Image Source: TVアニメ『SHIROBAKO』公式 on Twitter
Many anime fans have the same dream of wanting to “work in anime.” Whether that be an anime creator, actor, singer, artist, etc, there are plenty of jobs that look attractive to the average fan. However, there aren’t many “how-to” guides on how to get into this industry, and your school counselor who keeps calling anime “Chinese cartoons” isn’t probably going to be of any help. I’m not exactly the master of the industry myself, but sit down child, and let me tell you my story of how I got into this field of work.
Ever since I was a child, I loved anime. Sailor Moon, Inuyasha, Pokemon, Digimon, you name it. But all of those anime had something in common—they were only available dubbed on TV. It was only when I was thirteen that I found something called “subtitled anime.” It was a completely different experience. At first, the characters seemed to be speaking gibberish to me, and all I could do was rely on the subtitles. Years of watching anime for hours every single day while looking at subtitles eventually allowed me to watch these shows without the help of subtitles, and I was even able to mimic the sounds I heard and speak.
In my sophomore year of high school, I figured that I had to learn how to read, so I put hiragana and katakana on flash cards and taught myself. Within a month, I had learned the basic alphabet. In retrospect, I probably should have learned to read while teaching myself to speak, but I hadn’t intended to learn Japanese in the first place—it just kind of happened. I started playing games like ToHeart 2 and Neo Angelique in Japanese with voices, reading the text as I played. The voices would help me learn the kanji I needed to learn to read. After that, I tried translating lyrics as a way of practicing, and I got a tutor who helped me once a week to polish my grammar.
In my senior year of high school, my school gave half days every day to its seniors but also had a special requirement: You had to get an internship. Problem is, the town I lived was in the middle of nowhere. At the time, I was still set on being a voice actress with no other real ambitions. But of course, there was nowhere I could do a “Japanese” or “voice acting” internship out in the boonies. It was then that one day, as I was checking Anime News Network daily as usual, that I found a wanted listing for interns.
This would change everything.
Despite being a high-schooler, I got into the internship position. I learned how to code press releases and helped translate an article once in a while. My internship just happened to be right around the time of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, so I helped work overtime to confirm the safety of industry members. Little did I know I would be making friends with quite a few of those people in a few years.
After studying for a year at the University of Hawaii, I finally took the leap and moved to Japan to attend college. I was hired as a part-time worker writing for the news team at Anime News Network, writing articles every day after school, attending events, and doing interviews. This is how I was introduced to someone who runs parties where only anime industry people attend. There, I met some celebrities who I could never have dreamed of meeting back in high school. It was also there that I met the people who worked behind the scenes—game developers, composers, producers, etc.
I went to a lot of auditions for voice acting in my time during at college but didn’t get much. Even if I had been able to get into an agency during this time, I wouldn’t have been able to get a visa, because a majority of agencies can’t sponsor them. Before I graduated, I had to search for a job so I could stay in the country. I decided that I wanted to stay in the anime/game industry, so I looked for a job in video game localization. After multiple failed interviews at mobile game companies, I got a chance; someone I had met through my industry connections told me that there was a visual novel company looking to start a localization department that needed translators.
At my new company, I got the chance to meet many creators and sometimes voice actors that I wouldn’t have gotten to meet otherwise. I also realized the importance of putting myself out there to make connections. I talked to people on Twitter, I went to smaller events that let me see industry members up close (and sometimes meet them), and I started going to more and more parties to meet new people. By having people notice me and making connections with them, lots of interesting opportunities opened up. One of those opportunities was someone telling me about interviews being held at my current company. I returned to being an anime journalist, this time on the more analytical writing side.
So, you ask, how can I get into the anime industry? If you want to get into the industry in Japan, you have to start with the basics: Japanese. While you could do what I did and just watch anime for hours and hours every day, this method doesn’t work for the majority of people. You could take a class, find a tutor, or even take a class online. But no matter what you do, make sure you keep yourself surrounded by the sounds of Japanese at all times, whether that be through music, radio programs, or TV. I cannot stress how imperative this is in order to achieve good hearing/speaking skills.
Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Take every chance you can to speak with a native. If you fear making mistakes, you will never improve. It’s by making mistakes that you can learn what you need to improve on. If someone’s trying to teach you and you never talk to them, they won’t know what level you’re at, making your entire experience basically useless. Learning a language is 1/3 determination, 1/3 enjoying what you’re learning, and 1/3 sucking it up and accepting that, hey, you’re not ever going to be perfect, but you have to be willing to hold confidence in yourself and put yourself out there.
That also means, though, that you have to be open when people tell you you’re wrong. I once had a summer camp mate who was so sure of herself that the word “yoshi” was the casual word for “hey there.” I tried to tell her that it actually means “All right!” but she refused to believe me. I can only imagine what happened when she tried saying this to an actual Japanese person.
As for how to get into the industry in Japan itself: Start small and work up. If you’re attending college in Japan, try taking on part-time jobs that have to do with the anime industry. For example, you could do manga translation online, or do what I did and be a writer for an anime-related website (make sure it’s not just a fan blog, though). If you can find even one person who’s willing to take a chance on you, that is all you need. And things might take time to get moving, but you just have to be willing to be patient and persevere.
Of course, everyone has their own way. Scott MacDonald, an art director for such anime as ViVid Strike! and BanG Dream!, came as a Japanese language student, moved to an art vocational school, and from there, went to an interview at a background art studio. Diana Garnet, the singer for an ending of Naruto Shippuden, came over to Japan as an English teacher and then appeared on a TV show, which led to her professional debut. It all depends on what job you’re aiming to go for. However, it always helps to at least get your foot in the door.