Hirano Aya: 2.0? You Can (Not) Be Forgiven

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It has been a few months now since Hirano Aya (平野綾), most notably of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu fame, announced on her Twitter account (sorry, Japanese only) that she is returning to voice acting, formally resuming her career after what has been a turbulent year for the controversial seiyuu. This following a major scandal involving members of her band (the sordid details of which I will not recount here), which played out with much sound and fury in various relevant industry media outlets and otaku communities on both sides of the Pacific. Many reacted with violent indignation, causing a huge movement where a considerable number of her fans turned “anti-” and all but excommunicated her from their good graces for having “forever sullied” the pure image of the beloved anime heroines she had voiced.

Of course all this is ground we have trod before. However, recent speculation raises the question anew, hence this article. Naturally, it begs the question: is it for real, or just hype?

The above article itself is too vague to glean anything substantive from. The thing is, how can one get definitive confirmation on the matter? Short of asking her directly that is, and even then, can these tweets be trusted? Can her fans (the faithful few) expect her to feature in any new anime in 2012? Objectively speaking, it would be prudent to withhold a firm opinion on the matter as at the moment, it’s just too uncertain to tell one way or the other. One has to wonder how well she is holding up mentally and emotionally and if the stress of being an object of widespread vilification and slander is getting to her. Recent photos posted on her blog show an Aya of almost anemic thinness.

Otaku are a curious lot. The domestic, Japanese brand of zealousness is legendary, truly something marvelous and/or frightening to behold, as fervent devotion to favored idols, seiyuu, anime/manga characters, bands and other celebrities goes far beyond mere “fanaticism,” which is perhaps the closest Western analogue, although not nearly the same level of intensity. When scandal breaks, the otaku community erupts and the colossal outpouring of visceral response -be it bitterness; resentment; jealousy; or other form of discontent- can spread like a metastasizing, virulent contagion and the effects can linger long after things have technically “blown over.” They can be militantly hostile in defending an icon/franchise and are very outspoken if they feel industry professionals are not living up to perceived standards (Just ask Anno Hideaki).

There is a certain possessiveness inherent within otaku culture that is especially unforgiving towards female idols and seiyuu, and how much latitude they have in presenting themselves. Like a number of things, it’s about image built around a cult of personality. Should a female with a notable, established reputation make, for instance, a sudden wedding announcement or express an interest in moving on to other things, or, God forbid, do something not seiyuu/anime-related that indicates they in fact are real people with outside interests, the results can be ugly. Even before the scandal, Aya was unfortunately already well-acquainted with this side of otakudom. In fact, a female seiyuu/idol can even be crucified for events in her distant past, even before she came to prominence. Such was the case with Miyamura Yuko, seiyuu of EVA‘s Soryu Asuka Langley, whose career was more or less destroyed after fans recognized her from an old, amateur AV.

Even now, a good many will surely swear they will never acknowledge her existence ever again, but Aya still has her fans who would love to see her make a comeback to anime. While not a die-hard Hirano Aya fan, I enjoy her work and count myself amongst those who would like to see her return. Not to condone her behavior, but her personal choices and interests have nothing to do with her work in anime, and in my opinion she is free to exercise her liberty as an individual like anyone else.

It may be a very long wait to see any new Aya roles, if indeed she does come back but if and when she does I’ll be watching.

4 responses »

  1. I would like to point out that it’s always the vocal minority that ruins our fun. It’s too bad though when one’s getting bullied, a few can do quite a damage to one’s ego. Like you, I couldn’t care less what the seiyuus do outside of their career as long as they’re not out and about causing criminal mischief. Besides I don’t think I can handle any other voice for Haruhi Suzumiya or even Leyla (Reira) Serizawa from Nana, even though the sequels for those shows may not air for quite some time. But seeing Yuuko Miyamura returning to voice Asuka in the new Evangelion movies despite the scandal, I have hopes that not all is lost for Aya. One could always say, “it could worse.” Thanks for the post. Long live, Aya!

  2. Indeed, there’s something of an unspoken protocol when it comes to filling the role to voice a character that’s been established in a preceding season/prior incarnation, right? Production staff work very hard to ensure continuity as much as possible, in part because of the standards otaku expect.

    Seiyuu become very closely associated with the roles they take on in the minds of their fans, so much so that their names become virtually synonymous with these characters. That’s a markedly sharp contrast to how casting for sequels and future installments is handled here in the US, where studios freely swap out any number of actors for a single role over the course of a multi-part franchise for any reason. This, I think, is where Japan does it better, because such a thing is nigh unthinkable in the anime industry: to me, and I’m sure every other person who has seen EVA, Miyamura Yuko IS Asuka and can never be voiced by any other seiyuu no matter how well they may perform, just as surely as Hirano Aya is now and forever Haruhi.

    Everything about the seiyuu’s presentation of a character onscreen -from their interpretation of the character, to their real life individual vocal nuances and style- become so imprinted on that character that the image of that seiyuu is for better or worse indelibly linked, following them for the rest of their career.

    So engrained is this protocol in anime culture, it seems to trump any past scandals a seiyuu may have had. Because in many ways, the characters, being immortal, are bigger than the seiyuu themselves.

  3. I never understood what the big deal was. I mean, what does Aya’s private life have to do with her acting ability? Don’t tell me otakus actually want her to remain a virgin forever?! They can’t be serious!

  4. Possessiveness is a scary thing, isn’t it? Really, I think it has less with her being a virgin as much as it really being about her belonging to THEM in particular. Because, you know, if you’re a popular figure in anime you have no life outside of being Aya-chin/pyon/chan or whatever sort of petname you’re eventually given.

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