Citizen Action Is Fine But LOL

I read this and well, I agree with it more than I disagree with it, for starters. In summary, it is a blog post illustrating the baseline understanding on what the table stakes are to improve working condition of Japanese animators. In specific, it says that it is reprehensible to shame people from piracy by leveraging them the information about poorly-treated animators. Lawful consumption of content produced by the anime industry also will not really address the problem, because it’s not a directing force. That much is common sense. Table stakes. If you’re not at this level I don’t think we can have a constructive discussion.

It is a helpful post by listing some key items and things westerners know about, such as the anime dorm thing and Janica, as well as Sakugablog. However I think it kind of trips on itself by trying to criticize anime press and the lack of information available to fans. Here are some of my thoughts.

  1. In the post it says that information and misinformation is a major issue. I agree–both as someone who has been misinformed and have seen plenty others being misinformed, for starters. I’m not entirely sure if that blog post is fully informed, namely, it overreaches. I think you can’t take such a cut-and-dry approach to labor relations, especially applying some international models to Japan. It doesn’t often work–even for large capital firms trying to break into that market. The relationship between press and advertiser, too, is a complicated thing that I don’t have time to get into now, and this outside view is obtuse.
  2. The problem of poor information is understated. For starters, plain PR-style information is not even well represented in English. There is definitely a selection bias due to the industrial relationships between localizers, press, and Japanese content producers. At the same time, it is not really a goal of these organizations to educate consumers. Fandom, possibly the most well-equipped source of information, is often also not primed as a means of education, either because there is a lack of organization, or because the scope of information does not address greater, fundamental education that is lacking. Misusing decontextualized data and concepts remains a pervasive issue.
  3. This partly plays out at the Sakugablog. The relationship between Sakugablog, its exposure of individual animators to the western public, and that post, is also an example of poor information and disinformation. As Kevin and others may tell you outright, sometimes the truth cannot be simply disclosed, and Sakugablog is not really meant to serve that whistleblowing purpose. Sakugabooru and Sakugablog ultimately serves its fan niche first and foremost, and it is not a public outreach platform, despite it wanting to be that as well. I think the need for something like a news-like site to explain how everything is, is part of what the sakuga community needs, so Sakugablog tried to serve that purpose. However, if you would read this tortured whistleblowing, you would know it’s not really in a position to do so. First and foremost, if you are friends with the cottage industry that is Japanese sakuga-making, you can’t really be a bull in the proverbial china shop. The accusational post is not even 1:1 accusation and explanation, it’s like 5 parts couching the issue, 1 parts defending the accused, and 1 part actually accusing. The public is not really ready for something like this, because we are generally just grossly misinformed about this niche industry. Even with that long post there is a lot of room for misunderstanding, and misunderstanding by casual/semi-casual fans, not just randos. Pursue the comments in that Marchen Madchen post (RIP). And by the public or randos I don’t just mean western fans, but in general, including the Japanese, non-sakuga-otaku public. Animator working condition discussions at times is a sensitive issue, and I’m not sure it’s possible to talk about these things in that context without either diluting your message or cause more problems. More importantly, this is a huge, systemic issue, that is related with a bunch of other issues, and there are few ways to tackle this without a full on knowledge of what builds the system up, which require a truckload of knowledge beyond appreciation of animators.
  4. There are other unions that blog post missed. Obviously the one in my wheelhouse is the Japanese actors union which covers voice acting, which dictates rates, guarantees and royalties, among other things.  Musicians also have unions, depends if they are composers or what, but in this regard many anime-related musicians are attached to a major label or freelance, so those arrangements will take precedence. Seiyuu union is a good example to show that unionization in Japan only works so much to help working condition. Short of spending the next 1000 words describing it I’ll just say one should read up on Shirobako’s most pitiful out of the five. Only if things were that simple.
  5. The blog post points to neoliberal traps of market correction, but fails to acknowledge that the likes of PA Works, Kyoto Animation, and other animation companies are the first and foremost actors in improving the working condition of their employees and contractors. This is at odds with Sakugablog’s fairly cheerleader-like posture at these positive industry-side changes. As things are in reality, it takes both sides, labor and employer, reaching some compromise for the situation to improve. It would be foolish to write away the employer side as handwaving “neoliberalism.” That posure in fact shows a poor understanding of the role of these companies in the ecosystem. To me, the fact that animation companies are actively trying to improve the situation implies a truck load of other things that ought to be discussed in the breadth of that post (should it decide to go there), and truly that’s kind of the change citizen actions should push for anyway. But it’s weird that none of that is being said in that blog post. Which is again, a bull in china shop kind of thing, cottage industry and all. Anyways, that omission seems critical, especially in light of some of the other word-drops (like Young Animators Project).

I do heartily agree that people need a firm grasp on fundamentals, like citizen action on system change, how it works, and other things illustrated by that blog post, to have a sensible discussion on how to elevate the working condition of Japanese animators. However it also takes a lot of data and keen understanding on Japanese work culture, business practices, societal attitudes, demographics, anime industry structures, patterns and much more, to be pushing these kinds of recommendations, not simply blanketly apply things that may have worked somewhere else without acknowledging the need to address localized concerns. If we want to make arguments not on rational points and facts, and instead appeal to emotion, I think that blog post makes a good point. But does that even matter? I think let’s stay away from the usual SJW-ing too hard and focus our effort on tangible ways to help animators, even if it’s a band-aid.

But like I said, I agree with that post more than I disagree with it. It’s worth the time to read.

PS. Anyone going to WUG Bus Tour? See you there.

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