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Animators in Japan deserve better working conditions

Animators in Japan deserve better working conditions

Animators in Japan deserve better working conditions
October 01
18:16 2019

I love anime.

The vibrant worlds that they bring to life and pull me into, the balance of comedy and drama that rejuvenates my soul when my own emotions have been drained, are only some of the few wonderful things anime is able to do.Whether they bring me thought-provoking ideas and themes or simple entertainment, anime holds a special place in both mine and the hearts of thousands of viewers across the globe.

This is why it absolutely broke my heart when I learned about the anime industry in Japan and the atrocious treatment of the animators there.

The anime industry has itself a crunch crisis. Essentially, animators in Japan are being overworked and underpaid. However, this is a gross oversimplification of the issues the industry is facing.

Starting with salaries, most animators are only paid by commission. An “In-Between” Animator, which is an entry-level position, is only paid around 200 yen per drawing. 200 yen equates to around $1.84 in US Dollars. A single drawing can take up to, or usually over, an hour to make. If you were working a 9-to-5 job as an animator, you could produce, on a good day, probably eight drawings.

So all of your hard work will only earn you about a meager $14.72. Most reports say that higher-up positions don’t earn much more.

For the few studios that do offer salaries, it doesn’t get much better. A 2017 job listing for animators offered 770 yen an hour. Today, that would be around $7.10. So, under a normal 8-hour day shift, you’d earn $56.80. That is better than the commission rate, but still nowhere near a livable wage.

In fact, both of these pay rates are below Japan’s minimum wage. Japan’s minimum wage is 874 yen, or $8.06. You could earn more money working as a convenience store clerk who makes about 920 yen which equates to $8.48, or at a McDonald’s where you would make 980 yen which equates to $9.04, then you could while working as an animator in Japan.

If you started animating right after schooling in Japan, it would take you over 20 years, well into your 40s, to earn a salary that is above Japan’s poverty line.

Above, I stated how much an animator would earn if they worked 8-hour shifts, but the thing is they don’t work those shifts usually. The average hours for animators in Japan are around 12-18 hours a day. These artists are being severely overworked just so they can make ends meet. To put this in perspective, the average American works around 200 hours a month. There are reports in Japan of animators working from around 400 to even 600 hours a month. There is a good chance that these artists, who work twice or three times as long as you, are earning three times less than you.

Exhaustion, being burnt out, passing out at desks, being hospitalized due to working conditions and mental breakdowns are all too common for workers in the industry. This has been the unfortunate standard for years.

This began with the initial production of the anime “Astro Boy.” The creator, Osamu Tezuka, undersold his show to get in on TV and took a huge loss in profit. To make up for that deficit, merchandise was sold and astoundingly it worked for profit. While this was wonderful news for Tezuka, it unfortunately, set an industry standard of maximizing profit by minimizing production cost. This comes at the expense of the livelihood of the animators who create the properties that make these companies so profitable. Shockingly, it become difficult to find new animators in Japan, so the remaining animators are worked to the bone.

Why would any person willingly subject themselves to what is essentially slave labor? The answer is simply the passion that animators have for their craft.

These wonderful artists care a lot about what they create. They love bringing life to pencil drawings and movement to sketches. They love sharing this work with their audiences within Japan and even overseas. They wholeheartedly love their art and it shouldn’t cost them their lives.

This type of treatment is horrid and disgusting. It’s unacceptable and purely exploitation in the most basic and obvious terms possible.

As fans of anime and as the people these artists are trying to please and entertain, we need to help them by spreading awareness and advocating for better working conditions for them. Animators are skilled artists who deserve a livable wage, less restricting schedules and deadlines and better working conditions even if it means less anime gets produced per season or longer gaps between releases.

I would say that is a very fair trade-off so that the people who make what I love the most can sleep for more than six hours a day.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

About Author

Matthew Payne

Matthew Payne

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