What Miyazaki Ment When He Said, “Anime was a Mistake”

Christina Bishop
6 min readDec 6, 2020

Hayo Miyazaki, to me he is what Dr.Seuss is to children's literature. His ideas are groundbreaking and do not focus on hyperrealism but on the details and beauty brought by each one of his talented animators, artist, and painters. My first films that were made by Studio Ghibli were My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Then when Howell’s Moving Castle came to the movie theaters in Michigan it was a wonder; like when people see a film like Star Wars, The Dark Crystal, Lord of the Rings, or witness Whoville and Seuss’s world in the Ron Howard version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Full of detail, architecture, and natural landscapes, and introducing us to characters whose lives seem simple at first…Until an ugly woman with black clothing enters Sophie’s hat shop and harasses her, “What a tacky hat shop…with such tacky hats.” “The door is right there!” she says not knowing that this woman is a powerful witch, The Witch of the Waste.

In Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, it’s usually a man of power who is turned into a monster but in Howell, Sophie is just a random target like if Belle got turned into a monster for no good reason and this happens to Sophie only instead of a creature she’s a 90-year-old woman! Sophie leaves on a long journey for an old woman to Howell’s castle which shifts in shape and size, is controlled by a fire demon named Claifer, and meets Marco an apprentice whose cloak makes him look like an old man. Not only does she figure out the curse but realizes that Howell is also cursed to be a servant of war for the king and his head magician; he also suffers from his own low self-esteem and depression.

However, Miyazaki is now realizing that the over-work culture of Anime and even video games two things Japan is known for are turning young men and women in the industry into Howell. It’s not just Otaku that is killing the artist and animators; it’s the tragic cycle of Hikikomori that happens as a result of pressure and overwork that is Anime’s greatest mistake and it’s not only a Japanese thing either.

We have all read stories online of effects artists, game designers, and animators for Dinsey and other corporate studios suffering because they don’t have a union or compensation. However, what people don’t know is that studios also exploited and exported animators from Japan because they were cheap labor which angered people like Osamu Tezuka who if you're into manga and comic art, is considered the father of the art form and won the Harvey Eisner award for his work Buddha.

Sadly he like many animators died because of the culture of over-work, in fact, his last words were, “I beg you, let me work!”. His legacy is comics like Pheonix which is a saga with a bird that unlike Phlox in Harry Potter, is immortal but whose immortality is a curse despite being hunted. The Pheonix is the watcher of humanity and represents a new beginning for people who are weak, oppressed, or vulnerable; she also represents the concept of reincarnation and karma. Latter on the people who respected him like Miyaski and Takahada witnessed animators and good friends die of the same curse of over-work that killed their hero.

Young animators like Miyasaki and Takahata fought to unionize animators at the famous Toei Animation Studio whom in its early years was Japan’s answer to Disney and Hana Barbara; which is another reason why their mascot is a cat. However, because of American animation markets looking into the profits of localizing Anime, it not only made studios and the genre famous but also exploited young workers like Myasaki during his time as an inbetweener.

For those who don’t know an inbetweener is someone in animation responsible for making a drawing move in animation filling in one movement to the next; famous ones include Floyd Norman the first African-American to work for Disney, Tyrus Wong of Bambi fame, and James Baxter who created Gravity Falls was an inbetweener for many Disney Renaissance films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (a rip-off of Kimba).

Despite their hard work and high pay many people overwork and are non-union and people like Tyrus Wong were also veterans of the Disney Animators Strike during the late thirties and forties which ignited when the Fleischer Brothers (think Betty Boop and the inspiration for Cuphead) went bankrupt and laid off a majority of his best workers who went to work at Warner Brothers and Disney. Many familiar names were also part of the strike; Chuck Jones who brought out a guillotine during one protest, Bill Mendez of A Charlie Brown Christmas, P.D Eastman of Are You My Mother? and brave women who were ink and paint artist who put up with harassment and drunken pranks by animators put their grievances aside for solidarity. Back then the only job for a woman at the studio was a secretary or ink and paint artist who are the people painting the celluloid before Adobe was a thing, and they did it all by hand.

Many years later the same problems with Disney migrated to Japan and cheaper studios like Hana Barbra, Funimation, and others wanted to grab their greedy hands on Anime which is why poor localization is another mistake that American markets created. This is why you see memes such as Brock Loves His Doughnuts, the Tanuki in Pom Poko calling themselves Racoons, and sadly why Spirited Away was the only Anime to get an Oscar. One Oscar judge when reviewing Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya said, “What are these f-ing Japanese things” apparently he never cared to read the original story of poor Kaguya and awarded Frozen.

Maybe Miyasaki’s mistake is not his fault; it’s the people who create a culture of overwork and alienation of another culture and it’s stories because they are too strange for them. I know because I too create art that some people don’t understand because they never read Der Struwwelpeter, Max und Mortz, or the Original Grimms Fairy Tales. My characters speak not only English but different dialects of German; Stiriche, Tirolich, Bavarian, and Fancoian (Struwwelpeter’s dialect but harsher sounding). It’s why I never talk about my comic to my Grampa Pow because he doles out the We Speak Engish Here card.

Now I’m afraid to share anything with him except for my art drawings. I think the mistake he is referring to is the institution of Hollywood itself whom despite their diverse veneer is actually appealing to conservatives and the rich underneath, and when the Hollywood model imperializes other animation cultures no one is a winner except for Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. Recently Anime is now reconciling with the dangers of overwork and greed which is explored in shows like GeGeGe no Kitaro. Maybe they'll make an episode where Goro Miyasaki has to fight the demon that is Hollywood (a cursed inkstone that looks like a cat) with the inky army his father gave to him so save him and Ghibli from the curse of its power.



Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra