Ema is the first Shirobako character to worry not only about keeping her job, but also getting by even if she has one. Some exact numbers help put things into perspective.
The above graph combines survey data on average yearly salaries of various occupations in the anime industry. From left to right:
Animators 1 100 000 yen (92 000 yen/month)
University students 2 000 000 yen (166 000 yen/month)
Freeters* 2 180 000 yen (182 000 yen/month)
Assistant Producers 2 280 000 yen (190 000 yen/month)
CG Staff 2 610 000 yen (217 500 yen/month)
Directors (Effects) 3 330 000 yen (277 500 yen/month)
Directors/Storyboarders 4 950 000 yen (412 500 yen/month)
Animation Directors 5 130 000 yen (427 500 yen/month)
Producers 7 540 000 yen (628 000 yen/month)
Superstar Seiyuu 70 000 000 yen (5 833 000 yen/month)
*Freeters – people living from part-time jobs. Replaces “Novice Seiyuu” in this chart, since beginners in the seiyuu trade get very little job offers and initially mostly rely on a “secondary occupation”. University students also tend to live from part-time jobs, which is probably why there is little difference in the average incomes of the two groups.
Now, almost every major animation studio operates in Tokyo, which just happens to be known as the most expensive city in the world. Average rent for a one room apartment hangs at around 60 000 yen a month, and if you happen to eat food like any other mortal being, you will need another 30 000 yen for that.
Whoops, there goes an animator’s salary. That is, provided they do not own a cell phone, always wear the same clothes and commute to work on foot or by bike (this is where Ema’s bicycle comes in).
I think it is important to see how an animator’s work will often add up to nothing to understand where Ema is coming from. After a month of effort, you are either back to square one or in the red, and nothing seems about to change. So you either get really good really fast, try to break through to a more humane (and lucrative) position or just give up.
A large part of an animator’s salary is made up of a per-page bonus, so the more pages you can churn out a day the better off you are. I can see why you would try cutting down on precision work to increase speed. But of course desperate measures tend not to work out in real life (and this anime).
I wonder how Shirobako intends to answer this dilemma next week. Young animators getting worked down to the ground and burning out is a real problem with no obvious solution in sight. Ema seems to be a promising talent, and so she might get over her personal crisis just by grinding her teeth and waiting patiently for her five minutes. But on a larger scale, it is a discomfiting thought that the series we enjoy are built upon so harsh a foundation.