Toei Animation has started implementing new measures to improve the hellish working schedules of anime staff, but as it turns out, their half-hearted implementation has actually hurt employees more than it’s helped them. Let this serve as a bitter reminder that the problems with this industry should be addressed at their source.
Our coverage of Toei Animation’s activities is often at odds with the way they’re perceived by the anime community at large. While they’ve earned the hatred of many fans with their undeniable poor management of iconic titles and also due to widespread misunderstandings about how anime works, we tend to focus on the positives; we’ve covered their role in raising exceptional creators throughout the ages, their new young stars, and their notoriously above average working conditions just to name a few cheerful topics. And it’s precisely that last point we have to talk about today, but not quite in a positive way – a decision they’ve recently started enforcing has been causing trouble for their staff, and it serves as a good example as to why half-hearted moves to improve anime’s hellish working schedules can actually backfire.
For those unaware, Toei Animation has boasted of uniquely positive traits for their staff for a long time, in particular their labor union. Does that mean they’re a particularly progressive workplace, genuinely concerned about their staff? Not quite. Toei Animation’s fight for a union would have never been successful had they not been attached to their massive parent company Toei Company, which doesn’t operate under the very questionable customs of the anime industry. Tied to a corporation that massive, their problems are far too big to be casually swept under the rug as most studios do, so Toei is essentially forced to pay more attention to all these matters. Now that doesn’t make the positive results that come out of it any less valuable, but understanding that decisions aren’t taken out of pure good faith is enlightening when you’re faced with puzzling moves like the one they recently took.
Truth to be told, the studio is in an enviable position in many regards at the moment. They recently inaugurated fancy new installations that right about everyone loves, and their output has lowered as a consequence of the move to the point that everyone’s workload is much more manageable than in recent hectic times. And yet, there are more Toei Animation staff members complaining than ever at the moment, both publicly and through more private channels which we’d rather not bring attention to so as not to put their employees in a dangerous position. The reason? As decided by their executives, Toei is enforcing an overarching plan to achieve more reasonable working schedules, starting by making overtime work less viable and especially by forcing holidays on their staff. What in theory sounds like a nice idea, more so considering anime’s usually outrageous working schedule, quickly falls apart when you realize there was nothing more to their plan. No change whatsoever in the way they operate, no addressing the core issues that make their staff work for so many hours to begin, simply a mandate to send them home. With this move, Toei Animation is forcefully pushing a band-aid within a gaping wound, and their employees are rightfully upset about it.
Put into practice, Toei’s decision simply means that their staff now have less time to do all the same tasks than they did before, which as you can imagine makes the tension in the workplace rise quite a bit. By not tackling the root of the problem and crudely trying to patch one of its nasty effects, they’re actually making the time they spend at the company more stressful than it was before. Allowing overworked employees to enjoy a holiday for a change is undoubtedly positive, but many staff with active productions are complaining that measures meant to help them are only making their job more difficult. That only gets worse when you consider that some production managers have gone as far as explicitly banning the staff from taking animation materials home to do work on their own, which means that the reduced time at the company is really all they’ve got. Though the first major implementation of these new policies has so far mostly been limited to this past Golden Week holidays, it’s not a rash decision, but rather the first steps in the studio’s premeditated plans. And so far, the reaction has been very negative.
Since they’re not that foolish though, Toei’s executives did account for something along these lines happening. Their answer? Telling the staff that they shouldn’t concern themselves with quality dips on their work and to prioritize their rest. While there’s obvious truth to that, in the end that also came across as insulting, somehow upsetting their employees more in their attempt to calm them down. There are various reasons why that simply doesn’t cut it; for starters, purely professional ones, since creators don’t want their names to be attached to subpar work. But more importantly, there’s a sentimental factor to all of this. Everyone who sticks to anime production for a long time does so out of love for the medium, because otherwise it’s not really worth it. Telling someone like that to accept work they feel is undercooked because their boss wants them to spend a couple days home and expecting them to smile back is outrageous.
Toei Animation is a massive studio with lots of room for management improvements, so they’ve really got the potential to become one of the most reasonable workplaces in the messy anime industry. Their own reports acknowledge they should seek genuine improvements in their staff’s working life. But forcefully sending staff home while taking no other measures isn’t step towards that, it’s bad palliative care that is only annoying the patients. Hopefully they’ll listen, and the industry as a whole will pay some attention. Not like this.