This time around we take a look at the career of one of the veterans in the business. Ken Narita has an impressive range underneath his silky deep vocal tone and never failed to impress every time he has given his voice to a character.
Despite having debuted in the 80’s, Narita never got to be as extremely famous as some close friends and peers – for example Toshiyuki Morikawa and Show Hayami. With a long career spanning over 30 years, Narita has a rather inconspicuous repertoire. But if you analyze it carefully, you’ll notice that it’s full of interesting characters (strangely enough, mostly doctors) and strong performances.
You can say that he’s a victim of secondary character syndrome. And despite the fact that he seldom is part of a leading cast, he can still leave an impression with his quirky secondary characters.
|BORN||May 18, 1964|
Tsutomu Narita (real name) was born on May 18, 1964 in Saitama, Japan.
Early on he got interested in theatre and representative arts in general. When he was in high school he joined a children’s theatre company and started developing his on stage skills and diction. After completing high school, Narita enrolled in a training school in Tokyo to further his studies on performing arts, mainly theatre and narration. He soon joined Baobab, talent agency that was household to Toshiyuki Morikawa, Shinji Kawada, Jun Fukuyama and many other seiyuu over the years. He then adopted the stage name Ken Narita, debuting in 1985 (as a seiyuu) and 1988 (as an actor).
Before Baobab filled for bankruptcy, Narita left and joined Aksent (Accent), Japanese talent agency focused on narration. The partnership didn’t last long and by 2008, he was enjoying his life as a freelance, status he has maintained up until now.
Fans might be a bit disenhearted when they find that Narita‘s focus on anime has always been secondary, recently it’s even more obvious. Just by taking a quick look at the amount of roles he’s got since his debut, it’s easy to notice just how few his anime roles have been since 2015. On the other side his dubbing/narration roles are constantly increasing with each passing year.
1985 – 1990
The rough start
1985 was the year in which Narita start to take his first footsteps as a seiyuu.
Like most seiyuu, he was presented with a field of work filled with a lot of renowned names and lack of opportunities for a rookie like him. Being a seiyuu turned out to be harsher than anything, and in this 5 year span he wasn’t handed a single role, leading to him to try other avenues and debut as a stage actor in 1988.
Even when the seiyuu business wasn’t as crowded as it is today, Narita faced what no rookie wants to face: rejection after rejection.
1990 – 1999
Secondary characters galore
This is the period of time in which Narita started to leave his mark in the seiyuu business. His first role was in Mama wa Shougaku 4 Nensei as a young detective back in 1992. The role wasn’t necessarily important to the story and goes mostly unnoticed for anyone that watches the series. That role was followed by minor roles in The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Magical Circle Guru Guru, Those Who Hunt Elves, The Story of Cinderella, Dectective Conan, EAT-MAN, Vampire Princess Miyu, YAMATO2520, Deep Blue Fleet, Shounan Junai Gumi, Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Super Express Hikarian.
In 1995 he was handed his first main role as Dran in The Brave of Gold Goldran, an oldschool kids mecha/action anime that counted with big seiyuu names such as Toshiyuki Morikawa, Chiaki Morita and Kousuke Okano.
In the same year he joined Fushigi Yuugi, historical/time travel/romance anime that picked the interest of all Asia. The the big hit anime that counted with Hikaru Midorikawa and Kae Araki in the main roles, among other big time names. Narita gave voice to Tetsuya Kajiwara, one of the most important secondary characters in the story
Although he looks carefree, he turns out to be one of the most reliable characters in the secondary cast, solving the mysteries in the “The Universe of the Four Gods“. Most people might not notice it, but Kajiwara serves as the one that makes sense of the story for anyone that is either reading (the manga) or watching (the anime) the series, it is through him that everyone gets a better understanding of the story, its origins and anything that can happen in the long run.
Up until 2000, Narita had all sorts of roles, but none of them as lead main or even secondary cast. The array of secondary characters is impressive but most of these anime are forgettable. Android Announcer Maico 2010, Weiß kreuz, Kindaichi Case Files, Galactic Drifter Vifam 13, serial experiments lain, Ninja Boy Rantaro, Strange World of the South Seas – Neoranga, All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku TV, Popolocrois Monogatari, Magical Stage Fancy Lala, Arc, Eden’s Bowy, between many others.
2000 – 2006
Rise to fame
Most seiyuu and anime fans know Narita because of this role. Sesshomaru is the catalyst to his massive popularity in Eastern asia, more than in Japan itself, and is his most popular role ever.
For those starting to watch the classic Inuyasha, Sesshomaru comes off as cold, taciturn and rather mysterious. But And that whole mysterious vibe around him – adding his sense of style and long white hair -, was an instant fan magnet. Narita‘s deep voice fit well with his chic personality, making this, one of the most spectacular performances in anime by an antagonist.
But the early 2000’s weren’t all about Sesshomaru – despite the fact that fans were still a bit dazed by that character and that it had 3 additional movies/ovas -, there was so much more to add the first half of this decade. First off, after Inuyasha ended, a lot of doors opened for several seiyuu that had been a part of it. Suddenly, eveyone wanted to work with him, and that’s when he started to feature in more anime than ever before.
During this span of time his anime credits include secondary roles in Saiyuki, Hellsing, Getbackers, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, E’s Otherwise, Licensed by Royalty, Machine Robo Rescue, Scrapped Princess, Detective School Q, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Mousou Kagaku Series: Wandaba Style, Onmyou Tai Senki, Samurai Champloo, Sonic X, Doraemon, Bakuretsu Tenshi, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, MONSTER, Rockman EXE Stream, ONE PIECE, The Law of Ueki, My Wife is a High School Girl, Gunparade Orchestra, Black Jack 2004, LOVELESS, Dog Gods!, Kiba, Shin Chan, Sgt. Frog, Loving Angel Angelique: When Hearts Awaken and many more.
GHOST HUNT, horror/supernatural anime that premiered in 2007 was the one that put an end to the streak of secondary roles in his repertoire. Narita voiced Lin Koujo, a Hong Kong-born taciturn assistant that not only has an interesting aura but also plays a big role in the story. Once again the mysterious aura drew people to this character.
Also in the same year, the iconic Code Geass premiered. Considered one of the best series of all time, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is the first season of the sci-fi/mecha/action and Narita got to play an important role as Jeremiah “Orange” Gottwald.
Jeremiah Gottwald is part of the purist faction in the world of Code Geass. Initially holding a high rank in the military, Gottwald eventually falls into disgrace after a serious of odd events. After those, he got the nickname “Orange”, being called by that name by almost everyone in the series. He plays a pivotal role one of the story arcs but as the story progresses, he somehow ends up being a comic relief character.
Le Chevalier D’Eon brought him back to the spotlight as part of the main cast. This anime travels back to Louis XV’s France, in which vengeance, betrayal, loyalty are common. Durand (Narita‘s character) is one of the most ambiguous characters, one which is hard to tell where his loyalties lie.
The rest of the year counted with roles in martial arts anime Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Chokotto Sister, Black Blood Brothers, Black Lagoon, The Seven Metamorphoses of Yamato Nadeshiko, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX and Humanoid Monster Bem.
His role as Hayama Shirakumo in Naruto might have gone unnoticed for most people – given that he’s a secondary character -, but he’s plays an important role during Pain‘s story arc.
2007 – 2010
Cult seiyuu and going freelance
His popularity took a huge hit and without people noticing, somehow he wasn’t beeing granted enough screentime or memorable roles after everything had been wrapped up with Inuyasha and Code Geass.
You can say that he was slowly turning into a “cult seiyuu“, one that is often disregarded by today’s anime fans who are only driven to the mainstream anime and seiyuu, but highly respected by his longtime fans and oldschool anime enthusiasts.
Even if he seldom got leading roles, Narita still managed to be present in a lot of anime over the years. Kyoushirou to Towa no Sora (as Kazuya Ayanokouji), Loving Angel Angelique: Radiant Tomorrow (as Arios), Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS (as Jail Scaglietti), Good Luck! Ninomiya-kun (as Mikihiro Tsukimura), Taiho Shichauzo: Full Throttle (as Doctor Seuss), Terra e… (as Grave Murdoch), Baccano! (as Fermet), Itazura na Kiss (as Nishigaki Touma), Gintama (various characters), Dance in the Vampire Bund (as Jean Marais Dermailles), Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru (as Isuzu Fujiwara), and many more.
The most memorable roles during this period of time include Takashi Katsuragi in Hitohira, Ryuuken Ishida in Bleach, Ki Kouki in Saiunkoku Monogatari‘s second season and Reborn (adult version) in Kateikyoushi Hitman Reborn!.
He also reprised his roles in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 (as Jeremiah Gottwald) and Inuyasha (as Sesshomaru). All characters had something in common: they are cold, sometimes aloof and most of all, mysterious. For example Ryuuken Ishida and Ki Kouki share a lot between them. Both have an intimidating aura, most of the times making other people instantly fear them. In Kouki‘s case, even the king was afraid of meeting him given his infamous ruthlessness and cold demeanor. On the other side, Ishida might look like a hard character to even try to strike conversation with. His sharper look and excessive politeness tend to make people extremely mindful of their actions. One that doesn’t fit this description anymore is Sesshomaru, that grew over the series and although he still has a tough exterior, by the time the second season aired he had already opened up a lot.
As mentioned previously, Narita left the talent management company Aksent in 2008 and decided to go freelance. Up until now he’s kept that status.
2011 – 2017
Underrated veteran status
Things in anime have changed significantly and deep/lower toned voices aren’t that much of a desirable thing anymore. Everyone knows this, but since 2011, anime is overrun with shoutas and boring mid-toned seiyuu (except some seiyuu that having been pushing the bar). This is a sad truth. Narita is an underrated seiyuu that no longer seems to have a place in voice acting – at least in the anime department.
The number of roles per season suddenly dropped and fans started to find it increasingly harder to find him in anime.
In 2011 he voiced secondary characters (with little to almost no screentime) in Doraemon, Ninja Boy Rantaro and Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal. In the following year he had roles in Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere II, Cross Fight B-Daman eS, Sword Art Online and BTOOOM!.
In 2013, Narita was casted in Gundam Build Fighters, Gifuu Doudou!! Naoe Kanetsugu Maeda Keiji Sakegatari, Tamako Market, Saint Seiya Omega, Monogatari Series: Second Season, Wakate Animator Ikusei Project and Detective Conan.
Akame ga Kill – action/adventure anime premiered in 2014 – brought him back to his trademark Doctor robes (he’s voiced over 10 characters that were doctors). Dr. Stylish is on the antagonist’s side and he’s known for being vicious and insane. Although it was a short performance (more or less lasted 4 episodes), fans couldn’t help but to either be repulsed or impressed by his performance.
From 2015 up until now, Narita only got 9 roles and none of them important for the series they were featured in. SHIMONETA: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist, High School DxD BorN, Occultic;Nine, Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Schwarzesmarken, Detective Conan, ēlDLIVE, Dies irae and Rewrite 2nd Season.
If there’s something he is wildly known for doing is drama CDs. Dubbed by many as one of the gods of BL, Narita‘s extensive credits in the genre speak for itself. He tends to voice cold, assertive characters – in which his deep tone makes wonders. His method acting makes all of his characters extremely believable – sometimes way too much believable to the point of intimidating his counterparts between takes.
Besides BL, he is also part in many shoujo/otome oriented drama CDs. Between R-rated stuff he does under a pseudonim, he has some iconic roles under his belt.
For those of you who are fans of the shoujo hit manga Skip Beat!, it may come across as weird when we say that Ren Tsuruga was supposed to voiced in the anime by someone else besides Konishi Katsuyuki. Ken Narita is the voice of Tsuruga in the drama CDs, with a performance as powerful and alluring as Katsuyuki‘s in the anime series. For those of you that like the manga/anime series, the drama CDs are a must have, especially with a performance as spot on as Narita‘s.
Many people love the school/shoujo manga Oresama Teacher. The story follows the adventures of Mafuyu Kurosaki, a delinquent girl that is forced to change schools and her ways only to find out that the one responsible for her turning into what she is today is none other than her homeroom teacher. Narita gives voice to Takaomi Saeki in the drama CDs, the scary homeroom teacher responsible for Kurosaki’s way of living. His performance caught exactly the character’s demeanor, making up so some hilarious situations.
Ranging from straight up action games to otome driven ones, Narita‘s games repertoire is nothing short of amazing.
He’s most active in the otome gaming side with several credits including: Crimson Empire ~Circumstances to Serve a Noble~, Otome Crisis, Fushigi Yuugi Suzaku Ibun, Kurayami no Hate de Kimi o Matsu, Zettai Meikyuu Grimm ~Nanatsu no Kagi to Rakuen no Otome~, Live x Evil -Nessa no Prometheus-, S-TRIPPER, Hoshi no Oujo 2, Taishou Kitan, Urakata Hakuouki, Gakuen Heaven 2 ~Double Scramble!~, Abunai Koi no Sousashitsu ~Eternal Happiness~, Schwarzesmarken, Dies irae ~Interview with Kaziklu Bey~ and several games in the Angelique franchise (he’s one of Neoromance‘s household names)
Narita has given voice to a lot of characters over the years, most of them cold, taciturn but with something magnetic that manages to catch his fans’ attention. There’s one game that is the perfect example of that. OMERTA, one of the best BL/Yaoi games ever written (caution: it’s an Rated-R visual novel folks), that counts with several veteran seiyuu in its cast, but it was his crazy character that stole the show. It’s not often that a role in such a setting and genre stands out this much (the other one would be Hikaru Midorikawa as Zenya in Sweet Pool – also a Rated-R visual novel).
[Disclaimer: For those that are minors we don’t encourage you to play the game as it contains strong themes and graphic violence among other R-Rated action. Also: there are no spoilers below.]
Liu Jien is more than anything a frightening but insanely sexy character. He’s alluring in most people’s eyes while playing the game in its early stages, but soon you notice that this boss of the Chinese crime syndicate (Dragon Head), is ruthless, insane, sadistic and quite obsessive, and that is more than enough for you to understand that you should avoid him at all costs.
Narita‘s voice acting was flawless. Liu Jien can give you chills and leave you flustered, all in the same sentence. That icy allure in his voice is an interesting greeting card. Jien is definitely one of the most important characters featured in the game, and the most difficult to get close with – depending on you’re aiming to do with him. But as much as some people love Narita‘s portrayal of Liu Jien‘s unstable mind, there is a whole other half that straight up hates the character for the most varied of reasons. If people hate the character at least it means he’s doing his job right, isn’t it?
On the shounen side of things, Narita voiced characters in games like Bleach Versus Crusade, drastic Killer, Katekyo Hitman Reborn! DS Flame Rumble X, Summon Night, Magna Carta 2, Super Robot Wars Original Generation: The Moon Dwellers and many more.
Despite having some character songs under his belt during the early 00’s, Narita never delved into the music business – be it solo or group. He’s by no means an amazing singer, but he fares better than some debuted seiyuu. In the past he participated in character songs but it was restricted to Neoromance‘s titles (anime/games). We need to take into account that back in the 80’s and 90’s, character songs weren’t that common or something that was required of seiyuu. Only in the early 00’s it started to be a thing fans would expect from some anime releases. He was caught in the early 00’s character song fever but he doesn’t have more than a dozen credits when it comes those.
Narita‘s habitat is hands down narration and dubbing. With more than 200 credits under his name, he’s a titan in this specific and more technical side to voice acting. And this is where his range and talent usually shows insanely well.
Between movies, live actions and series, his credits include: American Pie 3 and American Pie: The Wedding (as Jim), The game of their lives (as Frank Wallace), Jumanji (as Malcom Stewart), S.W.A.T. (as Alex Montel), Titanic (as Fabrizio), 007 The Living Daylights (as Felix), Tomb Raider movies (as Blythe), Man in Black (as Regk), Romeo + Juliet (as Mcushio), Criminal Minds (several characters), CSI Miami (as Greg Karoma), Supernatural (several characters), Seinfield (as Jerry Seinfeld), ER (as Dennis Gant), Dark Angel (as Alec McDowell), Mortal Kombat (as Liu Kang), 12 Years a Slave (as Samuel Bass), H (as Jo Seung-woo), 300: Rise of an Empire (as Aeschylus) and he’s the voice of Johnny Bravo. The list continues on with many more roles. For more on those check this.
As we’ve mentioned before, Narita made his debut as an actor after finding difficulties to get jobs as a seiyuu. He took part in two television series and two movies. He had small roles in the television series My town 3 (1993) as a cop and Absence proof (不在証明) in 1991 as one of the victims. Back in 1991, Narita appeared in the movie Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah as a security guard, but after that he decided to focus on voice acting, dubbing and narration. Twenty years later (2011), he returned to the silver screen, this time appearing in the movie “Selfish” as Kiyohisa Kato, movie produced by the Ritsumeikan University students as their graduation project.
Loves teasing everyone
To say that Hayami Sho encountered some difficulties to “tame him” from bullying Toshiyuki Morikawa in one of Neoromance’s events is an understatement. The same can be said about his Code Geass sassiness that left both Takahiro Sakurai and Jun Fukuyama speechless at the same time as a nervous Noriyaki Suguyama was trying to deal with Narita‘s constant playful staring.
Some say that Narita‘s best asset is, indeed, his incredibly velvetly deep voice. Now imagine that voice live reciting some corny – but romantic – lines (take Neoromance’s events for example). The way he delivers those lines leaves fangirls fanning themselves even if there’s some cringe associated with it. He’s one of the few seiyuu with a deep voice that just doesn’t age.
Usually found wearing a fedora
Much alike Kousuke Toriumi‘s love for fedoras, Narita is often found wearing them or any kind of hat for that matter. It has turned into a trademark that whenever he isn’t sporting a hat, people can’t believe their eyes.
Loved by seniors, feared by the youngsters
Noriyaki Suguyama and Daisuke Kishio are just two of the seiyuu that, even though they’ve worked countless times together, one way or the other, fear Narita. His playful and sarcastic self tends to leave some younger seiyuu rather uncomfortable to the point that they miss some lines, stumble on their words or altogether don’t know what to do or how to react. On the other side, veteran seiyuu love him, even if sometimes he’s way too crazy and untamable for their taste. Show Hayami, Kazuhiko Inoue and Jurota Kosugi are just some of the veteran seiyuu that are close to him. On another note: Narita is close friends with fellow seiyuu Yuya Uchida.
Improvising is in his blood
In one event of Kiniro no Corda, Narita and Shinnosuke Tachibana were supposed to voice some random students that the main cast of the game series would try to recruit to the music club. Not even 2 minutes into the skit, and Narita was already ruining everything (in a good way). Kentarou Ito was on the floor laughing out loud, Shinnosuke Tachibana managed to keep up long enough with him until he burst out laughing. Jun Fukuyama couldn’t even say a word without giggling. Satoshi Hino lost all his composure. The only seiyuu that actually managed to keep up with his crazy antics was Daisuke Kishio that even spouted “nowadays senpai are scary!“. Regardless to say that the crowd was enjoying his exquisite performance more than anything.
Toshiyuki Morikawa and Kappei Yamaguchi once commented on a radio show dedicated to BL (boys love) CD dramas, that Narita gets way into his character, even off takes which freaked them out. Depending on the character he was voicing, he would act exactly in character with everyone until the recording was finished. This only proves the extent of the dedication to his work.
Has a kick for martial arts
Narita is a certified 1-dan in Kendo. Despite the fact that is exactly the first rank you can get in Kendo (which can make some people spout that that is not impressive), Narita is pretty fit for his age.
A superstar in Eastern Asia
Most seiyuu fans don’t realize this but he is a superstar in China and Taiwan. All due to a single role. As most of people know, time travel/historical anime/series tend to fare insanely well in China and it was no exception for Inuyasha. When it premiered it was an instant hit. To add to this, the fans’ favorite character is Sesshomaru, known for its cold demeanor and deep, seductive voice. Fans raved about Narita‘s performance back in the early 00’s and they still do. Narita might be a little bit forgotten by fans in Japan but he’s loved in China and Taiwan beyond anything people would imagine even with a language barrier.
Fans can find Narita on ameblo blog, the only places in which he tends to update everyone about what he’s working on.
As you could see from this short trip through Ken Narita‘s career, there’s so much more to him than meets the eye. He’s owner of one of the very few velvetly deep voices that can actually make your heart flutter instantly, yet people don’t seem to recognize it nor his talents. He’s undoubtly one of the most underrated veteran seiyuu in the business.
With this we complete yet another Seiyuu Digest, stay tuned for next month’s!