Anime Production Issues: A Working Environment that isn’t Improving

The following article was originally published Harbor Business Online October 10th, 2016. Co-funding and organization for this translation was courtesy of The Canipa Effect. This interview was translated by Twitter user @frog_kun © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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Harbor Business Online is a Japanese business outlet, aimed specifically at young businessmen. Not only is HBO for managers who already consume business media, it also provides “life hacks” and “essential know-how” for young, struggling businessmen.

This report is based on an anonymous industry insider who contacted the outlet about issues within the anime production environment.

Three broadcast extensions in one month…

Something strange has been with the Fall anime of 2016. Occultic;Nine started airing on TV on October 8th, but the first two episodes were removed from streaming services like AbemaTV and GYAO on the 21st. Other anime shows like Long Riders! and Brave Witches have announced broadcast delays due to production scheduling issues.

Why have these delays and interruptions been happening one after another? An industry insider reveals that there have been whisperings of a “2016 Crisis” since last year.

“The situation has been getting worse. These days, the number of anime shows being produced is exceeding what the industry can handle. There are many animators who have no choice but to take on more work than they can handle, and it came to a head this year. For example, layouts and key animation are supposed to take 4-6 weeks at minimum. But these days, there are hardly any projects with that much time to spare in their schedules. Some projects even demand that the layouts and key animation be finished in one week. People were saying that we hit the breaking point a few years ago, but the situation has gotten even worse since then.”

The harsh working conditions of animators were also described as a contributing factor to the current environment.

The harsh working environment fails as a training ground for young animators

“Animators in particular are paid only a few thousand yen for a single cut, which includes layouts and key animation. It’s much too low. That’s why animators take on multiple projects to limit the amount of time they’re not earning anything. This is another reason behind the bottlenecks in production.

“Many animators also work freelance, and the industry lacks the manpower to train young blood. Because of that, there are more animators these days who don’t even know the fundamentals of their craft. When the work piles up and the schedule is nonexistent, even the rank amateurs are asked to take on tasks. Unfortunately, this results in shoddily produced animation, and the animation director has to shoulder the burden. If it weren’t for animation directors and their corrections, today’s anime would have no quality whatsoever.”

“Also, a TV anime project these days usually has about twenty animators working on it, and someone has to manage them and keep the project moving. I mentioned before that many animators work freelance, meaning that they work at all hours in the day. Some of them can’t keep a schedule, or the way they do things doesn’t gel with how others do it. Keeping track of such a large number of animators causes an immense strain on the production. If one person falls behind on schedule, the others can work harder to pick up the pace, but it makes the schedule more vulnerable to a complete collapse.”

It’s becoming more common to drop broadcast slots

In the aforementioned cases of broadcast delay, it wasn’t just the main broadcasters that attracted attention but local stations like Tokyo MX as well.

“These days, UHF has become the go-to anime broadcaster, so producers are becoming more inclined to ‘drop’ a broadcast slot from other stations. Of course, there were cases of anime broadcasts being cancelled in the past too, but the Tokyo-based broadcasters, including TV Tokyo, were more stringent for obvious reasons.

With the three Fall 2016 anime shows in particular, they were unable to meet the regular broadcast deadlines at around the episode 3 mark. It’s normal for schedules to get tighter as the episodes go on, and that’s why it makes quite a serious impression when the schedule falls off the rails from the beginning. Wouldn’t that mean the schedule was fundamentally screwed?”

“The industry must know that it needs to change”

And things have not been improving.

“The Agency for Cultural Affairs has been giving anime more prestige at art festivals and so on. Furthermore, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has been pushing anime overseas through the Cool Japan initiative. Japanese anime might be receiving government support indirectly, but before the structure of the industry can change, the industry must know that it needs to change. So who will carry the banner of change? As long as everyone is rushing around to fit the broadcast schedules, they won’t be able to do anything else. That’s the truth of the matter.”

It goes without saying that the film Your Name was a historical hit. And judging by anime’s use as a PR tool for the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, even the government has been utilizing the anime industry as part of “Cool Japan.” But it’s one thing for the government to use the finished products for their convenience—the harsh working conditions for creators need drastic reform. These days, the industry is like a house of straw that could fall over at any moment.

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Add yours →

  1. FierceAlchemist April 25, 2017 — 3:28 am

    The frustrating part is that everyone in the industry knows that the current system is unsustainable, yet no one seems to have an answer. The international demand for anime is higher than ever, thus leading to all these shows being made every season, yet it doesn’t seem like all that extra money is making its way back to the studios themselves, only tighter schedules.

    The more long term problem though is the lack of young talent. Thanks to the bad pay and lack of much training, most newbies leave the industry within 3 years. I can’t really blame them, but that combined with Japan’s declining birth rate means anime is going to be in a real tough spot in 10 or 20 years when the well of talent in the industry will be very small.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s just sad that the issue is very well known within the industry, they know it more than anyone else they’re living and enduring it. But the worst thing is that no matter what they try no fix seems possible, as if they people that can fix it just don’t care.
    Like when Masayuki Kawachi’s union which was joined by various other sources, banded together and sent outlines on the issues and possible solutions to the government only to receive zero response. It really does make this picture where they’ve truly tried everything, they’ve tried crowdfunding which can only take you so far. Spreading awareness. TV Tokyo partnering with Crunchyroll. Starting projects to bring in new animators and other projects to help out working animators.
    Nothing ever appears to work, articles and interviews go back all the way through various years even to the 90’s, of creators complaining about the predicament of their situation. Honestly that straw house may need to topple down before anything can be done, if it takes something drastic to create change it may be necessary at this point. It’s simply not sustainable.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Welp, this is depressing. I knew this was a thing, but seeing it spelt out like this paints a very gloomy picture.
    Great translation!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So this says the system is ‘unsustainable’, but what does that look like in the end, exactly? The anime industry has always been a production hellhole burning people out fast for the same reasons that media and athletic industries usually are – too many people doing it for love rather than money, so they don’t get any money. This is too bad but it’s nothing new. The anime gets made year after year regardless.

    What would we see when the anime studies finally burn through whatever it is they are supposed to be burning through unsustainably to produce so many anime? Would we see a Year Without Anime? That seems unlikely. There are no real interdependencies where one anime behind production schedule explodes the schedules of all the others and there is a mass implosion as scores of shows are unable to release anything; instead, a few shows will fall apart and their resources get cannibalized by the others to make their deadlines and the studios and commitees will retrench a little as they realize they went a bit too far. There’s no ‘bubble’ dynamics when it comes to making anime.

    The last time we saw any real implosion of the anime industry was back in the ’00s when the bubble burst, but what happened there wasn’t any ‘unsustainability’ on the supply side – there was plenty of capacity to make the anime – but what happened was far more fatal, the *demand* side collapsed as the buyers/advertisers couldn’t keep up and were financially exhausted with mounds of DVDs & manga stacking up unsold despite licensors like ADV paying idiotic amounts for mediocre anime, and then the industry collapsed. Ultimately, if the money is there, the anime will be made. Some episodes being delayed is embarassing but not fatal. Arguably, if there weren’t any delays that suggests that a few more anime could’ve been made with the slack capacity. If there really were issues, you would expect to read about animator wages being bid up substantially, but their wages are still risibly low. (You can’t have it both ways: there can’t be a huge number of burned out ex-animators, a huge shortage of animators endangering all of anime, *and* the per-cut fees continue to be infamously low.) The real concern here ought to be whether licensing fees and BD sales can keep up with the glut.

    The other argument here seems to be that the long-term supply of animators is in danger due to shrinking population, low wages etc. We’ve been hearing that one for decades and yet, more anime is being made now than, as far as I know, ever before in Japanese history. It’s hard to see how this one works. Japanese per capita GDP hasn’t been falling and rich populations will do what they love, while China and Korea continue to provide many new animators for outsourcing, and the Internet has made it easier for amateur animators to develop their craft & go pro (ANN had a nice feature on this just a few days ago), not to mention the benefits of computerized workflows.

    Liked by 1 person

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