We’ve heard the horror stories of just how bad being an animator in Japan can be. But whose fault is it? Greedy investors? Slave-driving studios? The networks? Turns out, it’s because of the guy who started it all.

It’s been long known that working as an animator in Japan is a pretty grueling job. Long hours and terrible pay have pretty much most animators grumbling and wishing for a “normal lifestyle.” A recent news article on Japan’s Yahoo News! focused on the reasons for the terrible working conditions for animators in Japan.

Back in 1963, Japan released its very first domestically made anime. Titled, Astro Boy and based on the manga of the same name, the anime achieved unprecedented popularity and started an animation boom in Japan. Unfortunately, this set the template of how animation was developed in Japan. From the article:

“However, at the time, the real focus of TV was “dramas.” Thanks to the societal perception that ‘anime = shows for kids’ the production costs paid to Mushi Productions was apparently very low. So Osamu Tezuka tried to make up for it by cutting back on production costs and through merchandising of toys. If they still could not make ends meet, he eagerly invested his own wealth that he had made from his manga.”

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Basically, Tezuka did a George Lucas and supported his creation through merchandising and his own money. This lay the groundwork for the anime production model: Make an anime a cheaply as possible and make up the loss through tie-in goods and character merch. Because Tezuka was basically the God of manga in Japan, no one questioned his methods and this became the norm.

Interestingly enough, the man viewed as a modern Master of anime, Hayao Miyazaki openly defied the Tezuka model, creating Studio Ghibli, a production studio that hired animators as employees on a fixed salary rather than temps working on commission.

Other anime studios like Kyoto Animation and P. A. Works set up their studios outside of Tokyo and develop their anime in-house rather than outsourcing, with dormitories and other systems in place to support their animators. Incidentally was P. A. Works that produced that anime series Shirobako – an anime about making anime – which has brought a lot of the problems in anime production to the public spotlight.

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Ironically, it was the man credited for pretty much founding the anime business in Japan who is responsible for the state it is in now, though that was likely never his intent. Thankfully, more and more people are being made aware of the flawed production system and with luck, there will be more of a movement to fix it. Anime production is currently a truly brutal job, but hopefully it won’t have to be.

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[Top Photo: namahage washira]


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To contact the author of this post, write to cogitoergonihilATgmail.com or find him on Twitter @tnakamura8.