Japan Cool(down): the troubled times of Japan's anime business

Japan Cool(down): the troubled times of Japan's anime business

As this CNN video shows, drawing busty cartoon girls all day long may be a dream to some but does not pay a living wage

This CNN video portrays animators as the latest casualty of the worldwide economic downturn, but in reality the anime world's problems run far deeper than piracy and recession. In fact, they've largely been engineered into the very fabric of the industry itself.

The low pay, long hours and tight deadlines aren't anything new. They have been part of the job since its very beginnings in the 1960s, when "Tetsuwan Atom" ("Astro Boy") creator Osamu Tezuka first sold his series to Japanese television at an absurdly low per-episode rate. Tezuka's status as a revered creator -- he eventually came to be popularly known as 'The God of Comics' -- made it nearly impossible for other animators to ask for a higher fee for their works. Popularly referred to as 'Tezuka's Curse,' it established a culture of poverty that persists to this very day.

In recent years, the Japanese government has increasingly embraced pop culture as the country's next hot export, and a controversial government-funded National Media Arts Center devoted to animation and comic books is slated to open in 2011.

Yet for all of the official hype, the Japanese animation industry is suffering. A half century after Toei Animation, Japan's largest purveyor of anime, boldly declared its intent to become "the Disney of the Orient," their revenues stagnate and never reach a fraction of their stated competitor's. A quarter of those who work in the anime industry toil below the poverty line, and the necessity of outsourcing much of the work abroad to meet budgets and deadlines has resulted in a significant hollowing out of talent. It is a conundrum the government and industry will need to address if they truly want to see anime flourish on the world stage.

Until then, animators will undoubtedly continue eschewing water so as to avoid sweating in their un-air conditioned apartments. Not that they can afford bottled water anyway.

(Preview image from Flickr user Looking Glass.)