I keep rewatching episodes of Eden of the East, partly just to hear more of the beautiful voice of Hayami Saori 早見沙織. The 17-year-old Hayamin is coming into her own with her starring role as Saki.
In the thread about her on 2channel, the Japanese discussion board, her growing number of fans have been debating which great seiyuu she sounds more like: Kawasumi Ayako 川澄綾子 or Shimamoto Sumi 島本須美.
Voices are like snowflakes: no two are alike. But I thought we might listen to her voice and the voices of those two great seiyuu and see what similarities there might be. I'll link to video digests of roles played by all three: Hayamin, Shimamoto, and Kawasumi. You decide which of the others, if either, Hayamin's voice resembles.
Hayamin has had only four major roles in her brief career. Her first role, which she began in the spring of 2007, when she was 15, was as Momoka in Touka Gettan. She has also played Kou-chan in Wagaya no Oinari-sama, Musubi in Sekirei, and now Saki in Eden of the East. In addition to these, she has had minor roles in Koharu Biyori, Ghost Hound, and other shows -- and now in Basquatch.
She hasn't been called on to cover much of a range of roles. All of these share a family resemblance. But I find the quality of her voice beautiful and her acting sometimes moving. Her voice is not that strong, but especially in the latest role, she can modulate it in subtle ways to convey feeling and personality. It's a young voice, almost fading out sometimes, and with some breathiness, but she also has great clarity of pronunciation and there is bit of bounce. For a young seiyuu, she has excellent voice control.
Now listen to her predecessors. First, Shimamoto Sumi. As one poster said, Hayamin's voice has some of the almost transparent quality of Shimamoto-san's. But Shimamoto has more. Each of the two adds her own specific coloration.
Shimamoto-san started her career in 1977 and has given us such great roles as Lady Cagliostro in Lupin III: the Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaä in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kyoko in Maison Ikkoku, Tinkerbell in Peter Pan no Bouken, Saint Just in Oniisama-e, Toki in Princess Mononoke, Shokupanman in Soreike! Anpanman, and Aurelia Jones in Emma.
Kawasumi Ayako has played a wide range of characters. She was Lafiel in Crest of Stars, Aoi in Ai yori Aoshi, Saber in Fate/Stay Night, Nodame in Nodame Cantabile, and she is now giving a brilliant performance as the charming and complex monster Alice in Pandora Hearts.
Ayacchi's voice has more solidity than either of the other two, even though it's fairly high. And she has played a wide range of characters.
Which is it?
No two voices are alike. But I agree with the majority on 2channel, which thinks that Hayamin's voice more resembles Shimamoto Sumi's. Her slight breathiness compares with the stronger breathiness of Shimamoto-san. But I think Hayamin has a clearer, more precise voice than either of these two greats.
Noto Mamiko's name has shown up as a comparison recently on 2channel, and I think Hayamin's voice is indeed like Noto Kawaii's in its pure beauty, and in the kind of personality it conveys: a gentle, comforting, ojou-sama. But it doesn't have as much of the beautiful breathiness that is Noto's trademark.
By the way, the first sample of Hayamin's voice in the video above, from Touka Gettan, is from an episode that was actually written by Noto Mamiko (episode 21). She wrote lines that she herself could say, and that Hayamin said well, too.
Hayami seems to have a conception of each character she is trying to play, and is already good at conveying personality and emotion, within a certain range. But I think she has the skill, taste, and intelligence to grow and broaden her range, as Kawasumi Ayako, who is now 33, did through her twenties.
One big difference between Hayamin and the others: she made her seiyuu debut at 15. Shimamoto-san was 23. Kawasumi-san had one role at 16, but no more until she was 20. Noto-san had her first role at 19.
Hayamin the Singer
The only thing that could derail the progress of her seiyuu career is the fact that Hayami Saori is an even better singer than she is a seiyuu. Her singing voice has the same beauty as her speaking voice, but she has even more ability to bend and modulate it to create interest and meaning in a song. And she has a sharp musical sense that enables her to give a song life with subtle phrasing and rhythms.
If Hayamin becomes as successful a singer as I think she could be, she won't have much time for doing anime. Here is her first single, the ED to the 2007 anime Touka Gettan, Kono Sekai ga Itsuka ha, sung when she was 15. She apparently got it right in only one or two takes, and when she was leaving the recording booth, the studio staff all applauded:
But Hayamin's solo singing career is not likely to start just yet. I believe her agency is waiting for her voice to mature a bit, to get a bit stronger, and also for her to be able to perform live fully as well as she does on CD. Hayamin's gift is the delicate complexity of the line she creates. But so far, that is most audible at low volume. She needs time to develop the same precise and lyrical movement at higher volume.
She has the chance to be a real singer, not just a seiyuu-singer, so I think it is wise for her not to go solo until she is able to take any success she gains and run with it. When she starts the race, I think she could run far.