Your Ultimate Guide to Anime Ending Credits: Part III

by Kevin Cirugeda,

It's been a while since the previous chapter of this guide following the ending credits of TV anime, attempting to shed some light into its production. Hopefully that break allowed everyone to catch up with the previous entries, because it's time for the third installment that will take us to the end of those credits.

The first group of tasks we tackled covered purely the actual animation process, while the second one focused on turning the animators’ output into fully finished scenes. This time we're going further behind the scenes to talk about management duties and briefly peeking into the stressful business of coordinating the production of anime. To begin with though, let's look at a creative step we hadn't talked about yet.

-Opening and ending animation credits:

In the middle portion of the credits we typically find information regarding the opening and ending animation. It's usually preceded by details about the songs themselves: the track's title, who performed it, as well as the composer (作曲), lyricist (作詞), arranger (編曲) and so on, though sometimes the opening song's credits may appear in the opening itself. These artists aren't chosen at random or necessarily because of creative reasons. In the rather frequent case that a music company is part of an upcoming show's production committee, it's not hard to guess who will sing its opening, since it's incredibly likely that they'll belong to the limited pool of recurring artists for that label (like Aniplex shows featuring their artists from Sony Music).

The actual credits for the sequences are a microcosm of anime production featuring the basic roles you would see in an episode, but on a smaller scale. A director and storyboarder plus the animation team is a given, but it can range from that barebones structure to detailing any of those roles we've described previously, like coloring, backgrounds and photography. This depends both on their thoroughness when it comes to explicitly crediting to the nature of the sequence; if the opening features the characters over solid colors, the background team obviously won't be listed because they were never involved. As a general rule openings will require a handful of key animators (and endings even less so), with an animation director and perhaps chief supervision. Having multiple supervisors and dozens of key animators isn't unheard of though, which is quite scary when you consider the short length; in instances like that they might have required a key animator for every cut or two to be able to get it done. Some sequences need to get finished fast.

There is no easy answer to “who is in charge of them?”, but there are some recurring patterns. The series director is obviously a likely candidate to direct the opening of their show, but if they're too busy they can relegate the task to someone else in the team. The best animators involved with the project and notable freelancers will undoubtedly show up; the opening has one minute and thirty seconds meant to immediately sell the series, so it's often going to have some of the best pieces of animation in the whole thing – sometimes actually better than the series’ peaks. Endings are largely less demanding due to their more laid-back style, but they still tend to be supervised by the character designer and/or chief animation director, making sure the drawings are very polished.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that animating a worthy intro isn't always feasible with the time and resources the main team has available, so they might instead reach out to unrelated parties. And considering how the industry works, this means it would be likely to end up in the hands of a friend of the director or producer. It's not just tight schedules that will cause this kind of outsourcing though, there are experts in this field that directors actively seek for their skills. People like Masahi Ishihama, Naoyoshi Shiotani and Ryouma Ebata have distinct styles and are renowned for producing memorable sequences, so their work is in high demand. Some of those experts are master animators as well, which means they can effectively produce those sequences by themselves. Perhaps not as impressive when it's just a series of beautiful still illustrations, but the endings directed, storyboarded and fully key animated by Norimitsu Suzuki are a legend in the anime industry for a reason.

While arrangements for those sequences can happen very ahead of time (for a recent example, Yasuomi Umetsu mentioned having received a request for a Winter 2017 opening in a blog post from April 2016), their actual production tends to happen rather late. The prescreen events that commonly occur a few weeks before a new series officially starts its broadcast might not feature those sequences even if the finished version of the episode does, simply because at that point they aren't necessarily finished yet. Even once the show is properly airing, the opening might feature placeholder art, rough animation that hasn't gotten around to being polished yet, or blatantly unfinished composite. That doesn't mean you can assume that every show missing an opening/ending early on is suffering production issues of course; some simply choose either to preserve the flow of the premiere episode or to avoid revealing important details too early. This guide is plagued with similar disclaimers for an obvious reason: no two productions function the same way, and what's usually a dangerous sign might be intentional and harmless when it comes to another project. Always keep that in mind, especially when looking at things from the (understandably) limited point of view of a fan.

-Production credits:

This encompasses all the various management, coordination and organization tasks. Talking about these matters is tricky because the disparity between projects depending on the company in charge is at its greatest here; simply based off comments from acquaintances I have noticed differences in the chain of command and hierarchy of the producers in different studios, and even within the same company things might work differently depending on the show. Let's keep it simple and talk about the roles that have the most direct input over the episode and that you'll find virtually every time:

Production Assistant (制作進行, Seisaku Shinkou), also known as Production Manager (制作マネージャー, Seisaku Manager):

The lowest producer rank, but an essential role nonetheless. Production Assistants follow every step of creation as they check and carry around materials, contact everyone involved and try to make sure the situation doesn't drift too far away from the planned schedule. They're the glue somehow keeping together the unbelievable number of departments, freelancers and companies involved in the production of just one episode. It's easy to sum up what their work is on paper, but listening to them you realize that what they end up doing is literally anything that is required to make sure an episode gets finished. That ranges from finding missing animators to physically delivering their work to other companies (still a big deal nowadays, well within the digital age). Anything is possible. Once they're done with the episode they somehow managed to finish,  they move onto another one from the same series until that project is over. There usually are a handful of them working in rotation for the entirety of a TV show.

Those who have seen Shirobako will quickly understand what it entails by pointing out this was Miyamori's role at the beginning of the series. And if you found that fairly realistic yet romanticized depiction of their work to be too stressful, remember: this is no joke.

Production Desk (制作デスク, Seisaku Desk), also known as Production Administrator (制作担当/製作担当, Seisaku Tantou) and/or Chief Manager (チーフマネージャー):

Unlike Production Assistants who work on a single episode at a time, Production Desks are in charge of a full series. There's less personal involvement in the retrieval of material and such, and instead they focus on managing the overall schedule, allocating the finances given, and generally making sure everyone is more or less on-track. They directly oversee the Production Assistants, and are often the ones who assign them their work at the beginning of the project. Participating in meetings with both the upper producer echelon and the assistants for progress reports is part of their routine as well.

Following the previous example, this was Miyamori's role in the second half of Shirobako. Had the series continued her path could have followed the producer road up to Line Producer, or moved onto creative fields by getting promoted to episode director – but we'll get to this later.

Design Production (設定制作, Settei Seisaku), also known as Design Control (設定管理, Settei Kanri) and/or Design Manager (設定マネージャー, Settei Manager):

During the production of a show there will be moments when the need for extra design work arises, and the person in charge of Design Production will contact the appropriate department, oversee their work and make sure it's delivered. This doesn't just entail designs for new minor characters, but also tasks for people like the prop designers, monster designers, or even background art designs if things change.

Production assistance (制作協力, Seisaku Kyouryoku; アニメーション制作協力, Animation Seisaku Kyouryoku) and general outsourcing credits:

The concept of subcontracting part of the workload to outside companies is by no means unique to anime, but there are many mistaken beliefs about what it means for this industry in particular. The credit to look out for is Production Assistance (制作協力) used at the end of an episode handled by a different studio than the norm, but I feel like it's best to do the myth busting groundwork first. Arguably the worst misconception (because of how off base it is, but also because of the casual racism it often involves) is that anime outsourcing just means subcontracting companies outside Japan to save some cash. Yes, it's true that studios from China, Korea, Indonesia and the Phillippines receive lots of work from Japan's anime industry. And yes, that's the same unscrupulous and criminally underpaying industry that jumps onto all chances to cut costs. But that doesn't mean you can ignore that most of anime outsourcing occurs within – surprise – Japan itself.

Who does the outsourcing then? Nearly everyone, and for nearly everyone. Even the most high profile studios are on both ends of the process, because in this messy situation it's impossible to produce TV anime fully in-house. A studio like BONES, renowned for their high quality and employing lots of talent in their own studio, still needs to regularly let other studios entirely handle their episodes. And on the opposite end you also find about every major animation company doing subcontracted work, even ones closer to self-sustainability than most like ufotable. Perhaps the most striking example in this regard is Sunrise Origin Studio – a Sunrise substudio founded with a very obvious goal, the production of Gundam: The Origin. Yet despite that clear and seemingly exclusive purpose, they still have been taking subcontracted animation work over and over. Studios can't afford to finish their work on their own, but also can't take much of a break when they're not actively animating something, so they'll pick up lots of odd jobs. It's rough.

If you were to happen a genuine exception to this phenomenon it would be Kyoto Animation, who have spent the last decade becoming a TV anime Ghibli of sorts – sometimes even outdoing them when it comes to exclusive in-house focus. Fans tend to perceive anime production as something only one company is responsible for, but they are the only major studio this applies to. For years they've been getting away with only working for themselves, producing every episode of their shows, handling every step of the process themselves, and even doing so with their actual full-time employees and not freelancers. There are a couple of exceptions (partial background work, long-time relationships), but otherwise they might as well belong to an entirely different industry than the rest of studios. By all means this is a commendable feat, but sadly it's not a model that could be applied to the industry at large as it is; lowering costs by being set outside of Tokyo, having 3 studio branches working together, and the risky yet more sane low output are all the elements that make this one exception possible. Most of that can't realistically happen elsewhere. Or at least not immediately without fundamental changes to the industry's landscape.

The pink elephant in the room that this guide has been dodging ever since it explained the animation process is partial outsourcing, which is something that you must have noticed if these articles have made you pay attention to the ending credits. It's impossible to miss that throughout the sequence many companies are namedropped, sometimes indicating the individuals from that studio who worked on it. Unlike the full outsourcing we've been talking about, consisting of letting another studio entirely run the production cycle of an episode, partial outsourcing is simply assistance for particular roles; the main studio in charge of the series is still responsible for that episode, but they rely on others for some animation work, backgrounds, or really any task they need help with. Some instances are entirely unavoidable (like studios with no in-house digital team outsourcing the photography and 3DCG work), but it's mostly a natural consequence of the industry's messy state and heavy reliance on give-and-take relationships. The staff constantly need an extra hand, so they contact freelancers and studios they're acquainted with, knowing they'll also get similar requests later. This led to a system that isn't inherently bad, but it sure would be nice if what drives it wasn't crumbling schedules. Partial animation outsourcing popping up isn't a particularly bad sign either, it can be perfectly innocuous. Things get nasty when it's already a fully outsourced episode and you see it still needed extra companies to get it done, or when the credits start resembling a list of every studio in the industry, but the mere presence of other companies’ names shouldn't scare you.

All these practices are so prevalent that there exist dozens of outsource/support studios, companies that aren't meant to produce their own projects but rather assist someone else's. This doesn't refer to companies handling work animation companies shouldn't necessarily handle (like background art or the 3DCG work), but actual anime studios with their own animators and directors. They may eventually grow and gain enough connections to get the chance to produce their own series, but some have stayed in that stage for decades and have no reason to change ways. As artists it can't be very pleasant to never feel like you're working on your own creations, but with a steady supply of contracts those companies are likely safer than ‘regular’ studios, since they're never invested at all in the risky projects and have consistent financial support from their connections.

New studios (especially ones starting from zero rather than splitting from an existing company) often start with support roles, and whether they develop into a fully-fledged animation studio or adapt and stay that way depends on the ambitions of the staff and how lucky they get. If they focus on support they'll evolve in different ways; there are cases like Wanpack, an outsource studio that is larger than many companies producing their own work, which has an abnormally large number of key animators relative to their size. Since that's what most of the work they're contracted for is about, there's no need to expand other departments.

An amusing anecdote in this regard is the often ignored background of this picture, a recurring part arguments about modern anime being doomed because animators only want to draw cute girls; the truth is that they both belong to a long-time outsource studio, and the owner complaining that they can't make what they want to make isn't mentioning that they personally couldn't, no matter what the industry's climate was like. Since these companies never get credited for animation production, pretty much the only studio name the fandom pays attention to, this rather crucial detail gets ignored.

The direct effects of full outsourcing over the output tends to be negative, yet not as catastrophic as you might think. When a show has particularly strong in-house staff working on the first few episodes, chances are that it will be quite the downgrade to see outsourcing, so you better hope the series director and chief animation director did extra work to lessen the blow. For the most part though, those episodes will be about on par with the rest of the show and undistinguishable for the average viewer. Often, production circumstances aren't ideal so it'll probably be worse than what that studio would put out if it were their own series, but it's seldom big enough of a deal for people without an eye for production matters to notice. And while it's the exception, there even are cases where those outsourced episodes are excellent; If you're acquainted with strong studios and outstanding staff (or hit the jackpot and randomly manage to get them to help), then it can even turn out to be a series highlight. Studio Trigger has gained many fans in its 5 years of existence, but what many of them don't know is that the studio's real debut was producing a fantastic episode of The idolm@ster, one of the best in an already well put together series.

To sum up the effect of full episode outsourcing: mostly a slight downgrade, rarely a disaster, extraordinarily a notable improvement.

Why go through all this if it mostly leads to inconveniences and often impacts the quality in a negative way? Industry members have already said that if anything a fully in-house production is cheaper, so at best they can to try to lower the almost mandatory extra cost of outsourcing. In other words, it's simply to get things done. The bottleneck in TV anime production is time, and outsourcing is one of the tools to bypass that issue; it might not be feasible for one company to finish their work with asphyxiating deadlines, but with the assistance of more studios they might just barely manage… even though that in the end raises costs and leads to a logistic nightmare. There's countless industry tales that illustrate the chaotic nature of outsourcing. Perhaps the most surreal one I've experienced was seeing a Production Assistant join an animation chat to ask people if we could come up with outsource studios he might have not contacted yet, since he urgently needed extra help to get some animation done. It's time that western fans stop looking at anime outsourcing as “subcontracting work to Korea to save some money” and realize what it mostly is: a necessary evil to compensate for nightmarish schedules, something that only gets worse as the industry outputs well over a hundred new series per year.

To end on a somewhat lighter note, I'd like to at least mention coproductions since the credits can be misleadingly similar. Sometimes you'll find a smaller studio credited every week under the full title of Animation Production Assistance (アニメーション制作協力), which can entail varying degrees of help but notes they're not really in charge. There also are instances of evenly split coproductions, where two companies (both credited under Animation Production/アニメーション制作 at the end) alternate the manufacture of episodes on a weekly basis. Such was the case for multiple Gainax x SHAFT projects in the early 00s, shows like Kumamiko this season or Ace of The Diamond recently. Lately we've even seen similar arrangements between 2D and 3DCG animation studios, like Studio 3hz and Orange on Dimension W. The work split there is less evenly split than weekly rotations, as both studios work throughout the show focusing on different aspects (meaning that the CG company mostly gets to work on mechanical and action scenes). 

And that's it for now, as we've covered the main roles in this regard. There's always more to it – many kinds of producers, the Literature (文芸) role representing a wide range of miscellaneous writing and script-related tasks like a Design Producer with a different focus, many different duties that don't even appear regularly. With what we've covered people should have a more clear understanding of what the production episode entails though, when it comes to both the staff and companies involved. Next time we'll delve onto the creative side again, to talk about the key episode roles: script, storyboard, and episode direction. I originally meant to do it in this article but it grew way too big for that, that's how complex this process can be!

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