As one of the first Japanese animation studios, and the oldest still in operation, Toei Animation has been a driving force for nearly as long as anime as an industry has existed. This influential studio has been behind many iconic, genre-defining productions and continues to create some of the most recognizable and popular franchises to this day. In this article, we'll be going over the studio's many milestones; from its creation to the modern day, highlighting productions of historical importance, key members of the studio, and its continuing impact on anime today.
ORIGIN – HOW TOEI ANIMATION BECAME TOEI
In January of 1948, pioneering Japanese animators Kenzo Masaoka and Zenjiro Yamamoto founded Nihon Douga Eiga (“Japan Animated Films”). Masaoka and Yamamoto had already been making anime since the 1930's and were extremely influential in the development of the industry, Masaoka in particular. He is credited with creating the first Japanese animation using cels (Chagama Ondo, 1931) and recorded sound (Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka, 1933) and is sometimes called the “Japanese Disney” or “Japanese Méliès” because of his importance in the early history of anime.
Following a name change to Nichido Eiga-sha in 1952, it was bought by the Toei Company, one of the “Big Four” Japanese film studios, in 1956. This marks the start of its modern incarnation, which was named Toei Doga Co., Ltd. While the studio used the name Toei Animation for overseas business, the official Japanese name wouldn't be changed to match it until 1998 which is what it remains today. The majority of the business is still owned by the Toei Company, with the other major shareholders being TV Asahi and Fuji TV. Toei Animation is currently led by chairman Kozo Morishita and president Katsuhiro Takagi and is located in Nerima, Tokyo. Toei's iconic logo and mascot is Pero the cat, taken from their 1969 adaptation of the story of Puss in Boots, Nagagutsu o Haita Neko.
SHAPING HISTORY – INDUSTRY FIRSTS & GENRE-MAKING
A lot of early animation in Japan was heavily influenced by Western works, in particular, Disney. Trying to emulate the style and quality of Disney animated feature films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Toei produced Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent) in 1958. Hakujaden was the first color anime feature film ever and also the second anime ever officially released in American theaters (the first being Toei's own Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke, aka Magic Boy, from 1959 which was shown one month before Hakujaden in 1961 despite being created later). The studio has gone on to release at least one animated feature film every year since.
TV anime, however, would become (and remain) the bulk of Toei's production and what made the studio world-famous. Starting in the mid 60s, Toei began creating TV anime adaptations of popular manga such as the GeGeGe no Kitaro, Cyborg 009, and the first ever magical girl anime, Mahoutsukai Sally (Sally the Witch). The studio's output would increase significantly in the 70s, when they would be responsible for many Go Nagai adaptations like Cutie Honey, Devilman, Mazinger Z, and Getter Robo, the later two setting the standard for Super Robot anime going forward. Toei would also create anime versions of Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 by Leiji Matsumoto, which were very important works in establishing the space opera genre that exploded in the 1970s and 80s.
BIG IN JAPAN & AMERICA – TOEI GOES SUPER SAIYAN
Toei continued to grow into the 80s, partially due to an increase in foreign investment in the form of commission work, mostly from America. Toei provided the animation for several classic series including Voltron (which was actually a mix of episodes from Toei's Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV that were edited, combined, and rewritten to create a “new” series), Transformers, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Jem, and many more. This would start to slow down in the late 80s but Toei still has a presence in foreign co-productions such as their work on Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir from 2015.
The late 80s and 90s was when anime was starting to become a massive global phenomenon, in no small part thanks to Toei Animation. Toei would be the studio to animate Akira Toriyama's extremely popular manga series Dragon Ball starting in 1986, and would continue with Dragon Ball Z in 1989 along with numerous movies in between and after, Dragon Ball GT in '96, and Dragon Ball Super in 2015, which just finished airing this year. Needless to say, Dragon Ball is one of the largest and most popular anime franchises of all time, and an important part of anime's recognition outside of Japan through its broadcast on television blocks like Toonami.
Toei's mark on anime in the 90s goes far beyond Dragon Ball, however, as the studio would also be behind the iconic and hugely popular Sailor Moon series, classic basketball series Slam Dunk, the Digimon anime, and, perhaps most notably, One Piece, which Toei has been making since 1999. One Piece continues to this day, currently nearing 850 episodes, and is one of the best-loved, most recognizable, and longest-running series ever in anime.
Some other anime worth mentioning from Toei include Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac), Pretty Cure, Mononoke, Tiger Mask, World Trigger, Air Gear, and Kyousougiga.
GATEWAY TO GREATNESS – FAMOUS STARTS AT TOEI
Toei Animation, as one of the first studios, was a starting point for many legendary animators that would go on to found their own companies after their work with Toei; and when we say legendary, we mean it! None other than the “father of manga” himself, Osamu Tezuka, (of Astro Boy, Kimba The White Lion, and Princess Knight fame), first began working on anime at Toei. His work there inspired him to found his own rival studio, Mushi Production, in 1961 after his contract with Toei expired. Tezuka and his new studio would pioneer many techniques to push the industry forward.
Similar giants of the industry, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, would also start their careers at Toei as an in-between artist and assistant director respectively. The two worked together on films such as Gulliver's Space Travels (Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon), Wanwan Chushingura (Doggie March), and Takahata's directorial debut, Taiyo no Oji Horusu no Daibouken (The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun). After leaving Toei and working at several other studios, the two would be part of the purchase of the remnants of Topcraft (the studio that produced Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) in 1985 after it declared bankruptcy. The company was renamed Studio Ghibli, which you have probably heard of.
THE FUTURE OF TOEI & FINAL THOUGHTS
In terms of future projects, as far as what's been announced, Toei is mainly focusing on supplemental works for established series with a Dragon Ball Super movie set to release this December, a One Piece special titled One Piece: Episode of Sorajima coming in August, and an anime adaptation of the Saint Seiya: Saintia Shou manga set for release in 2019. The studio has also announced a new kids series called Bakutsuri Bar Hunter in collaboration with Bandai and Shogakukan and, presumably, will continue making One Piece episodes until the world's end.
As a studio, Toei Animation has had an immense impact on anime since the early days of its existence and continues to be a powerhouse in the industry thanks to its famous ongoing/revamped franchises and sheer amount of output. While sometimes criticized over animation quality and the length (and/or filler) of some of its series, Toei nevertheless remains respectable as a creator. In bold display of longevity, the studio has produced a new GeGeGe no Kitarou series this year in celebration of 50th anniversary of their original anime adaptation from 1968, and Toei is still creating new stories as well, like Kyousou Giga (Kyousougiga), World Trigger, and Seikaisuru Kado (KADO: The Right Answer).
We at Honey's wish Toei the best of luck with their future endeavours, we're thankful for everything that you've done to make anime what it is today and your continuing work in bringing some of our favorite stories to life. Thank you! For our readers, we hope that you've learned something about the history of Toei and about anime itself. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite Toei series is or if you have anything else you'd like to share about the studio. Sayonara!