All About Japan

Giving Voice to a Dream

Anime Sailor Moon

While there are legions of fans of anime and manga abroad, few are actually involved in producing that content in Japan. Voice actors, for example, must have native-level language skills and talent, and the market is oversaturated with native-born performers.

The chances for vocal talent from abroad are therefore slim, to say the least. And yet Seira Ryu, a voice actress from China, overcame these hurdles to become one of the rare performers working in both countries.

Ryu grew up in Beijing, China during the country’s one-child policy. To ease the burden on families of working parents, kindergarten-age children were commonly sent to boarding school during the week. After dinner, the children watched Japanese anime on television. One show in particular, Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, proved so popular that they loved to imitate it. Ryu was no exception.

Her dream at the time was to become a cartoonist. She soon realized that practicing illustration on her own would not produce the skills she needed to enter art school, so she changed course.

“I happened to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, and although it was a dub from the original Japanese, I was amazed at the acting skills of the voice actors,” she recalls. “Then I learned about Romi Park, the voice actress for Fullmetal Alchemist, and realized that there was non-Japanese voice talent out there. That’s when I chose this career. I later learned that Romi Park was in fact born and raised in Tokyo, so her situation is a little different from mine, but that misunderstanding is what got me where I am!”

After making up her mind, Ryu dove headlong into her studies. She earned top marks at school and was considered a shoo-in for any of the best universities in the country, but she wanted to attend a school that offered Japanese, so she enrolled in the Japanese program at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “Beijing Foreign Studies University is also difficult to get into,” Ryu says. “Even so, my decision to forego top universities and enroll in Foreign Studies University—and moreover, to go for Japanese rather than the more universal English—was met with remarks of ‘You’re putting your talents to waste’ from my high school teachers.”

While at university, she took part in an exchange program with Aichi Bunkyo University. After graduating, she returned to Japan in 2009 and continued her studies in the Voice Actor and Theater Department at Nihon Kogakuin College.

While her textbooks focused on polite and correct Japanese, she wanted to expand her repertoire to youth slang and real performative Japanese. To fully immerse herself in the language, she kept contact with her parents in China to a minimum, and while at home would leave the television on permanently and listen to the background audio. Her goal was to shut out her native Chinese and absorb Japanese, which allowed her to obtain the near-perfect delivery she has today.

During her second year at Nihon Kogakuin College, Aoni Production—Japan’s largest voice talent agency—held an event in China, and Ryu acted as MC as well as interpreter. Aoni executives rated her performance as stellar, and offered her a job. “Becoming a voice actor in Japan as a foreigner requires not just skills but a bit of luck and connections,” Ryu observes. “I was really lucky to have met the people from Aoni—without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Ryu’s roles are ever expanding, and include the voice of Shingo Tsukino in the online anime Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal and the narration for Terebi de Chugoku-go (Chinese Language by TV) on NHK’s educational channel.

“In the future, I want to do the main voices for a program in both Japanese and Chinese,” she says. “I’m proud to be the only voice actress right now with the skills to do that.” Ryu adds that she wants to release a comic about her background and her steps toward voice acting.

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