As far back as I can remember, one of the things that anime has always been highly praised for is the high production values in its animation and the amazing quality of the voice actors and actresses who bring the characters to life. Though the trends have been (slowly) changing in the west — particularly in production values and the increase in status of voice acting as a profession — Japanese anime still stands out for being an art form in and of itself. That raises the question, then, of just how much it actually costs to produce an anime. Let’s take a look!
As you can probably guess, the initial answer is a vague “it depends.” Due to when the anime was produced, whether it involves hand-drawn art or cg, the cost of the voice talent, and more all affect how much it costs to produce an anime. This also will differ based on whether the anime is meant to air on TV (and thus can receive funding from a television station or even sponsors) or is a straight-to-video OVA release.
But that’s not to say that we can’t get a rough ballpark figure! Fortunately, due to a variety of interviews and financial statements, the production costs of several major anime have come to light.1
First off, in order to understand the costs and flow of money, it’s important to understand the parties involved in producing an anime for broadcast:
- Production Company
- Advertising Agency
Though the rest of these are probably generally familiar, the role of an advertising agent is unique to Japan. The closest example in the west would be something like a syndicator or a distributor.2 In order to secure funding for the anime, the broadcaster works with an advertising agency to negotiate with sponsors and get together the money necessary to produce the anime. Let’s take a look at how this usually works!
Advertising Agency and Securing Funds
In 2002, it cost approximately 90 million yen to broadcast a month of thirty-minute episodes of One Piece from at 7pm on Sunday nights on Fuji Television. Their advertising agency, Asatsu-DK Inc.,3 would collect the money from sponsors — which was to purchase advertising spots for commercials when the episode aired as well as to get their name in the anime — and provide it to the Fuji Television.
In a typical thirty-minute time slot on Japanese tv, there are roughly six thirty-second commercial spots. Since these are sold in monthly packages (and not on a broadcast-by-broadcast basis), just one of those spots costs 15 million. Definitely not cheap to get your thirty-second commercial on tv for only 3-4 times a month!
After Fuji Television took their cut, they would only give Toei Animation (the animation studio behind One Piece)4 43 million yen and keep the rest for themselves. Not a bad turn around for being a middleman and airing commercials! That means that at the end of the day, Toei Animation had a budget of 10.75 million yen to produce a single episode of One Piece.
Cutting Out the Middle Man
Though what I just described is how most broadcast anime works, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a bit of an odd duck in that regard. Instead of going through the normal channels involving a series of middlemen — all of whom take their own cut — to get the anime produced, the production company decided to forgo the advertising agency and create an anime production committee instead. This committee was charged with working with sponsors to receive funds directly and skipped the broadcaster (and thus advertising agency) entirely.
The Evangelion production committee received approximately 25 million yen per month from sponsors, which worked out to a budget of approximately 6.25 million yen per episode. What was interesting about this relationship, however, is that due to the direct negotiations between the production committee and the sponsors, this enabled the sponsors to actually negotiate rights over the Evangelion IP and to actually own a part of the anime (and thus future profits).
Sega Enterprises (now Sega Holdings)5 was one of such rights-holding sponsors. When Evangelion was sold in the US, Europe, and across Asia, each episode was sold for approximately $10,000 — or $260,000 for all 26 episodes. As a rights-holder, Sega was entitled to a portion of these profits. In a normal anime production, such as with One Piece, Bandai (an advertiser) wouldn’t ben entitled to any additional profits, no matter how successful the anime was.
Two Chances to Win
Thanks to the roads paved by Evangelion, it has led the way for other anime production companies to make their own direct dealings with sponsors and helped pave the way to most licensing in the West. After all, even if an anime isn’t necessarily a huge hit in its home country of Japan, if it does well abroad then the sponsors themselves may also be able to turn a profit, thus helping them minimize the risks of funding in the first place.
Such is the case with the anime Medarot (Medabot in the West).6 Though not exactly a failure in Japan, the anime didn’t really take off and wasn’t really a “hit” by any measure. In America, however, it was licensed by Nelvana Limited and was a major success (together with the toys licensed by Hasbro) and turned into a source of profit for the original sponsors back in Japan, who also earned income off of other derivative works.
As I said at the beginning of this article (and often in this blog, actually), it really does depend on the situation. I didn’t even touch on anime movies, or on OVA, but those are something I plan to talk about at a later date. But to give an idea of just how much variability there can be in production costs, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex reportedly cost 30 million yen to produce… per episode!7 That’s nearly three times what it cost to make an episode of One Piece!
So there you have it! As I’m sure you can tell, producing an anime isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but with the rise of anime’s prominence across the globe as a style truly unique to Japan, there’s definitely a great deal of profit left to be made for those creators who are able to produce a hit (and the studios behind them). In the near future, I’ll be discussing just where all this money goes when producing an anime, so be on the lookout for more!