Anime Sensei to Student: “Get A Life!”

Veteran anime director Yoshiyuki Tomino (Brave Raideen, Mobile Suit Gundam) gave a realistic, yet somewhat harsh response to a student’s question posted on Global Voices Online. Matt Alt’s Alt Japan blog has translated the original column, and its quite a sobering read:


Dear Director Tomino,

I am a second year high school student. The time when I have to decide on which university I want to go to, and what kind of career I want, is rapidly approaching. I know this sounds vague, but I am filled with the desire to make a living by drawing. I can’t talk to my parents about this. The last time I told them “I want to draw for a living,” they basically told me “there’s no career in that. You should go to university and become an OL (office lady) like other people.” After hearing this kind of thing I lost interest in discussing it with my parents, but it’s a fact I need to start making decisions about my future. Even if I am hazy about what it’s going to be. That’s why I’m writing you, Director Tomino. How can I decide my future path? I’m willing to take anything you dish out, so I’d really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts.

Miyuri, Aichi Prefecture


Now that is a tough question. All I can tell you is the same thing your parents did: you should go to university and become an OL.

If you’re a second-year high school student saying you want to be an illustrator, you’re old enough to be asked about your qualifications. Seeing drawing as a job you can just somehow land is an amateur’s way of looking at things. You need a great deal of actual experience to work in this industry.

Putting it in an easier to understand way with animation as an example, simply loving drawing isn’t enough to become an animator. By the second year of high school, an aspiring animator should be drawing “in-between”-quality illustrations every day, without fail. What’s more, assuming you’re in the art department of your school, you should be constantly applying to art competitions and such.

Not only do you need to have those qualifications, you need to have the personal drive and physical strength that is demanded of a craftsman. Even if you somehow did manage to make your dream a reality without these things, you wouldn’t be able to advance your career past in-betweening. You would find yourself overworked in a sea of others trying hard just to stay afloat. I can’t recommend that.

You may have considered going to a specialty school. But I need to tell you that it is virtually impossible to turn that experience into a job. If you’re considering being a manga artist and have penned a dojinshi, that’s a hobby; it isn’t training for work in the industry. “But I could use Comiket as a springboard to turn pro,” you might be thinking here. The fact is, that isn’t just about how good your illustrations are. It’s about having the editorial sense to turn your comic into a proper product. That know-how isn’t the sort of thing that can be developed in a classroom or with a test. You’re venturing into a very strict world where the only thing that matters is “does it sell or doesn’t it.” If you want to know more about it, please read Naoki Karasawa’s Manga Gokudo (“The Extreme Way of Manga”). It is extremely true to life, and shows that even if you do become a manga artist, continuing to make a living at it requires all sorts of effort and sacrifice. Only those who are capable of doing that are capable of making a living by drawing.

If after reading this you find yourself saying “but I still want to do it,” that isn’t desire. You need to know IN YOUR BONES that you are willing to STRUGGLE to do this, that you’re willing to starve before taking another kind of job. Desire alone isn’t enough for a job that requires you to have the facility in a wide range of styles to draw hundreds of illustrations of a certain quality within a certain timeframe. As a freelancer there’s the fear of never knowing when the next job is coming in, meaning you have to put your all into whatever comes your way, meaning you don’t have any real control over what you’re working on. You can always take a job at a studio, but only those with the drive and physical strength to do the same thing in the same place over and over again for a decade or more on end can make it there. This is why I’m telling you you’re better off going to school and becoming an office lady.

That’s all I can tell you, speaking as someone with experience in the matter. If you still feel like you want to pursue a career in art, the important thing is to take the style you plan to work in — whether it’s design, nihonga, oil painting, pen and ink, pencil, whatever — and practice doing it every single day. Universities will have practical tests, so you will need to push yourself to do at least three drawings a day. When working in pen, you need to get yourself to the level where you can easily crosshatch freehand. This is the level of ability that is already being demanded of you, Miyuri, so there’s no time to waste with simple “desire.”

After reading feedback and Twitter responses to his answer, Tomino has since posted an addendum on Global Voices.

(Thanks, Nick Rucka)