Last week I mentioned the outrageous number of artists who had to work on Yuri!!! On ICE’s finale so that it could be finished in time. The general reaction seemed to be of bewilderment as people realized just how messy the situation had become, but I also noticed confused outliers; people who simply lacked any frame of reference, and even some who thought that multitude was something positive. It’s time for some research into how many animators it takes to produce an episode of anime nowadays.
Before delving into the data, we’re going to need some disclaimers and tips to help people understand this post and how the anime industry works.
- For the most part, less is more. Abundance of key animators and animation directors is a bad sign that hints that there was very little time to get the job done, thus it got split into ridiculously small chunks for tons of artists to work on. This has been anime’s response to the unsustainable levels of overproduction seen nowadays, which is why credit lists have greatly increased in length. There are exceptions of course – specialized animation directors inflating lists, inherently more animation-demanding projects, high profile productions with tons of supervisors… Just keep in mind that noticing tons of animators credited is a very worrying symptom, especially if it’s a recurring issue.
- With that established, let me explain what I did. I took every anime episode from this season that is coming to an end, except the long-running ones as those have a very different production cycle, and counted the animators. This includes all the animation directors supervising – save for the character designer as Chief Animation Director (総作画監督, Sou Sakuga Kantoku): Often an overall credit that tends to be in the hands of the character designer, though as of late messy projects with multiple Chief ADs have increased in number; moreso than the regular animation directors, their job is to ensure the characters look like they're supposed to. Consistency is their goal, which they will enforce as much as they want (and can)., which I considered a series credit – and all key animators, including 2nd Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.; anime nowadays heavily relies on these clean-up artists, so ignoring them wouldn’t have painted the whole picture. I didn’t include in-betweeners since their presence hasn’t escalated exponentially like the other roles, and also because crediting them is basically impossible. Which leads us to…
- Another important detail: most creators working on an anime episode are explicitly named, but this data is incomplete, and we’ll never have access to its entirety. That’s because we often see studio names with no specification of which artists worked on it mixed in with the regular credits. When it comes to animation directors this isn’t a problem, but I had to ignore a couple of series because the number of key animators explicitly credited was clearly unrepresentative, and it’s otherwise an issue plaguing pretty much all shows. The entire point of this is to give you a general idea of the scope of productions though, so I considered it a necessary evil.
- And while we’re on inherent numeric imperfections: don’t obsess over the exact numbers! The exact figures don’t really matter, especially knowing they’re incomplete. All projects aren’t managed the exact same way, and they definitely don’t have the same needs. Getting a sense of scale and realizing the consequences the industry’s problems cause should be the goal here; a project that averaged 5 key animators more than one of its peers won’t necessarily have struggled more, but if it’s 5 animation directors more then it definitely did.
I’ve already delayed this enough, so here’s the spreadsheets with the data. If your gut reaction is that it’s a lot, you’re on the right track. This fall season has been unusually filled with delightful animation, but it’s also suffered more production issues than ever – and that is evident in these numbers. You shouldn’t assume that series hovering around the middle in these tables are what an average project is meant to be. Checking a handful of 2007 TV anime – right after the industry’s previous peak – resulted in very varied data, but ultimately seemed to average around 20~50% less than the figures I obtained by analyzing the current season. I might eventually chart enough historical data to properly chart the evolution of the anime industry, but it’s clear that the number of artists required is trending up in a dangerous manner, especially as the pool of creators doesn’t really increase.
If we look at this season’s shows individually, the correlation between troubled productions and very high number of animators checks out. Yuri!!! On ICE stands out as the series requiring the most animators by far, and at this point its struggles are no secret. Flip Flappers following it also makes sense – not only is it an animation-heavy project, but it also wasted its lead time and is now having a very hard time to bring the project to an end. You might also be surprised by the amount of red on that chart, marking all the incomplete credits; only Euphonium credited all of its key animators this season, while a couple shows like Haikyuu!!, Matoi and Keijo (though that one with notorious caveats) got fairly close. For the most part though it seems obvious that the real figures are quite higher, easily averaging +10 over the explicit credits; the nasty production decay isn’t properly reflected by the numbers in some instances, as the number of studios listed heavily increases but without details as to how many workers that entailed. Chances are Yuri!!! On ICE’s finale actually required over a hundred key animators, but we’ll never know that for a fact.
The animation directors chart might be more telling though, especially its per episode evolution. The production health and results are coherent once again. The series that have suffered delays and needed to push back its disc releases like Brave Witches and Long Riders unsurprisingly hang out at the bottom, while polished work like Occultic;Nine and Bungo Stray Dogs generally stays around the top; the progression of these two is particularly interesting as they started with very low numbers and feature clear breaking points when the schedule catches up to them, but thankfully that occurred late enough for them to finish peacefully. A similar case would be Flip Flappers, though this time with less of a happy ending – the show was confirmed to be very ahead in its production and the small number of supervisors early on lines up with that, but eventually something must have gone wrong and it’s having a bit of a rough landing.
In the end, does this present a solution? Perhaps yes, though not a feasible one. Euphonium clearly stands out from everything else, requiring far less artists than anything else yet resulting in a very impressive production. And this is far from an outlier for KyoAni – if anything this is one of the heavier projects at the studio, which still gets to average key animators in the single digits and doesn’t usually have a role like Euphonium’s Instrument Animation Director to raise the final sum. Achieving the same level of quality wouldn’t be a given, but this does tell you that if you don’t spread resources way too thin, anime episodes only require a handful to a dozen of animators. If you’ve paid attention to anime credits from a few decades ago, you’ll know that things used to work that way to begin with. Though of course, simply asking the industry to limit its production and assuming that would immediately solve all problems with no negative repercussions is naïve at best, which is why I said the solution this data hinted at wasn’t a magical one. But that’s a topic for another day!