Over the past decade, thanks to the efforts of anime production companies like Studio Ghibli and streaming services like Netflix voice acting has experienced a celebrity boom and that’s even been seen in the realm of Anime.
Previously, the important work of voice actors for animated movies and television series largely took a back seat to the artwork or music of a feature, and voice acting jobs were given to people who had exceptional vocal abilities or experience in radio. Voice acting wasn’t seen as a pathway to success for people who desired to be seen, especially for dubbing jobs. Eventually, however, the success of a few animated features using the voice of celebrities led to a deluge of interest. Now celebrity voice actors are the rule rather than the exception for big-budget content. Moreover, as anime has become increasingly popular, more and more celebrities are agreeing to dub anime as a way to set themselves apart. Below is a list of celebrities many might not know have lent their voice to bring an anime character to life.
10 Dakota Fanning – Satsuki Kusakabe (My Neighbor Totoro)
Ever since her debut, at the age of seven in the film I Am Sam – a role in which she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, Dakota Fanning has been impressing movie and television audiences with her acting chops. But what few fans know is that her voice-acting abilities seem to be as golden as her more traditional thespian skill set. Fanning is the English voice actress behind Satsuki Kusakabe, in Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful 1993 anime My Neighbor Totoro, which focuses on the story of Satsuki and her sister Mei, adjusting to life in a new house the family purchased to be close to their ill mother’s hospital. Fittingly, Dakota Fanning’s actual sister, Elle, was the voice actress behind Satsuki’s sister, Mei, for the Disney dub of the beloved classic.
9 Liam Neeson – Fujimoto (Ponyo)
From the iconic Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jin in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace to his equally iconic depiction of Oskar Schindler in the Academy Award-winning Schindler’s List, Liam Neeson has demonstrated a tremendous breadth of acting talent. It should come as no surprise then that he’s also found success in dubbing anime. In 2008, Neesom provided the dub voice for Fujimoto, the father of the title character Brunhilde, in another Hayao Miyazaki classic, Ponyo. Much like Neeson’s depiction of Bryan Mills in the Taken franchise, Fujimoto is a concerned father worried about his daughter and her love for someone he does not trust to take care of her.
8 Kirsten Dunst – Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service)
Whether it’s for commercials, television series, or blockbuster movies, Kirsten Dunst has been in front of cameras for over three decades, and as such, has become one of the most recognized celebrities in the nation, if not the world. But what fans may not know is that Dunst has also found success off-screen as a voice actress. Dunst won the role of dubbing Kiki in the 1989 Studio Ghibli anime Kiki’s Delivery Service. The film follows the story of 13-year-old Kiki, a witch who is trying to carve out a life for herself and her cat Jiji, by opening a broomstick delivery service. However, being a first-time entrepreneur proves more demanding than Kiki originally believed it would be.
7 Tony Hale – The Joker (Batman Ninja)
Humor is Tony Hales’s secret weapon, and he has used it to maximum effect from keys roles in fan-favorite comedy series such as Arrested Development and VEEP – in which he won an Emmy Award – to lesser, but not less humorous roles such as in Andy Barker, P.I. Accordingly, it seems almost perfect that Hale would play the role of the Joker, in the 2018 anime Batman Ninja. Hale’s dry sense of humor is a perfect fit for the story, which finds Batman transported to a feudal era of Japan where the Joker, having arrived at the location years before Batman, has already taken control of the nation along with other Gotham City crime lords.
6 Minnie Driver – Lady Eboshi (Princess Mononoke)
Like her colleagues in this list, Minnie Driver has been working in television and films for most of her life and has captured the entertainment world’s heart with such unforgettable performances as Benny Hogan in Circle of Friends and Skylar in Good Will Hunting. Driver also starred as the dubbing actress for the well-known anime Princess Mononoke, where she plays Lady Eboshi, the film’s main antagonist. The film is considered a classic that superbly integrates Studio Ghibli’s other-worldly artistic expertise with a mesmerizing interpretation of the hero’s journey where Driver’s character plays the main obstacle the hero must overcome to complete his quest.
5 James Marster – Zamasu (Dragon Ball Super)
With key roles in the critically acclaimed, cult classic supernatural series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its spin-off series Angel, James Marster is one of the most recognizable faces on television. Martser also lent his voice to another fan-favorite series, Dragon Ball Super where he voices the character Zamasu. Zamasu is an incredibly gifted warrior and tactician who grows to hate Gods and the humans they are so focused on protecting despite their destructive habits. Zamasu not only stood as a rival to Goku and Vegeta but also to Future Trunks. As befits his position, Zamasu proved to be one of the toughest opponents Goku ever faced in combat.
4 Evan Rachel Wood – Yi Lin (Flavors of Youth)
While she is popularly known for her award-winning portrayal of the revolutionary android Dolores Abernathy in HBO’s Westworld, Evan Rachel Wood had been giving a critically acclaimed performances for years before the role. Wood provided the dub voice for Yi Lin in Flavors of Youth, a 2018 anime collaboration between Japan’s CoMix Films which produced the 2020 box office smash Suzume, and China’s Haoliner Animation League, which is a subsidiary of Chinese anime giant Bilibili. In a “slice-of-life” segment, Woods’s character endures the hardships of being a top-level model which nearly forces her to quit the business before finding true success.
3 John Cho – The Father (Mirai)
With his portrayal of Spike Spiegel in Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the ground-breaking anime Cowboy Bebop, fans already know of John Cho’s interest in and of anime, but few could have guessed that he provided the dub-voiced for the father in Mamoru Hosada’s 2018 film Mirai. Cho’s character must deal with the anger his son feels towards him and his wife after they have a second child, a daughter whom they name Mirai, upset that his parents are paying more attention to her than him. Unfortunately, the father is not up to the task, consistently failing to be the “good enough” parent when the mother has no energy to do so.
2 Alison Brie – Am (Star Wars: Visions)
Skyrocketing to fame through her roles as Trudy Campbell in Mad Men and Annie Edison in the hit sitcom Community, Alison Brie is truly one of the most versatile actors on television. Her versatility is further demonstrated in her role dubbing the voice of Am in The Twins, the third episode of the anime anthology series Star Wars: Visions. Am is a Dark Force bent on ruling the galaxy with a planet-crushing crystal if only her twin brother, and equally potent Force user Karre would stop interfering with her plans.
1 Samuel L. Jackson – Afro Samurai (Afro Samurai)
Known for his love of anime, the multiple award-winning actor Samuel L. Jackson got his chance to act in one not only once, but twice, as both the voice of the title character Afro, and his deuteragonist Ninja Ninja in the anime adaptation of Takashi Okazaki’s Afro Samurai. The anime, which infuses an old-school samurai manga tale with modern technology and a Hip Hop vibes, did so well that it spawned a follow-up series, Afro Samurai: Resurrection which won an Emmy Award.
While these celebrities are more commonly known and loved by fans for their acting abilities and on-screen screen presence, their voices have proven to be as in-demand with anime producers like Studio Ghibli and Netflix, and attractive to fans of their “live” features. Moreover, considering the growth and success of anime, across the world, dubbing anime is not only becoming a lucrative celebrity side deal for those “downtimes” between blockbusters, but also a means of spreading the anime zeitgeist.
More: Deadpool’s Voice Secretly Suggests His Origin Story Is a Lie