2017 was a bit of a duality year for the industry. First, the good: the industry earned a record 2 trillion yen ($17.5 billion), P.A. Works is raising their pay scale, Netflix is dedication a sizable portion of the 2018 originals budget to anime, and there is a rise in co-productions from Funimation and Crunchyroll (showcasing international importance).
It was also a year filled with animators, producers, and directors taking to social media to put their harsh working conditions on blast. The Association of Japanese Animations (AJA) didn’t put out a yearly salary survey, but that didn’t stop industry people from letting the world know how small their pay is.
A small survey from the Association to Support Young Industry Animators (AEYAC) showed that 53% of young animators receive financial assistance from family – earning them the negative social label of being a parasite.
Not only is the pay for young animators terrible, but the industry is facing an animator shortage. Animators work between 50 to 84 hours a week and make between 92,500 yen ($870) to 235,000 yen ($2,189) a month depending on their experience and number of projects. Most anime require 30,000 drawings per episode and an animator can expect to draw 20 a day – earning $2 a drawing. That pay range puts an animator below or just barely above Japan’s poverty line.
The industry has gotten so bad that animator Katsunori Shibata launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised 2.5 million yen (about $22,000) to help 3 random animators pay for their living expenses. Shibata’s goal was to also reveal how the upper staff (directors and screenwriters) often ignore the animators and don’t provide feedback to help them grow.
Putting more strain on the system is the increase in anime productions. Anime fans may be living in a golden age of variety and quantity, but it’s worrying that every single anime studio is booked until 2020. Even worse is that working conditions for foreign co-productions aren’t any better.
So all of these factors contribute to freelance animators, who are the backbone of the industry, being overworked and underpaid by production committees. In fact, NHK ran a program showing the financial breakdown of the industry’s wealth. It’s trickle-down economics at its finest as the committee’s profits increase while the studio’s profits remain stagnant:
NHK’s program mentioned that the biggest flaw in the committee system is that it often times excludes animation studios from being members. Studios have to rely on home video sales for a bulk of their profits – which have been falling since 2000.
Shortly after NHK’s program aired, director Shinji Takamatsu (Gintama) proclaimed that anime studios will die in 10 years. Takamatsu feels the current system will only change once studios fail en mass. He also criticized a common solution proposed by fans: lowering the amount of anime produced and raise their budgets. Takamatsu believes it’s a bad plan because only a few anime are profitable, and it will be cutting down the amount of paying work animators will be able to find.
Another cause of struggle for animators is growing piracy in and outside of Japan. Piracy has become such a concern that producer Yoshitada Fukuhara (Kemono Friends) begged fans to stop visiting pirate streaming sites. Fukuhara told fans that every illegal view is giving money to thieves through ad revenue, instead of giving the creators the money they deserve.
Piracy is always a hot topic, and it’s estimated that anime loses out on between $5.5 million to $22 million yen a year due to illegal streaming. That streaming money could have gone to animators through revenue sharing deals with legal streaming sites.
Overall, about 80% of animators will quit within their three years of working in the industry due to a low wage and long hours. Anime is a harsh industry, and fans can at times take that for granted. Luckily, 2017 was a year of awareness and we may see more animators speak out in hopes of improving their lives. 2018 could be when we see tangible improvements in some areas for animators.