It is true: compared to animators and other low-profit laborers of the production team, Japanese voice-actors can acquire a rather generous reward for their services. This, along with their booming idolization, has attracted many hopefuls into industry. Young people are drawn to this seemingly extravagant lifestyle of being adored by thousands and bringing “dreams to the children” through anime, while also earning a nice amount of cash on the side. Unfortunately, all of these wishes will simply end as a delusion for the majority of aspiring seiyuu. They are swarming in, completely blind to the regulations and severity of this extremely competitive world. One major detail that hopefuls seem to miss is the strange structure of income for seiyuu.
All Japanese voice-actors receive their revenue through a system of “ranks” decided by the Japan Actors Union (Nippairen). The lowest rank, Rank 15, is automatically assigned to rookies. Now, you might be wondering, “Why start at 15? Why not Rank 1?” This number actually refers to the minimum wage for seiyuu: 15,000 yen (about $150). The same formula applies to the other ranks. For example, a more experienced seiyuu at Rank 24 will earn ¥24,000. Pretty easy, right? Although popularity and experience do have some affect, ranks are not fixed and can be upgraded at any time. So, even if you are only in your second year of voice-acting, if you believe that your voice and skills are worth much more than the minimum wage (or if you’re just plain greedy), nothing can stop you from raising your rank.
Of course, the rank system has its rules. The most important detail that hopefuls seem to be missing is that the rank system is NOT a fixed salary. The majority of seiyuu, as soon as they enter the industry, will join voice-acting agencies like Aoni Production of Mouse Promotions. However, they are not employees there. They are treated like “products” that the agencies can promote to production studios. As a result, seiyuu receive their money after they are chosen and used. In other words, a fixed amount of ¥15,000 does not automatically drop into a Rank 15 seiyuu’s bank account every week or every month. This is not how it works. Rather, they are paid ¥15,000 for every recording session. Here is an example to better illustrate this system…
Seiyuu “F” sits at Rank 18. For every recording session, he earns ¥18,000. On Monday morning, Seiyuu F goes to a studio and records for an anime episode. Later in the evening, he travels to a different studio and records another episode for a different anime. This concludes his schedule on Monday. Because he recorded two episodes that day, he earned ¥36,000 (about $360). However, he had nothing in his schedule for Tuesday through Friday. For these days, he receives zero payment. On Saturday, he has one recording session. He earns ¥18,000.
Again, the rank system only pays for each recording session. Whether you are in the studio for three hours or six, it does not matter. Whether you speak one line or 20 pages of dialogue, it does not matter. Even if you voice the main character, it will not change. You will only receive the amount assigned to your rank. This becomes very odd when seiyuu of various ranks work together. A rookie could have pages upon pages of lines and only receives the minimum wage, while an experienced Rank 23 seiyuu can speak one or two words and earn $230 for that session.
The example above also shows how the income for Japanese voice-actors is incredibly unstable. One month, they might earn over a thousand dollars, then only a few hundred the next month, and maybe nothing after that. Again, they have no fixed salary so it will always be unknown whether they will earn enough money to survive throughout the year. Not only does this make budgeting extremely difficult, banks are reluctant to offer loans to seiyuu because their profession/income is not secure enough. Many seiyuu are also single (especially men) because they cannot support a family with what they earn. On top of this, there is absolutely NO guarantee that a steady flow of jobs will forever flock to them. Auditioning for roles is another complicated system (which I will have to explain in a separate post). Even the most popular seiyuu must always be weary of the inevitable future – that they will be replaced by the newer generations. Many will hastily save their income for the fateful day when all momentum is lost. Some have invested by constructing cafés or other recreational spots, hoping to create an additional source of income besides voice-work.
Even with all of this information so far, aspiring seiyuu still tend to foolishly believe that they will be okay – that they will be the exception to this harsh industry. At first glance, a starting income of ¥15,000 sounds like a great bargain… WRONG. Modern seiyuu cannot adequately survive from voicing one main character in a popular anime. In fact, this is a case of simple math. A typical run for an anime series is one “cour” – 10 to 14 weekly episodes. The seiyuu are brought in to record by a weekly basis as well. Now, let’s pull out our calculators…
¥15,000 x 14 (episodes recorded) = ¥210,000
That’s approximately $2100 earned over a period of three months. That’s less than what I earn working as a waitress! Obviously, this is hardly enough to survive, much less in expensive Tokyo city. Successful seiyuu have shared countless horror stories of their struggles as beginners in the industry. One recounted the time he ate mayonnaise sprinkled with salt for dinner because he couldn’t afford to buy food. Although it may be a funny story now, this is still a brutal reality for the majority of seiyuu hopefuls. Instead of living an extravagant lifestyle of being adored by thousands and bringing “dreams to the children” through anime, they find themselves earning close to nothing, having to work multiple part-time jobs, and desperately grasping for the tail of withering success.
(Post by Gina. This is my best post.)