Why Is This Good: “Underpaid and Overworked”
I first came into contact with “Underpaid and OverWorked: Being an Animator in Japan” through a friend majoring in animation. She had recently written a research paper on the Japanese animation industry and linked me to this video as a point of reference. The video is produced by Asian Boss, an independent media company that mainly produces short videos interviewing a variety of people in Asia with the goal to “ bridge cultural and social gaps” (“Asian Boss”). In their videos, Asian Boss aims to use storytelling to encourage their audience to “stay curious, think critically, and take action” (Asian Boss).
“Underpaid and Overworked” is part of a series of videos telling the struggles of everyday individuals in different regions of Asia. In “Underpaid and Overworked”, Hiroko Imai, a freelance content creator and interviewer for Asian Boss, interviews animator Nakamura Ayano about her job working as a key animator for both an animation company and freelance. As a key animator, Ayano is tasked with drawing important frames, called keyframes, that depict the start and end of any motion. Each frame is hand-drawn on a digital tablet, and one episode of anime ranges from 3,000 to 10,000 frames (Hiroko Imai). Through Ayano’s story, this video succeeds in bringing insight into the harsh working conditions for 2D traditional animators starting out in the Japanese animation industry.
One aspect of “Underpaid and Overworked” that contributed to my understanding of the content is the organization and formatting of the information presented. The video is ordered in a way that provides context and digestible information along with a personal story that gives the audience a taste of the issues surrounding the Japanese animation industry within 15 minutes. Even the length of the video is fit for a short edutainment video, capturing the attention of a broader audience surfing the internet. This video is not meant to be a deep dive nor a holistic introduction to the Japanese animation industry but rather meant to capture a singular story of an animator, which encourages the viewer to learn more about a topic. Enough context is given for the audience to understand and empathize with Ayano’s story, which points to a systematic issue within the Japanese hand-drawn animation industry. However, since the video does not go in-depth on the economic factors and history of the industry, “Underpaid and Overworked” serves as more of a hook, giving the viewer a taste of the topic in the hopes that they delve further into the issues presented. For certain audiences, this video could serve as an eyeopener, as it did for me, to what seems like a fun and harmless entertainment industry.
Since the video is only 15 minutes long, each minute serves a purpose in aiding the telling of Ayano’s story. Immediately from the start, the video sets up a stage for Ayano’s story with scenes of Japan’s streets displaying anime advertisements, merchandise, and posters. Amongst these streets, stands Ayano, the protagonist of the story about to be told. From just the first few shots, the audience is able to identify the protagonist and the role that anime plays in Japan’s culture. The interviewer starts off by asking factual questions, providing the viewer with a base knowledge of the animation pipeline and the job of a key animator in Japan. Such questions uncover the pay rate, the number of work hours, and the living conditions of animators like Ayano who have only been working at animation companies for a few years. These details, especially Ayano’s monthly income, help put the conditions of animators in Japan in perspective. Video shots accompanying the interview give visual examples of the type of work Ayano produces and her work and living space. These shots show one clip of an anime broken down to its skeletons of storyboards and animatics, giving insight into the process of hand-drawn animation. All these elements work together to set up the context for the rest of the video and paint a picture for viewers who are less familiar with the process of cartoon animation production. Without these visuals, it would be difficult for non-animators to visualize the type of drawing Ayano does on a daily basis and what it requires from the artist.
After presenting the foundation of facts from Ayano, the video examines how Ayano is able to afford housing with her limited income. Since junior animators start off with payments of $300 to $400 per month, paying for living expenses is difficult and many skilled animators are forced to quit their jobs to be able to sustain themselves (Hiroko). A representative of the non-profit organization Animator Supporters, Sugawara Jun explains how his organization uses crowdfunding and donations to provide animators with cheaper housing in the form of dormitories. In this way, people are able to help junior animators sustain themselves financially while the animators work towards a higher-paying position. Ayano’s story ties into this organization since they were able to help her obtain housing for $150 per month (Hiroko Imai). By providing this example of how people are trying to help animators, the video presents a method through which the audience can contribute their efforts to or do further research. Additionally, Sugawara’s interview section of the video provides the opinion of a more experienced member of the animation industry. At the end of his interview, Sugawara brings up interesting questions regarding the issues of overworked and underpaid animators, encouraging the viewer to form their own questions about the workings of the industry.
Towards the end of the video, Ayano uses the phrase, “exploitation of passionate animators”, which stands out to me in the sense that it sums up Ayano’s story and the issues discussed throughout the video. Though this is merely a translation and cannot relay the nuanced meaning in its original language, this phrase hits home for many young animators in Japan. With this quote, the interview leads into more personal questions looking at why Ayano chooses to endure the harsh realities of the industry to be an animator. This portion of the interview appeals to the audience’s emotions as we see that Ayano is one of the many passionate animators that are not properly compensated for their hard work and long hours. This portion of the video ties the interview up by showing the personal side of Ayano’s story and experience, creating a greater reason for the viewer to sympathize or empathize with the underpaid and overworked animators in Japan.
In addition to the organization of content, the formatting of the video and interview also helps enhance Ayano’s story. By having the interview take place in Ayano’s living space, the story Ayano tells feels more intimate and personal. The viewer is allowed to feel like a guest at the apartment, sitting across the table and witnessing a conversation between Ayano and Hiroko. This personal touch enables the viewer to feel more of a connection to the story, which helps breed empathy. Seeing Ayano’s living conditions show her passion for art as one of the only pieces of furniture without a functional purpose in her apartment is her bookshelf of art books.
Overall, the video interview is easy for a wide audience to understand, and Ayano’s story is told in a way that can resonate with a broader audience who may not be interested in animation but will care about Ayano’s situation. In this way, Asian Boss’ videos tend to be very easy to watch for the common viewer, but will still leave the viewer with questions of their own to expand upon. The back and forth conversation between interviewer and interviewee comes with English subtitles and visuals that aid the viewer. Specific terminology used for animation is explained along with a general overview of the industry pipeline. At the end of the video, the viewer is given the chance to get closer to the topic through the provided links to the interviewer and the organization supporting animators. Additionally, choosing YouTube as its platform for sharing stories gives Asian Boss a broader audience. Since YouTube videos are easily accessible by many, this makes sharing of videos easier, giving them a higher potential to be discovered and attract the attention of more people. As I mentioned before, since the content of this video leans towards being an intro or hook into the topic, it would make sense if its target audience is broader. If this piece was created as an article or a longer film, its target audience would change to be academics or those specifically interested in the Japanese animation industry already. As a YouTube video, “Underpaid and Overworked” requires less effort and participation to view, making it appealing to a wider audience, especially younger viewers. Additionally, YouTube videos easily generate discussion in the comments section and are a great starting point for those looking to learn more about a variety of topics. Since YouTube has its own algorithms for providing relevant videos, it would be easy for viewers to jump from this video to another of similar content. All these elements make the viewing process of this video more convenient and help ease the viewer into the topic of labor issues in Japan’s popular animation industry.
“Asian Boss”. Asian Boss, asianboss.io/about-us.
Hiroko, Imai. Underpaid and Overworked: Being an Animator in Japan | THE VOICELESS #23. Performance by Ayano Nakamura, and Jun Sugawara, YouTube, 14 Oct. 2019, youtu.be/Tvj-XnVKQI8.