If you are a fan of anime, you’ve probably seen at least one anime series by Toei Animation. Maybe you’re a fan of action-packed shonen series, such as Dragon Ball, One Piece or GeGeGe no Kitaro. Or perhaps you prefer magical girl shows like Sailor Moon, Magical DoReMi, or PreCure. Maybe you like oddball TV shows like Bobobo-bo-bo-bobo or Kinnikuman. Maybe you’re a fan of Leiji Matsumoto and his creations, such as Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999.
All of these and more have been animated by Toei Animation. For several decades, Toei Animation has been a major force in the world of anime, cranking out big, popular and often kid-friendly hits year after year.
A Little Showa-era History
The company now known as Toei Animation wasn’t always an animation giant. It wasn’t even always Toei. It was originally known as Japan Animated Films (also known as Nihon Doga Eiga, or Nichido Eiga). Nihon Doga Eiga was founded by animators Kenzo Masaoka and Zenjiro ‘Sanae’ Yamamoto in 1948. Although he co-founded one of the biggest names in Japanese animation history, Masaoka’s animation is not well-known today, except perhaps to anime historians. Some of that could be attributed to historical bad luck. He did much of his black-and-white animation work during the 1930s and 1940s, a period stained by Japan’s involvement in World War II.
After the war, he suffered from poor eyesight and had to retire from animating. However, his eyesight improved, and he went on to teach others about the craft of animation. Yamamoto is also not well-known to many anime fans. Like Masaoka, he did a lot of his early work before the war. However, he remained actively involved in animation longer than Masaoka.
Toei Company purchased Nihon Doga Eiga in 1956, and renamed it Toei Doga, or Toei Animation. Separate from their animation division, Toei Company is best known for its many live-action tokusatsu TV shows, including Kamen Rider and Super Sentai (i.e. Power Rangers). They are also responsible for two live-action films which became Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, Prince of Space and Invasion of the Neptune Men.
Toei Animation’s first TV anime series was Okami Shonen Ken, a.k.a. Wolf Boy Ken or Ken the Wolf Boy (1963). It’s a shonen story about a wild boy living in the jungle. It’s not based on The Jungle Book or Tarzan, but it is similar.
Toei’s next few shows would be considered shonen shows, or at least shows aimed at children. Generally speaking, these shows aren’t well-known outside of Japan, and aren’t particularly famous even in Japan. They weren’t translated into English and never reached international audiences. They haven’t been remade or gotten fresh new versions.
However, some of these are worth mentioning because they feature familiar themes which echo current series — Fujimaru of the Wind, a ninja show; Jun the Space Patrol Hopper, a space adventure story; and Kaizoku Oji, or Pirate Prince (not a prequel to One Piece). Hustle Punch was a cartoony talking-animal series which seems more similar to Hanna-Barbera cartoons than any anime series.
Rainbow Sentai Robin (1965) deserves a spot of honor in history as the first anime series to have a five-person superhero team.
Magical Girl Series
Toei also played a huge role in the invention of the magical girl genre. In 1966, they animated Sally the Witch, a.k.a. Sunny the Witch or Mahotsukai Sari, which is generally considered to be the first true magical girl anime series ever.
Technically, it was the second magical girl, or maho shojo, series, since the manga version of Himitsu no Akko-chan came out first. Fortunately, Toei created the anime adaptations of both Sally the Witch and Himitsu no Akko-chan (1969), so it’s just a question of which you prefer.
Between the two of them, Sally and Akko-chan originated a lot of magical girl concepts which will be repeated later. Sally is a witch, and the princess of a magical kingdom. She uses magic to fight. She tries to keep her magic identity a secret.
Akko-chan is given a magic mirror, an early example of a magic trinket (compact, wand, etc.) being given to a girl. She can transform. Her transformation is a bit different from the usual magical girl, because she can transform into anything or anyone she wants — as opposed to having just one transformation. But there’s still a sparkly transformation sequence.
These two magical girl shows would be followed by Maho no Mako-chan (1970); Mahou Tsukai Chappy (1972); Miracle Girl Limit-chan (1973); Cutey Honey (1973); Majokko Megu-chan (1974); Hana no Ko Lunlun (1979); Maho Shojo Lalabel (1980); and a new Himitsu no Akko-chan series (1988).
Toei’s magical girl series got a big boost with Sailor Moon (1992), which was followed by four sequel series, plus the reboot series Sailor Moon Crystal. If a non-anime fan knows about any magical girl series, it’s probably this one, with Usagi’s distinctive “meatball head” and sailor skirt outfit.
Since Sailor Moon came out, other Toei magical girl series have included Cutie Honey Flash (1997); Mamotte Shugogetten (1998); Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne (1999); Ojamajo Doremi (1999); and Futari wa Pretty Cure (2004) and its many sequel series.
Naturally, an anime company which has been around for more than 60 years would have a lot of long-running or often-rebooted series.
Monkey D. Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates have been searching for treasure and adventure for 20 years. There have been 929 One Piece episodes.
The Pretty Cure (PreCure) franchise is tricky to add up, because it’s not always the same magical girls in the same universe in every series.
There have been 15 generations of PreCure, and each generation has its own separate team — although older girls will sometimes cameo in the new season. At least 60 teenage PreCure girls have fought evil. Add them all up and you have 792 episodes.
GeGeGe no Kitaro made his first ghostly appearance in 1968; returned in 1971; again in 1985; fourth in 1996; fifth in 2007; and the current series is the sixth.
Dragon Ball started in 1986, and they keep coming up with new ways to continue the story. The original series had 153 episodes, and when you add in Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Super, it comes to 639 episodes. It will likely still be continuing when the sun burns out.
Speaking of Akira Toriyama, Dr. Slump deserves more love. This silly series is fun, but it can be hard to find online. It has 317 episodes split between two different versions.
Go Nagai and Toei
Toei has also adapted several Go Nagai manga series into anime TV shows. The first of these was Devilman (1972). The giant robot shows Mazinger Z (1972) and Great Mazinger (1974) soon followed. UFO Robot Grendizer (1975) is also part of the Mazinger franchise.
Dororon Enma-kun (1973) was a unique horror comedy featuring a hot-headed yokai hunter.
Cutie Honey, or Cutey Honey, was Go Nagai’s take on the magical girl genre. Cutey Honey (1973) and Cutie Honey Flash (1997) were Toei productions; Re: Cutie Honey (2004) was a Gainax/ Toei co-production. New Cutey Honey (1994) and Cutie Honey Universe (2018) were produced by other studios.
The Getter Robo franchise was created by Nagai with Ken Ishikawa. Steel Jeeg was created by Nagai and Tatsuya Yasuda.
Nagai would attempt the magical girl format again with Majokko Tickle (1978). Toei was the production company, but animation was done by Nippon Sunrise, Neomedia and Kaze Pro.
Gaiking (Divine Demon-Dragon Gaiking) was another Go Nagai giant robot anime series. However, Toei left his name off the credits and gave the credit to other writers. According to reports, they wanted to avoid paying him royalties, and Nagai sued Toei as a result.
Puss in Boots
Toei Animation’s current logo mascot, seen at the beginning of many Toei shows, is a cat named Pero. Pero is not just some random cat.
Pero is better known as Puss ‘n Boots. He is the hero of a Toei animated film from 1969. Nagagutsu o Haita Neko, or The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots, is loosely based on the story by Charles Perrault, with some Three Muskateers elements added in.
The film is sometimes mentioned as an early Hayao Miyazaki film — before he started doing his own films or founded Studio Ghibli. He was a key animator on the film, but his name is far down in the credits. Miyazaki did create a manga to tie-in with the film.
The film had a pair of sequels — Nagagutsu Sanjushi, or Cavalier-Booted Three Musketeers; and Puss ‘n Boots Travels Around the World, a.k.a Puss ‘n Boots: Around the World in 80 Days. Strangely enough, the Three Musketeers film is set in the Old West, not France.
Even if you are not a fan of anime, you may have seen Toei’s animation elsewhere outside of Japan.
They helped Hasbro with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1983), My Little Pony (1984), The Transformers (1984) and Jem (1985). Sorry bronies, but they didn’t provide animation for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
They also provided animation for many other cartoons, including Inspector Gadget, Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Turbo Teen, the Jetsons, the Smurfs, and most recently, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir.
You can see the Japanese influence in some of these shows. Jem featured a very magical girl-esque premise — a pop-music heroine who used holograms (instead of magic) to quickly change identities. Meanwhile, The Transformers was based on Takara’s giant robot toy franchise. Inspector Gadget might have started out as a spin-off of Lupin III, and the series has some 1980s anime-esque touches.