Low wages are a reality for many people working in anime, especially animators. Jun Sugawara, a CG specialist, has been working for years to change this. He started the Animator Dormitory, a place for animators to live that’s more affordable than regular places to rent. He also wants to create his own anime company which will pay its employees livable wages. Otaku USA talked to Sugawara about his projects, what he hopes to accomplish, and how American fans can help make things better for anime workers.
Why did you decide to start helping people in the anime industry?
I was looking after some juniors from a film club I made in college, even after I had found work. I was a CG specialist, but there were students among us who wanted to make anime. Along the way, Tomohisa Shimoyama, who was working as the animation director for Fullmetal Alchemist, started teaching students who wanted to learn about anime. Some of those students went on to work as animators. As more and more students got jobs at animation studios, I came to know more about the issue of low wages. From what I heard, the students who found work at CG companies were able to live without much issue, but the ones that went to anime studios largely stopped working after a short period of time, being unable to continue their work because of low wages. I thought, “There’s a lot of issues in this industry.” Then I started trying to work out a solution.
Why do you think animators are paid so poorly?
The causes of low payment for animators are varied and complex, making it difficult to explain them in a few words. We explain the issue in-depth over on our YouTube channel, Animator Dormitory Channel. Have a look if you’re interested. But, the root cause of the issue is that the budgets passed down to anime studios from production committees are just about a fourth of what is actually necessary.
Here are some links to videos explaining the issue further:
What are you doing at the New Anime Making System Project?
Our idea is to create a new financial scheme that doesn’t rely on funds from production committees. We also plan to create an animation studio that prioritizes the working environment of its animators.
What would you like to accomplish over time?
One of the downsides of so many animators leaving the industry because of low wages is that the quality of animation is declining. On top of that, shows getting taken off the air is becoming more of a common occurrence. By skimping on necessary labor costs, the industry is losing technical skills. I believe this is very meaningless and ineffective. I want to prove that having respect for your animation staff and showing concern for their working environment will lead to higher technical ability and higher benefits. If we can achieve that, I think it would become the industry standard.
For the time being, our plan is to collaborate with well-known artists to produce a music video that is about 3 minutes long. The production will go on for about two to three years, all while training staff and saving up our budget. We will then create an animation studio that realizes the importance of the working environment for animators. We have well-known manga artists among our supporters, so after the studio is established, we would like to make short works based on manga.
How can American anime fans help?
Since Japan has a relatively large population of 120 million, the anime industry has more or less only shown concern for domestic sales without much regard for overseas fans. Also, the production process of anime has been kept secret, rarely being made open to the public. We would like to change this. We want to value our overseas fans and create anime together, (of course, that doesn’t mean losing the unique characteristic of anime in the process,) so we are just extremely grateful for any support we get.
American fans can help in several ways: watching our videos on YouTube directly helps to fund our dormitory without having to spend a cent!
And here are our GoGetFunding pages:
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, and its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, with professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.