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How Do Anime Budgets Compare to American Animation Budgets?

by Justin Sevakis,

Allan asks:

I often read that anime is made with a much lower production budget than "western animation". That certainly makes sense when comparing the average TV anime with a big-name western production like a movie from Disney/Pixar. But I'm curious how anime budgets compare to American TV animation like The Simpsons, King of the Hill, all those Nickelodeon cartoons from the 90's, and so on. How does the average anime budget compare to a program like that?

The answer is still "much, much cheaper." The average American 2D TV series like The Simpsons or a Nickelodeon show can cost quite a bit of money, typically US$1-2 Million per episode. The longer a show goes on, the more it costs to produce because most of the creative staff get a bump in pay every season. Recent episodes The Simpsons now cost over $5 million per episode to make -- and Fox has been desperately trying to renegotiate everybody's contracts because the show has become unprofitable. Nobody envisioned the show being on the air for over 20 years.

On the low side of things, cable shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Invader Zim are estimated to have cost a little over $1 Million per episode, and the really low budget stuff can go down to about $350,000 to $500,000 per episode. It's not cheap.

Anime, however, goes much, much lower. A typical show can cost as little as US$125,000 per episode. On occasion a very well-off production can go north of US$300,000 per episode, but that's pretty rare. Budgets for an anime are never made public, but that's the general level things are at.

Where does that extra money go in the US? Mostly to pay people. Animators in the US typically aren't rich, but do eke out a decent middle class existence, and tend to get benefits from whatever animation studio they're at. The incredibly low wages in the anime business would simply not cut it over here: you could never find animators willing to work for so little. And that's to say nothing of government and union requirements.

When we talk about movies, the difference becomes even more dramatic. There aren't many low-budget pieces of 2D feature animation being made Stateside these days, but here's a couple points of reference: the 2002 Powerpuff Girls movie had an estimated budget of US$11 Million. 1996's Beavis and Butthead Do America similarly came in at around US$12 Million. Compare that to anime's mid-range: Mamoru Oshii's The Sky Crawlers had a budget of only US$2.6 Million, and Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress came in at only ¥120 Million, which is just over one million dollars today.

But anime can, on rare occasion, be quite spendy. The Wind Rises had a reported budget of US$30 Million, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, with its infamous ten year production schedule, likely cost even more. Back in 1987 Akira was made for a then-record ¥1.1 Billion, which would be around US$10.6 Million today. But films that extravagant don't come along very often. And with Studio Ghibli not producing new films currently, the number of such projects is likely to decrease substantially.

Anime is very cheap even when compared to similar tier projects in America. It's just how things work. And until those budgets can somehow go up, it's doubtful there will be any more money to pay the animators a living wage.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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