At a conference titled “Cultural Typhoon” held at Komazawa University in July 2010, story writer for anime series such as Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, Dai Sato, expressed some of his concerns regarding the medium.
Issues with sub-contracting
One of the practices Sato takes issue with is outsourcing work for “in-between” frames of animation to smaller external contractors (often in China and Korea). Outsourcing and contracting work to external studios, Sato feels, leads to a loss in consistency, as sub-contractors are often unaware of the projects they are working on. He uses Macross as an example, where the “continuity between images was awful” and laments that, despite this, the industry has been following the same practice ever since.
For anyone that’s curious, this is a common practice in the games industry, too. Very often, smaller outsource studios are contracted to develop artwork or environments for games without majority of the staff ever being aware of the product they’re working on until it ships.
An extension of this problem, in Sato’s views, is that sub-contractors aren’t invested in their work at all, which he sees as the single largest problem plaguing the anime industry today. At the same time, however, he feels Japan can no longer claim anime as their own creation either. He accuses the anime industry of refusing to teach these Asian sub-contractors the skills required to craft their own stories because it could potentially damage the position of Japan in anime production.
No respect for stories
Switching gears, Sato also felt that the Japanese audience lacks a certain respect for storytelling. He laments the lack of an Ergo Proxy (for which he penned the story) DVD boxset in Japan, whereas the series received boxsets in other nations around the world. He went on to mention that Eureka Seven was dismissed in Japan as a clone of Neon Genesis Evangelion based on certain similarities in character designs (referring specifically to Rei Ayanami and Eureka).
Sato questions whether the audience is even interested in taking a deeper look into stories that creators put out. He feels the general audience is losing its ability to understand the meaning behind narratives that they experience. That works with a focus on plot and narrative are passed up in favour of those with an emphasis on cute characters and no real plot progression. As a result, he says, writers such as himself are finding it harder to find work, even as “Hollywood rips off our ideas.”
Anime is overly focused on materialistic escapism in his views, and no effort is being made to draw parallels with real-world problems and issues.
The future of anime
At a time like this, Sato says, the doujinshi (indie) scene is a source of inspiration. Since manga requires less staff to create something original than anime, he feels it is the last bastion of creativity within the industry. “Manga is the last hold out,” he said to his audience. “If that is lost, there will be no more anime.”
Personally, he feels that anime will die out in Japan in a few decades, but he wishes to continue working on it to prevent this outcome. He added that he has never had the freedom to work on something he wanted to. All the series he has written were shaped by commercial and professional restraints, and that he had to work to make them interesting within those constraints.