In recent months, a number of anime productions have announced that they will be going on indefinite hiatus due to a local outbreak of COVID-19 – but according to an industry insider, the effects of the virus are only half the story.
The first series to announce such a disruption in its schedule was the beloved Uncle from Another World, whose production team announced on September 2nd, 2022 that further episodes of the isekai comedy had been put on hold due to “the number of people [on the team] infected with the new coronavirus”.
Next up was Sony Music’s animated idol project, UniteUp!, which revealed its break on January 21st, 2023.
“Due to the impact of the spread of the new coronavirus ‘COVID-19’ on the video production schedule, we have decided to postpone the broadcast and distribution of episode 4 and beyond,” wrote studio Cloverworks.Next up was the animated adaptation of Yoko Taro’s eponymous video game, NieR Automata Ver1.1a, its production team at Aniplex’s A-1 Productions informing fans of the delay on January 22nd, 2023.
“Due to the impact on the video production schedule caused by the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19, we have decided to postpone the broadcast and distribution of episodes 4 and onward,” wrote the production team in a statement shared to the series’ official website.
“Therefore, the broadcast of episodes 1 to 3 will be replayed on and after January 28th,” they added. “The broadcasting and distribution schedule for episodes 4 and beyond will be announced on the official anime website and official Twitter soon.”
The outbreak even claimed an ecchi casualty. On January 23rd, studio Connect revealed that the Ayakashi Triangle anime would be following in Uncle and 2B’s footsteps.
“Thank you for your continued support of the TV animation Ayakashi Triangle. Due to the delay in the video production schedule caused by the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19.” Connect confirmed. “We have decided to postpone the broadcast and distribution of episodes 5 and onward.”
Then, on January 24th, studio Pine Jam regretfully notified fans that the same fate had befallen the anime adaptation of Nene Yukimori’s Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible.
“Due to the spread of the new coronavirus, we have decided to postpone the broadcast and distribution after episode 7,” said the production team. “The broadcasting and distribution of Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible will start from the first episode in April 2023.”
Needless to say, this sudden wave of cancellations left anime fans both confused about the state of the industry and concerned over which series could be hit next.
The vague statements provided by above only worsened the situation, as the holes in these explanations have led some skeptical fans to adhere to the belief that the studios are using COVID-19 as an excuse to buy more time to improve the quality of their respective productions.
In the hopes of getting some straight answers on the matter, Bounding Into Comics reached out to a Japanese director currently working within the anime industry to see if they could provide us with any insight on the situation on the ground.
Agreeing to speak with us under the condition of anonymity for fear of their own privacy and job security, this director broke down the real reason so behind the slew of anime delays.
Nerdigans Inc.: With studios announcing multiple productions are going on indefinite hiatus due to Covid-19, Western anime fans are concerned and confused with how this happened. Some have even claimed that the studios are using COVID-19 as an excuse to allow for further polishing of their series’. What is the real story behind these delays?
Director: Regarding the delay of some work this quarter, this is due to the increased dependence of the Japanese animation industry on foreign countries. Although the problem of this structure has been recognized for more than 10 years, time has passed without improvement.
Director: There has been a complete stoppage of work by Chinese subcontractors due to infection. Animation production, which relied on foreign countries for most of the moving images and finishing touches, have come to a standstill, and there are delays in work due to creators working at home.
The structural problems we originally had finally broke down. It is not a problem that can be solved with money alone. Other companies I know of are approaching countries other than China and Korea, but it will take more than a few years for them to succeed.
Nerdigans Inc.: Are the anime studios using the additional time granted to them by these delays to improve the quality of their anime?
Director: It requires separating the issues. In the current situation, a grace period of two or three weeks is only a first-aid measure to stop the bleeding. In other words, the video must be completed in time for broadcast. This should be considered separately from quality improvement.
Director: As for the other issue, I’m sure you’ve heard of some studios telling fans, “in order to improve quality, we are postponing the release of the BD DVD.” That’s where such quality improvements will take place. Incidentally, they set aside a budget for corrections, but use up most of it before they get there.
Admittedly, the extended schedule will guarantee some quality. I don’t know about all this for sure because I’m not at that site. It all depends on the work site’s respective conditions. I think….We are very sorry for all the fans who were looking forward to the work.
Nerdigans Inc.: A recent Anime News Network article claimed that throughout the pandemic, there has been a noticeable increase in “staff overlap for titles that were supposed to be handled by different sub-teams within the studio,” resulting in each production team being spread too thin to keep up with all the work. Is this really happening in the industry?
Director: I don’t know all the details of the circumstances of the work, but such a practice is routine for the industry as a whole. The production companies have been aware of the problem for over 20 years, but they have no intention of solving it because they have to meet a set sales target. They say, “It can’t be helped” and “Let’s fix it before we sell the package.”