Animator-Director Ippei Ichii on July 2nd, explained in a series of tweets how Netflix got their job of producing anime done through MAPPA at dirt-cheap rates, putting the streaming giants and production studio in the spotlight once again. This later led to a slew of other animators, including Hiroyuki Yamada, voicing their concerns about the “harsh” conditions faced by animators in Japan.
Ichii’s tweet blamed Netflix for paying rates lower than the budget of TV series for producing an anime.
“Apparently, a producer working on a Netflix anime made at MAPPA suggested paying 3,800 yen (US$34) per cut. The budget for TV series is between 3,800 to 7,000 yen, so if you accept that offer, the unit price for animators would go down. Note: If they ask the rate from you, I think it’s best to negotiate for 15,000 yen (US$134) or more.”
In a later tweet, Ichii says worriedly that someone from the “desk” has requested to delete the above tweet. So to clarify what he wanted to say he tweeted again.
“To avoid misunderstanding, I have to say that my issue is with Netflix. For all the exorbitant amount of capital they have, it’s a problem that they’ve started to place orders with such low rates. There is a possibility that the prices are even lower than a TV series.”
Another animator, Thomas Romain responded, saying that he believes that what Ichii said is “pretty standard rate used by most of the companies” and that’s why he “never worked in Japan as an animator but as preproduction designer because of the cheap rates for genga (key animation).”
Veteran animator Hiroyuki Yamada (key animator on Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Yu Yu Hakusho, Dropkick on My Devil!) also chimed in saying “[3,800 yen] was the price per cut I was getting when I entered the anime industry 40 years ago. Ramen was only 300 yen back then!”
Animator Zayd responded to this in English, remarking:
It is not surprising what the Japanese Animation Studios demand of their employees even though they are underpaid. A fellow animator, @daifukuFD shed some more light on how worse it can get.
According to the above tweet, he claimed that he received only 250 yen (US$2) for in-between animation at a subcontracting studio for a film project made by “the company that recently made a viral PV.” The rate was terrible which ridiculed him to stress and hopelessness for the required high degree of polished work he had to do.
Recently, Netflix was already in the limelight for their title ” Record of Ragnarok”. Even though it doesn’t concern MAPPA in any way but the condition of the employees through lack of animation quality is very much visible. And this is definitely not the first time, and might not be the last time MAPPA employees have voiced their opinion because of the work-life condition.
In May, a former Mappa animator, @Mushiyo07, in his successive tweets pointed out the unhealthy work conditions during the production run of Attack on Titan Final season. Mushiyo described the environment of the production as a “factory” where they were asked to fix drawings over and over and over again. He criticized Mappa for working on 4 anime titles simultaneously without proper training to reduce the repeated mistakes.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Henry Thurlow, one of the first Western animators at Pierrot Studios, said the following “Let’s just be clear: It’s not a ‘tough’ industry… It’s an ‘illegally harsh’ industry.” Thurlow was no stranger to this illegally harsh condition he spoke of, as he ended up in the hospital three times due to exhaustion and illness.
“No one talks, or gets lunch together or anything. They just sit and work in complete silence and seem uninterested in changing this,” Thurlow said, back in 2015. Sadly, that is still the condition at most Japanese Studios.
On the other hand, in order to increase the number of works produced annually due to the expansion of the animation market, Netflix had come up with a solution in February, the “Wit Animator Academy“.
Netflix Japan was offering 10 scholarships to join the six-month animator training program from April. This program is created by Japanese animation studio WIT Studio and animation school Sasayuri Video Training Institute, whose instructors, include animator Hitomi Tateno (Akira, Spirited Away), as well as veteran WIT artists.
Netflix will financially support the ten or so successful applicants. It will cover the tuition fee — 600,000 yen (USD$5,670) — and contribute 150,000 yen ($1,417) per month toward living costs. Nonetheless, after graduating, they will be contracted to work on Netflix’s projects at Wit Studio or its sister studio Production I.G.
While this might not bring about a huge change in the situation of animators, it seems like the right move at this moment. However, the conditions that these succesful applicants have to face once they set foot into the industry still remains in the dark.