Is the anime industry overloaded by too many series?

The following article provides a brief discussion of suicide and self-harm.

Anime production seems to have more than doubled compared to decades ago. As anime continues to gain popularity and recognition worldwide, the demand for content never seems to end. But more anime also means more working hours for many people.

So how does the increase in the amount of anime produced each year affect the industry as a whole? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? And where does it go from here?

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How the world of anime started

The Boring Sword — a four-minute short film produced by Jun’ichi Kouichi — was the earliest anime to survive modern times, originally produced in 1917. But it wouldn’t be until the 1960s, with the success of Astro Boy, that anime would be made often enough to be considered an industry. Production steadily increased from there until the number of anime produced reached double digits in 1965. In 2003, the number of anime reached triple digits, averaging in the hundreds. In 2013, it started to increase steadily in the 200s and is expected to reach 500 by 2030.

The Fall 2022 season alone will feature over 30 new anime titles, and that doesn’t include sequels and ongoing series such as A piece and boruto. This has become the average amount for seasonal offerings in recent years and is expected to double in size over the next decade. The anime industry is growing and showing no signs of stopping.

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The side effects of making too much anime

The cost of producing so much anime often comes at the cost of poor working conditions, especially for animators. The combination of low pay, harsh working conditions and long hours has resulted in the anime industry developing some of the highest suicide rates in Japan.

In 2014, the suicide of a 28-year-old man was classified as a work-related incident by the government. He worked as a full-time animator for A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, your lie in April) and had been with the company for three years. Investigations revealed that he had worked more than 600 hours in the month prior to his death. In response to this disclosure, A-1 Pictures issued an official statement stating, “If this decision is true, it is unexpected and we are unable to comment as the reason for the verdict is unclear.” The man’s family received an employee benefit, and that was that.

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The monthly income of a freelance animator is 200 yen ($2.00) per drawing. But due to the complexity of anime designs, it can take up to an hour to complete a single drawing, leading to most animators costing about $2.00 an hour on average. For many animators, their current living wage is not enough to support them, with the result that many choose to live with their families. Many studios choose to hire freelancers to avoid adhering to the country’s labor code as it allows them to pay freelance animators the lowest possible price without enjoying any corporate benefits. It is cost effective, efficient and inhumane.

The situation is even worse for female animators, as a recent survey found that they are paid even less than their male colleagues. These impossible working hours have resulted in the hospitalization of countless animators due to exhaustion and overwork. Many animators have to work side by side to make ends meet, leading to several instances of burnout.

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Why modern anime is so short

Anime series, especially anime original projects, seem to get shorter and shorter every year. In the past, anime was known to have been going on for a number of years, with many going past the 100-episode mark. Today, most titles are released within a single cour or split cour, usually lasting about 11-13 episodes at a time. Most of the long-running anime that still exists today are either the ones that have been going on for years — like Detective Conan and Sazae-san — anime for children, or anime that is part of an existing franchise.

This is mainly due to how much more detailed the art style of anime has become. Older series used to have simpler character designs, not unlike those in western cartoons. A standard human design would consist of round heads, dots for the eyes and simple clothing. Today’s anime has more complex designs, detailed landscapes, and mouthwatering food. Animation techniques in the past were also simpler, and because most of the intended audience at the time were children, animators felt no need or pressure to present overly complicated scenes.

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Now even modern children’s anime contains moments of smooth and complicated animation, and it has become an expectation for the audience to see eye candy across the screen. Not meeting the expectations of the fans can often affect the sales of the show, even if the story is good. A large part of an anime’s income usually comes from selling merchandise, so if a show doesn’t get off the ground, neither will the merchandise. And if a show doesn’t make a lot of money during its first series, the chances of it ever getting picked up for a second season — or even a second season — are minimal.

It’s likely that the animation production train won’t slow down in the future, with each new season seemingly bringing more and more new titles. Animators themselves do not foresee positive changes in their work situation, and many even advise against pursuing a career in the industry now. But because many of them have so much passion and love for anime, they keep drawing.

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