The Word "Seiyu" in Japanese

Misty, Ash and Pikachu from Pokemon
The Pokemon Company

Seiyu (also seiyuu) is the Japanese word for voice actor or voice actress. It is occasionally used by passionate fans of Japanese video games and anime series but has no literal difference from its English-language equivalent. It is common to hear Western fans of anime series and movies express an interest in wanting to become a seiyu due to the incorrect belief that the word specifically means, Japanese voice actor or voice actor in Japan.​

Seiyu Explained

Just like English-speaking voice actors, they can work in a variety of productions, including movies, television series, radio and even providing voices for video game characters.

In the West, the term seiyuu has come to denote the Japanese voice actor while "voice actor" is used to indicate the English-speaking actor after a movie or series has been translated.

The word seiyuu is actually a shortened version of the kanji used for "voice actor"—koe no haiyu—however many older voice actors resent this particular term.

Originally, dubbing and voice-overs were done by stage and film actors who used only their own voice, while true seiyuus were used only for "character voices" and considered to be a "lesser" type of actor. But after the anime boom, the term seiyuu became widely known and was considered to be interchangeable with the term "voice actor", a fact that some older actors found insulting.

Yet, despite this once dismissive connotation, today's seiyuus enjoy a variety of work and are held in high regard among fans and industry professionals alike. And although many do still branch over into film and television (as well as music), such an adaptation is not required to build a thriving career or achieve widespread popularity.

In fact, seiyuus are so respected that Japan has several magazines devoted to the art of voice-acting and also boasts over one hundred seiyuu "schools" to help train and prepare aspiring voice actors.

How to Pronounce Seiyu

The correct Japanese pronunciation of seiyu is, se-i-yu. The se is said the same way as the se in set while the i is pronounced like the i in sit. The yu should sound like the yu in yule or yute. A common mispronunciation of seiyu is say-you. There should be no a sound (however subtle the difference may be) and the yu should be shorter than the longer you sound.

Alternate Spellings of Seiyu

Some people do tend to spell the word as, seiyuu, but this is an older form of translation that has become more and more uncommon nowadays, mostly due to double vowels being unneeded for most English speakers.

The reasoning for the double u is due to the seiyū translation which incorporates a macron (horizontal line) above the u. Fewer and fewer people and publications are using macrons nowadays and thus it has been dropped in much the same way people type Tokyo now instead of Tōkyō.

Examples of Seiyu Word Usage

  • "My favorite seiyu is Tomokazu Seki."
  • "I want to be a seiyu just like Abby Trott!"
  • "Some of the Japanese seiyu in Attack on Titan really liked to chew the scenery."
  • "The English language voice actors in Glitter Force were just as great as their seiyu counterparts." Reminder: This use of seiyu is very niche even in geek culture. In every situation, saying voice actor or voice actress is completely fine and even preferred.

Edited by Brad Stephenson