In the past five years, among anime audience and fans, there has been a rising awareness and interest on the voices behind the characters they see on the screen, as well as the seiyuu industry itself. A lot of this is also thanks to the rise of idol-genre and idol seiyuu, presenting not only the ‘voice’, but also the personality and image, which broadens the scope of seiyuu as a job, especially for seiyuu who are now known as idol seiyuu. Still, though, being a seiyuu means first and foremost, their main job is to voice act.
What is even the appeal of knowing the voice behind the characters anyway? One could still perfectly enjoy an anime without ever paying attention to who, exactly, brings the characters to life. But for some fans, appreciating anime doesn’t stop at finishing the series—some of us are more interested in the animation or directing, some of us get pulled by the voices and acting presented in the work. And just like knowing your animation director would lead to noticing different styles used in animation and gives you a more exciting sense of anticipation and expectation as you start an animation by the same directors, knowing your seiyuu would also lead to a similar result.
Those who are, or have been, interested in seiyuu, might somehow, along the way, find that they’ve grown to be able to guess who the seiyuu behind a character’s voice or vice-versa, somehow able to guess what kind of anime character it is based on who voices them. Once you’re familiar with a certain set of seiyuu, it’s always fun to guess which anime archetypes these characters would be. But how, exactly, could you do that? This time, we’ll try to see how we could recognize anime archetypes just by the seiyuu voices. It’s really not that hard, and some of you might be surprised that you have been subconsciously doing it already!
What are the anime archetypes?
What is an archetype, actually, and why is it important? Simply put, an archetype is basically a typical character, easily found in literatures and similar works, which represents a universal, common, or recurring pattern in a particular human culture or even the entire humanity. According to Carl Jung, the root of archetype is in the “collective conscious” of mankind, which makes archetype representing experiences that lie in the subconscious of every individual. It is important in any form of literary, and especially in storytelling works, and anime are not exempt from this.
Anime audience and fans who have been watching anime for a long time could probably list down hundreds of different anime archetypes at this point. Some of them are, of course, widely known—the most commonly known are perhaps the “dere” archetypes, for example, which is still categorized into at least four different types of “dere”: tsundere, kuudere, yandere, and dandere. Different genre of anime would offer you different sort of archetypes, too. Sports anime would give you at least one Genius Prodigy archetype, and a shounen anime would provide you with at least one Idiot Hero archetype. Some of anime archetypes are so painfully obvious and cliché, but all of them serves a function in the story.
What do archetypes have to do with seiyuu, then? What would it matter who voices each archetype, as long as they do a great job with it? Well, the seiyuu industry doesn’t always use auditions to give out roles to the seiyuu, especially considering the big part agencies play in deciding which seiyuu gets which work. A lot of the process in this stage only involves the anime producers, sponsors, and directors, who sometimes already decide on some particular seiyuu to be casted, and agencies, who would decide which seiyuu they would send for auditions (if any). And everything about this is based in one important thing: the seiyuu’s voice type and specialization.
Know your favorite seiyuu’s specialization!
Everyone has a voice type. For seiyuu, this is their main weapon in the industry. For example, Saiga Mitsuki has a fairly deep, contralto voice, while Tamura Yukari has a high-pitched, cutesy voice. In order to showcase their type of voice and their ability of acting, nowadays, agencies have voice samples of their seiyuu talents on their websites, easily accessible for their business partners.
Different types of voices, of course, fit different archetypes. For example, if you have a girlish, genki magical girl protagonist, there’s practically zero chance that Sanpei Yuuko, with her brash, shounen protagonist voice, would be voicing her. Simply saying, a seiyuu usually specialize in a particular archetype, and once you get used to knowing which seiyuu voices what characters, you’d usually find a pattern that shows the seiyuu’s specialization. Let’s take a look at several widely known seiyuu!
a female seiyuu with notably upbeat, powerful alto voice, is known to specialize in genki, somewhat stupid, shounen anime protagonists. Among her roles are Uzumaki Naruto from the Naruto series, Kanbara Takuya in Digimon Frontier, Gon Freecs in Hunter x Hunter, and Endou Mamoru in Inazuma Eleven series.
known for his youthful, brash-sounding voice, specializes in young male characters who are either childish, rowdy, and sometimes serve as comic relief. Among his roles are Murasakibara Atsushi in Kuroko no Basket, Amaha Tsubasa in Starry Sky, and Mikoshiba Momotarou in Free! Eternal Summer.
widely known for her gentle but firm voice, has a lot of soft-spoken, polite, if a bit clumsy female characters, as well as competent, sexually appealing oneesama archetype. Among her roles are Hyuuga Hinata in Naruto series, Colette Brunel in Tales of Symphonia, Evangeline Yamamoto in Zetsuen no Tempest, and Anne Takamaki in Persona 5.
whose voice is soothingly calm but is also very good in screaming and making spluttery noise, specializes in male protagonists of harem-genre anime. Among his roles are Kirito in Sword Art Online, Miyamoto Makoto in Tari Tari, and Tomoya Aki in Saenai Heroine no Sodate-kata.
who has quiet, soft soprano voice, is known to specialize in timid, shy girl archetype as well as the stoic girl archetype. Among her roles are Sonohara Anri in Durarara!! Series, Moriyama Shiemi in Ao no Exorcist, Sophie in Tales of Graces, and Yukino Yukari in Kotonoha no Niwa.
Of course, there are also seiyuu who doesn’t seem to specialize in any archetype, or seems to be able to do a wide range of archetype. Fukuyama Jun and Sawashiro Miyuki both have such wide range of pitch that they cover various archetypes, while seiyuu such as Kamiya Hiroshi, Sakamoto Maaya, Miyano Mamoru, Irino Miyu, Aoi Yuuki and Hayami Saori are famous for being geniuses when it comes to acting that it’s quite hard to pinpoint their archetype specialization.
More importantly, as a seiyuu’s repertoire gets bigger, the more roles they gets, and their specialization might change in the course of their career. Some of the more veteran, legendary seiyuu could even tackle any archetype thrown their way without much of a fuss. This brings us to the next point, in which, you should know:
When a seiyuu branches out of their specializations
Can they? Of course they can. The previous point pointed out that Suzumura Kenichi specializes in young male characters who are childish and rowdy, but did you know that in early 2000s he mostly voices mature, big brother characters such as Zack Fair in Final Fantasy VII and Isumi Shinichirou in Hikaru no Go? He still gets similar archetype even now, such as Hijirikawa Masato in Uta no Prince-sama, but his specialization has definitely changed.
An interesting example of this is looking at, perhaps, one of the popular young seiyuu known to voice kind, adorable young male characters with a tendency of going berserk or tragic fate awaiting them: Kaji Yuki. Among his most-known roles are Eren Yaeger in Shingeki no Kyoujin, Nishio Akira in Soukyuu no Fafner, Totsuka Tatara in K, and Yukine in Noragami. Before this, though, Kaji is known to specialize in light-hearted, goofy archetypes, including his roles as Akira in Kimi to Boku, Finnian in Kuroshitsuji, and Walker Yumasaki in Durarara!!. On another note, as of late, he seems to be trying to branch out for antagonists as well—his performance in Arslan Senki as Hirmiz has been quite interesting.
There are also veteran seiyuus who has such a large repertoire that they have specialized in various archetypes in their course of career, resulting in them quite aptly called as having a thousand voices. Take Hayashibara Megumi, the idol seiyuu who specialized in cool, mature oneesama archetype back in early 2000, tackling roles such as Ayanami Rei in Neon Genesis Evangelion, Kyouyama Anna in Shaman King, and Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop. Before, in late 1990s, she was more known to voice the genki, mischievous, brash female characters archetypes, such as Lina Inverse in Slayers, Lime in Saber Marionette J, and Team Rocket’s Musashi in Pokemon series. Her latest roles, however, includes Miyokichi in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu as well as Hakumen no Mono in Ushio & Tora series. Seems like after decades, she still intends to branch out of her specializations!
Be aware of the changes in dynamics of seiyuu industry!
If a seiyuu could change their specialization, then how are we supposed to guess which archetype a character is according to the voice? Is there a guarantee that an archetype will always use the same seiyuu? The answer to this question is, of course, not. Even if seiyuu don’t branch out their specializations, there are a fair number of seiyuu who specialize in the same archetype. Simply put, the more archetypes a seiyuu could do, the bigger their repertoire is, the more jobs they could get.
But knowing the changes in dynamics of seiyuu industry might help you to figure out which seiyuu is most likely doing which archetype, now, especially by paying attention to the rising junior seiyuu, who debuted in the last three years, at least. The rising junior seiyuu would be the ones most often picked by the production team or sent to auditions. So nowadays, when you see a warm, caring, albeit gullible archetype of female protagonist, it is more likely that she would be voiced by Amamiya Sora instead of Nakahara Mai.
There are also changes in the industry that are more easily seen even if you haven’t familiarize yourself with some seiyuu’s specialties, too. For example, while several years ago young, male protagonists of shounen series would have been given to female seiyuu with alto voices such as Paku Romi, Saiga Mitsuki, or Minagawa Junko, in the recent years, young male seiyuu have been taking over such archetypes. Yamashita Daiki, Ishikawa Kaito, and Hanae Natsuki for example, are now known to voice young male protagonist archetypes.
If you pay attention to the changes in the industry, you might notice that seiyuu who have climbed up and out of the title “junior seiyuu”, who have now settled and are able to negotiate their own payment rates—some of the really good ones, such as Morikawa Toshiyuki, has even opened their own agencies—will be taking less central roles. This is the point where they usually branch out of their archetype specialization. Sakurai Takahiro, for example, can now be found doing supporting roles and even antagonists, including Kusanagi Izumo in K and Trillam in Aldnoah.Zero, while several years ago he nearly monopolizes gullible male protagonists archetype.
If you’re one of us who stare at the screen as a character speaks and try to guess who does their voice, or if you’re one of us who gets excited in guessing which kind of pitch a seiyuu would use when their name appears in the list of cast when an anime is announced, you could probably already recognize character archetypes by their voices alone. Of course, there are always those pleasant moments when a familiar seiyuu manages to surprise you again after so long, which only adds to the excitement of what new things might a seiyuu brings to the anime they work in.
So, did you learn anything new in trying to recognize archetypes by voices? Let us know in the comments what archetype your favorite seiyuu specialize in, or better yet, if you think they’re branching out to new archetypes!