Seiyuus are the stars of the anime industry: they have their own shows and hords of fans. But since they’re popular, how high is a seiyuu salary ?
If you’ve watched Shirobako, you must have seen this graph, comparing the wages between the different workers of an anime. At the beginning, we find the animators with an annual income of ¥110,000 (about $10,000). And at the end, we find the voice actors with an huge salary of ¥7,000,000 (about $66,000).
Better known as seiyuu, these are the people who give their voices to our favorite characters. An essential profession, existing since the creation of the media, and which did not have so much recognition.
But since the 1990s, animes blew up and seiyuus have become a massive thing. With Megumi Hayashibara first, Nana Mizuki later and Kana Hanazawa nowadays. And the same goes for their male colleagues, such as Mamoru Miyano or Yoshitsugu Matsuoka.
Everyone knows their names, they have their own fan clubs, and they’re even invited to abroad conventions.
But how does this business work ? How do they manage to generate so much money in an industry known for its low wages?
I’m Vinh from Anime Business and here are the reasons why seiyuu earn so much money.
Part A : The ranking system
So let’s start with the question that interests you the most:
How much does a seiyuu earn?
I said earlier that it was ¥7,000,000 per year, but according to the source, that was just one case of a very popular seiyuu.
In fact, the answer will a bit disappoint you because it depends. Because like almost all the workers in this industry, seiyuus are freelancers. They don’t have a fixed salary, but they are paid by fees. So, keep in mind that every income I will reveal in this video will be rough estimates.
That being said. If we can’t know the exact income of a seiyuu, we do know the fee’s system, applied to everyone. All the seiyuus are classified according to a ranking system.
Initially, newbies start at rank 15, which is the amount of the payroll. And it’s not ¥1,500 yen (about $14), but ¥15,000 (about $140) per appearance, regardless of the number of lines. Main character or student C, they will be paid the same. Which is quite huge: to compare, an rookie animator earns ¥200 ($2) per drawing.
As their careers progress, the rank increases and so do their wages. For the veterans, the wage goes up to ¥45,000 (about $425). But some seiyuus are so famous they are not ranked, which means they can negotiate whatever payroll they want.
The income outside anime voice acting
Besides the voice acting anime, they can combine other activities. Starting with the singing activities.
Since the 2000s and thanks to Nana Mizuki,
For those who don’t know who Nana Mizuki is, don’t worry: we’ll talk about her later.
More and more seiyuus do anisongs, especially in units. But some of them have become solo artists and become more famous as a singer than as a voice actor. Which is a sustainable strategy.
Because unlike voice acting, seiyuus can receive royalties, a percentage of their records’ sales. If they manage to success, they can earn a very good additional income.
Besides anime voicing, they can also dub for video games, which are very popular but pay less. In addition to the dialogues, the seiyuus must record other sounds. Therefore, they are paid according to the number of words: between ¥30 and ¥200 per word ($0.3 – $2).
The seiyuus also work for the cinema. Western films must be dubbed into Japanese, even if the result is not always convincing. Unlike anime and video games, seiyuus are paid by hour: ¥50,000 per hour ($470) for a rookie, up to ¥150,000 ($1 400) yen for a star.
Less well known, the seiyuu are also those who do the voice-overs for reports and commercials. And these works are better paid. Because for a voice that will sell, brands won’t hesitate to pay the price for. ¥100,000 ($940) for a beginner and that can go up to ¥1,000,000 yen ($9,400) for a top star.
By cumulating all this sources of income, the seiyuus can generate a substainable cash flow.
Successful seiyuu’s stories
Let me show you with the 3 seiyuus I mentioned at the beginning of the video: Megumi Hayashibara, Nana Mizuki and Kana Hanazawa.
Megumi Hayashibara is a legendary seiyuu with her 30-year career. Known for her role as Rei Ayanami from Evangelion, she is also a prolific singer with 14 albums, and the director of her own talent agency. Her rough income is said to be ¥70,000,000 per year ($660,000).
For her part, even though she played Hinata Hyuuga in Naruto and more recently Tsubasa Kazanari from the Symphogear franchise, Nana Mizuki is better known as a singer than as a seiyuu.
She’s famously known to be the first seiyuu to achieve the exploit of reaching #1 spot at the Japanese billboard. Not only once, but twice. Thanks to her singing career, she manages to earn ¥16,000,000 ($150,000).
Kana Hanazawa (better known as Hanakana) is one of the top stars of the industry. You’ve surely heard her in Angel Beats, Nisekoi or Steins;Gate with her recognizable cute voice. She always have a regular role per season. She earns ¥15,000,000 ($140,000).
Not bad, isn’t it?
With this salary, combined with fame and passion, many newbies are entering this market to conquer the top spot. With their dreams and the hope to reach their idols.
They don’t know it yet, but most of them won’t see a bit of their success.
Part B: Why is there little known seiyuu?
As said before, many newbies enter the industry. But there aren’t enough series to accommodate everyone. Not to mention that only few l of them are prestigious .
And unfortunately for them, there is no guarantee that they will belong to the chosen ones. Many of them have vocational degree, but on the battlefield it doesn’t matter. Because pretty anyone can become a seiyuu and be successful.
For example, Yuu Kobayashi was a model, Suzuko Mimori a dancer and Maaya Sakamoto began her career when she was still a high school student.
So, what matters is not your training, but whether you suit the character. And for that, the seiyuus only have an audition of few minutes to convince the producers to choose you. This is the moment when you must give your all and convey feels. And with enough talent, you will be chosen.
But in front of you, you’ll have dozens of other people aiming for the same spot. Some of them are rookies like you, but many others are more experienced. You don’t stand a chance, unless your performance was exceptional. But even if it were, it wouldn’t change much.
Because beside to voice acting, seiyuus promote the anime they are in on radio shows and live events. The more their names are recognized, the easier it will be to attract their fans to the show.
One of the best examples is the Symphogear license, with its top cast. With that in mind, your chances of having a lead role are pretty slim. As a result, you’ll have to fall back on supporting roles or even “extras” roles.
The dreams of playing the character of your favorite manga still far away. And the more you move on, the more they move apart.
Your dreams is fading and so does the money in your bank account. Remember: seiyuus are paid per appearance. Which means you must have several recurring roles per season.
Otherwise things get complicated, as everything happens in Tokyo. And I think you all know it, living in Tokyo is expensive. And when you’ve made your debut, don’t count on your seiyuu activity to live.
According to the seiyuus themselves, only 10% of them manage to live on it. The remaining part rely on family or get a part-time job. If it can help at the beginning, this is not a long-term solution as long you will eventually run out of cash.
So many ends up giving up or if they don’t, they face very hard times. Some seiyuu shared their horror stories, like Aya Hirano who confessed that she was so poor that she was reduced to eating tissues for dinner.
Animes they love so much tell them to believe in their dreams and never give up. But at what cost ?
So yeah, being a seiyuu can pay off a lot. There is no lack of work between voice acting, dubbing, voice over and it is highly paid compared to others… Not to mention the recognition and personal achievement.
But the competition is very tough in the business. Places are scarce and only the best manages to succeed.
But unfortunately, having the best acting in the industry isn’t enough . The success of an anime does not depend only on the VA but on many other factors, which sometimes have nothing to do with animation. The anime can have a horrendous animation or go unnoticed for example.
So how do seiyuus manage to break through? It’s very simple: chance. By taking part in auditions and fail, they will end up having the role of their career which will lead them to other major roles. They surely got a real talent, but above all they were at the right place at the right time.