The Freefall of Japan’s Anime Industry

November 4th, 2010By Category: Culture

Since its introduction more than half a century ago, anime has risen to become one of Japan’s most recognizable cultural icons. It has served as the initial contact between individuals and Japanese society, and has brought us the likes of Gundam, Pokemon, Astro Boy and Dragonball Z. Anime films like Akira have gone on to become cult classics, while the works of Hayao Miyazaki have been lauded as masterpieces around the globe.

Now, however, the industry is running the risk of becoming extinct.

To the casual observer, Japanese anime doesn’t seem to be faring for the worse. Such couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many Japanese who have considered a career in the anime industry have been put off by insanely low wages and the long, tedious hours required of its animators. As a result, the number of individuals working in the anime industry (and consequently, the number of anime series produced by the Land of the Rising Sun) peaked around mid decade and have declined year after year. After year. After year.

It has reached a point where anime is bordering on the point of irrelevance. The lack of fresh faces in the industry has led to lack of innovation and save the occasional gem (Code Geass being such for myself), the same basic plot keeps getting recycled. People notice and go, “Hey, haven’t I seen this before?”, generalize that the same must be true of all new anime series and move on from anime into other forms of entertainment. Less people watch new series, there’s less money to entice new animators and the cycle of decline continues.

It doesn’t help that new anime series are increasingly being directed towards niche audiences (“little girls” may give you an indication of what that means). I really don’t understand the reasoning behind it. It’s a cul-de-sac. The focus has led to a plunge in profits for anime studios and has made new anime series ridiculously difficult to understand unless religiously followed. And most mind boggling of all, they keep doing it! I know it takes creativity to make something truly artistic and sometimes that requires a bit of “encouragement”, but producers in the industry really do have to get off whatever they’re smoking.

Then there’s the whole economic aspect of the issue. The shrinking number of workers has led to a mass export of anime-related work from Japan. And by work, I do mean work-work. Jobs are going to Vietnam, India and Thailand, where tedious in-between frames are drawn and sent back to headquarters in Japan for final assembly. A shrinking number of jobs coupled with a shrinking number of workers can’t be considered a good thing.

You also have China and South Korea, which in their economic rise, have created a whole host of rival anime series in competing (with the Japanese) for the hearts and minds of anime lovers. I’m not against healthy competition. In fact, I’m all for it. The Japanese anime industry, however, seems to have turned inward and has refused to compete, and have basically given both the Chinese and the South Koreans the keys to the kingdom.

As with all other forms of entertainment (save maybe theatre productions), piracy continues to take a huge chunk away from the bottom lines of anime studios. Such ultimately affects the developmental budget of future anime series and the future of anime as a whole.

So, what would I like those influential in the industry to take away from this article? Get your act together. Stop making lolicon, little girl series for otakus and focus on the more lucrative mainstream market. Stop committing cultural harakiri in outsourcing jobs to developing countries. And for pete’s sake, stop treating your animators like slaves and give them decent wages.

And you, Japanese government (I’m looking at you, Minshuto), stop seeing this as a minor issue and put some funding into the industry. You can afford to inject trillions of yen into the economy but can’t scrounge up enough to save part of your cultural identity?

Kira Yamato from Gundam SEED once said, “There are some things you can’t protect without fighting.” As part of Japan’s cultural identity and a tour de force in Japan’s soft cultural power around the world, both the government and anime studios have to realize that this is one of those things.

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GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • Hiko says:

    Buy anime and support it. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean you should too.

    Stealing is stealing regardless of how you try to justify it. If anime is crap now then go watch something else you feel is worth purchasing.

    A lot of you seem to feel anime is worse than it used to be but perhaps you are just .. oh I don’t know .. older now ?? so maybe most of the anime (i.e. CARTOONS) is targeted towards 11-18 year old audiences and not 25 year old men.

  • Dspfhdspo says:

    who cares. its just anime… more to life than anime.. ugh.

  • Dspfhdspo says:

    who cares. its just anime… more to life than anime.. ugh.

  • I really wish that they could revive this amazing industry. Anime has become popular not only in Asia but all over the world.

  • TOT says:

    Creative ideas!! Come on,,, this is Japan where different colour condom is considered creative. They don’t have any creativity just a total fixation on dominating and exploiting girls. If it is tasteful lovemaking porn/anime I understand but I really dont understand octupusses and stuff coming out of the ground and having love with women, it is not sexy, I would prefer to look at the hot sexy business woman sleeping opposite me on train, hahahah

  • Lolwut says:

    They need to clean up their act..I mean look what the fuck happened to Vampire Knight..
    Honestly, I don’t want to see a bunch of whores with big boobs. It’d be nice, you know…some creative ideas then..THIS.

  • Mono_locco says:

    Michael mate….. no one will ever stop downloading anime…. It’s like telling to to throw away all you pirated movies and songs you have downloaded and have in your computer or ipod. And don’t BS me and tell that you don’t have any.
    Unless they start making good animes worth buying no one will ever stop downloading. I myself used to buy animes but these days its soooooooo shit I don’t want to spend my money on crap. SO please stop the I am such an angel I don’t do anything illegal and bag out people who download anime…..first take a look in the mirror and see what you are doing before you start to point fingers because we all know you probably are far worse than the people you are calling parasites because you myfriend…. sound like one yourself ^^

  • Mono_locco says:

    Animation these days in Japan has gone to the dogs…… There is alot of crap coming out these days left, right and centre. I can’t beleive how much rubbish is published and shown these days. Alot of animes these days tend to be maid for horny guys who love anime characters with less to no clothes on fighting or getting all over each other. I’m sorry Japan but not all of us are as horny as these otaku , old guys or guys who have no gf’s and only have dolls or figurines of naked girls in their apartments. Bring out the good old animes from the 90’s and 2000’s.

  • Wes says:

    Peter, members of the Japanese government are only interested in lining their own pockets and certainly not interested in spending money on something beautiful such as modern cultural pursuits. They are like the black and white robots in your anime. You should also know that these black and white men have every Japanese person locked down into a robot mentality. I have never seen such mass conformity in my life. Everyone here is a slave to something mundane, most people are a slave to the love of money. Another gucci purse please!!!

  • Boredinshonan says:

    in times of recession people fall back on what they know and are comfortable with. that means rehashes, remakes, revivals…. creativity begins as soon as people are confident to allow it to begin. I’d say… expect a new great anime in a year or so.

  • Eve_requiem says:

    Being an otaku, I share the same sentiments. Indeed, it is getting hard for me to even try watching a new series unless it was by a familiar artist (Yana Toboso of Kuroshitsuji for example). Even the supposedly good ones, like bleach, keeps repeating the storyline and adding new characters.
    However, I must agree that it is partly the fault of certain readers. With the ever increasing amount of website posting free manga/anime, it is doubtless that many will turn to such cheaper means instead of actually purchasing the manga/anime.

  • Gast Henk says:

    Aren’t all animation series drawn in cheap-labor countries these days? The Simpsons has been drawn in Asia for years and never did that affect its quality.

  • Gast Henk says:

    Aren’t all animation series drawn in cheap-labor countries these days? The Simpsons has been drawn in Asia for years and never did that affect its quality.

  • Michael says:

    We are in such dire need for another masterpiece like Fullmetal Alchemist..I seriously hope and pray that everything somehow falls into place and becomes other entertainment outlet can do what anime does..all of the parasites who keep on downloading anime for free and reading manga for may not have it much longer with the way things are going..wake up and for God’s sake start buying things old and anime!

  • Hok says:

    I think the lack of new animes and most of them being about little girls or girls in general is I read in one article that new Mangakas can draw girls very well but fail to produce an interesting male character… odd, cause as drawing manga is a hobby of mine and drawing male characters is no problem but I fail miserably at drawing a girl 😛