Known for his majestic and commanding voice, Hirotaka Suzuoki is another legend in the world of seiyuu we wish to explore. Originally from Nagoya, Suzuoki moved to Tokyo at the age of 19 to attend college at the Tokyo School of Economics, and moved in with his paternal grandmother. While in college, he performed in plays where he met his wife. Through his agency, not only did he get stage work, they offered him voice work. One of his first roles was just dubbing background characters in foreign dramas. Eventually, he found himself to the world of anime in 1977’s Voltes V. After that, he found his true calling and became one of the industry’s greatest. So between 1977 and 2005, what were the best of Suzuoki’s contributions to anime? Read our top 5 to find out!
5. Saito Hajime from Rurouni Kenshin
- Episodes: 94
- Air Dates: January 10, 1996 – September 8, 1998
Kicking off this list is Saito Hajime from Rurouni Kenshin. To make things interesting, Saito Hajime is actually based on a real life historical figure. While we can’t say much about the real life Saito, we’re here to talk about the fictional version. As Saito, Suzuoki does an excellent job of showing his distinct complexities as both a rival, and as a reluctant ally to Kenshin. His rivalry with Kenshin is by no means personal in regards to their roles in the war that paved way for the Meiji Era, but personal in context to their honor as samurai. The tone of Suzuoki’s voice is perfect for Saito because of him being an honorary samurai, and as a police officer.
4. Tenshinhan from Dragon Ball
- Episodes: 153
- Air Dates: February 26, 1986 – April 12, 1989
Like Saito, Tenshinhan is also a warrior, but with a sense of honor that comes across as positive to younger viewers. Like Gokuu, Tenshinhan devotes his life to the martial arts, but in the spiritual sense as opposed to the competitive aspects. With Suzuoki’s performance, you don’t see Tenshinhan just as an athlete who trains for let’s say an MMA fight, but more akin to a monk. Due to his serious demeanor, he comes across as anti-social, but deep down inside he’s a man of honor. When he saw how low and dirty his master, Tsurusennin, truly was, he left in disgust to join Gokuu and friends. Thanks to Suzuoki’s performance, you just can’t see the character as a villain, and in the end, he truly wasn’t. All he wanted to do was honor himself and become a better person.
3. Shiryu from Saint Seiya
- Episodes: 114
- Air Dates: October 11, 1986 – April 1, 1989
As Shiryu, Suzuoki’s performance allows him to come across as the calmest and the wisest of his brothers. Throughout most of the fights in this series, Shiryu was probably pushed to the limit more than anyone. Thanks to Suzuoki’s portrayal, you could feel Shiryu’s maturity and determination and he was always near defeat. With the adversities that he faces, Suzuoki’s portrayal gives off a different kind of resolve that you don’t see in other characters. Seiya comes across as a typical Shounen main character of never giving up, but with Shiryu, it was about life and death and if he was going to die, he was going to take you with him, and Suzuoki’s performance strikes a certain fear with that sense of conviction.
2. Tatewaki Kuno from Ranma 1/2
- Episodes: 161
- Air Dates: April 15, 1989 – September 25, 1992
For a good number of older Western fans who started watching anime in the 1990’s, their gateway to Suzuoki is probably his portrayal of Kuno from Ranma ½. Just like Shiryu, he plays a teenager, but a very eccentric one. Once the audience learns of his rather rich background, it’s easy to believe that his upper class background can justify the use of his dignified voice. Thanks to his upbringing and being the accomplished captain of the school’s Kendo team, he comedically comes across as egotistical and overconfident. Due to the whacky nature of Ranma ½, this is one of the few comedy roles we get to enjoy him in. The way he tries to chase after female Ranma and Akane just to get his butt kicked and the way he reacts to it shows that he doesn’t always have to be in serious anime.
1. Bright Noa from Kidou Senshi Gundam (Mobile Suit Gundam)
- Episodes: 42
- Air Dates: April 7, 1979 – January 26, 1980
If there is one role that solidified Suzuoki’s legacy, it is most certainly Captain Bright Noa from the original Gundam series. While he’s only a 19-year-old junior ranking officer upon assuming the Captain’s chair of the White Base, he quickly demonstrates an assertive sense of leadership. Although most of his pilots and crew members were minors and civilians, he still treated them like actual soldiers. As Bright, Suzuoki’s voice conveys a very convincing sense of authority and an unorthodox maturity that a 19-year-old could get just by hard military training. Bright has an unusual combination of Captain Kirk’s youth with Captain Picard’s sense of strategy, and Suzuoki’s performance just masterfully captures that balance.
In addition to being one of the most famous seiyuu in anime, he also served as the official dub voice to some of Tom Cruise’s movies (we’d have love to have seen his take on Cruise’s appearance on Oprah). Other than that, despite his very deep and mature voice, a lot of his notable roles just happen to be teenagers. No matter who he was, he had this sense of charisma as a leader, sempai, older sibling, and/or as a paternal figure. It’s tragic that he is no longer with us providing memorable performances, most notably with Bright from Gundam, where his absence was largely felt in Unicorn. Though Ken Narita, his replacement, excellently captures the essence of Bright, it’s just not the same without Suzuoki.