Back in 2010, a report popped up online that quoted data from a Japanese research company called Media Development Research Institute, which cited a figure of $145,000 (in 2010) to produce a single episode of a thirty minute anime.
What is often overlooked is that this figure represents production costs for a pre-existing series, but does not factor in everything else necessary to get that series started in the first place. There are a huge amount of set-up costs that come with creating and distributing a new series that is overlooked. For an ongoing series, the producers have already done the one-time costs of building assets and can cover the costs over the life of an entire season (or multiple seasons!), giving the illusion that a single episode costs a lot less to produce.
It takes more than a pile of lumber to build a house – you’ve got to plan it out and then bring in the right people to make it happen. Creating a pilot episode for a new series requires pre-production and design work for characters, backgrounds and mecha, building a new sound effects library, scoring new music, etc. On top of that, we have to factor in the cost of mastering and manufacturing DVDs/Blu-rays, digital distribution fees, Kickstarter fees, Amazon Payments fees, not to mention the cost of shipping all this great stuff to you. None of these costs factor into the MDRI figure since we’re looking at a very different type of distribution model.