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How Deeply Is COVID-19 Impacting Anime Production?

by Evan Minto,

Unless you've been living under a rock (and maybe even if you have been) you've probably heard a thing or two about COVID-19, the pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus that's quite literally sweeping the globe. The flu-like virus has already caused massive economic and social upheaval in China, South Korea, and Italy. The situation is rapidly developing, but as of right now the US has a growing epidemic of our own and my own city, San Francisco, has instituted a citywide lockdown. So yeah, this thing is a big deal.

Something that a lot of anime fans are curious about is how the pandemic is affecting anime production.

To answer this, let's start with Japan's own containment measures. On February 25, the government requested the suspension of all large-scale gatherings and the closing of all schools. Many Japanese companies are also allowing, encouraging, or requiring their workers to work from home. This minimizes person-to-person contact which reduces the risk of transmission.

A number of anime studios have told their employees to work from home, which can have a varying impact depending on the studio, according to one producer I spoke to. Many freelance animators already work remotely, so there's not a ton of disruption there. Some CG studios, however, only provide employees access to expensive 3-D software on their office computers, so working from home requires setting up a VPN (virtual private network) to allow them to log into the computers remotely. This can cost them precious time while they transition to the new setup!

Some studios have had close calls with the virus itself. Twin Engine (Pet) announced publicly that they were requiring all employees to work from home after one of their freelancers reported being in close contact with an infected person. Because of the close collaboration between the company's network of studios, this work-from-home order applies to Geno Studio, Revoroot, and Studio Colorido as well.

Japanese studios changing their work rules is only part of the story, however. A number of productions (A3! Season Spring & Summer, A Certain Scientific Railgun T, Infinite Dendogram, Asteroid in Love) have actually had to postpone episodes because of production delays apparently caused by the virus. According to one animator I spoke to, the productions that are hardest hit are those relying on in-between animation and coloring from studios in China, where many offices had to stop work for weeks. Another animator was less worried, saying that his studio hasn't seen any hiccups outside of the usual volatility of production. Still other studios have seen small delays; enough to affect delivery of materials for online streaming but not enough to make them miss their TV broadcast (the online deadline is earlier than the TV one).

So it appears that the impact on production varies a lot from studio to studio. However, the real risk comes from ripple effects. The anime industry is a tight web of studios that hire each other for supplementary production work on each other's shows. A sick artist or a project getting pushed back can throw studios' careful schedules and budgets completely out of whack. Most studios also outsource work to the rest of the industry, meaning that issues with their contractors can delay delivery of in-betweens, backgrounds, or CG animation.

This is being exacerbated by the other ways that the virus has impacted anime companies' bottom lines. Movie premieres have gotten pushed back, live events and concerts have been cancelled, and social distancing measures are reducing traffic to theme cafes and otaku goods stores. Many companies rely heavily on event revenue, so this is potentially disastrous, especially as the pandemic wears on. To make matters worse, industry trade show Anime Japan was called off entirely. That's a blow not just to fans, but to companies who were counting on marketing their new titles and holding important business meetings at the convention.

On the North American side of things, we can expect to see delayed anime, manga, and merchandise releases following Amazon's move to focus household items like cleaning supplies and fulfilling much needed medical supplies.

So COVID-19 has definitely affected anime production and marketing, though as with all aspects of this pandemic, no one truly knows the cascading effects it may have in the near future. Stay safe out there, everybody.

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