11/26/2009: Studio X
Written by Cindy Yamauchi   

Drawing animeThere is a small animation studio (I'll call it "Studio X") about three hours away from Tokyo that is owned by a man known to be literally a slave driver (I'll call him A-san). It's one of those small, privately-owned companies, and I didn't even know it existed until last spring, even though it's apparently been around for many years. The young animator who sits next to me at Madhouse used to work there, and told me what it was like working for A-san. If you have been reading my past blog entries, I'm sure you already know how I feel about animators being treated like poor children forced to work in a sweatshop somewhere in a developing country. Well, contrary to all the recent bad publicity, the majority of us are not in such dire straits unless we bring it upon ourselves. As I listened to the horror stories this young animator told me, I was infuriated to think how foolish it was for anyone to settle for those conditions when nothing is forcing them to remain there. Here's what's going on in Studio X, according to the young animator:

Studio X starts their day at 10 am and ends it at 6 pm. That's to cut back on utility costs, not because A-san is humane. The chief artist there earns approximately $1400 a month, but the most of the other artists earn anywhere from $250-350 a month. I kept asking the young animator that the amount must be a base salary on which the per- shot rates were added as you completed each assigned shot. He said no, that was all the employees received for their monthly salary. There was no way anyone could make a living out of $250, so of course they were all still living with their parents (I'm still skeptical about this salary amount, though).

A-san seems to pay himself well, as he drives around in a fancy foreign car and has recently opened a satellite office in Tokyo. He comes to Tokyo quite often for business, or at least that's the story he's been telling his wife. The employees know from his web browser history that he searches the net for "soaplands" and other establishments offering sex that he can visit while he was in Tokyo. Not the most respectable guy in many different ways, but the artists remain there for no other reason than being scared of venturing out on their own. It almost sounds like battered wife syndrome to me.

Last year, things must have gone from bad to worse, since the rumor circulated among Studio X employees that A-san was planning to close down the studio. The young animator's cell started ringing frequently, and as it turned out the others were trying to reach out to him to see if he could offer any help, so he asked me if anything could be done about it. Well, at least those losers were finally trying to move on, and I was actually very glad to hear that. Although I couldn't guarantee work for them, I probably could refer them to various studios to work as freelancers IF they made the move to Tokyo. I requested that they send their artwork to me so I could review it. They said they'll think about it, and months passed. Studio X did not close down, and they all resumed their miserable lives working for that man. Do I feel sorry for them? Not at all.

A-san had been calling up the young animator quite often lately, apparently asking him to find some work for Studio X. The animator ended up blocking calls from that number.