“We are seriously concerned that the industry will not survive if things go on like this.”

Typical Animator:

Name: Yuko Matsui
Age: 22
Education: Tokyo Animator College
Employer: Midscale animation production agency
Job: In-between Animator (drawings on transparent sheets used between key scenes to help create the illusion of motion)
Experience: Two years
Salary: ¥80,000 a month
Work Time: 10 hours a day
Housing: Lives with her parents

Some of her peers who say they have to endure frequent all-nighters with few days off.

“There were seven others I knew who graduated with me at the same time, but three of them have already given up and quit,” she said.

“The global fan base for Japanese ‘anime’ is increasing, but with the old business model crumbling it isn’t translating into profits,” said Yasuo Yamaguchi, executive director of the Association of Japanese Animations.

“The financial crisis is forcing sponsors to cut down on television advertisement fees, and this in turn is shrinking the budgets for animations, pressuring everyone involved in the production,” Yamaguchi said.

“The demographics of anime fans began shifting seven to eight years ago. Those who grew up watching cartoons became older, and began craving more ‘otaku’ (geek) and adult content,” Noda said, noting such animation is mainly produced for DVD sales, with the late-night shows — usually consisting of only 13 episodes — used as bait to draw viewers into buying the full DVD set that comes with increased content and special features.

This lack of mainstream acceptability in anime content, combined with expensive title licenses and the exploding popularity of video-sharing sites, has helped erode the industry’s distribution market in the West.

The study revealed that a single cel on average earns animators a meager ¥186.9. Considering how a grunt worker has to fill in 500 in-between cels per month for a television animation series, this means a monthly wage of ¥94,000 at best — for an average of 250 hours of work — until an artist gets to handle key frames or storyboards.

With an estimated 90 percent of in-betweens being outsourced overseas — a result of the industry trying to squeeze out more content than it can from domestic hands — there are also concerns that opportunities to nurture future generations of quality animators are being lost.

The Japan Fair Trade Commission on Jan. 23 released a report on the state of the animation industry, listing several major concerns.

Lack of copyrights attributed to production agencies: copyrights are divvied up among sponsors, a system widely criticized for robbing the actual creators of any secondary-use benefits, not to mention motivation.

Popular practice of commissioning and recommissioning production work to smaller agencies that often leads to shady transactions.

In 2006, Kawachi’s union, joined by the Federation of Cinema and Theatrical Workers Union in Japan, presented the culture ministry with a proposal on restructuring the animation industry, outlining main issues and suggesting solutions. Kawachi said they received no response from the government.

Yamaguchi of AJA, who also lectures on animation literacy at Nihon University’s law school, predicts that in the end, quality, not quantity, will come to be emphasized.

“When we look at viewer ratings of animated television programs, we notice that the top slot is always dominated by ‘Sazae-san,’ the only program that is still produced using the traditional hand-drawn method,” he said, adding that this trend could also be seen in last year’s ¥15 billion-grossing hit “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea,” a hand-drawn movie produced by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli.

“I think we need to think, philosophically, about what our users really want.”

Read full article in Japan Times

It sounds like the government ignored the proposal…

Clearly, Yamaguchi makes some far fetched conclusions. Nature of the animation itself is only one of the factors contributing to the success of a series. Accessibility of the story to the masses is much more important than the animation itself. Also, I wonder how much the Ponyo would earn if it was not made by Miyazaki.

His last statement is especially funny. One of the common failures in design is that some people think “philosophically” what is best for their users and what they really want. Obviously, this way of thinking may lead to disasters. If you really want to know what people want, ask them. Also you have to keep in mind that, sometimes, people don’t know what they want. Malcolm Gladwell presented a fun TED talk on this topic.

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8 thoughts on “State of the Anime Industry: Animation Bubble

  1. “Salary: ¥80,000 a month
    Work Time: 10 hours a day”

    That’s just plain illegal… But in the modeern world, all non-creative employment is simply going to continue to decline. It’s the same reason that manufacturing isn’t done by many in America anymore. China will do it just as well, for less money.

  2. I think the gap between who actually makes the product to the consumers is too large at this point, with the companies being the middle men. That sort of thing works for massive distribution of products, like wheat farming or mass-production plastic toys.

    I had an idea a couple years back, posted some comments on some blogs, but eventually found someone with a similar idea… http://paycreate.com/. The guy hasn’t done anything with it, but I think it’s a good concept for those behind media production.

    1. Yes, the gap is a part of the problem, but it would take a while to change the system, especially if the government is not cooperating.

      That is an interesting idea of a donation, but it has to be popular to work.

  3. This reminds me of another blogger’s report about the ailing industry on the US front (http://animealmanac.com/2008/12/17/how-the-japanese-are-reclaiming-the-internet/

    I suppose there’s a generational gap coming with the Internet age. I’ve been speaking with some members of my local uni’s anime club and most people see themselves (almost) as “entitled” to anime. They see it as a source of entertainment that should be readily available and free. An ideal world that neglects the fact that making anime requires money and free streaming/downloads do little to solve that issue.

    1. Thank you for the link 🙂 [ I edited it because it lead to the 404 page ( but it featured a very cute girl 😛 ) ]

      Ah, “entitled attitude” is quite irritating…

      Nielsen suggested that micropayments will be widely spread in the future, but this has not happened yet due to lack of easily implementable technology. Once it will be easy to pay a reasonable price and acquire content, most people would do it because I hope that most want to support the industry. Xam’d did it, but the price and mode of distribution was not very good.

  4. Well, for me, there’s two main concerns regarding the distribution of anime; quality and pricing. The first is obvious and includes other details such as packaging and extras. The latter is in direct correlation to the size of my wallet. However, in this age of download-able material in a matter of hours, free of charge… of equal if not better quality… it’s hard to make an argument based only on morals.

    Ultimately, I believe that the licensing era is coming to an end. Looking just at the state of ADV and Funimation, more recently with Soul Eater’s C&D/license, it’s hard to believe that anyone would invest in such a market. Too little, too late. It’s a matter of time til DVD collections will disappear, only to be replaced by hard drives filled with (hopefully) official releases. And even then, I’ll believe that there’ll be a good number who will still find an excuse to freeload some more.

    1. Since you mention packaging and extras, I think that is one of the reasons DVDs (or some other video storage) will never disappear – people still want their pretty collectible items. On the other hand, I agree that most DVDs will be replaced by downloadable/streaming legal content for the currently airing series.

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