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To many anime fans, working in the industry itself seems like a dream job. The chance to spend all day immersed in the medium they love, helping to add to the collective body of work from which they’ve drawn so much enthusiasm and enjoyment obviously holds more appeal than some bland corporate or service sector profession. Being a professional animator also means you get paid for your passion, to the tune of roughly a cool million a year!

Except, that’s yen we’re talking about, which means the average animator’s annual salary is well under US$10,000.

Over the last few decades, anime has grown from being a small domestic niche market to a vibrant and internationalized sector of Japan’s economy. At the same time as anime’s popularity has rapidly broadened in Japan, the number of foreign fans has reached a level where overseas sales and video streaming rights have become significant sources of revenue for animation production groups.

Like in any industry, anime’s brightest stars, such as series creators, headlining directors, and prime voice talent, are handsomely rewarded for their contributions to a project’s pre-release hype and subsequent success. Things are a different story, however, at the lower, more populated levels of the anime production pyramid.

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Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs recently contracted the Japan Animation Creators Association, an anime industry group, to conduct a survey into the working conditions of animators. Janica (as the Japan Animation Creators Association is also known) sent surveys to its members, asking them about how much time they spent working and how much they earned.

The respective answers turned out to be “a lot” and “not very much.”

Receiving responses from 759 of the 2,652 members it contacted, Janica calculated that an animator’s average workday lasts 11 hours. Their average compensation for such marathon shifts? A paltry 1,100,000 yen (US$9,240) a year.

It’s not like animators are cramming in 11 hours at the studio so they can take the next day off, either. 54.9 percent of the respondents reported having four or fewer days off a month, and that includes weekends.

▼ If you work in the anime industry, there’s really not much need to flip the page.

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Reasons offered for the severe working conditions included pressure from low-cost animation studios elsewhere in Asia and the production-based compensation systems that many animators work under in Japan, such as being paid 100 yen for every frame of animation they complete.

Osamu Yamasaki, Janica’s Deputy Representative Director, expressed concerns over the results. While some low-level animators will eventually work their way up through the ranks to more lucrative positions, there’s only so much room as they make their way towards the top. It’s illogical to expect low-level animators to be happy with these conditions indefinitely, and Yamasaki fears that unless changes are made to encourage young anime workers to stay on with their companies, the future of the industry itself may be in jeopardy.

After all, while the industry has long been built on the backs of those who eat, sleep, and breathe anime, you can’t use your love of it to pay your rent.

Sources: NHK News Web via Hachima Kikou, Japan Animation Creators Association
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