This post at AltJapan collects a few rants by Japanese animators about their working conditions. As you can see from my comment on that post, while I sympathize with their working conditions, I’m not fully convinced of their arguments. For one, working conditions for American animators aren’t all that different (at-will employment, mass layoffs after every project, low wages, etc.). For another, sweeping changes rarely have all the intended effects, and can swamp whole industries.
But one comment leapt out at me, and lodged itself firmly in my brain. Can’t get rid of it, so I’m going to address it here. The comment in question:
“And if you ask me, Japan deserves to lose its poor animators, so it can only have ten anime a week instead of the hundred or so currently produced. Even TEN a week is a lot by European or American standards!”
Yeah, and nobody cares about American and European TV cartoons. Name one American or European TV cartoon made in the past 5 years that’s gotten any attention outside of the ‘toon world other than Avatar. And Avatar‘s practically anime (heck, it was partly animated in Korea).
But let’s look at the numbers here. Let’s say only ten anime shows are put on air in Japan at any given time. Considering the large number of studios in Japan, it’s fair to assume all but ten studios will collapse, so we’d see one show per studio.
These studios’ entire existence would depend on the success of their one show. They’d want to choose sure things, so that they’d still have a job in three months.
Okay, what have been consistently the most popular anime on Japanese TV for years? Here are the top 4: Doraemon, Crayon Shin-chan, Sazae-san, and Chibi Maruko-chan. Yep, four shows aimed at little kids.
What’s also consistently in the top 10? Shonen Jump titles. So let’s pull in the big ones: Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and Dragonball Kai. Those’ll sell.
That leaves two slots open. We all know how popular dating sims are, so we’re sure to get one dating sim adaptation (Kanon, Clannad, Air, Higurashi, etc.). Manga and light novels are also sure bets, so we’ll get one adaptation of a super-popular manga or light novel series.
That’s ten. That’s all the space we’ve got.
What if we squeezed in an extra title? Okay, we’ll add Sunrise’s latest Gundam or mecha show (00, Unicorn, Code Geass, etc.).
These studios are for-profit companies. They need to ensure they’ll still be around next year. They’re going to favor shows that will guarantee them a return on their investment. Anything else would literally be suicide.
You’ll never get a Bakemonogatari. Or a Welcome to the NHK. Or Genshiken. Or Gankutsuou. Or Gao Gai Gar. Or Kemonozume. Or Dennou Coil. Not worth the risk.
In case this sounds far-fetched, remember that this is the American TV animation industry today. Everything’s a safe bet. Everything’s either an adaptation of a toy line or aimed straight at pre-teens. (Again, except Avatar, and that was thanks to an indulgent network that produces its own animation. There’s no equivalent in Japan.)
I don’t want that world. Let’s improve animators’ working conditions, yes. But let’s not sacrifice the incredible breadth and depth of the anime industry to do it.