One of the joys of being an anime fan is learning which animation studios create works that resonate with us the best. Are you a card-carrying Kyoani fanboy/fangirl, devouring every new work they release? Do you obsess over every new offering from Studio Trigger, Madhouse, or J.C. Staff? Let’s explore the history of Japan’s amazing animation studios and try to pick Japan’s best anime studio!
What’s The Best Anime Studio in Japan? Let’s Find Out!
Anime wouldn’t be possible without the hardworking staff at anime studios. There’s always a lot going on behind the scenes. Often, whole episodes are farmed out to smaller studios due to time constraints, and all modern anime are co-created by studios in South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and increasingly, India. Let’s look at the history of each major animation studio!
The company that pretty much-owned anime from 2005-2019, making all the shows that anime fans were talking about. It was founded in 1985 by Yoko Hatta, who trained as an animator with Mushi Productions, the legendary studio founded by Tezuka Osamu which went bankrupt in 1973. She moved to Uji, located between Kyoto and Nara, and opened an animation school at the request of housewives in the area who wanted to learn how to paint animation cels. After years of contract work for other studios, Kyoto Animation created their first 100% in-house work with 2005’s Air, starting the golden age of Key-Kyoani works derived from eroge. The company suffered a horrible arson attack in 2019.
A studio with a 50+ years history, Madhouse was started in 1972 as a subsidiary of the Nippon TV network corporation. After successfully animating Card Captor Sakura, they kept getting increasingly famous in the industry. All of Satoshi Kon’s well-regarded films were animated by Madhouse.
What did I learn drinking with an actual anime producer? Read this blog post!
Studio Trigger / Khara
Gainax was one of the most influential studios during my life as an anime fan, but sometimes good things don’t last. Eventually, the core creative staff left the company. Hideaki Anno created Khara in 2006 for his Evangelion remake films and other amazing creative works, and Hiroyuki Imiishi and Masahiko Otsuka formed Studio Trigger in 2011. The origin of the company’s name is, “If the creative work is a bullet, we want to be the trigger that launches it.”
Toei Animation, Japan’s Oldest Animation Studio
If there’s one studio most responsible for you being an anime fan today, it’s got to be Toei Animation. Like Tatsunoko, the studio that brought us everything from Speed Racer to Macross, Toei animated some of the most legendary series over the decades, including Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Slam Dunk.
Studio Ghibli, the Anime Studio of Our Youth
Another highly influential animation studio from Japan, Ghibli was founded in 1985 by animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and former Animage editor Toshio Suzuki after Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind proved that big-budget anime films could be profitable. The company made many beloved hit films which helped drive the popularity of anime internationally.
What are the top films made by Hayao Miyazaki? Read our blog post here!
The legendary animation studio is responsible for many popular works, including Mobile Suit Gundam, Planetes, Code Geass, and Inuyasha. Founded in 1972 by former Mushi Productions staff when that studio went bankrupt, Sunrise did generic robot anime series before hitting it big with Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979. In 1994, Sunrise merged with the Namco Bandai company.
SHAFT, Because Let’s Remake Monogatari Forever
Another famous anime studio is SHAFT, a company founded in 1975 by former Mushi Productions staff (surprise!), mostly doing contract work in their early decades. The SHAFT brand exploded onto the scene with 2009’s Bakemonogatari, making many other popular titles. The company is famous for its trademark “SHAFT head tilt.”
An abbreviation of Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association, MAPPA has been a force in the industry since being founded by Masao Maruyama after he retired from Madhouse at the age of 70. I hope I’m still founding new companies when I get to be that old.
Another animation studio fans around the world love, Production I.G. was formed in 1987 as a home for experienced animation staff from Tatsunoko Pro, and the company’s name comes from its first president and vice president (Ishikawa and Goto). The company organizes its internal divisions into “sections” as an homage to Public Security Section 9 from Ghost in the Shell. Their subsidiary Wit Studio also has many amazing works, namely Attack on Titan.
Founded by former employees of Sunrise, Bones is famous for works like Fullmetal Alchemist, My Hero Academia, and Gosick.
When former Tatsunoko Pro employee Kenji Horikawa needed to return to his hometown in rural Toyama Prefecture for family reasons, he tried to find work at a local animation production work. Still, there were none… so he founded his own studio. The company’s name means “Progressive Animation Works.”
A-1 Pictures, Sony’s Plan for the Future
Whenever Sony (“Playstation? We don’t need no stinking PlayStation”) buys up another foreign anime-related company, fans worry that the company might bring its misguided censorship of Playstation games to the anime world. I smile and remind them that Sony (through Aniplex and A-1 Pictures) has been an anime player for decades. They even animated Asuna’s bath scene!
Another member of the Sony Group is CloverWorks, founded in 2018 with former staff of A-1 Pictures who worked in a separate studio. They’ve made some amazing hits, including Akebi’s Sailor Suit.
The anime studio famous for such works as Steins;Gate, Re:Zero, and Is The Order a Rabbit?, White Fox was established in 2007 by staff who had worked on the original Utawarerumono.
Founded in 1987 by former Tatsunoko Pro staff, this is another company that slowly graduated from doing contract animation work to building its brand with fans through such works as Toradora, Index, and Railgun. Their company name means “Japan Creative Staff.”
A subsidiary of Fuji TV, the company was founded in 2007 by a former producer at Gonzo. They’re known as “that one studio that makes Jojo,” but have made other great works, including Cells at Work and the new Urusei Yatsura.
Finally, the company is principally known for animating high-budget Fate/stay night-derived works, Ufotable. They were founded in 2000 by former Tokyo Movie Shinsha staff.
Thanks for reading this blog post exploring the history of Japan’s animation studios! Which company’s work are you a fan of? Post your comments below, or talk with us on Twitter!
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