(Source: search.japantimes.co.jp)  After graduating from Tokyo Animator College, Yuko Matsui began working at a midscale animation production agency.

Work in progress: A student works on a project at Tokyo Animator College. ALEX MARTIN PHOTO

Two years later, she earns roughly ¥80,000 a month, averaging 10 hours a day doing the grunt work of filling out “in-between cels,” drawings on transparent sheets used between key scenes to help create the illusion of motion.

Although she lives with her parents, she can’t save any money and has given up on paying her national pension fees. Still, the 22-year-old apprentice considers herself better off than some of her peers who say they have to endure frequent all-nighters with few days off.

“There were seven others I knew who graduated with me at the same time, but three of them have already given up and quit,” she said.

Matsui’s story is typical of what many aspiring animators must face in a trade where only the best survive in a shrinking job market. And it’s not just the employees who are hurting.

The deepening recession and rapid shift in the overall landscape surrounding the industry have caused many to fear for the future of one of the nation’s most prized cultural exports.

“The global fan base for Japanese ‘anime’ is increasing, but with the old business model crumbling it isn’t translating into profits,” said Yasuo Yamaguchi, executive director of the Association of Japanese Animations.

For the past decade, the industry has been hammering out average annual sales of ¥200 billion in what experts described as an “animation bubble.”

Yamaguchi predicted, however, that the industry’s proceeds for fiscal 2008  which have yet to be calculated would be lower than 2007, when total sales dropped almost ¥20 billion from 2006, a record high year, according to AJA statistics.

“The financial crisis is forcing sponsors to cut down on television advertisement fees, and this in turn is shrinking the budgets for animations, pressuring everyone involved in the production,” Yamaguchi said.

“I think we’ll see a major decrease in the number of anime programs broadcast. Agencies dependent on television as a primary financial source will need to search for alternatives.”

Full Press:     http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090304f1.html

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