The Japan Research Institute (JRI), a “knowledge engineering” organization which carries out economic and financial research, recently put out a report which focused on the anime industry in Japan. The report is quite significant, coming from Japan’s think tank and highlights the growing importance of anime to the country’s economy.
The report, titled Current Status and Issues of the Animation Industry in Japan, urged the Japanese government to intervene in order to resolve the issues that are currently rampant in the industry. The highlighted issues in the report were the same as the ones that have been pointed out by the industry veterans in recent times, especially extremely low wages earned by the animators.
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JRI’s report started off by noting how the Japanese anime industry can significantly add to its value by tapping the overseas market which had a growing hunger for the content that was produced in the country.
According to the statistics quoted in the report, the overseas anime industry market grew sixfold (from 0.2 to 1.5 trillion yen) in the last ten years compared to the domestic market which only grew around 1.3 times in the same period.
Experts however noted that there was even more potential to expand, with the possibility of exceeding 5 trillion yen in overseas sales for Japanese anime. Keeping these numbers in mind, the JRI suggested that efforts be taken in nurturing the anime industry so that it can meet the overseas demand.
The report further noted that there was a supply constraint in the equation currently. Meaning, in order to meet the growing overseas demands, the production capacity should also be increased.
But this was easier said than done because the report itself made a connection, stating that the appeal of an anime was directly proportional to the quality of animation. So, it eventually boiled down to improving the quality and quantity of the human resources currently in the industry.
This is where the more pressing issues from the industry came to light.
Animators and low wages:
According to the report, the turnover rates of new animators in the anime industry was quite high, with 25 percent left within four years, whereas a staggering 68 percent of young staff exited the industry in eight years.
One of the factors that forced these young talents to leave the industry was their inability to sustain a lifestyle based on the wages they earned.
In order to make sure that the young animators are retained, the report focused on three major drawbacks – long working hours, low wages and lack of technical skills.
Low wages was especially a major issue for people who were new to the industry (under the age of thirty), as their average annual salary was much lower than that of other industries.
For instance, an animator in anime industry between the age of 20 to 24 earned 1.23 million yen less on an average than the people from other industries. Whereas those aged between 25-29 earned 1.04 million yen less on an average compared to other industries.
If animator were self-employed or a freelancer, it was found that there was a high chance that they will fall into poverty in case their health deteriorates or if they had other problems. And most of the animators who worked in the industry were freelance or self employed.
In short, the report surmised that it would be very hard for these animators to lead a normal life as such.
And as a result, it was strongly suggested to raise the basic wages of the animators working in the industry. Creation of labor specific unions, taking inspiration from the United States’ working model, was also suggested. This would not just guarantee the minimum wages, but also the working hours, sick leave, holidays, health benefits and other factors.
It was also suggested that production companies provide opportunities for on job training to newbie animators at a reasonable cost. The report noted that there was currently very little incentive to improve the on job training facilities, something which was called by industry veterans including Nishii Terumi and Masao Maruyama.
Giving such an opportunity will tackle the issue of lack of technical skills.
Production hours and Anime Studios:
The second significant problem that was highlighted was the long working hours which the animators had to endure. On the bright side, it was noted that the situation of working hours had improved in the last 6 years.
For instance, in 2017, approximately 30 percent of animators worked 260 hours or more in a month (more than 100 hours of overtime). This number reduced to just 10 percent in 2022. The number of animators who worked between 240 to 260 hours also saw a decline in the last four years.
This was mainly due to the labor reform laws which was enforced.
However, the report claims that the reduction in working hours has put more pressure on production studios and their profits. Since increasing anime production was imperative for leveraging the increasing overseas demand, it was necessary to find a solution for the problems faced by the anime production companies.
In order to improve their situation, the report suggested that the Japanese Government should intervene and that anime production studios be given a 30 percent share of the IPs they are working on regardless of whether they are part of production committees or not.
The studios currently only earn 6 percent of overall overseas sales of the works they are involved in, and 16 percent of the domestic sales. This was seen as unbalanced.
The current system in place only ensured that the production costs of the anime studio are covered. On top of that, a single production studio can never completely pull off an anime’s production. Naturally, subcontractors (studios to which work is offloaded) are involved in the whole process.
And since the main production studio itself doesn’t make much, the production studios that are lower in the pyramid often find themselves on the verge of deficit.
However, an increase in the share of IP’s would help the production studios to financially sustain themselves, and this strong financial position will in turn be reflected in the wages of the animators, and the capital can used for the proposed labor reforms.
A couple of years ago, Vinland Saga director Shuhei Yabuta had highlighted this very point in a series of his tweets, saying that since the studios don’t have any rights to the anime, the only way for them to earn is by keeping a portion of production costs for themselves. However, he added that in most cases, the budget is completely used up or exceeded.
Considering that such a move might see opposition from the distribution companies involved, the Government intervention was probably urged. On top of that, such a measure was only suggested as a temporary solution for a period of 10 years.
Source: Japan Research Institute Report