MAPPA suffers backlash after overworked staff of Jujutsu Kaisen makes matter public

Following the footsteps of Kyoto Animation, MAPPA Studios has been slowly climbing the stairs to become the next face of the Animation Industry in Japan. Breaking the internet countless times, MAPPA has not only garnered praise but an unprecedented backlash from the community. Is this a sign that their unparalleled success was at the cost of something greater?

 

In just over a decade, Japanese animation studio MAPPA has rocketed to fame, becoming an undeniable powerhouse in the modern anime industry. With a portfolio that boasts some of the biggest anime series of recent years and several smash-hit anime movies, MAPPA has earned a global reputation as a premier animation studio. But this success has come with its fair share of problems.

What is this Backlash about exactly?

Can Kashimo beat Sukuna JJK 237
[Image via MAPPA Studios]
Alongside its accolades and devoted fanbase, MAPPA has been marred by allegations of overworking its dedicated staff. It’s no secret that MAPPA undertakes an impressive number of high-profile projects every year, renowned for their jaw-dropping animation quality.

  • Notable titles like “Jujutsu Kaisen,” “Chainsaw Man,” and “Attack on Titan” have kept fans on the edge of their seats, but also raised eyebrows about the welfare of the studio’s workforce.
  • The burning question has always been, can MAPPA’s staff possibly be getting enough rest and sleep when the studio keeps piling together ambitious projects?

Sadly, it appears that working conditions have only deteriorated over time, and the MAPPA staff has reached a breaking point. Recently, disturbing information has come to light, revealing that MAPPA required its employees to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). These NDAs explicitly instructed directors and animators working on Jujutsu Kaisen not to discuss the overall production state of the show.

Unsurprisingly, this move has sparked outrage among the studio’s dedicated team. Earlier today, the floodgates opened as numerous animators decided to break their silence. They took to Twitter to talk about the punishing schedules, dismal working environments, subpar compensation, and the fear that they could be silenced by the studio. 

But why is MAPPA doing this to their employees?

The working conditions in the animation industry are beyond reparations. The perpetual exploitation of employees has been a popular work culture in these studios. These are further motivated by the likes of big streaming platforms like Netflix, which hire such studios on a contractual basis for project cuts much lower than the industry rate.

  • Animator Ippei Ichii confirmed in 2021 on Twitter (presently X) that Netflix has started to place orders at a much lower rate than that of TV series.
  • Apparently, a producer working on a Netflix anime made at MAPPA suggested paying 3800 yen per cut, which roughly converted into USD 34 in 2021, while the ceiling should’ve been stipulated at USD 134 or 15000 yen.
  • Furthermore, freelance employer Mushiyo made a statement on Twitter after leaving MAPPA, stating that the working conditions at Attack on Titan were blatantly unhealthy.

The decision of MAPPA to work on four simultaneous projects without proper training of the team led to the proliferation of a ‘factory-like’ work environment, where the animators in the lower strata were constantly made to do corrections instead of actually creating something. This demeaning act of exploiting such a large workforce has eventually led to the recent uproar, and the repressed voices have finally imploded.

MAPPA has also garnered a lot of attention in recent years. Past employees and critics claim that it is on its path to becoming the next Madhouse, which evidently collapsed due to its extremely harsh and deformative work culture. It was indeed the Madhouse co-founder who went on to establish MAPPA. Employers have also claimed that MAPPA only granted eight months to its animators to animate the entirety of AoT S4 after the project was taken over from WIT.

A history of taking loads of projects: a sign of corporate greed?

Overworking and underpaying are two words that best define the work culture that has been propagated through studios like MAPPA. While many people call these shows high production values, it is because of the simple fact that the cuts and paychecks for the animators and the margin of profit are notoriously manipulated and downgraded. The causality of excess workload is a result of various unplanned actions.

Studios like MAPPA take up multiple projects at the same time and the deadlines are frighteningly compact, making no room for change or promotion of a fluid work culture. This has previously happened with many anime studios, eventually leading to their downfall and ruination. Some of the examples include:

  • Gonzo in the early 2000s
  • Pierrot in the mid-2000s
  • A-1 Pictures in the early 2010s
  • J.C. Staff in the mid-2010s

Over-commitment and under-delivery have been a major fallacy of MAPPA, and to uphold its reputation it has even resorted to promoting such unhealthy standards and practices in the workspace. MAPPA’s history of overworking its employees has remained prominent over the years.

Recently, the animators and staff involved with Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2 were made to sign a confidentiality agreement and it restricted them from revealing any information about the industry’s and the studio’s wrongdoings and exploitation. While the historical oppression has been consistent, MAPPA has also recently announced a new Studio Annex to promote a healthy work environment.

Whether this is only a move to counter the backlash or an actual response to the traumatic work culture is still a question left unanswered.

Voices of the suppressed speak out in protest

Every time MAPPA takes on a new project, fans are quick to voice their concerns about the working state of the employees. This time is no different. Masqueraded as contractual formalities and a part of the work ethic, the NDA has come as an attempt to keep the audience in the dark. As soon as the news broke out on the internet, fans took to Reddit and Twitter to call out the unfair practices of the renowned studios.

  • Among these voices, there are some users claiming to be a part of the working environment. They shared their experiences without directly naming the studios. Let’s hear what they had to say.
  • A supposed animator with the Twitter handle “Wuokb” has made multiple tweets over time, sharing what they were up to in the animation process. In the last 24 hours, they’ve made tweets putting out their anguish. Here’s what they had to share:

“When I lose, it’s up to me whether I give up and say, I don’t care anymore, or grit my teeth and keep going…”

They also added, “If you’re going to make a mess, go in as the director and fix it…”. Finally, he ended his flurry of tweets with, “I have nothing to lose, so if you want to take me to the court for complaining, I’ll take it!!!”.

In response to this, people were mostly supportive, offering words of encouragement to the animator. Seemingly familiar with the animation-production process, a Twitter user shared their thoughts in Japanese, here is the translated version.

“The place I’m at now is a basic mess and not very good, so if you want to do your best don’t get involved (with such a working environment). If you want to do things properly and get paid properly, this might be a good place for you.

While it’s a mess, it’s a good place for newcomers to make a name for themselves because there are opportunities lying around and they’re doing some high-profile work. But if you want to work hard, it’s better not to get involved.”

JJK manga - Is Sukuna secretly the main character?
With the latest leaks, it seems the next season of Jujutsu Kaisen will have some trouble being animated. There seems to be high chances of a possible staff protest from within the company. (Image credit goes to Mappa).

From their words, it comes to light that you need to keep your creativity to yourself at times to adhere to the standards set by your higher-ups. Some tweets have been deleted soon after they were made. They included some tweets made in English. Here’s what they had to say,

“Silencing the staff from talking about how atrocious the work conditions are is comically evil I don’t care at this point because yes, the schedule is beyond terrible the fact that work gets done at all with any level of competency is incredible.

I will not compromise my health for work that won’t even cover all of my rent, let alone any other expenses my main job and my overall well-being mean more to me than the fear of being blacklisted.”

While these tweets surfaced, giving us an insight into how things unravel behind the scenes, the audience had a lot to share as well. On Reddit, fans discussed the idea of delaying the second cour of Jujutsu Kaisen to provide the animators with breathing room. No matter how good the end result looks, overworking the employees at such lengths isn’t justified in any way.

Can there be a better light in the future?

Is the use of CGI in Mappa's Attack on Titan Season 4 justified?
Attack on Titan Final Season was criticized by many fans when it first came out, having only been shifted from WIT STUDIOS to Mappa, the fans seem to dislike the generous use of CGI. Looking back, the CGI seems to have coped with the overbearing staff members who were at that time already working on multiple projects. | Image courtesy of MAPPA

The working conditions and their technical aspects were also cited. The working practices of other studios were delved into, to highlight everything that’s wrong with MAPPA. Some of these studios included Kyoto Animation and Studio Bones. While they also come with a fair share of problems, there’s a lot MAPPA could learn from their planning of the production process and the treatment of their employees.

Another point of criticism that stood out again and again in the discussion threads is the sheer number of projects MAPPA works on simultaneously. From everything we know so far with the inputs of the audience and the animators, it seems to be a vicious cycle.

To support a better environment, more revenues need to be generated, and going off from the current practices of making the animators work to the point of extreme physical and mental exhaustion is the only way to generate profits (for MAPPA).

While the pay is decent for the animators, the working hours and the amount of work that needs to be done are horrendous. A speedy growth comes at the cost of human lives, is it still a question if MAPPA needs to slow down with the number of projects they take on?

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