Toei Animation’s Mismanaged Attempt To Improve Anime’s Working Conditions

Toei Animation’s Mismanaged Attempt To Improve Anime’s Working Conditions

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.

While the studio’s goals are by all mean positive, their implementation has been disastrous.

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.


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Carmichael
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Carmichael

I understand and at the same time I don’t. Of course reducing your work hours will mean that your quality will drop, if that wasn’t the case there would be no reason other studios would have impossible hours to begin with. But at the same time, those impossible hours are literally killing people like you said in previous articles. I saw other articles of studios trying to enforce vacation on their staff only for them to continue working even if it meant without pay, so to me the strict enforcement of those new rules is better than if the producers… Read more »

HosannaExcelsis
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HosannaExcelsis

I guess the obvious follow-up question here is: if this measure is harming employees more than helping them, what are the measures Toei Animation should be doing instead? The only thing I can think of that would be obviously helpful in this regard is to abandon weekly TV entirely and move to irregularly released web or theatrical series, which would allow the schedule to expand as needed so that people can have rest without compromising the quality of their work. This would probably be a tough sell from a business standpoint, especially for a company built around a consistently churned… Read more »

osama___a
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osama___a

seems they actually try? to do more non standard TV shows, like the weird butt detective that have 1st 3 episodes showed in golden week holiday while the rest will be in July/Aug. and with pretty advanced time and small team.

but still they are tied with their main long weekly titles that noway they can drop it + their Bandai/TVtokyo titles

Jacque
Guest
Jacque

“From now on, you all get vacations!”
“Yay!”
“And you won’t be allowed to bring your animation supplies home.”
“Uh……”

Yeah that sounds good in theory, but it’s no wonder they’re all pissed. Imagine being behind on a project and having no chance to catch up when not at work.

osama___a
Guest
osama___a

the fact that the people who was harsher in their comments are working in episodes that will air/aired this month, so you can totally feel their concerns

Evandro
Guest

The producers continue not to care about the animators work enviroment and their health, this action doesnt make any sense.

The companies/associations that their mission is to protect animators should start to step up more affirmatively.

Steelblake
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Steelblake

This strikes me as odd. I mean it sounds like better work conditions but this should be coming with a new schedule that make work this politic. idk how this is going to affect to show already in production but this should be good news for future shows but at the end of the day they should really work on it´s comunication maybe say something like “we hearing suggestions”

sick
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sick

The article doesn’t mention if the deadlines were altered to make up for the lack of over time and mandatory breaks. Was that the case? If so, my take would be radically different than what the author had. Mandatory vacation, mandatory breaks, reduction in forced overtime, telling people they don’t have to be perfect all the time… this is an example of a bad actor in the industry when it comes to labor practices? I always hear Japan has a culture of working yourself to death. Are these really bad work practices at Toei or just them doing something that… Read more »

LMD3014
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LMD3014

I see this as actually very positive in the long term. Sure, the implementation is haphazard, but that will always be true when you’re going against the company/industry culture. Similar things were seen by a friend who worked in engineering, so it’s not just the animation industry problem. In the long term, if the people are forced to work reasonable hours the management of the company will end up having to acquire a more realistic view on what they can or can’t do. It’s either that or they will have to accept bad quality output and unsatisfied workers. Either way,… Read more »

Luffy
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Luffy

Toei you kooky and greedy because you are one who gave license to 4kids without thinking.
Put one piece cheaper and give license for all the episode to funimation quickly

Justo
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Justo

A very divided comment section in this article, it’s great to read it. For what it’s worth, I also kinda think is a good move from Toei, but obviously I’m not knowledgeable enough on this industry. If creators get upset and stressed about this new policy, it’s because of their unhealthy artistic goals. Yes we’d love to have awesome visuals, but if it comes at the cost of you dying a little more, then please no, save your health first. I mean, you said that Toei expects a dip in quality, and if that’s really true, then its okay, and… Read more »

Luffy
Guest
Luffy

toei releasing 1 chapter per episode and if they really want release it that way, why not they put 4 or 5 or 6 month gap between manga and anime instead of a year gap

:Bouleup
Guest
:Bouleup

Do you have any news about what’s going on since this decision ? Is that changed something in their actual/new productions

Pegse
Guest

Can’t help but be curious about which Arte documentary the screenshot in the middle of your (very interesting btw) article is from. I’m guessing it’s likely a Takahata-themed one, but if you have the title of the documentary that’d be nice.