Earlier this year, we have seen the rise of a new organization set to defend the interests of people working in the animation industry, the Nippon Anime & Film Culture Association, or NAFCA. The association has laid out a roadmap of what it wants to achieve and is led by representative director Masuo Ueda, former president of animation studio A1 Pictures and animation production company Aniplex. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the association held a “Kickoff event” in Ikebukuro on August 11th, where they talked about the issues they are determined to take action against and also showed the wide support they have been getting within the industry in just a few months.

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At the beginning of the event, members of the organization discussed their progress toward their primary objective of implementing an animator skill test. It was heartening to learn that they had managed to raise an impressive sum of 4,838,570 yen through crowdfunding, which was 161% of their target. This successful fundraising campaign was made possible by the generous contributions of 455 individuals who believed in the cause and wished to see it succeed.

Shunsuke Sakuya, a renowned voice actor and a member of NAFCA’s board of directors, spoke about the aspirations of creators who wish to pursue their dreams. However, the reality is often harsh and unforgiving, and this is where NAFCA comes in. The organization is committed to providing better working and living conditions for anime creators, which in turn will lead to the production of better works.

Yûko Kaida, another prominent voice actress and board member, highlighted the fact that animation and entertainment creators in Japan face similar issues to those in the US. Nevertheless, while the approaches taken by different countries to address these problems may vary, government intervention is essential to regulate and examine the situation. From the perspective of Seiyuu, the primary concern is the impact of AI on the industry.

Voice Actor Shunsuke Sakuya at the Nafca Kick-off event on August 11th 2023
Voice Actress Yûko Kaida at the NAFCA Kick-off event on August 11th 2023

One of the most intriguing aspects of NAFCA is that it brings together actors and animators who may not typically cross paths or be aware of each other’s issues. By uniting in their fight against a shared problem, NAFCA is effectively serving as a platform for raising awareness and combating the concerns faced by anime creators.

To conclude this introduction, renowned veteran animator and character designer Akihiro Kanayama emphasized the need to create opportunities to produce geniuses in the animation industry. 

Former Aniplex president Masuo Ueda and veteran animator Akihiro Kanayama at the NAFCA kick-off event on August 11th 2023.

The first part of the talk was dedicated to directors, including directors Hiroshi Koujina, Seiji Mizushima, Noriyo Sasaki, Naomichi Yamato, and lawyer Mizurô Ishii, who shed light on the challenges faced by the anime industry.

Hiroshi Koujina opened the discussion by pointing out the excess of productions and the shortage of animators, who frequently move from one studio to another, making them unavailable. While this may be an easy way for individual animators to make money, they get promoted too quickly and lack the time to acquire the necessary expertise for the positions they hold. The primary issue plaguing the industry is the lack of training and development opportunities for people. Remote work poses communication difficulties, making it challenging to provide precise guidance and feedback when the person is not physically present.

Seiji Mizushima concurred, adding that communication is crucial in producing anime. Therefore, improving the quality of life and working conditions should focus on episode directors and producers because individuals are promoted too rapidly to these roles and burn out quickly. The entertainment business is not solely about profit, and the human element is critical.

Hiroshi Koujina and Seiji Mizushima at the NAFCA kick-off event.

Noriyo Sasaki, an employee at Toei Animation, shared a distinct viewpoint because of his status, but agreed that schedules are deteriorating, animation is being outsourced, and communication is inadequate. He also mentioned a decrease in quality and a decline in creative workspaces.

Naomichi Yamato observed that studios and such are becoming smaller and more confined. People interact less, and Covid has exacerbated this trend. He also agreed that producers are critical and need to be scrutinized to address their issues.

Lawyer Mizurô Ishii, who serves as NAFCA’s legal advisor, stated that intergenerational communication is another issue. Older individuals may not know how to communicate, teach, or manage younger staff. The industry is reaching the end of the “Showa Era way of doing things,” and both production and training must change. Producing only short series is also an issue, as producing many of them prevents staff from becoming familiar with one another and the work. This is more tiring, as running several 100m sprints is more exhausting than completing a marathon.

In general, generational issues were at the core of the first part of the discussion. For better or worse, all the people speaking at the event were veterans, and the voices of younger artists or even more technical, below-the-line staff were little heard. This was partly due to the nature of the event, meant to showcase the support NAFCA garnered from respected members of the industry, but it might become an issue in the future. While the organization’s goal is partly to create dialogue between professions and generations, we hope it does not become a one-way discussion.

Noriyo Sasaki and Naomichi Yamato at the NAFCA kick-off event on August 11th 2023.

In the latter half of the event, a panel consisting of Masaru Kitao, who also serves on NAFCA’s board of directors, Terumi Nishii, Noriyo Sasaki, and Mizurô Ishii delved into the situation of character designers in the anime industry.

Masaru Kitao emphasized the importance of designers receiving recognition for their work without necessarily seeking copyrights. Terumi Nishii chimed in, highlighting the significance of copyrights for creators to earn money even after retirement. Although technical, their talk touched on essential issues of creative and legal recognition, as well as aging in the industry, an issue bound to become increasingly prominent as time goes by. In that regard, Akihiro Kanayama’s presence was a symbol of how pressing such problems are.

The panelists also touched upon the issue of anime creators being forbidden from drawing or selling pictures of their own character designs, even when they are the original designers. This poses a significant challenge for designers who cannot draw their own creations. Furthermore, they questioned why derivative doujin is permitted while the same freedom is not extended to the original creators, a timely concern as the event was taking place just the day before the 102nd edition of Comiket, the biggest doujin market in the world. Along with this, the absence of clear guidelines and formal contracts in the anime industry makes negotiations a daunting task.

Masaru Kitao and Terumi Nishii at the NAFCA Kick-off event on August11th 2023.

Masaru Kitao also pointed out that the animation director’s credit has disappeared from trailers, showing that the recognition for animators and their work is further declining.

Terumi Nishii went on to voice her concerns about the anime industry being run by individuals who do not have a passion for the art form and do not fully comprehend how it works. She stressed that the opinions of fans must be taken into account for the industry to evolve. Ueda added that anime has now become mainstream, and the position of those with financial power has transformed accordingly.

In conclusion, the participants noted that NAFCA must gather a substantial number of supporters to gain the attention of politicians and bring about change in the industry. An urgent matter as it seems, as the next big threat looming over the entertainment industry, the new invoice system, takes effect today on October 1st. Further proof that some sort of political activism to defend not only animators but also other professions from the entertainment industries needs to be taken.

If you are interested in knowing more about NAFCA, check out our interview with Ayano Fukumiya, one of the association’s representatives.

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