Don’t blame it on age. Kobayashi Yūsuke, a former company employee who debuted late as a voice actor, realized the reality of life.
A new career, a new place… When trying out something new, hardship and struggles are sure to follow. However, hope lies ahead. In this serialization 「NewLife – New start」, sponsored by Art Moving Center, we cover the activities of individuals who are working in a new environment. For the 14th edition, we have the voice actor, Kobayashi Yūsuke.
A popular late blooming voice actor.
A painful past where anime became unbearable to watch
“It got to me completely, I couldn’t even bear to watch anime.”
Kobayashi Yūsuke is a popular voice actor who holds many lead roles under his belt, such as Arslan (The Heroic Legend of Arslan) and Natsuki Subaru (Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World). Perhaps surprisingly, the road to his debut was a tough one.
The popular anime, Re:Zero, in which Kobayashi plays the protagonist, had a 2nd season green lit.
Looking back, Kobayashi thought, “It was a late debut”, but it was a detour that forced him to realize “the reality of life”.
His dream was crushed.
Even though he aspired to be a voice actor, he went to work for a major electronics company after graduation
Kobayashi lived in England for 5 years from the age of 5, and was brought up without restrictions in a place surrounded by nature. However, upon returning to Japan, his disorientation from the cultural differences and having to adapt to the surroundings led to a withdrawn personality. This was when Kobayashi became obsessed with anime.
While I was in England, my grandmother would send me video tapes from Japan. I started liking anime then, and fell completely in love with them upon returning to Japan.
When he was in high school, one of his favourite pastimes was to shout out the special techniques that were featured in Ranma ½ and Yu Yu Hakusho while commuting to school on bicycle. One day, he confided in my close friend about taking that pastime and turning that into the ambition of becoming a voice actor, and that was how his journey started.
So he told me, “Why don’t you become a voice actor then?” (laughs). From young, I always thought that you needed to undergo some kind of special training to make the cut as a voice actor, so I was really shocked when I was told that “It’s a profession that anyone can aim for”.
However, his parents were strongly against that idea. In the end, Kobayashi accepted his parent’s wishes and attended university. Although he considered enrolling in a vocational school while studying in university, when graduation drew nearer, he eventually got swept away with the flow and started job hunting. He chose the path of working for a major electronics company.
I wanted to ease my parents’ mind… I was already 22, and thought it was impossible to become a voice actor already, so I gave up then.
His dream was crushed. Kobayashi put a lid over his own thoughts.
A fateful revival of his dreams of becoming a voice actor.
Debuting at 28 in spite of hardship
After getting into the company, Kobayashi would conduct performance checks and maintenance on air conditioning units while dressed in his work fatigues. He was in charge of special units which had engines in place of the conventional compressors.
At first, I looked forward to acquiring specialized knowledge, but after around 2 years of working as a technician at the bottom of the ladder, I began to feel frustrated by the fact that I was rarely involved in designing.
At that time, Kobayashi started going for Karaoke sessions after work to relax. The more he went, the more he thought, “Since I’m singing anyway, I might as well get better at it,” and as a result, he started taking vocal lessons at a school nearby. With this act, the wheel of fate began to turn for him.
After talking to my vocal instructor about “how I wanted to become a voice actor”, I was told “you should do what you want to do the most”. It turned out that the instructor was also connected to the voice acting industry, and after that, I started taking Sunday classes at a voice acting training school.
For Kobayashi, it was his first time taking formal voice acting lessons. Even though it was just once a week, the lessons for articulation and expression of emotions felt fresh, and above all, it was an enjoyable time spent with people who shared the same interest as him. 6 months later, his crushed dream came back to life.
At the training school’s placement auditions, I managed to pass the auditions for the top class. During lessons, I was praised for having a “trendy voice”, and I held onto the hope that “perhaps I might be able to become a voice actor.”
The next day, he decided to quit his company. After finding out that their son had never stopped thinking about becoming a voice actor, the parents who had previously been against his decision now readily accepted his decision. The company he’d worked at for several years sent him off warmly, and he started to head towards his dream with a fresh mind.
At first, since I had some savings, I thought I could survive on the minimum amount of spending while taking up part-time jobs. However, reality was not as smooth-sailing as I imagined.
A year after leaving his company, he joined Yu-rin Pro, an agency for voice actors and entertainers, but luck was not on his side. After about 5 years, he was nearly thirty, but his savings had reached rock bottom and he couldn’t contribute to his family’s finances. He even began to regret pursuing his dream of becoming a voice actor.
I felt terrible for my parents. Although I felt that they had words for me, they didn’t say a thing and continued providing for me, so all the more, it was harder for me to accept. Also, when I thought, “my fellow graduates must be in managerial positions by now”, that impatience from my age was killing me inside.
To add insult to injury, he progressed to the final round of judging of an anime audition, only to fall at the final hurdle. Even the manager who laid eyes on him before he joined the agency had started to give up hope.
It got to me completely, I couldn’t even bear to watch my favourite anime. I thought I was at my limit.
However, shortly after that, Kobayashi happened to come across an anime which lit a fire in his heart again.
The technique of the voice actor for the protagonist was awesome. Also, I found out that he was the same voice actor who beat me in the final round of audition which I failed. I had thought that I could put out the same level of acting, but after watching that, I recognized that it had been mere arrogance on my part.
“I have to polish up my acting chops.” With that in mind, Kobayashi got up again and gave everything he had for rehearsals for musicals and stage plays. And when 2014 arrived, he had finally made a lead role his own through an audition.
Despite the character being quiet by nature, I added gag elements to the character after thinking about it in my own way, and that raw nature was well received. I was over the moon.
At the age of 28, the voice actor, Kobayashi Yūsuke was born.
The courage to step forward is important.
It is never too late to start something new
However, his lead debut, a moment that should have been a memorable occasion, turned out to be a disaster. He recalled being down in the dumps over that.
It still terrifies me to watch it now (laughs).
That fear was probably born out of earnestness towards the role. Perhaps his bittersweet debut encouraged him to work diligently on preparing for his roles before the recordings.
Before I flesh out a character, I would first imagine how an ordinary person would act the role out, and think about what I can achieve with the role. Then, I would craft the character in my own way, grasp the relationship he has with the other characters, what kind of emotions I want to express, and apply all of that into the role. For example, in Bubuki/Buranki, although Kazuki Azuma is a difficult character to comprehend, I enjoyed embracing the uneasiness and searching for my own interpretation of how he should be portrayed.
He can do it because he’s Kobayashi Yūsuke. The pride he has for originality is linked to his fixation with leading roles.
“Protagonists are awesome” has been imprinted on me even to this day. If I have to act, a lead role would be great. These days, the domain of voice actors is expanding. From events to appearing in promotional programs, the work of a voice actor can no longer be confined to just vocal work alone. The responsibilities that the leading actor has to undertake are immense, but I want to fulfill them from now on.
“Acting is not a profession, it is a way of life.” As the words of his mentor are etched onto Kobayashi’s heart, even if he loses his voice and has to retire, he believes that everything he has cultivated will remain with him for the rest of his life.
The courage to take the step forward for your desires is important. Since there will be a place for you to make use of what you have acquired until then, I feel it’s never too late to start something new.
If you look at how you want to live and act upon it, life will take a turn for the better. Perhaps the first step to take is not using age as an excuse.
Interview/text: Gondo Masaki
Photos: Ito Kei
This interview was published at mynavi on 13 February 2020. All images and videos you see here belong to their respective owners.
Thanks Pyrite for QC/proofreading.