While it originally started as a small industry, voice acting has become a large part of the anime scene. English voice actors have their popularity within the anime fanbase in the West, but Japanese voice actors can be a selling point for an entire project. With hundreds of actors appearing in anime every year, it can be difficult to pick out just five that shone the most in one year. But that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
The criteria for the “best” are as follows:
- Number of roles
- Influence those roles had on the industry/anime community
- Acting ability in certain works/scenes
- What makes them stand out
These are just a few criteria, but note that not every actor or actress on this list will have to meet all of these points to rank in. This list is not organized in any particular order, and is only for Japanese voice acting, so no dub actors this time around. Also, just because a voice actor didn’t make this list doesn’t mean that they aren’t stellar–this is just our list of five voice talents we thought particularly stood out this year made with input from the writing staff.
Kawanishi’s road to success has been a long one–he debuted as a voice actor in 2006 with minor roles in anime like Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of the visual Kanon and Angel Heart. For nearly ten years, he continued to play minor roles in anime. His big break was in 2015, when he grabbed the role of Mikazuki Augus in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. He brought life to the calm and nonchalant Mikazuki last year, and did it once again with the second season of the anime this fall.
Kawanishi also stood out this year with the role of Rei Kiriyama in March comes in like a lion. Contrasted with his usual cool tone, Kawanishi shows a much larger range of emotions as Rei, a more innocent character than the slightly psychotic Mikazuki. He also played a number of smaller, but important, roles this year, like Maxim in BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Galaxy, Steinbeck in the second season of Bungo Stray Dogs, and Terunosuke Miyamoto in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable.
Kawanishi is on this list not only for the range of emotions in his performances and characters, but also for his effort and perseverance. The Japanese voice acting industry is extremely harsh, and his efforts and successes are extremely commendable.
Kenjiro Tsuda is a veteran of the acting and voice acting industry with hundreds of roles under his belt, including Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh! and Fire Emblem in Tiger & Bunny. For some reason, however, just this year, he started appearing in everything. With so many roles, you would expect his performance to waver. However, it was exactly the opposite.
With 91 Days’ Fango, he brought unbridled madness to the table. With FIRST LOVE MONSTER’s Arashi, he brought endless laughter. And with Zaveid in Tales of Zestiria the X, he played the coolest rebel you’ve ever seen. He also brought back the over-the-top card game action with his role as Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, which premiered in Japan this past spring (you can read our interview with him about that here).
His fluid acting and range of emotions have only continued to improve over the years, and 2016 gave him many roles in which to shine (24 anime roles in total, according to Japanese Wikipedia).
A semi-veteran, Megumi Toyoguchi has been acting in anime since her debut anime role in April 1998 in Alice SOS. Since then, she has played a variety of roles, including teenage misfit Ran in Super GALS!, the energetic cat girl Tabby in .hack//Roots, the mature teacher Yuzuki in Myself;Yourself, and the optimistic trainer Hikari (Dawn) in Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl.
This year, while she didn’t have a large number of roles, she stole the show with her performance as Junko Enoshima and Mukuro Ikusaba in Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. Junko has multiple personalities on her own, but despite Toyoguchi playing the meek Mukuro at the same time in the same scenes, it’s difficult to tell that it’s the same person playing both. Her energy and emotions make the characters who they are.
As for other roles this year, Toyoguchi played high school student Yukari Takeba in the final Persona 3 film, single mother Tomoko in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable, and the nasty middle-aged magazine editor Yoko Suzuki in B-Project (we talked about that character back in August). Unfortunately, as Toyoguchi announced her hiatus from acting due to her marriage and pregnancy back in September, we probably won’t be seeing her again for a while. Her ongoing roles she was playing–including the previously-mentioned Tomoko–were replaced by different actresses.
Another semi-veteran, Satō had her first named role in an anime in 2003’s Divergence Eve as Prim Snowlight. She has gained fame over the years for such roles as Negi Springfield in Negima!? and Mikoto Misaka in A Certain Magical Index (and its spin-off series A Certain Scientific Railgun). This year, she was given a range of characters to play, with one of the most notable being Velvet in the Tales of Berseria episodes of Tales of Zestiria the X. Her change from an innocent girl to a screaming woman filled with rage and hatred is astounding, and shows the range of emotion that she is capable of.
Speaking of emotion, Satō’s role as Honoka in Kiznaiver also showed off her ability to sound not only calm and cool, but desperate, sad, and angry. Her emotional performance as Honoka during an extremely wrenching scene was without a doubt one of the best parts of the entire anime. Satō’s touching acting made us want to see more of her in the series and learn more about her character.
Aside from these two roles, Satō played Gundula Rall in Brave Witches, Taki in Natsume’s Book of Friends’ fifth season, and also returned to play Sailor Mars in Sailor Moon Crystal. Satō did not have a shortage of prominent roles to put her in the 2016 spotlight.
Ayane Sakura has constantly been playing main roles since her first heroine role in 2011 as Merry in Dream Eater Merry. She has gone on to play characters like the tomboyish Yuzuki in selector infected WIXOSS, the tsundere student council president Yuiko in Love Lab, and the air-headed waitress Cocoa in Is the order a rabbit??.
The number of Sakura’s roles and performances have remained fairly stable over the years. This year was no different, with her playing the quiet, blue-haired Nagisa in Ragnastrike Angels (seen above), the energetic hero Ochaco in My Hero Academia, and the magical girl La Pucelle in Magical Girl Raising Project. She also reprised her role as the bubblegum pink alien sheep girl Moa in SHOW BY ROCK!!’s second season.
While her voice is very distinct, she is able to play a variety of roles, from cute to serious. This year, she even played a male character, something she is not usually cast as. Sakura is on this list for not only her prominence in terms of number of roles, but also for the range of characters she played.
Stand-Out Role: Haruki Bandō in Cheer Boys!!
Stand-Out Role: Miss X in Tiger Mask W
Stand-Out Role: Toshikazu Asagi in Gekijōban Majestic Prince -Kakusei no Idenshi-
Stand-Out Role: Seres in Tales of Zestiria the X