Japan usually has no complaints about swimsuit modeling, but this time is a little different.
Generally speaking, Japanese society is quite happily appreciative of swimsuit modeling. The gravure/gurabia sector of the modeling industry, which focuses on women in skimpy bikinis and other revealing outfits, is as robust as ever, and even coming up with innovative new ways to please fans.
So ordinarily you’d be forgiven for assuming that a magazine announcing a photo spread of six young bikini-clad women would be met with a warm reception. However, that’s not the case for Seiyu Paradise R, a monthly periodical from Tokyo-based Akita Publishing.
As indicated by its name, each issue of Seiyu Paradise R features photos of and articles about voice actors (seiyu in Japanese) who work in the anime industry. In an upcoming volume, set to go on sale July 14, Seiyu Paradise R will be putting the spotlight on a group of six voice actresses who will appear as “swimsuit gravure models” within the issues pages.
▼ A tweet from Seiyu Paradise R announcing the gravure photos
Posing for the photos are voice actresses Aguri Onishi, Hitomi Sasaki, Mayu Sagara, Erika Momota, Junna Amako, and Shu Uchida, who have been grouped together because they’re be performing in a drama CD to be released in conjunction with the seventh collected volume of manga Yomekura, which is currently being serialized in Akita Publishing’s Monthly Shonen Champion comic anthology.
However, many online commenters in Japan have noticed something else the six actresses have in common: none of them are particularly successful or established within the industry. Amako, whose voice acting resume goes back to 2014, is the most experienced despite her relatively short time in the voice acting game. Sasaki and Uchida only made their voice acting debuts last year, and none of the women have more than a handful of credited roles to date. This has sparked an online backlash against the Seiyu Paradise R photo shoot by those who feel it’s a distasteful way to drum up publicity for underperforming/unproven voice actresses, with critics making comments such as:
“Putting them in swimsuits is really going too far.”
“Do NOT make voice actresses take off their clothes.”
“Are the people planning this morons? They’re morons, aren’t they.”
“I could see if they were also trying to make it as gravure idols, but how is this going to help them get voice acting roles in the future?”
“Is there any point to having people who work a voice actresses wear swimsuits?”
While there’s a lot of surface logic to the last two comments, there’s also the fact that the voice acting industry in Japan has changed dramatically over the last decade. Whereas anime voice acting was once largely anonymous work for anyone other than A-listers, the rise of Internet culture and boom in fan meet-and-greet events has come to the point where voice actors often appear before their public, either in-person or through videos and photos released online. So while voice actors may remain invisible to fans during the anime itself, an attractive appearance has become a marketing asset, much like it is in the live-action acting and pop music industries.
It’s not like the spheres of gravure modeling and anime/manga never come into contact with one another, either. For decades, numerous manga anthologies have reserved the majority of their cover space for gravure models who appear on some of the few non-advertising color pages to be found in the issue. While the vast majority of these models are not directly involved in the anime industry, there have been cases of popular voice actresses appearing in manga anthologies’ gravure photo spreads, although generally in more modest swimwear than their dedicated gravure model counterparts.
Seiyu Paradise R might even have a legitimate story-based reason for putting the six Yomekura actresses in swimsuits. The announcement tweet says that the photo shoot will “recreate the world of [Yomekura],” and given that it’s a harem series about a teen who transfers into an elite high school where a number of his female classmates claim to be his fiance, some sexy poolside (or hot spring, judging from Seiyu Paradise R’s tweeted photo) seem well within the trusty playbook of the genre.
▼ The cover art from Yomekura’s third and fourth collected volumes.
Nevertheless, Japanese Twitter users aren’t well pleased with the plan. “How about if we stop trying to market voice actresses with their looks?” says one detractor, and it seems like he’s not the only one who’s experiencing a bit of fatigue over the encroachment of visuals into what was once a purely audio-based line of work.
Top image: Gatag/makani5