An Interview with Yamamoto Yutaka
The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun published an interesting article (translated) just over a week ago on an interview with Ordet studio founder and director Yamamoto Yutata, who’s behind the original series FRACTALE airing this season. In the interview, he talks about the declining state of the anime industry and how business practices have driven down wages and hampered creativity, which Wall Street Journal also looked into over a year ago. While outsourcing to China and South Korea is nothing new, Yamamoto makes an eye-opening point about how it’s not necessarily for cost reasons, but because they’re short-staffed in Japan due to lack of interest.
Given the dire working conditions and dismal pay of animators, I can’t say I’m surprised when I can easily picture young bright-eyed individuals with visions of a lucrative career in anime get disillusioned once they actually get into the industry. The benefits, even if it’s simply personal gratification in seeing one’s work come to life, can only take most people so far and hardly offset the corporate politics that surely go on. There’s no denying that the anime medium has fallen into the trap of recycling character stereotypes and rehashing similar premises in slightly different settings, which may retain most of its current audience but clearly doesn’t reach out to new ones. Recently, there’s also been a growing trend towards using the “moe” aspect, which Yamamoto admits being guilty of. However, as someone who’s seen a fair share of corporate politics and business practices that don’t encourage creativity, I get the feeling that the problem lies more in the people who get the final say in what goes into an anime, as they’re often afraid of breaking outside of their comfort zone and trying something new.
Director Yamamoto Yutaka posing with a FRACTALE poster. A Black Rock Shooter one can be seen behind.
For all we know, some of them could just be looking out for themselves by continually putting out what’s worked in the past, rather than risking their careers by trying to help the anime medium grow. While I have no concrete basis on this theory, I’m starting to wonder if Yamamoto’s firing from Kyoto Animation for “performance reasons” in Lucky Star was partly because he wanted to take the series in a new direction, was met with resistance by the production staff, and was deemed “problematic” when he kept pushing for it. Anyone who’s worked in a big company is probably all too familiar with how doing what’s “best” for the end product doesn’t matter to the older so-called “senior” employees, who only see it as a numbers games on how to meet deadlines and maximize revenue, so I can only imagine how much worse it is in the anime industry when it’s doing as poorly as it is. Oreimo’s eighth episode is likely an exaggeration of the inner workings of anime production, but I feel it touches upon some key points such as the restriction of creativity and conformance of new series into the overused, arguably predictable norms of older ones.
Personally, I don’t see any reason why anime has to rely on these idiosyncrasies that have become the basis of the medium. I applaud Yamamoto for striving to provide something new to reach out to new overseas audiences and rejuvenate interest in one-time fans who have given up on anime. It’s a move that at least tries to promote the industry’s growth, instead of simply preventing it from dying any faster. This interview has actually changed my perspective on his statement about putting his job and career on the line for FRACTALE, as I now perceive it as his way of saying he’s going to try something new because most people won’t dare to. If he fails, then he’ll take responsibility for it and admit that his vision didn’t work. All that he asks in return is to not let his freedom of expression be hampered by production staff constantly telling him what he “should do”. At first, it sounded like a preposterous declaration and one intended to help draw attention to his new series, but now I’m really hoping he succeeds so that other senior members of the industry reopen their eyes to the endless possibilities with anime that they’ve lost sight of.