Japanese animation studios may churn out a lot of anime every season, but they’re also quite infamous for overworking their animators. One of these is Madhouse, responsible for many hits, including Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura Wars, NANA, Black Lagoon, Death Note,Hunter x Hunter (2011), and A Place Further Than The Universe. And now, a production assistant working for the company is suing them for overtime, as well as power harassment at the work place. The production assistant is in the process of doing a collective bargaining agreement with the Madhouse, and he recently sat down with Bungei Shunju Online for an interview.

In the interview, the unnamed production assistant stated: “During crunch time, the most I worked was 393 hours a month.” The Japanese government’s proposed limit for overtime per month is 100 hours. He was so overworked that he was soon hospitalized. “I was working on one of the later episodes of a series. The storyboards only got finished a month before the broadcast, so we had to compact a three-month production schedule into one month. During that time I would sleep at the studio for three days, only going home to have showers,” he said. He also explained how he collapsed due to the overwork:

“It was around 7 in the morning when I was returning to my apartment one day when all the hunger, tiredness, and stress over all the things I had to do got to me and I collapsed on the road. A policeman who just happened to be cycling by called the ambulance for me. When I woke up, I was like, “Oh, overwork huh.” I had some IV dripped into me, paid the 10,000 yen ambulance fee, and then went home just like that.”

Because of what happened, Madhouse did give that production assistant the day off. However, since it was a week before the broadcast, he went back to work the very next day. He also recalled an animation director asking him for retakes even though he was still recovering. They completed the anime to a to a “bare minimum” standard, and everyone hadn’t even slept yet. The problem is that the studio’s higher ups assumed that everything was okay and nothing got addressed.

After the incident, the assistant got another check up and was diagnosed with a psychogenic reaction. It is a a functional neurologic disorder, as a disease that affects the nervous system “that can’t be explained by a neurological disease or other medical condition. However, the symptoms are real and cause significant distress or problems functioning.” A psychogenic reaction can cause a person to be unable to walk, swallow, see, or hear. The reaction can vary in severity but cannot be controlled by the affected person. He started taking medication and then joined a trade union soon after.

In the suit, the assistant took 3 million yen worth of unpaid overtime. Now, Madhouse has a flat overtime rate of 50 hours. In other words, if you work overtime longer than that, you won’t get paid extra. The assistant states that the problem isn’t just limited to Madhouse. “Production assistants, especially when working on a TV series, tend to work over 100-200 hours a month. At the subcontracting studios, they don’t even have a time card for people to log their hours.”

He also said that “People have been asking me if I’m trying to destroy Madhouse, but that’s not what I want to do. I just want working conditions to improve”. Because of this, he also fears that he won’t get promoted anymore. However, he does think his actions are necessary.

Animation studios in Japan are infamous for being slave drivers. In fact, one man from A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online) even committed suicide due to overwork. It has been a continuing trend in the industry, and the assistant hopes that his actions would change how studios treat their workers.

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