Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Love Comes Second


I like to think my LinkedIn (if I maintained it better — that's on my to-do list) is a way to connect with like-minded people in my industries, learn about my friends' work accomplishments that they might not talk about on other social media, and explore ways to improve what I do in my own work life.

In reality, LinkedIn is where I answer inboxes about how to get into the anime industry.

This almost certainly looks like some sort of long-form subtweet spurred on by one message... and I assure you it isn't. I've gotten this question in varying forms (everything from a genuine curiousness about how I ended up here to "how do I do what you're doing, like, now"). I've gotten it from a variety of people, some of whom (including the most recent) I could tell right off the bat could probably make it happen.

There is one thing that is consistent across every single message I receive, though. It's obvious, but it's not so much what it is as what it says: "I'm a big anime fan."

And, if you are one of the people wanting to know how to get a job in this industry, I'm here to tell you that's not what should be spearheading your goals. In fact, if you're not careful, your love of something can be your worst enemy when it comes to pursuing it as a career.

That sounds ridiculously counterintuitive, but it's true. And here's why:

"Anime Fan" Isn't a Skill Set

(And anyone who says it is is probably a gatekeeper.)

Okay, I'm a massive anime fan. If you looked around the figures and posters in my office, it would not take you long to realize this. I saw Castle of Cagliostro and never looked back. But of all the things that landed me at Crunchyroll, being an anime fan is one of the lowest-ranking.

I started there as an editor for simulcast subtitles. I ended up doing that because I'd worked in fansubbing for several years, knew the software, and was willing to learn new things. It's down in the trenches, but it was something I could do.

As a writer? Well, I've talked about it before. I have a lot of experience, including an English degree (which actually is good for something if you play your cards right) and ten years at a news desk. Being an anime fan was a bonus. Would they have been likely to hire a good writer who's lukewarm about anime? No, of course not. But they're also not likely to hire a hardcore fan without a marketable skill set.

That's not to say the people who approach me don't have skills. Many do; in fact, most do. But they always put those in the back seat compared to their love of anime, their knowledge of it, and their years watching it. That's a mistake if you're going into an industry job. "Anime fan" is a larger demographic than "competent writer" or "amazing artist." Your rarest gem should shine brightest. Besides, if you're applying to an anime company, it's good odds you're a fan; just showing up to the party kind of covers that.

If you happen to have industry insight or know enough titles that you can write off the cuff without having to Google every title you see, even better. Some of Crunchyroll's best writers are people who have spent years not just watching shows that come out, but following the evolution of sub-genres, getting to know the works of various creators, and really digging into the inner workings of the medium. Ideally, these companies want employees who are knowledgeable about both the topic and the job... but it's a lot easier to show someone more anime than it is to teach them to write or design or edit.

Loving Something Creates a Nonexistent Mystique

Some things aren't as difficult as we assume they must be.

The most recent time I was asked how to get a job in the industry, my answer was so basic even I felt kind of embarrassed: "Look for jobs related to your skill set, but only search at anime or anime-adjacent companies." Sound reductive or "too easy"? It's... really all there is to it.

When we love something — a medium, a show, a discipline, whatever — we subconsciously put it up on a pedestal. It's so good, and it makes us so happy, that we would be lucky to ever be able to approach it. And, yeah, there are some jobs in the world where getting there requires more than just "Find the thing and go for it." Connections, patience, extra training, and sometimes just good old-fashioned luck play into higher profile things. If you're looking to be an astronaut or a fashion model or a bestselling writer, then yeah, you've got a road ahead of you.

But when it comes to getting into something we love, that wall is often lower than it looks, on an entirely different side of the building, or even completely nonexistent. The real "walls" tend to be fairly surmountable. Sometimes you need to study a new skill to gain relevance in your desired field, or polish an existing one. Sometimes it's just a matter of trying over and over again at different places until you find a venue that fits for you. And sometimes, all you have to do is make a move.

This is a mentality I encounter in more than one field I work in: this thought process of "If I'm not there under my own steam yet, then there must be some specific thing I haven't done to open the way for me." And sure, sometimes that's the case. But if there's a specific thing, it's not going to be some sort of magical cantrip that you do and then suddenly the way opens. More often than not, the Specific Thing is just sending out more applications, or honing your skills, or listening to people in your desired field talk about their experiences.

Trust me, there are plenty of things in this world that require connections and handshakes and secret methods to get to. There's no need to create more.

You Need Something More Personal Within That

Not that my anime boy crushes aren't eminently personal.

There are some franchises that I would give my right arm to write in. I'm working my way up to those, slowly but surely. Doors open and close here and there; sometimes something works and something else doesn't. But I have eyes on a couple of prizes.

So what happens if I don't achieve those? What happens if I discover that, no, the franchise I want to write for doesn't actually believe my style is a good fit for them? What if the publisher I want to collaborate with goes out of business? Is my dream over? No; I still love to write. I'd go on to the next thing.

No matter how bad anime gets in any given season, it's unlikely to straight-up die. Companies may come and go because of acquisitions and the economy, but 50 years from now we'll still be getting new Lupin III movies and more remakes of Fullmetal Alchemist. Even so — pursuing a dream job thrives the most if there's something uniquely yours at the core of it.

You want a job in the anime industry... doing what? Do you love to write? Do you love to draw or design graphics? Are you most at home helping others or managing projects? If the dream stops at the industry and has no seed of yourself or your personal aspirations in it, that's where you're going to get stuck. That's your wall. There needs to be something of you in that aspiration.

So if you come to me saying "How do I get a job in the anime industry," my first question will be: Doing what? If you don't know... then you need to know. And once you know, your road will be a lot clearer than it was at the outset.

I'm under no misapprehension that I won't be answering this same question for years, and that's fine. I've met new people this way, and many of them are genuinely talented and motivated. I foresee good things for them, and in a few years I'll probably be running into them here and there as peers.

What people seem to forget in the equation, though, is themselves. That's what all of this boils down to: what about you is different? What do you shine at? What do you bring the world that you can now bring to the specific part of the world you love best? And the harder questions: do you need to improve at something before you can do that? Will you still have something you love to do if this doesn't work out?

We're all anime fans. That's why we're here. Show them what makes you you, and that's the start of your road forward.

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