The anime community has been rife with controversy over AI-generated images. Today, Netflix joined the hot new trend of being ratioed online for terrible AI takes. The streaming platform not only produced a commercial project with AI, it tried to justify doing so by citing the “labor shortage” in the anime industry. Artists did not take this bullshit at face value, and they weren’t quiet about it either.
Dog and Boy is an animated movie created by Netflix Japan and Wit Studio (which produced Ranking of Kings and co-animated Spy x Family). According to a Vice translation, Netflix Japan tweeted: “As an experimental effort to help the anime industry, which has a labor shortage, we used image generation technology for the background images of all three-minute video cuts!”
The production credits list AI as the co-creators of the background art and the music. Before you click “play,” I’d like to make one thing clear: It doesn’t matter if the resulting video is good or bad. One of the wealthiest anime producers in the world chose not to employ at least two living artists to create the movie, and that’s not great for the future of animation. Or artists as both workers and a community.
Even worse, the artist who had to handhold the AI doesn’t appear to be credited at all. The background designer is credited as “AI (+ Human).” Um, I’m pretty sure that the human has an actual name. So not only was Netflix Japan experimenting with some ethically dodgy technology, they’re showing exactly how little they respect living background painters. If Japan has an animator shortage, it’s because the industry pays freelancers a poverty wage to hand-draw images.
In Japan, artist pay has not risen with the cost of living, which makes it impossible for some to survive in the industry. Even under these conditions, companies continuously find ways to underpay their employees. Despite being massively successful, the studio behind the movie Promare and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners was forced to settle with its own staff over unpaid overtime. If artists don’t want to work, it’s likely because they can’t afford to.
Netflix could have easily solved this problem with higher pay. Instead, it’s trying to cut out some artists altogether. Kotaku reached out to ask Netflix about the specific challenges they have with recruiting human artists, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
On Twitter, artists and creators are, as the kids like to say, “beating Netflix’s ass in the quote retweets.” A Netflix showrunner wrote: “Not something to be proud of, babes.” Even an AI engineer offered to introduce Netflix to animators looking for work while chiding the company for not “looking very hard.” The quote retweets are filled with people demanding higher pay for animators, which warms even my cold, cynical heart.
“You want everything for free, but we need money to live,” tweeted one Japanese comic artist. “And a lot of work that can worsen our health”