If you are someone who cares about seasonal anime, you have probably heard about Shirobako at some point. It’s the anime by P.A Works which has a huge popularity and won many awards in Japan. Shirobako is an anime about an anime studio and shows us how they are living and working. This gives us the opportunity to experience the process of creating an anime. Of course this is just an anime and you won’t see everything you need to know, but it gives us enough to understand the effort behind a project. The problem is that people are underestimating the effort of creating an anime or a manga. For someone who is not really interested in the work of an animation studio, you will never understand how much these people actually have to work and how tough it is. For many anime fans it’s probably a big dream to work in an animation studio or to become a mangaka. But doing this means that you have to be a very dedicated person. You have to work more than the most other people and you need to realize that you are living for your job. It’s a stressful activity where you barely have any free time.
Don’t get me wrong, there are other jobs which are just as stressful or maybe even worse, but career in the arts is always a rather risky decision. You can never be sure if you are going to get a (good) job and you have no security. Working in animation studios or even in gaming studios means that you have to be passionate. You need to be skilled. But sometimes not even this is enough, you also need a lot of luck. And what happens if you are passionate, if you are skilled and you have luck ? You might have reached your dream of becoming part of the anime staff, but the real struggle starts here. Shirobako gave us a good insight of the characters emotions.
The main characters also dreamed to work for the anime industry and each of them had different dreams. Be it Voice Acting or 3D Animation, they all had their own vision and their own thoughts on their future, but when they reached their goal they started to realize it’s not the way they were expecting it to be. Some of them became even unhappy and some of them had to deal with stress and were struggling the whole time. They are overworked or simply not skilled enough to compete with the other people. The voice acting part in this anime gave us a really good understanding of how it feels like, not being able to keep up with the rest. No matter how hard you work, you are not able to reach the goal you have set for yourself. But being frustrated is part of the job. You need to learn and as cheesy as it sounds, never give up. This doesn’t mean that you will achieve your goal for sure though. Life isn’t that easy and you might not be able to reach your goal ever.
Here is a little picture posted by P.A Works which shows us how much money they make. Of course this is different for each studio and anime project, but just to give you a little understanding this might be helpful.
This is the harsh reality. Look at the animator and then look at the voice actor. The difference between them is absurd. Of course you have to keep in mind that Voice Actors are a pretty big deal in Japan. They are pretty much like famous actors and are invited for many shows and interviews and are overall very popular. So they earn money in many different ways. Another trend is all the Music CDs which are being released from the Voice Actors nowadays which also helps a lot. But there is still something we need to keep in mind. We are not talking about some random voice actor but about an A-list voice actor who probably has like 10 roles in a year. There will be barely any Voice Actors who would make so much money, but only the biggest stars because it is not really much easier for Voice Actors eithers. Many Voice Actors have a hard time getting a role and if not popular enough they also don’t really get a good pay.
It’s similar with animators. In this case it is only Ema’s (the character) pay. The problem is that Animators are often working under contracts which means that income from government welfare and minimum wage laws don’t apply to them. Animators are not getting paid by hour but by how much they are drawing. A system which worked well in the past as you didn’t had to draw as much as today. But as everything is getting more detailed and high quality, it’s getting harder and harder but with the problem that they don’t get more money. Basically they are doing more and harder work for the same pay. Animators usually will jump from studio to studio depending on the money they get. So there is actually no time for them to fit in the studio as the animator will leave in the next moment, which leads us to the next problem. The industry can’t secure a work force. It can’t hold on young talents.
Actually this is not only a problem for the animation industry but for Japan in general. Poverty worsens as more Japanese work on non-permanent contracts. But there are some anime studios where it’s actually not that bad. Let’s take Kyoto Animation as an example. Kyoto Animation is one of the few studios (and the only one I can think of to be honest) where they have their regular staff. The staff is working in this studio and usually won’t leave it for a different studio. The problem in general is that it’s very hard for a newbie to get inside the animation industry as the hard work discourage many people. Specially after being forced to chose a different studio after your work is done.
In Kyoto Animation you are not leaving your studio. They keep working in the studio, they get better, have a chance of better payment as they can actually get promoted easier and it’s easier to maintain a better work environment. So yes the payment overall is very absurd. Working in the anime industry is hard, unfair and will force you to give everything you have.
So having reached this point, and realizing that it’s not as great as you hoped it to be, you start asking yourself questions. Why am I doing this ? Why won’t I work somewhere else where I get paid better and have to work less. Is it really worth to follow your own dream just so you have a stressful life ?
Aoi, our main character, is also starting to think about these questions. We have seen her being tired and she keeps seeing other people feeling the same, so at some point she started wondering why are the people still working here. Why indeed ? To answer this question we need to look at the last episode. After finishing their anime together Aoi is standing there in front of the whole staff and in this moment we see how surprised Aoi is. Suddenly she is realizing how many people are standing there. People who think up the story, draw the characters, make them move, give them the voice, the music, the backgrounds and reference material.
Of course there is so much more, but the point is it takes so many people with so many different strengths and various talents working together to create an anime.
Not only their own studio is working on this project, often there are people from different companies involved too. These are all people who have worked on other projects and have their own experience and knowledge.
Just think about it, anime is made by hundreds of people who has passed their knowledge on the next generation. This means that the anime has the thoughts and effort of decades worth of time. It’s like a flame on a thin candle which keeps getting passed on, over and over until it becomes a flame that never goes out and will someday illuminate the whole world. And to do this they have to continue to illuminate everyone’s heart. It’s the love they have for what they are doing and the feeling of accomplishing something. Not with the mindset of being finally done, but with the mindset of “We are just getting started”.
Hundreds of relationships are formed in making one show and this is being proved by the comradery of the team putting all their effort into the same project. The constant feeling of having new struggles is very motivating. You always have new challenges you have to overcome and the joy of inspiring people with your own work is very satisfying. You are able to bring this joy to the next generation and makes them feel the same thing.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense to work somewhere where you have a harder life, when you have the choice to have it much easier. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to chose the life with less money instead the life with more money. But maybe it doesn’t have to make sense. If you can afford it, following your dream might be exactly what you wanted to do all your life. A life full with struggle and accomplishment. Despite being overworked all the time, all our characters are realizing that they like what they do. It may be hard and it may be unfair, but it’s their dream and they are choosing to follow it until the end.