With the news that Hayao Miyazaki is making a brand new “last” film, comes the hiring of new animators for Studio Ghibli, who let the creative staff go after production on When Marnie Was There ended. It sounds like any budding animators dream right? Work with the great Miyazaki on his “last” film? Not according to western animation staff and fans.
If you’re a regular reading or watcher of Fighting for Nippon, you might know that Japanese animators are not paid well, at all. Animators are usually freelancers and get paid by a drawing of animation. They bounce around from production house to production house to make a few hundred yen a drawing. This is without benefits, without travel allowance, without insurance and worst of all, without guaranteed work. Not all studios are like this, for example, Toei Animation pays a salary, has workers insurance and has maternity leave!
Studio Ghibli, in its job listing, is looking for “newcomers” to the industry, and are offering 200,000 yen a month for it, at the base amount. This includes training, room for growth (and raises!), insurance, travel, paid overtime (!), basically the works! It’s a contracted role that lasts three years, or until Miyazaki is forced to stop working from external sources. It’s open to people worldwide, that can speak Japanese, and are over the age of 18.
To compare, Toei Animation is generally looking for newcomers to the industry every year. On their recruitment page, Toei is offering a one year contract at 226,100 yen per month, with the works. While it pays a little more than Ghibli, and you get a housing allowance, it seems you need a degree rather than working straight out of high school.
In Tokyo, these are some of the best rates for newbie animators and even seasoned animators. Earlier in the month, Taiki Nishimura, an episode director of 20 years who has worked on shows such as Naruto, Brave Witches and Aldnoah;Zero, went public (then deleted) with how much he was earning per month as a freelance episode director. He claimed he only made 200,000 yen per month, working on two anime at once!
200,000 yen per month seems to be the sweet spot for Japanese Animators
Sweet is not the right word, more like a curse really.
With a 20-year veteran and a newcomer both getting the same amount per month, you would wonder what the point was. Why bother with more responsibility when a pimple-faced person is making the same amount as you? Well for one, at least Nishimura isn’t working under Miyazaki. Animators generally work for the freedom of expression they get from animating. As they move further and further through the ranks, they get more responsibility and more creative control over what they’re working on. You’d hope that’d come with a bit more money though.
In 2015, the Japan Animation Creators Association was tasked in surveying workers in anime to find the average wages of various roles. They surveyed 759 animators in the industry to get an average salary of 3.3283 million yen. Nishimura, as an episode director, should on average be earning 316,667 yen per month. A newcomer, as an inbetweener, should be earning around 92,500 yen. Of course, the survey is only talking averages across all productions. But still, Nishimura stated that the most he earned from one two-month stint working on an anime was 300,000 yen. That’s still under the average if he was working on two shows at the same rate.
Living in Tokyo
Most of the anime studios in Japan are located in Tokyo. If you want to be an animator in Japan, living in Tokyo is your best bet to get work. It’s not hard to find an apartment for less than 100,000 yen per month, even a quick search will net you a place for 80,000 yen per month. Not bad for one of the most expensive cities in the world, eh?
Couple that with food being quite cheap, and 200,000 yen per month is livable if you’re making your dreams come true.
How do we fix this?
Sadly, it’s not an easy task to fix animator wages in Japan. Some studios are doing their best to try and get wages to increase, but the issue is systematic. It’s not a problem that can be fixed overnight. The entire system has to be changed from the ground up.
There are studios out there that want to emulate Kyoto Animation, who famously pays all of their staff a decent wage, and often make great anime. Not every studio can be Kyoto Animation though. Studios are willing to take cheaper contracts, undercutting other studios on bids, effectively getting less money for operation costs, and in turn using some of their own cash to finish jobs or just pay staff. If the studio isn’t on the production committee, they’re likely not making money on the product. The Girls und Panzer film is a great example of a runaway hit, where the studio made nothing from it.
This is where most of the problem lies, the money isn’t trickling down from the production committees to the animators. That’s not to say companies on the production committee don’t deserve a return on investment, they totally do. There needs to be an overhaul where a studio is given a bigger budget from a committee, or studios get the residuals from merch/Blu-ray/ticket sales. Will that ever happen? Let’s hope so.
How you can help
Obviously buying merch, Blu-ray and streaming won’t help raise “wages” in the short term. You should still do that to show support for more anime getting made and getting money back to original creators and hope that the issue improves. The best way I’ve found to help newbie animators is to donate to the NPO Animation Supporters and their animator dormitory (old English IndieGoGo link). It’s a fund to help set up new animators in Tokyo by providing housing, facilities, support and help build connections in the industry.
One such animator who was helped by the NPO Animation Supporters is Tatsuro Kawano. From living in the dormitory, he worked as an in-between on the Madoka Magica films, to being an Animation Director on Gatchaman Crowds and Kabenari of the Iron Fortress.
Back to Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli doesn’t have to deal much with production committees anymore. They’re always likely to have the funding available to them on Miyazaki’s name alone. But when the industry has such a low standard of wages, what good business sense would Ghibli have to pay more than just above the standard?
When comparing anime salaries in Japan with those at Pixar and Dreamworks, it looks pretty bad. When comparing anime salaries to those of konbini workers (who make around 1,200 yen per hour), it look’s pretty bad. But when you compare Studio Ghibli’s base rate with the rest of the industry in Japan, it’s not too bad.
If Studio Ghibli is one of the best examples in the industry, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.
*UPDATED: Added NPO Animator Supporters information.