Original article from NetLab (Netorabo) found here.
In recent years, the chance of seeing a woman’s name rolling during the ending credits has been increasing. We decided to ask one of these animators for their thoughts on chief animation directors, airing issues, the difference in the quantity of work in the past versus now, and the state of the anime industry.
The one sitting with us today is the art director for Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2 and The Basket which Kuroko Plays, as well as the chief animation director for popular titles such as Dance with Devils — Kotani Kyoko. From working on shows airing during prime time to many late-night anime, she is a well-versed animator.
Why do production schedules end up cutting it close?
— In 2016, it was brought to everyone’s attention that there was a fair number of anime that were close to not airing.
Kotani: That’s right. A lot of animators came together to address the airing issue.
— Why is it that the production schedule almost doesn’t make it?
Kotani: A lot of anime are produced on a very tight schedule, if one place gets clogged up, it delays the schedule of everything else. With that, the time needed to draw crucial scenes is cut, the air date draws closer, and the prospect of making it in time pulls further away.
— Is this a new thing?
Kotani: No, for who-knows-how-long, anime has been delivered the day before or the day of airing. I think there are even some production companies where cutting it close is the norm.
— Where does production often come to a stop?
Kotani: There are times when the director’s storyboards are late, but it’s a case-by-case situation. For example, if the character designer doesn’t receive the “Ok” from the client, it’s not possible to proceed to the drawing phase.
— What reason could a client have for not giving the “OK?” Is there a big change in design between the original art and the anime version?
Kotani: Not really, no. A character designer usually thinks about what is most effective for an anime version, however, if that isn’t adequately conveyed to the client then the amount of revisions increases.
— What do you mean by most effective for an anime version?
Kotani: For example, the lines used to show a character’s expression might be less in the anime than the original. The client might want a replication of their original work, but the number of drawings in a manga or game differs from the amount required for a anime, so it’s difficult.
— What happens if the character design step takes time?
Kotani: If the character design isn’t decided then it cut into the animation drawing time and ultimately puts a press on animation time. When we can finally start drawing, it’s like a lottery as to which animators are available.
— I guess the schedule can run late for those reasons, too. What do you think is the cause behind anime production running on tight schedules?
Kotani: There are many reasons why, but I feel like chief animation directors get congested with work often. I’ve been the chief animator director before, and it’s distressing…
— Specifically speaking, what kind of things occur?
Kotani: A chief animation director has to look over every cut, and point out any revisions that need to be made, especially pertaining to characters. But, sometimes the production company or director have the cuts set to their way from the start, or only the certain body parts and small objects have been added to the cuts and still have to be checked. For anime, there will be a group 1 for episode one, group 2 for ep. two, and so on, with groups 5 and 6 working at the same time. A single chief animation director would have to check each and ever cut the teams bring in, and that would cause things to bottleneck.
— How do you continue work when things get bottlenecked?
Kotani: Obviously the episodes soon to air take precedence, meaning those behind it also get less time to be worked on.
— Do you get the impression that these airing issues are related to the increase in anime?
Kotani: It seems that way. I mean, I’ve only come to grasp the existence of airing compilations. The amount of anime is increasing, as well as the number of production companies, making everyone prone to being shorthanded, leading to the increase of shows that might not be aired in time.
— You mean staff numbers don’t increase as more companies emerge?
Kotani: Most of the new companies are groups from existing companies going independent, or child companies, or even partnered companies. These companies are going up one after another, but new hires need time to cultivate their skills — increasing the amount of staff isn’t easy. In order not to increase their numbers, they work to the bone, understaffed, on an unrealistically tight schedule.
— How do we prevent these anime airing issues?
Kotani: We increase the funding and people and decrease the amount of anime being created. Also, a bit of self-reflection. This is something that involves me but, once we had a schedule cut short and the production was a real mess for that anime. However, the staff took a good look at where they went wrong and were able to structure themselves to a successful second half.
— Why is there a significant amount of companies that need to reflect?
Kotani: Most likely, a lot of the staff in these companies have grown used to working in these bad conditions — with tight production schedules — and have experienced “success” by these methods. Good workers will remove themselves from the bad companies, leaving the remaining ones — who know nothing of working under good conditions.
— And that’s why eventually there are issues with airing.
Kotani: Yes. Even if you weather the storm and stay where you are it, doesn’t necessarily mean things will get better. In addition to production companies’ extensive amount of airing shows, they are also preparing for new shows, leaving no room to reflect on how they worked.
The increase and efforts of female employees
— I heard that recently the number of female animators has grown.
Kotani: It depends on the work, but around me, there has been an increase in female animators. This isn’t really connected to working but, the recent hires at production companies has been an 8:2, female to male ratio.
— What kind of background do these animators have?
Kotani: Despite being freelance, companies sometimes send me resumes to review. Women tend to prepare their portfolio for job searching, while many people think that men just throw their work around without discretion. Production companies want to take in people who have a strong foundation, so naturally the ratio of women increases.
— Do you think there is a difference in what female animators and male animators specialize in?
Kotani: Being an animator isn’t the kind of job that sides towards one gender or the other, however, on an individual level, people think men tend to slowly expand out of their specific field while women stick to the book and evenly distribute their knowledge.
— Is the anime industry easy to work in after getting married or having a child?
Kotani: Marriages are usually between animators, so there aren’t any minuses. Women can also keep their maiden name as their pen name and continue with their work. The story changes when it comes to having a child.
— Can you elaborate?
Kotani: When both parents are animators, one of them has to take up raising the child. Of course, there are houses that start looking to enroll in nurseries and other procedures while they are pregnant. A lot of us animators work for ourselves, so there isn’t any special help from the production companies.
— Is it difficult come back to the previous workload?
Kotani: Very difficult. Those around me have quit working as an animator and taken up clerical work, decreased the cuts they draw or work as anime magazine illustrators for copyrighted art.
— There is a lot of different jobs out there. Does the anime industry hold a male-dominated image?
Kotani: About until a decade ago it was called a male-oriented industry, but the number of female production assistants has increased, so I don’t think you can call it a male-dominated industry anymore.
— What do you mean by the increase of female production assistants?
Kotani: Production assistant is an important job where the animator has to go and retrieve manuscripts, in the past heavy cels had to be carried around. Nowadays, cels aren’t used, and the same amount of manual labor isn’t necessary. Women can come forth from the background.
Be sure to check out part two!