Does An Anime's Budget Affect Its Quality?

by Justin Sevakis,

"A loyal reader" asked:

Do budgets influence anime quality? Do high budget anime look better than low budget ones? In the last few years, there seems to be a article of belief in some anime forums that budgets don't matter that much for quality. The argument is usually either all anime have similar budgets, therefore the varying quality of anime proves budgets don't matter. Or that good staff make good looking anime, even though they get equivalent pay to bad staff, so budgets don't matter.

Of course budgets play a role in the quality of anime, but they're not the defining factor. The truth is much more complicated.

One of the main reasons this came up was because One-Punch Man character designer Chikashi Kubota said at AnimeFest last year, "A lot of people have this common misconception that the quality of the actual animation is based on the production's budget. But in Japan, the TV production world, especially when it comes to anime, generally they all have the same budget. There are really rare situations where some have a little less and some tend to have a little bit more, but nothing that is very drastic. So, in reality, it is based on the staff."

Budgets can and do make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, especially outside of the (now pretty standardized) production processes of late night TV shows. Low budgets mean that animation producers will have to insist on fewer drawings, hiring fewer animators, and taking more shortcuts with the animation itself. You'll get a lot more slow pans and monologues delivered with the speaking character's back to the camera. You'll get a lot fewer action set pieces and detailed bits of extraneous movement that really breathe life into a scene. And that's to say nothing of its effect on the musical score, the level of voice talent that can be brought on, and other details.

But these days, most late night TV shows are all coming in around the US$320,000 per episode mark. That's simply the going price at which most production committees have standardized. This is actually quite a jump from about a decade ago, when some shows were regularly coming in at under US$200,000. I haven't yet been able to get to the bottom of why budgets have increased so much, but I'm guessing it has to do with the sheer volume of production, and the fact that anime companies are so overbooked with work that they can afford to turn down an under-funded project. (This is still absurdly low by American standards. Most single camera half-hour cable shows currently run about US$1.5-3 million. Hour-long dramas can run as high as US$8-10 million.)

Throughout anime history, it's been proven again and again that a dedicated and talented staff can turn in some incredible work on a meager budget, provided that they're willing to completely destroy themselves and get paid almost nothing to do so. Robot Carnival, one of the most gorgeously animated OVAs of the 80s, was made for very little money because each director basically had years to work through nearly every step of production by themselves. (Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo was basically coughing up blood at one point, according to another staff member.) And Genocyber, the super violent Koichi Ohata OVA series, was basically made for less than a quarter of what a TV anime would cost today.

But since costs have stabilized, and in most cases a TV broadcast means little flexibility in production schedules, most differences in late night TV quality are now basically down to the skill of the artists involved, the stability of the production behind the scenes and the amount of time they have to do their jobs.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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