Anime Cels Are Becoming More Valuable Than Ever

Anime Cels Are Becoming More Valuable Than Ever
Mei and Satsuki wait at the bus stop in Studio Ghibli's My Neighbour Totoro. (Image: Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

Last month, Heritage Auctions sold $US2.1 ($3) million worth of anime art. The above My Neighbour Totoro cel, for example, drew 69 bids and ultimately went for $US84,000 ($107,738). According to Heritage, that’s 17 times the pre-auction estimate.

Another Totoro cel, featuring Mei, Satsuki, and the Catbus, reached $US72,000 ($92,347), which is almost 29 times the pre-auction estimate. You can see this cel below.

Mei and Satsuki with the Catbus in My Neighbour Totoro. (Image: Heritage Auctions, HA.com) Mei and Satsuki with the Catbus in My Neighbour Totoro. (Image: Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

At that same auction, there were also Akira cels that reached as high as $US78,000 ($100,043) and $US63,000 ($80,804).

But were those undervalued? Should those Heritage anime cels have commanded more?

Hitting the streets of Neo-Tokyo in Akira.  (Image: Heritage Auctions, HA.com) Hitting the streets of Neo-Tokyo in Akira. (Image: Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

Yesterday, an original animation cel from Studio Ghibli’s 1985 motion picture My Neighbour Totoro went for 26,400,000 yen ($US238,256 ($305,587)) in an online auction held by Mandrake, the famed Japanese anime and manga retailer.

That’s…a lot! Is it grossly overvalued? (You can see the cel right here.)

The 230 × 352mm cel features Totoro and Satsuki. Bidding started at 350,000 yen ($US3,159 ($4,052)), and the auction kicked off on June 15. After 286 bids, the auction drew to a close yesterday. There’s no word yet if the winner has paid for the prize.

As Matt Alt, translator and author of Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World, points out to Kotaku, “Not only is it lacking a background but the top sheet is stuck to the backing paper, as is common with old cels.”

“I believe this marks the highest an anime cel has ever sold for at auction, by a wide margin,” says Alt, adding that this is a watershed.

As Alt tells Kotaku, it’s more common to see desirable anime cels go for around $US20,000 ($25,652). But recently, that price point is starting to jump. Quite a bit.

“The funny thing is,” Alt adds, “this stuff was treated as literal industrial waste in Japan. It’s poisonous and highly flammable. Studios had to get rid of it.”

As noted on Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, it used to be hard for studios to dispose of the cels, and one studio was even forced to bury them in the backyard.

Can they go higher? A Mickey Mouse cel hit around half a million bucks, so yes, they can.

Part of the cels’ value is that they were used in iconic anime. Then, the cel needs to show a famous scene or a striking image. But their rarity — the fact they’re one individual frame, plus they might have been discarded — also makes them valuable. Unlike NFTs, in which rarity is artificial, here it’s not forced or faked. It’s real, with the value being the result of circumstances and not manipulation. And that, no doubt, will continue to make them even more pricey.

If you haven’t read Matt Alt’s Pure Invention, you should! Grab a copy right here.

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