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The Dark Truths About Anime

In 2019, an anime film named “Weathering With You” was released in Indian theatres due to popular demand. This was because of a petition made by the anime fan community in India. It received over 50,000 signatures. Since the 80s, Japanese animated content, also known as anime, has made its way through countless TV screens across the globe. People grew up watching anime without knowing what anime is. Cartoons like Doraemon, Anpanman, Pokémon, Dragon Ball, and Beyblade are pretty much familiar to all societies in India as well as other countries.

The first anime ever created was in 1912 by an unknown artist. It was called The Matsumudo Fragment. It was a very rudimentary form of animation that barely lasted 2 minutes. Later animation was introduced in the U.S. and Europe in 1914. By 1917, two animated films were made in Japan. One was Nakamura Katana produce by Junichi Kouchi and the other was Urashima Taro produced by Seitaro Kitayama.

Since then, anime has come a long way. The anime industry today is approximated at $19 billion per year. Almost 200 anime are released every year, and almost all of them are manga adaptations. Manga is Japanese comics. The anime industry and the manga industry co-exist and are dependent on each other. The work that goes into creating animated versions of mangas is very detailed.

The animators work tirelessly to make the black and white drawings from mangas come alive. Most anime are hand-drawn with keen attention to detail. There are three types of employees that breathe life into the animations. One is the director who creates the storyboard. The other is the key animator who draws the main drawings of each scene. And the third is the in-between animator who draws other drawings. The in-between is usually a freelancer who does it for the love of anime. Since the number of animators is less considering the amount of anime that is produced each year, the animation studios are heavily dependent on these freelancers.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “Good things never come in pairs. Bad things never come alone.” It takes an hour to draw a single frame and even more time to draw frames that involve scenery or anything that requires the drawing to be extremely detailed. This is the average time taken by a practiced animator. For the amount of hard work that is expected, the animators only get enough salary to survive. It doesn’t matter what type of employee you are. You still won’t be paid enough. Even if the anime is popular, the animator will still not earn enough for the amount of work they do.

The working conditions are next to impossible. The animators work for 400 hours a month, far more than an ordinary salaried person. Sometimes it goes up to 600 hours. Animators are usually found sleeping on desks, frequenting hospital visits, and having large eyebags. Part of the reason why this happens is because of the grueling work culture in Japan. In the late 1940s, the Japanese Government encouraged longer work hours and a lack of holidays to recover from the losses caused by World War 2. However, it has been a long time since the war and the work culture has not improved despite economic improvement.

Wages in the anime industry are a structural problem that dates back to the 60s. At the time, making manga and anime was easy. It wasn’t as detailed as today. This is why Osamu Tekuda, the manga creator behind “Astro Boy”, sold his animation of the character at a lower price. The losses that he faced were covered by the merchandise and other sales that Astro Boy had after it became popular. But since then, there have been no changes in the pricing, although the creation of anime has improved drastically. Women animators are paid even less than men.

There is a major structural issue behind this. If the animators are paid at prices they deserve, then there will not be the constant flow of anime that we see today. This is only possible by keeping the budget low. If the budget is high, the cost increases. If the cost increases, the price of anime will also increase, making it expensive. That will discourage people from buying and can cause huge losses. The only option left will be to make less anime that will be released once in a while. Then the industry might not sustain itself for long.

The disadvantage of the continuous production of anime is that the content becomes saturated. Anime creators have to constantly work to churn out content, which makes the anime that they are working on pale in comparison to anime in the past. The quality is affected immensely. Many fans have pointed this out by comparing the drawings in the anime to the ones in the manga. The manga drawings are usually more detailed and have more elements to them than the anime drawings. This leaves the fans who have read the manga dissatisfied.

The problem also lies in the method of distribution. Most anime studios are apprehensive about international distribution because they do not think that the audience outside Japan is large. There is also the fact that 90% of anime is made by small studios that are cash-strapped.

There are three major methods of distribution. One is Japanese TV, where all kinds of anime are aired. The other is licensing and distributing to sites like Funimation and Crunchyroll. This makes sure that the anime is easily available in the U.S. if you have a monthly subscription to the sites. This is not true for other countries. A lot of anime available on these sites are region-locked, which makes them unavailable in most countries, including India. The third method of distribution is DVD/Blu-ray. This is a very outdated method of distribution. If you want to legally watch anime in a country like India, you will have to buy DVDs online. That is why many anime fans in India watch it illegally. Sites like kissanime and goanime are popular illegal streaming sites. Luckily, since 2019, Netflix has made a lot of anime available legally across the globe at an affordable price. Although the number of anime available on Netflix is low, it still has some popular ones like Naruto, Death Note, My Hero Academia and Jujutsu Kaisen.

Netflix makes original anime too. They pay the same amount of money to animators that the Japanese studios pay. They could choose to pay the rates that they pay western animators. This is true for every western studio/production house that invests in creating original anime content.

It can also happen that the animators get royalties for the content they create, at least when it is funded by Netflix or other western platforms. Another way to earn more for the studio is to put the content up on YouTube by creating a separate channel. There can also be one channel that hosts anime content. Something like 1theK, a channel that hosts K-pop Music Videos. These can add ads through which the anime studios can earn money.

While this is the major issue plaguing the anime industry as of now, other issues need attention as well. Portraying unrealistic versions of women’s bodies, for example. Women in anime are portrayed as having big breasts, fat asses and an extremely thin frame to compliment the two. This is a widely seen and normalised way standard set by the industry.

Some say that this causes unrealistic expectations for men and makes them want women who look like they see in anime. But that argument does not hold if we consider that women are sexualised everywhere. Anime and manga are just left in the pond that accompanies other leaves, like advertisements, shows, and influencers on the internet. People like Kim Kardashian have similar body types to the ones portrayed in anime. And she’s not the only one.

All forms of media set unrealistic standards. But not so much for men. It is mostly the women who are affected by the way anime girls are portrayed. Women tend to think of themselves as average and want to become like the women shown on TV. With anime, the problem comes when the people watching it are not women, but girls. Young girls are more vulnerable to the unrealistic standards set by the bodies of anime girls. They tend to see themselves as average or ugly compared to them.

This is especially a problem when the girls portrayed in anime are minors. Characters who are aged somewhere between 14-17 are shown having hourglass figures with big breasts. They are blemish-free and look very much as if they have already grown up. They are also shown with short skirts and sometimes with bikinis that sexualise their bodies.

One can always say that anime creators only follow what the manga has. But that doesn’t hold true many times. Sometimes beach scenes where all the girls are wearing bikinis are deliberately added. Fans have also pointed out that the characters in the manga did not have big breasts, as characters have in the anime adaptation. Some anime like Record of Ragnarok have women with ridiculously big breasts. That then points out a larger issue of sexualisation of women and girls that permeates most societies. Comparisons can be made to Bollywood songs, where the women are highly sexualised through item numbers and similar songs.

Standards for men are also made unrealistic in anime. But these standards usually don’t consist of body types. The standards here are mostly in terms of behaviour. Even if they have good bodies, it is the personality that tends to attract women more. It does affect men in a way that men are supposed to live up to the personality that the anime men have. This also means that a lot of the girls in the anime community are more likely to have unrealistic expectations. Most men can distinguish between the girls in anime and the girls in real life. They don’t expect to find a girl with the kind of body type that an anime girl has.

That being said, the anime girls are still sexualised by the audience. Sometimes, even the girls that aren’t meant to be sexualised are sexualised by certain problematic sections of the fandom. Nezuko from Demon Slayer, for example. She is a minor and a cute demon without any unrealistic body standards. But still, there are people (mostly men) who sexualise her.

Unfortunately, the girls in anime are only meant to be eye candies for the most part and not have enough substance in their stories or characters. For example, in Death Note, Misa was mostly shown to be a cute goth girl who was obsessed with Light Yagami. She didn’t seem to have a self that was separate from Light. Sakura from Naruto also did nothing much apart from crying and being unbelievably shallow. The boys in anime usually have more substance and importance in the storyline.

Other truths about anime stem from within the fandom. These mostly erupt because of fandom discourse. Recently, the male fans of anime expressed the opinion that girls who watch anime are either doing it because it is a trend, or because they like the men and don’t understand the plot. The male fans wanted to gatekeep shounen anime (anime that targets male audiences) from female fans. Such anime includes Attack on Titan, Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist, which is created by a woman.

This causes the female fans to retaliate by stating specific reasons why they like anime. They also said that they do, in fact, understand shounen anime and also can grasp the depth behind it. Discourse like this keeps happening, and it is mostly because certain anime fans don’t want certain other fans to enjoy anime the way they do. They don’t seem to understand the concept “to each their own.”

The solutions to these problems won't seem to appear anytime soon. Anime is still a long way from becoming a better industry. Fans can help make it better by buying official merchandise and streaming legally. Considering the number of fans that are underage or unemployed, that isn’t possible for a larger part of the fandom. As for the objectification of women, the major part of Japanese fans does not seem to have a problem with it. Considering how most anime is primarily made to satisfy the Japanese audience, non-objectification seems a distant dream. Let us still hope for better days.


Picture Credit: My Hero Academia

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