I Work in the Anime Industry and Everybody Hates Me!
The plain office building that housed Toon Motion Studios was so nondescript, it would be fairly easy to miss it if you weren’t especially looking for it. Joy still hadn’t found the time or the funds to get repairs done to her car, so she’d taken the bus to get to work that day. She at least felt fortunate enough that she lived close enough that a bus ride thankfully wasn’t much of a problem.
The nondescript entrance had a small company logo over the door. Joy took her name badge worn around her neck and tapped it against a locking device. It beeped receptively, and a click was heard at the door handle, signaling her approval to enter the building.
There was a lot of pride to be had as Joy walked the halls of Toon Motion Studios. Framed posters of previously-aired shows lined the halls, some with autographs from Japanese voice actors, artists, or directors.
Past the front desk and the break room were a series of offices. Joy worked in a large room filled with desks manned by other members of the video team. A dozen or more seats at desks with computer workstations could be seen throughout the room, many with their own personalized touches. You could tell people who truly loved the anime they worked on sat at these desks. Many had small plush toys, models, or figures standing in the corners or on top of their work stations. To the untrained eye, one might almost believe that the company was all fun and no work. That actually could not be further from the truth.
It was fairly late in the morning. In fact, it was closing in on noon. That didn’t stop the rest of the staff from slowly straggling in through the door. Joy, in fact, was one of the last ones in. She approached her desk in the far corner of the room. Joy decorated her desk with only a simple few items, which included a small figure of a giant robot from the very first series she’d ever worked on with Toon Motion—the titular Chuulanzer straight out of the show Dokidoki Robo Chuulanzer. It was a symbol to remind herself that she had finally accomplished her dream of working on the shows that she loved with all of her heart.
“Good morning, everybody!” Ryan, the production manager, walked through the door and greeted the room at full volume. “I hope you’re all recovered from All-Out Anime Festival, ‘cause we’ve got a lot to cover this morning!”
Those who were already seated at their desks let out audible groans.
Lisa from video production leaned back in her chair, stared up at the ceiling, and let her arms hang limp at her sides. “I feel like I didn’t even get a weekend after all we did at the convention.”
A Sikh man rolled up beside Lisa in his office chair. He leaned in and announced confidently, “Hey, I was making upgrades to all the equipment all weekend. The tech team never sleeps!”
Lisa let her head roll to the side to look the man in the eye. “Hey, it’s not a competition, Ajeet.”
The tech guy shrugged. “All I’m saying is, you’re gonna be thanking me for keeping us running later today.”
“What, you mean the video team, thanking you?” Mike, the audio engineer from the panel the day before, playfully scoffed. “So long as they’re up and running, they’ll never be able to tell the difference.”
“All right, guys, don’t get too rowdy now,” said Ryan, doing his best to keep the peace. Though to be fair, this was normal for various team members working different roles throughout the company to rib on one another. Nobody really took any of it too seriously… he hoped.
“Well, it’s the start of a new week, so I want to make sure we’re all on task and making our deadlines. Let me start by addressing the most important matters first. For starters, the spring anime season is starting, and we’re picking up two simulcast shows. I just want to verify that we have our translators on top of things.”
A Japanese man at a desk near the door lifted his hand. He spoke English fluently, but with a hint of his native accent still noticeable through his speech. “I’m currently working on the My Magical Talent Class episode one translation. Our freelancer Michelle is scheduled to work on the translation for Monster Nursery, but the studio hasn’t sent us the Japanese script to be translated yet.”
“Still? Minato, the episode is set to broadcast this Saturday!” Ryan grumbled and thought to himself for a moment, trying to work out a game plan. “Nicole, can you reach out to the studio to check in on the status of those materials?”
Nicole, the project manager, was essentially Toon Motion’s go-to employee to communicate between the Japanese studios and the localization team. Almost all contact went through her, so there was very little she was not aware of. She stood in the doorway with a tablet she used largely to ensure she was always on the pulse of incoming and outgoing e-mail communications.
“Actually,” she said, “it looks like we just barely got the script from the studio within the last hour. I’ll make sure this gets forwarded to Michelle.”
“Oh, thank God,” Ryan exhaled with great relief. “That’s not going to give us much time to finalize the subtitles, but we might just manage to squeak by. Remind me again, who do we have working on the subtitle timing for these shows?”
Joy winced. They had her working on Monster Nursery this season. Knowing that this show was going to have a tight turn-around for translation made her exceedingly nervous. The end of the week was going to be rough. She jumped in to add to the conversation.
“I’ve taken over the workload for Monster Nursery.”
“And I accepted the subtitles for My Magical Talent Class,” said Chris, another subtitle editor. “Minato told me he’ll be done with the translation in the next day or so. I should have plenty of time to finish my episode before the end of the week.
“Great. Thank you, Chris.”
“Ryan, since my English script won’t be getting in for a few more days, what do you want me to do?” Joy asked with her hand raised.
“Hmm.” Ryan pondered this for only a moment. “Well, Monster Nursery is a prequel to Monster Elementary, right? We did that show about three years ago. Sorry to give you busy-work, but if we don’t already have a list of names and terms, go back and watch a few episodes of the earlier series and take note of all the proper nouns and terminology. If any of those words show up again, we want to make sure we stay consistent so as not to confuse any fans of the franchise.”
This wasn’t the first time Joy had been asked to study a show, a manga, or a book for the sake of consistency within a project. When she’d first been asked to do this, she thought being asked to watch anime for the sake of her job was a pretty sweet deal. But actually, it wasn’t at all like just being able to relax and enjoy a show on your own free time. The task of making sure proper terminology was being consistently used was extremely important. On top of that, learning the manner in which a character spoke or any commonly-used catch phrases was also important. You really had to be paying attention and truly understand the story and the characters inside and out. It’s not something you could do casually just for fun, only to forget details the next day.
Joy took note of her assignment while Ryan continued the morning meeting.
“All right, next up, we’re still working on the English simul-dub of Choose Me Instead of Him. Mike, how’s episode nine coming along?”
“We’re recording pick-ups with two of the voice actors tomorrow. Otherwise, the episode is nearly ready. The final audio should be good to go on Wednesday, so video team should get ready to work on it from there.”
“Good to know. Lisa, are you going to be able to make the mixchecks and final deliverable videos?”
Lisa raised her hand proudly from her desk. “Yes, I’ll be done with the rest of my work by tomorrow, so Wednesday should be all clear. I’ll have the final video ready to send to the streaming platform that evening. Tom, you had an earlier version of the mixcheck video for your closed captions, right? Are you gonna have time on Wednesday to check to make sure the final audio matches your captions?”
Tom, a caption editor, nodded in assurance. “Yes, I got the first mixcheck for episode nine last week. I expect I’ll be done with those closed captions later today, so when the version two mixcheck comes through, whatever audio is different should be really easy to fix.”
Closed captions served a special purpose, one that most viewers often overlooked. In fact, Joy found that most people didn’t truly know the difference between closed captions and subtitles. While subtitles helped viewers understand a show from a different region in their own language, closed captions were specifically designed for the hard-of-hearing, meaning not only were all of the spoken words transcribed on-screen, but also that important sound effects and musical cues were described so that people of all levels of ability could enjoy the show. It was a genuinely important task, but it was also probably one of the more thankless ones.
“Thank you, you two. Keep us updated on that progress.” Ryan turned his attention to the rest of the room. “Uh, I think all the other broadcasts are moving according to schedule. Does anybody else have anything urgent they need to address while we’re all together?”
“Actually, yes, I do!” Ajeet stood from his chair to speak to the room. “All right, everybody, I spent the weekend working on upgrading quite a lot of things around the office. You should notice increased upload and download speeds at your workstations.” He formed his hands into the shape of two finger guns and grinned. “You’re welcome.
“However, you guys have gotta do me a favor! We have plenty of hard drives for a reason. If you need one to save your work onto, get one! We can’t be bogging down the work servers with every single thing you can’t store on your workstation, okay? Those servers have gotta have enough space for the stuff that matters!”
Everybody in the room knew this speech. And it was pretty likely that almost everyone there was guilty of bogging down the servers with extra files that didn’t need to be hosted there anymore. Externally, everybody would shrug it off. Internally, the entire room felt the weight of their guilt.
“Well, if that’s all there is for now,” Ryan said, “then we’ll go ahead and wrap up this week’s meeting. Thanks, everybody. I’ll be checking in with you all throughout the week.”
A chorus of “thank yous” rose throughout the room, and everyone went back to their respective desks and offices. Mike went back to the audio team’s office while Nicole left the room to return to her office and begin replying to and forwarding e-mails.
Ryan took the opportunity to swing by Joy’s desk. “Say, Joy, do you need to get to anything right away? You think you got some time for a quick check-in?”
“Oh. Yeah, sure, no problem.”
Ryan led Joy to a private office down the hall. He had been concerned about her ever since the day prior, seeing her at the presentation during the convention, and he didn’t necessarily want to put her on the spot in front of everyone else in the room. They both sat down at a round table that technically was kind of awkward for only two people to sit at, but it was going to have to do for the time being.
Ryan did his best to settle Joy in and not make her feel out of sorts. “So, I’m sorry if I’m being too nosy. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. But I care a lot about the team, and I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay. I guess I had just never seen you like that before, certainly not in front of a bunch of our viewers.”
Joy wasn’t thrilled about the conversation, but it didn’t mean she didn’t understand where Ryan was coming from. The good news was, after spending a little bit of time with her friend Shauni yesterday, the sting of the events of the weekend weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. She figured that was why she was now able to start asking Ryan some questions of her own.
“Well, I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking, I guess. And… well, usually I just let criticism of our work roll off my back, but last weekend was… pretty bad. And it wasn’t just that one guy at our panel, either.”
“Ryan, you’ve been doing this a long time.” Joy hesitated before continuing, but ultimately built up the courage to move forward. “I know criticism of anime localization isn’t anything new. I get that. But it feels so overwhelming, now that people constantly have access to you and your work. How… how do you even deal with all of it, after all this time you’ve been doing this job?”
Ryan chuckled lightly. “Oh, is that all this is? I thought it might have been something much worse!”
“Huh?” Joy was confused. How come he didn’t seem more serious about this sort of question?
“Well, anime is art. And so is language. On top of all that, art is subjective. Everybody’s gonna have an opinion one way or the other about the work that you do. And since the dawn of anime localization, there’s always been somebody out there who has thought that they could do better than the people who actually work on it. Heck, I was like that once, too!”
Joy gasped. “You were?”
“Oh, yeah! You remember that show Combine Robots Enormo? Heh, maybe you don’t. It might have been a little bit before your time.”
“Oh, I never watched it all the way through, but I definitely understand how significant it was to anime fandom in America.”
Ryan beamed. “Heck yeah, it was. I was a huge fan! Or at least, I claimed I was. Even though I was a fan, I complained about it all the time! I was always nitpicking about how I thought the voice acting was terrible and about how I hated the editing and all the weird censorship choices. I was one of those old-taku types that participated in tape trading to see shows raw from Japan. I sat and watched these really crappy third generation VHS tapes just to be able to see the show without the American broadcast edits. And as cool as I thought those original Japanese broadcasts were, it just made me even angrier at the American version of Combine Robots Enormo! I wanted to get into localizing anime because I thought maybe I could fix everything I saw wrong with it.
“And guess what? In the end, I ultimately ended up doing a lot of the exact same things my predecessors did!”
“Wait, you did?”
“Yep! Turns out, when you’re making a TV show for American television, there were a lot of TV broadcasting standards I didn’t know you had adhere to. For example, America has longer commercial breaks than Japan does, so we had to make more space for the advertisements by trimming out parts of the episodes. Sometimes that even coincided with censorship! I remember, we were working on a kids’ show that was supposed to start airing on Saturday mornings, and the networks wouldn’t let us run the show with this high school girl that had just a little bit of cleavage showing. We painstakingly had to paint over every frame to cover her breasts! Believe me, that was way more work than any of us actually wanted to do. But if we wanted the show to air, we didn’t have a choice!”
“Wow,” said Joy, almost astonished, never having heard Ryan’s backstory before. “I bet that was really hard at the time.”
“Oh, it was. But in the modern age of computers and the internet, you don’t nearly have that many issues anymore. Sure, sometimes we still have to make little edits for when our shows make broadcast television, but thanks to streaming services, you can now deliver unedited content straight to the viewers without worrying about any of those nasty broadcasting standards. Not to mention, in the middle of the technological growth, more people just like me started working in the industry, too. It wasn’t just old traditional television and radio dudes anymore. It was people who genuinely loved the shows they were working with and wanted to bring more to America. And for that reason, our methods of editing and casting improved. We knew there was a market for people just like us, who wanted to see the shows the way they were originally intended. And, well, those are the early roots of the industry you work in now.”
Joy truly didn’t have anything to add to the conversation. She was just enthralled by Ryan’s narrative of what the industry was like before she ever got there.
“Anyway, I know those were a lot of words to tell you this, but what I’m trying to say is that there have always been critics of our work. And sometimes they’ve been pretty vocal, too! They don’t do this so much anymore, but we used to get handwritten hate letters! Heh, I don’t miss those days at all. At least with an e-mail, it’s not taking up physical space on your desk.”
“Oh, you got hate mail, too?”
“Yeah, some of it was pretty bad!” Ryan laughed as though he’d learned to live with something that people probably shouldn’t have to learn how to live with. “I tell you what, fans are really wild. I know I was mad at the way localization worked, but I never would have thought of writing some of that disturbing stuff directly to the offices of the people making the show! And I get it, it’s probably really overwhelming now because, thanks to the internet, everybody has a voice, and they all wanna use it all the time! Really makes it look a lot worse than it actually is.
“But to tell you the truth, there’s a lot we can learn even from the angry fans.”
“What?” Joy didn’t understand. “What can we possibly learn from them? I mean, it’s like you said! They don’t even get the ins and outs of how the job works, or what kinds of restrictions we’re under!”
“Oh, sure, and those types of fans who are ignorant of our working conditions can be pretty frustrating. However, it’s because of the vocal fans that we learn what it is they do and don’t want. If they’re really upset about a translation, we need to understand their relationship with the show and why it is that it bothers them as much as it does. Sometimes we can make little tweaks to the work we do and then make an even better product in the future.”
Ryan then grinned as if he was about to divulge the world’s greatest secret.
“And sometimes, you just let them scream and shout, because they’re literally wrong and there’s nothing they can do about it.”
“Ryan, how can you find something like that so funny? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Hmm, sometimes. But when you realize that a bunch of people are just screaming into empty space about something they can’t change, sometimes you just have to laugh at it, you know? At the end of the day, as much as any of us love anime, it’s still just TV! Let them be mad!”
Joy pondered this idea. Of course Ryan was correct. Ultimately, there was never going to be anything she could do to stop people from being nitpicky about the work they did with anime localization. So, in most cases, all she could do was just leave them to be angry amongst themselves.
“But hey,” Ryan said, “if you ever need somebody to rant to about how ignorant somebody’s been about the work you do, I’ll totally listen! The stories are still relatable, you know.”
Joy smiled. She was glad she had a coworker as knowledgeable and as kind as Ryan.
“Thanks, Ryan! That gave me a lot to think about. And the truth is, I’m proud of the work I do.”
Joy stood up from her chair.
“I guess I’d better get to studying up for Monster Nursery!”
“There you go, Joy. Good for you.” Ryan grinned, happy to see Joy back to normal, and led her out the office door.
Truth be told, he placed a lot of faith in her. She’d only been working at the company for three years, but he had seen tremendous promise and growth from her in a short amount of time. The last thing he wanted was for someone with so much potential to be shaken by this type of criticism. He definitely understood why she might feel overwhelmed by it, though. Anime distribution wasn’t like sharing a piece of art with your class at school, or even to a room full of people when performing a theatre show. It had the possibility of being seen by tens of thousands of people, if not more. The level of judgment could be staggering to someone who wasn’t ready for that kind of pressure. Ryan didn’t know exactly what had happened to Joy, and he knew that she usually was not one to crack under the opinion of the internet. But whatever it was, he was glad he was able to talk her back down from it. He knew the company really needed her.
Meanwhile, somewhere on the other side of the city…
Liam sat at his computer in his spacious room, taking notes and running calculations on his high-spec PC. His dual-monitor set-up allowed for him to run simulations on a series of maps he’d pre-routed while browsing internet shops for clothes and tools for an upcoming task.
He glanced down from his computer to see a copy of the first volume of the Justice Hero Knight Lancer manga. His love of the franchise is what pushed him to continue his plans. His weird, absolutely bizarre plans.
“Don’t worry,” he said to no one in particular other than himself. “I’ll make sure Joy and the rest of Toon Motion won’t hurt you, Knight Lancer.” He looked back up at his monitors and grinned to himself, incredibly proud and overly sure of the effort he was putting into whatever stupid thing he was calculating. “After all, I’m not gonna hurt anybody. They’re simply going to suddenly find themselves without the means of working on the show. And once I do that, Justice Hero Knight Lancer will be back in the hands of the fans, where it belongs!”
Liam honestly had no idea what he was talking about.