MugenUp: Disrupting the anime production industry with a crowdsourced workforce



See the original story in Japanese.

The anime business consists of many fundamental tasks, such as rough drawing, storyboard writing, and painting. Even for digitalized anime productions, these tasks still exist. It’s not the most efficient process, and can result in a harsh work environment for many who are employed in the industry. But now there’s a startup that may change all that. It’s called Mugenup.

In our recent interview with its CEO Ryota Ichioka, he told us the company has acquired several thousands of crowdsourced workers, and with rapid growth thus far, it could hit 20,000 by the end of this year.

The emergence of vertical crowdsourcing sites

Japan’s crowdsourcing market is pretty hot right now. Crowdworks is showing good numbers, and Lancers recently completed a big funding round. We asked Ichioka to share some figures on their business, and while he couldn’t go into specifics, he says they are generating revenue in the tens of thousands of dollars every month. This is despite the fact that the startup is less than one year old.

Some artwork on the Mugenup website

In contrast with general-purposed crowdsourcing sites like Crowdworks or Lancers, Mugenup is far more niche with its focus on anime. It functions as an intermediary between clients and crowdsourced workers, helping both parties match up with the other much easier than they could before.

Until March of 2012, the startup was developing social gaming apps. But unfortunately that plan didn’t work so well. So they shifted their target client slightly to focus more on mobile game developers.

Most of the projects they’ve dealt with have been single-picture illustrations, but it’s gradually changing to character designs or 2D drawings for Unity, a gaming app integration environment for smartphone.

Things are tough for mobile game studios recently, and most would like to avoid to increase their amount of full-time workers, which means they have to rely on freelance animators or outsourced illustrators. But while most gaming studios typically have in-house programmers, they usually have just a few animators or artists. Ichioka adds:

In addition to individual workers, about 50 studios are registered on our service to receive crowdsourced orders from us, they typically create content for pachinko machines or animated films, but they usually work on our crowdsourced projects during their downtime. In terms of making the most of that downtime, our business model is sort of similar to Raksul, a discount printing startup that makes use of printing factories during their downtime.

Mugenup is a 30-person team for now, and about 20 of those are professional art directors, all comfortable providing directions to crowdsourced animators or illustrators.

For many crowdsourcing sites, what’s the most important is how to create an environment where clients and crowdsourced workers can efficiently work on projects together. At Mugenup, directors use a chat system to communicate with crowdsourced workers, monitor the production process, and give workers revision requests if needed. Surprisingly, production management processes are standardized and workers’ skill sets are well managed.


Their retention rate for such crowdsourced workers is as much as 60%, which indicates they are highly motivated. Mugenup plans extend its business beyond Japan and to start receiving orders from publishing companies or cartoonists later on.

Some project tasks are difficult to split among different crowdsourced workers. Such tasks include rough sketches or storyboard writing, which are typically an important step to determine the overall character design. To get past this obstacle, the startup asks clients to pick their favorite crowdsourced animators before placing an order, one who fits their taste exactly.

Mugenup has each client fill out a checklist, recording why they have chosen a certain animator. This process helps when placing future orders, because if a client complains that an outcome is not what they expected, they are asked to update form to give better results that can more accurately fit their preference. This process takes some time, but it definitely helps business proceed more efficiently overall. Ichioka further adds:

We believe possible to make our business more scalable, and we’ll be extending our offerings to include three-dimensional or characters in motion as well. […] In this internet era, we are aspiring to build up a new business that leverages fine Japanese craftsmanship.

He hopes that his company can go public in a few years. And given his success so far, it will certainly be a company to watch in the future.

Mugenup was launched in June of 2011, received a seed funding from Incubate Fund in December of 2011, subsequently fundraised 100 million yen (approximately $1 milllion) from Nissay Capital.