A variant of He Who Must Not Be Seen. The Voice describes characters who are heard but never seen. In older time periods, they are on the other side of telephones; later on, they are brought to you by eerie Surround Sound. If the adventure is of a magical or spiritual bent, it may literally be the voice in your head. Is it a guardian angel or something rather more sinister? More often than not the very omnipotence the Voice commands puts it beyond the petty scrabblings of mortal morality.
The Voice is in fact a level up from The Faceless because whereas we have a vague idea of what we're dealing with in the latter, the former could be anything. An agent of the secret service? The organisation we are supposedly fighting?A mad computer?You from the future? Whatever it is, it's an authority so powerful that it does not even have to appear in person to see its will made flesh; just its distinctive dulcet tones are enough for the characters to quickly jump to. This trope is happy to appear on the heroes' side just as much as the villains', but it must be said that Evil is far fonder of it, for the simple reason that Nothing Is Scarier. In cases such as these, bear in mind that Evil Sounds Deep and you know you're in serious trouble when you're being addressed by the Voice of the Legion.
On the good side, this trope can easily be played for comic relief. Perhaps it is the heroes' overbearing mother, calling at an inappropriate time to ask why he doesn't keep in touch. Maybe it is a bumbling Obstructive Bureaucrat, wanting to know why the hero isn't playing by the rulebook. In these cases, the trope is used to highlight how out of touch the comic relief character is with how things are going down on the street, and how detached our hero has become with the mundane.
Occasionally, especially in cartoons, The Voice will also be The Unintelligible. This is often an authority figure, who calls up (with coincidental timing) to chew out the main character. As with The Unseen, the funny part is the reactions from the on-screen character.
In parodies, these characters are frequently the target of gags that posit ridiculous or unexpected appearances they might actually have. If the voice actor is well known, this may be a variant of Hey, It's That Voice! The opposite trope is The Voiceless, in which the character is seen but not heard.
Not to be confused with the Talent ShowThe Voice, or the Thu'um.
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Anime and Manga
Morgana Mode Gone from .hack//SIGN. We don't even hear her name in the series, she is just an omnipresent, powerful, resentful force; presented as a woman's voice. (Technically, she's in the credits, and her existence is explained in the games.)
Well, we do see Lorenz Kiel/Kiel Lorenz (which is his given name and which is his surname is one of Evangelion's lesser mysteries).
In an early episode we see all of them, we just have no clue as to their identities and importance yet.
Throughout the series, quiet scenes set in the hospital feature an intercom voice making announcements, paging hospital staff, etc. It's never attached to a human being, and in fact the hospital staff are barely if ever seen onscreen. Inside NERV headquarters, the CPU also has a voice that announces whatever is going on, even after all but four of NERV's staff have been killed.
Asuka's stepmother is heard but never physically appears. She makes her first full appearance in the manga adaptation of the show.
Tieria Erde ultimately becomes this in Gundam 00, after his body is shot to death but he uploads his conscience into VEDA.
Worth mentioning is the Metatron from Dogma, who's nominally the Voice of God (and referred to by one character simply as "The Voice"), but shows up in the bodily form of Alan Rickman for several scenes in the movie.
Bill in Kill Bill: Vol 1. We finally see his face in the second film.
Hermie's mother in Summer of '42 (dubbed by Maureen Stapleton).
Rosemary's Baby — Donald Baumgart, the actor who Guy takes over for after he's blinded (dubbed by Tony Curtis).
Nearly everyone other than the main character, Leon, in The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh: Every character he directly speaks with is a voice on the phone, or, in one case, an unseen person on the other side of the front door. Even when we eventually see the title character in person, we hear her giving Posthumous Narration rather than speaking aloud.
The leader of the racketeers in the first of The Green Hornet Serials delivers his orders via an intercom in the office of his second-in-command Monroe. Actually, Monroe himself is the boss, using pre-recorded orders as a cover.
"Father" in The Sacrament is only heard over an intercom for the first half of the film.
Mad Max. An unseen female dispatcher primly announces directives that bear little relevance to the brutal gang-plagued world the underfunded Main Force Patrol is trying to keep in line.
The Captains of the Hall have asked that pursuit officers refrain from using the slang "Bronze" for the Main Force Patrol. The word is considered disrespectful and citizens should be actively discouraged from its use.
Mister Roberts. At regular intervals an unseen crewmember laconically announces "Now hear this, now hear this" followed by Captain Morton's latest act of petty tyranny.
On Emergency! actual Los Angeles County Fire Department dispactcher Sam Lanier was the voice heard when the tones sounded, directing Station 51 -and, with large fires, other stations to the incident. The scene would always be the same. The station's tones (alarm) would sound, followed by Lanier's voice announcing which units were being dispatched, the nature of the call (fire, traffic accident, medical emergency, etc.), the address, the nearest cross-street and the time of the call. Lanier would also be heard answering whenever a firefighter character called into dispatch (Typical exchange would be as follows. Gage: "L.A., this is Squad 51." Lanier: "Go ahead, 51.")
Likewise, in Adam-12 (also by Jack Webb), the dispatcher was played by actual LAPD dispatcher Sharron Claridge.
The Big Bad of early 1960s BBC aviation adventure series Garry Halliday was credited simply as The Voice.
Charlie from Charlie's Angels (dubbed by John Forsythe in the original series and movies; replaced by Victor Garber in the revival).
Mr. Bell from the first season of The Drew Carey Show. Voiced by Kevin Pollak, who made an appearance in the flesh in the season finale, in which the character was fired (and replaced the following season by the better-known Mr. Wick).
Carlton the Doorman from Rhoda (occasionally appeared as The Faceless) (dubbed by the late Lorenzo Music, Jr., who was a writer on the show and would later do the voices of Garfield and Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters, among other roles)
Lorenzo Music would revive Carleton in an animated show called Carleton Your Doorman, in which Carleton was a beer-swilling layabout who was being sexually harrassed by one of the building's tenants. Carleton also had a cat named Ringo, whom he tried to disguise as a dog at one point.
Dr. Kahn, the camp director in Salute Your Shorts, who is only ever heard making announcements over the camp PA system. (Lampshaded in one episode where a briefly-seen issue of the camp newspaper has the headline "Dr. Kahn: Man or Myth?")
The Magic Voice from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Pretty much all we know is she had advance notice of commercial sign, she turned into an energy being when the ship hit the edge of the universe, and she doesn't get along very well with other disembodied voices, especially creepy ones who talk about sleeping with 80-year-old women.
The Big Bad of the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise was only ever shown in silhouette; the official character name was "Humanoid Figure", while a particularly snarky viewer dubbed him "Future Guy" (which quickly caught on; even Memory Alpha used the name for a while). His true identity was never revealed.
Voice, which only communicates with Hel through an implant in her jaw, in Cleopatra 2525. However, Voice did appear on camera in the Series Finale.
The PA announcer in M*A*S*H. Sometimes problematical when such an announcement came right before or after a scene set in the clerk's office, where the microphone for the PA was located. Was the announcer broadcasting from a second location, or just invisible?
The announcer was voiced by a couple different actors during the show's run, both of whom actually did appear onscreen in an episode each... but playing other characters.
This is carried over from the film, where the PA system was used to tie scenes together as a "fix" for a film that all involved believed to be too choppy.
The PA announcer is quite unique in that he's a completely peripheral character whose only role is to announce news, and whom no one ever names or even discusses, but still has a distinct personality — perky, cheerful, a long-suffering smartass, eternally flippant about the horrors of war no matter how dire the news he is announcing is, and quite harshly sarcastic about the camp and its inhabitants, often insulting higher-ranking officers.
The episode "Who Knew?" centers around a nurse who is killed by a landmine while taking a late-night stroll after a tryst with Hawkeye. While we never see her onscreen (she's already died when the episode begins), we do hear her voice narrating her diary, which Hawkeye (who's been assigned with delivering her eulogy) reads while trying to find out more about her.
Howard's mother. Later episodes like to tease the viewers further by having her in circumstances where she could logically appear. In one episode the only thing between the audience and her was a curtain while she was trying on clothes. Another episode had her show up at Leonard's apartment the morning after the gang had played 48 straight hours of a Star Wars MMO RPG, and ended just as she was about to enter. In 'The Spoiler Alert Segmentation', she finally appears. In the background. And we don't see her face.
The trope was also subverted in one episode, when Raj fell in love with the voice of Siri in his iPhone and dreamed he went to Apple headquarters to meet her, thus showing the world the face behind that snarky little voice.
Margaret on Little Britain. The fact that she never comes out from the back to actually help in person is justified by the revelation that she has no arms or legs.
Rasputin, the Petrovskys' Russian wolfhound on Ivan the Terrible (1976), was never allowed out of the bedroom out of which came his savage barking.
The Boss Man on The Latest Buzz; only ever heard as a voice at the other end of D.J.'s telephone.
Donny on Trailer Park Boys (actually voiced by the actor who plays Bubbles). Always off screen complaining about the various antics in Sunnydale, most famously "What in the fuck?" and "Fuck off with the guns!"
In Alpha House Gil John's wife is heard only by phone from his district where she is running his campaign.
Everyone besides the three main characters in Arnold is this.
FoxTrot has had a few over the years, including Miss Grinchley (Jason's original teacher) and Denise's parents.
Actually, there were at least two strips where Grinchley was seen. One of them can be seen here.
While adults were famously absent from Peanuts, a few early strips featured off-panel dialogue from Linus and Lucy's parents.
Doonesbury used to depict the President or other real-life political figures in this manner, although this was eventually discarded in favor of depicting them on the page via symbolic icons (a waffle for Bill Clinton, a battered centurion's helmet for George W. Bush, etc.).
Dead Inside has The Voice as a tool for the GM to use to give the players hints as to what their characters should be doing next to solve the current situation. It's stated that nobody has ever seen the speaker of The Voice, nobody knows what it is, but it's suggested that it might be the literal Voice of the game-universe's God.
The Angel in the first part of Angels In America, right until her Big Entrance at the very end. She's even credited earlier on in the script as "The Voice". There are also a couple of pre-recorded announcer bits played in the second part, for which the same actress usually provides voice again.
Ed Sullivan in Bye Bye Birdie. (The movie, unlike the original production, had Ed Sullivan As Himself, but he appeared in person.)
Cyrano de Bergerac: At act I Scene III, The play notes only show "A Voice" to describe the person threatening Montfleury, and Le Bret, terrified, indentifies it as Cyrano’s voice. Only at the end of the scene we see our protagonist:
A voice(from the middle of the pit): Villain! Did I not forbid you to show your face here for a month?
A professional run of The Merchant of Venice turned Tubal into this by having him call Shylock, rather than speak with him in person. This was meant to heighten the idea that Shylock is utterly alone—his only friend is that faraway voice on the other end of the telephone who can offer no help.
Similarly, one reading/performance of Hamlet takes a philosophical conversation between Hamlet and Horatio from the "bad" quarto and inserts it at the beginning; Hamlet, being a teen Nietzsche Wannabe, runs a tape recorder so that he can listen to the discussion again. When he turns it on a few scenes later, he's horrified to hear the voice of his father's ghost speaking to him through the static...
The title character of Paul Bunyan, whose non-appearance is made even more mysterious by being a speaking role in an opera.
Ninten's father from MOTHER is the same way, at least in the original Japanese version. The unreleased translation (and later the GBA remake) add a scene that shows him calling Ninten from a phone booth.
Fuse from Space Channel 5, who never appears on screen because he's back at the station.
In a variant, one of the many creepy presences in The Lost Crown can be overheard typing near the phone booth on Station Lane. Peeking in a nearby window gives you a look at an old manual typewriter, but also causes the sounds to fall silent so long as you're watching it, suggesting that the presence, whether living or ghostly, doesn't want to be spied on.
Sparkly the Crow from Dark Souls. She asks you to leave warm and soft items in her nest, and when you quit and log back on, they've been exchanged.
The recorded voice of a woman is heard at the beginning of each game in the Dark Parables series, explaining to the detective just what fairy tale mystery is about to unfold. She's never identified, but is presumably the game's Mission Control.
Messiah has a voice occasionally speak to you to guide you throughout the game. It claims to be someone who is on your side, but imprisoned and helpless. Turns out, it's Satan himself, using you as an unwitting pawn. He continues speaking to you after you discover this, though just to taunt you.
In Higurashi: When They Cry: Hanyuu is the mysterious voice that we usually hear about. Even when she appears, she's invisible to everyone except Rika until the last arc.
In the Murder MysteryVisual NovelJisei, a mysterious voice helps the protagonist with his mystery. She happens to be a telepath who can communicate with the protagonist via his mind and thoughts.
Ultra Fast Pony has an unknown and unseen pony who heckles all of Mayor Mare's speeches. Also, Twilight Sparkle is reduced to just a voice in "Sister Angst"—for the whole episode, she hangs around just off-screen and shouts at Rarity at the most awkward times.
In The Chapel Chronicles, the readers never see any character who isn't Chapel, her brother, or her pet hedgehog (unless one counts her Alice in Wonderland-themed fantasy, and even then Lady Gaga/the Red Queen is only heard and not seen). Sometimes they communicate with Chapel by yelling from another room, sometimes she overhears their conversations, and sometimes she talks with them on the phone, but most often the artist composes the scene in such a way that they're just off-panel.
Ted's wife in Red Meat is always off-screen when talking.
SFDebris: Picture? There is no picture! Cameras steal your soul! This is all you're getting.
In NoobYstos and Sparadrap's grandomther is sometimes heard but never seen.
Welcome to Night Vale is radio show-esque podcast wherein all of the events are narrated by the Night Vale Community Radio announcer, Cecil Palmer. The credits at the end of each episode even refer to him as "the voice of Night Vale".
And of course, since this isn't a visual medium, every other character who gets a speaking role, including Carlos the Scientist, Kevin, Dana the Intern, Hiram Mc Danials the five-headed dragon, and the Faceless Old Woman who Lives in Your House also count.
Almost every Peanuts TV special or show featured appearances by adults who stood just offscreen and whose "voices" were dubbed by muted trombones ("wah mwah mamahh mwaaaah mm waahhm wahaah," etc.).
The Thing Upstairs from British Claymation series The Trap Door is never seen but is frequently heard bellowing orders. In the one episode where he is seen, it turns out he's an Eldritch Abomination (a writhing pink sack with Extra Eyes, to be specific).
Potsworth And Company — The Nightmare Prince's Mother. The two of them interact the same way Dick Dastardly does in the above mentioned series.
On the new PBS Kids series The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, both of the main characters' mothers were this, but only for the first few episodes. After that, the creators of the show apparently changed their mind and decided to actually show the mothers most of the time.
In a surprisingly dark The Pink Panther cartoon, "Pink Panzer", the Pink Panther is shown listening to a calm voice, telling him that he should take his lawnmower back from his neighbor. The voice becomes increasingly conniving, and tells him to do terrible things to him when his neighbor doesn't return them. The voice also tells the neighbor to get back at him. This escalates to the neighbor calling in the National Guard, and the two start a war. Subverted when the voice turns out to be the devil, and reminds the viewer to return the lawnmower they borrowed.
Two other cartoons had an unseen voice communicating with the Panther. "Pinkfinger" convinces the Panther he'd make a terrific secret agent, while "Shocking Pink" had the voice browbeating the Panther into doing things around the house instead of lying around in a hammock.