The messy story of the Bleach voice acting controversy, explained

The messy story of the Bleach voice acting controversy, explained

As Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, a continuation of the popular Bleach anime — one of the “Big Three” of shonen anime series — continues its run, viewers were excited to see fan-favorite character Yoruichi make her first appearance in the show. But that excitement soured as fans and voice actors argued on social media over who has the “right” to voice a character of color, invoking the specter of racism versus nostalgia in voice casting.

On October 7th, Afro-Latina voice actress Anairis Quiñones announced on X (formerly Twitter) that she had been cast to voice Yoruichi in Thousand-Year Blood War.

The announcement was met with considerable excitement but also backlash as some fans reacted negatively that Quiñones now had the role instead of Wendee Lee, who originally voiced Yoruichi when the series began back in 2004.

Some called Quiñones a diversity hire, suggesting she was only chosen because of her race. “Stop changing our characters perfect voices just cause you found some colored voice actor to voice your black character,” one user wrote on X.

Others were upset because they felt Quiñones had quote-unquote stolen the role from Lee even though both performers voice other characters in the show. “This was a casting director forcing an agenda,” read another complaint on X.

Amidst the mix of congratulations and complaints, on October 21st, Quiñones announced that she would no longer be voicing the role and her recordings would replaced. Wendee Lee would be taking her place.

As sympathies poured in from fans and fellow voice performers, Lee also appeared to argue with those expressing support. When a fellow voice performer expressed sympathy for Quiñones, saying it was unfortunate she had been recast, Lee replied, “just maintaining the iconic character.”

Lee, a seasoned voice actress known for her roles across decades of anime, cartoons, and video games, appeared to conflate support for Quiñones, a newer but successful performer, as an attack against her.

Quiñones’ recasting and Lee’s response highlight the persistent tension between nostalgia, fan expectation, and racism in fandom spaces.

Though Lee claimed that the recast was because of a “scheduling error,” many saw the move as localizer and distributor Viz and anime dubbing company Studiopolis capitulating to pressure from those upset by the recast — no matter how suited Quiñones was for the role — simply because she wasn’t part of the original cast.

Lee said as much herself, asking how it could be “wrong” for Viz to maintain the original cast when colleagues were comforting Quiñones while also saying, in now-deleted posts, that she was the one who “established” the role.

The Verge has reached out to Viz and Studiopolis for comment.

Racism is also a factor here. The work to redress white supremacy in entertainment is ongoing, and there has been a movement within the voice acting profession to pair characters with voice performers that match their identities. Quiñones’ casting would have been the first time Yoruichi, who is typically seen as either a Black woman or a woman of color, would have been voiced by a fellow woman of color.

“When I was cast as Yoruichi earlier this year, I knew I had to mentally prepare myself for backlash,” Quiñones wrote. “I was excited as someone who grew up watching Bleach, and excited for the POC community who had seen themselves in her. I was determined to do my best.”

Jamieson Price, who was the original voice of Bleach’s Sado “Chad” Yasutora, a character of Mexican and Japanese descent, stated back in November that he would not be voicing Chad in Thousand-Year Blood War, saying that he no longer auditions for roles for characters of color.

“Access to opportunity in Anime has not been equal,” he posted on X. “By stepping aside now I open the door of Access and give opportunity to an actor who can represent Yasutora Sado with the same love and pride and imagination but with more life experience than I have.”

Chad is now voiced by Alain Mesa, a performer of Cuban descent.

Quiñones’ casting, then, was seen by fans and voice performers as another inroad to diversify voice acting spaces, which have been dominated, like many other spheres of entertainment — especially genre entertainment — by white performers.

Viz’s decision to bring Lee back comes at a time when other production companies have similarly found themselves facing criticism from fans displeased with the addition of Black cast members. Hobbits Elijah Wood and Sean Astin spoke out against racist attacks on the Black and Brown actors cast in Amazon’s Rings of Power series. Ewan McGregor similarly spoke out when racists attacked Black actress Moses Ingram for her performance in Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, defended Black actress Leah Jeffries when she faced racist abuse for her casting as Annabeth Chase in the Disney adaptation. “You are judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks,” he wrote. “She is a Black girl playing someone who was described in the books as white. Friends, that is racism.”

As for Bleach, after days of back-and-forth, Wendee Lee apologized, saying, “Wishing Anairis the very best. I reached out & apologized. Mistakenly assumed my colleagues knew I originated the role and felt unsupported by the disappointment expressed in their comments [regarding] the cast change. Apologies, and heartfelt well wishes to Anairis. Welcome to the cast.”

Quiñones responded to the apology, “I recognize [and] appreciate you’ve reached out privately to apologize for how your replies made the situation ‘blow up.’ But this started the moment I made my casting announcement. I understand where you’re coming from, but your words were unkind towards my peers.”

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