The Voice: Wendee Lee

Okay, I STILL talk too much about writing and not enough about animating.

That’s probably not unreasonable. There are a lot more writers than animators out there, when you get right down to it. Animation, except on computer, is a really expensive hobby, while writing…pencil, paper, done. Boom.

But anyone can talk about writing. Let’s talk a little about animation.

In a lot of ways animation and anime are voice driven. It’s routine for the voice tracks to be recorded before the first frame of animation is drawn, and that’s not an accident: since the action on the screen has to match the sounds…and the most important action that way being the mouth actions associated with the characters’ lines…the dialog needs to come first. (Other sound effects, such as gunshots or background noise, can be added later.)

I’ll be frank: in the age of digital production I’m not sure how this is done. In my day we used to have audio tape that was cut to the same size and shape as 16mm film. We’d set it up on a machine that ran the tape at the same speed as 16mm film (24 frames per second), and then record directly on it. Then it was a matter of “reading” the track…We had a simple setup of a playback head wired to a speaker, and then we could figure out what sound was recorded exactly where on the tape by running the tape over the head. You could literally mark the exact syllables on the tape with a black Sharpie. It was fun. I was good at it.

My old animation teacher, Professor Deanna Morse of Grand Valley State University, got her start as a sound cutter for Sesame Street. After she was done with the track she had to rewind the audio tape BY HAND, and consequentially she was the only person in the world who could sing the Sesame Street theme BACKWARDS.

In Shirobaku I saw them post-dubbing the dialog, recording it after the film was shot. That felt bassackwards to me, but it’s doable.

There are a lot of reasons why a terrific actor would specialize in voice work. Yeardley Smith, Lisa Simpson’s voice, has been in films but makes no bones about the fact that she has body issues. Hynden Walch – Starfire (she was also Yutaka in Lucky Star) – has a dislike of being photographed. The late, great June Foray was not only talented but beautiful as well. You’d wonder why she couldn’t get cast in “real” movies until you learn that she was only 4’11”…too small to be framed properly in most shots.

But that’s our gain. A good voice actor has to be able to ACT; no one cares who is built like Jennifer Aniston.

There are a number of actors who have created numerous memorable roles. Luci Christian got hooked up with Funimation, and since she’s good she does a lot of work for them. Back when I wrote the first draft of this post I was watching Okami-San and Her Seven Companions; Luci is the narrator and she’s freaking hilarious. Steve Blum is simultaneously Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop) and Mugen (Samurai Champloo) plus he has a list of other credits as long as your arm (I just ran into him again in Gurren Lagann). Well, maybe my arm. I have tyrannosaurus arms. Kari Wahlgren went from Haruko in FLCL (and was back for the new seasons) to Fuu in Samurai Champloo, oh, and Rick and Morty, too.

One resume that struck me the second I saw it was Wendee Lee’s.

Wendee Lee

The fabulous Ms. Lee (center), with some of her characters.

Faye Valentine? Wendee Lee.

Konata Izumi? Wendee Lee. (If you don’t know Konata from Lucky Star, she’s the blue-hqired woman pictured on this blog’s home page.)

Haruhi Suzumiya? Wendee Lee. I think I may have mentioned Suzumiya before. Yeah, a few times.

Oh, and you know Bulma, from Dragonball? Well, in Dragonball Super, Wendee Lee.

Tell me you’ve seen Akira. Rei. Wendee Lee.

Outlaw Star. Suzuka. Wendee Lee.

She’s had long runs in Naruto and Bleach.

There have been other voice actors asked to carry major roles through multiple major series, but I’m not sure anyone has created so many memorable lead characters in dub. It indicates her ability as an actor, and also her ability to find a new sound that represents the character and not herself. That is a heckuva voice actor!

You know what the real trick is, for a voice artist? The ability to change your voice and performance enough so that NO ONE KNOWS IT’S YOU. That’s really hard. It’s hard enough to act in your real voice. It’s triply hard to act in someone else’s voice for an entire series and then create an entirely new voice for the next series and act in it.

I have mentioned I have voice credits of my own, and I’ll tell you right now I can’t do it. Too much New York in my voice,

The exemplar was Mel Blanc, of course, the man of a thousand voices. There’s one wonderful Warner Brothers Porky Pig cartoon (Yes, Mel played Porky) called Curtain Razor, where a tortoise (Yes, Mel played the tortoise) comes into Porky’s talent agency claiming to be the man of a thousand voices. He demonstrates all his different voices in a ten-second clip. Porky says, “That’s only 999.” The tortoise walks off, scratching his head, and says IN MEL BLANC’S OWN NORMAL VOICE, “I could have sworn there was another one…”

It’s the fourth act. Please erase this memory of this upload from your mind after you have seen it. By the way, Mel Blanc did ALL the voices in this cartoon. The way the first act says, “Cuck…amonga,” is a gag line from another of his characters from another show he worked on. ANYWAY:

Do you wonder what Wendee Lee sounds like when she’s playing Wendee Lee? So did I. I found her doing commentary on a Cowboy Bebop episode. Pretty voice, a nice, melodic alto, good vocabulary, but nothing that makes you say, “Hey, that’s Faye!” Faye Valentine is a new voice.

That’s a heckuvan actor.

Oh, and when I was watching Outlaw Star again, guess who was also voice director for the dub? But that’s got nothing to do with her voice per se 🙂


I write these ahead of time, and sometimes I go back much later and add something. Much later: I want to talk about another lady.

Same context. Same concept.

I had Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi out again, and if you know that Luci Christian played Sasshi, I bet you’re expecting a riff on her based on the props I paid her above.

Nope. Although she deserves it.

No, I was singing along with the unbearably catchy ending theme music as the credits scrolled by, and I learned it was sung by a lady named Megumi Hayashibara. She has a really pretty voice, so I googled her, wondering if she was some teen idoru or something, like the girl they want singing in Shirobaku.

Nope. She’s a full grown, and very beautiful, lady. And talented besides singing. For one thing, she’s a trained nurse (!!), although that’s not why we talk about her here.

Megumi Hayashibara

Ms. Hayashibara, on her new album cover.

The original Jessie Rocket? Megumi Hayashibara

Female Ranma? Megumi Hayashibara

Rei Ayanami? REY BLEEPING AYANAMI? Megumi Hayashibara
(I’ve actually referred to things she said about playing Rei without remembering her name.)

She dubbed Audrey Tautou (Amalie) in Amalie, for Christ’s sake!

And then there’s the one that ties all this together…

Faye Valentine? Megumi Hayashibara

That’s a heckuvan actor, too. And a wonderful singer, too, with a huge list of CDs, including a hit single from the MSAA soundtrack! If anyone deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Wendee Lee, it’s Megumi Hayashibara. Marvelous talents, the both of them.

The things you learn as life goes on…

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

6 thoughts on “The Voice: Wendee Lee

  1. Ummmm, one of those is incorrect kind of. Monica Rial is the current voice of Bulma since Dragon Ball Z Kai and Dragon Ball Super in US broadcast versions. That version we hear on Toonami is all Monica because Funimation and Toonami have a broadcast deal.

    Other then that, I really do love Wendee Lee’s voice. I miss listening to her in anime because I haven’t heard her in a prominent voice role in a while.


  2. Coincidentally, the very first anime I ever watched over 20 years ago featured another strong Wendee Lee performance, as the ill-fated Kagero in Ninja Scroll. Of course I didn’t know anything about voice actors back then, so I didn’t find out it was her until years later. She’s just been doing it at a really high level for a really long time, but even if she’d never done another role besides Haruhi she’d always have a place in my heart.

    Among the current generation of Japanese VAs, the one who really stands out to me for being able to disappear into her characters is Aoi Yuuki. Some of those seiyuu (like Nao Toyama, for instance) I’ve gotten very good at picking out even though I don’t speak Japanese, but Aoi Yuuki can go from Madoka to Tsuyu to Tanya to A Silent Voice’s Yuzuru and FGO’s Shuten Douji and bring a totally different voice and vibe to every one of those roles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s cool. I don’t know enough about Japanese to be able to distinguish the original voices, but I find Stephanie Sheh has a similar quality in dub. She often plays kids, but had great subtlety when they give her the chance.


      1. I got so used to hearing Stephanie Sheh playing characters with high-pitched moe voices (Mikuru, Yui Hirasawa, Hinata Hyuga), most of which I didn’t care for, that I remember my jaw hitting the floor the first time I saw A Letter to Momo when her name popped up in the end credits as Momo’s mom. She was GREAT in that movie, and it instantly changed my whole opinion of her.

        Liked by 1 person

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