According to Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood Director Irie Yasuhiro, Japan might be losing a majority of its animation industry to overseas employment.
In an interview with Nippon, Yasuhiro explained that the industry is suffering because the wages of entry-level animation positions – tasked with animating the scenes in between those designed by senior and key animators – aren’t viable to live off. A survey from his organisation, the Japanese Animation Creators Association (JAniCa) found that those working in inbetweener jobs are paid ¥100,000 (approximately $1,146 AUD) per month, at an average working rate of 12-18 hours a day.
“Wages are undeniably low,” he told Nippon, “with inbetweeners, who are mostly young, paid a standard rate of only ¥200 for each drawing. While this means they could theoretically earn ¥1,000 an hour or more if they drew five or more images an hour, the actual average is only about two an hour.”
Yasuhiro, who is also the representative Director of JAniCa, says that this has resulted in more international labour and a shortage of young Japanese hopefuls entering the field, with an estimate of 80 to 90 percent of inbetweeners from China and South Korea.
“Outstanding animators are being trained in South Korea and China by doing inbetweening work based on the best of Japanese key frames,” he said. “That amounts to Japan cultivating future animators overseas. At the same time, there’s no opportunity for aspiring Japanese animators to work on superior key frames as inbetweeners here at home and learn how to do animation themselves.”
The greatest auteurs of Japanese animation - Makoto Shinkai, Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, etc. – all began their work in the industry as inbetweeners.
A proposal for Prime Minister Aso Taro’s National Centre for Media Arts in 2009 has since resurfaced as the Manga National Centre, with legislation currently being discussed in a committee. Even then, JAniCa feel that there needs to be more support in the animation industry.
“Everybody knows that bigger budgets would make the work easier,” Irie explains, “but it seems that no one can bring themselves to ask for more money because they’re afraid that they’ll lose work to the completion.”
Yuri on Ice and Zankyou no Terror studio Mappa, are one of the few production companies trying to preserve the cultivation of Japanese animation within the country. In an effort to change the way animators are paid, the studio are taking new hires under a contract basis with the possibility of regular employment post contract, promoting a healthier more defined workplace system.
“Production houses which offer conditions as good as MAPPA has will be able to attract a lot of talented staffers,” says Irie. “On the other hand, even if they still get work orders, the studios that stick with the status quo and newly emerging outfits alike may well find themselves unable to attract the personnel they need. We could even see old, established firms losing their top producers, managers, and production runners, to the point that they can’t stay in the business.”
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