Voice actors are the people that are tasked with the daunting quest of taking the characters of a show and bringing them to life for us. The animators have made them move, the script has given them personality, and now it’s up to the voice actor to connect all of it. Getting the right person for the job can turn a good character into a fantastic one, a character people will remember and talk about for years to come. Meanwhile getting any random sod to do your voice work can condemn even the best characters to mediocrity. Here are five times when I was truly blown away by the voice work in an anime.
Betelgeuse Romanee-Conti (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka)
Known primarily for his performance as Kirito in the hit anime Sword Art Online, few people saw much potential in Yoshitsugu as a villain. While he had done villain roles before, the craziest he ever got prior to Re:Zero was his performance as Freed Sellzen from Highschool DxD.
Betelgeuse is a main villain in the anime adaptation of Re:Zero with a lot of presence in the show’s final arc, assuming it doesn’t get a continuation. From the moment he first appears, Betelgeuse dominates any scene he features in, as this cultist leader is a spectacular villain. He is so derailed and energetic it manages to be both absolutely hilarious and deeply unsettling, with his frantic speeches, twitching movements, and all-around bizarre and unhinged nature. You kinda want to laugh at his antics, but it’s so disgusting and vile that it sends shivers down your spine instead.
As silly as he is most of the time, Betelgeuse makes such a strong introduction in his debut episode and leaves the audience in so much shock that he’s easily one of the most memorable villains of recent years, and Yoshitsugu’s performance plays a major part in that. He manages to nail the excitement and energy of the character perfectly and makes every line of dialogue a treat to listen to.
Kyon (Crispin Freeman)
Haruhi Suzumiya hails from a time when I was still very much divided in the subs versus dubs argument, with all my fellow fans urging me to always watch every anime in Japanese while I personally wanted to see how well English adaptations would hold up. This show served to really shatter any doubt I had and turned me into a hybrid fan, one who watches both subbed and dubbed, and prefers whatever version sounds better. Why? Because the moment Crispin Freeman’s first line of dialogue rolled around, I was absolutely sold.
Kyon is a very chill dude, with a sarcastic and sometimes cynical attitude, but who nonetheless becomes interested in the crazy antics of the title character, Ms. Suzumiya. While he acts like he’s being dragged into her club involuntarily, he always ends up going along with all of their adventures and secretly kind of enjoys them. Crispin absolutely sells the character and along with the excellent translation of the script, this makes Kyon a joy to listen to. Each line of dialogue just kind of makes me smile, because I so thoroughly enjoy the character.
Everybody brought their A-game to this show, but Kyon stands out among the cast and it’s his performance here that persuaded me to look into the actor’s career and watch pretty much anything he was involved with prior and since.
Clementine (Aoi Yuki)
This may be an odd pick compared to the two above, because unlike Kyon and Betelgeuse, Clementine from Overlord isn’t much of a main character. While she does play the villain role in one arc, with just 12 episodes to the entire show, even that just barely qualifies her as a notable side-character. Yet it was Aoi Yuki’s performance, a voice actress I am usually not that excited about, that really saved Clementine as a character for me, and which made it the first name I wrote down when coming up with this list. In fact, wanting to talk about Clementine was the reason I started this list.
While her screen time is sparse, Clementine leaves a strong impression thanks to how well Yuki handles the role of a sadistic serial killer. You can hear her voice tremble with glee as she taunts people and there is an impressive range to the performance too, as Clementime abruptly switches been loud & excited to soft & annoyed. I am honestly sad that such a great performance is given to a character that is barely in the show, but it serves as a reminder that Aoi Yuki is so prolific in anime because she is just a darn good actress.
Mikoto Urabe (Ayako Yoshitani)
So all these people so far have been relatively well-known voice actors with plenty of roles to their name, but here we have a little-known actress who only ever voiced one character: Ayako Yoshitani, who voiced Mikoto Urabe in the anime adaptation of the surreal romance comedy Mysterious Girlfriend X.
Urabe is a strange girl invading the life of a normal teenage boy, much like Haruhi to Kyon, but much less excitable. Rather than being energetic and zany, Urabe is calm and introverted, yet has random outbursts and comes off as strange and direct in conversation. Getting an apparently inexperienced actress to voice the character may seem odd, but it might be that same inexperience that lends Urabe such an interesting flavor. She doesn’t sound anything like how you might expect a typical schoolgirl character to sound, she feels more mature and frank. It’s really unique and I wouldn’t like Mysterious Girlfriend X half as much if Urabe had any other voice.
While Ayako has more success in live action, appearing in the movie version of Gantz, as well as Ultraman Max, though I have no idea how significant her roles are, it’s definitely a shame we never saw her feature in an anime again. On the flipside, that means Urabe’s distinct voice will continue to be as unique as it is now.
Norio Wakamoto in anything that has Norio Wakamoto
No list about voice actors can get away with not mentioning Norio Wakamoto, the loudest, most bombastic, and certainly one of the most famous actors out there. Known for his villain roles like Cell from Dragon Ball, The Emperor from Code Geass, and Alexander Alexson from Hellsing, Norio also frequently lends his beautiful voice to strange roles. Perhaps the best example would be the one time he voiced a block of wood in Nichijou.
Unlike Crispin Freeman, though, I don’t actively seek out content I know he will feature in. Rather, I just do whatever I want and allow myself to be surprised whenever he pops up, which is more frequently than you’d expect. Like, right now the guy is haunting me throughout Disgaea 2 and just a few weeks earlier I found him in Metropolis. It’s like meeting a good friend in the train; with hundreds of people in any one train the chances are quite low, but when it happens it makes everything infinitely better.
If I had to name a favorite performance by Norio I would have to pick between “Father” from Azumanga Daioh or Alexander in Hellsing. I realize, though, that I am nominating Azumanga because I absolutely adore that series, so from a more objective standpoint I am going to go with the latter. This list may have already betrayed that I really enjoy deranged characters, and few manage to match the religious zealotry of the Vatican’s strongest warrior.