Why This Missing Line in ‘Chainsaw Man’ Should Worry You If You Love Anime
Uncomfortable truth time!
I have been loving MAPPA’s anime adaption of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man. There was so much hype leading up to the anime’s premiere, and MAPPA has been nailing it. Episode two left me feeling as positive about the adaption as episode one did. Hell, I didn’t mind in the slightest that MAPPA omitted a small fight with the Muscle Devil, because that meant we got to meet Power faster, and I will never, ever complain about more screen time for my best girl. However, there was an omission that I only realized well after the episode ended, and that realization has been dominating my brain space ever since.
The realization came courtesy of a now somewhat-viral post on Twitter. I heartily disagree with the ultimate conclusion that episode two “was not filling me with a lot of confidence” (subtitle translations, by the way, are not under MAPPA’s purview). But, they pointed out a very, very interesting line from the manga that was cut in the anime.
Why would you drop Denji hollering about his union job and paid days off??? It’s kinda important? pic.twitter.com/GhrjkYg4ER— RTL3 (@RussellLatshaw) October 18, 2022
I was so drunk on the glory of seeing Chainsaw Man in anime form that I completely forgot about this in the moment! How could I?! Denji joyfully singing in the bath about getting a cushy union job with paid days off is a deeply relatable moment for anyone under the age of … I’m going say … 45. I would do the exact same thing if I landed a union gig with PTO. It also serves to underline the fact that Denji went from essentially well-below-poverty servitude under the yakuza to, er, essentially white collar servitude under Makima. And it’s one of the many moments where you realize how Chainsaw Man does not have particularly nice things to say about capitalism.
And yet, MAPPA cut it. In fact, I’m pretty sure the word “union” is not said in the episode at all, even though it’s mentioned in the manga multiple times. I have a hunch as to why, too. Unfortunately, it involves an uncomfortable truth behind the working conditions of the anime industry.
You may have had to bury this in your head, but sadly, the fact is that the animators behind almost all of our favorite anime shows work absurd hours (we’re talking all-nighters, regularly) and get paid abysmally (less than $40 a day). This is well documented as an industry-wide practice. One of the most telling chronicles came from the New York Times in 2019, when they talked to Tetsuya Akutsu, who has worked on major series like Tokyo Ghoul:re and Pokémon: Hisuian Snow. It’s one of those articles where every sentence deeply elucidates the extent of this problem, so I highly suggest you read it.
But, in summation, anime is caught in a systemic practice where most of the profits go to production committees, who are “ad hoc coalitions of toy manufacturers, comic book publishers and other companies.” These committees low-ball the fees for the animation studios and don’t give them any royalties. “Rather than negotiate higher rates or profit-sharing with the production committees,” the article continues, “many studios have continued to squeeze animators, lowering costs by hiring them as freelancers.”
And there’s the key word: freelancers. The same thing is happening here in America. If companies don’t hire salaried workers, they can get away with paying them less and are less beholden to their workers’ general wellbeing. (Note that Japan has universal healthcare, but employers are still responsible for providing certain costs for salaried workers.) Akutsu bitterly notes that so many people want to be animators that the studios “have a lot of cannon fodder — they have no reason to raise wages.”
While there are precious few outliers, such as Kyoto Animation, low wages are definitely the industry norm. MAPPA has come under criticism, too. In 2021, a freelancer who worked on Attack on Titan for MAPPA quit and posted his grievances to Twitter, which he posited were shared by “80% of the employees.” He paints a similar picture as described above, where animators are pulling all-nighters much of the time. Respected veteran animator Ippei Ichii also accused MAPPA of paying horrid rates.
Fortunately, MAPPA received the wake-up call (even though it refuted these claims). According to Anime Galaxy, MAPPA changed its practices for Chainsaw Man specifically. The starting salary was bumped up from 187,000 yen a month (which included overtime) to 230,543 yen a month. (The yen is falling at such a ridiculous rate compared to the dollar at the moment that I’m not even going to try to give an exact equivalent. Functionally, it’s like going from $1,700 to $2,100.) What I’m calling the Denji Package offers this monthly salary to new trainees, which, as CBR points out, is unusual—and is a better rate than even Ghibli. The Denji Package also includes—sing it in the bathtub!—paid time off, as well as family allowances, an annual bonus, and an annual raise based on performance.
Still, the union bit is definitely lacking. And PTO is very, very far from being an industry norm. MAPPA is clearly trying to turn over a new leaf with Chainsaw Man. They opened a new studio location specifically for its production, and its production alone. But hopefully, they plan on giving all their animators the Denji Package.
So my personal hunch is that MAPPA cut the line because it’s a very, very thorny subject for the exact same people who have to work for hours on end to bring that very line to life. I don’t think it was nefarious—it’s not like MAPPA can hide the existence of the original line. I do think it was like a boss imagining what it would be like to invite their employees to roast them at an office party and immediately realizing that’s a very bad idea.
I’m not here to vilify MAPPA. Plus, never take for granted that the animators who have worked on Chainsaw Man are delivering us some of the most stunning animation in recent memory. Nor is the Denji Package anything more than a starting point, a bare minimum of what studios should be doing. But, hopefully, more will follow suit. And then, every animator in Japan can joyously sing in their bathtubs.
(featured image: MAPPA)
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