Former Science Monkey animator: Studio workload led to "horror story"

As the spotlight on anime's labor practices intensifies, an animator has spoken out against the work environment at one of Japan's most acclaimed studios.

Joan Chung worked at Science Saru, the company behind Devilman Crybaby, Ride Your Wave, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, from December 2019 to June 2021. Prior to that, she was at Titmouse Vancouver. In an interview with Anime News Network, the animator said the studio took on too many projects at once, resulting in heavy burdens on staff.

Chung, who mostly worked on Disney+'s forthcoming Star Wars: Visions and as-yet-unannounced projects at Science Saru, says the studio's culture was welcoming to begin with. International staff were given lessons in Japanese and a colleague taught her how to skate. She has no bad words for any one person.

The problem, she says, was the workload: “This year, Science Saru took on Inu-Oh (a feature), two single-season productions, as well as Star Wars: Visions - I do not believe this was a manageable number of productions. Its core employees range 40–50 in number, and though they liaise with many freelancers, the burden on the core team was heavier than it should have been.”

The pressure resulted in some “horror stories,” says Chung, adding, “a studio should not have its twenty-something girls crying in the bathroom, doing all-nighters.” These conditions eventually convinced her, as well as several colleagues, to leave.

Chung makes it clear that there are worse offenders than Science Saru. She links its woes to systemic problems with the Japanese industry, where the pay received by studios and their staff remains chronically low. With demand for anime growing, particularly from major corporations, she thinks there is scope for studios to collectively negotiate for more money and better schedules from financiers.

Her comments join a growing chorus of criticism against pay and employment terms in anime. Earlier this month, an animator accused the studio Mappa of paying its artists rock-bottom rate on a Netflix production; Mappa later defended itself in a statement.

Science Saru was founded in 2013 by director Masaaki Yuasa and producer Eunyoung Choi, who is now CEO. Yuasa stepped down as president in 2020, stating that he had been working non-stop for seven years and would now take a rest.

Image at top: “Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!”