Anime is a medium that requires a lot more effort and resources to be put in than you’d expect at face value. It is an older medium than 3D animation, which is now more dependent on computer AI interfaces and a bigger budget. Whereas 2D animation like anime places a heavier emphasis on traditional animators and came to be an alternative to more expensive animation methods. And as such, one often must wonder: Just how expensive is it to create an anime season from scratch?
And I do say season for a reason. Because even creating a single 30-minute OVA (Original Video Animation) takes more time and money than you can imagine. So, when it comes to something like a 12-episode season? That’s at least 12 times more resources being used. Sure, the resources used might not compare to something like Hollywood blockbuster levels, but it’s still a pretty penny.
An anime, like most works of art, involves more than just a single creator. It isn’t just an animator that brings these characters to move on the screen. There is art direction, sound production, set design, animation choreography, and so many odds and ends that combine to create your favorite show. And all that labor? It doesn’t come cheap. The ballpark estimate for a 13-episode anime season is around a whopping $2 Million in total. Like most entertainment ventures, anime isn’t a walk in the park to create.
But why are they so expensive to create? Beyond animation, what else do you need to create a stellar anime series or movie? And do the costs end up justifying the product created? I mean, the answer to those questions varies. Sure, anime isn’t a niche hobby being consumed illegally anymore, it’s a global phenomenon now. But is it big enough to warrant the money being invested in it? Let’s discuss what it takes!
How Does An Animation Studio Plan Out An Anime?
The road from a simple manga being picked up to an anime adaptation being greenlit isn’t exactly linear. The studio heads must first see the market, and examine what is currently trending right now. And then, once they find something that fits their needs, they must acquire the rights for a story from the mangaka (manga creator) and the publishing house that distributes it.
And that’s when the studio enters the concept phase. This is where they will start with testing tiny animation snippets, creating the characters, and seeing how they’ll move and flow during the story. This will set the aesthetic mood down for the anime going forward and help in creating its signature animation style.
Then you have the storyboard phase, which is where writers, producers, and directors will sit down to translate the story from drawings into a moving picture. The composition and sets of the anime will be determined, creating a cohesive story that is accurate to the source material. Of course, liberties might still be taken but that’s because things differ from paper to animation.
If it passes both stages, it finally moves on to becoming a full animation production with an allotted budget and plan in mind. This is where the lead animators will come to create keyframes, polish up character and set designs, etc.
And then comes cutting and editing. With a director at the helm, the animation will be spliced with dialogue work, soundtrack production, and art direction. This is where the anime will come to fruition fully, becoming more than a collection of drawings and isolated animation scenes. Voice actors will be brought in to help narrate and bring the characters to life. And then the entire thing is sent to be edited into the final product.
So, safe to say, anime creation is a way, way more involved process than you can imagine. The number of people hired can jump the price of production for a single episode easily. For example, a single episode of One Piece is worth $90,000 in production value. It isn’t as simple as one might think and explain the high costs.
How Expensive Can An Anime Production Get?
Now, the cost of making any anime directly corresponds to the quality of its productions and the number of episodes being created. Some Shonen happens to be some of the highest budget anime ever made, but that could solely be because there are just so many scenes to animate that the money goes up. Of course, you also have more feature-length anime, which costs more because either they are being released in different markets and need translation work being done or because the quality of animation is different.
It also depends from studio to studio, with production houses like Studio Ghibli having the highest budget, making them the top dogs of the industry. And then you have other high-budget studios like MAPPA, Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), and Ufotable, which have created high-profile works such as Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, and Violet Evergarden.
According to the statistics made available, the most expensive anime movie ever created was Studio Ghibli’s The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, at nearly $54 Million. This was Isao Takahata’s, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, final work and consisted of completely hand-drawn traditional animation. But the award for most expensive anime series to produce per episode goes to the cult classic anime Death Note. The budget for this anime was a reported $1,000,000 per episode aired.
Is Making Anime Worth The High Costs?
In the end, anime is an investment, like other entertainment mediums. It isn’t created for free and needs to make a profit for it to continue. An anime that underperforms from the studio’s point of view, is not worth the money it took to produce.
Animation is an expensive business and just having it be viewed won’t make up for the production cost. In Japan, anime doesn’t make that much money when it airs. So how do animation studios cover the cost? This is where merchandising comes in.
It’s no surprise that pop culture franchises such as anime and movies are heavily dependent on merchandise sales to boost profits. A lot of anime get most of their gross earnings by selling physical copies of their soundtrack OSTs, DVD box sets, and even additional content like audio drama CDs.
This holds especially true for anime that depend very heavily on merchandise such as Mobile Suit Gundam and other mech anime, where stuff like Gundam Building Kits is a hobby outside of the franchise itself. And then you have figurines too, with some anime even having special collector’s edition figures coming out to commemorate a special date or occasion.
But luckily, thanks to streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Netflix, the anime industry has seen a huge boom in sales and is quickly expanding. People are finally starting to see the worth of the medium in the international market and are emulating the genre in other countries. With the success of shows like Castlevania and Avatar: The Last Airbender, anime is being recognized for its vast influence in the animation industry.
Not only has it become easier to access, but the high costs mean we are getting amazing quality anime left and right. With the amount of hype it’s gotten, anime fans are thriving. What a time to be alive!