The Mike Toole Show
The Other 100 Best Anime Movies of All Time, Part 3
by Mike Toole,
FOREWORD: Alright, since this is broken into four parts, I'll lead off by re-iterating: this project is an "answer" of sorts to a generally terrific list of 100 essential anime films by Paste Magazine. You can read my reasoning for compiling this selection in Part 1 of this particular list, or check out part 2.
This week, I went and saw the three Kizumonogatari movies. Originally, the plan was to see them as they came out, but that proved harder than expected. My local arthouse theatre, the Brattle, rode to my rescue by running a double feature of Kizumonogatari 1 and 2, then the third and final film on the following evening. These are fun, frothy movies, goofy little supernatural action flicks created with an auteur's appreciation of striking scenery and odd dialogue. They left me feeling confident enough to pick up the threads of the Monogatari universe (I'd previously tried to dive in, unprepared, to Nisemonogatari, and got lost immediately) and also had me wondering: hey, I'm right in the middle of making this alternate top 100 list! If these Kizu movies are good enough, should I just try to slot them in somewhere?
There are a couple of problems with trying to do this. First of all, at this point, the movie in question would have to be damn good, because we're in the top half of the list. Kizumonogatari is a fun ride, but I don't think it's as good as anything in front of me on the remains of the list. It's intriguing to think that I could stumble on a movie that forces its way in; after all, the downside of a list like this is that it's almost immediately dated, and gets less useful the more time passes. But at this point, that's not likely to happen.
Japan tends to struggle with all-CG films. There's been some improvement lately—Shinji Aramaki's Captain Harlock and Keiichi Satou's GANTZ:O are decent action films, and Studio Shirogumi's Gamba's Adventure remake is also surprisingly solid. But start working your way back, and you'll find that Japan's forays into CG-animated films are mainly a graveyard of flashy but forgettable fare like Vexille and Planzet and Mr. Stain in Junk Alley. So leave it to one of anime's traditional animation masters to put out the first all-CG film to make this list with Yona Yona Penguin. Somewhere between adorable and nightmarish, this film is about a penguin-obsessed little girl who teams up with a friendly goblin, a fallen angel, the spirit of her late father, and the Seven Lucky Gods themselves to unseat a mean old deity called Bucca Boo. Like most great kids' adventure movies, Yona Yona Penguin's greatest strength is that it's not afraid to be weird.
The ANN forum gang were anticipating this one. Guilty as charged! HELLS is a personal favorite of mine, but it's also a treasure waiting to be discovered – one that sat on the studio's shelves for several years before finally seeing release in 2012. Our heroine is Linne, a happy-go-lucky schoolgirl who dies in a violent accident and begins a literal descent into damnation, finding herself in a version of Hell that seems weirdly reminiscent of school, only she's surrounded by misshapen demons. Turns out that Hell isn't a pit of flames, it's a place where everything just kind of sucks. The school's principal, Helvis (he's exactly what you're picturing) points something out: Linne is actually still alive, so she just might find her way back to the land of the living. Director Yoshiki Yamakawa fills his movie with astonishing images of the underworld and its denizens, and infuses HELLS with crazed, kinetic energy. It's a movie that pokes holes in the notion of religion and faith, but still urges its heroine (and the audience) to keep on believing. If the movie was leaner (it's a chunky two hours), it'd be flirting with the top 20, but as it is, HELLS is a thrilling and surprising, ride, a worthy cult classic, and one of the last great auteur-driven films that Madhouse produced before the studio sold itself to NTV escape bankruptcy and became just another animation contractor.
When the supply of lavish Disney movies ran out, Toei president Hiroshi Ōkawa was ready: he had a whole lineup of equally impressive, accessible family movies in the pipeline. This phenomenon, which would last through the mid-1950s and much of the 60s, started with the fine Panda and the Magic Serpent, but it was really 1960's Saiyuki, nee Alakazam the Great, that really stood out. Like the contemporaneous Chinese-animated Havoc in Heaven, Alakazam is an adaptation of Journey to the West – one that gives its monkey king a series of exciting, inventive battles as he works to escort a monk to retrieve some scrolls, hopefully learning humility along the way. Most movies like this were dubbed quickly and cheaply, but American International Pictures went through the trouble of seeding Alakazam with real Hollywood stars and swinging pop tunes by chart-toppers Frankie Avalon and Dodie Stevens. (It didn't work – the thing still bombed in theatres.) Alakazam the Great is a fun and funny movie with a long reach-- just look at the way Alakazam moves when he flies on Kintoun, his magical cloud, or how it looks when Pigze shape-shifts, and you'll realize that this movie, not merely as a popular Journey to the West adaptation but as a funny, exciting action film, was a key influence on Dragon Ball.
47. Street Fighter II MOVIE
The characters of CAPCOM's Street Fighter pantheon are cultural institutions. Most people on the street will be able to recognize characters like Ryu and Chun-li, and they live on in the still-popular video game series. But the Street Fighter story and character mythology was almost entirely constructed in this film. Chun-li's portrayal as the vengeful daughter of a slain INTERPOL investigator, Guile's US Air Force officer looking for his missing colleague, and Vega's (or Bison's, if you prefer) creation of a southeast Asian crime empire to build an army of killer psychic kung-fu masters were hinted at in the game, but came to life vividly in this movie. Street Fighter II also impressively manages to give every single character on the roster – no less than sixteen! – a chance to both fight and play a role in the story. The end result is a bangin' action movie by Gisaburō Sugii, director not normally known for bangin' action movies. This movie, not the goofy Jean-Claude Van Damme version, is the Street Fighter movie that the people wanted, and I think it's aged a lot better.
Kenji Miyazawa strikes again! This film doesn't have a talking cat in the lead role, but a talking cat does appear, so it's still oddly reminiscent of Group TAC's many Miyazawa adaptations. This particular animated adaptation of Gauche is a bit infamous, because it was directed by future Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, and because it took several years to finish, foreshadowing creative slow-mo marathons like The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Miyazawa's story is simple, colorful, and well-suited to the screen, concerning a mediocre but diligent cellist who finds himself inspired by a series of strange visits from intelligent animals. The aforementioned cat is probably the highlight – animated by veteran Shunji Saida, he practically leaps off the screen after he smugly requests one song and the irritated Gauche decides to play another. This is Takahata's least awesome film, which is to say that it's still great stuff.
45. Patema Inverted
Yasuhiro Yoshiura impressed the heck outta the animation world with Time of Eve, so naturally its follow-up was widely anticipated. The result, Patema Inverted, is a pretty intriguing and fun science fiction tale. Here, a strange scientific accident has left half of a country's people with their personal gravity flipped— to them, up is down, so there's nothing scarier than wide open blue skies, which could swallow them right up if they don't move carefully through their subterranean tunnels and caves. The “normal” population pretty much instantly turns on these inverted people, consigning them to underground ghettoes and insisting that their precarious fate is somehow deserved. Yoshiura is no stranger to marrying classist ideas to his stories, and he does a good job again here, depicting the struggle of a young man named Age to connect with and understand an inverted girl named Patema, in the face of both of their fears, and against the wishes of his country's controlling leader. There are a lot of safe choices in Patema Inverted – the bad guy, in particular, is kind of comically evil—but while the story and characters don't break a lot of new ground, this is such an interesting film to look at. I can't wait to see what Yoshiura comes up with next!
44. Mai Mai Miracle
At its core, Mai Mai Miracle is a buddy movie—a buddy movie that just happens to star small children, third-graders Shinko and Kiiko, as the buddies. Shinko comes from a hardscrabble farm family, but newcomer Kiiko is the daughter of a well-to-do doctor, but they find common ground—common ground involving Shinko's explosive imagination. She has visions in her head of Heian-era Japan, the place where they live as it was a thousand years ago. Kiiko is eager to share in the daydreams—but is there something more to them? This film is a colorful and disarming look at how our memories and imaginations work as children, about how we slowly, tragically start to lose our grip on that special childhood magic as we grow older, and how friendship can preserve those feelings. It's a challenging film – I feel like I didn't really understand what director Sunao Katabuchi was trying to do until my second viewing—but a rewarding one, a rich and sensuous warm-up round for Katabuchi's reportedly sensational In This Corner of the World.
Here's my favorite movie about super robot pilots coping with existential dread. This GoShogun film is an astonishingly strange creative project, a sequel to a breezy, fun super robot series that takes place decades later, after the robot finished its business and flew home to an alien planet. Left behind are a group of colorful heroes who literally saved the world; now, as they gather around their stricken friend, pilot and firebrand Remy Shimada, they're left to contemplate their legacy and mortality. Meanwhile Remy, badly injured and trapped inside her own subconscious, fights a more urgent battle with demons both old and new. Scribe Takeshi Shudō understands well that Remy was always the most interesting character in GoShogun, and him making her the focus here really pays off. Ultimately, it's up to the battle-hardened heroine to stand alone against tomorrow, or quietly succumb—not to dread, but to apathy. Even if you've never seen the original GoShogun, if you want a tense, thrilling character study, you will not believe how much you like this movie.
42. Toward the Terra
Toward the Terra is blockbuster cinematic science fiction in the pre-Star Wars mold, which is to say that it's a patient, deliberate film that's more concerned with putting forth its ideas and visions than with throwing exciting lazer battles at the audience. This is because of two things: one, it's based on an earlier manga series by the great Keiko Takemiya, and two, it's directed by Hideo Onchi, an eminently capable, versatile filmmaker—one who spent his entire career working on live-action TV and film. The story itself is a futuristic dystopia where emergent psychics, the next evolution of the human race, are quickly and quietly hunted down and shuffled out of human society. One boy, Jomy Marcus Shin, believes himself to be a perfectly normal human, but his life is turned upside down when his psychic powers manifest and he's forced to flee the authorities. An ancient psychic warrior called Soldier Blue tells Jomy that he's going to be their messianic figure, the one to lead the physically weak but mentally powerful psychics out of the shadows. Human society's counteragent is Keith Anyan, a serious young man raised specifically to deal with the psychic “problem.” Onchi tells the story of their conflict with dreamy precision; his tendency towards long, rotating pans and slow and stately camera motion makes this a really interesting-looking film. Other than that, Toward the Terra has the same flaw as every other version of the story including Takemiya's original manga, in that Soldier Blue is the best character but appears only fleetingly. It's still a terrific film.
Captain Phantom F. Harlock is Leiji Matsumoto's version of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion, a cross-time freedom fightin' space pirate who appears in a multitude of the manga artist's stories. He's not always the protagonist, but he's always leading a (sometimes doomed) resistance against an oppressive government or occupying force. Intriguingly, these many Harlock stories don't overlap very well, because what drives the Harlock myth isn't a timeline – it's a cycle, where events and ideas repeat, always a little differently. Despite its loose hold on continuity, Arcadia of My Youth serves as a satisfying and substantive origin story for Matsumoto's space pirate. The film is melancholy, almost dour, but weirdly euphoric when it's time to do battle. Matsumoto and director Tomoharu Katsumata deliver a richly layered film, one with a basis not just in Matsumoto's War Stories Manga, but in earlier works of film and literature. Arcadia of My Youth is full of tragic sacrifice, honorable battlefield foes, and best of all, the part where the truly craven, cowardly bad guys get killed onscreen. The broad expanse of Captain Harlock anime has a certain cinematic language to it – the way the ship moves, the way he always draws his laser sword to get the drop on the bad guys, and they're always surprised by it – and it comes straight from this movie.
Think about all the funniest bits from Miyazaki movies. The brawl in Laputa, for example, or the opening casino escape in Castle of Cagliostro, or the rowdy kindergartners short-circuiting the air pirates' escape in Porco Rosso. The guy has a very fine aptitude for comedy, one that he refined greatly during the production of a film called Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, aka Ali Baba's Revenge. The second title is attached to the English-language version, and it doesn't make much sense – the antagonist is the 33rd descendant of Ali Baba, and the protagonist is a kid named Al Haq, who's descended not from merchant stock, but from the thief that the original Ali Baba ripped off! So, who's really getting revenge, here?! It doesn't matter, because the resulting film, which sports a marvelously nutty, eyes-askew comic look, is loads of fun. Ali Baba's enlisted a genie to help him swindle the people, a giant, silly-looking pink monster. When he crosses Haq, the kid goes out for revenge, with some help from 40 cats: ideal stand-ins for the original Ali Baba's 40 thieves. And unfortunately for Ali Baba, his powerful genie is terrified of cats! This movie is one long string of jokes, and most of them—especially the battle/chase scenes involving the giant geinie and tiny Haq—are pure Miyazaki, building blocks he'd later refine and re-use.
39. The Eleven Cats
I will plug this movie for the rest of my life, because perilously few people even know it exists. After all, it may have played in theatres, but never got a home video release, even on VHS or laserdisc! The Eleven Cats is based on a series of whimsical storybooks by Noboru Baba, concerning the exploits of ten regular cats and their leader, a boisterous gray tabby. The other cats manifest personality traits when necessary, but generally the group act as a single entity, and in this movie, the entity is on a mission: to find, catch, and eat the world's biggest fish! So the cats wander through farms and cities, islands and deserts, getting into all sorts of fun mischief along the way. It would be a pretty standard kids' story, if not for the film's relentlessly inventive, colorful stylings, and its terrific soundtrack—this is a Group TAC film, so you know it's going to have good music. In one scene, the cats trudge through the desert, going for the classic “far-off puddle is a mirage” before gleefully upping the ante, making the cats chase imaginary convenience stores, restaurants, and ice cream parlors. In another scene, they come on an island of catnip, and immediately forget the mission in favor of getting baked. The Eleven Cats is inventive, loaded with catchy tunes, a carries a sense of adventuresome joy that just about leaps off the screen. It's not a flashy movie—it doesn't have the punch of a classic Toei film—but I guarantee at least one of its gags will make you smile like an idiot. You can find a grotty old TV rip of this lost treasure online, if you look carefully; I hope it's properly rescued someday.
Crusher Joe is a dream project, in a number of ways. Its creative force is Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, first of all, and everything “Yas” has done has turned out pretty great, be it Giant Gorg or Gundam: The Origin. It's also a film that is effectively Studio Nue: The Movie, because of the way it leverages the talents of almost every member of the famous, ad-hoc creative studio to make a great film, starting with writer Haruka Takachiho's story and characters. What Yas and Studio Nue come up with is a thrilling SF adventure that follows the exploits of a team of Crushers, interplanetary troubleshooters, who stumble across a kidnapping plot and follow it back to a crew of formidable spacebound gangsters. Rounding out the “dream project” notion is the fact that the film's production design is staffed with the top anime and manga luminaries of the day, so you'll see aliens designed by Akira Toriyama and Katsuhiro Otomo. The glue that holds this movie together is Joe himself; he's impetuous, your classic hotheaded young hero, but shows uncanny talent for his weird job as he haggles, talks trash, negotiates with corporate officers and dodges political authorities on the way to picking a fight with the most dangerous gang in the galaxy. Crusher Joe also sports the definitive space disco scene, not just in the anime realm, but in all of science fiction TV and cinema. Yes, it's even better than Logan's Run!
This right here is one of the weirdest movies on the list. It concerns a scrappy kid named Ted. In short order, Ted is kicked out of the movies, makes a couple of curious friends (a chummy talking pug and an officious wind-up toy soldier), and stumbles acrossg the secret laboratory of none other than Lemuel Gulliver. Yep, the perceptive adventurer of Jonathan Swift's stories is still around, and this time he's building a rocket—he's observed a far-off star and wants to have a visit. So why not bring Ted and his little buddies along? The resulting adventure is zippy, surreal, and looks and feels like nothing else in the medium. Gulliver's Space Travels also functions as a vehicle for pop crooner Kyu Sakamoto, who voices Ted and provides a bunch of songs. The English version, which replaces those songs with equally buoyant numbers by Gong Show bandleader Milton Delugg, isn't any less strange. (It also helpfully gives Ted a less exotic, more American name: Ricky.) What seals the deal of this wonderfully strange film is its ending—Ted and Gulliver ride to the rescue of a group of helpless robots, but the robot aren't what they seem. The twist is supplied by none other than Hayao Miyazaki, who handled animation duties on this movie but wasn't a story guy at the time. Good on his director, Masao Kuroda, for hearing him out and helping to make one of the most memorably strange anime movies of its day.
One of Osamu Tezuka's most famous characters, a canny unlicensed surgeon who despises the stuffiness and casual corruption of the medical business, is Black Jack. This doctor will operate on anyone, anywhere—but always at a formidable price. Tezuka's Black Jack manga told stories rooted in the real world – tales of angst, of social upheaval, and of one man pushing back against an untractable medical system. In this film (as well as a set of prior OVAs), the artist's cartoony style is put aside for a more realistic look, and the effect is compelling. I think that director Osamu Dezaki really understood the character of Black Jack and how he works as a protagonist more than any other creator that worked on Black Jack media besides Tezuka himself. Here, the real-world setting is the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where a cadre of athletes with superhuman skill start to emerge—but then wither and die frighteningly abruptly. A cure is needed, so it's time to call the doctor! Aside from being a technical playground for Dezaki and his collaborator Akio Sugino, who litter the proceedings with split-screen views, smash cuts, and impressive freeze-frames to punctuate the drama, Black Jack: The Movie is a good example of the essential Black Jack story, one that fearlessly mixes realistic human drama with utterly absurd situations, including a version of the World Health Organization that seems to have its own military wing, kinda like the GI Joe team. The OVAs, on the whole, are a bit better, but this is an excellent film, the perfect gateway drug to treatment from Dr. Black Jack.
35. Patlabor WXIII
It was easy to dislike Patlabor WXIII at first. The thing about this movie is, it's not a Patlabor movie at all. It's a police procedural, a detective story—even sort of a monster movie, but it doesn't have a lot of common ground with the rest of the Patlabor narrative—a narrative which depicts a future where giant robot “Labors” are little more than construction, military, and police enforcement vehicles. Consequently, this movie has spent a lot of time lost in the long, inky shadow of its predecessors, which are each thrilling action movies in the Patlabor tradition. This movie, the third in the series, really holds up, though. A pair of detectives on the Labor beat start patiently chasing down a series of leads they pick up from investigating a string of bizarre Labor accidents. Before they know it, the elder Kusumi and younger Hata have stumbled upon shadowy US military personnel, JSDF agents who don't wanna talk to them, and a seemingly-dormant biological weapons program called Wasted Thirteen. Kusumi has seen some shit and is ready to move on but is kept focused by Hata, who may have some connection to the case. Takuji Endo doesn't have the intelligence or deftness of Mamoru Oshii, but his attempt at a Patlabor movie is an engrossing detective story/horror movie/SF yarn. It's just not really a Patlabor movie.
Girls und Panzer der Film captures the zeitgeist of anime in 2015 perfectly, with its inexplicably appealing mixture of cutie-pie schoolgirls and obsessively detailed military hardware. I gave the whole story a pass at first, worrying that the mixture might be weirdly prurient, but “Garupan” is straight and true, a great sports anime story that cunningly disguises itself as a series of tank battles. Another winning element of Girls und Panzer is the characters' understanding of history and tactics, and their dedication to maintaining and operating their tanks; it just wins you over, somehow. Beyond that, this movie, concerning tankery (it's a sport that high school girls play!) captain Miho's attempt to marshal a team formidable enough to win a major battle and save the school as a result (yes, this a transparent redux of the TV series' conflict) is a long, thrilling action scene, followed by about twelve minutes of talking and setup, and concluding with a far longer, even more exciting action scene. Girls und Panzer der Film is pure popcorn—it's loaded with intense action scenes, and many of them are even designed for 4DX. It seems like that's the way to see it, huh? As a fringe benefit, these pricier 4DX tickets netted Girls und Panzer der Film a higher than expected box office take, which helped make it a trendsetter – the following spring, One Piece Film Gold suddenly had some 4DX stuff happening.
Here's a very solid, entertaining comedy that's been stuck eating the dust of its brainier sequel for decades. Everyone loves Beautiful Dreamer, but this film is the first Urusei Yatsura movie directed by Mamoru Oshii—and, in fact, his feature directorial debut! Here, Oshii ditches his usual cerebral subversiveness to tell a classic Urusei Yatsura story—one where the idiotic Ataru Moroboshi breaks a promise and is forced to pay the consequences. In this case, the consequences are another, more different alien princess (he's already got one, you see) comes down and proclaims that he has to marry her. The whole awkward situation forces Ataru to scrutinize his life on earth and question his commitment to his beloved Lu—just kidding, it's a giant chase scene where Ataru's inability to commit to even a simple date enrages both Lum, his would-be fiancée, and the other girls who believe he's wronged them somehow (you'll need both hands to count them). Only You is a snappy, visually delightful comedy, but I like this film in particular because it does such a good job of explaining why cutie-pies like Lum and Shinobu carry a torch for Ataru – at the end of the day, he's dynamic, passionate, and quite funny. He just, you know, tries to use a zany engagement mix-up as a chance to build an intergalactic harem for himself.
32. Band of Ninja
The Criterion Collection people love Nagisa Oshima, and rightfully so – the guy is right up there with Kurosawa and Ozu in the pantheon of great Japanese film directors, with gems like Death by Hanging and In the Realm of the Senses as part of his filmography. So why have they seemed to ignore Band of Ninja, the director's sole foray into anything resembling animation? I keep this description vague because Band of Ninja isn't really animated – it's a movie based on the manga of Sanpei Shirato, and the director created it by filming still images, pans, and other camera shots of the artist's comics. It's more like a motion comic than a truly animated film, but Band of Ninja is still really exciting and involving. Despite a positively byzantine collection of major characters, Oshima holds on to the film's storytelling center courtesy of Kagemaru, a skilled ninja with a mysterious smile. In the chaos of the Warring States era, he seems to be playing all sides for his personal gain, but in truth, Kagemaru is patiently and exactingly tugging the strings of power, trying to light the conflagration that will change the course of history. Abruptly, he's seized and executed – or is that just another ninja trick? This is a movie worth tracking down and sticking with—I was surprised by how much, say, Ninja Scroll owes to its characters and visuals.
31. They Were Eleven
Kenji Miyazawa strikes again! Alright, this isn't really Miyazawa, but original manga artist Moto Hagio points to Miyazawa's Zashiki Warashi, in which ten children at play suddenly realize they number eleven, and one of them might be a monster, as inspiration for her story. Hagio's story is science fiction, the tale of space academy candidates taking the final exam: repairing a derelict ship and getting it back on course. This will require a lot of teamwork from a group of smart, tough students from varied backgrounds. Some are using the academy's prestige to further their careers, while others attend out of family or social obligation, and still others are trying to use it as a gateway out of poverty. At the center of the tale is Tadatos Lane, who is the first among the ten students to notice that there's actually eleven of them. Also, there's a mysterious illness spreading amongst the crew, and the ship might be falling into the sun it's orbiting. There's a lot to like here—a fine and suspenseful tale by Hagio, one directed with wit and panache by Satoshi Dezaki (Osamu's brother).
30. Ocean Waves
Ever notice that anime that takes place at school has a whole neat little vocabulary of events and images? There's the school festival, and club activities, and one of the most prized events, the big school trip. Taku is looking forward to his school's trip to Hawaii, because he wants to get to know Rikako, the new transfer student who'd shown up in town when her mother got divorced, a little better. His buddy Yutaka is a bit concerned, but it's not clear that he sees Rikako as a bad influence—maybe he just wants her for himself? Anyway, Rikako is attractive, but also shallow, greedy, and arrogant. She knows that Taku likes her, and uses this as leverage to get money and favors. When an incensed Taku goes to confront her back at home, he finds that she'd been borrowing and hoarding money to pay for transportation back to Tokyo, so she could confront her dad. Turns out that her arrogance was a veil for insecurity and deep anger about her family's fracture. Ocean Waves is interesting in that it comes off sort of like a more realistic Kimagure Orange Road—the main character's sort of a goody two-shoes, and the girl he likes seems impossibly distant, and is also kind of an asshole. This makes a lot of sense, because they got Tomomi Mochizuki, the Kimagure Orange Road anime guy, to direct it. The film is also interesting in that it was an attempt by Ghibli to make a movie cheap and quickly, and they failed on both counts—it came in late and over budget. I'm still glad to have this fine and beautiful movie, the very last holdover of the Ghibli catalog to make it to the English-speaking world.
The greeting card magnate Shintaro Tsuji wanted to use his young anime studio to tell great, universal stories, so he asked director Masami Hata to create a film based on his own spin on the tale of Romeo and Juliet. What Hata supplied is nothing short of breathtaking, a gorgeous work of full animation, married to a genuinely compelling, tragic story. The sea people and fire people are forever separated, because their scions, who once lived together, now sadly hate each other. Of course, their kids resist this prejudice—especially when the sea prince Sirius and the fire princess Malta meet for the first time, and are immediately smitten. Forced to sneak and fight their way around obstacles to their romance, the pair try in vain to find a way to be together. In the end, they're forced to contend with both their parents' prejudices, and their own. This movie is both a beautiful fairy tale and a gutsy, unflinching tragedy, steered by the steady hand of Hata. Sea Prince and the Fire Child is precisely the sort of movie that Shintaro Tsuji had wanted to make, a film both completely uplifting and heart-rending.
I love the Dirty Pair! Only the 80s could've spawned a pair of interplanetary problem-solvers who are modeled after female pro wrestling champs and invariably cause more problems than they solve. This movie is the perfect distillation of the Dirty Pair formula—it's got shadowy crooks, crazy space battles, creepy aliens, and a transparently obvious Cold War allegory to drive the story forward. This is also certainly Kōichi Mashimo's best film, though he'd go on to do great work in TV anime later on. Here, the Lovely Angels (in name only) Kei and Yuri are called to solve a planetary mining conflict, but discover illicit scientific experiments taking place behind it all. The duo team up with a handsome ne'er-do-well named Carson D. Carson and square off against a genuinely wacky mad scientist, complete with his own theme song and an army of creatures gleefully ripped off from the Alien movies. What truly makes Dirty Pair: Project Eden sizzle is the sheer chemistry of its leads. The best parts of this film aren't in its moments of thrilling action, but in the largely imperceptible but still totally obvious friendship and partnership between Kei and Yuri. Project Eden is one of the great sci-fi adventure anime films, and it's the characters themselves that sell it so well. Don't miss it.
The team of geniuses at Toei rewarded themselves for walking through the goddamn scorch trials of Horus - Prince of the Sun by making The Flying Phantom Ship, and it's an astonishing, wonderful toy of a movie. It opens with a boy and his doggie pal fleeing a burning city, pretty convinced that the kid's parents are dead. The city's under siege by a massive, malevolent robot, and in the background, terrifying crab people are secretly hawking an addictive soda that dissolves your body if you drink too much of it. Pretty much everything's on fire, and the only thing that can save the day is a creaky, decrepit galleon that flies through the sky and fends the robot off with lasers. It's piloted by an ominous, skeletal captain. This concentrated blast of wildly entertaining craziness is brought to you by director Hiroshi Ikeda, with some help from manga and anime luminary Shotaro Ishinomori and an animator named Hayao Miyazaki, who immediately uses his scenes of the robot attacking the city to depict tanks battling amidst buildings in collapse. The movie balances upbeat adventurousness with a real sense of creepiness, and the end product includes almost everything I like about anime, all happening at once: it's funny, it's action-packed, it's lurid, it's unexpected, it's not kids stu—anyway, you get the idea. The Flying Phantom Ship is a raw, marvelous childrens' adventure movie. View it at your peril!
Oh, that time last installment when I said I missed out on this film series? Well, despite the fact that Type-Moon and Aniplex stand a vigilant watch to prevent people from buying and enjoying Garden of Sinners, that was a fib-- I was able to borrow a copy from a friend a while back. Type-Moon stuff kinda has its own thing going on – you can trace it back to the earliest versions of Tsukihime and the Fate series, where everything sometimes appears to be stained crimson and even the cutest girl characters look kinda mean and angry. This synthesis of distinctive artwork and sharp storytelling, posted online or released at Comic Market, is what gave birth to The Garden of Sinners, a nifty little cairn of supernatural murder mysteries. Shiki Ryogi can see dead people. Alright, more accurately, she can perceive the inherent mortality of living things, see spirits… and then attack them with a wicked sharp sword. She uses her unique talents at a detective agency, where her old high school flame Mikiya works. Some aspects of Garden of Sinners are, for lack of a better term, mall goth-y as hell, be they bizarre, overwrought names for things, some silly supernatural opponents, split personalities where the good version is Shiki and the mean, aggressive version is SHIKI, or the fact that the agency's boss, Toko, is a sorceress who keeps her office stocked up with creepy puppets. But these are still very enjoyable films—since the series doesn't have a whole lot of time and pacing constraint, different parts of the story can be neatly arranged, and the whole thing gradually comes into focus in a really satisfying way. The perplexing difficulty involved in seeing these movies (remember, Aniplex have to guard these movies carefully! Someone might see them!!) kept me off their trail, but the act of compiling this list spurred me to see them. I'm glad I did.
And there you go, we're three quarters through the list. Have you sought out any of my picks yet? Chime in on the forums!
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