Director Osamu Yamasaki Discusses Anime Industry's Working Conditions
posted on by Eric Stimson
Last November, an animator at P.A. Works caused a controversy by posting a picture of their budget on social media. After lunch expenses, bus fare, and rent were subtracted, @hoke_hokke had only 1,477 yen ($12.55) left for personal use. Animators that have not been able to graduate from in-betweener to key animator after three years of work had to pay a "desk fee" of 6,000 yen ($51) per month. According to the budget, the highest payment the animator had received was 67,569 yen ($574) in October 2016.
Although P.A. Works denied that it charges desk fees, it confirmed the other details, raising the issue of dire working conditions in the anime industry (something which P.A. Works has already done with its own anime, Shirobako). Business Journal interviewed Osamu Yamasaki, director of anime like Hakuōki and Toward the Terra and director of the Japan Animation Creators Association, to find out more about the issue. In general his remarks confirmed the harshness of life as an animator.
Animators are paid by their work output, so those with drawing ability and speed can make earnings of five to six million yen (about US$40,000-50,000) in their 20s. However, this comes at the expense of a social life, or really much of any life, given the long hours animators must put in (over 10 hours a day). It isn't uncommon for animators to scrape by with less than a million yen (US$8,500) a year. The first three years, when animators must develop their skills as in-betweeners, are the hardest, and many burn out and quit before finishing.
While Japan has an abundance of eager, talented, young workers for its animation industry, most quickly lose their dreams and give up. "As a ratio, the present state is that only one out of every 10 people who enter the industry remain," Yamasaki estimates. As a result, the largest generational cohort in the business is in their late 40s and 50s — the people who were attracted by anime like Space Battleship Yamato and the original Mobile Suit Gundam. "In another 10 years, most will be in their 60s, and the future of anime production might get brutal."
The animation studios most able to offer competitive wages, high productivity and stable employment are the big ones, with the result that small and medium-sized studios are always losing young talent. This further disincentivizes them from nurturing individual animator's talents; instead they are hired on a freelance basis and pressured to churn out their work. As a result, these smaller studios are characterized by inexperienced workers with low technical skills, low productivity, and low wages. This drives more animators into bigger studios, creating a vicious cycle.
In order to handle the increasing output of anime each season, the bigger studios will subcontract their work to smaller studios, but the margins on this work after the production costs are deducted are small and getting smaller. If the anime doesn't become a hit, studios incur huge debt (hence the deals with sponsors and agencies). Although smash hits like your name. can reward even in-betweeners, for the vast majority of anime most of the staff is not affected by revenue. "Profits are shrinking for all animators, not just newcomers," Yamasaki claims.
So why do animators do it? For the love of the craft, of course. In most cases, a passion for anime or drawing is what motivated animators to get into the business, and it's what keeps them going. In addition, Yamasaki points out that "animators aren't the type to worry about money or to group together and negotiate with management. There aren't many people who make their voices heard." He believes that many directors share the "sense of crisis" that Neon Genesis Evangelion director Hideaki Anno voiced in 2015, when he cited the decline of human resources and funding as a reason for the anime industry's impending demise in five years. "Maybe the anime industry needs to create a new business model," Yamasaki says.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history