It’s no secret that Japanese seiyuu tend to go somewhat unnoticed in western otaku circles. On one hand, this makes some level of sense, since many fans prefer subs to dubs and even those who don’t still can’t speak Japanese.
On the other hand, a language barrier doesn’t stop listeners from understanding the cadence, tone and most importantly personality communicated through a vocal performance. Because of this, seiyuu are steadily growing as a topic of conversation among the community and we feel it’s only fair that we do our part by highlighting the voice of the current anime season.
The Sakurai Saga
Takahiro Sakurai was born on June 13, 1974, in Okazaki, Japan. His first role as a voice actor came in the form of two-bit parts for the fondly remembered kids’ racing show Bakusō Kyōdai Let's & Go!! But funnily enough, he wouldn’t get any more work until a year later, with more minor appearances, this time in Pokémon, which would also mark his only appearance that year.
We say "funnily" because this remarkably slow start is the exact opposite of how the rest of his career would play out. From 2000 to 2001, Sakurai went from appearing in 6 shows to 12 shows, doubling the previous number almost out of nowhere.
That very penchant for juggling multiple roles at once is exactly what makes him the star of the summer 2018 anime season, as, with 10 roles in ongoing anime, he holds more parts than any other seiyuu this season. But, we’ll get to that in good time.
The Takahiro Timeline
Sakurai’s massive leap in popularity around the turn of the millennium was undoubtedly kickstarted when he was cast as Tentomon, one of the main Digimon in 1999’s Digimon Adventure. It was his first role as a primary character and for a while was his only one, but he certainly made the most of it. His performance expertly captured the lovable bug Digimon’s passive but friendly nature with a high-pitched and even somewhat nasally voice that could easily have been annoying if not for his pleasantly approachable tone. He made an all-around solid first outing for the main character role and set the stage for the rest of his successful career.
What’s funny about Sakurai’s role as Tentomon is that almost the entire rest of his career has gone in a completely different direction. Instead of high-pitched, chipper performances, he’s built a reputation as someone with a deep, smooth voice, fit for level-headed characters who are always one step ahead of the game. Like Sasori from Naruto, Griffith from Berserk, Cloud Strife in various adaptations of Final Fantasy VII and both Shogo Makishima and Shou Hinakawa from Psycho-Pass. Sometimes he’s the hero, sometimes he’s the villain, but his imposing vocals ensure that he gives an absolutely imposing performance regardless.
Sakurai is no one trick pony, though. In fact, he’s recently been adding more energy into his lines, sacrificing some of the smooth aloofness he’s known for in favor of more excited and impulsive characterization, while still retaining the deep gravitas that has drawn so many to the characters he plays. This sort of performance from Sakurai is best exemplified in roles like Arataka Reigen from Mob Psycho 100, Akiteru Tsukishima from Haikyuu!! and Rohan Kishibe from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable. But Sakurai’s range goes even beyond that, as he’s had such an impressive range of roles that we could go on about them all day.
Sakurai’s Summer Stardom
So what shows can you find Takahiro Sakurai in this season? Well, his first role comes in the form of Orion from Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams: The Animation, where he appears to be back to his deep, calm voice, but with a tad more delicacy, as one would expect from a prince. His next role is the psychotic killer Danny, where he gets to take on an atypical persona, hamming it up with unhinged tones and maniacal laughter, already showing up the show’s main villain as of the first episode. Sakurai will also be appearing as Vlad Garfunkel, the male lead in Phantom of the Twilight, where he seems to be going back to his newer, more energetic performance style while injecting a wispy, emotionally vulnerable quality that we haven’t really seen from him before.
On the other hand, his role as Helper T Cell in Cells at Work is practically identical to his Rohan Kishibe voice, though it would be unfair to expect him to do a whole new voice for such a small supporting role. Another fairly new character for him is Director Resapanda from Hataraku Oniisan! no 2! He plays an anime director with a laissez-faire attitude, though using a more comically exaggerated tone, both in his laid-back lines as well as those where he flips out on his employees who mistake him for a raccoon.
Unfortunately, we were unable to comment on his roles in Shinya! Tensai Bakabon, Sirius the Jaeger, Tsukumogami Kashimasu, Overlord III or his return to the Zoids franchise in Zoids Wild due to a combination of those shows not being aired at the time of writing as well as his absence from their PVs. Nevertheless, his showcase so far this season has been as impressive as it has been varied and we’re sure that his other performances will be just as engrossing.
We hope that this brief journey into the prolific career of Takahiro Sakurai has helped you appreciate his talent as much as we do. If this article has inspired you to check out some of the shows he’s in this season, or if you have something to say about him as an actor, please let us know in the comments below and stay posted to Honey’s Anime for more.