Archives for : Otaku

Aggretsuko Accurate On Japanese Work Environment

 

I have never been to Japan, but I have learned about for years due to my love for anime and manga.  Despite being a modern, developed country, there is still something ethereal about the land of the rising sun.  Just in the country’s nickname: “land of the rising sun” it sounds like a place akin to Oz or Never Never Land.  Alas, you can tell when one has consumed too much anime and manga when they believe Japan is the embodiment of anime cliches.  Usually this occurs in the younger otaku, who are still wide-eyed and naive.  They’re better off searching for Never Land and Oz, because the Japan in anime and manga doesn’t exist.

Continuing the theme from my last post related to the Japanese anime industry, I found this video about a great anime called Aggretsuko.  Brotakuza (Get it? He made a pun on otaku and the American slang word “bro.”  This dude is awesome!) and on his channel his discusses anime and various aspects about living in Japan.  In this particular video, he shares his experience about working in Japan, the tough realities, and how Aggretsuko does a fantastic job depicting it.

Aggretsuko is an anime inspired by none other than a Sanrio character.  Can you believe that the same creators behind Hello Kitty actually created one of the most progressive, female anime characters?  Aggretsuko plays on Netflix and is currently on the second season.  The show focuses on Retsuko is a twenty-five year old red panda and an office lady who works in an accounting department at a huge company.  Retsuko is constantly frustrated and unhappy with her job, romantic life, and lifestyle.  She gets her catharsis on by singing heavy metal karaoke.

It’s popularity has soared due to its accurate portrayal of not only a Japanese office environment, but also offices around the world.  One could say it is Sanrio’s version of the office with cute animals, but not as enduring.  Brotakuza shares his views and it’s another reason for otaku to be aware before they head to Japan for the desired “dream job.”

Watch Brotakuza’s video:

 

Working In Anime Sucks, Otaku Stay Home

I love anime.  I proudly say, “Otaku desu” among my fellow geeks.  (I am very familiar with the negative associations the Japanese attribute to otaku as well as the term “weeabo.”  I use otaku in the positive definition in that has gained traction since the first anime bubble in the late 1990s.). In my book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation, I discuss the early anime and how Reiniger influenced some Japanese animators.  Her film The Adventures of Prince Achmed was even shown in major cities before Japan exercised imperialism.  

I can also make a good argument that Sailor Moon, DragonBall Z, Pokémon, and other anime kept me going through the throes of my depression.  I wanted to live so I could read the manga, watch the newest dubbed show, and to catch them all.  

I love anime, but I do not love the system that creates it.  I’ve heard about poor treatment in the US for animators, particularly Ed Catmull (one of Pixar’s bigwigs) and the wage-fixing scandal.   What is grievously ironic is Catmull’s book Creativity Inc. and how he speaks about respecting animators and their creativity.  

While I am familiar with the US animation industry, the Japanese anime world appears one hundred times worse.

Vox recently published, “The Dark Side Of Japan’s Anime Industry” and I am appalled.  I first started as an otaku, then transformed into a Japanophile.  I joke that when I visit Japan the country is going to throw me out, because I’m going to eat all their food, steal all the art in their museums, lay siege to Studio Ghibli, and annex all their botanical gardens.   As a Japanophile, I know that it is part of the culture to put work before family life.  This often leads individuals to work long hours, deal with unhealthy stress levels, and falling asleep on the job is normal.  Western media does overdramatizes the differences between cultures, but Vox’s article states things are really that bad.

This quote slams it to me: 

“But anime’s outward success conceals a disturbing underlying economic reality: Many of the animators behind the onscreen magic are broke and face working conditions that can lead to burnout and even suicide.”

Unlike the bulk of US animation, particularly films, anime continues to be hand drawn.  Cels have long since gone the way of the passenger pigeon, but animators still hand draw each scene with fancy technology.  Japan currently faces a huge talent shortage in the anime industry, so if you ever wanted to move to Japan and become an animator now is the time to do it.  The downside, however, is that Japan fills the shortage with freelancers who love the craft and are paid $2.00 a drawing (200 yen) and it takes an hour to make one drawing.  Do the math, it’s not a living wage!

Then we get to the Japanese high stress levels:

“Working conditions are grim. Animators often fall asleep at their desks. Henry Thurlow, an American animator living and working in Japan, told BuzzFeed News he has been hospitalized multiple times due to illness brought on by exhaustion.

One studio, Madhouse, was recently accused of violating labor code: Employees were working nearly 400 hours per month and went 37 consecutive days without a single day off. A male animator’s 2014 suicide was classified as a work-related incident after investigators found he had worked more than 600 hours in the month leading up to his death.”

And I LOVE Madhouse!  Now I don’t really like them anymore.  The old adage is that artists make art for art’s sake, it’s not about the money, and more gag me with a spoon cliches.  In Japan, the animators are living for their art at the cost of their mental health.  Freelancers allow studios to bypass labor codes and crack the whip on owning an individual’s time.  The end products are beautiful as seen with the many anime that travel overseas.  Japanese animators are obsessed with details to the level that Disney and Pixar animators.  These are TV series churned out at a quick rate, not the masterful films that take years to create.  

What I abhor even more (I made a rhyme) is that this goes all the way back to Osamu Tezuka’s days!  This is nuts!

“Tezuka was responsible for an endless catalog of innovations and precedents in manga, Japanese comics, and anime, onscreen animation. In the early 1960s, with networks unwilling to take the risk on an animated series, Tezuka massively undersold his show to get it on air.  

‘Basically, Tezuka and his company were going to take a loss for the actual show,’ said Michael Crandol, an assistant professor of Japanese studies at Leiden University. ‘They planned to make up for the loss with Astro Boy toys and figures and merchandise, branded candy. … But because that particular scenario worked for Tezuka and the broadcasters, it became the status quo.’”

Tezuka set the standard for quality anime art and storytelling, but also for industry treatment.  The solution is not as simple as shaving money from the top level and dividing it among animators.  If higher salaries were demanded and given to animators, the anime industry would go bankrupt, particularly the smaller studios.  Thurlow said if that happened, the anime industry would mutate into a Japanese version of Hollywood with “mass marketing and generic content tailored to the lowest common denominator.”  Think US superhero movies before the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Disney in the 2000s.  Oh, those sad latter Eisner days!

I take back about what I said about immigrating to Japan to become an animator.  The Japanese animators are even telling foreign fans to not come over.  The stress is high, the payout is nix, burnout is quick, and the culture shock is going to smack you straight down into KO.  If the creators behind anime are struggling, the foreign otaku won’t last.  

There aren’t any clean katana cut solutions, but there is a burgeoning storm on the horizon.  From what I know about Japanese culture, however, is that it’s an extremely slow moving storm.  The Japanese value group dynamics over the individual, upsetting the inkwell is not the norm.  When the storm does break, it will be a tsunami that crashes and flashes faster than Porygon sent kids to the hospital.

I don’t see this as a reason to boycott anime, not that anyone would other than my fundamentalist aunt who believes I’m going to Hell because I watch the medium.  Animators are able to make what ends meet they can because of the fan support.  As otaku, we love anime because it is so different from the majority of cartoons made for western audiences.  The Japanese (and European studios, particularly the French) is one of the few cultures that takes animation to its peak in regards to subject matter and artistic experimentation.  Yes, some of the content raises questionable eyebrows (sibling incest is big these days, why?!), but one has to respect animators who sacrifice literally everything for their craft.