While there are many examples that one could come up with, in my opinion, idols/pop groups are the epitome of the word “talent”. For the past few years, I’ve slowly started to realize and be amazed at how much work and effort these idols go through. Their ability to memorize the lyrics and choreography to dozens upon dozens of songs, maintain an appealing image of themselves, as well as coordinate with their fellow unit members… idol work is tough, and it certainly has its glaring issues, but with determination and a strong will, it can be a fulfilling dream to many.
And while those who are more casual fans and even the general public mainly see idols as the ones who sing and dance on a stage, it’s no secret that idols take up other types of work such as modeling and even acting in various types of media (one example I can think of off the top of my head being =LOVE’s Saitou Nagisa having a guest role in the 2022 drama Ashita, Watashi wa Dareka no Kanojo). Regarding the latter: as a very avid fan of voice actors/actresses for the past 5-6 years now, I’ve personally now noticed a trend of idols, a lot of them formerly affiliated with certain groups, later pursuing a career in voice acting, whether that be in anime or the vast amount of multimedia franchises that are out there. And one particular franchise that I’ve noticed said trend in is Bushiroad’s D4DJ media mix project.
But before we get into the “former idol-turned-voice actor” topic of this post, let’s explore the question that you may be asking: “what is D4DJ?”.
D4DJ (Dig Delight Direct Drive DJ) is a multimedia fictional franchise revolving around disc jockey culture. The premise involves a legendary festival called “D4 FES” which helped introduce the unique music genre to many across Japan, resulting in a massive trend of DJ unit formations. The project features a wide variety of groups (6 main units and 3 side groups, as of this post’s publish date) such as the bubbly, pop/dubstep-focused Happy Around!; the futuristic-themed, “cool & stylish” Photon Maiden; and Lyrical Lily, a house/synth-pop unit formed out of a private Catholic school.
Similar to their Bushiroad-run sister franchises in BanG Dream! and Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight, the content of D4DJ is spread throughout numerous types of media, ranging from anime/manga series, live concerts, and most prominently its mobile rhythm game titled D4DJ Groovy Mix. Within all of these, fans get the opportunity to listen the franchise’s original and cover songs, as well as learn more about each character/group and their stories. They’ve also had a plethora of special collaborations with various media such as Nier: Automata, Gotoubun no Hanayome and even the Hololive talents.
Hope that was a decent crash course about the series and I just wanna say real quick: I’ve really enjoyed being in the D4DJ fandom, even if it’s only been a few months since I got into it. Multimedia franchises can be a bit of a turn-off if you haven’t already gotten into one already, but I think D4DJ is genuinely a cool series to learn about. Music’s fire, a lot of the characters are interesting and the anime TV series is fairly entertaining to watch (if you can get over the lower-than-normal framerates of the 3D animation). If anything, it could possibly catch your interest if you’re not into the idols of Love Live! or the rock band themes within BanG Dream.
That being said, I wanted to dive a bit deeper into the correlation between idols and the voice acting industry, as a good handful of the seiyuu who are featured in the D4DJ series actually have backgrounds in idol work. One example that has stood out to me, and is essentially the reason why I wanted to make this post, is with the unit named Merm4id: an alluring, summer-themed group consisting of four college ladies (Seto Rika, Mizushima Marika, Hidaka Saori and Matsuyama Dalia) who all have the goal of becoming famous through their DJing work.
As I just implied, the real-life counterparts of Merm4id are all former idols and have been affiliated with various groups. Okada Mei (voice of Marika) debuted in 2014 with the military-themed unit Tenkou Shoujo Kagekidan, and later graduated in 2019. Hazuki Himari (Saori), under a different alias, was the leader of Mashiro na Canvas before graduating in 2018. Negishi Ai (Dalia) was the leader and a well-loved member of the flight attendant-themed rock idol group PASSPO☆ until they disbanded in 2018. And lastly, Merm4id’s frontwoman, Hirajima Natsumi (Rika), was one of the founding members of the illustrious AKB48 idol group and “Watarirouka Hashiritai 7” subunit, but ended up retiring in 2012 due to her involvement in a scandal regarding the group’s “no dating” policy.
There are many other examples within the D4DJ franchise such as RONDO’s Kato Rihona (Aoyagi Tsubaki) being a member of the Tokyo Yume Piyogumi idol group until 2014. Even Maeshima Ami (former voice of Photon Maiden’s Niijima Ibuki) had a stint with Avex’s SUPER☆GiRLS unit before becoming a lovable icon within the Bushiroad media universe, especially when she portrayed Maruyama Aya in BanG Dream.
And let me just clarify something real quick: I fully understand that this trend of idols turning into voice actors is nothing new. In no way am I trying to say that it’s unique to D4DJ alone, as there have been many former Japanese idols throughout the past three-to-four decades who have pursued the path of voice acting. A prominent example is with the one-and-only Hanazawa Kana, who was an underground solo idol based around Akiba (in addition to her work as an actress) before becoming the superstar seiyuu she is today.
What I am implying, though, is that I recently noticed said trend and now am wondering: why? Why is this such a common career path that idols go towards after departing from their previous area of work?
And while I had a fairly difficult time trying to research/pinpoint the exact reasons why the Merm4id ladies decided to take on the personalities of Rika, Marika, Saori and Dalia, I think it really boils down to one main explanation: their time as idols just didn’t go as planned. Whether it was the difficult decision to call it quits with Ai and PASSPO☆, or Natsumi having to leave behind a successful career with AKB48 because of an incredibly dumb and immature industry rule; as much blood, sweat and tears these idols go through, many of them have been dealt bad and unfortunate hands. As my friend and fellow idol fan Leap250 said in one of our J-Music Exchange/Rate reviews, pursuing the dreams of being an idol can be extremely limited, and even if things seem to trend in the right direction, it might not be enough in the end.
But despite that, while I don’t have concrete evidence to back this up, I do have the opinion that those unfortunate circumstances can truly be a “blessing in disguise” for some.
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s no secret that the occupation and overall role of a Japanese voice actor has certainly evolved over the years. While one can assume from the job title that voice actors primarily need to, well, act with their voice in anime, games, etc., the popularity boom of multimedia franchises and the music featured in those aforementioned types of mass media have essentially required voice actors to expand their skills beyond just acting. Singing, dancing, expressing one’s self through physical appearance; take Kamiya Hiroshi, for example. Surely when you think of the cool nature and harshness of Levi from Attack on Titan, you wouldn’t expect that character to sing, right? Well…
Same goes to someone like Matsuoka Yoshitsugu. We all know him as Kirito in Sword Art Online and Inosuke in Kimetsu no Yaiba; both of whom are badass characters that Matsuoka portrayed extremely well… but did you know he’s in an iDOLM@STER group? (Jupiter, to be exact)
As you can see, voice actors do much more than the “voice acting” part. Even the S-tier seiyuu out there have dabbled in song and dance, simply because it has become the standard now. So to go back to my point about former idols, becoming a seiyuu really seems to be an ideal opportunity for them to use their talents, since their previously-obtained skills apply to many facets of anime culture. ESPECIALLY in content-rich multimedia franchises like a D4DJ, like an iDOLM@STER, like an Uma Musume, where singing and dancing are incredibly important elements. And while voice acting can be pretty different/difficult compared to the live action acting idols are more accustomed to (as described by Merm4id’s Hirajima Natsumi and her initial experiences as a D4DJ seiyuu), there are many cases where these idols end up doing solid jobs as voice actors. A lot of them already do have general acting experience like I mentioned before, and some even attend voice acting schools to help further develop their skills.
Sure, the voice acting industry has been known to be incredibly competitive and even disgustingly abusive in many ways; there is no denying that becoming a seiyuu IS tough, just like becoming an idol. But with how many characters are being produced for these franchises and how popular they consistently are among the otaku community, I have a feeling that it can be more beneficial, both financially (someone fact check me on that) and dignity-wise, for former idols to pursue seiyuu work than to continue on with regular idol jobs. And after looking at instances like the D4DJ seiyuu, or even the Denonbu project which features a handful of idols who’ve found decent footing in that series after being in a pop unit (Hasegawa Rena, NGT48; Shidomi Yuuka, Rirunede)… it’s just cool to see the skills and abilities of these talents continue to be put to great use, even after their departure from the general idol scene.
I do want to apologize if I made any inaccurate/untrue statements here; doing research on this topic was fairly difficult but I hope this was an interesting and convincing post to read, regardless. And please do inform me in the comments if anything I said or mentioned is iffy or false! (especially when it comes to the general idol scene and work opportunities)
That said, it would also be cool to get your opinions on this. Are you familiar with any other notable idols who’ve pursued voice acting (or any other type of entertainment medium)? Let me know!
Also, on the topic of D4DJ, the series has an anime airing in the current Winter 2023 season, titled D4DJ All Mix. It’s the second season to an already running TV series but if you’re interested in watching the first one, it’s fully subbed in English on their official YouTube channel. So yeah! And I just had to mention this: the ending theme for All Mix is catchy as heck:
Thanks for reading!! 😀
7 replies on “D4DJ and When Former Idols Turn Into Voice Actors”
The only thing as more of an idol fan, then a seiyu fan is that idol work is rarely the end goal/dream job for most idols these days. There’s a running joke in the idol fandom that there’s probably more girls who can claim they’re an ex-idol/ex-trainee then not in Japan these days. It obviously varies a lot by company and popularity, but most female idols are aware they have about 3-5 years to get big, or make enough connections to launch into a ‘real’ career. Female idol groups just don’t get granted the same longevity as their male counterparts.
Most female idols always have their hands in a variety of activities as ‘idols’ but very well could blossom into a career with actual longevity – acting, modeling, dance choreographer, fashion brand marketing/development, and voice acting all have more stability and honestly, respect then idoling. As you pointed out, it seems more and more of these mult-media projects while rooted with seiyu, do seem to be leaning more into idol activities. With ex-idols just need to hone their voice in particular, but everything else is down I’m not surprised with the rise.
Although I do find Merm4id particularly interesting to read about. As an idol fan, while not fans of those exact groups, those members did come across my timeline more then once. They were regularly reported about in the idol news world, especially given the status of all those groups and the members themselves. I do wonder how many fans transitioned with them from fandom to fandom. That’d be a bit tricky to gauge though.
I apologize if I over explained anything or over-stepped. ^^; Idols, female idols in particular are always fascinating to talk about for me in any aspect, active or not. So seeing your post I just had to chime in. This was a great post and I loved reading more about D4DJ – though I hesitate to get involved with it because mult-media projects just aren’t my thing.
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Interesting. I do know that the lifespan for most female idols is pretty short, but I honestly had no idea that male idols last longer in the industry. Probably because I’m not that well-versed in the idol scene, let alone male idols, but that does seem like yet another unfortunate circumstance that female idols have to go through (even if it’s not by a large margin).
And I’m glad you thought Merm4id was cool to read about. Learning about how they were former idols definitely made me appreciate them a lot more (given that I’ve dipped my toes in the general idol scene for the past few months), plus I think that justifies their casting in the D4DJ franchise. And yeah, with how passionate idol fans can be, I can imagine a handful of them moving over to D4DJ to continue supporting their favorites. Especially with Nacchan and Aipon since they both seemed to be pretty well-beloved members in their respective groups (when you emerge from a group like AKB48, especially during their heydays, I can imagine you’ll have a good amount of fans for a decent amount of time).
And no worries! I am very much an amateur when it comes to the general idol scene, so I’m glad you were able to inform me about certain things. Even learning about how ex-idols can go into particular careers like being a choreographer or a fashion designer was new to me, and certainly makes a ton of sense as future career paths.
Yeah, the idol industry is particularly rough for female idols. I won’t tangent too long, but – the margin is actually huge between groups. It’s a lot of tricky and icky stuff (mostly sexism) which sucks. I’ve been glad a lot of my favorites made the choice post-idol to go into higher education. But it really makes me happy that these projects allow ex-idols a ‘second chance’ so to speak in entertainment.
I think Nacchan and Aipon both have a pretty substantial following, if something as superficial as twitter followers are any indication, so I’m sure a chunk of their audience is into D4DJ now. I’m sure they also have more then a few ‘for life’ fans that always help out. I poked around on twitter/instagram and it certainly seems like it from what I saw. Which… honestly gives me a lot of hope for other ex-idols who might chose to join projects like this in the future!
I still can’t see many D4DJs as seiyuu, yet. At least until they come out of Bushiroad’s cocoon. I can almost say the same for 22/7 too, where other than Sally Amaki, I don’t really know the other members, or don’t really see them outside of the project. It’s not a hard requirement of course, but if an idol-turn-seiyuu is stuck with voicing only one character or only appears under one umbrella project, they will remain unknown to people who are not into the said project. I for example could not get myself into D4DJ. If it weren’t for the people on seiyuu Discord server kept talking about them, I probably would never hear of them. I think Enako (the gravure idol/cosplayer) did more voice acting roles in gacha games than many of those D4DJ idols. I did try Bandori game and anime but other than the already established seiyuu (Aimi, Ayasa Ito, Ayaka Ohashi, Ayaneru, etc) in the franchise, I barely know the new ones.
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That’s a completely fair point, and I don’t blame you for not knowing the newer seiyuu. Like you implied, I think it takes time for some of the more unknown VAs to emerge in popularity and that’s just how it goes as a newcomer. Suguta Hina comes to mind (she plays a character in one of the newer Bandori bands), and seeing how well-received her character/performance of Marin from My Dress-Up Darling was, it’s great that some of the Bushi seiyuu can begin to break out of that shell (even it’s just a small handful).
Expounding a bit more on what I had said too, where people who go into the idol industry have a relatively shorter amount of time to make the most of their stint at being an idol, people who go into voice acting can do a lot more for a lot longer in comparison. And I don’t mean that to say that the idol’s skillset is more limited to or are in some ways inferior to a voice actor/actress (though one can argue an idol can also just get by by being cute), but more so just to emphasize how much age plays into it too. Like, there’s a certain stigma when an idol reaches their 30s, whereas you wouldn’t really think twice about a voice actor/actress of the same age. In that sense, voice acting would always come across as the more desirable path as it offers the most longevity. Whether or not all idols *can* make this transition is where I think it’s kind of iffy.
Voice acting is still “acting” at the end of the day, and being able to act is also a talent in itself. The unique ability to produce lines with the proper delivery and emotion needed for a particular scene is something we can give voice actors/actresses credit for as being something mostly exclusive to their craft and thus something that not everyone in the entertainment industry might possess naturally. Of course, like singing and dancing, people can be trained to do voice acting, but that’s a separate commitment in terms of both time and expense that idols on the tail end of their careers might not be able to afford. This was briefly touched upon in the Tokyo Idols documentary (lol) but a bit of a side to this industry that doesn’t get really talked about is that the longer an idol (or really anyone in the entertainment industry for that matter) lives that life, the further removed they continue to be from the normal day-to-day. A lot of them might not have acquired the skills necessary to work regular jobs should they need to do so because so much of their time had been dedicated to taking singing/dance lessons, where you also see some now-former idols specifically go back to doing more gravure/modelling work or in some cases they even enter the AV industry.
This is where I think we start to see the significance of these “2.5D” massive multimedia franchises in the context of this discussion as being somewhat of a saving grace for those who couldn’t quite make it as a conventional idol so to speak. Not only are the pre-requisites of being able to sing and dance easily transferrable as you pointed out, but this gets their foot in the door of the voice acting world by having a character associated to them be voiced by them as well, along with other potential career opportunities they can pursue depending on what kind of media (ie. music, voice drama, games etc) the franchise deals in.
Suffice it to say, more than anything else, I actually think the reason why we’re seeing idols transition to doing voice acting work is specifically because these multimedia projects exist.
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Now that you talk a bit more about idol lifespans, it is pretty sad to think about 😅 I’m sure you hold the same sentiment, especially since we both know how much ‘youth’ means to a lot of idol fans, but it does feel a bit unfair to those idols who begin to inch towards their 30s or so. But I completely agree that voice actors have a much better situation regarding career longevity (and of course, luck plays a big part in that, just like all careers).
That’s true. I know that general acting is in the repertoire of some idols but exactly how much time they devote to that or whether it can translate to something like voice acting; I’m still not sure about. It really does depend on the situation; however, I think we’ve already seen a good amount of instances where former idols (who had the opportunity to learn how to act) do pretty well in a 2D format. Maybe I’m really easy to please but I think the Merm4id VAs are great at portraying their characters, so that’s that.
And absolutely, voice acting does open the doors to many more work opportunities. I also read a comment from Reddit after I posted this write-up on there, where they suggested that idols (and voice actors who’ve struggled a bit with finding work) could go towards the Vtuber route, which I thought was a good idea. The only problem I’d see with that is, with how popular Vtubing is now and with so many people jumping at the opportunity to become one, it might be hard to gain a decent following.