Under the State of Emergency in Japan: How Voice Acting Being Suspended Has Affected Anime Production
Pokémon, One Piece, and Sazae-san halt voice production as Japan heads into uncharted territory
After Crunchyroll, HIDIVE, and Funimation announced on the western side of the fandom that voice work was halting due to stay-at-home orders from the state governments in the United States, it was only a matter of time until the same situation occurred in Japan — which brought some of the longest-running TV shows in history to a halt.
One reason for the halt is that the job of voice acting simply cannot be done. In Japan (and for English dubs), a majority of the voice acting is done in the later stages of production when at least the key animation is finished, but without the actors, there’s a part of the personality missing.
While in western animation productions like The Simpsons or Disney films, voice actors are usually by themselves in the booth. However, voice work in Japan is usually done together at once, rather than alone, making it very hard in the current climate to get work done in the smaller studios littered around Tokyo.
Earlier this month, Midori Kato, the voice actor of Sazae Fuguta from the longest-running animated series still in production Sazae-san, announced on Radio Nikkei that post-recording work on the TV anime had been halted, citing the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the production process. The beloved 80-year old Kato is an original cast member and thus is at a high-risk during the current crisis.
Kato isn’t the only older voice actor to discuss the coronavirus issue, with Akira Kamiya discussing the issue at length on his Twitter account. The 73-year old, known for voicing Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star, was voicing Chоusuke Nakamoto in this season’s The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited. On April 1, Kamiya wrote on Twitter that the older cast members were removed from the full recording session with the rest of the cast and were able to record by themselves in the studio. While this likely bumped up the time it took to record, it let the older cast members stay safe.
Ryotaro Okiayu (Gadjah in Black Clover) mused on April 6, before the State of Emergency was declared in Japan, that if measures were put in place, voice recording all over Tokyo would be stopped. He was right.
On April 7, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, alongside the special coronavirus taskforce, announced a State of Emergency in Japan for 7 prefectures, including Tokyo, and then expanded that declaration to the entire country on April 16. One major measure of the declaration is avoiding the “3Cs”: closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact, as well as to limit travel in major areas by at least 80%. Voice actors in Japan can’t help but go against both of these measures by the sheer act of going to work and performing tasks, hence the halting of most recording sessions.
These suspended recording sessions would go on to postpone the broadcast of some of the long-running TV anime series. Mayumi Tanaka, the voice actor for Luffy, said in a blog post on April 11 that she was “on break from my regular anime voice recordings,” meaning One Piece’s voice sessions had been halted. The day before, Rica Matsumoto, the voice actor of Satoshi in Pokémon, said on Twitter that she’d “stopped working.” A week later, One Piece and Pokémon both announced the shows would go on a hiatus (and the first hiatus in One Piece’s 20-year broadcast history).
Yukio Nagasaki, the sound director on Gleipnir, wrote on Twitter that voice recording and mixing on the TV anime stopped on April 10 — at least in the studio. He was working from home choosing tracks for the series, which as of writing, hasn’t announced any suspended broadcast.
Even though Nagasaki can do his work as a sound director from home, and is able to video conferencing with other staff to confirm music, it’s not as easy for voice actors in Japan. Tokyo houses and apartments are on the smaller side, and usually have thin walls, making it hard to set up a full recording booth in their homes. Of those that can set up a home system, they’d have to learn how to record, mix, and upload their audio files, all while being directed via video conferencing. Then having to do that with the entire cast. Funimation was able to get it done for the simuldub of My Hero Academia, but it wouldn’t have been easy.
The lack of work has got voice actors in Japan worried. While some are able to get by on their savings, some need on-going work to survive. Like most contract-based jobs, voice actors only get paid when they work and if they’re at the start of their career, or even the middle, they need a constant source of income to survive. The Japanese government’s 100,000 yen (US$930) one-time hand out might not even cover the cost of rent for a residence in Tokyo where the average price for a one-room apartment in Shinjuku can start at 97,000 yen (US$902) per month.
The Japan Actors Union has been conducting surveys with its members during this time, which consists of Japanese actors, voice actors, and other talents. In a news report on April 14, of the actors who responded to the survey, 96.2% say they didn’t receive any compensation for lost work or canceled appearances. On April 21, the union announced that 70% had no work in April. And even before that, the Japan Actors Union sadly reported on April 3 that 26.8% of respondents were in debt and needed the work to survive. White Fox animator Tetsuo Hirakawa predicts that if recording sessions don’t come back for six months, “most people will be out of business.”
While this is only just one aspect of the current crisis currently affecting the anime industry in Japan, without the amazing work of voice actors, characters on screen wouldn’t have the personality that draws you to them. We hope that production can come back soon, but more than that, we wish for the health and wellbeing of everyone.
Daryl Harding is a Japan Correspondent for Crunchyroll News. He also runs the YouTube channel about Japan stuff called TheDoctorDazza, tweets at @DoctorDazza, and posts photos of his travels on Instagram.