The Anime Dormitory Project Is Helping Young Animators Survive

The Japanese anime industry has a market share of an estimated ¥2 trillion. That’s roughly $18.8 billion USD. While the industry is seemingly thriving some of those within it aren’t seeing the benefits, particularly its animators. The Animator Supporters were founded in 2011 with the goal of aiding struggling animators within the industry via crowdfunding campaigns which would provide animators with supportive housing. This was dubbed the Animator Dormitory Project, and campaigns have been held every year since.

The information provided by The Animator Supporters paints a fairly bleak picture for animators in the anime industry. A 2015 JAnicA survey claims that animators in their 20s make around ¥90,000 a month on average. That translates to about $800 USD. Going off that information, the majority of young animators in the industry make less yearly income than the average minimum wage worker in Japan.

Considering the amount of work that goes into the job, this is a staggeringly low amount to be making – and can understandably be a problem for those trying to support themselves. First year animators seem to have it the worst, as their monthly salary can be even less than ¥30,000 (about $270 USD).

According to The Animator Supporters, 90 percent of animators in the industry quit their jobs within the first three years. There are a number of factors that make this such a stressful and difficult profession to sustain for young newcomers. Long hours and constant overtime don’t make for the best work conditions, but what really hurts young animators are two things: the pay system and location of employment.

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Most of the time, animators are hired to work on certain projects and are paid based on how much work they are able to produce rather than receiving a pre-determined rate. That means that the faster an animator works, the more money they can make. What makes things difficult for young animators is that their relative inexperience impedes their ability to make a reasonable wage in the industry. Though that is subject to change as their skills sharpen, many can’t afford to hold out long enough for that to happen.

The average wage an animator makes per frame for most TV anime is about ¥200, which adds up to just under $2 USD. The Animator Supporters calculate that even if animators would be able to produce 300 frames per month – a difficult task for young animators – their monthly salary would only be ¥60,000 which is a third less of the estimated average monthly salary mentioned above. As most major animation studios are located in Tokyo, cost of living becomes a much larger concern. Mercer ranked Tokyo as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in in regards to cost of living, putting it in second behind only Hong Kong.

The Animator Supporters project was put together with the hope of easing the stress placed on young animators in the industry. As cost of living serves as a major breaking point for many newcomers, the Anime Dormitory Project provides a more accommodating alternative. Dorm rooms come out to under ¥30,000, and covers key amenities such as water, electricity, air conditioning, and wi-fi. The intention here – aside from providing affordable housing – is for newcomers to be able to put more resources into bettering their skills, which would drastically increase their ability to provide for themselves.

The project has welcomed 40 new residents since 2014, and promises to continue beyond 2020. In an effort to further aid animators within the dorm, the project provides residents with what they call technical support. Dorm residents have the option of participating in a monthly class taught by veteran animators aimed towards bettering their skills, and are also offered monthly sketching sessions while also helping new animators find production companies that pay well. In 2019, the NPO Animator Supporters helped their animators find productions that paid them an average of ¥1,000,000 extra per year.

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The first Anime Dormitory Project was founded in March 2014. Located in Tokyo’s Asagaya area, the dorm successfully housed two animators. The 2015 campaign was successful, with 105 percent of its goal reached. The 2016 campaign wasn’t as successful and only reached 82 percent of its goal, though it did earn a considerable amount regardless. The 2017 campaign was one of the most successful, with 177% of its goal funded. The 2018 and 2019 campaigns were also successes, with both reaching 192 and 136 percent funding respectively. Though it should be noted that the amount of backers decreased by more than half from 2018 to 2019. The 2018 campaign was the most successful in the project’s history, with $58,514.00 raised ($38,514 raised through GoGetFunding and an additional $20,000.00 raised offline).

The project has hosted some fairly notable boarders in the past who have worked on a number of well known anime. Attack on Titan Season 3 Animation Director Masaaki Tanaka was once a resident, as were Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress Animation Director Tatsuro Kawano and Gundam Reconguista in G Animation Director Shingo Tamagawa.

As it stands, the 2020 campaign is 27 percent funded just over five months in. With over 120 backers and just over $5,000 USD raised, there’s still a ways to go until the project’s $20,000 goal is reached. The campaign will run until the end of the year, so there’s still plenty of time to donate should you feel compelled to.

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Getting a job as an anime animator is tough, and it's even harder to sustain. But one group is working on making young animators lives easier.

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