Former Manga Assistant Talks About Past Exploitation

Mangaka Shunsuke Kakuishi (Yawara no Michelangelo) is kickstarted a conversation about the poor work conditions manga assistants face.

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He wrote a viral blog about his time working as an assistant under Norifusa Mita on Investor Z for 11 years and seven months. During this time, he and other assistants did not receive overtime pay and they would not always receive their scheduled three-days off.

The blog was published as a response to Mita’s interview with Yahoo! News Japan. Mita spoke about the positive work environment he created for his assistants, such as giving them three days off and prohibiting overtime. Mita also said he outsources to a design company, which further helps lighten the assistant team’s workload.

However, Kakuishi took exception to Mita’s claim about prohibiting overtime. According to Kakuishi’s timecards, he worked overtime hours every single week. Despite working eight-hour work days, the assistant team would typically clock out between 10:00 pm to 11:00 pm. During crunches, their hours would bleed into the early Friday hours – which were scheduled off days.

Manga assistants typically help draw backgrounds, off-model characters, objects, and inking.

Despite criticizing the unpaid overtime, Kakuishi did acknowledge that Mita provided a more positive workplace compared to other mangaka. Most assistants aren’t fortunate enough to have eight-hour work days or three days off a week.

Kakuishi wrote, “Although it’s much better than industry standards, it can’t be said that it was completely white. As for if it was a workplace that accurately conformed to the Labor Standards Act, I can’t really say it did.”

In Japan, “white companies” are used to label workplaces that value their employees, ensure their welfare, and properly pay them. In the past, the manga and anime industry has been labeled “black” due to their poor work conditions.

Kakuishi later wrote that while receiving his unpaid overtime dues would be nice, it’s more important to encourage other assistants to speak out against malpractice. He hopes other assistants will speak out without fear of punishment and the industry will take positive steps forward.

Mangaka-san to Assistant-san
Mangaka-san to Assistant-san is one of the few anime to depict manga assistants, albeit in a highly romanticized manner.

However, Kakuishi did receive some blowback. Mangaka Kyosuke Usuta (Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoi yo!! Masaru-san) claimed that Kakuishi misunderstood the industry. Usuta claimed that the “handful of professional assistants” receive high enough salaries to raise families with. He ended his tweet saying that assistants can freely choose their work and leave the industry if they are unsatisfied.

Kakuishi clapped-back, saying, “Usuta-senpai, I think the ones who misunderstand are the manga creators.” He alluded that Usuta’s tweet proves that mangaka exploits their assistants. Usuta would later delete his previous tweet criticizing Kakuishi’s blog.

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