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This Is Why Japanese Animators Are Underpaid (And Overworked)

shirobako anime girl stressed
Avatar of Theo J Ellis

If you’re deep into the anime industry and care about what’s happening, you know animators are underpaid.

You’ll also know the struggle associated with the industry and how artists and animators are at the bottom of the dog pile (even though they’re responsible for what we see on the TV screen).

They’re no more than employees regardless of being the creators behind some of the biggest anime we know and love.

japanese animators underpaid

This ain’t nothing new – Japanese animators and artists have been getting the low-end of the stick for decades.

We only know about it now because of the internet.

Directors, VA’S and roles not far off from this position are the ones who “rake in the dough”. Everyone else, especially artists and animators work the hardest for the smallest returns on their investment.

anime industry salaries pay


So Why Are Animators So Underpaid?

YouTube video

There’s plenty of reasons why this is the case. And why animators and artists are still putting up with it.

Even though in their eyes it’s not ideal (aside from the passion for anime).

Here’s why animators and artists are underpaid in Japan:


1. Animators and artists ain’t sh*t 

Terumi Nishi, an animator in Japan wrote tons of Tweets about the anime industry.

The main theme in the Tweets is “animators ain’t sh*t” when you break it down. Or in other words – the industry is set up in a way for artists and animators to NOT thrive and prosper.

The whole business is not geared to make money for the artists.


Artists and animators don’t get royalties for their work

Think of it like this: you’re a director or the “boss” of an anime studio. But instead of being a “good” boss you only think of yourself at the expense of artists and animators.

Paying out royalties and sharing revenue is a right for a creator. But that means giving away money you could keep yourself.

Or in other words:


The anime industry is greedy and selfish

If you read through the Tweets from Thomas in Japan, he basically says “the directors don’t give a F and they’ll exploit you as long as it benefits them.”

It’s not just the directors either.

They’ll overwork you and make you put in the work as a creator to “make” the foundation of the anime come to life.

If that means:

  • Overworking you.
  • Stressing you out.
  • Pushing your body to its limits.
  • And exploiting you for your “passion”.

Then it’s fair game to some anime studios and companies. They’ll do it in a heartbeat!

That leads to my next point…


2. Animators and artists aren’t doing anything about it

shirobako stress

Part of the reason is animators and artists don’t feel like they can do anything about it.

I mean think about it:

  • You’re underpaid.
  • You’re overworked.
  • You’re stressed.
  • You’re fearful and worried.

Under these circumstances – the average person won’t “challenge” convention because it’s not worth the headache.

And even if it makes more sense to “go independent” for these artists and animators, that’s a challenge in itself.

It means using your own money and investing it wisely. And taking charge of your life and making sure you make the right moves long enough and fast enough for it to pay off.


Artists and animators care more about “passion” than the money….

And ironically – that’s the problem. And that’s why this continues to happen.

They’ve essentially settled for less (which is understandable) and this behaviour has set the standard for the anime industry.

Hence why animators and artists ain’t sh*t in the eyes of people in higher positions.

It’s a catch 22!


3. Supply and demand

shirobako miserable girl

Supply and demand is simple:

  • Supply = the amount of products or people.
  • Demand = how much we value the products or people.

In the anime industry – animators and artists are in the 10000’s.

It’s comparable in its own way to the music and the filming industry. Two industries where the majority are underpaid and overworked.

BECAUSE there’s so many animators and artists – they’re undervalued. 

Studios feel like they can “find another one” easy enough since it’s an industry built off passion before money.


Artists and animators are at the mercy of studios and publishers

shirobako subtitles

Japanese animators and designers love anime so much that they’ll do anything to get their work noticed.

It’s natural.

As a creator at some point, you want people to see your creativity. In any way shape or form.

The first thing animators think is “I have to find a job as an animator and work for a studio to make that happen”.


And that’s why the supply and demand in the anime industry is so ruthless

If anime artists, designers and animators decided to self publish their work as Manga, art or the equivalent in the beginning… the supply and demand problem would be different.

Though it wouldn’t be perfect.

The internet gives anyone the power to self publish their work and build a following of supporters based off that.


In this scenario – the animator has POWER because they become “the only one”

male anime animator and girl

A bunch of animators inside a studio don’t hold much value because they work for the company.

But if animators and artists built their own platform and had studios come to them and hire them based off that, they’d pay a LOT more because they’ve separated themselves from the crowd.

But until that happens – this brutal industry will continue to punish artists and animators and give them the sh*tty end of the stick.

And besides – going independent means making and having the money to do it.


4, Anime budgets and the unwillingness to change

anime money koe no katachi

In the anime industry – budgets are low, even though the workload is HIGH.

It’s not really because studios can’t afford to pay more money, but that they don’t want to.

It’s been this way for decades and it’s the industry standard. Even in 2019.

So if they can produce anime on a low-budget and pay creators a small lick out of the profits they make, they will.


A conservative society

Japan is a strange country with an interesting culture. They’ve brought us:

  • Nintendo.
  • PlayStation.

And famous video games like Mario and Pokemon. Games that are considered fresh and innovative.

And yet…. work culture stays the same.

They don’t want to change even if it’s for the right reasons. Like improving work culture within the anime industry.

It’s a wheel that keeps turning, and no one is willing to try stopping it because of the effort involved.

The comfort zone is too comfortable.

Related: Is Anime Merchandise Really Expensive?


The life of an animator is brutal, and we shouldn’t take it for granted

animator girl shirobako

I personally feel like there’s a lack of “business” education when it comes to creators in Japan.

If you create something – you naturally own the copyrights and can even charge for it. Or set up a deal where you’re paid royalties for your work.

I mean – that’s what studios do when their sell their licenses to American anime companies.

They charge a fee for the right to distribute their anime worldwide.

So the mindset of animators and artists in Japan (in my eyes) needs to change along those lines. And they need to become more savvy.

Either that – or they need to get louder and do something about the circumstances. Or else it won’t change.



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