Cartoon dreams: Japan anime school targets booming global demand


By AGENCY

Veteran Japanese animator/filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda’s Cannes debut 'Belle: The Dragon And The Freckled Princess' (2021) is inspired by the French 'Beauty And The Beast' fairytale. Photo: Handout

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.

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. Photo: AFP 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. Photo: AFP

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," said the anime veteran 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 percent year on year, the US entertainment behemoth says.

A student desk at the anime school Sasayuri in Tokyo. Photo: AFP A student desk at the anime school Sasayuri in Tokyo. Photo: 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," said Taiki Sakurai, Netflix's chief producer for anime.

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 US$1.17bil (RM4.86bil) 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.

Hitomi Tateno, CEO of the anime school Sasayuri, reviewing a student's drawing at her school in Tokyo. Photo: AFP Hitomi Tateno, CEO of the anime school Sasayuri, reviewing a student's drawing at her school in Tokyo. Photo: AFP

Most in-betweeners in Japan are freelance or part-time, with only 18 percent holding full-time positions, and 80 percent 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," said the 22-year-old, one of the 10 students in the first cohort.

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." - AFP

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 46
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
Join our Telegram channel to get our Evening Alerts and breaking news highlights

Anime , School , Netflix , Culture , Cartoon , Drawing , Artist

   

Next In Culture

Penang's Thai Pak Koong temple wins Unesco heritage conservation award
Let it snow in Penampang: Dickens' Christmas classic given Sabahan flavour
Introducing children to Malaysia’s indigenous culture and folkloric heritage
Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris denies redesign is too radical
Indie theatre company's drama ‘Mentega Terbang’ flies to Indonesian film festival
Kuala Lumpur turns into dazzle city with these light art, multimedia installations
Latin America's women writers ride wave of acclaim
Typefaces and textures: a celebration of printed matter at KL Art Book Fair
Horseback archery heritage: Malaysians take a shot at ancient pastime
New book unpacks early years of '18th-century trailblazer' Francis Light

Others Also Read


Vouchers