Movie Count: 64
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I’ve spent more time than I care to think about watching anime movies in my life thus far. I’ve seen both astoundingly spectacular and horrifically terrible anime movies. I’m giving you the full benefit of my anime experiences in the form of this list of mini-reviews. You’ll find the best (and only the best) anime movies in existence organized below according to studio, director and release date.
To ease the navigation of this guide, here are some anchor links to take you straight to the individual studios:
Studio Ghibli | Studio Madhouse | Katsuhiro Otomo | Production I.G. | Makoto Shinkai
Shinji Aramaki | Fumihiko Sori | Keiichi Hara | A-1 | Tin House | Studio 4°C | Bones | Brain’s Base
Gainax | Shaft | AIT | Square Enix
Studio Ghibli was officially formed in 1985. Before that time many of the writers, directors, producers and animators that would come to form Studio Ghibli worked together on several anime movies. These movies have much of the charm of Studio Ghibli features and are in many cases now also owned and distributed by Studio Ghibli. Despite their age these movies are of excellent quality, even by today’s high standards, and are by all means worth a watch.
Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro (ルパン三世 カリオストロの城)
A random anime-series film that just so happens to have been co-written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. As such, this movie contains far less crudeness and nudity than your average Lupin III fare. This movie also happens to be the general favourite in the anime out of the 5 Lupin III movies. This movie follows Lupin III, a famed thief descended from Arsène Lupin, and his sidekick Daisuke Jigen as they escape from a high-profile robbery of a national casino called Monaco. Discovering that their loot is counterfeit, they go in search of the source of these perfect “goat bills” which leads them to the Castle of Cagliostro featuring both a princess and a huge hidden secret. Good times to be had by all, and a more decent story than is usually found in most non-canonical anime movies.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Kaze no tani no Naushika (風の谷のナウシカ)
Now considered Ghibli’s first full-length movie even though it was released a year before the official formation of the Studio, Nausicaa has aged a lot better than most of the other animes from that time. The art, music, and story-line of this anime were all way ahead of its time. The story revolves around the princess Nausicaa and how she gives her absolute all to save those around her from both the aggressive foliage/fungi surrounding them, the neighbouring countries, and the impending threat of stampeding giant insects. One of the best sci-fi animes ever made, and certainly a must for any anime watcher. You’ll be able to see why this put Ghibli in its formative years on the anime world’s map.
Gauche the Cellist (1982)
Sero Hiki no Goushu (セロ弾きのゴーシュ)
A Pre-Ghibli film with a good measure more heart than most of Takahata’s actual Ghibli movies. A cute if somewhat sedate movie about Gauche who is a cellist with a local orchestra and how he learns different important cello lessons from random talking animals that visit him every night including a tanuki, a cuckoo, a cat, and a pair of mice to prepare him for an upcoming concert. It’s pretty cute and recommended for both adults and children. Good to watch on a rainy day.
Studio Ghibli – (Hayao Miyazaki/Isao Takahata/Goro Miyazaki)
Ghibli is commonly known as the “Disney of Japan” and is certainly one of the largest anime studios in existence. Most of their movies are great for both adults and kids, the ones that aren’t are noted within their respective reviews.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta (天空の城ラピュタ)
The art direction is this movie is superb, it really brings the Castle in the Sky straight out of Gulliver’s Travels and onto the movie screen. The bittersweet robots that inhabit and protect the garden may even end up being some of your favourite anime characters, not because they are amusing, but because of the care and dedication that they exude whenever you see them. Laputa revolves around a boy named Pazu and the girl that floats unceremoniously down from the sky into his life, Sheeta, and how they save Laputa and the world from corruption. An all-around solid anime movie with classic Ghibli humour and spirit, definitely recommended.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Tonari no Totoro (となりのトトロ)
Arguably the most well-known anime movie ever made, My Neighbor Totoro follows the exploits of two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, and how they learn to cope with their mother being constantly in the hospital through the loving help and guidance of mystical (and fuzzy!) forest spirits, the Totoro (the word Totoro usually just refers to the biggest gray one, but technically applies to all three). This quickly became the defining movie for Ghibli, making Totoro their mascot and the “Mickey Mouse of Japan”, even though this is the only widely available movie he’s featured in.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Majo no Takkyūbin (魔女の宅急便)
This is one of the more decorated of Ghibli’s movies. It has won at least 11 major anime and animation awards since it was released. The narrative follows Kiki and her witty cat Jiji as they set out for a town where Kiki can become the resident witch and earn some valuable experience in life. It’s really a coming-of-age story that follows the hardships and friends that they encounter while Kiki tries to develop her rather sad witch skills into something more useful for society. As with all Ghibli movies, this is not your typical anime fare, and definitely worth checking out.
Porco Rosso (1992)
Kurenai no Buta (紅の豚)
Miyazaki loves planes. That is pretty much why he made this movie. Overall, the movie has a playful nature and is good fun for all. The story follows Porco Rosso (a man who was inexplicably turned into a pig) (it never really is explained very well, so don’t bother trying to understand that part), and his tricked-out plane, The Crimson Pig, and how he uses it to patrol the skies and fight evil wherever it may be. The catch is where he got the plane from. ^_^
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Mononoke Hime (もののけ姫)
The winner of 30 major cinema awards. Everyone seems to love this anime except for me. This is by far the most graphic of Ghibli’s movies, with gore and decapitation among other things. Does it end up being an okay movie? Yes, it actually does. I commend Miyazaki for being able to craft such a solid and mystical story that one would swear was actual folklore, but I can’t say that this is one of my favourite animes. The story follows prince Ashitaka as he gets caught in the middle of a war between forest spirits (accompanied by San, or Princess Mononoke, who was adopted by the forest’s wolves) and a mining town called Iron Town while trying to lift a curse put on him by a giant boar demon that was attacking his village. Chances are that you’ll love it, but I find it largely too long and gruesome for repeated consumption, even compared to the more brazenly gory movies featured in this guide.
Spirited Away (2001)
Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi(千と千尋の神隠し)
Spirited Away was the first of Miyazaki’s movies to win an Oscar, obviously for Best Animated Film. If Western audiences hadn’t heard of Studio Ghibli before, Spirited Away’s appearance at the Oscars certainly introduced them to it. The movie follows Chihiro as she and her family get caught in a bizarre spirit world, and how she tries to overcome fear and adversity to escape this strange land. Easily one of the weirder animes in existence, but still not challenging the weirdness of some of Satoshi Kon’s works that will be mentioned later on. This movie most definitely deserved its Oscar.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Hauru no Ugoku Shiro(ハウルの動く城)
This movie gave some worried anime fans great assurance that Miyazaki was in no way past his prime and still able to bring an enchanted story (originally written by Diana Wynne Jones) to life. This magical anime follows the quest of a girl named Sophie to restore her youth that was stolen by the Witch of the Waste. She seeks out Howl and his moving castle not knowing what kind of troubles and strange adventures await her. The animation in this movie is gorgeous and it has, in my opinion, the single best soundtrack of almost any anime to date. Definitely worth watching more than once.
Gake no Ue no Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ) (lit. “Ponyo on the Cliff”)
Miyazaki was challenged by someone to make another movie with the true poignancy and magic that was captured in Totoro. By most accounts he has done just that. While not my absolute favourite Ghibli movie, this is certainly one of the better ones. The story tends to be a bit slower even than most other Ghibli movies, but as a whole it certainly doesn’t plod or drag its proverbial heels, it just pleasantly takes its time. It follows a little goldfish-like girl thing called Ponyo and her sudden transformation into a human after tasting human blood accidentally while healing a cut on a little boy named Sosuke’s finger. The turning point in the story is Ponyo’s love of Sosuke and how that threatens to not only change her life permanently, but also the world at large. There is much to be seen with this movie’s fantastic visual style, slightly different from previous Ghibli offerings with more pastels and simple shading. Wholly recommended to everyone, this is one of the Ghibli movies that you have to see.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Kaze Tachinu (風立ちぬ)
Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie before his retirement is a bittersweet one in many ways. Not only is it a farewell to one of anime’s most celebrated directors, it is also a movie with less universal appeal than most other Ghibli features. The Wind Rises is a highly romanticized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the two main fighter aircraft used by Japan in WWII. It focuses on Jiro’s extreme 1940s Japanese work ethic and how it, along with a love of planes, propelled him to the forefront of his field during the war and how he met his wife in the midst of it all. History buffs will certainly scoff at the movie’s very nonchalant embellishment of Jiro’s life and how it not only views such a tumultuous time through rose-coloured glasses, but draws the vast majority of its poignancy from its entirely fabricated story elements instead of even mildly addressing the deep-seated problems of the time. I, being automatically adverse to most historical features, don’t particularly care about how many of the movie’s plot points Miyazaki made up because they largely just serve to inject some much-needed conflict and excitement into the film’s proceedings. On the whole, The Wind Rises can’t be called a bad movie but it ends up being close to the slowest film that Ghibli has produced in the last couple of decades. I figure that since it was his last hurrah, Miyazaki decided to make a movie for himself where he got to have all kinds of the fancy planes that he enjoys so much doing cool (to plane enthusiasts) things instead of one that would be guaranteed to appeal to audiences worldwide like Ghibli’s classic fantasy fare. While The Wind Rises may feel like a bit of a disappointment to some because of its plodding pace and niche subject matter, I think we owe it to Miyazaki to appreciate his final film for what it is (a story about the value of emotion, focus and commitment to a goal) and be thankful for all of the amazing characters and worlds that he brought to life throughout his illustrious directing career.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Hotaru no Haka (火垂るの墓)
Grave of the Fireflies is the most serious and sullen of Ghibli’s movies. The movie even begins with Seita, the older boy, explaining about the day that he died. The movie follows the last few weeks in the lives of Seita and Setsuko before their untimely deaths in WWII Japan. This is definitely a tear-jerker, and probably the saddest anime movie that I have ever seen. Realistic, touching, and scary, this movie is for anime what Schindler’s List is to live action.
Only Yesterday (1991)
Omohide Poro Poro (おもひでぽろぽろ)
This is an interesting one. Only Yesterday follows a woman named Taeko and how she comes to grips with reality through constant flashbacks to her past. Her past self even follows her around sometimes in a rather eerie manner. The movie’s tone overall is a lighthearted one and is rather shojo (girly). It deals a lot with Taeko’s relationships and her life-long search for a loving husband. With this in mind, the anime is enjoyable and worth the time, but I’d suggest developing a bit of a taste for Ghibli movies before you take this one head on if you’re a bit wary.
Pom Poko (1994)
Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ)
Pom Poko is a great movie. Good for kids as long as you don’t mind the males having cartoony testicles (which, believe it or not, contribute to the plot several times under the moniker of “raccoon sac” in the English version). The plot follows a clan of shape-shifting tanuki (raccoon-like animals native to Japan) as they battle against humanity, as well as other tanuki. In addition to battles, the movie showcases their lives in times of peace, the mating season, and what happens while their habitats are slowly being demolished by people to build more houses. Much, much more unusual than what Western society normally considers a basic cartoon movie, but brilliant all the same.
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun (ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん)
Certainly the most stylized movie to ever come from Ghibli. It is also in my opinion Isao Takahata’s best work (even though most people will claim his magnum opus is Grave of the Fireflies). The style of animation changes drastically at random points in the film, but serves to emphasize the mood as opposed to being plainly distracting. The movie follows the amusing day-to-day exploits of the quintessentially Japanese Yamada family, and is split into a few smaller episodes by the recitation of traditional Japanese haikus that relate to the episodes’ content. Definitely one of the best family anime movies around, and heart-warming to watch at any time.
Tales from Earthsea (2006)
Gedo Senki (ゲド戦記)
Tales from Earthsea was the first Ghibli movie to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. It ended up being an alright (if somewhat pedestrian) movie, especially considering that Hayao did not consider Goro ready for the responsibility of directing a Ghibli feature film. The story follows a boy named Arren who killed his father and stole his sword. Arren ends up getting caught in the crossfire of an age-old war that had been going on between a powerful wizard and a powerful witch. The story more or less plods aimlessly along throughout the movie, especially so when compared to Hayao’s masterpieces. This movie didn’t even hit North America until 2011, and then only on DVD in spite of Disney’s recent Bluray distribution craze, which kind of shows that even they acknowledge this movie’s mediocrity. With that said, Tales from Earthsea is still worth the watch, if only to see Studio Ghibli’s beautiful art and to appreciate how far Goro Miyazaki has come as a director.
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
Kokuriko-zaka Kara (コクリコ坂から) (lit. “From Coquelicot Hill”)
I went into this movie with a heaping helping of skepticism based both on the fact that Goro’s previous offering was lacklustre and that I generally dislike period movies of most descriptions, but Goro’s second feature film definitely outshines its immediate predecessors: Goro’s directorial debut Tales from Earthsea and Ghibli’s preceding release The Secret World of Arrietty. I ended up being pleasantly surprised on all counts with From Up on Poppy Hill and can confidently say that this is one of Ghibli’s better movies (likely thanks in no small part to Hayao Miyazaki’s involvement with the screenplay). The movie, set in a harbour town in 1963 post-war Japan, follows a high school girl named Umi as she learns to come to terms with the death of her father, has a particularly complicated relationship with the school heartthrob Shun, and works together with him to save an historic building on their school-ground called the Quartier Latin. A light-hearted slice of life movie at its core, From Up on Poppy Hill‘s impressive scenery, catchy music, engaging story, and personable characters put it toe-to-toe with the finest anime family features. It should certainly serve to entertain you thoroughly even if you normally have an aversion to shojo or period anime films.
I Can Hear the Sea / Ocean Waves (1993)
Umi ga Kikoeru (海がきこえる)
This movie directed by Tomomi Mochizuki felt very, very long when I watched it. Not necessarily in a bad way, but the plot eventually gets to the point of being stretched a good deal. Also if you’re a guy, you’ll definitely hate the main girl, Rikako, in this shojo anime by the end. (Augh, I hate her.) After everything, though, you’ll still want to see her relationship work out. This anime is worth the watch, but only after you’ve exhausted the other Ghibli movies in this list (with the possible exceptions of Princess Mononoke and Tales from Earthsea).
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Mimi o Sumaseba (耳をすませば )
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, a Ghibli employee who was expected to join the ranks of Miyazaki and Takahata, but died of a brain aneurism in 1998, Whisper of the Heart is a love story at it’s core, and a really good movie. It has everything: a funky antique shop, a fat cat, and stringed instruments. Basically, this is a decidedly shojo movie, but I don’t think that that should deter anyone from watching. There’s no action, per se, but the story is masterfully woven and portrayed. As one of the most well-made Ghibli movies, it makes you sad to think that there could have been more like it if Kondo hadn’t met an untimely death.
The Cat Returns (2002)
Neko no Ongaeshi (猫の恩返し)
Hiroyuki Morita’s first and only directing credit, The Cat Returns, is probably the only Ghibli movie that I would liken to a Disney-style movie. While it still has charming Ghibli undertones, this movie plays out in a rather formulaic (though fantastical) manner and seems to allude greatly to Alice in Wonderland. With that said, it is still an awesome movie, with cats sooo cute that you have to see them to believe them. The story follows Haru, a kinda half-clumsy misfit teenager, who can only dream of being with a guy she likes. The titular Cat, Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, who was featured in Ghibli’s A Whisper of the Heart, returns to help Haru out. They then travel to the Cat World and have mystical adventures, etc. While this is probably the most innocuous and ordinary of Ghibli’s movies, it’s still very much worth the time to watch it.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Kari-gurashi no Arietti (借りぐらしのアリエッティ) (lit. “The Borrower Arrietty”)
The first movie to be directed by Studio Ghibli’s youngest director (at age 37) Hiromasa Yonebayashi is a bit of a melancholy one. With beautifully painted scenery and expressive motion, The Secret World of Arrietty features what is truly the pinnacle thus far of Ghibli’s renowned animation. To bring the audience further into the world of Mary Norton’s Borrowers, this movie also features exaggerated depth-of-field and sound effects. Sounds that one would normally consider mundane, like the ticking of a clock or footsteps in the hall are given particularly booming, resonant qualities and objects in both the fore- and backgrounds are regularly blurred to both shift focus where it is required and accentuate the relative size of the world that Arrietty inhabits. The story follows a family of Borrowers (little people that live in our houses between the walls and under the floorboards and borrow little things like thimbles, pins and food that won’t be missed), Arrietty and her parents, as they try to live unnoticed alongside a couple of older ladies and one of their 14-year-old nephews, Shō who is awaiting much-needed heart surgery. Depending upon your viewpoint, you could see the movie as being either pessimistic or optimistic, but the plot, while moving even more slowly than pokier Ghibli movies like Tales from Earthsea and Ponyo, is certainly worth the ride along with the gorgeous animation and audio. A family movie at its heart, this movie is recommended especially for more optimistic viewers due to its uniquely ponderous handling of its material, but will give anyone willing to watch both a good time and something to think about when its over.
Satoshi Kon loved dealing with the abstract, surreal, and fantastic. All of his movies have at least brief nudity and violence, and are thus not recommended for children. The plots of his works also often become complex quite quickly and you may not have an entirely enjoyable experience with his movies if you don’t have a moderate intellect or the ability to suspend your disbelief and be absorbed into the universes that he creates. Satoshi Kon died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46 on Aug. 24, 2010 before finishing his fifth anime movie Dreaming Machine that due to financial issues is slated to be completed and released within the next five years.
Perfect Blue (1998)
Pāfekuto Burū (パーフェクト・ブルー)
“Reality” is meaningless in this movie until it’s all sorted out in the end, so don’t put much faith in it. The plot follows pop-star Mima Kirigoe as she tries to leave her childish singing career behind her and get into the world of acting. The oddities come primarily from the creepily devoted fan-base that she built while she was a singer. Certainly worth the watch and full of good plot-twists. Not for kids.
Millenium Actress (2001)
Sennen Joyū (千年女優)
This was a good anime. Its main theme is unrequited love, but in a way that I wouldn’t really put the shojo label on it. Most of the movie is spent in flashbacks of the past as an old actress, Chiyoko, reminisces about her life to some journalists. They are all very literally transported into these memories and essentially experience her stories first-hand. The main theme carried throughout her memories is the love for a man that she only briefly met. It’s good, so watch it.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Tōkyō Goddofāzāzu (東京ゴッドファーザーズ)
This movie is more grounded in plausibility and what could be called reality than all of Kon’s other films, up until the very end. I wouldn’t suggest this as your first Satoshi Kon experience, though as the subject matter is a bit of an acquired taste. The plot follows a hobo, Gin, a transvestite (okama) Hana, and a runaway girl, Miyuki as they try to figure out how to return a baby that they found to its rightful mother. The creepiness factor of the relationships between the main characters and others is enough to put this one on the back-burner until you’ve seen at least one of Kon’s other works. But, all in all, it is a good movie, with lots to give if you’re willing/prepared to reach out and take it.
This is Kon’s newest anime, and also my favourite of the bunch. The animation is simply breath-taking. The plot is hard to explain, but regards a woman, Paprika, who has the power to enter other people’s dreams through the use of a device called a “DC Mini”. Essentially, she is charged with stopping someone who is ripping the barrier between reality and the world of dreams. This anime is enchanting and a definite recommendation to anyone old enough to see an anime quite rightfully rated R (in the US, it’s PG in Canada).
Mamoru Hosoda’s biggest credits before The Girl Who Leapt Through Time are mostly Digimon movies, but also include the excellent One Piece Movie #6, “Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island”. His two largest (and newest) feature films have been of the utmost quality in both the visual and story departments. Good for viewers of all ages (except perhaps for super-younger kids as they might get a bit bored), Hosoda’s films both can and should be enjoyed by anime lovers of all kinds.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Toki o Kakeru Shōjo (時をかける少)
This is seriously a good one. Very well-developed characters, awesome animation, and a solid story based upon a book by the same name. It’s quite shojo, as can be gathered from the title. It deals primarily with the relationships between the characters and how the main character, Kazuko Yoshiyama tries to helpfully manipulate them through the use of her seemingly randomly acquired ability to jump through time. There’s no epic travelling to the dark ages or anything, just hopping back and forth between a couple of days, but it’s very interesting and a great non-Digimon movie from Hosoda.
Summer Wars (2009)
Samā Wōzu (サマーウォーズ)
(Remember to click on the images to enlarge them!)
The second original full-length anime to come from the mind of Mamoru Hosoda. This film really does solidify Hosodasan as a huge contender in the anime movie genre if The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was not enough to convince some people. Presented in two very distinct styles (as pictured above), the story revolves around Kenji Koiso who is conscripted into “working” for one of the older girls at his school by accompanying her to the 90th birthday party of her grandmother out in the country. Taking place in a mildly fictionalized version of 2010 Japan, most everything is the same, except some mutant Facebook/Farmville/Animal Crossing/Second Life social network connects almost everyone (and everything) in Japan. The movie avoids dystopia by portraying this social network much like Facebook is today, enhancing people’s lives and businesses instead of consuming them. Anyways, trouble happens both at the grandma’s birthday and in the online world and Hosodasan is able to shape it into a wonderful portrayal of Japanese culture and the deep family/clan bonds that still largely remain from feudal times, while mixing in a very large helping of pleasant strangeness that can only come from anime. Perhaps Hosodasan will be able to fill the large shoes left by Satoshi Kon after his recent passing and become the premiere director of surreal (but not too surreal) anime. Touching, genuine, and enthralling from start to finish, you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t watch this gem of contemporary anime. Recommended for anyone with a heart who wants to see a great story about the power of family.
Wolf Children (2012)
Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (おおかみこどもの雨と雪) (lit. “Wolf Children Ame and Yuki”)
Hosoda keeps the hits coming with another wonderfully animated and told story. Wolf Children follows the complicated story of a woman named Hana from when she falls in love with a man who turns out to be a werewolf in college through her difficulty raising her two werewolf children, Yuki and Ame, alone after their father’s untimely death and how they try to cope with the children’s secret were-abilities in modern society with no elder were-person to guide them. Although the premise is certainly unusual and the movie is long clocking in at just under two hours, the emotions expressed through the movie are truly heartfelt and the concept makes you think about what you’d do if you were in a similar (however impossible) situation. While probably too diverse for younger children, Wolf Children is a great family movie none-the-less and is sure to impress with its top notch animation and poignant sentimentality.
Kitaro Kosaka is primarily known as an animator with deep ties to Studio Ghibli. Having directed or supervised key animation for such lofty Ghibli titles as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo and From Up on Poppy Hill (among others) and non-Ghibli titles like Akira and Metropolis, it’s no surprise that his most well-known anime films borrow liberally from what would normally be considered as Studio Ghibli’s unique animation style and character design.
Nasu (Japanese for eggplant) is a movie that well lives up to its impressive pedigree. Helmed by the Oscar-winning Kitaro Kosaka, it follows a Spanish professional cyclist named Pepe Benengeli as he competes in the real-world Vuelta a España race, his tribulations therein and how his family is there to lovingly support him even though it’s his brother’s wedding day. Light-hearted at its core, Nasu still manages to deal with more mature themes than you’re likely to see in most Ghibli movies, even while borrowing heavily from what is often viewed as their unique animation style and character designs. I found Nasu‘s depictions of the lively Spanish culture to be a little lacking, seeming more like a clinical Japanese impression of the culture than one that truly understood and felt the heartbeat of the nation. With that said, and also considering the movie’s meagre 47 minute length, Nasu is a bright, enjoyable anime movie recommended for anyone looking for a nice, safe anime experience with a unique setting and premise.
Takeshi Koike has been working in the anime industry (primarily as an animator) on feature films since 1987. His directorial debut for anime feature films was Redline which easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best productions from Studio Madhouse’s more popular directors. Koikesan has a very promising future as an anime director and is set to very handily outshine his mentor, the anime director Yoshiaki Kawajiri. For the record, almost none of Kawajiri or Koike’s movies are appropriate for family/child viewing.
In spite of the praise that has been heaped upon Redline, I was not actually expecting it to be that good. The movie’s over stylized and exaggerated characters brought Yoshiaki Kawajiri (incidentally a mentor of sorts for the movie’s director, Takeshi Koike) immediately to mind, and I have never appreciated Kawajirisan’s work. Within 20 minutes of starting to watch Redline, though, all of my reservations were blown away. The movie, which seems to be at least partially based on Kawajiri’s similar Running Man segment from Neo Tokyo, follows a car racer named “Sweet JP” as he competes in two large races, the Yellowline and then the Redline. The Redline race happens to be held on a planet that doesn’t want it to be, so the Redline racers have to dodge not only each other’s artillery, but also that of the entire planet’s military. While the characters are mostly light on meaningful personality, and the story is little more complex than “he’s in these two races”, the movie turns out to be a flashy action ride that should not be missed. While on the hostile planet for the Redline race, the story does take an Akira-style turn for the bizarre, but with all the other weird and crazy things assaulting your senses throughout the movie, it doesn’t seem as out of place as it otherwise might. Do yourself a favour and catch Redline on Bluray some evening and enjoy a ride that you won’t soon forget.
Katsuhiro Otomo doesn’t have a studio tied to his name. He has done many movies for/with many studios, so he has a section to himself. Otomo’s work varies from good for family to barely good for public consumption. Of course, only his best works will be listed here. Otomo is a ridiculously experienced anime director and the quality of his work is always quite evident.
One of the most critically acclaimed anime movies ever created. Adored by both critics and anime buffs alike. Except me. While I recognize that Otomo went way beyond any of the anime of the time, in both story and animation complexity, I just don’t think that it really deserves the reverence that it often heralds. It can seem like it is very, very long. Mostly due to the fact that it is 124 minutes long, but also because the storyline spends itself after the first hour. Otomo then departs into the realm of the surreal and doesn’t come out again for the rest of the movie. The animation is starting to look dated in this anime, so if you’re picky about such things, then it would be good to see it as soon as possible. I think that you should save this movie until you already have a good appreciation for Otomo’s work, because then you’ll know a little more about what to expect from this movie. Anime that plays out like a bad dream can be a good thing, but this is one movie that leaves me wanting to wake up long before it’s over.
Roujin Z (1991)
Roujin Z (老人Z)
This anime showcases the lighter side of Katsuhiro Otomo quite well. It has decent amounts of both charm and humour as well as some of the fancy robots that Katsuhiro likes so much. The story follows an old man and the college student who was his care-worker as he is conscripted into a government-run beta test of a new machine designed to automatically tend to needy old people. The machine doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, though. Overall good times, worth the watch, but not as much as some of Otomo’s other masterpieces.
These are a bit weird. I wouldn’t suggest them to anyone new to anime, but anyone reasonably well-acquainted with anime’s propensity for the odd will love these. The first in the series of three is a space sci-fi called “Magnetic Rose”. This is my favourite of the three. It has an awesome storyline, beautiful animation, and enough weird to kill a yak. The second in the series is called “Stink Bomb”. This is a funny story with an emphasis on smell jokes as opposed to art direction. It’s still quite good. Lastly, we have “Cannon Fodder”. This is a funky one set in a war-torn city akin to something from a George Orwell book. It follows a boy who idolizes his dad who is one of hundreds of people who operate a large cannon that is used to fire into seemingly empty space. This one is very, very stylized and does not cut from the scene once. The camera just kind of moves from scene to scene instead. Overall, these three anime movies are a great package, and can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone (note: Satoshi Kon worked closely with Katsuhiro Otomo to make this movie happen).
No, it’s not a hentai, it’s about the power of steam. The premise of this movie is that steam is a ridiculously powerful source of energy (which it kind of actually is when you think about it) and that in Manchester, England a boy named James Ray Steam ends up receiving a metal ball filled with ridiculously concentrated steam from his grandfather, Lloyd Steam. He can’t let it fall into the wrong hands or its immense power could be used to take over the world (or something of that sort). This movie features top-notch animation, great voice-acting (especially in the English version, surprisingly), and a story that is easily comprehended by Western audiences. While Otomo does have surreal works that even rival some of Satoshi Kon’s, this is most certainly not one of them. I think that this is the best movie from Otomo (perhaps tied with Metropolis), but a lot of anime-watchers will insist that Akira was his greatest work.
While directed by a man who sometimes goes by Rintaro, I’m including this under Otomo’s section because he wrote the screenplay and it bears much resemblance to his other works. With that said, this is an amazing anime, and was the movie that first made me love and appreciate the work of Katsuhiro Otomo. Placed firmly in the genre of “action-sci-fi-tragedy”, the movie explores how fine the line is between human and machine in a fictional future. The animation style for this movie is most aptly described as a “super-slick Astro Boy” (primarily because it’s based on a manga from Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy), and the the widely varied environments within the movie are all presented superbly. While its source manga shares little more than a name with Fritz Lang’s 1927 black and white epic, Metropolis as an anime film takes many queues from both the look/feel and the dystopian themes of its namesake. Definitely a must-see for anime fans, and a good introduction to both anime and Katsuhiro Otomo’s writing for anyone else.
Pretty much all of the movies that I’ll talk about from Production I.G are for teens to adults. Kids wouldn’t get much from these movies even if they did watch them, really. Despite that fact, they are all also some of the most beautiful and well-written anime movies ever made. (Yes, Okiurasan, Kitakubosan and Imaishisan all have the same first name *gasp*).
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Kōkaku Kidōtai (攻殻機動隊)
Both of Oshii’s main GitS movies are extremely stylish and enjoyable, but there is a LOT of really uncalled for nudity in this one. The GitS movies revolve around the concept that there are very human-like robots and cyborgs that inhabit the earth and that they have souls, called Ghosts, that inhabit their outer robot shells. These Ghosts can not only communicate with each other telepathically, but can switch shells, go on the equivalent of the internet, and be hacked, thus changing the reality that they experience. This movie follows a team of the once-organic female Major Kusanagi and the male Batou cyborg/robots as they track down a Ghost hacker called the “Puppet Master”. Good times are had by all, the visuals have aged very well and still look better than a lot of what’s currently out there. A must-see for anime movie fans.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)
This time it’s Batou’s turn to be the main protagonist. His job in this excellent movie is to uncover the Truth behind a bot-making corporation called LOCUS SOLUS whose sexbots have been going crazy. This one has much less nudity than the first, incidentally. BEAUTIFUL animation, and haunting music combine with the intriguing story to make this a superb anime experience. Try and catch the Blu-ray version if you can, you’ll be floored! I cannot recommend this movie enough.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)
Gōsuto In Za Sheru/Kōkaku Kidōtai 2.0 (GHOST IN THE SHELL／攻殻機動隊 2.0)
Not the second Ghost in the Shell movie, but rather a complete remake of the original 1995 one with 2008 sensibilities, music, and graphics. Just as great as the original, but some people may have issues with the incorporation of CG animation for a couple scenes which contrasts with the rest of the film’s hand-drawn style. Maintains scene-for-scene everything in the original movie, but just makes it all look and sound better. Is is not suggested to watch this one before watching the original, as it will cheapen it, but it remains a very welcome revisiting of a classic anime story in modern styles. I strongly suggest getting the Blu-ray version of this movie so as to enhance the effect even more. Again, watch out for female anatomy everywhere, but suggested for anyone deemed old enough to view such things.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)
This is a tear-jerker that follows a man in the “army” who watches a terrorist girl blow herself up, and then has to go through mental reconditioning and re-training to get himself ready to go back into battle. Of course, all sorts of things get in the way of this. This movie as a very 80’s feel (even though it was made in 1999) in both the animation and the music departments, not that that’s a bad thing. It’s an overall good movie that is probably better to watch with someone else instead of by yourself so that you don’t feel quite as silly for sniffling.
Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)
Rasuto buraddo (らすと ぶらっど) (lit. “Last Blood”)
Written by the same writer (Kenji Kamiyama) as Ghost in the Shell, this anime movie is a short one at only 48 minutes. What’s exceptional about this movie is that it was able to establish a story and a lore that spawned a spin-off series (Blood+) in that short amount of time. The story follows Saya, the last “proper” vampire, that hunts big batty dudes called Chiroptera for an organization called the “Red Shield”. The animation is quite good throughout, and the story is interesting and leaves you wanting more (hence the aforementioned series). Kind of gory and not for children, like most Production I.G. works, but a great, if short, escape for the rest of us.
Dead Leaves (2004)
Deddo Rībusu (デッド リーブス)
If Madhouse’s Redline is a “flashy action ride”, then Dead Leaves is a “nuts-to-the-wall flashy tripped-out action ride on speed”. The movie’s high-contrast comic book-like visuals had me expecting something unique, but I don’t think I could properly have prepared myself for just how unique Dead Leaves turns out to be. The comic book style applies not only to the frequently grotesque characters and outlandish scenery, but also to the cinematography itself with several “panels” often being shown on screen at the same time, sound effects appearing as actual floating words, and unusual framing used to emphasize certain parts of the scenes. The narrative begins with the protagonists, Retro (a tv-headed man) and Pandy (a woman with a mysterious red spot over her right eye) waking up naked and without their memories only to go on a crime spree which gets them sent for life to a prison on the moon called Dead Leaves. Not for the straitlaced or faint of heart, Dead Leaves‘ mere 52 minutes zoom by at break-neck speed in a flurry of explosions, gore, sex and nudity, but if you can stomach the off-the-wall content you’re in for a very enjoyable if lamentably brief anime experience.
Shinkai’s films, while breathtakingly beautiful, are almost all intensely depressing and sad. He has been dubbed “the new Miyazaki” by many in the anime biz, but he considers that to be an exaggeration. The majority of his works are very deep, beautiful and well done, but as such are not really comparable to the generally family fare that comes from Studio Ghibli. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a notable exception to this, though, and is easily comparable to even the most enchanting of Hayao Miyazaki’s works. Shinkai films are generally fine for family viewing, but are more slowly paced and lugubrious than your average family movies.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)
Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho (雲のむこう、約束の場所) (lit. “Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place”)
Shinkaisan must have a very depressing love life, because this movie (like Shinkai’s OVA before it) portrays an almost ridiculously challenged love. This time the love is so deep between the protagonists that it transcends multiple literal dimensions. Unfortunately, even though it’s only an hour and a half, this movie feels longer, but with the superb animation and a love portrayed that quite literally knows no bounds, this film is pretty much guaranteed to not only be worth the ride, but touch you in a non-suggestive way that only such a profound story can. I definitely cried and you probably will too during the last few minutes of the movie. Positively beautiful and recommended most for watching with a significant other.
5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)
Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru (秒速５センチメートル)
Another in the line of Shinkai’s depressing masterpieces. This one is split into three unequally sized sections that depict the rather sordid love between a boy and a girl and how the distance and time between them affects their relationship. Don’t expect a happy, happy fairy movie here at all. The first part made me cry a bit, but the entire piece taken as a whole is even more depressing. Very much worth the emotional ride for not only the superb animation, but also the very deep kind of love that only Shinkai seems to be able to depict on screen. The sorrow portrayed through this work is palpable and made very real for the viewers. Not a movie for depressed people, but a stunning piece for the anime buff and romance enthusiast alike.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)
Hoshi o Ou Kodomo (星を追う子ども) (lit. “Children Who Chase Stars”)
Departing from his stint of depressing movies, Shinkai takes a swing at the Ghibli-dominated genre of fantasy adventure movies in Children Who Chase Lost Voices (From Deep Below). Borrowing liberally in character design/animation and general concepts from such Miyazaki classics as Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke, Children Who Chase Lost Voices ends up being much more than just the sum of its parts thanks to the expert writing and directing of Shinkaisan. The movie follows a young girl named Asuna who is living a standard life in small-town Japan after the death of her father as she discovers that there is a hidden world underground replete with fantastic creatures and a surprising history that may hold the key to resurrecting the dead. Watching this movie will give any anime fan a lot of flashbacks to the heyday of Studio Ghibli fantasy adventures, but this movie really is much more than just a Ghibli clone. Children Who Chase Lost Voices skews toward an older audience than other fantasy adventures dealing thematically with such subject matter as coping with loss and the purpose/inevitability of death while including the beautiful sweeping vistas and intricately detailed environments that Shinkai films are known for. Living up to his “new Miyazaki” nickname, Shinkai has shown that he is more than just a one-trick pony and that he can make an enthralling fantasy adventure just as easily as the more melancholy works for which he is renowned. Certainly the best fantasy adventure anime to come out in a long while, I cannot recommend Children Who Chase Lost Voices enough.
The Garden of Words (2013)
Kotonoha no Niwa (言の葉の庭)
A return to form for director Shinkai, The Garden of Words hearkens back to his earlier films and their focus on deep personal emotions as opposed to a grand sweeping narrative. At a mere 46 minutes, this is the shortest feature Shinkai has released since way back in 2002 with Voices from a Distant Star, but the extra time that allowed for the polishing of the script and jaw-dropping animation is evident in every scene. The Garden of Words follows a 15 year old high school student named Takao who blows off school whenever it rains to draw shoe designs in a park, where he meets a mysterious woman who also loves the rain. That may not seem like much of a plot, and it really isn’t considering how much of the movie’s short time is spent showing (admittedly gorgeous) artsy establishing shots, but Shinkai manages to make it acutely engaging throughout by taking the story in some interesting directions. Shinkai may be growing softer as he matures in his directorial role – The Garden of Words lacks the biting despair of many of his previous works, but if anything the movie is enhanced by having its focus shifted from hopelessness to a more contemplative melancholy. Covering themes that will resonate deeply with many people like feeling out of place in one’s vocation, having practical dreams for the future, enjoying the rain much more than stifling sunny days and being held from true happiness by both society and the pressures of modern subsistence, The Garden of Words is sure to feel much more personal than your average cinematic fare. A contender for the most beautiful animated film made to date, do yourself a big favour and check out The Garden of Words as soon as possible.
Aramaki is primarily known for his work in directing the two Appleseed movies which are quite unique in how they are completely CG and cel-shaded to appear more anime-like as opposed to traditionally animated. If considering family viewing, you can treat them both as your average action movies in terms of questionable content. Otherwise, enjoy.
When it came out in 2004, Appleseed as basically the best-looking CG anime around. Even by today’s standards it is only out-shined by its successor in visual quality. This beautiful anime takes place in a war-torn post-apocalyptic world with only a couple last vestiges of utopian civilization. The main utopia, and apparently the largest in the world, is called Olympus (there are Greek mythology references throughout). Olympus is also known for its manufacturing of genetically modified humans called Bioroids, supposedly without the capacity for hate or malice, as well as lacking the ability to reproduce. The narrative follows a woman police officer/mercenary named Deunan and her part in saving the world, etc. Olympus isn’t as utopian as it may seem, and those Bioroids may have ulterior motives… Suggested to anyone who wants to see something awesome.
Appleseed Ex Machina (2007)
Okay, I know that I thought that Appleseed looked about as good as an anime could, but I was wrong, Ex Machina looks way better. An achievement of both animation and humanity. ^_^ Seriously, though, it’s awesome. Bigger, badder, and with higher stakes than the first one, Ex Machina outdoes its predecessor in pretty much every way. I want to tell you what it’s about, but that would spoil a lot of awesome surprises. I’ll tell you that it involves zombies, cloning, countries aside from Olympus, and awesomeness. I greatly enjoyed this movie, and I think that you would too. It’s also available on Bluray and HD-DVD — which is sweet as this movie is even more awesome when you can see the extra details afforded by High Definition.
Vexille is currently the only anime directed by Fumihiko Sori, who was the producer of the first Appleseed movie. His previous best-known directing work was for the live action movie Ping Pong based on a manga of the same name.
Bekushiru 2077 Nihon sakoku (ベクシル 2077日本鎖国) (lit. “Vexille: 2077 Japanese Isolation”)
Vexille is a movie that looks on the outside to be very much similar to Appleseed, that is what originally interested me. But, when you look deeper and watch the movie, you realize that it’s really… a lot like Appleseed. The visuals in this movie are really a mixed bag ranging from Resident Evil Degeneration-like (read, bad) all the way to stunningly stylized and near-photorealistic. The story, that I won’t spoil for you because there’s actually a good twist in it, very generally involves a future where Japan has entirely cut itself off from the world to the point of erecting a futuristic dome that jams satellites over the entire country. They do this so that they can conduct some kind of huge bio-robotic experiments that are banned internationally. Vexille and crew are sent in from America to see what’s going down, and going down something definitely is. With the story kind of stretched thin at points, for the most part this isn’t a huge action flick, but the story as a whole is definitely worth checking out and this movie is recommended for regular people and film/anime buffs alike.
Keiichi Hara is known primarily for directing most of the Doraemon and Crayon Shin-Chan TV shows and movies, but has in recent years taken to directing original anime feature films as well. His original films are much more weighty and serious in tone than the series he has under his belt, so don’t take his pedigree for excellent children’s programming as a sign of the general appropriateness of his newer movies.
Summer Days with Coo (2007)
Kappa no Kū to Natsuyasumi (河童のクゥと夏休み) (lit. “Summer Vacation with Coo the Kappa“)
While most of the images that you’ll find of this movie, including the one above, make it look like a lovely family film, it’s actually not a movie I would recommend for younger children. Both quite long at 138 minutes and quite emotionally draining, Summer Days with Coo is a largely bittersweet movie with perhaps the most believable (albeit archetypal) characters of any anime movie I’ve seen, even considering its portrayal of several different kinds of mythical Japanese creatures. The story follows a young kappa named Coo as he ends up being taken from the kappas’ heyday in the Edo period into modern day Tokyo and how he impacts the average suburban Japanese family that accidentally revives him. The story could have made for an average family anime movie, but Hara instead focuses the movie on both the pains and the joys inherent in the many relationships portrayed therein. Throughout the movie, the audience is spared no small pain or awkwardness of the characters and you can tell that each situation was mulled over laboriously to imagine how it would occur if it was happening in real life. It can be emotionally draining to watch, but there’s a lot to like Hara’s first purely original animated feature; it’s not really a family movie, but one for anime buffs and drama connoisseurs alike.
Keiichi Hara returns with another very long (but only 126 minutes this time) anime movie about depressing subject matter called Colorful. The plot follows a wayward soul who is given a second chance at life (and being included in the cycle of reincarnation) by a short silver-haired ethereal boy claiming to be following orders from The Boss (God). The soul is put into the body of a troubled middle-school boy named Makoto Kobayashi who had just committed suicide and is given the task of learning what heinous actions it committed in its previous life. In addition to the major task of remembrance, the soul is also challenged to learn to appreciate the gift of living and the reasons that Makoto had ended his life. If these conditions aren’t met in a couple of months the soul is at risk of vanishing into nothingness. At its most depressing, Colorful is very depressing indeed dealing not only with the immediate theme of suicide, but also with the kind of mental and spiritual tortures that accumulate over a lifetime to lead someone to commit such an act. What is shown through Colorful though, in contrast with the more pessimistic-feeling Summer Days with Coo, is the true worth of all the joys and pains of life and how while they don’t make life easy they make it genuinely precious. I found myself laughing much more than I expected to throughout the movie, even though those laughs were surrounded on all sides by a deep melancholy. The slower parts of the film (and there are a few as this is no action movie) are invigorated by the lively art, beautiful backgrounds, and the sometimes intrusively emotional soundtrack, making it a worthwhile ride even during the occasions that the movie’s length becomes palpable. A special film indeed, if you have the 126 minutes to spare and are able to deal with a heaping helping of sorrow along with your laughs you’re sure to enjoy Colorful.
Not a titan in the anime movie community by any means, A-1 Pictures so far has a single original anime movie under its belt along with a series movie each for Fairy Tail and Blue Exorcist. A-1 Pictures primarily works on anime series and animation for anime-themed video games like Persona 4 and Valkyria Chronicles II. Their single original anime movie happens to be good for kids, though, and can easily be counted as one of the better films in this guide.
Welcome to the Space Show (2010)
Uchū Shō e Yōkoso (宇宙ショーへようこそ)
One of the best fantasy/sci-fi adventure movies to not have felt the golden touch of the hand of Studio Ghibli. The plot follows a group of five kids as they are plucked from their self-organized summer school by a friendly space dog they rescue named Pochi and become the first humans to experience and have adventures in the intergalactic community at large. Certainly a tad edgier than Ghibli’s adventure movies, Welcome to the Space Show is still good for kids in spite of a small free-flying wang earlier on that may raise some Western-minded eyebrows. The various alien species and locales are fantastic, the characters are genuine, and the story, while maintaining a relaxed pace due to the movie’s considerable 2 1/3 hour length, has enough steam to keep audience members of all ages interested throughout. The only minor issue I had with this movie aside from its length was that the portrayal of the kids is moe to a degree where the movie would probably have been well attended by shady guys in trench coats had it seen a North American theatrical release. A dazzling movie from start to finish, Welcome to the Space Show is recommended for anime and movie lovers of all kinds, just be sure to clear a large enough space in your schedule before you sit down to enjoy it.
This company has only animated one feature-length anime movie. They are also the only company on this list that isn’t Japanese, they are South Korean. You may not have been aware that high-quality anime (or as it’s known in South Korea, manhwa-yeonghwa / 만화 영화) can originate from countries other than Japan, but Kim Moon-saeng certainly made a gem of a manhwa-yeonghwa movie proving that geography has nothing to do with the quality of an anime feature.
Wonderful Days/Sky Blue (2003)
Wondeopul Deijeu (원더풀 데이즈)
I’ll admit that I was a little wary of this anime (or manhwa-yeonghwa) at first due to its South Korean origins. It’s nothing against the Koreans, but I was used to Japanese anime, and not keen to change things up at all. The first time I tried to watch this anime, I even stopped watching because the art style was so different than what I was used to. Both of these impressions were very much in error. Having watched the movie in its entirety several times now, I can definitely say that this movie is not inferior in any way to its Japanese counterparts. The art style is wonderful, the voices are good, in all technical aspects this movie is notably above average. Story-wise the movie is solid too, with a post-apocalyptic society struggling with a significantly polluted world and dissension between its social classes. It also deals with love that transcends these class boundaries and the complications therein. A definite good time, not suggested for younger children though, as there is a good deal of violence that may not agree with younger viewers. A shining example of how truly good animated films don’t have to be exclusively produced in Japan.
Studio 4°C is one of the most diversified studios featured in this guide. Known primarily for their OVA contributions to collections including The Animatrix, Genius Party, Genius Party Beyond, Batman: Gotham Knight, and Halo Legends. Studio 4°C also has numerous TV series, music videos, short films, and even video games under its belt. They’ve made a few stellar anime movies thus far and you can find out about the best of them below.
Michael Arias isn’t a very Japanese name, is it? That would be because, genetically, Arias is a Chicano/Spanish American. He’s been living in Japan for years, though, and is pretty much as Japanese as an American-born person can be. His movies aren’t overly family friendly, but also not super-disturbing. His works are essentially middle of the road in relation to general family appropriateness.
Tekkon Kinkreet (2006)
Tekkon Kinkurīto (鉄コン筋クリート)
A good many people find beauty in the unique homeliness of the art-style of this anime movie and I am certainly one of them. The real gem here isn’t even the art-direction, but rather the unique and sordid story of two street urchins Kuro (Black) and Shiro (White) as they try to fight crime and deal with their own poverty. The story, while often departing from what one would normally refer to as reality, is truly a tour de force and is both touching and not to be missed. Whether or not you appreciate this anime’s visual style, I would still urge you to do yourself a favour and check it out. This is not an anime for children, but viewers old enough to view R-rated anime are sure to be impressed.
Bones is known for its many high-profile anime TV series including both versions of Full Metal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Eureka Seven, and Ouran High School Host Club, as well as the movies released for these series. While this would normally place them squarely in the TV Series Movie Guide, Bones made an uncharacteristic move in 2007 and released an original movie that is well worth its inclusion in this Movie Guide. Bones’ movies are about as appropriate for general audiences as their respective series, but Sword of the Stranger is much too gory for younger audiences.
Sword of the Stranger (2007)
Sutorenjia Mukōhadan (ストレンヂア 無皇刃譚)
Sword of the Stranger is a jidaigeki (Edo period) anime with more than its fair share of awesome samurai action. The narrative follows a young orphan boy named Kotaro and his trusty Shiba Inu Tobimaru as they flee between monasteries and are hunted by a group of Chinese Ming Dynasty warriors. The boy and his dog happen upon a nameless ronin (samurai without a master) and enlist his services as a bodyguard not knowing the depth of the corruption of their pursuers. I’m not usually one for period pieces of any description, but this movie keeps the pace up and every fight scene will make you cringe as people are decapitated or cut clean in two. It’s also pretty neat to see the Chinese characters switch back and forth between Chinese and Japanese, as Chinese speakers are a rarity in most kinds of anime. This movie doesn’t really have any deep mysteries to solve or novel lessons to teach, but it looks and sounds great, is very entertaining, and is well worth the price of admission (whatever it costs on Bluray these days). Recommended for anyone looking for visceral as opposed to cerebral entertainment, don’t let the setting scare you away from this worthwhile anime movie.
Brain’s Base is one of the behind-the-scenes workhorses of the anime industry. They have handled various levels of in-between and key animation for anime feature films like Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Ponyo, and Tekkonkinkreet and TV series or TV series movies for Detective Conan, Crayon Shin-Chan, Eden of the East, Eureka 7, Fullmetal Alchemist, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Naruto, and Soul Eater to name a few. In 2011 they proved to everyone that they are more than just a behind-the-scenes company by adapting the popular one-shot manga Hotarubi no Mori e into a noteworthy theatrical film. Hopefully in the future they will continue pursuing their promising solo production career.
Hotarubi no Mori e (2011)
Hotarubi no Mori e (蛍火の杜へ) (lit. “In the Forest of the Fireflies”)
While weighing in as the second shortest movie in this Guide at a meagre 44 minutes, Hotarubi no Mori e is surely worthy of every moment spent watching it. The plot begins with a six-year-old girl named Hotaru Takegawa getting lost in a mountain forest full of spirits. She is found by a mysterious kitsune (fox) mask-wearing man named Gin who then leads her back to safety. She returns to the mountain to visit Gin every summer and the narrative focuses on how the nature of her relationship with Gin develops over time. The story isn’t really surprising, but is beautifully and emotionally depicted covering most of the emotional spectrum from laughter to tears. A heartfelt and genuine anime movie, Hotarubi no Mori e comes highly recommended even considering its relatively short length and is sure to make you hope this doesn’t become Brain’s Base’s only solo film.
Gainax is primarily known for their anime TV series, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, and making movies for both their own and other studios’ series. Luckily, there was a pleasant exception to this made in 1987, where the studio ended up producing a really good movie out of the blue. The anime movies based on their series are also usually quite good, essentially none of which are suggested for children.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987)
Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa (王立宇宙軍 オネアミスの翼)
The only stand-alone original anime movie ever to come out of Gainax is still a gem in any anime collection. Not only have the animation and sound held out fairly well over time (particularly when compared to other anime movies that came out more than 20 years ago), but the story is still as relevant and enthralling as it has ever been. The story dramatically follows a guy named Shirotsugh Lhadatt who eventually decides that he’ll be the first man in space to give his country, which in on the verge of war, something to look up to and dream about. Of course, Lhadatt runs into many issues in his training, social, and spiritual lives leading up to his dream, and that’s where the meat of the movie comes from. A very good watch and particularly great for people who appreciate cinematic allegory. Recommended for all older anime watchers, as this movie is not appropriate or exciting enough for children.
Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)
Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Jo (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 序) (lit. “Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Prelude”)
I saw Evangelion 1.0 in its limited North American theatrical release and was absolutely blown away. Not only was this anime graphically amazing, but I was struck by the sound most of all. The theatre rocked with explosions and you almost felt ill seeing and hearing the often quite bloody deaths of the “angels” attacking Tokyo-3. I had had no previous experience with the story of Neon Genesis Evangelion, so I was also struck by all of the characters and their personable qualities. The English dub was the best that I have ever seen in an anime and is easily interchangeable with watching it with subtitles, and probably actually better for native English speakers. Whether or not you have experienced Neon Genesis Evangelion before, this movie cannot be recommended enough. Evangelion veterans will find that their favourite series has been very lovingly touched-up and newcomers will be astounded at the quality of this remake of the first 6 episodes in the Neon Genesis Evangelion series. This movie can be watched in an even more touched-up version called “Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone” on Blu-ray (highly recommended) or DVD. Watch this right now!
Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009)
Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Ha (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 破) (lit. “Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Break”)
Once again I was privileged to catch Evangelion 2.0 on its very limited North American theatrical release and once again I was blown away. The version I saw was subtitled, which normally is recommended, but in lieu of the fantastic dub of Evangelion 1.0, I was a little disappointed that it hadn’t been given the same treatment for theaters. The animation revitalization continues to be absolutely top notch in the second entry of the series, every single part of the anime looked great. While still host to the fan service and occasional humour that the Evangelion series became known for, this is a much darker and shocking movie than the first. New characters introduced in this movie very quickly become “part of the family” and you’ll be just as enthralled with them as the returning cast. An anime delight, definitely suggested watching, but only if you’re an adult that has seen the first movie as it is definitely much more gory and fan-service heavy than the series’ first entry (who would have thought that was even possible?). Do yourself a favour and get into this series of remake movies even if you were a fan of the original anime show in 1995 as new characters and scenarios are being added to lead into an all-new ending for the series that is to be in the fourth movie.
Formed in 1975, Shaft didn’t really start making a name for themselves as original anime creators until they came out with the popular 12-episode anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica in early 2011. In spite of its looks, Madoka Magica is definitely not for kids, but is a uniquely compelling series for mature audiences.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part I: Beginnings (2012)
Gekijōban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika Hajimari no Monogatari
(劇場版 魔法少女まどか☆マギカ 始まりの物語)
(lit. “Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Beginning Story”)
Clocking in at 130 minutes long, the first Madoka Magica movie is certainly on the lengthy side, but with the series’ first 8 episodes to summarize the plot advances at a good clip. Having not seen the series, I went into the movie’s limited North American theatrical release not knowing what to expect aside from a darker twist on the Sailor Moon-like magical girl genre. Little could have prepared me for what Madoka Magica had in store. A unique anime in many ways, Madoka Magica Beginnings starts off predictably saccharine, but very quickly starts unrelentingly throwing out shocking plot twists and dramatic animation style changes. There were no less than four times during the movie when I had to just stare in disbelief and say “wtf” at the shocking turn of events. The increasingly complex narrative essentially follows a girl named Madoka Kaname as her and her friend are approached by a mysterious cat-like creature named Kyubey who promises to grant them any wish they desire in exchange for becoming magical girls who fight witches that are invisible to the average person. The cost of making a contract with Kyubey is far greater than either of them could ever have imagined, though, and they learn this both through their own experiences and those of other magical girls in the city. Being very true to its source material, there will be nothing astounding in Madoka Magica Beginnings for those who have already seen the series aside from some nicely improved visuals. Whether you’re already a Madoka Magica fan or not, though, the first movie is an excellent and intriguing production that comes highly recommended.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part II: Eternal (2012)
Gekijōban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika Eien no Monogatari
(劇場版 魔法少女まどか☆マギカ 永遠の物語)
(lit. “Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Everlasting Story”)
Madoka Magica Part II falls short of the greatness of its predecessor even though it is required viewing for anyone who has seen Part I. With only four episodes left to summarize, content is spread a bit thin and is blatantly padded on a couple occasions like when the movie unceremoniously breaks from the narrative to run a seemingly meaningless anime opening-like interlude. Part II more or less wraps everything up nicely, just as the anime series did, which is rare for anime of this level of gravitas and certainly appreciated, but at almost a full half-hour shorter than Part I it makes you wonder if they couldn’t have split the series’ content more evenly between the movies. The movie, in a manner that takes a good deal longer than it should to grasp, fully explains Homura Akemi’s mysterious origins and leads into just how the magical girls manage to take on the powerful witch Walpurgisnacht. Certainly a lot more “out there” than the superb Part I, Madoka Magica Part II does its job of tying the series’ original story neatly up while setting the stage for the much anticipated original Part III due in Japanese theatres at the end of 2013. You should definitely watch this once you’ve seen Part I, but taken as a movie on its own its merits are fewer than both its predecessor’s and what is expected of its incipient sequel.
Anime Innovation Tokyo (AIT) is a unique anime studio, as they don’t work in quite the same way as the others featured in this list. AIT, instead of producing solely theatrical films with big-name directors, aims to encourage young and unique talent in the anime industry by finding sponsorship for and producing short (usually around half an hour) innovative anime films. Pilot films are first made to drum up support for the projects and then the films are more expensively produced and widely distributed. While always visually and thematically striking, unless otherwise noted AIT films are not recommended for family viewing with younger family members.
At a mere half-hour Cencoroll qualifies as the shortest anime movie featured in this guide, but there are a great many things that make up for what it lacks in length. Cencoroll was the first anime movie written, designed, directed, and animated by a single person (Atsuya Uki) that Anime Innovation Tokyo was able to get anime giant Aniplex to bankroll. It took Ukisan two years to make this half-hour movie by himself, but as with all AIT productions, it’s quality and uniqueness are second to none. The movie’s plot follows Tetsu, a male highschool student, and his blob-like, shape-shifting, psychically-controlled creature named Cenco as they battle another student named Shū who controls two such creatures and is hoping to make Cenco his third. Tetsu and Cenco get more help than they were expecting from an inquisitive girl named Yuki who is amazed by Cenco’s abilities and that Tetsu had been hiding him for so long. You definitely have the extra 30 minutes to spare to watch this superb little anime film and the only bad thing about it is that you’ll want to see more. Luckily for all of us a Cencoroll 2 is currently in production, so we shouldn’t have to wait too long to see more of Tetsu, Cenco, and Yuki’s exploits.
Square Enix, as most gamers could tell you, primarily makes video games, not anime movies. This is very true, but they have also made some of the most compelling CG movies currently available. While some people would say that they are not strictly anime movies, they fit the generally accepted definition of anime as being “animation originating in Japan”. Whether or not you think Square Enix should technically included in this list, their movies are of unarguably high quality and are just as laudable as their more rigidly defined counterparts in this guide.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Fainaru Fantajī (ファイナルファンタジー)
Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, the world’s first photorealistic CG feature-length movie still holds up well against the other entries in the now saturated CG movie genre. For a movie that came out almost a decade before James Cameron’s Avatar, the visuals still hold up well, avoiding the uncanny valley and remaining impressive as opposed to distracting. The movie’s plot does not directly relate to a specific Final Fantasy game, but instead follows a group of people in the year 2065 as they try to free the world from an alien race called Phantoms that can essentially kill people on contact. While this movie did not perform well financially in its original theatrical run, it is still a great experience and is suggested for anime and film lovers alike.
Final Fantasy VII Advent Children (2005)
Fainaru Fantajī Sebun Adobento Chirudoren (ファイナルファンタジーVII アドベントチルドレン)
Do yourself a huge favour and watch the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Complete version of this movie on Bluray, as it is a full half-hour longer than the original version, nicely touched-up, widely available and now actually quite cheap to buy as well. Directed by Tetsuya Nomura, who has directed and designed many of the games in the Final Fantasy series, Advent Children is one of the most visually stunning movies ever made. The movie’s plot picks up around two years after the end of the Final Fantasy VII game and follows Cloud Strife and his entourage as they try to save Edge city’s children (and some adults) from being corrupted by a disease called Geostigma being perpetuated by three mysterious men looking for their “mother”, Jenova, an alien being of sorts that is the cause of the disease. While the plot may be heavy for those unacquainted with the story of Final Fantasy VII, I went in with no prior knowledge of the series and completely enjoyed every minute of the movie. The action in the movie goes by really fast, so you’ll want to think twice about whether you want to watch the movie in its original Japanese or in English, especially since all of the characters’ mouth movements were completely redone to match the English voices. A movie through which you can palpably feel the years of hard work from a very dedicated team of individuals that went into it, Advent Children really is a cinematic milestone that should be on everyone’s “To Watch” list.
All anime names, images, and characters are copyright their respectively named studios and publishers where applicable.