The global success of cartoons from the Land of the Rising Sun did not arise out of nowhere. The characters Astro Boy and Speed Racer, who appeared in comics and on TV screens in the 1960s, were Pokémon in the 1990s, and the animated feature Spirited Away was released in 2001, which soon won top awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
But anime’s outward success conceals a disturbing underlying economic reality: Many of the animators behind the onscreen magic are broke and face working conditions that can lead to burnout and even suicide. The tension between a ruthless industry structure and anime’s artistic idealism forces animators to suffer exploitation for the sake of art, with no solution in sight.
Artistry is one appeal of anime. Animators are bearing a nearly intolerable burden for the sake of beautifully hand-drawn television. For the sake of fluffy pancakes, lush sunset landscapes, and adventures across time, space, genre, and culture. For everything you watch and love, animators pay the price. Yet they draw on.
Anime influences the perception of Japanese culture outside the country to a much greater extent than Disney animation influences the perception of American culture.