You’re hooked on anime – the Japanese animation that streams onto your computer or television. Whether it’s the action, drama, fantasy or simply the long, loud screams that pull you in, the more you watch, the more you want to become a part of the anime workforce. Having a unique voice and a creative vocal range won’t get you into the front door of an animation studio. And unless you speak fluent Japanese and plan to move to Japan, your subset of qualifications must include the ability to dub English over the Japanese dialogue. So, let’s start at the beginning and track the path to becoming a voice actor in anime.
Take Acting Classes
How many radio commercials have you heard in which the voice-over talent is simply reading the words from a script? There are no breaks between the words, and the sentences run on. Inflections are non-existent, or when you do hear them, they sound forced. The dialogue is simply read, not acted.
When you become a voice-over actor, you learn the craft of conveying emotion through your voice only. The audience can’t see your face or your body movements. You’re in a sound booth all alone without anyone to play off of. It’s up to you to create a world around your voice. Even when voicing anime or a cartoon, the audience sees the image, but the voice dictates the emotion. And that takes talent.
Acting classes teach you the art of the craft. Diving into a character, learning his backstory and what propels him, knowing his emotional state as he says the words, understanding his speech patterns and vocal quirks – these are all important facets of learning how to act.
Next is dissecting the words on a page: learning when to insert a dramatic pause, conveying excitement while speaking clearly, and forming the words in your mouth so they come out with a beginning and an end. These are just some of the tools you’ll need to get voice acting jobs.
Practice Out Loud
Download an anime script and start practicing out loud. Spoken words come out differently from how they sound to the writer; they are dead on the page until you bring them to life. Use a microphone and play back your work. Repeat the exercise until you can close your eyes, listen, and actually see and hear in your mind’s-eye all that the character’s words are conveying.
When you are satisfied with your performance, bring it to your acting coach and let her decide if it’s good enough to add to your demo reel.
A word on voice-over acting classes: Don’t believe a coach who says you can get work in just a few weeks of study. Or, that the class includes a demo reel that’ll guarantee you work. Acting, especially voice acting, is a narrow field filled with exceptional talent. To break into that specialized niche, you must study and hone your craft until you, too, are exceptional.
Start Small and Locally
Once you have a salable demo reel, meet with a local agent who also handles voice-over talent. You don’t have to be a member of the acting unions at this point. In fact, if you live in a “right-to-work” state such as Texas or Florida, you won’t have to join the union at all. But being a member of either of the acting unions gives you a credential that’ll open doors to major studios.
Don’t pay your agent anything upfront. He may tell you that he has a voice-over coach who will improve your reel. For a fee. Tell him you’ll think about it, and run out the door. Respectable agents work with you when they consider you salable. The key here is to NOT meet with an agent until your acting coach feels you have learned enough to start auditioning.
Local businesses and commercial production houses are always looking for local talent. You’re inexpensive and fit the financial needs of the client. Start small and learn the ropes. Suffer rejection and start again in the morning. It’s all part of the learning curve. And once you land a local job, you’ll have work to include on your resume. And that resume, even if the work isn’t paid, is your calling card, along with the demo tape that includes your local work.
The Art of the Dub
Many of us remember the fallout when singing group Milli Vanilli got busted for lip-syncing at a live performance. It wasn’t their fault the backing track skipped and repeated, but it did set off an investigation that revealed that all their songs were sung by others. Lip-syncing, or dubbing, as it’s known in the film and television trade, is another art/craft that a successful anime actor must nail.
Matching the movements of the Japanese words coming out of the actors’ mouths and inserting English words in their place is a delicate balance. In Los Angeles, the anime is voiced before the art is created, while at the FUNimation Studio in Dallas, the voices are dubbed over the action of the actual Japanese video. This is where the technical skill of word placement is most important and doesn’t require acting ability.
How to Get Experience
Unless there’s an anime studio where you live, you’ll have to hone your craft locally through acting and voice-over classes and then relocate to get work in the anime industry. Once you get your foot in the door of an anime studio, hang around every department. Listen to how the writers labor over the right words to match the mouth movements. Visit the editing bay and watch as technicians manipulate to get dubbing perfection. Study every aspect of anime to understand what you need to know to be successful.
By expanding your career exposure, you may find that while anime is your niche, other jobs within the industry appeal to your talents more than voicing. Or, you may combine two or more anime disciplines, expanding your talents and adding to your income.
Voice Acting for Anime
Very few voice-over actors who specialize in anime earn enough to completely support their lifestyles. Side work on stage and in local film productions and commercials puts your acting abilities in the forefront, and coupled with anime income, you can probably afford a grande at Starbucks.
However, if it’s acclaim and recognition you want, anime voice-over artists, even those who dub English over the Japanese, are recognized and lauded. One anime voice actor mentioned in an interview with the Dallas Observer said that he gets more attention from his anime work than playing Shakespeare on stage! But know that learning the vocal gymnastics required to act in a Shakespearean play is the best training for becoming a successful anime voice talent.