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Anime Director Terumi Nishii: We Haven’t Felt the Effect of Foreign Investments, Laments Studio Crunch

Anime director and character designer Terumi Nishii has stated in an interview that despite claims by some non-Japanese companies giving large investment or support to the anime industry, that the animators themselves not noticed any major changes. She also shared her concerns with the industry’s harsh working hours and demands.

Terumi’s has the impressive history of work; including Death Note, Doraemon, Highschool of the Dead, Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure, Saint Seiya, Love Hina, Mawaru Penguindrum, One Piece, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Pokemon, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Trigun, and more.

Speaking with Patrick Macias of Otaku USA Magazine in a two part interview, the questions seemed to focus on the negative side of the industry. These include struggling to meet deadlines due to a lack of staff. Since there is little desire to reduce output or quality, it results in staff being overworked.

“There’s a situation now where there are more and more anime shows than there used to be, and you are not allowed to reduce the quality, so there’s a lot of overwork. There didn’t used to be so much outsourcing in the industry before, but now there is lots of it. And that has increased the number of people who have to work on each project. In the past, it might take two months to complete a job, but these days you have double the number of people working to try and complete a project in one month.

So if you have a series that goes from a 12-episode season, to 24 episodes, and 36 episodes, and keeps continuing then it expands the number of people who are working on the project. It requires more management and just makes everything more complicated.

Instead of an anime project being made in one studio, it is outsourced to 10 different studios and everyone is working on multiple projects at the same time. And if you have to keep the quality high, while trying to shrink the timeline down to complete projects, then that just makes the job tougher and tougher. The project managers really can’t sleep. They are working hard 24/7.”

This certainly matches up with tweets she made back in April 2019. “No matter how much you like anime, it is not advisable to come to Japan and participate in anime work. Because the animation industry is usually overworked. Japanese animation is maintained only by the feelings that the creators “like anime”. However, with the increase of the number of works in recent years, some people have broken mind and body.”

Macias asked Terumi to elaborate on the tweet, she stated two of her sempai (mentor/senior) had died in their 40s from overwork. She then explained other unnamed individuals who had suffered aneurysms, blood clots, heart attacks, or death due to over-work; or had to stop working due to doctor’s orders.

The interview’s second part turned towards how those problems could be solved. Terumi discussed how she has been involved with a company that is attempting to hire employees instead of contractors, teaching them how to use digital methods to make anime.

Terumi also discussed how she felt digital methods resulted in less waste, and how she wanted to merge traditional and digital animation “so that viewers can still enjoy Japanese-style anime while taking advantage of technology to make it a more efficient process.”

Questioning moved onto how fans could support the industry, something Terumi has heard many times in Japan. She recommended attending conventions, buying self-published works by animators, and services such as Patreon.

“I get this question a lot from anime fans in Japan. They say things like, “We buy lots of anime goods, but the money never gets to the creators and they are still struggling. What can we do?”

The easiest and most popular solution now is to go to a fan event like Comiket and buy dojinshi (a self-published book) direct from an animator working on your favorite show. When you do that, your money goes directly to them.

Then there are things like Pixiv FANBOX, which is a bit like Patreon. I have a Patreon account, too, but it’s a little bit hard for me to manage because I have to do everything in English and I don’t know how to communicate so well with overseas fans. But I guess that’s one method for international fans to support animators that are working on projects that they like.”

When asked “What about overseas companies who are heavily investing in anime?”, Terumi revealed that such investments had little effect on the animation, indicating the increased budget must have gone elsewhere in development or marketing. She also revealed that how artists are paid can also effect the budget.

“We have not felt the effects at all. You often hear about big budgets going toward anime, but I don’t feel like a lot of that money is being spent on great artists.

Payment is another challenge. Because of the way that payments are made to the industry, they may be partial payments or it takes a while for payment to happen. When a project is commissioned they say, “Okay make 12 episodes. We will start paying you after you complete 12 episodes.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s not the way that anime has normally been made in the past, so that might be affecting the way that budgets are spent now. It’s a new process. Nobody is really used to making anime this way so it might be difficult to manage it.

A good way to do it would be if small teams could make the entire production in-house, without outsourcing, like Mecha Ude. Utilizing small teams that do high-quality work without a bunch of checkers in between would be one way to increase efficiency. But there’s not a good training process to get animators to the level where they don’t need a bunch of quality control.”

Terumi’s proposed solution to this problem is that to cut out several “middle-men” from the animation process. Though she does admit there is a lack of people with the skills needed, as well as training. However, that may change if animators and artists were paid better.

“What’s happening now is that someone makes a first cut, then a second cut, and then the animation is brushed up and finalized. The person who does the brushup should be the person doing the animating from the very beginning. The problem is we don’t have those kinds of highly skilled people because there isn’t a good training process and the industry doesn’t pay the good artists enough. If people who can produce high-quality animation were being paid correctly then you would see more people stick around.”

When asked if there was anything she would like to say to foreign anime fans, Terumi emphasized how harsh the anime industry is. Rather than discourage non-Japanese people however, she hopes those who do enter the industry fully understand what it will mean, and that they may even change it for the better.

“Every time I go overseas to an anime event, fans always come to me and say, “I want to be an animator too. How can I become part of the industry?” At these events, I’m usually pretty polite and soft on these issues. But I think that if these young people really want to enter the anime industry, they can try, but they really need to understand the conditions: there’s no union for workers and there’s not a lot of protection.

I feel bad that I may have said things that would discourage aspiring animators from overseas. I didn’t really intend to do that. I just wanted artists who want to enter this industry to understand that the conditions are pretty severe right now. They should understand that before they try to enter this world.

I actually want foreigners to enter this industry to help to change it for the better. So I really do welcome them to enter this industry.”


Ryan Pearson

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Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.