Anime’s slave labor problem
Anime is almost entirely drawn by hand. It takes skill to create hand-drawn animation and experience to do it quickly.
Shingo Adachi, an animator and character designer for Sword Art Online, a popular anime TV series, said the talent shortage is a serious ongoing problem — with nearly 200 animated TV series alone made in Japan each year, there aren’t enough skilled animators to go around. Instead, studios rely on a large pool of essentially unpaid freelancers who are passionate about anime.
At the entry level are “in-between animators,” who are usually freelancers. They’re the ones who make all the individual drawings after the top-level directors come up with the storyboards and the middle-tier “key animators” draw the important frames in each scene.
In-between animators earn around 200 yen per drawing — less than $2. That wouldn’t be so bad if each artist could crank out 200 drawings a day, but a single drawing can take more than an hour. That’s not to mention anime’s meticulous attention to details that are by and large ignored by animation in the West, like food, architecture, and landscape, which can take four or five times longer than average to draw.
“Even if you move up the ladder and become a key-frame animator, you won’t earn much,” Adachi said. “And even if your title is a huge hit, like Attack on Titan, you won’t make any of it. … It’s a structural problem in the anime industry. There’s no dream [job as an animator].”
Japan is a conservative country. That’s one thing.
Their work culture is another thing. It’s conventional to overwork, even if what you do is underpaid. Company loyalty plays a big role to the point of insanity.
And unlike other countries outside of Japan, the Japanese are reserved people in general.
What do I mean by this?
They won’t outwardly speak about it or rebel.
They won’t even complain, protest or take a stand. They’ll just “keep it moving” and sweep it under the rug.
Even people outside Japan do this because it’s easy to settle. But Japan is a lot more extreme.
If a company can get away with it they WILL. And the anime industry is a brutal reminder of this in action.
Not all companies are created equal.
Kyoto Animation is an anime studio that pays on a salary. And compared to other studios – Kyoani is basically paradise (I’m probably exaggerating).
I just think the average Japanese isn’t willing to take a stand for what’s not right, and so they let it slide and because so many people do that, it becomes normal.
And then there’s investors.
I don’t see many investors when it comes to anime studios and animators. A lot of these studios are independent and there’s not a lot of “backing”. Not to say this is a necessity, but the point here is money.
Japan’s system and the value of money there is different, so you can’t look at it with the same lens as let’s say, the UK or the US. There’s too much context.