Netflix has also gotten involved, announcing this month that it will team up with WIT Studio to provide financial support and training to young animators working on content for the studio. Under the program, 10 animators will receive around $1,400 a month for six months.
But many of the smaller studios are barely scraping by and don’t have much room to increase wages, Mr. Chou said. “It’s a very low-margin business,” he said. “It’s a very labor-intensive business.” He added that the studios “that manage to adapt are the big ones, the ones that are public.”
Not all studios pay such low wages: Kyoto Animation, the studio that an arsonist attacked in 2019, is known for eschewing freelancers in favor of salaried employees, for example.
But those studios remain outliers. If something is not done soon, Mr. Sugawara believes, the industry may one day collapse, as promising young talent drops out to pursue work that can provide a better life.
That was the case for Ryosuke Hirakimoto, who decided to quit the industry after his first child was born. Working in anime had been his lifelong dream, he said, but even after years in the business, he never made more than $38 a day.
“I started to wonder if this lifestyle was enough,” he said during a video call.
Now he works at a nursing home, part of an industry where the high demand for workers in a rapidly aging society is rewarded with better pay.
“A lot of people just felt that there was value in being able to work on anime that they loved,” Mr. Hirakimoto said. “No matter how little they got paid, they were willing to do the work.”
Looking back at his departure, he said, “I don’t regret the decision at all.”