Back in 2015, I covered and analyzed the poor wages and working conditions animators face. It’s a known fact that animators are paid very little, they work long hours, and receive little free time. Since then, I wonder how things progressed since then. Have they improved?
Last year, an article finally released in April at Wave Motion Cannon. This important article was translated by Frog-kun, who maintains an anime blog called Fantastic Memes. It focuses on the issues with Anime Production published in the Harbor Business Online on October 10, 2016. Judging from the title, it’s obvious that very little have improved since I wrote the first editorial in the series in 2015. In fact, things became worse in many ways I will analyze.
Increasing Productions, Overworked Animators, and Low Pay
Evolution of the number of anime TV shows and anime movies in Japan. pic.twitter.com/4dvcHUMx2u
— ThomasRomain ロマン・トマ (@Thomasintokyo) March 31, 2017
First off, it’s not surprising why working conditions are not improving. Given the number of shows that air during a given season, the industry doesn’t have enough capacity. It’s mostly due to the animator shortage. With the chart shown above, which Thomas Romain created, it shows that the number of shows keeps on raising with each year. In 2015, there were 108 continuous shows and 233 new shows aired during the year.
The increase in productions can explain the poor working conditions. According to the Harbor Business Online article, animators have to take on more work than they can handle. Furthermore, layouts and key animations usually takes 4-6 weeks, but now some projects demand to have it done one week. In a NHK program that focuses on the animation industry, an in-between animator receive only 200 yen. Each in-between can only produce typically 20 illustrations a day, meaning that he or she can earn 4000 yen a day ($37). In comparison to the Harbor Business article, animators only receive a few thousand yen for a single cut.
Given that most animators are freelance, they obviously won’t receive any benefits. In some cases, they can only work for a certain company’s project despite not being an actual employee. This is meant to cut costs for the animation studio. As a result, freelancing in a way allows studios can bypass existing labor laws and regulations. This is because most animators are not actual employees since they are freelancers.
Regardless of how the similarities in pay, animators hardly make any money. As the Harbor Business Online article explains, animators usually take on multiple projects to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this problem worsens as the number of production minutes are going up. This is mostly due to digitization, resulting an increase of new shows for a given season on top of the current ones.
Obviously, this leaves little time for new comers who are trying to learn their trade from their mentors. Instead of training, they receive leftover animation work. From their lack of experience, he or she will do a poor job. In most cases, this leave others having to perform rework to correct the illustration so it have an acceptable quality.
Given the decentralized management of animators due to most being freelance and animators working on multiple projects, it can become difficult to meet deadlines. Not only the quality can drop, it can cause production delays that lead to delays in broadcasting. According to the Harbor Business Online article, three fall 2016 anime shows were unable to meet regular broadcast deadlines. This is before episode 3 scheduled to air.
It’s understandable that when a show starts airing, the schedules usually become tighter. While studios might work ahead of schedule to avoid this, it’s usually rare. Given that animators overwork themselves and newcomers lacking experience to create quality illustration, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If someone falls behind due to an illness or being unable to keep up the pace, the whole production suffers.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. This problem in the industry also affects other occupations too. According to an Anime News Network article, a 20-year-old Anime Technical director, Nishimura Taiki takes home a monthly income of 100,000 yen. This amounts to about $932 with $1 equaling ¥107.33 on February 20, 2018. He needs about 150,000 yen ($1,397) to 200,000 yen ($1,863) to stay afloat. He makes at least 230,000 yen ($2,142) per anime production, which takes two months to complete. In other words, he needs to work two projects to make 230,000 yen ($2,142) a month.
This makes you wonder, why would anyone work in the animation industry in Japan? Not only the working conditions are deplorable, the salary alone will deter most perspective artists. In other words, most will work in related fields like video games since it pays more. In the video game industry in Japan, a technical artist earns 5,817,000 yen ($54,197) while a regular artist earn 4,451,000 yen ($41,470) according to this survey. Compared to 1,100,000 yen ($10,249) or even less an animator earns in Japan, this also explains the shortage. People don’t want to earn peanuts for their work, even if they are passionate about anime. Excluding the birthdate drop issue, this worsens the bleeding of talent in the industry with no end in sight. That is if nothing changes.
What are the current and proposed solutions?
There have been efforts to alleviate the animator’s burden financially. The Animators Supporters nonprofit organization opened up a crowdfunding campaign that was successful. This involves creating and renting out low-cost dorms costing around 20,000 to 30,000 yen ($186 to $280) a month. However, I feel that this is putting a band-aid on a big wound. While it reduces the financial burden on the animator, it does not solve the salary and work condition problems.
Of course, this is not the only solution to the problem as other people came up with plans on dealing with this issue.
Another proposed solution is turning to cryptocurrencies for funding. If you don’t know what cryptocurrencies are, it’s a type of digital currency. Cryptocurrencies uses cryptographic algorithms to regulate the supply of money and verify transactions. They work in a decentralized manner and don’t have a central bank. In recent years, popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum jumped up in value due to speculation.
Obviously, Japan entered into the cryptocurrency craze since it’s futuristic. Now, a Japanese company, Tokyo Otaku Mode wants to launch a cryptocurrency called Otaku Coin. Theoretically, one can use this cryptocurrency to buy merchandise or supporting animation studios, producers and animators. Seems like a good idea, right?
Well, there are many issues with this idea. First off, cryptocurrencies are not legal tender. Therefore, most people and businesses will not accept it. Those that accept cryptocurrency, only a handful exist. In other words, people who receive them would have to convert them into actual money in order to spend it. In short, it defeats the whole purpose of most cryptocurrencies.
Given how volatile cryptocurrency is, the actual price of one coin can be more or less in a short period of time. As a result, cryptocurrency is not feasible as currency currently. Moreover, there is environmental and other impacts as well. While some cryptocurrencies don’t use computers and work more like savings accounts, most cryptocurrencies use Proof of Work, which is also known as mining. This allows users to use computers with graphics cards to have them perform useless calculations to verify transactions. In return, a person receives a small amount of cryptocurrency.
Since mining use a lot of energy, it can impact the electrical infrastructure and the environment. In addition, cryptocurrency have impacted PC gaming market. Since there are people who want to become rich quick, they buy out all the high-end and mid-ranged graphics cards. As a result, building a desktop computer have become infeasible for most people due to the very high cost of graphics cards. This have in turn hurt the growth of PC gaming, thus forcing people to turn to consoles.
Lastly, the security surrounding cryptocurrency is non-existent. There are several instances where cryptocurrency exchanges lost cryptocurrency due to a security breaches. A recent example is the Coincheck breach, which resulted in a loss of 58 billion yen. In addition, most governments around the world wants to either regulate cryptocurrency or ban it. With that in mind, I think that creating a cryptocurrency like Otakucoin is a terrible idea for these reasons alone and many more.
Political Action, Industry Reform, and Unionization
So, what other feasible ideas should the anime industry take? Partnerships such as the ones we seen from Netflix and Crunchyroll along with crowdfunding efforts definitely helped. In the end, workers need to unionize and start fighting for better working conditions and wages. Sure, there are animation labor unions. However, most unionized workers don’t receive work since connections matter more in Japan. To change this, each worker would have to form unions and fight the system. Aside from unionizing, people need to demand political action or run for office on these issues.
Moreover, production companies and committees shouldn’t profit off the production entirely at the expense of animation studios and its workers. As seen in one of the charts in one of NHK’s program, Close-Up Gendai+, animation studios only receive a small chunk as seen with the yellow bar.
Obviously, not only this is unfair, but immoral. Why animation studios, producers, animators and other staff have to suffer because the people at the top want all the money? In my opinion, there needs to be reform so workers in the industry can earn a living wage instead of people at the top taking it all. Maybe there needs to be a new regulation that requires production companies and companies to pay a reasonable percentage to studios so they can provide livable wages to their workers. Either way you look at it, if the industry doesn’t reform itself, the problem will become worse until the it implode under its weight.
Reducing the Amount of New Shows For Each Season
Lastly, I think the industry as a whole need to take a breather and not produce many shows at one time. One way they can do this is by reducing the number of new shows to 10 to 30 each season. This would reduce the fatigue animators face from overwork. Also, it would resolve production issues like missing broadcasting deadlines as mentioned earlier.
At the end of the day, the anime industry is a very profitable entertainment industry. We have seen its popularity around the world. With that, I don’t see why production companies and committees have to take everything and leave studios the crumbs. Maybe studios should start funding their own productions and cut out the middle man to change this. That way, studios can easily pay their workers better. Either way you look at it, finding a viable solution that benefits everyone in the industry won’t be easy. There is one point that stands, the status quo cannot remain any longer. Things eventually have to change and hopefully for the better,
With that, how do feel about the treatment of animators? What solutions would you propose to resolve this issue? Feel free to share them in the comments. ¶