When Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was released to huge critical acclaim, audiences around the world saw the potential to remake anime adaptations that suffered from similar issues to the original FMA. One such request was a 2008 remake soul eatera show that was well received, especially in the west on Cartoon Network, but was criticized for its ending, which diverged from the manga.
As fraternity, soul eater was a Studio Bones production, and it was overseen by director Takuya Igarashi of Ouran High School Host Club and Bungo Stray Dogs celebrity. It followed a group of “Weapon Meisters” and their sentient weapons as they attended an academy to learn how to become reapers to hunt monsters. The discrepancy from the source material at the end of its anime adaptation has been criticized for many reasons. Namely, how the themes of teamwork felt abandoned in place of a conclusion that only favored a few characters over the team the show was about. There are more reasons than that, sure, but it led to a request for a remake that – in all honesty – probably couldn’t be made.
The anime industry is nothing like it was ten years ago, and this is neither a condemnation nor an assessment. It’s simply a fact that every few years, topical and popular anime changes, along with the dominant styles and techniques used. While the changes reflected in the media have been both good and bad, industry trends within the studios have become increasingly disturbing.
In 2018, Teikoku Databank reported that 30% of studios in the industry were at a loss financially. Even the percentage increase in revenue among other studios was dropped from previous years. All this despite the fact that as of 2018, anime companies were consecutively hitting revenue records every year.
“Teikoku Databank attributed the increase in total revenue to large production companies ensuring an appropriate amount of production and continuing to improve production volume, despite a shortage of human resources and high outsourcing costs in the industry in his outfit.”
-Alex Mateo, Anime News Network
It’s a trend when looking at industry numbers: a falsely optimistic increase in revenue, but equally abundant costs racked up for the personnel involved. And that was just in 2018, before the pandemic, when the demand for streaming entertainment skyrocketed and the international anime market started demanding even more from the industry.
The fate of the facilitator
Anime as an industry has only grown more and more, but these changes aren’t always reflected in all aspects of the production process, and not in a positive way either. Revenues, overall, have increased, but animators are not participating in this growth which has spread internationally.
In 2021, amid the effects of the pandemic on the demand for animation, The New York Times lashed out at this very notion in an article discussing working conditions in animation in Japan. The results were largely the same things echoed in video essays and blog posts within fandoms about the issues: overwork, underpayment, and money going to production committees.
Ben Dooley and Hikari Hida of The New York Times described these committees as “ad hoc coalitions of toymakers, comic book publishers, and other companies created to fund each project.” In the end, while these committees have benefited from the international rise of the medium, the same is not true for those responsible for the art itself.
The soul eater problem
None of this is new to those who have followed the medium for an extended period of time, which isn’t to say it’s a less valid concern worth raising. But how does this relate to soul eatera single series from the late 2000s from a studio that continues to produce high-quality television anime?
‘Cause trying to do what soul eater done in 2008 today would be increasingly difficult by industry standards. Love it or hate it, soul eater was a very well produced show from a studio that was arguably at its peak at that time. It was a unique and thrilling action show that had a lot of heart.
It might be the colors or the design of its characters, but something about the way the show was made is different from how a lot of modern anime is made. Director Takuya Igarashi was at the top of their game, and the action was some of the studio’s best, including the work of Bones’ legendary Yutaka Nakamura.
It’s not like their fingerprints aren’t all over the industry yet. Igarashi continues to run Bones, overseeing the Bungo Stray Dogs series. Nakamura is still under contract at Bones, where he regularly goes wild to create my hero academiathe most retweeted moments in each arc and film.
The talent may not have changed, but the responsibilities and expectations placed on said talent in the current state of the industry have certainly changed. Anime News Network’s Kim Morrissy spoke with Joan Chung, formerly of Science Saru, about her time in the industry before leaving in 2021. She talked about the work culture and how it has changed, including following the pandemic.
Even despite language barriers, Chung recalled that Science Saru was a studio with a welcoming work culture that kept its head above water even with a tight schedule. She cited a cumbersome number of productions as a key problem. She told ANN: “I don’t think that’s a manageable number of productions… the burden on the core crew was more than it should have been.”
Even Bones, with its positive reputation among fans and its eclectic library of diverse, high-quality work spanning the past two decades, isn’t the same studio it was a decade ago. They are now the studio behind my hero academiaan annual event that is worked on almost all year, not to mention the films and OVAs that are produced in the meantime.
The industry needs more money and a better timeline for its projects, but most importantly when it comes to money, animator salaries need to rise. As it stands, the anime industry is heavily entrepreneurial-driven, and according to Simona Stanzani, a translator who spoke to The New York Times, studios “have a lot of cannon fodder – they have no reason to raise wages.”
The animators are not the only pieces of the puzzle. It takes a team and administrator oversight and feedback to ensure consistency from project to project. In a well-funded project with a manageable schedule, this process of editing, proofreading, and quality control is what has contributed to phenomenal TV projects like soul eater.
It is understandable that fans of soul eater‘s manga may have been disappointed with the conclusion of the original series, and that a true ending would be extremely satisfying. However, for what it was, this original anime was something special. A new crack isn’t impossible, but without even a fraction of the same creative team it may lack the same soul, and even with that the industry is ill-equipped to produce such work relative to the creators.
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Source: Anime News Network New York Times