To hardcore anime fans, seiyuu are like actors in dramas. They watch specific shows just to listen to their wonderful voices, and swear that the role would be different if a different person had taken it. There are even annual award ceremonies to reward the “best” performing seiyuu of the year. The similarities that seiyuu have to actors are endless.
And yet, the fact remains that seiyuu use only their voice, whereas actors present both their voice and their appearance in shows. Surely the more limiting medium where seiyuu present themselves will have a difference? For instance, many people only watch anime for the plot, sometimes the artwork, but they swear that “all the voices sound the same”. And really, if you think about it, don’t you find that a lot of people really have the same voice? It’s so easy to mistake one voice for another. How can we be expected to recognise the distinctiveness of every seiyuu’s voice?
I present you the example of Taketatsu Ayana, Kugimiya Rie and Toyama Nao. Tell me if you can tell them apart.
In another example, listen to Kamiya Hiroshi as Mephistopheles in Ao no Exorcist, Koyomi Araragi in Monogatari and Michael Blanc in Macross Frontier. You wouldn’t be able to tell with 100% confidence that these were all by the same man. And he was Natsume in Natsume Yuujinchou and Levi in Shingeki no Kyojin too, on a side note.
On another side note, I’m quite sure the mere mention of Kamiya Hiroshi is enough to send fangirls squealing, judging by the results of some seiyuu polls nowadays. Seiyuu favourites have a noticeable trend. Some years back it had been Fukuyama Jun during the Code Geass craze, then Miyano Mamoru took over during Gundam 00, and now it’s Kamiya Hiroshi. I’m not sure why, but I’m guessing Levi’s fame in Shingeki no Kyojin has something to do with it, together with its role in propelling Kaji Yuuki (Eren) to greater fame.
I guess it’s not really a side note, because it comes back to my point. Maybe the seiyuu don’t really sound different, but it’s dependent on what characters they happen to be voicing presently. Of course, characters that require more voicing talent would be rated more favourably, such as Fukuyama Jun and his Lelouch voice (and to some extent Wakamoto Norio). We all loved Mayuri in Steins;Gate, and so Hanazawa Kana became the most likeable female seiyuu now. Like any other career in the entertainment industry, a lot of luck is involved. Singers may get lucky and sing a popular song. Actors get lucky and land a blockbuster job. Authors get lucky and write a bestseller. Not that they don’t have talent, but they needed the luck to land a job that would show off the most of their talent.
Though admittedly some seiyuu are really bad. I don’t think much of generic squeaky girl voices, for instance. There are also some seiyuu that I personally dislike, such as Tomatsu Haruka. She’s fine, and definitely doesn’t belong in the category of “bad” seiyuu. I just don’t feel much of a connection with her. Neither do I like Fukuyama Jun or Sakamoto Maaya, though I respect that they have their strengths.
Just a last note on seiyuu, not all good seiyuu make good singers. I am getting royally vexed that they’re making seiyuu sing the openings and endings of their anime. Kamiya Hiroshi may make the best voice for gentle guys, but he sings out of tune! No matter how hard you try to hide it with your auto-tuning!
A list of seiyuu I know and the kind of roles I remember them for.
Irino Miyu — young boys, mostly lovers~
Kamiya Hiroshi, Namikawa Daisuke — gentle men
Miyano Mamoru — I always remember him as Okabe Rintarou in Steins;Gate. Any other role is weird for him!
Shimono Hiro, Yonaga Tsubasa, Terashima Takuma — all the cute boys basically. Terashima Takuma especially has such a refreshingly young voice!
Ono Daisuke — people with deeper voices, though probably biased because of K in Zero Escape
Suzumura Kenichi — happy-go-lucky young men! Biased from Lavi in D.Gray-Man
Seki Tomokazu — He is both the lazy Daru in Steins;Gate and the fiery Gilgamesh in Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero. I… I don’t know what to say.
Hanazawa Kana — any cute girl like Mayuri. And there are probably a lot of such people everywhere.
Taketatsu Ayana, Kugimiya Rie, Toyama Nao, Kitamura Eri, Nanjou Yoshino — cute girls with high-pitched voices that are more irritating than Hanazawa Kana.
Sakamoto Maaya, Mizuki Nana, Tomatsu Haruka — girls with voices that are at least normal, thank goodness
Obviously I was being biased there, but I admit, most girls sound terribly similar. So do most guys, but as I said, biased.