Creating anime is not all milk and cookies

Creating anime is not a tough industry; it is an illegally harsh industry, according to Henry Thurlow. Henry is lucky or unlucky be a westerner working at an anime house.

When he was a kid, he grew up watching cartoons, and one day saw HBO’s Spawn and it shows him a darker side to animation. Soon he started renting anime series like Genocyber and Ninja Scroll. It inspired him.

After graduating he spend a few years in New York City, working in the animation scene working on web games, kids shows, music videos and Adult Swim’s Superjail. But it did not fill him as an artist. He felt like he was wasting his talents.

He went to Japan

“I would apply to a bunch of anime studios, and get rejected. Then, for the rest of the year I would redo my portfolio entirely, learn more Japanese, and try to make any connections I could with people working in the studios. Summertime would roll around again, and I’d repeat the process. It took four years, but finally the studio Nakamura-Productions told me that my portfolio was good enough, and if my visa was valid, and I was mentally prepared for the never-ending work-hell I was about to enter, that they’d let me work there. I told them yes.”

Soon he discovered that the animation industry in Japan is very different from what he was used to in New Your City. The interviewers warned Henry that it was a tough industry, that he would work long hours for little pay…. And Henry discovered that that was an understatement.

“Let’s just be clear: It’s not a ‘tough’ industry… It’s an ‘illegally harsh’ industry. They don’t pay you even remotely minimum wage, they overwork you to the point where people are vomiting at work and having to go to the hospital for medicine. They demand that you come in whenever they realize a deadline isn’t going to be met. That probably means about a month and a half of non-stop work without a single day off. Then you will be allowed to go back to your regular six-day work-weeks of 10-hour days.”
And, unlike the friendly camaraderie of American studios, in Japan they are completely silent. Thurlow says, “No one talks, or gets lunch together or anything. They just sit and work in complete silence and seem uninterested in changing this.”

Henry has been hospitalized three times for exhaustion and illness, a harsh price to pay for $100 a month, but he says that even if he earned more in New York and could afford stuff the artist in him was screaming at the fact that he was not making really high-quality feature films and series. His life might be horrible now, but the artist in him is completely satisfied.

Creating anime is not all milk and cookies, and for us Westerners dreaming of working as artists at anime houses, we must be willing to work extremely hard, for extremely long hours and little pay. Henry has guts and he seems very happy in his achievement, and for those who dream to follow in his footsteps, good luck and go for it.

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