Working in the anime industry is a dream job for millions of fans and artists. You get work bringing your favorite characters and stories to life, with the hopes of gainful employment! But, as many animators and directors have noted in recent years, it’s not all sunshine for the people animating your favorite works.
NHK’s Close Up Gendai+ program ran an episode about the dark truths of the industry. The episode largely covered the financial problems animation studios face and harsh work conditions animators work under. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood director Yasuhiro Irie and Toray Corporate Business Research representative Naoki Atsumi appeared on the episode.
One of the key points the program emphasized was the financial disparity between the animation studios and production committees. Anime is a 2 trillion yen ($18.2 billion) industry, but a vast majority of the profits go to production committees and not the animation studios and animators.
The red bar represents the growing annual profits of the industry and the yellow bar represents the portion that animation studios receive. This disparity comes from the makeup of production committees, which are a group of businesses coming together to fund an anime.
Production committee members hold the IP licenses for an anime as well as merchandising and distribution rights. This means any revenue made from licensing, merchandising, and distribution does not often go to the animation studios but to the committee members.
It’s rare for animation studios to be a committee member, and often times, a studio is hired to produce the animation without having any say in the series.
The program also talked about the treatment of animators, especially in-betweeners. A typical 30-minute episode needs around 3,000 illustrations. An in-between artist is responsible for drawing the frames in-between key visuals, which is the portion that creates an illusion of movement. Typically, these animators are paid 200 yen ($2) per drawing.
The program theorizes that an animator can draw a max of 20 drawings a day, which can lead to a monthly income of 100,000 yen ($911).
Another issue is the work hours. The program cites a 2015 study conducted by the Japan Animation Creators Association (JAniCA), which reported that animators averaged 11 work hours per day and received 4 days off per month.
It was highlighted that one animator quit due to work-related depression. According to their log, they had 100 hours of overtime in a month. Keep in mind that this is past the karoshi (overwork death) threshold.
Two problems were pointed at that severely affects studios: only 15% of workers are full-time employees with benefits and there is a lack of “business knowledgeable” people in the industry who could help monetize things better.
NHK’s program did end with a glimmer of hope. They highlighted Polygon Pictures (Knights of Sidonia and BLAME!) as one of the better ran studios. The studio is notable for producing full CGI series and encouraging workers to leave at 10:00 pm.
While no new Earth-shattering information was revealed, the program did bring some of the dark issues the industry faces to general audiences.
Images via Yaraon!