Venture Capital

onegaishimasuHow would you feel if this issue of NEO came with a begging letter? Thanks for the £5, but everyone here is underpaid, so could you see your way to paying our editor’s gas bill, and the designer’s rent this month? Wouldn’t that feel like you were being charged twice? Wouldn’t you start to suspect that NEO was owned by a moustache-twirling dastard in a top hat, laughing over piles of money while his staff laboured like Dickensian urchins?

But that’s precisely the feeling I get when confronted with the start-up Animator Dorm project, recently crowd-funded by a group of industry professionals including Tatami Galaxy’s Naoyuki Asano and Gatchaman Crowds’ Shingo Yamashita.

$10,000 has made it possible for two animators to live in a… dorm? I guess it’s paid their rent for a year, thereby allowing them to work for peanuts at some studio, helping to perpetuate the poor conditions for which the industry is notorious. They pay their donors back with merchandise and artwork, and a vague promise about an artist outreach project.

God bless anime fandom, which depending on who you listen to, is either a braying, multi-headed hydra of self-interest, stealing the very stuff it professes to love, or a community of kind-hearted philanthropists, providing soup and blankets for starving artists. So good for you, if you threw in a few quid so that someone could continue to earn minimum wage and still have a roof over their head. If you were a “Bronze” supporter, you got an art book for $50, which is presumably what makes this more appealing than a similar scheme for, say, Primark employees.

As this column noted in NEO 105, there’s crowd-funding and then there’s funding. Put $10,000 into Production IG’s Kick Heart, and you won’t just get a postcard and a lucky gonk; they’ll fly you to Tokyo and make you a producer. At a certain level, the Anime Dorm project is merely a wired-world variant of a pop star selling you a CD and a T-shirt at his concert. These animators have some bonus art to sell, and spending the money on rent, just like everyone else. But is this unprecedented access to the talent, or is it just another example of the owners of anime passing on their poor business decisions to the consumer?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 127, 2014.

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