The summer season of 2015 came with the most curious phenomenon: not one, but two televised anime concerning the profession of voice actors. Granted, there have been characters in other media that are introduced as seiyuus, but none so far have tackled the business of actually being one. Here I will describe the currently airing Sore ga Seiyuu as well as Suzakinishi the Animation which has its origins in the business and culture surrounding the people lending their voices to the characters that animate every game and anime.
Sore ga Seiyuu is a 4-koma webnovel/doujinshi by the doujin circle Hajimemashite., composed of the artist Hata Kenjirou and writer Asano Masumi(あさのますみ). The anime adaptation is produced by GONZO, with Yokote Michico doing the script composition. Hata is well known as the mangaka for Weekly Shonen Sunday’s Hayate the Combat Butler. Asano Masumi(浅野真澄) is a veteran voice actor who also writes children’s stories and song lyrics as あさのますみ.
The comic and anime revolves around the lives of novices Ichinose Futaba, Moesaki Ichigo, and Kohana Rin as they progress through their careers. Each episode is basically a lecture on the kinds of jobs seiyuu receive as well its particulars. Everything from a basic recording session to promotional events is detailed in a short and precise way. Certain events are also based on Asano’s own personal experiences.
Its most notable feature is that it has actual seiyuus appear and voice as themselves, leaving our protagonists star-struck and showing the viewers a comparison between the positions of the veterans and the newbies.
Suzakinishi the Animation is the adaptation of the popular radio series Suzakinishi, hosted by Suzaki Aya and Nishi Asuka. As an adaptation of a radio show it is possibly the first of its kind. The anime itself is five minutes long, with each episode based on a topic or conversation brought up in the radio series. The characters are Suzaki Aya and Nishi Asuka, voiced by themselves. It plays fast and loose, changing the ages of the two personalities to high schoolers and placing them in the situations and gags from the radio show.
With one show about seiyuu, their industry, and the work they do, and the other based on actual seiyuus and their personalities, the topic of voice actors may seem to have grown considerably large enough to have this form of attention drawn to them. But it is true that seiyuus and the fan culture surrounding them were already popular even ten years ago, with CD and concert ticket sales selling strongly for the major talents as well as the time-honored practice within the anime and game industries of making referential jokes based on a particular actor’s previous roles. So what could possibly be the catalyst for the production of the two series just mentioned?
The first answer that comes to mind would be the anime SHIROBAKO, a series well regarded as if not the first, then the best ones about the entire animation production process. It just so happens to share a script composer with Sore ga Seiyuu. As an anime about anime large parts of it is about seiyuus, with one of the five main characters representing its field.
Its success (already high amount of viewers on TV and online, consistently strong sales of DVDs and Blurays) may have influenced the decision to adapt a web manga/doujinshi, not a traditional medium for such projects (according to Asano herself, the convenience store chain Lawson stepped in early on to sponsor the series). This may also be why Yokote was brought in, as her documentary approach to SHIROBAKO can also be found in Sore ga Seiyuu. Both series have been commented on by other seiyuu as being something they can identify and sympathize with.
One thing to note is that the anime, which is a full length, one cour broadcast attempts to elaborate on the concepts that the original manga is content to leave in the typical 4-koma pattern. Naturally this means a complete adjustment to the form. In the anime the focus is on actual characterization and development over observations and punchlines – the result is drastically different from the web manga. While the first doujinshi was sold in 2011 the strategy used in the anime virtually makes it SHIROBAKO with seiyuu. Futaba, Ichigo, and Rin represent different “types” of seiyuu the same way the leads in SHIROBAKO represent five different components to anime production. Our main character, Futaba, is introduced talking with her stuffed doll, which will be used as the exact same exposition device as Miyamori’s dolls did.
With Suzakinishi the Animation the reason for an adaptation could be in the fact that it is currently one of the most consistent weekly radio programs in terms of listeners each episode as well as both personalities already having several major roles under their belt. As to the actual content… that’s probably left unsaid.
I would be hard pressed to call this a “trend” rather than a sort of coincidence that put these two shows in the same season. But it does put the metaphorical spotlight on the people who work, day by day, through their voices within the characters they play. I think the attention’s deserved.