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Tweet of the Week #38: Animation Studio Employee Sick After Working 220 Hours Overtime

Learn how to use the JLPT N2-level suffix かねる with this week's viral tweet.

By 3 min read

Despite renewed calls for change, Japan still ranks as one of the top countries with the longest working hours in the world (but not the highest productivity rate, go figure). Illegal unpaid overtime is a common practice at many companies—a phenomenon exemplified by the legally accepted term karoshi or “death by overwork”.

Cool Japan urgently needs to take some time off!

Modern slavery at Japanese animation studios

Spoiler alert: Animation studios have a reputation for their insane work schedules, enslaving their animators till they collapse. Or worse.

The anime series we love binging on are actually brought to us via the invisible cost of studio employees’ work-life balance. The work culture in the animation industry is fueled by the need to keep up with the demand, and it’s unsurprisingly a competitive field that aspiring artists are desperate to get into.

Salaries for animators are low, too, and most companies have a cap for overtime, beyond which you simply don’t get paid—no matter how much you work.

It’s a Madhouse

Founded in 1972, the animation studio Madhouse is known for a reel of famous hits: Black Lagoon, Nana, Death Note, Summer Wars, as well as frequent collaborations with well-known manga artists.

However, Madhouse has recently come under fire for erasing 150 hours of one of their employe’s overtime and denying responsibility when he was diagnosed with mental health-related illnesses. The news was tweeted by Shohei Sakakura, a youth labor rights activist and editor-in-chief for the youth labor advocacy group and magazine Posse.


= Animation studio Madhouse erased 150 hours on an employee’s time card after he was taken [to the hospital] by ambulance following 393 hours of work in a month. In addition to refusing to pay overtime, they completely denied any responsibility for the employee’s subsequent diagnosis with mental illness, declaring “they cannot judge whether it is due to work or not.” Despite him collapsing after 220 hours of overtime?!

The production assistant at Madhouse has been trying to seek compensation for his unpaid overtime which would amount to three million yen in total. The bargaining process started earlier this year, but it’s been a tough battle to even get the company to admit that things might be wrong.

In the middle of negotiations, Madhouse issued a statement denying the working conditions at the studio could have led the employee to develop dizziness and psychosomatic disorders. In short, they said, “we’ve done nothing wrong.”

How to politely say that you can’t do something in Japanese

With that cheery story, it’s time to level up your Japanese and learn how to state that you are unable to do something either because it is impossible or too difficult.

So far, unless you’re familiar with super formal Japanese, you’ve probably used the negative form the verb できる (to be able to) as できない.

  • 判断できない = cannot judge

However, in a very formal context, できない wouldn’t be polite enough. So, you’ll use the JLPT N2-level suffix かねる instead.

You need to add the suffix to the verb ます stem (minus ます).

  • 判断します = 判断し + かねる = 判断しかねる = cannot judge
  • 分かります = 分かり+かねる = 分かりかねる = cannot understand


English Romaji Japanese
つき tsuki month
時間じかん jikan time
長時間労働ちょうじかんろうどう choujikan roudou long working hours
により ni yori due to, according to
救急車きゅうきゅうしゃ kyuukyuusha ambulance
はこばれる hakobareru be transported, taken in
制作進行せいさくしんこう seisaku shinkou production assistant
タイムカード taimukaado time card
けずられる kezurareru be cut
制作会社せいさくかいしゃ seisaku gaisha production company
もとどおり motodoori as before
残業ざんぎょう zangyou overtime
shiharai payment
拒否きょひする kyohi suru deny, reject
うえ ue on top of
月末げつまつ getsumatsu end of the month
たおれる taoreru collapse
精神疾患せいしんしっかん seishinshikkan mental illness
のに no ni despite
業務ぎょうむ gyoumu work
による ni yoru due to, because of
責任せきにん sekinin responsibility
全否定ぜんひてい zenhitei complete denial

For more on learning Japanese

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