I haven’t visited the Animesuki forums ever since it lost all its threads. Stuck here in my dad’s office helping him cover for his on-leave secretary, I’ve nothing to do except surf forums. And then I saw the "The Industry - Lifestyles and Wages" thread which is probably the most informative forum thread I’ve come across there. Please read it and it will change us Gaijin anime lovers’ viewpoint on anime forever.

It is terribly long and covers a broad range of issues, with very insightful full-length articles contributed by people like kj1980 and egglant. I cannot verify its credibility but given their track records, I’m believing every word. It’s gonna be a rude shock for those of you who worship seiyuus as stars, aspire to be animators or want to join the industry.

To anyone who has not seen the dark truth behind the anime industry, read on and find out how the genki, cheerful anime we watch is sweetened with the sweat and blood of the production crew.

I have sorted and classified the posts and summarised them. In Word form font 12, the informative posts took up 12 pages and totaled some 6,500 words. That’s some nice forum reading eh? Read the original thread if you want something fully comprehensive. The shortened version is long too.

This thread has just made me a lot more certain that doing well in school, picking up an elite degree, gaining mastery of languages and generally being capable of doing high-level corporate work is far better, at least in terms of materialism, than pursuing naive dreams. Anime has a tendency to spout lines like "If you don’t stop dreaming, you will never fail" or similar cheesy idealistic lines which sounds nice but never works in real life.

I have never thought of anime as anything more than a hobby and when I resume school in University (currently serving mandatory Military Service), it’s probably going down my list of priorities. I curently earn S$400 monthly (about 28,000 yen), which is less than the cost of 2 Macross Transformable Valkryies and it is illegal for me to do part-time jobs to supplement this meagre allowance. My targeted major is actually Food Science and Technology and I’m interested in making convenient food. Also known as food I can eat while watching anime.

Animators are Slaves
The discussion starts with the pay and working hours of animators. Lets start with a Survey detailing the salaries earned by Japanese animators.

Working an average of 10.2 hours a day, 49.5% of them reported that they feel that their salaries are not sufficient for the work they do and 90% of them feel that the benefits and pensions are insufficient.

26.8% earn less than 1 million yen (US$8,500 approx.) annually, 19.6% earn between 1 million yen and 2 million yen (US$17,000 approx.) annually, 18.6% earn between 2 million yen and 3 million yen (US$25,700 approx.) annually. 65% of Japanese animators earn less than 3 million yen annually.

One category of animators, the storyboard animators who are responsible for drawing up outlines and sketches of how the animation will run, earns even less. They are often paid on a "per frame" basis, earning an average of 187 yen (US$1.60 approx.) per frame. 73.7% of these animators earn less than 1 million yen per year and the highest paid storyboard animators earn at most 80% of what other types of animators make.

Kj1980 has quite the facts to add.
"Animators (gengaka) here are viewed as the bottom rung of society - people who work close to 20+ hours a day, have to sleep at their office, who gets paid less than the people flipping burgers at McDonald’s, and never see a single yen from the profits from the sales.
The head honcho (they can be the chief writer, the director, the original character designer, etc.) are the ones who bring up the idea, who do all the dealings with sponsors and TV studios, who are the brainchild of the series, stories, and whatnot. Hence, they reap in all the royalties and percentage of the profits. That’s why you have people like Akahori Satoru (main writer for many successful anime and games) who owns a Centurion American Express card, who lavishes around in expensive bars ordering $5,000+ bottles of wine, driving around in exotic cars and getting all the ladies. On the other hand, you have slaving low level animators who gets paid meager amounts in which they can’t pay their electric bills and are kicked out from their apartments for not being able to pay their rent.

If you persevere you might get a chance to be responsible for the chief animation director. And if you are able to get through that, you might make connections along the way to move up to become a director or a writer. But out of a pool of thousands of low level animators, the chances are slim."

Dafool, who is in the Filipino animation industry, gives some insight into hellish working conditions.

  • Do you want to sleep and bathe in the animation studio, going home (if at all) only during the weekends?
  • Do you want a steady diet of coffee, coke, Ministop fried chicken, 7-Eleven hotdogs, and cigarettes?
  • Do you want to work very hard on a scene, only to have to redo it because someone down the pipeline thinks it sucks? Or worse, because some idiot accidentally deleted it.
  • Do you want to be assured that after the current project is over, you have no guarantee of your next work?
  • Do you just love to bask in the condescending attitudes of the expats who make no effort to mask the fact that they dislike you because you are doing their job for cheap and who blame all bad quality on the outsourcing and subcontractors, and yet at the same time change their minds at the last minute to redo some scenes worse than they were to begin with?
  • Do you like to work with people who did not have a good education, or who were involved in drugs at some point in their lives?

Yes, it is still possible to be richer being a freelance animator than a salaryman. If you are superman and can pump out twenty feet a day, that is.

Eggplant, who is living in Japan, notes the reasons behind the working conditions.
"This atrocious working environment is not only tolerated, it is legal. These animators are not employed by their respective studios, but instead are servicing their skills under a contractual agreement, with remuneration based on output (i.e., number of pages penciled/painted). In essence, they are not subject to labor laws, including the application of minimum wages and maximum hours of labor per week. Despite being technically immune to corporate regulations such as working hours, studios bind them to their desks until the quota is fulfilled, hinting that the slightest sign of insubordinance will lead to his/her firing, as animators are literally disposable, replaced by the next flock of unwitting wannabes.

But the majority of young animators are at the mercy of studios, to be exploited at will, and those that manage to stay on board will eventually encounter a reality check in the form of their services no longer being necessary. Then again, how can an average digital artist make ends meet at a per page rate of under 200 yen, when the maximum number of pages one can physically complete is 20 per day?

The anime industry is extremely closed and it is so for a reason. In comparison to other forms of entertainment, production costs for anime are extremely expensive, mainly to cover labor costs for the immense amount of hand drawn artwork. A thrity minute late night episode averages around US$200K, which is rather unpractical considering the resources needed to re-collect the money (primarily by DVD sales).

This was already an issue from the dawning ages of anime. Mushi Productions, the first Japanese anime studio, led by the legendary Tezuka Osamu, realized that cutting production costs was essential in the survival of future anime. All other studios followed suit, and eventually horrible working conditions became synonymous with anime production. This remained tacit knowledge for a long time, as if competetive studios were working in collusion in order to cover up the dark side of the indsutry.

Tezuka is praised for his work, as his contributions to the industry surpass any of his vices. However, he is also the center of controversy within the anime industry, and high profile people such as director Miyazaki Hayao has been known to criticize the late Tezuka of setting a precedent."

Seiyuu are not Stars
Contrary to popular belief, the life is a seiyuu isn’t like that of a regular star. Majority of them live like normal people, or even less-well off than normal people. Without a fixed income, they have to search for as many auditions as possible, if not a part-time job may be required just to stay alive.

Kj1980 explains the harsh truth.
Seiyuus are paid around 2,000-3,000 yen per episode. That means, even if you have one line or hundred of lines, you are still paid the same amount. Almost every seiyuu that is tied to a talent agency is paid around that price. Once you are famous enough to make out on your own, you are your own boss so you can haggle your own price. A good example of how poor seiyuus are can be best exemplified from YuriC’s (Ochiai Yurika) personal blog - that she didn’t have enough money to pay the electric bill so her electricity was cut off, she almost had her mobile phone disconnected because she couldn’t pay that bill.

So in order to make a living as a seiyuu - they attend as many auditions as they can so that they can be selected to appear in almost every episode for at least two or three titles per season.

Singers are different. Their income mainly comes from revenues from CD sales. The difference between seiyuus that sings and real singers is exactly just that - seiyuus rarely ever see a single yen from royalties from their CDs, whereas real singers reap in huge royalties.

Seiyuu receives little to nothing when she sings. The deal is between the talent agency in which the seiyuu resides and the record company. Not the seiyuu him/herself.

They are just corporate workers who have a job at a talent agency. Their main job is to provide voice acting service for the company. The more they do, the more money companies make with deals.

Besides, the main royalties goes to people who writes the lyrics and makes the music - not the singer. So, if you look carefully at the credits, it reads:

  • Lyrics by:
  • Music by:
  • Sung by:

Lyrics gets royalties because the lyrics to the song is published. If it is used in karaoke machines, then licensing costs margins goes to the person who wrote the lyrics. Same holds true for the original music. The singer just sings to the written lyrics and the music. Practically anyone can do that if they have a nice voice, so little money goes to them.

The flow:

  • Talent agency calls up their seiyuu to sing.
  • The lyrics and music are already made by the record company.
  • The girl sings to the lyrics and the music. She is paid a stipend for doing that.
  • The song is an instantaneous hit (to otakus).
  • The royalties goes to: the talent agency (which provided the singer) and the record company (which provided the lyrics and the music)
  • What did the seiyuu receive? The stipend only.

So what if the seiyuu gets pissed off for not receiving more? The talent agency can just replace the seiyuu since they have a giant pool of them to choose from. The seiyuu need the agency to find them jobs.

"In the light" seiyuus that does voice acting for "in the light" games gets paid a modest amount. I’m not certain of the details as that is usually a haggling price between the game makers and the talent agency.

As for "in the dark" seiyuus who uses pseudonyms or who cannot get roles for "in the light" (sadly, majority of newly seiyuu graduates succumb to such roles) have no choice but to lend their voices for ero-games or ero-anime. They are usually paid quite low. Lately many previously "in the dark" seiyuus have come "into the light" with high popularity of the originally ero-game based-turned anime. The opposite also holds true: many "in the light" seiyuus lend their own voices (with pseudonyms) for "in the dark" ero-game industry in order to make a living.

In either case, whether you are popular or not, whether you have concerts or expos, seiyuus are not paid that well. Only a few, a very select few make money whose ranges are of several ten thousand yens per episode.

Who makes the most money? Veterans like Inoue Kikuko or Hayashibara Megumi aren’t in the top bracket. Legendary people in their late fifties, sixties, and in their seventies. The people who do (did) voices for Doraemon and Sazae-san. People who did the majority of kids’ shows back in the 70s and 80s. They are the ones in which the a large portion of the Japanese populace grew up listening to by watching "World Masterpiece Theater." Current big-name seiyuus learned their skills from these people. But even then, the top earning seiyuu legends like Kamiya Akira get paid an only a 10~50,000 yen per episode.

That is why most seiyuus need to do many auditions to get more anime series, dub voice overs for movies, voices for commercials, to make a living. If that doesn’t work, they need to find a job for secondary income (working at a restaurant, a convenience store, etc. etc.).

 If you don’t have nothing to shine and impress the sponsors, sound directors, and the creators of anime, TV commercials or movies, you end up working for the dark side - voicing ero-anime and ero-games (though many seiyuus do ero-games under a pseudonym as it pays a bit better), getting quick cash by appearing in a porno.

The fans don’t care - the people that get irked are the sponsors. And the main reason is:

Let’s say a seiyuu goes to an audition and get the role for a very popular children’s show that runs on NHK (the nationally owned TV station).

A few days later, TV execs find out that the seiyuu did a role in an ero-game without covering up her name. She immediately loses her job that she acquired.

Why? Same as any other country with bitching parents and teachers associations that cry afoul "oh, think of the children! how can you be so obtuse to let such person doing a kid’s show! won’t please someone think of the children!?"

Miyamura Yuko, the seiyuu for Asuka in "Neon Genesis Evangelion" gained immense popularity when that anime became a hit. However, when a tabloid exposed that she appeared in a porno several years before (the days when she wasn’t famous and needed cash to make a living), the gossip press daunted her days after days. This continued to taunt Miyamu for several months during which she couldn’t get any job because of this.

Fans of Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton could care less of their sexcapades (rather, many are interested), so do fans of seiyuus. It’s the tabloids and the press, bitching parents, teachers and liberal activists. It’s the sponsors and talent agencies who instantly distance themselves when such "facts" are broken to the press.

If seiyuus need the money, they’d better be sure to use pseudonyms when they take voice acting roles for ero-games and ero-anime.

Few examples:
Mizuhashi Kaori = Uehara Tomomi
Itou Shizuka = Misaki Rina
Nabatame Hitomi = Tezuka Maki

Eggplant, on the process of becoming a seiyuu.
Anime is not a role model for the entertainment industry, and unlike actors, singers, or athletes who are recognized and duly compensated for their skills, from the studio’s point of view, seiyuus are merely staff despite their actor/actress moniker, and are treated that way.

How ironic it is for seiyuus to be given recent recognition not only by hardcore otakus, but by the entertainment industry as well, when their paycheck pales in comparison to that of an office worker of the same age. Seiyuus, who have established themselves are no exception.

An aspiring seiyuu will usually have to endure 2 years of basic acting training at a vocational school, then enter an agency in Tokyo as a trainee for another 2-3 years of acting lessons before he or she can do any acting work. And that is if the said person is talented enough which is a 1% chance. Even then, such roles for newcomers are sparse, and the prospective seiyuu must win through auditions.

And what is his/her paycheck for this? 12,000 yen (appoximately $110) per episode minus tax deduction and agency commissions, assuming the seiyuu is a member of the Japan Actors Guild. And don’t think that such a union is for the mutual benefit of the seiyuu, as it simply stipulates the unique classification system which is the basis for their appearance fee.

This fixed rate is applicable whether you have one line or a thousand (though there are variable factors that are taken into account), and one’s rank will not be re-evaluated until after 2-3 years, where he/she can only step up to the next level.

The ten tier rating system starting off from Junior (15,000 yen per episode prior to deductions) to Veteran (45,000 yen), plus the special Non-Rank reserved for mainly 60 year olds and above, has hardly any leeway in terms of money. Essentially, a longtime veteran will make only maximum three times that of a rookie per episode. In fact, there are many seiyuus that resist on being promoted to a higher class, as a higher fee will lead to lesser jobs.

Put that into the rookie seiyuu’s shoes. He/she can only earn 60,000 yen per month without stipend, and it is likely that that role is the seiyuu’s only one. No wonder why seiyuus have to resort to other ways to make a living, by appearing in events, doing narration work, dubbing games or commercials, and that’s if there’s such an offer. Otherwise, it’s a continuation of the part-time job he/she did during the trainee days in order to make a living. Since you can only do seiyuu work in Tokyo, and if you’re out here on your own, you must take part time jobs to keep a roof over you.

Seiyuu who are not a union members are forced into worse conditions. Some studios or advertising agencies often hire non-union seiyuus due to budget constraints or animosity towards the union, and there are people who will due whatever it takes to grab a role. There are also seiyuu agencies that are not Management Association members, who exclusively handle non union member seiyuus, although it is up to the individual seiyuu whether to join the guild or not.

Due to the efforts of senior seiyuus, the road for incentives is open, mainly income based on re-runs, but royalties stemming from DVD sales have yet to be in implemented. Simply based on the information laid down here, for example, a 5 year veteran seiyuu with a base wage of 20,000 yen per show who does 4 shows a particular season will earn 240,000 yen a month on anime seiyuu work alone, which finally brings it up to normal living standards.

The spotlight on anime will most likely continue, generating lots of revenue for the select few people in the industry. Too bad that it isn’t adequately returned to the people responsible for putting it into life. And sadly enough, the truth will never reach the starry eyed seiyuu wannabes until confronted with the harsh reality.

Kj1980 gives a reality check for Foreigners who want to be seiyuu.
For foreign seiyuu wannabes, do you really want to go through the trouble of getting a student visa for Japan, submitting dozens of paperwork to prove that you have sufficient income to get by, paying a hefty fee for a temporary residential permit for foreigners, with the restrictions of not being able to get jobs due to "student" status, just to become a seiyuu?

And even if you manage to get by, there are 10,000+ seiyuus that graduate such voice acting schools each year, in which only a handful gets hired by talent agencies. And even then, your salary is extremely low.

Eggplant continues
Erogames are not subject to the rank payment system of anime, although standard video games has its own rating system. A seiyuu can earn 3 or 4 more times as much as he/she can by doing erogames, even though the seiyuu will assume a pseudonym.

This is because erogames/ ero anime videos are a niche market, catered to a minority willing to dish out huge bucks for a product and the production company knows that they have stellar quality by hiring an anime seiyuu.

Male seiyuu are not hesitant about appearing in erogames, as their identity is concealed and they can reap in good money. However, many female seiyuu resist such paths, and in some cases, their agency refuses to have them work in such fields.

In any case, anime seiyuus have to compete against proprietary erogame/eroanime seiyuu for the role, wherein the former has better acting skills while the latter has a better connections within the market.

Male seiyuu who can live a good life do narration work for TV, radio, videos, etc., as payment is very generous. In fact, seiyuus that are homeowners and who drive around in flashy cars built their fortune by doing such work.

In a way, seiyuus are better off than idol singers, who usually have a fixed income the first few years no matter how much that person rakes in for the agency, however when that idol starts switches to a performance based contract, it is a totally different story, as even a Morning Musume member can earn 40 million yen a year.

Listen to the voice acting in Miyazaki Hayao movies. He uses top notch actors/actresses as he depises the industry and anime seiyuus in general, but the end result is mediocre acting at best. This is an indication that top notch seiyuus are best at doing voice dubbing work, a talent often taken for granted.

Of course seiyuu will never attain the celebrity status of a leading actor/actress, as anime in general is a niche market where the seiyuu’s face and name are not recognizable to the public. Actors/actresses in Japan earn most of their money by endorsing products in TV commercials.

That’s not exactly a summary is it? But after reading through this, would you still think of Horie Yui and Noto Mamiko in the same way? It’s always better to know than to be ignorant. So next time, when you watch anime, keep in mind that this is the end product of a lot of effort and sacrifice.

18 Responses to “People Focus: Seiyuu and Animators are Slaves, not Stars”  

  1. 1 kwok

    Very well written article. Possibly the result of food poisoning which caused your go-kart to crash and thus giving yourself a cast on your arm.

  2. 2 tj_han

    Majority wasn’t written by me. I decided that food poisoning was too hard an excuse and I got myself a throat infection instead. Since I ate lots of chilli and potato chips.

  3. 3 michi

    It’s quite a shock to know all these.Anyway,I always held high regards towards the seiyuus because of their talents.Let’s hope the situation will turn better for them soon.

  4. 4 kwok

    Actually, I knew most of this already, but if you have the heart and are a Top wo Nerae kind of guy it wouldnt stop you.

    Isn’t eating lots of chilli and potato chips tantamount to malingering.

  5. 5 gingersoll

    Like most art related industries, those who are paticularly motivated and show talent will end up being sorta poor, but making a living. Those who just come to work and do their job probably still live with their parents. Those who are motivated, talented, AND lucky make good money.
    For my part, I think it is better to follow whatever dreams you have, but do it with the understanding of what your dream REALLY are. If you love painting, but are depressed with being poor, you better make time for painting as a hobby and get a good paying job. If you get depressed at making a lot of money, but having no time for art, you should cut your hours and focus on art.
    Looking at three of my friends E and G and R illustrate this:

    R is makes a lot of money at a job he doesn’t really like, but doesn’t hate. He wishes he could persue his art (CG animation), but his job takes most his time and energy. Often he reveals himself to be deeply unsatisfied with his life situation. Watching animation, playing games, visiting artist blogs, ect has for the last few years made him more and more depressed about not being able to follow his dreams. He basically believes that following dreams never works out in real life (for him “working out” requires being well off).

    E is a starving artist. He is unhappy because he lives by the dime. He is talented, but his idea of success and happiness includes money which is out of his range. He is talented as hell, but often gets bogged down in depression over lack of money. This probably stalls his advancement in skill and decreases his earning potential…

    G is also a starving artist, has a day job that takes few hours and little energy. He does okay, is able to pay the rent on a so-so quality apartment, and his bills get taken care of. He doesn’t have any money to buy cool stuff. However, his main enjoyment in life pretty obviously his art. He is one of the few people I think can just follow his dream in such a “pure” way and be happy/full of energy with life because he is doing so. The guy just isn’t on the wavelength of “normal” people, but that is to his advantage I guess.

    Anyway, I hope someday the situation better for the animators, but it is unlikely. Such is the way of the world.

  6. 6 moetics

    Hey now here’s a group of people that is worse off than game programmers (especially EA ones).

  7. 7 T_T|||

    Regarding the point about singers reaping huge royalties from CD sales, maybe you should read the information here: http://www.downhillbattle.org/

    Singers earn most of their money not from CD sales, more like image sales. Bad image = you’re fucked.

  8. 8 DrmChsr0

    Good Lord.

    I didn’t know.

    You telling me that two-bit hack Fuckuda earns more than Maaya Sakamoto?

    I am pissed. I did not see this coming and I am shocked. Shocked at the news.

    No wonder they outsource the animation work to Korea and stuff.

  9. 9 hashihime

    As someone who more or less worships some seiyuus, and who reads the AnimeSuki thread, I want to say: great piece. But I do want to correct the headline. Seiyuus are stars, they’re just highly exploited and underpaid stars. Like some of the stars in the US movie industry earlier in the 20th century.

  10. 10 risa

    yup- hashihime- that was going to be my point too. the studio system in hollywood treated stars like cattle a bit, herding them into some cookie cutter plot lines, paying them peanuts and no royalties. here’s a link to the relevant page on the AMerican Film Institute site:
    i guess it happens all over. it’s as though the industry starts to believe that we’ll consume anything and everything uncritically, or that we won’t mind if we’re treated to a revolving door of obediant “stars”. we fall in love with one, and then they dangle another in front of us, hoping we won’t notice that the first is broke and screwed. musicians have been fighting contracts that effectively turned them into industry debtors for years now. grr.
    is there much indy anime made? are there people who made good work but go about it another way? i’d love to find them and cheer ‘em on. i don’t know much about anime, aside from the fact that i love that show samurai champloo… it was this gentleman who pointed me toward your good site: http://animetraveller.blogspot.com/

  11. 11 tj_han

    Indie anime.. considering the amount of resources required to make anime, I doubt there are many. There MUST be, since I know a person who created a 30 minute animation episode with romance and sci-fi airplane battles all by himself over one year. If a talented 20 year old can do it, surely those devoted fans in Japan would have done it too.

    I guess in every industry there are people who are used and exploited. Seiyuus and animators probably have it better than the foreign construction workers digging through the soil under the hot sun here. It’s just that anime fans are generally naive and ignorant of the shocking truth.

  12. 12 Toren

    I learned the awful truth when I was living with the Gainax boys back in the 80’s. This is why I went into manga rather than anime….
    Tezuka once said “Anime is my mistess; comics are my wife.” And I heard from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko that, for time spent, he made three to five times as much on his comics as on anime. Once his kids got old enough to need juku and such, he practically left anime entirely just so he could do more comics and make the money he needed to send his kids to the best schools.
    I know plenty of writers and artists who were squeezed dry by the system and cast aside the second they dared to complain. Just as with the music business in the US, lots of anime staff get up to 30, 35, maybe 40…then look at the their life and realize they’re never going to make the leap to “making it,” and that they have nothing. It’s not uncommon for them to pack up and go home to take care of mom and dad or the family business.
    It’s easy as a bright-eyed young talent to say “I’ll never get sick of anime! I’ll never care about having money, as long as I can Pursue My Dream!” And they do…for five years, ten years, twenty years…but finally the system grinds them down.
    It’s a shiny happy business with a seamy underbelly, that’s for sure.

  13. 13 Shadowsketcher

    I’m heartbroken, well anime animator off my career list

  14. 14 Shadowsketcher

    this too much take in, those evil people, 400 hundred an month! that fish money, I thought they will be rolling in money, poor anime animators

  15. 15 Moonbei

    I’m with you Shadowsketcher, i’m truly heartbroken too…. i got drepressed by the second reading about the treatment and wages/salaries for the animators… reality really sux… although, i would like to thank the person who made the thread cuz if i hadn’t read this then i might’ve had a rough future ahead of me… *sigh*
    I really love anime, but to find out that the animators get treated this way is really disheartening…

  16. 16 Aki Kaede


    Wow, I never knew that…
    I’m pretty sad for all the animators as well as seiyuu.

    I wanted to be a seiyuu but, seems like my original idea was correct. Probably do all this if you have the time after your main job…

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