Chapter 1: Karasuma Chitose and This Messed-Up Industry
It's a little weird for me to be saying this, but I think this industry is messed up.
The station clock was about to strike three on a sluggish afternoon.
The metro is always packed with a jumble of pa.s.sengers around this time.
Chic and modern female college students alongside carefree chattering kids. Suited middle-aged men with faces heavy from exhaustion. Preppy-looking kids smartly sporting their fancy private school uniforms. Sophisticated socialites toting shopping bags emblazoned with Isetan, Takashimaya, and other expensive brand names.
But I'm not in any of these groups.
Technically I'm a college student, so strictly speaking I guess I am. I'm kind of like the fun and fabulous, main heroine type of college student, if you know what I mean.
But beyond my age or social status, I also belong to another group.
And that's the industry I'm talking about.
When you've lived almost twenty years, graduated high school like you're supposed to, and reached that age where you don't quite want to be called a kid anymore, one way or another you start to see the gears turning in the background behind society, the way the world works. You end up understanding that the industry I'm in right now is just a little bit unhinged from the rest of the world.
I'm just gonna say it.
No matter how you think about it, this industry.
The voice acting industry, is messed up.
First of all, this industry is way too small.
According to one source, apparently over 300,000 people are aspiring voice actors.
Jeez, 300,000 is so many people. If you got one yen from each person each month, you're already making more than the typical corporate slave. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe corporate slaves are just criminally underpaid?
Whatever, who cares about corporate slaves.
According to what I heard from some insider on the internet, the number of people that can support themselves as a voice actor is, apparently, around 300.
Of course, voice actors come and go, and "being able to support yourself" is pretty vague. Rather than absolute fact it's more just that particular insider's impression, and he feels that the number is probably somewhere around 300.
So at the end of the day, apparently only those 300 are considered by society to be professional voice actors.
Bits of unfounded, rumor-tier "information," predicated by the word "apparently," that slip into your mind as you mindlessly tab through your smart phone tends to be nothing more than hearsay, speculation, or just pure nonsense, so even coming from me, it seems dubious. Apparently.
Even more dubious is whether or not I would be included within those 300.
I wonder how many people even know the voice actress Karasuma Chitose exists.
At best, probably just my family and the people in the agency.
Consequently, whether or not society would consider me a voice actress is pretty up in the air.
Now that I think about it, isn't not being known basically the same thing as not existing? Something about the act of observation causing existence or whatever, with like, Schrodinger's whatchamacallit. Voice actresses are in the same boat. It's not a stretch to say that no-name voice actresses aren't voice actresses at all.
…oh jeez, I might not be a voice actress. Or like, by this logic, I'm definitely not a voice actress.
If I were to be asked right now, "Ma'am, what do you do for a living?" I'd probably cutely reply "I'm a college student!" As cutely as possible, of course.
If I can't even really call myself a voice actress, it's no wonder the rest of the world doesn't consider me one.
But like, it's not as though I don't have any voice acting work at all right now.
As if to prove a point, I conspicuously pulled out my planner in the middle of the lightly rocking train.
…it was completely blank.
A pristine blankness, white enough to have been wiped with detergent — nothing but airy appointments fluffy enough to have been treated with fabric softener. What's with this "standby" business? Does it mean I have work or not?
That being said, upon closer inspection you could see miserly patches of ink sprinkling work across the week. Like some unsightly stain or bacteria to be magnified in a detergent commercial.
…so, I guess it's kind of like I'm barely at the point where it's hard not to call me a voice actress, right?
But even if I can technically call myself a voice actress, getting called over to a recording studio once or twice a week is nowhere near enough to support myself.
While I'm still a college student, I can get by mooching off of my parents, but I can't keep this up once I graduate.
If I were a full-fledged adult, with the amount of work I get I'd be considered more part-timer than voice actress. Actually, people who just call themselves voice actresses might be even lower on the totem pole.
I mean, compared to my salary right now, a normal part-time job would actually make more money.
Honestly, even just working weekends would make more. …wait, isn't my salary a bit too low?
What were my parents thinking when they didn't stop me from trying to become a voice actress?
From trying to enter an industry as messed up as this one?
It's a little weird for me to be saying this, but I think this industry is messed-up.
You can call it a festival, you can call it a carnival, you can call it a deathmatch. But if you think playing around with words softens the reality of the situation, you'd be gravely mistaken. Personally, I think something like a Buddhist temple's depiction of the Mahapadma h.e.l.l is a far more fitting representation.
To fans who religiously follow the entertainment industry, I imagine it must seem like a fun and fabulous wonderland.
Especially events like anime recording sessions — for many they probably appear to be divine gatherings of celestials: the radiant apex of the industry.
They're right! Recording sessions are truly bright and bustling! Before my eyes, yet another wonderful day at the carnival unfolds!
In one corner of the lobby, we have the anime studio line producer struggling to keep his dead-looking eyes open. He fidgets nervously as he mutters into a phone.
And collapsed on the mixer room sofa, we have the work's original author whose workload shot up when he entered the media mix. He's out cold, with a caffeine capsule lodged into his gaping mouth.
Nearby, we have the production company's a.s.sistant producer, who is alternating between hammering away on his computer and clenching his skull in frustration. Despite being on the brink of tears, he too is talking to someone on the phone as he rubs his stomach with a pained look on his face.
Shift your eyes away from him, and you'll see a magnificent mountain of canned coffee and nutrient drinks that have acc.u.mulated over time. At the foot of the mountain, the sound mixer, sporting heavy bags smeared under his eyes like Destrade in a day game, loiters around unsteadily, reminding me of a bear fresh out of hibernation.
So this is the pinnacle, eh?
Before the recording session even begins, the glamorized image of the recording studio as a sacred ground where voice actors congregate gives way to its true ident.i.ty: a grimy battlefield.
A mere manager like me can only see the recording studio, but given the state it's in, I shudder to imagine what horrors are hidden away on the production studio side.
Out of sight of the viewers, today is another typical day of throwing more corpses onto the pile while the screams of our comrades sonorously echo.
Like I said, what a bright and bustling industry!
It's going to be three soon.
The previous session finished early, so I ended up arriving here a little bit too soon.
I was planning on briefly giving my regards to the staff before going back out to grab a bite to eat for lunch when I caught sight of Hatanaka-san, a producer and acquaintance of mine.
He was staring pointedly at the cast list pinned to the door.
"Oh, Karasuma-san, good morning!"
As he replied, his attention remained fixed on the cast list. Curious, I too began looking at the list, as I asked:
"Is there something wrong?"
"Ah, no, not really. It's just that there are some names I don't recognize, and I was wondering who they were."
As he explained, Hatanaka P pointed to the bottom of the list.
The names listed there were credited for what the industry terms mob roles.
Both of them were voice actresses under the care of our company, Number One Produce.
Kugayama Yae and…Karasuma Chitose.
Chitose was technically a regular on the program, although she just filled in for various mob roles as needed, so I figured Kugayama was the one piquing his interest.
"Oh, you mean our new rookie, Kugayama. She's going to be working with us from now on. I think she's got great potential, so, if the opportunity arises, please consider her for other work in the future!"
"Ah, a promising young one, eh?"
As I let out a light chuckle to match Hatanaka-san's, his smile suddenly gave way to a wistful expression.
"Man, rookies are great, aren't they? So easy to schedule and so much availability."
A hint of exhaustion bled into his voice.
…well, the girl playing the main role, who Hatanaka-san is responsible for, is an A-list voice actress with a schedule crammed to the brink by her singing career. He probably had to wrangle her agency pretty hard to secure a time slot for this program.
When it comes to stuff like scheduling guarantees, auxiliary events, and private relationships, management agencies can be surprisingly hard to deal with.
Even though the production committee is technically their client, management agencies have a dual responsibility and must also uphold their contracts with the actors themselves. In this ancillary duty, they have the delicate task of fulfilling their capacity as the actors' representatives. They want to properly secure breaks for their charges, and they can't exactly force the actors to do anything they don't want to do.
There are even times when they have to directly oppose the production studio and promotion team.
Nowadays, in a world where promotional events with the cast are commonplace, resistance against power hara.s.sment on this front is particularly fierce, and it's not uncommon for managers to end up siding with their actors over the production studio.
That being said, it's thanks to the production studios that voice actors have any work in the first place, so it ends up being a sort of give-and-take relationship, where both parties work together. No, honestly, I appreciate everything you do for us!
However, it appears that Hatanaka-san's project has had some issues on this front recently.
Maybe it's just my imagination, but it looks like he's put on some weight since the last time I saw him. Is it from stress? It's probably from stress, right?
Ugh, I understand all too well.
Managers and producers are sandwiched between the demands of opposing parties, and eating unreasonable complaints from both sides is essentially our job description. Can't be helped.
Empathizing a little with Hatanaka-san, I pounded my chest and tried to cheer him up a bit:
"If you're planning on running any events, please give us a call! We're fired up and happy to do whatever you need!"
"I appreciate the offer. Likewise, I would be glad for the chance to start using your rookies more proactively, eh."
Hatanaka-san replied with a dreamy, almost dazed expression on his face.
Casting philosophy varies from producer to producer, but many are perpetually hungry for promising new recruits.
Some want to inject a breath of fresh air into the industry. Others want to be able to brag, "Oh, you mean ____? I raised her up myself!" Ugh, can't say I like the latter type, though.
Still, watching a voice actress get her wings from a project you were responsible for is apparently pretty gratifying.
I can sort of understand that feeling. Us managers are basically all on the same page for stuff like that.
There are some who believe "Can't go wrong by packing in top-tier voice actresses!", but popularity is a nebulous phenomenon, and you can never predict when an actress is on the cusp of her big break.
As a result, many producers maintain checks on the young blood doing mob roles and regularly query managers about which girls seem promising. They're constantly gathering information, always thinking a few years ahead.
There are often a few years between when an anime project is first planned to when it finally gets broadcast, so at recording studios you'll often seen producers covertly discussing projects two years in advance.
It's pretty amazing if you stop to think about it. It might sound a little weird saying it like this, but anime production staff are essentially living in the future.
But this also instills the industry with a pretty warped sense of time and a messed up perspective on the future.
"Karasuma-san, if there are any other good young ones, please let me know."
"Of course. It would be my pleasure."
Naturally, I have no idea why it would be my pleasure, but it seemed like the professional thing to say, so I added it.
"Well then, catch you later."
With that, Hatanaka-san headed towards the mixer room. I saw him off with a big smile before turning toward the cast list again.
My gaze fixed pointedly on the characters spelling out the name Karasuma Chitose.
The fact that she was actually able to end up a voice actress. That was another messed-up part of this industry.
I let out a small sneeze.
As I quietly sniffled, I furtively glanced around at the other pa.s.sengers, but no one seemed inclined to show interest in their surroundings, much less pay attention to me.
…well, it doesn't matter whether I'm at work or school; no one looks at me anyway.
The recording studio was only a few stations away from school on the subway.
As the train moved onward, I pulled my earphones out of my bag, untangled them, and plugged them in like I always do.
With a few quick taps, I typed in some keywords and ended up on the homepage of this anime season's "Kyuuseitan (Heroic Tales) of a Swordsman in Another World." A few taps later, I arrived at its web radio, "Kyuuseidan (Heroic Radio) of a Swordsman in Another World." These t.i.tles are way too long. Also, thinking about the smug face of the guy who came up with the pun for the radio show t.i.tle kind of p.i.s.ses me off.
"Heroic Radio of a Swordsman in Another World! Yay! Clap-clap!"
The voice of Kaotan-san, a senpai at my agency, burst from my headphones.
I say senpai, but it's not like we actually interact. She just joined the agency before I did, and even when we see each other at the office, we don't greet each other or make small talk or anything. Also just to be clear, I'm not even particularly a fan of her.
I actually have other reasons for listening to this web radio.
One reason is that I also happen to be starring in this show. Although whether or not Kaotan-san is even aware of my existence is another story altogether.
Kaotan-san started off by giving a recap of the "interesting" events that happened last episode. Though it was the type of stuff that no one really cares about and isn't interesting no matter how you look at it, she chattered on animatedly, while her co-host Sonoe Momoka responded to each tidbit just as enthusiastically, with generic responses like "Really? That happened? Yikes!"
Mmmh. This level of meaninglessness…it's actually so soothing…
It's weirdly relaxing to listen to something when it doesn't really matter whether or not you're really listening. It gives you a sort of leeway, where you can be like, "Maybe I won't listen next week." It also helps me understand why people like slice-of-life anime so much. The ease of watching, the characteristic gentleness, is probably one reason why they’re so well-received. If you think about it, given how popular this stuff is, doesn’t that suggest that people these days are way too tired?
Of course, on top of being soothing, this radio program is also encouraging in some ways. Misunderstandings like “Wait a second. You’re telling me that these guys are getting paid to talk about whatever? I could totally do this too! Easy! Gahaha!” are born. Misunderstandings. Yep.
In reality, there are not many people out there who could talk like that if you suddenly threw them in front of a mic. Unfortunately, training school didn’t teach me anything about being a riot at improv. In fact, they didn’t mention radio at all…
And so, here I am, listening to voice actresses on the radio every day, in preparation for the point in time when I might have to do the same thing. And that’s the other reason why I’m listening to the radio.
It’s always like this when I’m on the train commuting to and from college. I pick a random web radio program and listen to it.
“And now, time for this week’s mail from our listeners!”
Under the gentle guidance of Sonou Momoka, one of the hosts, the program proceeded to the inevitable mail segment. Who do you think you’re fooling with “this week” — we all know this was probably pre-recorded weeks ago.
Sonou Momoka began reading one of the letters.
“Longtime fan and listener with a quick question for you two. My dream is to become a voice actor, so I was wondering what made you guys decide to pursue voice acting. It’d be great to hear about your experiences! Thanks, and good luck on your future endeavors!”
“Why did I decide to pursue voice acting? Well, in my case…”
After the looooooong letter, Kaotan-san began triumphantly recounting her story.
My attention quickly wandered away from her response, and I began thinking about how I would respond.
I decided to become a voice actress a little less than two years ago.
I was a second-year in high school, about the time when you have to start worrying about college entrance exams and that sort of stuff.
I can remember the conversation I had my with my mom about it just like it was yesterday.
I think it was the post-graduation survey? It was some random form that that we had to turn in. Actually, maybe it was the liberal arts/sciences selection form? Wait, no, I think it was some other survey? Whatever, screw the details. It was some form that we had to turn it. Man, when did my memory get this bad?
At the time, I think I talked with my mom and my brother Gojou-kun, who was also in the room. And, uh, I think my dad was at work. Or was he…? I can’t really remember. Whatever, I don’t really care about him anyways.
At any rate, amidst the radiant radio conversation about “dreams” and the “future,” I drifted off back to when I declared I was going to become a voice actress.
“Voice actress, hmmmm…”
My mom paused the conversation to ponder my future, her concern showing as she placed her hand on her cheek with the slightest of head tilts.
“I guess we didn’t really fight your brother when he decided to…”
My mom glanced at Gojou-kun who was seated diagonally from her.
“What do you think, Gojou?”
Gojou-kun had his head propped up on his elbow and was sluggishly wrapping pasta around his fork before ferrying it into his mouth. After a few moments of contemplative chewing, he snorted contemptuously and began waving his fork aggressively in my direction.
“At any rate, it’s not something that Chitose will be able to do for a living. As a industry, it’s about as unreliable as it gets. Even if she can somehow get by while she’s young, it’ll probably come back to bite her in the long run.”
…alright. I probably know where he’s going with this.
“But Gojou-kun, you’re a manager aren’t you? Can’t you just pull some strings and get me a ton of work?”
“That’s right. Dad and I can both rest easy if Chitose works at Gojou’s agency.”
My mom nodded in agreement as she took sips of her tea. Gojou responded by loudly tapping his finger against the table as he shook his head with theatrical fervor.
“No no no no no, there’s no way things would work out as well as you expect. If someone could get work that easily, our company would be raking in the cash. I mean, in the first place, we don’t even know if Chitose has what it takes to become a voice actress. No matter how you look at it, this is clearly impossible.”
“I mean, you became one. How hard could it be?”
My brilliant insight instantly glued Gojou-kun's mouth shut. Now that the loud and annoying Gojou-kun is out of the way, this is my chance to strike! Time to go in for the kill!
“I mean lately, with all the talk about idol-voice actresses, don't you think there's obviously demand for this type of stuff? And I mean look at me – I’m pretty cute, right? Things’ll definitely work out!”
I tapped my index finger cutely against my cheek, tilted my head, and gave a huge and adorable smile.
Naturally, Gojou-kun was speechless.
He let out a deep sigh and scratched his head as his eyes fixed me with a death glare. What’s up with that face? Who the h.e.l.l does this guy think he is?
“…you really are an idiot, aren’t you?”
“…the h.e.l.l? That’s rich, coming from you. Remind me whose scores were too low to get into their sister's high school again?
Gojou-kun fell silent again.
Whenever someone comes straight out and mentions something that he’s sensitive about, Gojou-kun has a habit of freezing up. Definitely one of his most useless points as a brother, if I do say so myself.
At any rate, it seems like my comment hit home. Nice, time for the double tap!
“Also, it’s looking like I’m going to get accepted by the college you got rejected from so…nice job Chitose! MARCH Univeristy, here I come!”
“I’m going to kill this brat.”
Gojou-kun’s hand was practically convulsing in anger, and his lip was twitching dangerously. It looked like at any moment he would rush over and hit met. What’s the matter, eh? You wanna fight? Come and get some! I hunched over and boxed the air aggressively, inviting him to come tussle.
“Stop it you two.”
My mom halted further Goujo-kun trouncing with a face that was visibly running low on patience. At the end of the day, when you've lived with my mom for twenty years, it’s easy to tell when she’s on the brink of exploding. If she puts on her “this-is-such-a-pain” face, you have 5 seconds before detonation.
Evidently, Gojou-kun could also read the signs. He looked pointedly away and abruptly cut off the conversation.
Gojou-kun reached for the ashtray resting on the table. He placed it down in front of him, pulled a cigarette out of his chest pocket, and tapped it lightly against the filter. Habits like this really make him resemble some washed-up dad. Please stop.
“…Chitose, you’re underestimating the world.”
Between puffs of his cigarette, Gojou-kun resumed the previous conversation with his face still turned away from me.
“There is really only a handful of voice actors who sell. This isn’t the type of industry where you'll be able to realize your dreams. And even if you do manage to become a voice actress, whether or not you’ll be able to put food on the table in the future is another matter altogether.”
“In the future, eh? But that’s not really a problem, right?”
I grinned at my mom who was still sitting across from me and formed a ring with my thumb and pointer finger.
The universal OK sign. Or the sign for a changeup pitch.
…or the sign for money.
Worrying about the future boils down to worrying about money. But I don’t have to worry about that.
Despite the pretty face, I’m not an idiot. I consider myself more the cute and cunning type.
And so before I began this conversation, I did some research ahead of time.
Besides looking up stuff on the internet, I’ve also managed to wheedle information out of Gojou-kun by pretending to be concerned when he stumbles home dead drunk.
According to drunk Gojou-kun, for one reason or another, voice actors, especially voice actresses, tend to come from pretty well-off households.
Like having parents who work for some famous company, or being the heir to some wealthy entrepreneur, or being the daughter of some famous voice actress.
Surprisingly, the industry is no stranger to celebrity.
Wait, does the fact that this is surprising mean that voice actresses aren’t considered celebrities?
Whatever. Anyways, back to the point.
I mean, if you consider the literati from way back, they were typically n.o.bility, or at least born into wealthy landowning families. To be the type of parent to let your child dedicate herself to the arts, a certain open-mindedness is essential.
As for that, both parents in our household are working at respectable companies, putting us in fairly good financial shape. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Gojou-kun makes next to nothing and is completely irrelevant financially.
And it’s precisely that useless low-wage corporate slave who was glaring suspiciously at me right now.
“…Chitose, just putting it out there, but if you’re planning on just mooching off of our parents, that’s not going to fly.”
Ooof. Pretty big words coming from someone who’s making next to nothing himself. But given that he was spot on about my intentions, I couldn’t quite muster up a reb.u.t.tal. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m too honest for my own good.
“…or, I could just marry into money!”
Such was my brilliant alternative after a moment of reconsideration. Gojou-kun responded with a resounding facepalm.
“You’re an idiot. You’re actually just an idiot.”
“Wait, hear me out! There’s people like the original authors, right? Like in Shonen Jump! Those guys!”
I rapped my palm on the table emphatically as I defended my brilliant insight.
“Definitely not. Not to someone like a manga artist.”
My mom, who had avoided taking sides until now, interrupted with a dangerous look on her face.
Unable to bring myself to meet her fiery gaze directly, I braved only the occasional timid glance as I awaited judgment.
The fire in her eyes chilled to any icy seriousness. She faced me and delivered the verdict.
“If you’re going to marry, go after an editor, or a position with a more stable income. A hundred thousand yen a year — minimum. Someone who can reach lifetime earnings of five hundred million yen if he applies himself.”
The word leapt from my mouth automatically, and I pointed triumphantly at my mom.
That’s my mom for you. Moms are great, aren’t they?
“That’s not the issue here…”
Gojou-kun’s shoulders drooped with disappointment, and he began aggressively rubbing his temple.
“If you're doing it for the money, bark up another tree. But if you want to go to the training school just for kicks, I’m not going to stop you.”
Gojou-kun tilted his head ever so slightly, grazing me with doubtful eyes. I get the feeling he’s looking down on me…with righteous beligerence, I stared him down right in the face.
“No, not just for fun. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it properly as a job.”
“Is that so?”
I thought I sounded pretty serious, but Gojou-kun offered only a half-hearted reply.
His eyes were strikingly serious. A cold gaze that could sharpen swords or shave stone.
It was a look that I bet only someone who has survived the tundra of the real world could give.
Overwhelmed by his stare, I clammed up.
I ended up swallowing everything I was going to say. How can someone like this guy put on a face like that?
Gojou-kun refused to look away, as if he was awaiting my response.
I could feel myself getting angry. I don’t like being tested.
Mustering up what remained of my withered gumption, I stared back at him.
As cutely as possible. As brattish as possible. As Chitose as possible.
“…I mean, I don’t want to do something boring!”
I flourished the words with my trademark smile.
For a few moments, Gojou-kun could do nothing but blink vacantly at me in response. Then, he let out a deep sigh and began fumbling with his vest pocket. He pulled out a box of headache medicine, swallowing a pill with his tea.
“You really are an idiot, huh?”
This time he muttered it under his breath darkly.
Being repeatedly called an idiot would make even a super compa.s.sionate angel like me who almost never gets p.i.s.sed off at anything feel a teensy bit angry. I’m going to kill this idiot.
“What’s your deal? Your response to everything is to just call me an "idiot!" If wanting to be a voice actress makes me an idiot, then aren’t you one too? You’re the one who's already in the industry.”
Float like a b.u.t.terfly, sting like a bee, Chitose-style.
It looks like I hit a weak spot.
Gojou-kun's face twisted up like he swallowed a lemon, and he started stammering. …ha, too easy!
As I poised myself for the finishing blow, my mom, who had been quietly watching us, interjected placidly as she poured herself more tea.
“Why don’t we let Chitose try it out?”
I sprung off of the sofa and slammed my fists onto the table with red-hot enthusiasm.
“Really? You’re alright with it?”
I asked with wide eyes and a beaming grin.
My mom gingerly sipped her tea before speaking.
“Well, we supported your brother's decision, so it wouldn’t really be fair to stop you, would it? You should be allowed to pursue it until you’re satisfied, same as your brother.”
When my mom looked over at Gojou-kun, his eyes darted away in obvious discontent. He he he. Serves you right.
Well, I guess you can chalk this one up to the younger sibling advantage. For every single opportunity the parents gave the older brother, the sister gets to leverage it to her own benefit.
Watching me relish my hard-earned victory, my mom sternly added a qualification.
“However, you still have the attend college. As long as you do that, I don’t think Dad will have any objections.”
“I will! I’ll work hard at both!”
Overcome by joy, I jumped up and wrapped my arms around my mom, rubbing her back in loving appreciation.
And with that, I got the approval of my mom and brother and began my journey towards becoming a voice actress.
My dad? My dad…well, I guess my mom won him over one way or another.
I started attending training school, breezed through the basics, and promptly joined my current agency, Number One Produce, without missing a beat.
That’s right. Right then. Up until then, everything was going exactly as planned.
I even thought, “This’ll be easy! Gahaha!”
But, the real world doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
A far cry from the “I came. I saw. I conquered.” that I envisioned, all I’m doing now is failing auditions and occasionally being summoned for mob roles.
Something’s not right here…I thought I was going to be just like Sonou Momoka — young, dazzling, and teeming with work…and Sonou Momoka’s still in high school. Lately, young voice actresses have become quite common, eh. And on the flip side, you have me…
While musing over these matters, I clamped my hand onto a hanging strap and heaved a sigh as the train gently wobbled back and forth.
In the world beyond the earphones, a carefree voice chattered on.
“We’re totally entertainers, right?”
“Eh? I think that’s just you, Kaotan-san!”
“Yeah, you! I mean during the recording sessions, you’re always giving off that vibe.”
While I zoned out, the conversation somehow made its way to this point. Connecting bits of the conversation that had snuck their way into my head, I deduced they were probably answering some question along the lines of “What are the recording sessions like? Can you share some memorable stories?”, the type of question you get all the time.
Even though I missed a chunk of the conversation during my stroll down memory lane, I didn’t feel a need to rewind.
It’s not because it’s boring or anything.
If you asked me about it…I’d probably even say it’s amusing.
In truth, the topics are worse than trash, the conversation is as inane as high school girl gossip, romance advice for the listeners is boring enough to make me vomit, and mail like this is 100% written just to get the voice actresses to read it aloud.
Frankly, it’s incredibly boring.
But if you take out the boring parts, it’s unbelievably amusing.
“We all get along so well!”
After Kaotan-san, who had been leading the conversation, spoke, there was a slight pause before Sonou Momoka's singsong voice responded.
“The atmosphere at the recording studio is super fun, and we hang out together on our own time too! Like, meals and stuff!”
“Yep! Sometimes after sessions, everyone goes out to eat together!”
An essential part of any anime radio program, completely scripted, planned harmony, perfectly stable. Back and forth conversation without the slightest deviation or interruption.
This is the part that is unbelievably amusing.
For someone who’s been to actual recording sessions, you can’t help but find it so.
The dominant sound at the studio is not ecstatic chatter, but the pattering of nails against smart phones, and any conversation is on the level of “The royal milk tea at that Seven-Eleven was delicious.”
And since the garbage light novel source material got an adaption solely because of a certain publishing company’s private political agenda, the actual content of the show is too stupid for the cast to even talk about.
The fact that someone can call this environment “fun” with a straight face is amusing.
This is one of the moments where I truly feel blessed that I became a voice actress.
Also, another point that’s hilariously, unbelievably amusing.
The fact that mob characters like me don’t count as a part of Kaotan-san's merry "everyone," that far from just not being invited to post-recording sessions, as far as the main cast is concerned, I don’t even exist.
Hilarious. Wait, no it’s not. Wait wait wait. It’s actually not funny at all.
It’s not like there’s no conversation in the studio at all or that it’s not enjoyable. And the atmosphere is nowhere near bad enough to hamper our work.
In fact, since you work with the same people over and over again, everyone manages to gets along well on the surface.
Though no one bothers to talk to disposable mob characters like me.
Frivolous chit chat when it's a big session with a lot of people, the occasional whisper to whomever is sitting next to you, the routine staccato of thumbs tapping away at social phone games.
If you asked me whether or not I thought a place like that sounded fun, I’d probably say yes. I mean, phone games are fun, aren’t they?
If there’s one thing I've learned from school, it’s that bringing a bunch of girls together in one place never works out well. Recording sessions are, well, basically that exact situation.
But, that’s what makes it amusing.
Deceive the ma.s.ses, create a different you, and put on the appearance that everything is sugar and rainbows.
Putting it another way.
It’s a job that creates dreams. Truly wonderful.
That's why, even though it’s a little weird for me to be saying this, I think everyone in this industry is messed-up.
I got off at my station and walked a bit.
The familiar streets evoked a feeling of homecoming as I ambled my way through them. I stopped by a coffee shop to pick up a cafe au lait, peeled off the cap, and sipped the drink as I headed towards the recording studio.
The time was about half past three. For sessions starting at four, this was a fairly typical time for me to arrive.
I came to a stairway a little bit off of the main street and descended, my shoes clacking loudly against the steps.
Most of the time, I enter the studio alone. I guess that because voice actresses are technically celebrities, the public imagines they are flanked by their managers 24/7, but in reality, more often than not, they just get left alone to fend for themselves…
I mean, of course, there are voice actresses that are always accompanied by their managers. For example, some agency’s manager was waiting at the foot of the stairway by the entrance to the studio.
I greeted him cheerfully before scanning the area for my own manager.
But he was nowhere to be seen.
Our agency doesn’t a.s.sign each of us a personal manager. Instead, we have a manager for each sound production company. Apparently, super busy voice actresses are a.s.signed someone to follow them around, but stuff like that is completely irrelevant to a newbie with as much free time as me.
Gojou-kun is supposed to be responsible for this sound company, Heil Sound, but I didn’t see him anywhere.
…he must be slacking off. I’ll snitch on him to the president later.
Though to be fair, management tends to be chronically understaffed, maybe since the job is so hard, and I understood that despite making almost no money, Gojou-kun was pretty busy.
Gojou-kun doesn’t show up to every session because occasionally, it’s simply not possible given his schedule. I guess today’s one of those days. Still going to snitch on him, though.
I strolled through the modest studio and entered the the lobby, which was steeped in the usual relaxed aura that preceded the beginning of a session.
In the studio lobby, a somewhat fashionable sofa was illuminated by warm ambient lighting. Some studios are rather pretty while others tend to be more shabby, and Heil Sound Studio is definitely on the prettier side.
The catering and snacks provided are also quite satisfactory.
Sometimes, the studio would receive fancy snacks from original authors and other important visitors.
It was precisely these snacks that everyone was nibbling on in the lobby.
A few members of the main cast were making small talk or just relaxing while messing around on their phones.
I pa.s.sed through the lobby with a greeting packed to the max with effusive enthusiasm. Continuing on the mixer room, I delivered another bright greeting.
“Good morning! I’m Karasuma Chitose from Number One Produce! I’m looking forward to working with you today!”
When I give a greeting like this, everyone turns towards me and returns an acknowledgement, but whether it actually registers in their minds that it is to Karasuma Chitose is quite dubious. To be fair, it’s not like I received individual introductions to all the staff members, so there are a lot of faces that I wouldn’t be able to put a name to either.
Even then, I always greet everyone properly. From staff that you'll likely might meet again on another t.i.tle to people you'll only ever pa.s.s by in the hallway, everyone gets a greeting. That’s what it means to be a voice actress. These days, even elementary schoolers learn about the importance of a proper greeting. If you see someone suspicious, greet first, then restrain… I mean, just looking around, there’s definitely a lot of suspicious-looking people in this industry…
After greeting everyone in the lobby and all the important people in the mixer room, I finally arrived at the recording room.
Here also, a greeting!
Thinking about it, the number of words I devote to greetings is greater than the number of words in my actual voice lines.
I planted myself in my usual seat – the chair right by the entrance.
There are no official a.s.signed seats in the recording room. But everyone tends to read the mood and sit according. People with more lines sit in front of the mic, people with less lines sit along the sides of the room, stuff like that. Or depending on the t.i.tle, sitting next to the person playing a character closely tied to yours — a lot of factors are at play.
But, I’m a mob.
A mob among mobs.
Even among the ranks of mobs, I’m insignificant, the second-rate type, brought into a session without much consideration.
Kaotan-san, who's from our agency, is playing one of the main heroines, so I got called in as a tagalong.
Usually, it wouldn't really make sense for all the important people to spend time deliberating over such trivial matters like who plays the mob roles, so those parts generally are decided offhandedly by the sound producer or on the recommendation of management.
Being called in under these circ.u.mstances essentially makes me a mob among mobs.
A mob among mobs among mobs.
So, I try to not get in anyone’s way and sit as far out of everyone’s sight as possible.
As I sat in my usual spot as quietly and obediently as I could, the rest of the cast members slowly drifted into the room.
Each time someone pa.s.sed by me, I would stand up and greet them. Go me. Looking like a real pro.
In the early sessions, I would throw an introduction in with the greeting, but at this point everyone already knows each other and has already stopped paying attention to mobs.
Still, you can’t help but react when you see someone you recognize.
Trembling fearfully and nervously scanning the room like a civet who’s suddenly found herself stuck in the middle of a city, the anxious girl who entered the recording room happened to be one of my few friends, Kugayama Yae.
“Oh hey, it’s Yae.”
Stricken by how weird it was seeing her here, I inadvertently voiced my thoughts.
At the sound of my voice, Yae turned towards me, sporting a relieved look on her face.
Yae lit up with a big, soft smile and trotted over to the seat next to me.
“Thank G.o.d there’s someone I know…this is only my third time coming to a recording session, and I was so nervous…”
We hadn't even started recording yet, but Yae appeared to be exhausted. She let out a huge sigh of relief, the force of which almost knocked her off balance, leaving her teetering over my seat. I quickly reached out to keep her from falling.
Yae’s slightly flushed face stopped right in front of mine. Even though we’re both girls, having our faces this close is still kind of embarra.s.sing. Yae’s skin is so smooth…it’d probably look great with make-up. Kind of p.i.s.ses me off.
So I mercilessly prodded her cheek.
“Waa, w-what’s that for, Chii-chan?”
“Before diving into a seat, shouldn’t you at least greet everyone first? Didn’t Gojou-kun teach you that much?”
Ignoring Yae’s grimace, I whispered a quiet admonition.
To which Yae leapt up from her seat and rushed over to everyone else in an abrupt fl.u.s.ter.
“I-I’m Kugayama Yae from Number One Produce. I-I’m looking forward to working with everyone today…”
Yae went around the room and introduced herself to all the other voice actors. Her characteristic nervousness looked like it returned with a vengeance during the circuit, but by the time she sat back down next to me, her nervous energy had transformed into a bubbly determination.
She planted herself firmly in the chair, pulled out her script which was liberally decorated with post-it notes, and began diligently reviewing her lines.
Ah, what an adorable rookie. What’s that? I’m an adorable, wide-eyed, fresh-off-the-boat rookie too? That’s beside the point.
As I felt my soul being soothed from Yae’s hamster-like antics, the double doors to the recording room opened, signalling the arrival of the sound producer.
“We’re beginning testing.”
At these words, everyone prepared for the session to begin.
I also prepared myself.
And so it begins: Chitose’s silent statue time!
Over time, I’ve learned to take the sudden transitions in the recording session, happening at the drop of the sound producer or director’s voice, in stride.
At first, I was pretty surprised by how abruptly it began.
And while I was floundering in my confusion, the session chugged onwards without me…
Voice actresses typically get the lion-cub treatment on their first job: no real explanation, and the expectation that they fend for themselves. In terms of the steepness of the learning curve, being a voice actress is kind of like picking up a fighting game.
Yae’s still pretty inexperienced, but she seems to be doing fine right now…
I looked over at her and, as expected, she was muttering anxiously to herself.
As I watched, she began a frantic cycle of looking at the monitor, then looking at the script, then looking over the original work, then the monitor, all the while emanating palpable nervousness.
Yep, the spitting image of a rookie. What’s that? I’m still a rookie too? That’s beside the point.
That being said, I was nervous from start to finish during my first session, too. Nah, maybe saying I was intensely concentrating the whole time would be more accurate.
Oscillating back and forth between the source manga and script. Listening to each voice actor’s performance, trying desperately to identify anything I could incorporate into my own acting. Staring at the images on the monitor so hard that it felt like I was about to be sucked in. Focusing single-mindedly on bolded sections in the script. Shadowing everyone else’s lines with furtive, muttered breaths. …hnng! I was so cute and serious in my rookie days! What’s that? I’m still a rookie? Does that mean I’m still that cute? Quick, someone take a picture!
…I guess, in some ways, it’s possible, that maybe, I’m not as serious anymore?
Nowadays, I just zone out while staring blankly at the storyboard runs playing on the screen, my brain occupied only with whether the session is going to end soon.
What happened to me…?
But, I mean, come on! It’s because all the parts I’ve been a.s.signed are single throwaway lines, where it doesn’t matter at all that I’m the one providing the voice…and like, how can anyone get pumped up from watching videos of storyboard runs…
…right? Anyway, mobs aren’t supposed to be too enthusiastic! Like, try to imagine watching a show and coming across a random mob character with a voice bursting with spirit and individualism! You’re just begging to be yelled at by the director: “You’re just a cafe waitress – stop trying so hard to steal the spotlight!”
Thinking about it that way, I’m doing a great job of reading the atmosphere! In fact, you could even say I’ve truly became one with the air!
In the end, I only had one line in part A, so I spent most of it zoning out. The line itself got the OK without needing any retakes.
Then begins the long period of time where I have to stay silent. The entire session takes about 3 hours, so part A const.i.tutes about an hour and a half of Chitose’s silent statue time.
The time I’m held captive is completely disproportionate to the number of lines I have, but I guess earning money for just saying one line isn’t a bad deal.
For anime, it doesn’t matter if I have one word or a hundred, the pay doesn’t change…
Usually, the recording session progresses through three phases: testing, recording, and retakes.
So, if you don’t have any retakes, you spend that entire period sitting silently. For long sessions, retakes can take up to 5-6 hours, and it’s surprisingly taxing on those who are just waiting to leave. You hear stories of sessions beginning at 6 and ending past midnight. Ugh.
According to Gojou-kun, the guilt from having to do a ton of retakes and forcing everyone else to wait is enough to make you go bald.
But it doesn’t matter for a mob like me. I barely ever get retakes.
It’s not because I’m good at acting or because my performances are particularly inspired or because I'm a natural or because I’ve been gifted with divine cuteness.
Simply put, no one cares about mob lines. The viewers don’t, the staff don’t, and the original author certainly doesn’t.
Now that you mention it, there was this one time I was called in as a mob and had to deal with this annoying light novel author who made me do five retakes. But that’s about it. I wonder what ended up happening with that author. Hopefully nothing good…I mean, what does a light novel author know about anime in the first place!
So once I'm out of lines, my primary duty becomes that of the doorman.
I sit in the chair closest to the door, so whenever the sound director comes I quickly open the door, and whenever anyone enters or leaves the room, I open and close the door for them.
Thus, the beginning and the end of the session, along with the break between parts, are the periods when I’m the most busy.
I open and close the heavy door over and over again, and before I know it, part B has already begun.
Since I still don’t have that many lines in part B, I faithfully resume zoning out.
Meanwhile, the actresses in demand weave briskly back and forth in front of the mic. How delightful to watch.
I think this everytime I watch them, but the popular voice actresses are really good at switching themselves on and off.
For example, right now in front of the mic we find Sonou Momoka, who’s playing one of the main heroines. If you catch her before the session or during the break, she'll definitely be lazing around with a blank look on her face. Only when someone speaks to her does the peerless Momoka materialize, turning to face them with a big smile. Otherwise, she’s just glued to her phone.
Also Shirota-san, who’s playing the main character. He acts pretty cool right now, but during breaks, he never makes eye contact with anyone. He just sits alone playing phone games…well, since the show is kind of harem-ish, I imagine the few guy members of the cast feel pretty awkward.
That being said, things are also pretty awkward for me. I mean, can you imagine how hard it is being the most beautiful person in the room all the time?
For a mob like me, there’s only one thing people expect.
Don’t interfere with everyone else’s performances.
Even though I’m a voice actress, my job ends up being not using my voice…
Thoughtlessly, I began to let out a big sigh but managed to suppress it as part of my professional duty.
After doing so, I felt the stirrings of a yawn.
At times like this, I casually fan my script out and cover my mouth. Hiding your face when you need to yawn, bestowing s.p.a.ce to scribble when you’re bored, even listing all the lines for the show if you ever need to look at them — scripts are so handy.
I pressed the script against my face and peeked out over the top at the actors performing in front of me and at the video playing on the monitor.
Man, this anime is boring. Well, it is based on a light novel. Yep. Can you really blame me for yawning?
And everyone is just waiting for their next chance to make noise. …I don’t have any lines left, so I guess that means I’m out of chances too…
Didn’t I take this job because I didn’t want to end up doing something boring…?
It had just been under three hours since the beginning of the session. My work for the day finished without any real issues.
“It was a pleasure working with everyone today.”
Three or so members of the cast stood up, turned toward everyone else, gave a slight bow, and voiced a quick goodbye before leaving the recording room.
I followed suit with my own bow and goodbye. After which, I proceeded towards the mixer room for a repeat performance.
Feedback for our performances, and as well as directing requests, usually come from the sound director, so we rarely have the chance to meet the original author or the actual director. You’d think that since we’re all working on the same project, they would at least want to talk to us about the story or their vision or something, but in reality, it almost never happens.
The extent of our interaction with anyone important is basically just limited to “Good morning!” and “Thank you very much!”
And these greetings aren't even really addressed to anyone in particular — they’re multi-purpose and vague, directed towards the abstract concept of the staff. It’s like that thing, in like judo or kendo, when everyone faces one direction and bows to the dojo or something.
I popped into the mixer room.
“It was a pleasure working with everyone today! Thank you very much!”
As soon as I pa.s.sed on my goodbye, I popped back out.
I was thinking that I could quickly grab dinner with Yae and then head home, but when I returned to the lobby, I saw Yae talking to someone else.
The black-haired someone was making a weird pose with his head c.o.c.ked slightly while wearing a mean-looking face on top of a slightly-fashionable shadow-stripe suit.
My brother and manager. Employee of Number One Produce, Karasuma Gojou.
“Oh hey, it’s Gojou-kun. Rare to actually see you at the studio.”
Upon hearing my voice, he tilted his head a little more and looked right at me.
“You've got it backwards, idiot. You’re the one who’s almost never here. Also don’t talk to me in public.”
“What’s this? Gojou-kun’s going through his rebellious phase? I guess you pretending to be a middle schooler is kind of funny.”
“That’s not it. I’m talking about keeping your public life and private life separate.”
“What’re you talking about? You’re the one who calls me 'Chitose' even at the office. Even though you call Yae Kugayama-san and all. Who’s the one not keeping their public and private lives separate?”
Gojou-kun was struck speechless by my immediate comeback. After a brief pause, he pulled a pillbox out of his pocket and popped a pill into his mouth. Then he walked off towards the closest vending machine. People nowadays always seem to be taking headache medication… What’s the deal? Everyone on their period?
Whatever, who cares about Gojou-kun. I turned around and faced Yae.
“Yae, let’s go get food!”
“Umm, err, th-then I guess we can go with the producer and everyone…”
As she stammered, Yae glanced around the room.
She was watching the producer and original author and the other people who had gathered in the room and were talking about going out for drinks. For recording sessions that begin at four, people grabbing a meal together afterwards is fairly common.
But that also varies from t.i.tle to t.i.tle.
“Ah, Yae, this is your first time on this show, right?”
“For this show, people don’t usually go get food afterwards.”
“Ah, I see…”
“It’s probably cause some of them are really busy.”
I offered an explanation to try and cheer up the disappointed Yae.
I don’t actually know if the cast is busy. It might simply be because we don’t really get along that well. Simply put, even if we did all go out, it wouldn’t benefit our work or anything, so people might consider it pointless.
If you ask me, I don’t think it's possible for normal people to understand how popular voice actresses think.
Still, if you think about it optimistically, it’s possible that everyone is just super busy and has plans already.
Stuff like recording the radio program for the show immediately after, or starring as a host/guest in a different radio show that night, or recording the tape for some upcoming audition, or looking over the material for another recording session, or sleeping early in preparation for an event the next day…for popular voice actresses, there’s a ton of work even after the recording session ends.
And then there's me.
……………literally free all day.
I mean, I also want work. If only I had a manager who could actually get me work… I looked over at Gojou-kun, who had returned and was gulping down a water.
“Gojou-kun, I’m going out to eat so I won't need dinner tonight.”
“Alright. I’m also going to be home late, so don’t worry about me. Just don’t forget to lock the door properly.”
Gojou-kun nodded in response and headed towards the office in the back. I wager he’ll probably go back to the management agency after saying goodbye to everyone.
Half-watching him walk away, I gestured to Yae for us to go too. But Yae's eyes were alternating between me and Gojou-kun’s back with a look made up of a mixture of reverence and astonishment. Only after grabbing her hand and pulling her behind me did Yae finally reboot.
“W-what a mature conversation…”
“Eh? What are you talking about? It was completely normal wasn’t it? Plus, we’re siblings.”
“That’s true but still…”
As she followed me outside, Yae’s face still flushed red with excitement. What the h.e.l.l is this girl imagining?
We half-randomly picked a somewhat fancier restaurant nearby, sat down, and started off the night with two cups of elderflower soda.
The bright sound of our gla.s.ses clinking rang out quietly but with a bell-like sharpness. The refreshing feel of the bubbly foam sliding down your throat feels so good! Nah, it’s the fact that it's the first cup after work that makes it the best! It just blows all your exhaustion away! And it makes your body feel so light! Haa haa haa! Oh yeah, that's absolutely right! I’m not actually tired! I only said three words! Haa haa haa……haa.
Feeling myself sinking halfway back into despair, I prepared to drown out my sorrows with another gulp when I noticed Yae perusing the food menu with a troubled look on her face.
Yae turned towards me and, with a tragic expression on the brink of tears, whispered an explanation.
“I’m trying to limit my glucose intake, so I don’t know what I can eat…”
Ho, limit glucose intake you say? So basically this girl’s on a diet?
It’s true that nowadays voice actresses do get a lot of media exposure, and their physical appearances often become the talk of the internet. Popular voice actresses slimming down or putting on weight can set off quite the commotion.
So, even though we’re voice actresses, a lot of girls in the industry pay close attention to their figure and appearance, and, depending on the agency, could even be forced to go on diets by their managers.
This industry really is messed-up…
So it’s up to me to take a stand here and change this world one serving at a time. Ablaze with the fire of duty, I gave Yae a thumbs-up.
“Alright, leave it to me!”
Perhaps overwhelmed by my fiery enthusiasm, Yae nodded nervously and handed me the food menu. I took it from her and scanned it over quickly.
“Excuse me! We’re ready to order!”
I raised my hand, caught a waiter, and started ordering without an ounce of hesitation.
“Caesar salad and bagna cauda please!”
Yae smiled and nodded gently as she watched me point to the menu and read out the order.
“Also anchovy potatoes!”
As I ordered, Yae froze.
“Also pizza alla Bismark and a small carb.o.n.e.ra! That’ll be all!”
After the waiter left, Yae’s neck began to twitch awkwardly as she turned towards me with a crooked half-smile.
“Ch-chii-chan…y-you heard what I, just said, right…?”
“Don’t worry about it! We’ll both work hard starting tomorrow!”
A smile softened my declaration, but Yae’s shoulders still drooped, and she began tracing circles on the table.
But this is a necessary evil in order to throw the first stone against an oppressive voice actress industry that requires everyone to be beautiful. I want Yae to rise to the top as a super-orthodox celebrity, using only her voice and acting to open everyone’s eyes…don’t think you can get away with trying to slim up on your own, Yae…
Whenever unpopular voice actresses gather, the conversation quickly turns to acting and performance. With stuff like “The way this popular voice actress does this is incredible!” or “Someone gave me advice to do this, but I think this”, the conversation runs on and on with countless anecdotes and hypotheticals.
Basically, it’s a conversation where everyone’s trying to show off. “Look at how cool I am for thinking about these deep things” or “Look at how this important person cared enough about me to give advice.” The conversation is little more than an excuse to satisfy our need to humble brag.
Yae and I were no exception, and as we munched away on our potatoes, we amused ourselves by debating the future of the voice acting and anime industries.
“You know how the consumption cycle for anime has been really fast lately? I think the same phenomenon applies to voice actresses!”
I smugly parroted some conversation I remembered hearing elsewhere, to which Yae nodded emphatically as she twirled her carbonara around her fork.
“In other words, it’s only a matter of time before the cycle rolls over to us! Easy! We got this in the bag!”
Why is it so much fun for newbies to congregate and talk big, I wonder…? This completely unfounded sense of invincibility is the best…
Yae urged me to continue my rant with a sparkling gaze.
“Chii-chan, you’re amazing…”
“Hehe…I guess I am, aren’t I?”
It felt pretty good to be complimented. Man, Yae is such a great listener! Sorry for feeding you a bunch of food to try and fatten you up!
As I savored the moment, Yae let out a resigned sigh, followed by a subdued murmur.
“I see…you’re already looking ahead to after you become popular…”
“Err what? After I become popular?”
Yae’s comment was so unexpected I echoed the question before I could stop myself.
To which Yae replied with a tinge of confusion.
“Y-yeah…I mean, you were talking about, what’s it called, the ‘consumer cycle,’ right? About it being fast? To me, that just means I’ll disappear right away…”
Ugh…now that I stop to think about it, Yae’s right. What’s up with this – why is Yae so sharp when it comes t