Being an Animator in Japan Is Brutal


Animator Henry Thurlow hails from New York. Now, he’s in Tokyo, working as an animator for Studio Pierrot. Sounds like something you might want to do, no? Before you make the plunge for yourself, read this.

After sending off his resume and getting rejection after rejection for several years, he finally got hired by a smaller studio, which he then parlayed into a gig at Studio Pierrot.

Thurlow has worked on Akatsuki no Yona, Tokyo Ghoul, and The Last-Naruto—all three are impressive titles many animators would love to have on their resumes. Surely, he must be living the dream! Artistically, yes, he is.

[GIF via Henry Thurlow]

As noted on Buzzfeed, Thurlow did a Reddit AMA about what it’s like working in the anime industry. In short, it sounds rough. This is not a business for those lacking talent and tremendous drive. You can see some of his answers directly from the AMA below:

Where are most of the anime studios located?
Most of the anime studios in Japan are located in West Tokyo… Thats a big reason why the studios can/do all help each other out. Everyone is constantly running scenes to and from other studios because theyre all right down the street.


Did you know Japanese before you came to Japan?
When I came to Japan I knew very little Japanese … and that was one (of many) reason why I couldnt enter the anime industry right away. it took years, and was certainly not easy. Even now Im not fluent, but good enough to at least interview and work in an all-Japanese environment.

[GIF via Henry Thurlow]


Was the move difficult?
Getting directly to Japan as an animator would be very difficult. I came to Japan first as an English teacher, learned the language a bit, and then apply for anime studios after being here a couple years. Thats probably the best way to to it in my opinion. During that time as an English teacher you can also nice and slowly get used to the cultural differences and get used to the subway system etc. It doesn`t take too long to get used to everything to be honest (at least that was my experience) … half a year maybe … and then “getting around” and stuff like that is no problem.


Is it true the pay is awful?
The pay/hours change depending on who you are and what your job is. The best position (which only the best of the best can manage) is “freelance genga-man aka freelance key-frame animator” … you can demand your own prices and actually take time off after project if you want. For everyone else (and definitely for inbetween artists like me), its as bad as the rumors. I worked at a slave-labor-inbetween-studio called “nakamura pro” for 8 months before moving onto Pierrot which is where I am now. At Nakamura pro we were paid $1 per drawing, meaning you earned between $5 and $25 a day. At Pierrot it`s way better… but still pretty bad. 1 drawing = $2-$4 …. so on any given day I can earn about $40. (HORRIBLE by anyone’s standards…. but, if you want to work on cool anime, there’s not much choice.)

…Each month at Pierrot I earn about $1000. …… each month at my previous “slave-labor” studio, I earned about $300 a month…


[GIF via Henry Thurlow]


Are anime studios opposed to hiring foreigners?
Most of these studios have never even had a single foreigner work for them in the past, so less then being “opposed to foreigners” … I think they just assume “hey wait, if we hire a foreigner wont we have to worry about language barriers, and supporting their visa, etc …. seems like a hassle. lets not even have them in for an interview in the first place.”

Thurlow says the anime industry is “a particularly harsh industry, even by Japanese standards.” People, he explains, are overworked to the point that they vomit, and crunch time is brutal. The less-busy periods are six-day work weeks, ten hours a day.

But, as he tells Buzzfeed, “When I was working as an animator in New York I could afford an apartment, buy stuff, and had time to ‘live a life.'” But creatively, he was not happy with what he was working on. “Now everything about my life is utterly horrible, however the artist in me is completely satisfied.”

Check out more of Thurlow’s work on this Tumblr or follow him on Twitter. Just think long and hard before you follow his path to Japan.

Top GIF via Henry Thurlow

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.

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