Be it Western or Eastern, it takes a lot of people to breathe life into an animation. Writers, designers, producers, directors, and animators among many more. But unless they’re going for some purely visual experience, their animated characters are going to need someone to give them a voice. Which is where the voice actors come in, shockingly enough.
Some actors have fit their famous roles so well that it’s hard to imagine anyone else voicing their characters. In some places, studios go out of their way to keep a particular actor for their key characters. Yet eventually those roles have to be recast for one reason for another. Which is why these famous anime characters have gone through more than their fair share of actors over the years.
The hyperactive title character of Excel Saga, an insane anime adaptation of an already bonkers manga, is a testing role. She speaks 10 miles a minute in her manic devotion to Lord Ilpalazzo, with mouthy speeches, angry screeches, and loud, emotional reactions to all manner of events.
So, it’s probably no surprise that it began affecting her voice actor’s health. Excel was originally voiced by Jessica Calvello, who puts in a fine performance. But by the 13th episode, the strain on her vocal cords had become too much. To avoid shredding them for good, she stepped out, and Larissa Wolcott stepped into voice Excel for the rest of the series.
5/6 Ash Ketchum
Pokemon’s cap-wearing lead trainer has had a few voices over the years. His most famous English dub actor would be his first, Veronica Taylor, who voiced the character for 8 seasons. In an interview with Animerica in 2000, she said she enjoyed playing the character because of his energy and excitement. However, once Pokemon USA (now Pokemon Company International) took over licensing in 2006, they switched recording studios.
Thus, younger fans are likely more familiar with Sarah Natochenny providing Ash’s vocals. However, in between this changing of the guard, Ash was briefly voiced by Kayzie Rogers. Better known as the voice of Max, Professor Ivy, and Wobbuffet on the show, Rogers’ take on the character can be heard in the original Master of Mirage Pokemon special dub.
4/6 Sailor Moon
Whether she’s called Serena or Usagi, multiple actors have given life to Sailor Moon. Today, she’s voiced by Stephanie Sheh via Viz Media. In the past, it was a little trickier. DiC had Terri Hawkes and Tracey Moore passing the role between them, with some stretches of their dub having more of one than the other and vice-versa. While Linda Ballatyne voiced the character for Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon SuperS.
Voice actor changes are less common in Japan but aren’t completely unheard of. Kotono Mitsuishi has been the definitive Japanese voice of Usagi since the original 1990s anime. However, when she came down with appendicitis, someone else had to step in while she was being treated. So, for episodes 44-50, the character was voiced by Kae Araki, who would become Chibiusa later in the series. She was given the role sans audition since she already proved her mettle with her brief stint as the non-Chibi Usa.
The icon behind manly rage, manly fights, and manly tears has had a few English voices. Lex Lang voiced him for the Manga Studios dub, John Vickery for the movie dub, and Robert Kraft for the New Fist of the North Star OVA series. That’s not getting into the video games, like future Yakuza: Like A Dragon star Kaiji Tang voicing the character in Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage. Surprisingly, he’s gone through nearly as many voice actors in Japan as well.
His most famous voice belongs to his original series VA, Akira Kamiya, who currently voices Kenshiro’s master Ryuken in the spoof series DD Fist of the North Star. While Hiroshi Abe voiced Kenshiro in the Legends OVAs in the 2000s. Nowadays, he’s largely voiced by Katsuyuki Konishi in animation, video games and more. He was also voiced by Takehito Koyasu in New Fist of the North Star, right around the time Koyasu was also playing his nose hair-based parody counterpart Bobobo-bo-Bobobo, and roughly a decade before he voiced Kenshiro’s friend Rei in Ken’s Rage.
Today, most fans are familiar with Ian James Corlett and Sean Schemmel’s Goku voices via the Ocean and Funimation dubs respectively. However, they weren’t the only two. Richard Ian Cox provided Goku’s voice in Ocean’s dub of Dragon Ball Z Kai. While Peter Kelamis voiced Goku for Ocean and AB Groupe. The latter, most infamous for their ‘Big Green’ dub of the Tree of Might movie, also had Jeremiah Yurk, Jeffrey Watson, David Gasman, and the late Kirby Morrow voice the character across Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT.
Lex Lang brought back his Kenshiro cries for Goku in the Bang Zoom dubs of episodes 1-27 of Dragon Ball Super. While Nesty Calvo Ramirez gave the Saiyan a ‘Taglish’ (Tagalog-English mix) voice for the Philippines dub of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. That’s just for teen to adult Goku too. Kid Goku has his own host of voices from Barbara ‘Rita Repulsa’ Goodson to Colleen Clinkenbeard. This is in contrast to Japan, where Goku, his Saiyan dad Bardock, and both his sons Gohan and Goten have been voiced by a single woman, Masako Nozawa, for the past 40 years.
1/6 Popuko And Pipimi
Pop Team Epic is a weird sketch show where things get deliberately switched up. One of the show’s episodes could randomly cut to a live-action behind-the-scenes segment where the actors complain to the director before zooming onto a hidden ghost girl. Then its rerun could show them bullying the director before zooming to the ghost girl, who has the leads Popuko and Pipimi in her mouth. It only gets wilder when people look into the voice cast.
Popuko and Pipimi are voiced by different actors segment by segment, episode by episode. Popuko has been voiced by the English and Japanese cast of Dragonball (Sean Schemmel, Chris Sabat, Toshio Furukawa), including both versions of Broly (Johnny Yong Bosch, Tessho Genda). While Pipimi was voiced by Excel Saga’s lead English dub women (Jessica Calvello, Monica Rial), and two of Guilty GearXrd’s top Japanese Dub men (Joji ‘Sol Badguy’ Nakata, Norio ‘Johnny’ Wakamoto). They’re just the tip of the iceberg too. The full cast behind these two characters alone could fill an entire show.
More: Cloud Strife and Other Video Game Characters Whose Voice Actors Changed Between Games