It all started when P.A. Works got involved in a controversy when a picture of their budget surfaced on Social Media. The image revealed that animators who have not been able to graduate from in-betweener to key animator after three years of work had to pay a “desk fee” of 6,000 yen, which is a huge deduction given how low an animator’s salary usually is. P.A. Works denied that the “desk fee” is real, though the damage has been done.
With the recent controversy regarding anime wages, Hakuouki director Osamu Yamasaki recently sat down with Business Journal. The director revealed the harshness of life as an animator in his article.
Animators are paid by their work output, so those with drawing ability and speed can make earnings of five to six million yen (about US$40,000-50,000) in their 20s. However, this comes at the expense of a social life, or really much of any life, given the long hours animators must put in (over 10 hours a day). It isn’t uncommon for animators to scrape by with less than a million yen (US$8,500) a year. The first three years, when animators must develop their skills as in-betweeners, are the hardest, and many burn out and quit before finishing.
Even with the steady stream of young and eager animators coming in, the director estimated that “As a ratio, the present state is that only one out of every 10 people who enter the industry remain.” This will soon result in ” the largest generational cohort in the business” as only those animators who are in their 40’s or 50’s might remain. He added that “In another 10 years, most will be in their 60s, and the future of anime production might get brutal.”
The animation studios most able to offer competitive wages, high productivity and stable employment are the big ones, with the result that small and medium-sized studios are always losing young talent. This further disincentivizes them from nurturing individual animator’s talents; instead they are hired on a freelance basis and pressured to churn out their work. As a result, these smaller studios are characterized by inexperienced workers with low technical skills, low productivity, and low wages. This drives more animators into bigger studios, creating a vicious cycle.
In order to handle the increasing output of anime each season, the bigger studios will subcontract their work to smaller studios, but the margins on this work after the production costs are deducted are small and getting smaller. If the anime doesn’t become a hit, studios incur huge debt (hence the deals with sponsors and agencies). Although smash hits like your name. can reward even in-betweeners, for the vast majority of anime most of the staff is not affected by revenue. “Profits are shrinking for all animators, not just newcomers,” Yamasaki claims.
The young animators often only do it for the love of anime, but loving something doesn’t usually put food in the table. Yamasaki said “animators aren’t the type to worry about money or to group together and negotiate with management. There aren’t many people who make their voices heard.” This may be why the industry is in great decline, as the love for anime may be their own undoing. In his article, Yamasaki concludes “Maybe the anime industry needs to create a new business model.” That may be what is truly needed, as more and more young animators quit as they cannot properly earn a living with their jobs.