Kyoko Kotani has worked as an animation director on over 70 series, including JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Kuroko no Basket, and Uta no Prince-sama. She has also worked as a key animator on over 150 series, including Durarara!!, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and The Last: Naruto the Movie.
Kotani’s years of experience in the industry led NetLab to interview her about working conditions in the industry and the increase in female employees. The interview was translated by idango at [Cries in Newtype].
Essentially, Kotani talks about how the growing demand of anime is putting a massive strain on studios, which has been leading to an increase in episode delays. She states, “…for who-knows-how-long, anime has been delivered the day before or the day of airing. I think there are even some production companies where cutting it close is the norm.”
Kotani elaborated that delays are a case-by-case basis, and can be caused by the director being late with storyboards, character designers not getting approval for their designs, or animation directors getting bottlenecked checking cuts. Unlike Western animation, which has teams working concurrently on various tasks, anime moves in a singular production line.
If one section is held up, then the entire production is put on hold until the issue is resolved. Most of the production issues are due to planning, and Kotani says that when it comes time to hire animators, it becomes a lottery for talent.
A majority of animators in Japan are freelancers who take on multiple jobs, so the talent pool an animation studio can pull from is constantly changing per episode. If you look at anime credits, you’ll notice that animators rarely work on sequential episodes. That’s because they are hired in groups: group 1 works on episode 1, group 2 works on episodes, and so on. This explains why the animation quality of a series can change on a weekly basis.
Kotani blames this on a combination of an increase in anime production, a stagnate talent pool, and unreasonable production schedules. She says the increase in anime has led to more studios cropping up, but it’s putting a strain on the industry since the number of animators is not increasing.
Kotani explains, “Most of the new companies are groups from existing companies going independent, or child companies, or even partnered companies. These companies are going up one after another, but new hires need time to cultivate their skills – increasing the amount of staff isn’t easy. In order not to increase their numbers, they work to the bone, understaffed, on an unrealistically tight schedule.”
Kotani suggests that increasing funding and staff numbers while lowering the amount of anime being produced would help ease this strain. But, since a lot of studios and animators are used to working in bad conditions with tight schedules, so the rationalize this method as being “successful.”
Kotani also said that anime isn’t as male-oriented as it was a decade ago. The number of female production assistants and animators has increased, with some studios having an 8:2 female to male employee ratio.
This has to do with a combination of women taking the time put portfolios together while job searching and an increase of interest in the field. According to surveys, middle school girls place being an animator or a mangaka in their top 2 job interests.
Kotani paints and an interesting picture of the current anime industry. Other animators and directors have also stated that the amount of anime production has to be lowered, while pay needs to be raised for animators. Until something changes on that front, we can expect more industry workers to speak out against the current system.
You can read the Kotani’s translated interview at [Cries in Newtype].