The anime industry is one filled with oxymorons. Anime has seen record revenue growth for three consecutive years, yet 25% of anime studios have recorded a net loss as of 2015. The news comes from an episode of Oikonomiya, which highlights that the number of studios losing money has increased by 5% since 2014.
Even more depressing is the dire situation young face when they choose to work in the industry. A few residents of the Tokyo Animator Dormitory, which is a non-profit group that offers low-income housing for animators, talked about how they only get paid $540 a month as an in-between artist. Even worse is that 80% of animators quit within their first three years because they can’t afford expenses or the burnout from the workload.
How is it that a $15.9 billion industry is home to failing studios and high turnover rates? The most common answer is the production committee. Anime creators have started to air out their grievances with this system, which gives publishers and merchandisers to the lion’s share of the profits while studios have to rely on decreasing disc sales.
Here are some creators that have criticized the system:
Osamu Yamasaki, director of Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East, has advocated for better work conditions for young animators. Society has romanticized the “starving artist” image, which groups take advantage of to justify paying animators below-poverty wages while demanding 10 hour work days.
Toshio Okada, the ex-President of Gainax, and director Yutaka Yamamoto (Wake Up, Girls!) held a joint seminar speaking about the injustice of the production committee system. Most members have no vested interest in the quality of the anime they are funding, and are happy with increased manga sales or sales of over-priced PVC figures. Despite China’s willingness to fund anime, a majority of committees refuse to work with investors because they don’t want to give up their 40% of profit control.
Kyoko Kotani, animation director for Kuroko no Basket, spoke about too many animation projects are being green-lit, which puts a strain on the pool of animators since there is no time for proper training. She also said the current production model is out-dated, which results in the increasing amount of episode delays.
Thomas Romaine, art director for Symphogear, has talked about how animation schools have been closing since interest in joining the industry has been falling among young people. He has also noted that any profits from merchandise goes to the right holders and not the animation studios.
Shiro Sasaki, President of ANiUTa, has been critical of the industry’s reliance on otaku and disc sales. A lot of money comes from licensing and international distribution, but only members of the production committee will see this money. Anime studios are often times excluded from being committee members, so they have to recoup costs from Blu-ray and DVD sales. Disc sales have been in a free-fall since 2006, which means studios have to rely on over-charging series for otaku fans at the risk of alienating general audiences. Sasaki feels this is unsustainable.
A report from the AEYAC, a non-profit organization, discovered that 53% of young animators rely on allowances from their parents. While this isn’t a problem per say, Japanese society has increasingly stigmatized this practice by labeling these people as “parasite singles” or “freeters.” Parasite singles was a label originally reserved for single women, but now includes men who rely on allowances to meet expenses. Freeters refers to people who work part-time or as contract workers.
Anime directors Mitsuo Iso (Dennou Coil) and Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon) revealed that even directors don’t get much, even if their work becomes a financial success.
Producer Marina Sasaki (Barakamon) attacked the misconception that fans can support studios by purchasing merchandise and the source material. She noted that those two revenue streams are great for the original creator and committee members, but offer no financial support to studios. Only disc sales go to the studios, but she noted that this is out-dated and that there are a lot of fans who are not willing to buy expensive sets.
It’s not all doom. Shiro Sasaki has said that there is increased interest in catering to the international market, which can help offset the loss made in Japan. Crowdfunded successes like In This Corner of the World can offer another way for creators to find funding.
Still, it seems the industry’s biggest concern should be the treatment of animators, which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.