I live in Tokyo and usually perform voiceover in English for TV
commercials, documentaries, company promotion videos and all
other kinds of voiceover productions, for use in Japan and for
In Japan, specialized agencies handle foreign narrators. The
majority of narration jobs in Japan go through these agencies.
The agents handle all types of voiceover projects. Some manage
actors and other performers in addition to narrators.
I'm not good at voice characterizations. For example, I can't
create a voice for a cartoon monkey. So I don't do game
Occasionally a game needs a large pool of voices, and I am
sometimes contacted by an agency about a role in a game. In that
case, I always remind the agent that in their information about
me, it says I’m not good at voice characterization, I can only
speak in my “normal” voice, and I will only do the job as such –
as an actor.
My first game was for a PC platform. I acted – that is, I played
a role – without altering my voice.
My second game was for a dedicated game platform. I was the
narrator and a crusty old man with a heart of gold. The agent
assured me I would not need to change the sound of my voice for
the old guy. I assumed the narration voice would not be heard
near the character parts. But all that was up to the game
Though the agent knew that I don't do voice characterizations,
the game director at the studio told me to "do an old man
voice". The agent did not say a word.
Well, okay, it's their game. So, I did a gruff voice for the
character. But it sounded like the narrator (me) doing a gruff
Soon after the gruff game, an agent offered Shenmue II for XBox.
I was told Sega needed 800 voices. The agent was desperate for
people, even asking if I knew anyone who was not necessarily a
voice pro. Again, I confirmed I would act, but not alter my
voice, and accepted the job on those terms.
I had a Shenmue II recording session on two occasions, one each
in March and April 2002, at studios at the SEGA headquarters in
Ota-ku, a couple kilometers from Haneda airport in Tokyo.
The recording sessions I attended were held in a wood-paneled
studio that could hold a small band.
On the first days microphones on stands were set up in a corner
of the studio. The producers and the director in the control
room watched a monitor and made adjustments.
At first, I and a few other guys recorded gang scenes. A group
of gang members chatting. We weren't instructed to talk about
anything specific. But we seemed to all chat about gang-related
topics, as best we could imagine.
Prior to each recording, the scene, if available, was played on
a monitor in the studio. Music and effects had not been added
yet. The scenes seemed to be the final renderings. When they
didn’t have a scene available, they gave brief descriptions
There was very little direction from the director. I did not
meet any native English speaker. It seemed that whether a take
was "good" or not was left to be decided by the voice talents.
Some of the Japanese spoke a bit of English. The agent for the
given voice talent stayed there only a short time, in the
control room, to act as translator as necessary.
After the group gang recordings, individuals recorded while the
others waited outside the studio. During long sessions, we could
leave the premises and come back for our session.
Soon it was my turn. Now the mic was in the center of the room.
The monitor had been moved to near the mic.
At the studio, I was given scripts for about 10 minor roles. I
figured that since I would not be altering my voice, the
characters I voiced would be far apart in the game and no one
would notice the same voice is used for several characters. (I
don't play games. That's how they do it, isn't it?)
First, I was asked to voice some fight grunts and groans.
Then, I had to read a set of short words so that my voice could
be assigned to correct mouth movements of the game characters.
While I spoke, the staff stared at a monitor in the control
room. I went through the words a few times until the staff had
made all their audio adjustments.
Before doing the voiceover for each character, if they had the
scene, it was played on the monitor. For the first character, I
spoke in my normal voice.
For the next role, I was asked to do the voice of an old man.
My agent, who was in the control room, did not say anything at
all. In fact, I saw the agent ducking out of my line of sight.
Nothing from the agent about the fact that I had accepted the
job on the condition that I not have to alter my voice. Because
my voice characterizations are not good and game players will
notice the poor quality. And no clearheaded game producer wants
to put bad voices on their project. Right?
Once again, I was on the spot. Well, it's their game, I figured.
One standard elderly-man voice coming up.
So I imitated an old man. All the time wondering why they didn’t
simply cast an actual elderly man for the role.
After that, they went on to ask for a unique voice for each of
the roles. My agent was now invisible. So I just improvised.
One of the characters was described to me as an especially weird
fellow and they needed an appropriately weird voice. They played
some scenes on the monitor. They gave me a moment to think of a
They didn’t like my first attempt and neither did I.
The next attempt was a shrill, scratchy concoction that actually
hurt to do. "No way will they want this voice," I thought.
They loved it.
I had a created a voice that sounds like a cross between Clint
Eastwood and Richard Simmons.
So we proceeded with page after page of lines. My throat hurt
more and more. The time dragged on as I needed breaks to nurse
my throat with a warm drink.
As I was recording, I remember thinking to myself “This
character voice is terrible. If I were playing this game and
heard this voice, I’d turn off the sound.”
Finally, it was over.
I learned never to accept any game voice job again, no matter
the assurances of the agent.
I was not surprised at all when the the majority of reviews of
Shenmue II were posted, the writers pointed out the horrible
English voice acting.