Sometimes, a voice actor is just perfect for a role beyond any shadow of a doubt. And then at other times, you wonder how in the world the casting directors came to their decision. It’s not that it’s a bad choice — more like it’s strangely perfect. Thanks to those brave choices, we’ve heard some great anime voice acting over the years.
Here are some of our favorite surprising decisions that turned out fantastic. Can you think of any others?
Hideaki Anno: Jiro Horikoshi, The Wind Rises
We tend to think of Hideaki Anno almost exclusively as an animator and director, and for good reason — that’s been almost exclusively what he’s done. The Evangelion creator has, however, done some performing here and there. With bit parts in Gainax productions and a role as Ultraman in his own student film, he’s not completely inexperienced. But his biggest foray into anime voice acting came in 2013’s The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Anno, who has worked with Miyazaki before, took the role of Jiro Horikoshi. The real-world designer of the Mitsubish A6M Zero, used by Japan during World War II, was a demanding role, and Anno was requested specifically by Miyazaki. His calming, even tones are surprisingly perfect for Horikoshi, and we can safely say that Miyazaki’s unusual casting decision absolutely worked out for him.
Norio Wakamoto: Chiyo’s Dad, Azumanga Daioh
You’ve absolutely heard Norio Wakamoto in something, whether you’re aware of it or not. He’s so ingrained in the world of anime voice acting that there are competitions devoted to impressions of him. Legendary roles like Coach Ohta in Gunbuster and Oskar von Reuenthal in Legend of the Galactic Heroes made him a household name. And then, he played the big orange cat that stands in for Chiyo’s dad in the wild mind of Osaka.
“Chiyo’s Dad” in Azumanga Daioh is, in fact, a figment of Osaka’s imagination… or rather, her mental image of our protagonist’s papa. Wakamoto has played his share of silly roles, so that’s nothing new. But the choice to make that… whatever it is… have the same voice as Cell from Dragon Ball was inspired.
Everyone: Popuko and Pipimi, Pop Team Epic
So, Pop Team Epic had a lot of interesting decisions behind it, casting being just one. When it came time to give voice to crazy subculture girls Popuko and Pipimi, the show turned to the anime voice acting community at large and went, “Yep, this’ll do.”
Each episode of the series had not one, but two pairs of voice actors playing the lead girls. Each short episode ran twice in a row, with one voiced by a pair of women and another by a pair of men. Absolute legends of the community rolled through each week. And, rather gratifyingly, the English dub did the exact same thing.
Our hats are off to everyone who took a leap on these choices. Sometimes, the craziest plans work best.