Animation studio Doga Kobo — which means Video Factory — is turning 50 this year. You may know them from their most recent work, Oshi no Ko, the revenge play series set in the Japanese entertainment industry. Despite the studio’s long history, the past sixteen years have been their brightest. What has Doga Kobo been doing all this time? What makes them the king of co-productions?
Doga Kobo Begins
Iku (Megumu) Ishiguro and Hideo Furusawa founded Doga Kobo on July 11, 1973. Both men were Toei Animation alums. Ishiguro is best known as the director of Shigeru Mizuki’s Tono Monogatari. Furusawa was both a manga artist and an animator. His most interesting animation credit was as the character designer for Magic Boy (Shōnen Sarutobi Sasuke), the first anime film shown in U.S. theaters. After Doga Kobo’s founding, Ishiguro became president while Furusawa became a mentor and figurehead until his death in 1991.
King of Co-Productions
Under Furusawa and Ishiguro, Doga Kobo became a co-production powerhouse for thirty-four years. Altogether, the studio has done over 120 co-productions between TV and movies. The 2000s were especially good for them because they contributed to many hit series, including High School of the Dead. The series follows five teens and their absurdly hot school nurse as they try to survive a zombie apocalypse. The B-Movie flavor coupled with fanservice adds to its zombie-killing charm. On the movie front, Doga Kobo partnered with Studio Ghibli many times. Ten times, in fact, if you count Nausicaa. Everyone has their favorite Ghibli film or films because you can’t love just one. My top favorite is The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Isao Takahata’s last masterpiece is beautiful in its simplicity. The watercolor-styled animation gives the film both whimsy and depth. It’s like a living tapestry. The story is about Kaguya, a young woman born from a bamboo stalk who yearns to live freely despite her duty and standing.
Doing It Their Way
In 2007, Doga Kobo reduced their co-production work and started producing anime themselves. Many of their works fall into the yuri and slice-of-life genres. Their first title was an adaptation of the visual novel Myself; Yourself. It wouldn’t be until a year later that the studio would find a hit with Koihime Musō, the fanservice comedy based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This series would spawn two sequels.
Their most popular yuri title is YuruYuri. The fast-paced comedy is about four girls enjoying middle school to its fullest. If you like wacky comedies with a dash of yuri and a perverted older sister, then this is your show. After I saw her bedroom, I was hooked.
Himouto! Umaru-chan is YuruYuri’s slice-of-life rival. The series is about Umaru, a popular student by day and hamster-hooded otaku by night, as she makes friends and balances her personas. I enjoy the quick change between her regular and chibi forms.
As far as original work goes, Doga Kobo has three original series with a fourth, Jellyfish Can’t Swim in the Night, coming next year. Before their next original, Doga’s adaptation of Saint Cecilia and Pastor Lawrence premiers this July.
My favorite Doga Kobo series is RPG Real Estate. It may drop to number two after Oshi no Ko finishes. RPG Real Estate follows the misadventures of Kotone and her coworkers as they sell homes in a fantasy world. It’s a cute and fresh take on the fantasy genre. The adorable dragon girl, Fa, is my favorite with her talent for scene stealing and stripping. This show has a lot to offer whether you’re a fan of yuri, fanservice, or House Hunters.
Doga Kobo has no shortage of talented directors like RPG Real Estate’s Koshida Tomoaki. Most have worked on multiple shows for the studio. Masahiko Ohta has the most with six, while Daisuke Hiramaki stands at two. Among Ohta’s works are YuruYuri and Himouto! Umaru-chan. Daisuke Hiramaki is the director of Oshi no Ko, this season’s standout, but he directed another idol series called Selection Project. Selection Project is an idol reality series where nine girls compete for a contract. I don’t normally watch idol anime, but this series sucked me in. It has cute girls, catchy songs, good CG, and an engrossing story. It’s not as dark as Oshi no Ko, but it is deep. The main character Suzune and her rival Rena are both affected by the life and death of the idol Akari Amasawa. This drives them in their dreams to become idols. Hiramaki is on his way to becoming a top talent for Doga Kobo if he keeps up this high-quality work.
High-Quality Doga Kobo
Doga Kobo was the co-production king in the anime industry for 34 years. The studio now makes a name for itself, creating yuri and slice-of-life shows, yet finds success in other genres too. This comes down to their belief in high quality, which they received from the founder, Hideo Furusawa. To this day, the company works to keep his vision alive while training the next generation. In the end, Doga Kobo has the experience of its contemporaries like Toei and Madhouse, but focuses on creating fan favorites that stand the test of time.
If you love Oshi no Ko and are smitten with Ai Hoshino, check out her figure in the J-List store.