The New York Times newspaper published an article titled “The anime industry is booming. So why do animators live in poverty? " where the enormous discrepancy between the earnings of the anime industry and the working conditions of the workers of the most basic links was pointed out.
“Business has never been better for Japanese anime. And that's exactly why Tetsuya Akutsu is thinking of quitting. When Akutsu-san became an animator, the global anime market was just over half of what it would be in 2018, when it reached an estimated $ 24 billion. The consumption boom stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated growth within and outside of Japan. But little of the windfall has come to Akutsu-san. Although he works most of the hours that he is awake, he takes home between $ 1,400 and $ 3,800 a month even as a featured entertainer and occasional director at some of the most popular franchises in Japan.
“And he's one of the lucky ones, with thousands of lower-level illustrators doing hard piecework for just $ 200 a month. Rather than rewarding them, the explosive growth of the industry has only widened the gap between the earnings they help generate and their paltry salaries, leaving many wondering if they can afford to continue to pursue their passion. "I want to work in the anime industry for the rest of my life," said Akutsu, 29, during a telephone interview. But as he prepares to start a family, he feels intense financial pressure to leave. "I know it is impossible to marry and raise a child."
“Low wages and terrible working conditions (hospitalization for overwork can be a badge of honor in Japan) have confused the usual laws of the business world. Normally, increased demand, in theory at least, would stimulate competition for talent, raising the salary of existing workers and attracting new ones. That is happening to some degree at the highest levels of the industry. Median annual earnings for key illustrators and other top-of-the-line talents increased to about $ 36,000 in 2019 from about $ 29,000 in 2015, according to statistics compiled by the Japan Animation Makers Association, a labor organization.
“The problem stems in part from the structure of the industry, which restricts the flow of profits to studios. But the studios can get away with the meager salary in part because there is a nearly limitless group of young people who are passionate about anime and dream of making a name for themselves in the industry, said Simona Stanzani, who has worked in the business as a translator for many years. almost three years. decades. "There are a lot of artists who are amazing," she said, adding that the studios "have a lot of cannon fodder, they have no reason to raise salaries."
“Instead of negotiating higher fees or sharing the benefits with production committees, many studios have continued to pressure animators, reducing costs by hiring them as freelancers. As a result, program production costs, which have long been well below those of projects in the United States, have remained low even as profits increase. '
«Jun Sugawara, a digital animator and activist who runs a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing to young illustrators, began campaigning on his behalf in 2011 after learning of the harsh conditions faced by workers creating their favorite anime . The animators' long working hours appear to violate Japanese labor regulations, he said, but authorities have taken little interest, even though the government has made anime a central part of its public diplomacy efforts through its Cool program. Japan. "Until now, national and local governments do not have effective strategies" to address the problem, Sugawara said. He added that "Cool Japan is meaningless and irrelevant politics."
“Not all studios pay such low wages: Kyoto Animation, the studio that was attacked by an arsonist in 2019, is known for avoiding freelancers in favor of salaried employees, for example. But those studies remain atypical. If something is not done soon, Sugawara believes, the industry could one day collapse as promising young talents leave the position to find a job that can provide a better life.
Source: The New York Times
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