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The dark side of Japan’s anime industry

Anime brings in more than $19 billion a year. Its artists are earning barely enough to survive.

Pikachu’s thunderbolt struck America in 1998 and changed the lives of a generation.

The US anime craze started at the turn of the century with Sailor Moon’s middle-school magical girls out to save faraway planets; One Piece’s pirates, cyborgs, and fish people seeking a legendary treasure; and Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum on a noble quest to “catch ’em all.”

These classic shows and many others led the charge; between 2002 and 2017, the Japanese animation industry doubled in size to more than $19 billion annually. One of the most influential and renowned anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, finally debuted on Netflix this month, marking the end of years of anticipation and a new pinnacle in anime’s global reach.

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.

Anime’s slave labor problem

Anime is almost entirely drawn by hand. It takes skill to create hand-drawn animation and experience to do it quickly.

Shingo Adachi, an animator and character designer for Sword Art Online, a popular anime TV series, said the talent shortage is a serious ongoing problem — with nearly 200 animated TV series alone made in Japan each year, there aren’t enough skilled animators to go around. Instead, studios rely on a large pool of essentially unpaid freelancers who are passionate about anime.

At the entry level are “in-between animators,” who are usually freelancers. They’re the ones who make all the individual drawings after the top-level directors come up with the storyboards and the middle-tier “key animators” draw the important frames in each scene.

In-between animators earn around 200 yen per drawing — less than $2. That wouldn’t be so bad if each artist could crank out 200 drawings a day, but a single drawing can take more than an hour. That’s not to mention anime’s meticulous attention to details that are by and large ignored by animation in the West, like food, architecture, and landscape, which can take four or five times longer than average to draw.

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Civil rights and religious leaders urge African Americans to defy governors’ efforts to reopen businesses

A coalition of prominent civil rights and black religious leaders is urging African American residents who live in states that are moving swiftly to reopen their economies to stay home in defiance of governors until there’s evidence the coronavirus outbreak has eased.

The group, convened by the Conference of National Black Churches and Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said some governors are demonstrating “reckless disregard for the health and life of black residents” and called for black churches and businesses to remain closed in those states until there’s evidence that it’s safe to resume more normal activity.

“We do not take it lightly to encourage members of our communities to defy the orders of state governors,” the officials said in a statement. “Our sacred duty is to support and advance the life and health of Black people, families and communities in our country.”

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Convicted ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli wants early release to work on coronavirus cure

Lawyers for Shkreli, who is in federal prison, claim he has “devoted countless hours” to researching a cure.

Lawyers for “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli asked a federal judge Wednesday to release him from prison so he can help find a cure for COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, court records show.

The documents, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., say Shkreli, 37, has “devoted countless hours” to developing a cure for the disease, which has killed nearly 45,000 people in the United States and tens of thousands more around the world.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Shkreli is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, after being convicted in 2017 on securities fraud and conspiracy charges. His lawyers asked in the filing that he be allowed to serve the rest of his term at home with an electronic monitor.

Shkreli, a former biotech CEO and hedge fund manager, had been accused of repeatedly lying about the performance of his funds and raiding his company’s assets to provide returns to investors. He first gained notoriety in 2015 after he raised the price of a lifesaving anti-parasite drug by 5,000 percent.

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Several Italian mafia bosses released from prison over coronavirus fears

Several Italian mafia bosses have been released from prison under a new coronavirus regulation, the country’s national anti-mafia prosecutor said.

Francesco Bonura, an influential boss in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra; Vincenzo Iannazzo, a member of the Ndrangheta; and Pasquale Zagaria, a member of the Casalesi clan, have now been moved to house arrest, according to Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutor.
To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus within correctional facilities, the Italian government authorized magistrates to transfer inmates who have 18 months or less in their sentences to house arrest.
Cafiero De Raho said the three men had been held under “extra isolation measures” to avoid contact with people outside the prison because of the roles they had in mafia organizations.
“Once they are sent back home, these measures are obviously no longer enforced,” the prosecutor added.

Why the mafia are taking care of everyone’s business

Organised crime is already giving food parcels to the poor in Italy and Mexico. For the cartels and syndicates, this crisis is an opportunity

Pestilence presents a moment of great opportunity for many businesses.

Consider the speed at which contracts are put out to tender to meet extraordinary needs. Consider the ability to move goods and money without all the normal checks or legal and bureaucratic protocols. Plague is a boon for the commercial class.

The art of profit is based on exploiting need, and no one has perfected that dark art better than organised crime. The Covid-19 pandemic is already demonstrating this. With their usual business acumen, criminal organisations have, in recent decades, invested in a number of companies that have turned out to be very relevant to the present crisis: multi-service businesses (catering, cleaning or disinfection), industrial laundries, transport, funeral homes, waste collection, food distribution – and the health. All of these sectors have become fundamental to our survival over recent weeks, and will probably remain so for a good while.

In Italy, police have already raised the alarm about mafia cartels’ investment in the production and distribution of “epidemic kits”, comprising masks, hand sanitiser and latex gloves. These products are today almost impossible to find, and the sudden overwhelming demand (surely destined to continue over the coming months) has caused prices to skyrocket.

For the Calabrian mafia, the ’ndrangheta, this would be familiar territory: for years it made capital investments in the pharmaceutical and healthcare products sectors. In March 2016, it was revealed that the ’ndrangheta had been working aggressively to establish itself in medical and pharmaceutical industries across Lombardy – which became Italy’s Covid-19 “Ground Zero” – even dispatching cartel operatives and their relatives to qualify in medicine, nursing and pharmacology.

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