Much has been speculated about the effect of new mainstream platforms storming this industry, with Netflix in particular being sold as a potential game-changer for anime productions. And yet, despite some obvious changes when it comes to content restrictions, the people who make anime have unequivocally explained that they appreciate no improvement in their poor situation. Let’s try to pay attention to them for once.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve actually been listening to creators, but since as a community we’re prone to ignore their input and instead get lost in the corporate-fueled hype, I feel like it’s worth lending this platform to the people who actually make anime. Admittedly I understand why anime fans are so eager to embrace entities like Netflix as a, ugh, savior; we’ve seen the arrival of huge companies willing to drop a ton of money on anime, operating platforms that in theory don’t suffer from the same restrictions that hurt so many productions. As it turns out though, and as much as some outlets love to talk about disruption of a heavily flawed industry, we’ve had hands on creators complain that they were appreciating no change ever since the beginning.
The first major sign was a hashtag that went viral among industry members where they detailed how much they were earning from Netflix anime projects. Most damning condemnations are long gone as people unfortunately have to balance their rightful anger with the desire to keep their jobs, but data like these terribly average – thus damn bad – rates for animation tasks still remain. The complaints came from artists ranging from colorists to 3D artists, but since the creators themselves didn’t dare to raise their voice too much and the internet’s first past-time is playing devil’s advocate, the anime fandom decided to look the other way while celebrating our new streaming overlords.
It again became a major point of contention after a big social media storm regarding the news that the anime industry made more money than ever, which led to understandably upset artists noting that they sure hadn’t seen increasing wages. But now it’s been challenged again, in such a direct way that I felt like it had to be shared among English-speaking fans to finally clear up a misunderstanding that should have never been in place. If you follow our work, chances are that you’ve heard about Katsunori Shibata – fantastic animator, and one of the last brilliant directorial minds discovered at studio Brains Base, acknowledged by the likes of Kunihiko Ikuhara and Masaaki Yuasa. The latter is particularly relevant here, since Shibata recently acted as storyboarder and episode director on a couple of episodes of DEVILMAN crybaby, managing to stand out among quite the stacked line-up of creators.
When asked if there was any difference between Netflix anime and standard TV series, as fans were curious if the recent partnership between the company and studios BONES & Production I.G was a game-changer, Shibata bluntly denied an improvement. He noted that working with them meant there’s no restrictions regarding the depiction of sex and violence, but at the end of the day the schedule was hellish, and that fundamental improvements regarding the treatment of the creative team are still down to the production committees – which Netflix can’t be bothered to change at all. He reiterated that he’s seen no change in remuneration and that even if those titles were to perform well, there would still be no incentives for the people who made them, as the system in place is still the same; barely any studio keeps a significant number of staff as well-remunerated full-time employees, and freelancing at poor rates is still the norm, so the actual hands-on crews will never see an improvement without structural reform. And again, that is something that Netflix doesn’t even attempt to do, no matter what PR words you hear.
Shibata’s been quickly joined by artists from other fields involved in animation production, such as CG artists, who backed up his impressions and shared their personal experiences. Keep in mind that DEVILMAN crybaby was finished with a larger lead time than pretty much any anime, that Science Saru is a much healthier space than most studios, and that this project is more of a “Netflix anime” than almost everything else in their lineup. Despite so many factor being in its favor the creators are still lamenting their conditions, while the fandom gets lost in dreams about how good the changes could be. Will we listen this time?
If this post comes off as a bit aggressive, don’t get me wrong, it’s because it is. It’s perfectly fine to see the arrival of Netflix, Amazon, and the likes to anime as something with lots of potential. They’re platforms that don’t inherently suffer from some nasty issues that plague TV anime, and that can afford to properly fund anime if they want. Even Shibata, while bluntly declaring these problems, acknowledged that it’s nice to have an outlet where certain kinds of content aren’t an issue. You can obviously celebrate that, but let’s not conflate issues: right now, Netflix productions suffer from the exact same problems as the industry as a whole. They’ve done nothing to challenge the questionable state of the production committee system, the remuneration for anime creators hasn’t improved one little bit, and despite theoretically having as much time as they want with no seasonal system in place, schedules are still hellish. We’ve been told that there wasn’t enough concrete proof either way, that they simply needed more time for the changes to become noticeable, but at this point it seems obvious that Netflix’s mere presence isn’t going to “save anime.” Let’s just try and listen to the actual creators for once. Maybe in the future, initiatives like their new partnership with studios will lead to actual change and a healthier production model. But as things are, we’ve yet to see even the beginning of a positive trend at the ground level, which is the most important in this situation.