Database for Animation Studies

10 References for Understanding the History of Japanese Animation

Nishimura, Tomohiro

My book, Nihon no animēshon wa ika ni shite seiritsu shita no ka (How Japanese Animation Was Created), covers a period of almost 100 years, starting with the Meiji era when foreign animation was first screened in Japan. I focus on animation located at peripheries and boundaries, and I examine how the concept of animation was created and developed in Japan. I wish to provide a list of books, perhaps arbitrarily, that, I believe, can be used as references in terms of the history of animation in Japan; I combined with my own book.

Imamura, Taihei. Manga eiga ron, Daiichi Genbunsha, 1941.

This exemplary work needs no introduction. Imamura, who approached manga films with an interest in film music, discusses animation from a unique perspective different from all other commentators’ at the time. Eiga geijutsu no keishiki (Forms of Film Art), from his first collection of critiques, is also important.

Nishimura, Tomohiro

Mr. Nishimura is a film and art critic. In 1990, he graduated as a member of the 13th class from the Image Forum-affiliated Video Research Center. In 1993, he won a prize at the 11th Art Criticism hosted by Bijutsu Shuppansha for his “Wōhoru/Eiga no minimarizumu” (Warhol/Minimalism in Film). His publications include: Nihon no animēshon wa ika ni shite seiritsu shita no ka (How Japanese Animation Was Created) (Shinwasha, 2018), Nihon geijutsu shashinshi: Ukiyo-e kara dejikame made (History of Japanese Art Photography: From Ukiyo-e to Digital Cameras) (Bigaku Shuppan, 2008), and the coauthored work Amerikan avangarudo mūvi (American Avant-Garde Movies) (Shinwasha, 2016). He is a member of the Japan Society of Image Arts and Sciences, AICA, Japan.


Before World War II, Taihei Imamura’s Manga Eigaron [A Study of Comics and Films] was the only literature on animation. In recent years, there is much literature to read. I recommend literature based on my impressions while reading them, rather than as general source materials. Other than those 10 books I chose, L. Martin’s Of Mice and Magic and Takuya Mori’s Teihon Animation no Gyagu Sekai [General Reader: World of gags in Animation] were two memorable literature sources. It might be presumptuous for me to recommend my coauthored book, Nihon Animation Eiga Shi [A History of Japanese Animation Films], but I am proud to say that the Library of Congress in the United States has purchased it.

Recently it has become easier to research animation history due to theavailability of prewar and wartime animation online. But even so, there has notyet been sufficient research into the several decades between the beginning ofdomestic animation in 1917 through the establishment of Toei Doga in 1956.This list focuses on the period before Toei Doga’s establishment and presentsmemoirs and critical biographies about animation producers, as well as booksthat offer clues for a deeper understanding of their work.

Initially I was thinking about “10 References That Shaped Japanese Animation Studies,” but I revised this list to references from early animation studies through the early 1980s. I’ve grouped the list into five parts: (1) Works in the early 1960s including translations that were the “classics” of their time; (2) Works in line with the legendary F&FF circle that are as a fundamental references for animation proper; (3) Experimental cinema, experimental animation, and original works; (4) Film history and animation history, and (5) Film and visual studies, which are fundamental to this area of research (+x are listed as titles only).

The fact that I’m compiling this list means that this list will have nothing to do with “academism.” That is to say, I picked books to understand “anime history” and not the history of animation, and I focused on commercial books that probably haven’t gotten much attention in academic circles. However, I excluded my own books, and I also deliberately left off some standard references. The list is in chronological order based on publication date.

The title states that this list is for “anime writers,” but my main objective is to present 11 books that will give you a quick grasp of production techniques and the history of so-called commercial anime (i.e. anime that gets major distribution via TV and movie theaters). I picked these publications as an introduction to the basics, and there are also many must-read pieces about specific titles that you can find in magazines and mook publications.