Two other Sanrio character voices also being replaced as part of plan to increase global/youth appeal and “cherish the future and AI.”

Hello Kitty is one of the biggest stars in the Japanese pop culture world, and she’s voiced by one of the biggest stars in the anime voice acting industry. Kitty-chan had no voice when she first appeared in the mid ‘70s, but for the past 33 years she’s been voiced by the one and only Megumi Hayashibara.

Hayashibara (whose credits include Evangelion’s Rei, Cowboy Bebop’s Faye, , Slayers’Lina, and Ranma 1/2’s female Ranma, among many, many others) became the voice of Hello Kitty after auditioning for the role when Sanrio was getting ready to open its Sanrio theme park in Tokyo in 1990, and except for a small number of scattered exceptions, she’s been voicing the character ever since.

But on November 1, which is Hello Kitty’s official birthday, Hayashibara posted on both her Twitter account and official blog that she’s leaving the role. “Looking ahead to the next 50, the next 100 years, it has come to be that I’m leaving [the role of] Kitty,” Hayashibara writes. “As we say in the industry, I’m ‘graduating.’”

▼ Hayashibara’s announcement tweet

Hayashibara goes on to say that she was informed by letter of Sanrio’s decision, and was startled by what she felt was its suddenness. However, in a subsequent meeting Sanrio staff discussed their future marketing plans for Hello Kitty with Hayashibara, including their hope to broaden the character’s global appeal and attractiveness not just to families and children, but also to members of Generation Z, and also “cherish the future and AI.” After extensive internal discussion, Sanrio came to the conclusion that with the Hello Kitty character approaching its 50th anniversary, this marked a good stopping point milestone for her voice so far, a decision that Hayashibara says felt “extremely natural” to her following the explanation.

Unfortunately for fans wanting to go back and re-listen to Hayashibara’s performances in Kitty-chan’s YouTuber-style videos on the official Hello Kitty YouTube channel, it appears that all videos in which she voiced the character have now been removed. It’s unclear if this happened simultaneously with her announcing that she’d no longer be voicing the character or if the videos had already been removed.

Hayashibara wasn’t the first voice actress to play Hello Kitty. That distinction goes to Fuyumi Shiraishi, who voiced the character in the 1981 Kitty, Mimi, and the New Umbrella animated short movie. Mami Koyama then stepped into the role for the 1989 short Hello Kitty’s Cinderella, the Hello Kitty version of the Terebikko video phone toy, and Sanrio’s first amusement park, Puroland, in Oita Prefecture. When Koyama left Japan and moved to the U.S., though, Sanrio held auditions for a new voice actress, with Hayashibara winning the role.

Hayashibara isn’t the only vocal performer who’s leaving the Hello Kitty franchise, as she writes that Miina Tominaga will no longer be voicing Kitty-chan’s twin sister Mimi, nor will Go Takahashi be continuing to voice Hello Kitty’s boyfriend Daniel.

While it’s a bittersweet development for those who have become accustomed to hearing Hayashibara’s performance, the voice actress herself is treating this as a positive moment, asserting that she feels absolutely no sadness nor regret, and likens her emotional state to seeing a daughter leave the family household when getting married, adding that she’ll continue to be a Kitty-chan fan even after there’s another voice coming out of the character’s mouth.

Source: Megumi Hayashibara official blog, Twitter/@MHayashibara_PR, YouTube
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