Animals are pretty common in anime. Whether as cute sidekicks, companions, or side gags, we are bound to run into animal characters in our favorite shows. And just as surely, most of us can probably guess what kind of sound they make in Japanese. Cats go “nya” or “mao”, most pups and dogs say “wan wan”, and we all know crows say “aho!” but they all have one thing in common; they are ususally very obviously voiced by humans who seem to simply be reading onomatopeias from a script. Sometimes to a mood-shattering degree…
Today we discuss some of the strangest animal sounds made by voice actors in anime and we ponder as to why other methods aren’t used to more properly voice animals.
That Doesn’t Sound Right…
Just this week, there was a puppy in Kakushigoto. While the older dog shown in the episode sounds more like a dog barking—ok, a person making a deep barking sound—the little guy does more of a nasal “an!” that sounds so far removed from any dog you’ve ever heard that you can’t help but snap out of the bubble the anime has wrapped you in. When the pup goes to the office… “aan”. Not puppy-like at all!! When have you heard a puppy do that!?
Taromaru in School Live!, another dog, also has an unmistakable human voice. You can hear the actress—yes, you can even tell it’s a girl—saying “grrrr” when he’s supposed to be growling and, while barks are much better acted out than just a dry “wan!”, they clearly sound like a person doing a dog impression. And this happens in many anime, with animals from birds very clearly enunciating “chii, chii”, pigs saying “buu, buu” in a nasaly fashion, and frogs clearly stating “kero” with a human voice whenever they grace our screens. We understand these are the onomatopoeias for Japanese animal sounds but, with the ability to use actual animal recordings or having trained actors do realistic animal impressions, why? Why??
So What Gives?
It can be argued that since the actors are already there and can take direction, it is best to just have them do the sounds. But, is it worth it when a badly voiced animal can rip someone out of the world they’re supposed to be immersed in? Especially when there is some sort of emotional moment happening like in Kakushigoto or School Live? Furthermore, American cartoons have been voicing animals for decades using simple pre-recorded sounds, be they real animal sounds or actors. There’s no need to have the animal there in the studio, so why not use a digital sound library? Or actors specially trained to do animal voices that sound realistic?
One answer that comes to mind is, being unique and saving money. While, as mentioned before, American cartoons use a library of sounds most of the time, animals end up sounding exactly the same all the time—think about that ubiquitous dolphin sound in any old cartoon or movie that has a dolphin in it, you know the one, they all use the same sound bite! Anime studios, however, prefer to make their sounds as they go, thus creating a unique sound that 1. won’t cost them extra, and 2. will be exclusively part of that particula work.
Sound effects in anime are made by the sound editor and/or sound mixer and many times are either a mix of sounds that they have previously recorded or they record specifically for a scene/show, and other times, they are recorded by some of the same voice actors doing the characters’ voices and then the audio is mixed. That’s just how it works but, is there a way to keep the realism and still keep the traditional Japanese way of working with sound effects?
Will It Get Better? Some Ideas.
Being Japanese, the anime industry is one to stick to how it does things for a long time so we don’t know how long until animals start sounding more realistic just for the sake of audience immersion. But perhaps each studio could build a database of animal sounds—recorded from real animals and/or by specially trained actors—that they can use and mix for all of their productions, thus giving them ownership of the sounds and making sure there is always a high-quality, realistic sound in their library that matches what they need and won’t take away from the focus of the scene, all while still retaining their individuality among other studios.
Another way could be to hire specially trained actors to do animal sound effects permanently onto the staff so that the same person will always be the one to do the animal sounds in that particular studio. Again, guaranteeing that the studio will have the appropriate sound when needed without sacrificing the mood or making regular actors—who have no idea how to do animal sounds—do it.
That said, not all anime do this. Maybe it’s more the smaller studios or projects with a smaller budget. Some anime like “My Roommate is a Cat” do go all out and get proper voices for their animals. Then again, the show revolves around animals so, they’d better! Or maybe things are just slowly changing!
What do you think? Does it take you out of the fantasy when some guy is trying to sound like a chicken or a frog during a moving or important scene? Or is it just us? What is the weirdest/funniest animal sound you can remember hearing in anime? Does it even matter to you at all? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comments below!