The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Using Shirobako as a fictional context to compare salaries and work satisfaction in the anime industry against a real-world example

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” —Confucius

A short while ago, P.A. Works released a chart detailing the yearly salaries for individuals involved in the anime industry. The figures are reflective of why some characters are constantly mindful of whether or not they can make ends meet even though they are employed, and also leads me to wonder about salaries and income after my time as a graduate student ends. From what is immediately apparent in the chart, working in the anime business is gruelling, with long hours, high stress and relatively low wages. The only exception are popular voice actors and actresses, who earn an order of magnitude more than the producers. With this in mind, and the fact that many major animation studios are located in Tokyo, making a reasonable living becomes a challenge. At the time of writing, the cost of living in my home city, the centre of Canada’s oil country, is only slightly lower than that of Tokyo’s: staying in the black becomes a challenge of sorts even for the more senior employees in an anime company. Shirobako can therefore be said to be an anime that aims to paint a picture of what the anime industry is like: as a fictionalised account of what this field is like, Shirobako is a watered-down version of what employees are subject to. These sorts of occupational difficulties are meant to illustrate that very few anime viewers actually understand what goes on behind the scenes, and that the individuals making this media for everyone to enjoy, though passionate about their work, are oftentimes earning just enough to get by (even if they make the appropriate lifestyle changes to ensure they stay in the black).

  • In the above figure, from left to right, the positions and corresponding yearly salaries are as follows (with their respective equivalent in Canadian dollars, because the Canadian dollar is the standard I’m used to). The currency conversions assume the exchange rate at roughly 1800 GMT on the date this post was written, and I’ve also superimposed some yardsticks below for comparison’s sake.
    • Animators make 1100000 JPY or roughly 92000 JPY/month; this is 10353.16 CAD or roughly 862.76 CAD/month
    • Japanese university students make 2000000 JPY or roughly 166000 JPY/month; this is 18823.92 CAD or roughly 1568.66 CAD/month
    • An NSERC USRA pays roughly this much per month, with a top-up from the supervisor, for an undergraduate student conducting summer research over a four month period
    • Part-time workers (on the chart, “Freeters”) make 2180000 JPY or roughly 182000 JPY/month; this is 20518.07 CAD or roughly 1709.84 CAD/month
    • Assistant producers make 2280000 JPY or roughly 190000 JPY/month; this is 21459.27 CAD or roughly 1788.27 CAD/month
    • CG staff  make 2610000 JPY or roughly 217500 JPY /month; this is 24565.22 CAD or roughly 2,047.10 CAD/month
    • Graduate students fit in somewhere around here on average, although this value can vary depending on the scholarships they have
    • Effects directors make 3330000 JPY or roughly 277500 JPY /month; this is 31341.83 CAD or roughly 2611.82 CAD/month
    • Directors/story-boarders make 4950000 JPY or roughly 412500 JPY /month; this is 46589.21 CAD or roughly 3882.43 CAD/month
    • Animation directors make 5130000 JPY or roughly 427500 JPY /month; this is 48283.36 CAD or roughly 4023.61 CAD/month
    • Junior software developers and beginning engineers fit in somewhere around here on average
    • Producers make 7540000 JPY or roughly 628000 JPY /month; this is 70966.19 CAD or 5913.85 roughly CAD/month
    • Medical doctors, senior developers, senior engineers and project managers typically fit in somewhere around here on average, with salaries in the six-figures
    • Well-known voice actors/actresses make 70000000 JPY or roughly 5833000 JPY /month; this is 658837.27 CAD or roughly 54903.11 CAD/month

Barring the voice actors, most of the staff at Musashino Animation do not earn a great deal (especially Ema, who must make her budget work with only 860 dollars per month); their passion for doing their jobs that keeps them in business, and even though the hours are long and the pressure can be mind-boggling, Aoi, Ema and the others continue on because their resolve do not waver, as they strive to fulfil the promise they had made to each other during high school of joining the anime industry. Moreover, several episodes in Shirobako show the moments of pure joy as their episodes finally reach completion and positive reviews begin appearing online. While this is rewarding, from a strictly personal perspective, unless one were at the absolute top of their field (this holds true for everything, including the anime industry), being in the anime industry and enjoying one’s work is no longer sufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Taking a quick look at the charts, I briefly note that the average graduate student will earn anywhere from 20000 to 22000 CAD per year, and students with scholarships can net around 30000 to 36000 CAD per year. On average, it costs roughly 800 to 1100 CAD per month to minimally survive where I am; a graduate student could reasonably survive if they managed their finances well. After graduation, the average junior software developer earns from 45000 to 65000 CAD per year (3750 to 5417 CAD per month) at their first position, which is comparable to that of a producer’s income.

  • This post was a little unusual; I was looking through my income and expenses for graduate school and also came across the chart from above, which got me thinking. It also inspired me to work harder because society is always becoming tougher to survive in. The next Shirobako post will deal with more general concepts at the halfway point, which I’ll try to have after the New Years. Beyond that will come the discussion for the finale, but that’s a few months away.

While I’m still a little behind in Shirobako, the anime has insofar captured the some of the challenges that characters occupying the lower echelons face: they must either break their backs to improve and be promoted, or else switch occupations. According to some sources, animators can earn bonuses for exceeding quotas, but this is undesirable as it typically comes at the expense of quality. As an anime, Shirobako will probably aim to provide some fail-safes for characters like Ema to prevent them from failing and allow their work to be rewarded at some point in the future, although the real world is hardly as considerate. As such, while there’s nothing wrong with following one’s passions, Shirobako is probably meant to illustrate that the anime industry, outside of being a voice actor/actress, is not as glamorous as some might believe, and subtly hints to viewers that they must also be mindful of the field they’re getting into with respect to the advantages and disadvantages that each occupation confers.

2 responses to “Using Shirobako as a fictional context to compare salaries and work satisfaction in the anime industry against a real-world example

  1. will January 7, 2015 at 04:52

    Hi.. I’ve stumbled across your wordpress and i wonder is the salaries comparism is correct? i doubt it because from what i heard the japan cg/animation industries seems to be very gloomy and doesn’t pay that much


    • infinitezenith January 8, 2015 at 21:11

      The chart was sourced from the Shirobako Twitter account, and I imagine that it was probably built using rough averages of salaries that individuals working under a certain field are paid; while it may not be the most accurate, it is certainly enough to prompt some interesting discussions. With that said, the figures that CG staff and animators earn (between 10 000 CAD and 21 000 CAD per annum) is quite gloomy as it is: given the cost of living, it’s quite difficult to make that work even if one lives on a frugal budget (consider that the average graduate student is paid roughly 25 000 CAD per year and this is just enough to squeak by). Hope that helps!


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