How Do Anime Staff Feel About Working On Controversial Anime?
by Justin Sevakis,
Lots of anime has extreme amounts of violence, adult situations and abuse of its characters, or a combination of all three. At the top of my head the (in)famous Future Diary/Mirai Nikki and the most recent Happy Sugar Life. How does the staff feel about making these kind of shows? They seem certain to attract criticism simply based on what they're depicting.
Like everything in life and the anime business... it depends. Everybody is an individual, everyone has their own standards and levels of comfort, and everyone has their own tastes. But also, not everybody has the same job and experiences the show in the same way.
Animators, specifically, often don't even see an entire episode's script or storyboard, and even if they did, they don't really have time to go through it, and it's not their job. Their job is to animate the handful of "cuts" that they are assigned, which is literally seconds of the show. In my experience interviewing animators and in other interviews I've read, animators are rarely concerned with scenes that they're not a part of.
When it comes to the cut they're animating, directors and animation directors try to give cuts to people that are best at drawing them, and that often aligns with that artist's tastes and interests. Some animators are gore-hounds, and they're going to be best at drawing dripping gore. Some are really into military gear. Some are really into boobs. One of the more interesting parts of the Japanese system of animation is that each animator gets to let their personalities and artistic individualism shine through their work, in a small way. That's one of the chief appeals of "sakuga" fandom - if you study one animator enough, you can really tell what they're into and where their specialties lie.
Which isn't to say that they ALWAYS get assigned to shows and cuts that they like or enjoy. But they're professionals, and they're hired to do a job. Most animators won't see the final product and really grasp what's going on in the story until the episode actually airs. I've heard plenty of stories of animators watching an episode they worked on, and reacting with, "ugh, I didn't understand any of that!" or "MAN this show really isn't for me." But they keep working hard on it, because that's what it means to be a professional.
Anime has never been exclusively G-rated, and there are very, very few television anime that are brutal enough to really bother most adults who have been around anime for any length of time. Anyone working in the anime business knows what sort of things get animated, and most don't really have much control over what they get hired to work on. They take what they can get. It's work. It's part of being a grown-up in the entertainment biz.
Voice actors, especially junior ones, especially have to take what they can get. This can sometimes lead to regrets about it later, particularly when it comes to adult material. Kikuko Inoue famously asked a licensor not to allow the original Japanese voice track to the softcore hentai OVA Ogenki Clinic to be re-released, out of embarrassment over her participation in that title. But such favors are big asks, and it's very rare for a voice actor to ask for something like that.
People who balk at doing jobs they're hired to do, or being a big pain in the butt for their co-workers and superiors because they don't like the content, often damages your career. That's true of nearly every aspect of the media business. This isn't exclusive to Japan or Japanese people working on anime. I certainly don't enjoy every title I've worked on, and I REALLY wish I didn't have to work on some of the more disturbing hentai that was so prominent in my early career. But I kept my head down and I did my best, which is what most creative professionals do in these situations.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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