los Angeles.
Monica Rial is one of the top female anime voice actors in America. Also from Texas, Monica began voice acting for anime in 1989, when she appeared as Bulma in Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies. Since then she has been in many classic anime roles, including Princess Sakura in the Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and Tsubaki Nakatsukasa in Soul Eater.
Put the ‘Act’ in Voice Acting
Almost every voice actor has come from either a theatre or music background. Before you make a commitment to voice acting, it’s a good idea to investigate just how much you enjoy acting. Pretty much every town in America has local theatres and almost every college has a theatre program. I would recommend learning the basics either through classes or hands-on stagework. This way you can learn skills important to voice acting (such as creating and developing a character, how to memorize lines, and how to perform under pressure) in a less pressured situation than LA.
Move To LA, NYC or London
Like many other divisions of Western show-business, American voice acting is conducted almost exclusively in Los Angeles, California. It is almost impossible to get any regular pay in voice acting without living in LA.
One you get there, it’s a good idea to begin building your resume by taking small voiceover and radio jobs. You may have to lecture about the possible complications of a herpes cream, but you will get valuable experiences with recording equipment, meet potential networking contacts, and . . . You know, something to buy food with.
This may go back to the homework thing, but as I said before, anime is extremely associated with the mindset and values of East-Asian traditions. It is imperative that you understand the script you read for. An amazing bonus in anime voice acting would be the actual knowledge of the language of Japanese, but even more subtle studies can get you extremely far when trying to understand the story you are telling.
Taking a class in different East-Asian cultures and folklore may be extremely smart when pursuing this career. Many anime are based off of stories from Japanese mythology or literature and feature characters with a cultural significance that Americans might not understand. If you become a voice actor, it is your responsibility to tell the story in the best possible way, and do the original characters as much justice as you can.
All in all, voice acting in anime is all about working up to great things. Move to LA, get some experience, and your big break might be close at hand!