Why are Japanese animators forced to live in poverty?

In this eye-opening piece in The New York Times, they ask the question: If the Japanese anime industry is booming, why are so many of its animators only earning as little as $200/month?

Thousands of lower-rung illustrators do grueling piecework for as little as $200 a month. Rather than rewarding them, the industry's explosive growth has only widened the gap between the profits they help generate and their paltry wages, leaving many to wonder whether they can afford to continue following their passion.

"I want to work in the anime industry for the rest of my life," Mr. Akutsu, 29, said during a telephone interview. But as he prepares to start a family, he feels intense financial pressure to leave. "I know it's impossible to get married and to raise a child."

The low wages and abysmal working conditions — hospitalization from overwork can be a badge of honor in Japan — have confounded the usual laws of the business world. Normally, surging demand would, at least in theory, spur competition for talent, driving up pay for existing workers and attracting new ones.

Business is so good that nearly every animation studio in Japan is booked solid years in advance. Netflix said the number of households that watched anime on its streaming service in 2020 increased by half over the previous year.

But many studios have been shut out of the bonanza by an outmoded production system that directs nearly all of the industry's profits to so-called production committees.

These committees are ad hoc coalitions of toy manufacturers, comic book publishers and other companies that are created to finance each project. They typically pay animation studios a set fee and reserve royalties for themselves.

While the system protects the studios from the risk of a flop, it also cuts them out of the windfalls created by hits.

Read the rest here.

Image: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash