Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cartoon dreams: Netflix’s Japan anime school targets booming demand, animator shortage



Cartoon dreams: Netflix’s Japan anime school targets booming demand, animator shortage

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Hitomi Tateno, CEO of the anime school Sasayuri, poses for a photo following an interview at her school in Tokyo. AFP

Cartoon dreams: Netflix’s Japan anime school targets booming demand, animator shortage

Armed with a set of pencils and a feather to sweep away eraser dust, Hitomi Tateno is training the next generation of anime artists at a new Netflix-funded academy as global demand for the Japanese genre soars.

From runaway box office triumph Demon Slayer to recent Cannes sensation Belle, anime has shaken off its reputation as a geeky subculture, drawing in hordes of new fans during virus lockdowns.

But Japan is facing a shortage of skilled animators, in part because most face years toiling in low-paying jobs to learn the ropes, meaning much of the painstaking frame-by-frame drawing work is outsourced overseas.

That’s something the US streaming giant thinks it can change with its WIT Animator Academy, which offers a group of junior artists free training and a stipend for living expenses as they learn.

George Wada, president of top anime production house WIT Studio, which is running the training with Netflix, compares it to other fast tracks into demanding industries.

“If you become an apprentice with a top sushi chef, it may take years before you master all the recipes, but you can go to a sushi academy and finish the whole curriculum in one year,” he explained.

The six-month course focuses on “in-between” art – the frames between each “master” picture that create the illusion of movement.

Tateno, who has worked on top titles from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away to cult classic Akira, has built a successful career by in-betweening.

“This job is like weaving a rug. It’s very delicate and requires patience,” the anime veteran said as she checked lines drawn by a student.

“Many aspiring animators want to quickly step up to a key animator position, and even if some want to specialise in in-betweening, not many can survive.”

The in-betweeners

There’s no doubt about the growing demand for animators.

More than 100 million households worldwide watched at least one anime on Netflix in the 12 months to September 2020, a figure that grew 50 per cent year on year, the US entertainment behemoth says.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A student draws at the anime school Sasayuri in Tokyo on June 17. AFP

The firm hopes the academy will “help the future of Japanese animators to spread their wings to the world through their works”, with eventual plans to expand and offer tracks into other animation specialities.

“We will continue our efforts to support and strengthen the talent that supports the animation industry,” Taiki Sakurai, Netflix’s chief producer for anime, said.

It is part of a strategy to compete with the likes of Crunchyroll, the world’s largest online anime library, bought by Sony this year in a $1.17 billion deal.

With the first six-month programme finished, the WIT Academy is now welcoming its second cohort of students.

The graduates will be offered jobs at WIT studio or one of its affiliates to produce Netflix shows in a team.

But they will be entering an industry where staff retention is a dire problem, with salaries still dismal and in-betweeners staying in the job just four years on average.

Most in-betweeners in Japan are freelance or part-time, with only 18 per cent holding full-time positions, and 80 per cent of in-between work is sent abroad, mainly to China or South Korea, the Japan Animation Creators Association (JAniCA) says.

The safety net offered by free training, funding and a pathway to a career is rare, and WIT Academy student Maki Ueno said it made her “feel secure”.

“I have a friend working for another studio, who tells me the training programme is a lot shorter and there’s no payment during the training,” the 22-year-old, one of the 10 students in the first cohort, told AFP.

Daisuke Okeda, a lawyer and secretary at JAniCA, says the academy is part of a trend that could change the industry.

“It’s a common understanding that the animation quality goes up when a studio keeps skilled in-betweeners in the team,” he said.

“Top studios have started investing in the area as well. The industry is already turning around.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration