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!! 😀