The Best Independent Anime You Can Watch Online

by Callum May,

With short runtimes and plenty of ambition, independent animation is the perfect way to experience new developments and ideas within animation. With the Japanese anime industry constantly seeking out new talents, many of the figures behind these short films have already become involved with full-length TV series or films.

The definition of independent film can be shaky in this industry, however. For example, Cencoroll was animated, directed, and written by character designer Atsuya Uki, yet it still had the backing of Aniplex. Due to how expensive anime is to create and the facilities that it requires, the nature of creating an anime as an individual is essentially impossible. Rather, an independent anime film is better defined as a project without the backing of a large production company. Most of the films I've selected are "independent" in that they were created with the support of small anime studios or universities.

Indigo Ignited

Indigo Ignited is the debut work of the newly created D'Art Shtajio, a studio set up by American artists working in the anime industry. The pilot episode is directed by Henry Thurlow, a former-Pierrot animator known for his coverage of the anime industry online.

Labelled as a dark fantasy, it features a battle between a kid with the power to manipulate gravity and the hunter/cult leader that seeks to take it away from him. It's very cheesy and the voice acting largely works against it, but the compelling, fast-paced action sequence halfway through makes it entirely worthwhile. It's yet another step toward the prevalence of foreign artists within the anime industry, featuring a combination of Japanese and American animators.

Tayutaum

Not all anime needs to have explicit narratives with voice acting and scripts. Sometimes the best ways to tell an animated story is purely through the animation. The challenge then is how to combine both conventional and unconventional visual ideas that can make the message understandable while also being presented in a truly unique way. Tayutaum is an ideal example of this. Although it can be interpreted as a story about a girl finding inspiration and learning how to express herself creatively, there are many potential interpretations since the feelings it evokes are what's most important.

As the graduation film by animator Namiko Ishidate from Tama Art University, this was her first step into the anime industry. Moving on to work as an in-between animator at P.A. Works, she won housing support from the Animator Supporters Grand Prix with a first place prize for animation. And just 3 years after her graduation film, she served as the animation director for Studio Colorido's McDonald's commercials in both 2016 and 2017. Independent graduation films aren't just a way to express yourself, they also offer a way for future co-workers to know what you're capable of.

Bloomed Words

Breaking away from traditional ideas of what film seems to be an essential part of independent filmmaking. When we look for independent anime, it's a search for something that doesn't exist within the hundred other shows airing in any given year. In the case of Bloomed Words, this doesn't just refer to its visual style, but also its narrative—or lack of one. Instead of having a story, cast, and script, Bloomed Words visualizes an amusing conversation between its two creators with creative paper-esque imagery.

In 2006, Amica Kubo and Seita Inoue were still students, but this award-winning film became a stepping stone for them to become notable names within their respective fields today. Amica Kubo is a renowned director and producer, serving on juries for animation film festivals around the world. This season, she makes her first step into TV anime as the director of Urahara. Meanwhile, Seita Inoue has moved into the games industry. Today, he is best known as the art director for both Splatoon and Splatoon 2. Both of them are still known for Bloomed Words, even over ten years after it was first released.

The Tender March

As a music video, The Tender March uses the medium to its advantage. Developing stories within text and dialogue isn't for everyone, but creating an animation with rhythm as a basis allows for new types of stories to be told. Much like Tayutaum, The Tender March's meaning is up to interpretation. It appears to be a commentary on either tackling or running away from your problems, which are represented as monsters chasing after the heroine, but its intended meaning isn't as important as what you can take from it personally.

Director Wataru Uekusa's animation aims to represent the rhythm on screen. The more layers the music has at any given time, the more movement is added. His unique style and color palette has excited some anime producers enough to bring him onto new projects. Most notably, Uekusa was asked to create the ending sequence to the MAPPA series Punch Line, featuring similar designs to his music video for “HIMITSU” by “A Crow is White”.

Fumiko's Confession

Viewed 4 million times on YouTube, Fumiko's Confession is short, silly, and fun. With a comical tumble down a hill through the streets and sky, it's the best way to spend just two minutes of time. After being rejected by a boy she likes, Fumiko runs and runs and runs. Combined with polished backgrounds, storyboards that emphasize exaggerated movement, and very silly animation, it takes a simple concept and makes it fun.

Its director, Hiroyasu Ishida, is now one of Studio Colorido's top directors alongside ex-Ghibli animator Yōjirō Arai. Going on to take charge of the first two Fastening Days films, he's become one of the biggest figures within the rise of digital animation in Japan. He was even selected to direct his own feature film at the studio, the beautiful Hinata no Aoshigure, which makes use of Ishida's specialty for working with moving backgrounds.

Johanne

You may remember one specific part of Madoka Magica in which they mention that Joan of Arc was a magical girl. Not only did this idea inspire a spin-off manga, but it also inspired London based director Anna-Ester Volozh to create a short film at her studio, Dragonbee. Many of today's anime involve staff from around the world, and the same is true for Johanne. Staff from Spain, Finland, and Japan were all involved, creating something uniquely international. Volozh herself is inspired by the works of Kunihiko Ikuhara, and you can notice this clash of Disney and Japanese aesthetic inspirations throughout the film.

Much like its staff, the film's success has been global as well. Getting views from people all over the world, it has been officially selected for animation festivals in France, Italy, Korea and more. As a passion project for its staff, it ended up taking 2.5 years to complete in their spare time, but with that time came a considerable amount of polish.

Onigiri Girl Rematch

Meet Rabbit Machine, an independent animator who posts their works on YouTube. Having posted videos for over 8 years, their YouTube channel offers a unique opportunity to see the progression of their animation talent. For long time fans of Rabbit Machine, Onigiri Girl Rematch was a reminder of just how far a person can come when they're dedicated to their craft. One of the first videos on their channel was a short called Onigiri Kid. It was fairly basic, but it showed a lot of compelling expressive elements within the animation as a girl fights with a demon, who turns out to be a friend all along.

Skip ahead five years. Now with backgrounds, color, and depth, the sequel Onigiri Girl Rematch shows how far someone can go with a few years of hard work. One of the standout elements is the unique coloring that appears to give the film a traditional vibe. Even those with no context for Rabbit Machine's history can appreciate this stunningly choreographed action scene.


While there may be limited space in this article, there are an endless selection of films that deserve to be included here. Today, many Universities have set up their own YouTube channels to feature students' graduation films. Tokyo University of the Arts, Gobelins School of Images, Tama Art University and Kyoto Seika University are just a few examples of collections made by promising new creators.

Some additional favorite films of mine are BOOM!! Kaiju, created by a team at GOBELINS, Fox Fears, created by Miyo Sato (who went on to create the ending to Mob Psycho 100), and LOUD HOUSE by Tatsurō Kawano (who served as action animation director on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress).

There are always independent anime films in production, and no matter how many you watch, you can always find something surprising. So what are your favorite independent anime films?


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