With all the news lately about Hirano Aya’s uhm… “adult” troubles and now her expulsion from her talent agency, many fans are wondering what’s to become of Suzumiya Haruhi’s seiyuu. Hirano’s protrayal of Suzumiya is pretty iconic, and recasting a central character seems dicey in my mind.
If we assume for a moment that there will be further movies or seasons of the Suzumiya Haruhi anime, is a recast likely? Is there precedent for recast seiyuu for highly visible characters and programs? I would postulate that, in Hirano’s case specifically, she’s likely to suffer some dramatic (by Western standards) consequences for any future voice acting work now that her music career is diminished by her off-the-clock behavior. I would think this reduces her chances of being allowed to continue the role.
Aya Hirano launched her performing career in 2001 by acting in the Tenshi no Shippo anime television series. Her career escalated to a spectacular height that involved her own television reality series, a chart-topping pop vocalist career, and voice acting roles as high profile, beloved characters such as Suzumiya Haruhi. In early August 2011 Hirano was dropped by her recording and voice acting labels after confirmation that she’d been engaging in promiscuous sex with most of her back-up band. However, her departure from Lantis and Space Craft Entertainment allowed Hirano to quickly sign a new contract with voice acting management company Grick.
Scandals can be career derailing in Japan; however, the nature of the scandal and the perception of the celebrity involved also play a role. Presently Aya Hirano’s plays the roles of Lucy Heartfilia in Fairy Tail, Kana Ienaga in Nurarihyon no Mago ~Sennen Makyo~, and Garnet, the pink female Jewelpet in the Jewelpet Sunshine television series. At this time she hasn’t been dropped or replaced in any of these three roles. Her sex scandal may temporarily hinder her continuing career as a pop vocalist, but I think that her anime voice acting career will exhibit little, if any significant decline. Anime otaku may resent and backlash against a popular celebrity idol that’s perceived to be “pure” and innocent when she becomes embroiled in a sleazy scandal. However, part of Aya Hirano’s persona to anime fans is her frequent portrayal of sexually frank, aggressive, and even domineering characters like Suzumiya Haruhi, Katja in Seikon no Qwaser, Nanael in Queen’s Blade, and Ume Kurumizawa in Kimi ni Todoke. So Aya Hirano’s sexual activity in real life may not be deemed shocking or especially out of character by her core fans and supporters.
After getting a three hour long Suzumiya Haruhi motion picture, I can’t guess if otaku will get (or even need) more Suzumiya Haruhi anime, but given that Suzumiya Haruhi is such a high profile character and her voice so distinctively part of her characterization, I suspect that by the time any new Suzumiya Haruhi anime is produced, recollection of Aya Hirano’s sex scandal will be sufficiently old and forgotten to allow her to reprise the role. Major voice actors are sometimes replaced. Toei, for example, arbitrarily recast all of the primary St. Seiya cast for the 2005 Hades ~ Inferno OVA series. At the same time, figures in the anime industry do overcome sex scandals. In 2002 manga artist Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro was convicted of paying for sex with a 16 year-old girl, and continued publication of his award winning Seikimatsu Leader den Takeshi! manga was canceled. However, Shimabukuro returned with the 2008 Toriko manga, which now has two short anime films and an ongoing television series.