BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Core Themes in Animated Film and Visual Culture of Postwar Japan

Course unit fact file
Unit code JAPA20132
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will introduce students to the most influential and canonical works of Japanese animation and several related live action films that can be closely connected to the evolution of the themes of animation. Students will explore core themes developing in and through animation: nationalism, race, and the recovery of postwar identity; mutant bodies and youth under pressure; the heroic ‘shojo’ (girl), technological interface and human evolution; apocalyptic visions; and environmentalism. Each week there will be full screenings of film or animation OVA (film length versions) followed by discussion of the film in relation to readings. The course begins with the early origins of postwar animation and ‘monster film’ in the 1950s and traces its development and expansion into a major media particularly from the 1980s to the 2000s. 


Available on: Japanese Studies programme


  • To provide students with an understanding of the key themes and genres of film and animation. 
  • To introduce the major concepts and aspects of the 21st century historical background necessary for a fuller understanding of contemporary culture in Japan. 
  • To enable students to analyse cultural problems and dynamics in contemporary Japan in an informed and critical way.
  • To prepare students with skills for independent source gathering in their year abroad and for more robust essay writing skills in the final year.


Film Week 1 Godzilla [live action] (1954) + Astro Boy (1963)

Lecture 1 Monsters, ghosts, recuperating folk lore and early postwar Japan

Film Week 2 Grave of the Fireflies  

Lecture 2 War, animated propaganda, perspective and ‘ballistic vision’  

Film Week 3 Space Battleship Yamato (Uchu Senkan Yamato 1977)  

Lecture 3 Science fiction heroes and reimagining Japan  

Film Week 4 Akira 1988.  

Lecture 4 Youth and alienation and war  

Screening Week 5 Tetsuo Iron Man [live action] (1989) + Tetsuo II

Lecture 5 Mutating bodies, industry and masculinity

Film Week 7 Revolutionary Girl Utena  

Lecture 6 Girls becoming heroines  

Film Week 7 Nausicaa (1984)

Lecture 7 Cyborg heroines challenging the boundaries of Humanity

Screening Week 8 Patlabor (1989)  

Lecture 8 Otaku-ism and Animation

Screening Week 9 Perfect Blue (1997)  

Lecture 9 Postmodern war, distance, loneliness and reality  

Screening Week 11 Evangelion (1995-2012) + Voices of a Distant Star (2003)

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and class discussion of the readings

Discussion of animation screened in relation to readings and lectures

Written feedback on team class presentation and mid-term essays

Oral feedback on contributions to seminars and assessment of written work

Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of the course the student will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of major trends and formations of animation and contemporary culture in Japan in the context of the postwar environment;
  • demonstrate critical understanding of key analytical concepts related to the study of animation and film in contemporary Japan; 
  • knowledge of several key genres and cultural themes within animation and overlapping into other media and social discussion.

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of the course the student will be able to:

  • engage in informed critical analysis of Japanese animation and film; 
  • read and watch critically; 
  • write analytically.

Practical skills

On successful completion of the course the student will be able to:

  • construct ideas and arguments from own research and apply knowledge to finding solutions to authentic real-world problems;
  • improve basic skills for academic writing, in particular reviewing academic literature;
  • improve presentation skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of the course the student will be able to:

  • have honed their skills for reasoned presentation, discussion and argument; 
  • be able to find and use critically a range of materials such as books, journals and web-based resources relevant to the topics studied in the course. Develop personal qualities of independence of mind in order to make ethical judgments;
  • have honed their skills for reasoned presentation, discussion and argument.

Employability skills

Project management: Students taking this unit will be learning to work towards deadlines, work independently and to manage their time effectively. Written communication: Students on this unit will develop their ability to communicate a coherent and critical argument of depth and complexity in written form and to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Assessment taskFormative or SummativeWeighting within unit 
Class presentation (in 2 or 3 person teams) Summative20% 

Weekly reading journal on BB discussion board 
Summative30 % 
Final essay Summative50 % 


Resit assessment:



Feedback methods

Feedback methodFormative or Summative
Written feedback on class presentationSummative and formative
Written moderator comments on discussion boardSummative
Written feedback essayFormative


Recommended reading

  1. Susan Napier (2001) Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Susan Napier (2018) Miyazakiworld

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sharon Kinsella Unit coordinator

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