Over the years I have gotten a lot of shtick for being a fan of Anime movies. Although there is a more dedicated fan base throughout the world, I have always respected the genre itself and have been completely blown away by films that on any other format I would have just dismissed. I find it funny that most people would be quick to judge, yet Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003) would be among some of their favourite films ever. I’m not going to judge them for their choices, but it is a shame that they deny themselves the opportunity to actually sit through some of these films which to me are so perfect they are just one of the reasons I love cinema so much. A lot of hardcore fans of the genre are worried now as Ghost in the Shell (2017) is being released this week. So I thought I would share my favourite films of the genre. Many films might be a bit obvious to some, and I am going to forego any honourable mentions as there are too many to name. So let’s get going.
10. Perfect Blue (1997)
Starting off the list is a film of more recent viewing. A psychological thriller about a former member of a J-pop group who decides to embark upon an acting career, only to suffer the consequences of a stalker. What I love about this film is the whole “What the Fuck?” nature behind it. The protagonist finds it hard to distinguish between reality and fiction, which adds to the confusion and complexity behind it. As we see her deteriorate on screen we are caught between what she is really doing, or what she is capable of doing. It is a real mind-melter of a film at times, but the end result is really worth it.
9. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)
Fond memories are attached to this entry as it is the very first Anime film I ever watched (excluding Dragonball Z and Pokemon as they were TV shows). Growing up on the Street Fighter games throughout the 1990s, I wasn’t expecting this film to be so violent and badass. Main protagonist Ryu kicks so much ass on his journey which all culminates into an epic showdown with the series antagonist M. Bison. It is just a really unexpected type of film you walk into. Definitely not one to watch with the kids, but really worth checking out if you are a 90s kid like myself.
8. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)
I have to say, that Spike Spiegel is without a doubt one of the most underrated protagonists of all time. He is just the ultimate likeable yet unlikely hero. Cocky and arrogant, yet cool as a cucumber, plus he could kick your head off. One of my favourite TV shows ever spawned this film several years after it finished. One of the best things about the Bebop universe is the ridiculously good Jazz music that plays throughout. Watching this film to me is not only about bounty hunters trying to take down a target, but the action set pieces being engulfed in some big band jazz that mixes the rhythm so perfectly between both. Watch the series from the start then watch this, I doubt you would be disappointed (although some people have no good taste).
7. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
I was really surprised to learn that Christian Bale was a voice actor in this film [surely the subtitled original would have been a better choice? Pffft! Ed.]. It follows the story of a young woman who angers a witch, who then proceeds to turn her into an old woman. She then focuses her attention on a wizard who may be able to reverse the curse, while in the process falling in love with him, and getting caught up in his resistance movement. The film was actually Hayao Miyazaki’s response to the 2003 invasion of Iraq for which he felt ‘a great deal of rage’. Whatever the politics may be, it is still one of studio Ghibli’s finest films, and not the only one on today’s list.
6. Ninja Scroll (1993)
What is there to say about Ninja Scroll? Well for one it was one of the first Anime’s to reach western audiences along with two other films on today’s list. But apart from that, a story about a poisoned swordsman who must take down eight demons who intend to overthrow the government in feudal Japan. And yes it’s as awesome as it sounds. Some great action scenes and an intense story to boot, you may never see a more kick ass samurai movie ever again. Well… animated at least.
5. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Back to Studio Ghibli now with one of the more mature of entries in its canon. Following a spectacular attack from a boar god infected with a deadly curse, a young Prince sets out to find a cure. Along the way he encounters a settlement who intends on harvesting the land, and the woodland creatures who wish to defend what they have left. Environmentalism is a core subject matter in many of the Ghibli films but it is much more apparent in this film. Slightly more violent compared to other films from Miyazaki, regardless, its message is still clear and it delivers on the action and story perfectly.
4. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Anyone who watches this film and is not left heartbroken is a sociopath. Grave of the Fireflies is the survival story of two siblings left alone in Japan during World War 2 after their mother is hospitalised. The film itself has a lot of upbeat moments, but after a while the reality of war kicks in and we are left pretty devastated with the aftermath. Lots of people would consider war movies among the likes of Saving Private Ryan (1998) a staple in the genre. But this entry feels just as important as it focuses strictly on those who are not fighting in the war but have to try and survive without a mother and father to protect them. Pretty harrowing stuff, but important none the less.
3. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Here’s the original film that has people worried that Scarlett Johansson’s live-action version won’t live up to. The film follows an assault-team leader known as ‘The Major’, a genetically modified humanoid like most people in the not too distant future. The Major, along with her team, attempt to track down a cyber-terrorist known as ‘The Puppet Master’ who can take control of other people’s bodies. What follows is a complicated web of cyber-crime and corruption inside the different sections of the police force, and also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This film is a cyberpunks heaven. Not only is it littered with some stunning visuals, it also deals with themes such as identity (particularly gender) and sexuality. The film itself was so far ahead of its time that even the Wachowski’s would use it as inspiration for their smash hit film several years later: The Matrix (1999). So the worry for a live-action remake is surely understandable.
2. Spirited Away (2001)
I honestly have no idea why I love this film so much. Everything about it tells me to run away from it. A young girls parents are turned into pigs, she is forced to work in a bathhouse for an evil old witch, and she must find a way to save herself and her parents and go back to the real world. On paper that all just sounds dumb to me. But then I watched it, and have watched it at least ten times now both dubbed and subtitled, and it just gets better every time. I don’t think I could ever get tired of it. The film has had such an effect on m, that I want my kids to watch this over Toy Story and Nemo. But this is essential viewing for growing up and it is highly recommended for the younger audience.
1. Akira (1988)
I’m sure the hardcore Anime fans were expecting this as number one. But honestly, as much as I love Spirited Away, this was the film that got me into Anime in the first place. Following a biker gang in the future of 2019 in Neo-Tokyo after World War 3, a member of the gang is taken in by government forces after colliding with a psychic child. Soon he begins to change, seeing violent hallucinations at first, then headaches and tremors begins, all culminating in making him a deadly force to reckon with. This film is insane. In terms of violence sure but even the subject matter would be something you would see on the likes of Dragonball Z. Government conspiracies, extraordinary animation, hyper violence, and psychic powers are all on the cards for this one. Although fears of a live-action animation have been making the rounds for decades, it seems that we may be safe from that for some years to come still. But now with the release of Ghost in the Shell, those fears may resurface yet again. Either way, it has topped many lists over the years as the greatest Anime movie of all time [And one of the flat-out greatest movies of all time in my opinion, Ed.].