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Veteran Producer Explains the Problems of Unionizing In the Anime Industry

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Masuo Ueda points to historical factors, wage dumping as reasons for lack of unions today

In a two-part online salon, anime producer Masuo Ueda tackled the topic of animator unions in the anime industry—or, to be precise, the lack thereof.

Speaking with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable and Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya character designer Terumi Nishii on her YouTube channel, Ueda explained that the anime industry relies heavily on freelancers, which makes it difficult for them to collectively organize. Although he said that Toei Dо̄ga (now Toei Animation) established a union, and that the former Mushi Productions once employed around 250 people, due to an industry-wide financial windfall and heavy downscaling over the years, it is now extremely rare for modern anime studios to be large companies in their own right. Some studios (such as A-1 Pictures and CloverWorks) exist as subsidiaries of large companies, but the management philosophy is different from the older large studios.

Because of the lack of unified standards, and because anime studios typically don't have full control over production budgets, it is very difficult to agree on a minimum wage for animators. Ueda said that even if a group of animators were to decide on a particular number, it would not be difficult for companies to find different animators who would agree to a lower rate (i.e. wage dumping). In addition, some veterans have memories of the failures of the Japan Animation Creators Association (JAniCA) in pushing for worker protections, and are pessimistic because of this. Ueda and Nishii both agreed that there is a common feeling of apathy among animators despite a widespread agreement that wages should be higher across the board.

On the other hand, Ueda pointed to the successful unionizing efforts of voice actors and screenwriters. He argued that instead of trying to herd cats with a collective for animators in general, it would be more practical and feasible for animation directors specifically to attach their names to a group that will negotiate on their behalves. According to Ueda, animation directors and character designers are often core members of the production team, and their efforts can make or break a show. Because of this, they are in a position with more bargaining power than a lower-rung animator. Nevertheless, because they're highly familiar with the work of key animators and in-between animators, an animation director union would be the first step towards creating a workable collective that will advocate the rights of all animators.

Ueda and Nishii discuss the pros and cons of this approach in the full discussion. You can watch the videos below with English subtitles (translated by Renato Rivera Rusca):

Ueda began working at Nippon Sunrise (now known as Sunrise) in 1979, then began working at Aniplex in 2003. He became president and CEO of A-1 Pictures in 2010. He left Aniplex in 2017. He is a representative and planning producer for Skyfall, LLC.

Ueda has previously discussed the business of greenlighting sequels on the channel, among other industry-related topics.

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