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.