The Mike Toole Show
The Other 100 Best Anime Movies of All Time, Part 4
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 and Part 3.
In a comment on this project, a reader remarked that many of the movies on my list seemed to be from the 80s, or thereabouts. I love obsessing over data, so I counted up both how my list stacks up, in terms of when the films were made… and the Paste list too, obviously. What I found out was illuminating. The Paste list neglects the 70s and before, including only 7 films from that stretch. 23 movies from the 80s are counted up, 22 from the 90s. There are 14 recent movies from the 2010s, but the 2000s are the clear winner, racking up 34 entries. My list is slightly more broadly distributed – I talk about 20 films from the 70s and earlier, 16 from the 90s, 15 from the 2000s, and 13 from the 2010s. As for the 80s? Yep, guilty as charged: a whopping 36 entries on my list were released between 1980 and 1989.
The sheer number of entries – more than a third! – from that era begs the question: was anime as a medium really better in the 1980s? That's a question I explored at a panel at Anime Boston, where I played moderator to noted international journalist Roland Kelts and storyteller/Studio Ghibli historian Hirokatsu Kihara. Mr Kihara actually worked as a scheduler at Ghibli for Miyazaki's first three films for the studio, Laputa, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service. To frame the panel's central question: do they make still make anime like they used to? I asked Mr Kihara to compare an 80s hit like Laputa to a recent fan favorite like A Silent Voice. His take was interesting. “One film was created from the vision of a single auteur, driven solely by his passion to create,” he said. “The other film was created because a bunch of entertainment companies held a meeting and said to each other, 'This manga seems to be selling well, so a film version of it will probably be popular.'”
Quite a take, huh? I've heard little but praise for A Silent Voice, so his analysis may be apt, but it's still a bit cynical. I don't believe that anime was necessarily better or more auteur-driven in the 1980s, but I do believe it was maybe a little more willing to take risks, which is an approach that tends to impress me. Also, I can't help but point out that the Paste list is heavy with 2000s films, created and released during a time when the list's writers were most immersed in the medium. I came into western anime fandom the early 90s, when it was still really 80s-centric, so that undoubtedly colored my approach to compiling the list.
Ultimately, though, this list is heavier on 80s films and lighter on recent fare because the Paste list took all of the good ones! Once you peel away the most obvious choices, what lies underneath? Well, that's the whole reason I started this project. Some 20,000 words later, we're almost home! Let's climb to the summit.
25. Run, Melos!
This film is Masaaki Osumi's masterpiece. It's based on a well-loved Osamu Dazai story, in which an ancient Greek farmer is made to run home and back over three days and nights, in order to complete one last task while under threat of execution, with a good friend of his standing in his stead. Will Melos complete his task and return to face the king's (likely corrupt) justice, or will he leave his friend to hang? Osumi's version of the tale is astounding and virtuosic, helped along by masters like Mitsuo Iso and emerging talents like Kazuo Nakazawa. The director and his team make some notable changes to the story and characters (most interestingly, character designer and future Jin-Roh director Hiroyuki Okiura opts to make Melos look Japanese, even as his friends and adversaries look more Mediterranean), but still do a terrific job of preserving Dazai's essential question posed in the tale, one which has kept students and scholars studying it for decades: Is it less painful to be forced to wait, or to be the one who must make others wait? Of the several films on this list to never escape the VHS/laserdisc era, Run, Melos!'s absence hurts the most.
24. The Case of Hana and Alice
Rotoscoping catches a lot of flack from some animation fans, who view the whole exercise of tracing animation over live footage as a lame shortcut to producing actual good, expressive animation. These people are wrong! Rotoscoping is just another path to creating great animation, and when it's used well, it doesn't matter that the end results aren't wildly creative freehand fare. The technique is employed continuously throughout The Case of Hana and Alice, Shunji Iwai's prequel of sorts to his energetic 2004 comedy-drama (I refuse to use the term "dramedy," even though I just did.) Hana and Alice. The director has a real eye for color and character; combined with his fearsomely naturalistic use of dialogue and rotoscoping, The Case of Hana and Alice is both low-key and vibrant. The film is anchored by Yu Aoi and Anne Suzuki's fine performances, reprising their roles from the live-action original—they do sound too old to be 9th-graders, but the movie is so good it doesn't matter. Here, we see the two girls meet for the first time, as they use their chemistry to solve a bizarre little mystery. The movie's visual strengths will suck you in early, but there's an emotional core to The Case of Hana and Alice that Iwai patiently reveals late on, and that's what seals the deal. In terms of North American release, GKIDS keep this movie buried in the backyard, in the same hole as Summer Days with Coo and Giovanni's Island. Hopefully they dig it up one of these days.
There's a big joke about this movie among people who remember VHS fansub trading circles, where Like the Clouds, Like the Wind was often billed as an obscure Studio Ghibli production. After all, it definitely looks like a Ghibli film, with its Katsuya Kondo character designs Also, Miyazaki worked on it! Only in this case, it's World Masterpiece Theatre scribe Akira Miyazaki, and not that animator dude. Jokes aside, this 1990 TV movie is still something of a hidden gem. Its heroine, Ginga, finds herself summoned to the royal court of China. The emperor has died, and it's time for his son to take concubines, the better to produce heirs and cement the line of succession. Ginga is a tough, optimistic farm girl who sees the chance to become a royal concubine as a good way to set her family up with a stable food supply, so off she goes. At the capital, she teams up with other potential wives—taciturn Kouyou and flamboyant Tamyuun—to find their place at court and unravel a plot by the late emperor's second wife to install her own kid as the heir. Ginga's a great heroine—it's easy to see why the emperor's fussy eunuch picked her to stand for selection, because she's cute, perceptive, and blazingly charismatic. Like the Clouds, Like the Wind is much like its heroine—it has a certain visual luster to it, but what puts it over is its broad, simple charm. It's not a Studio Ghibli film, but it's absolutely as good or better than some of that famous studio's output.
Ah, now here's something that Hayao Miyazaki did work on. Like a lot of his early works, it's a film where you need to look past the simple, kid-friendly trappings to find the exciting, compelling stuff bubbling just beneath the surface. Hiroshi Ikeda's movie may seem like a stripped-down adaptation of Stevenson's story, only with funny animals, but it's also packed end-to-end with exciting naval battles, wacky comedy, and great animation. Hey, remember the old guy from Shirobako? You know, Sugie, the one who wears a sweater vest and is really good at drawing animals? He's an in-show tribute to Yasuji Mori, a legendary animator instrumental in the creation of this movie. Mori was good at drawing animals, and good at slapstick comedy, which made his talents ideal for Animal Treasure Island. The movie's heroine, Cathy, is also an obvious prototype for the kind of girls that would later carry Studio Ghibli's output– she's smart, tough, decisive, and carries guns and bombs. Every single frame in this movie is amazing and expressive. If I wanted to make this list purely about my personal favorites, every single goddamn 1960s and 70s Toei movie would be on the list—except Adventures of Sinbad, that one's kind of a stinker. Animal Treasure Island is one of the best of them all.
Here's possibly the single weirdest entry on this entire list. It's a movie about cockroaches. Adorable little anthropomorphized cockroaches, with stubby little limbs and cute, round faces. They're kinda like the Smurfs, only they're cockroaches. And for a time, this society of roaches peacefully coexists with an unnamed dude who abides their company. This dude eats like a pig and never cleans up, so the roaches view him as some sort of benevolent god. We sometimes see him, in startling live action (contrasted against the cartoon roaches); he looks wanly over them, but they fail to catch his interest. Naomi and Ichiro are two such cockroaches, and they assume that this is the normal state of things. But then the dude gets a girlfriend who points out that his slovenliness is unacceptable, and so the old alliance, cockroach and bachelor, is shattered. The result is totally adorable and grimly hilarious, a parade of apocalyptic visions of cute little critters getting smashed by books and fists, or engulfed by a howling, omnipresent cloud of bug spray. Director Hiroaki Yoshida doesn't have a long CV—near as I can tell, he pretty quickly moved into the role of producer—but what he created here is startling and ingratiatingly original.
20. One Stormy Night
A wolf and a sheep take refuge from a storm in a barn. The weather, the night's darkness, and their clouded senses mean that they can't recognize each other as predator and prey, so they strike up a friendship. They agree to meet later, and when they do, they gloriously, immediately cast aside their prejudices and set about preserving their fellowship in the face of a world that wants them to hate each other. All that director Gisaburō Sugii needed to do was to preserve this essence, the central idea of creator Yūichi Kimura's children's book. He went one better, creating a delicate, beautiful film that carefully melds 2D and 3D animation. Creator Kimura provides the screenplay based on his own work, and the result is a popular, successful movie that showcases Group TAC at the height of their powers, just before their tragic decline. I've always been mystified by this film's lack of an English version—with its vivid colors and straightforward story, it seems ideal for international release. One Stormy Night is a wonderful family film about not judging a book by its cover. If Ringing Bell's tale of sadness and revenge has you rattled, chase it with this movie.
19. Shoujo Tsubaki
In the 1980s, animation filmmaker Hiroshi Harada was a star on the rise. Already an accomplished animator, he'd successfully escaped the traditional anime system and won awards for his short film Lullaby to the Big Sleep. His next project was thrillingly unconventional: he was going to adapt a manga by ero-guro king Suehiro Maruo. The manga was ostensibly based on an early 20th-century kamishibai pantomime play called Camelia Girl, the tale of a nice girl sold to a circus freak show. The play's message was clear: be good and make sure your family is good, or this bad stuff could happen to you! Maruo took things into uncharted territory, with young heroine Midori crassly and repeatedly exploited by her showrunner Arashi, against the backdrop of stuff like animal murder and distorted human bodies. So what Harada did was, he made this into an anime film. He couldn't get financing for it, so he just drew every single frame himself. Because of this, there are stretches of the film that are kinda static, like a motion comic, but the end result is still a weird, ugly, and compelling film, one that is relentlessly chilling and disturbing, and darkly hilarious. It's tied together by J.A. Seazar's thudding, jarring synthesizer score, many years before he'd write the iconic duel songs for Revolutionary Girl Utena. Harada never really intended for this movie to reach wide release – part of the experience of seeing it in Japan is experiencing the weird attractions that the director creates as framing devices for the movie, be they circus-style sideshows or bizarre “hidden” theatres. Nevertheless, a French company somehow got the rights, unleashing the director's solid hour of insanity on the global viewing public. It just might be illegal to watch Shoujo Tsubaki where you live, depending on local obscenity laws, so read up on it before you go scouring the web for that French DVD.
18. Evangelion 2.0
What is Rebuild of Evangelion? Is it a powerful, resonant redux—maybe even a sequel!—to one of the biggest anime ever made? Or is it a jaded cash grab, a director lazily repeating himself in the name of guaranteed commercial success? Why not both?! The first Rebuild movie certainly seemed cynical enough, presented as little more than a do-over of the 1995 TV series. Still, a handful of notable differences from the original set it apart and whetted fans' appetite for more. In this follow-up, director Hideaki Anno turns up the action, introduces an intriguing new heroine, and dangles a singularly enticing notion: what if Shinji Ikari, the franchise's clinically depressed, anxious, reluctant robot pilot, starts to figure his life out? What if he forges connections with his peers, excels as a pilot, and maybe even starts to reconnect with his icy, distant father?! Hey, maybe things are gonna work out this time! As the film's title hints, it's not that simple. Along with Evangelion 2.0's somewhat different take on the characters and situations of the original, this movie, more than the other two Rebuild movies, gives us Hideaki Anno as we had not truly seen him since 1989's Gunbuster, in full-on, swaggering blockbuster mode. 2.0 is a big-time action movie, a viscerally exciting thrill ride that's easily the most entertaining of the Rebuild films… so far.
17. Project A-Ko
Dateline: 1985. Under the auspices of Studio A.P.P.P. president Kazufumi Nomura, animators Katsuhiko Nishijima and Yuji Moriyama set out on a mission: to make porn! Specifically, the idea was to create an all-girl porn showcase, part of the famous Cream Lemon series. But at some point in pre-production, the porn angle was ditched, and thus, Project A-Ko was born. Director Nishijima has commented that Project A-Ko (its title indelicately swiped from the Jackie Chan film Project A) is what happens when a creative team sets out to make an anime, only with no clear, specific plan on what to actually make. But Nishijima had plenty of motivation – he needed to get Project A-Ko done so he could afford to get his teeth fixed! The production team would eventually come up with the tale of super-powered A-Ko, her wealthy rival B-Ko, and the object of their rivalry, the flatly shrill, annoying C-Ko, and the result is one of the all-time great otaku anime movies, a film jammed with zany references and homages to everything from Captain Harlock to Fist of the North Star. That aside, Project A-Ko is genuinely impressive and funny enough to entertain even people who are clueless about the old anime it lampoons. It's deft, clever, and truly technically impressive.
16. Time of Eve
Yasuhiro Yoshiura's first movie took shape first as an ONA, a series of short episodes created for the web. His work was so good (and so popular) that it was eventually tied together and improved for theatrical release. It's a darn good movie, too! It envisions a future in which affluent humans are waited on hand and foot by artificially intelligent androids, who are programmed and conditioned to behave emotionlessly and always display a glowing halo around their heads, so the real people know who's who. One such affluent human is Rikuo, who starts to wonder what happens to his personal android servant, Sammy, when she's not at work. What he ends up finding is a whole hidden society of robots, willfully ignored by most of the population and not entirely allowed to do what they want by the government, and yyyep, this is totally a metaphor for immigrant helpers living in Japan. It's also damn good science fiction, with the director dishing out time for a multitude of smaller, very personal stories of androids and humans living together against the backdrop of Rikuo and Sammy's complicated relationship. Yoshiura has been interesting to follow, because he essentially achieved popularity via the original Time of Eve going viral. This version of the story is where his career really took flight.
15. Crayon Shin-chan: Adults Empire
Forget Colorful, and even go ahead and toss Summer Days with Coo on the wood pile, because this right here is Keiichi Hara's greatest film. Hara directed a number of Crayon Shin-chan movies, and they're always a good bet for solid entertainment. Hara's takes on Shin-chan, Yoshito Usui's 4-year-old mischief maker, always include the essential ingredients (toilet humor, mom and dad squabbling hilariously, and at least one scene where a pantsless Shin runs amuck), but are relentlessly visually inventive in a way that even the best episodes of the TV show struggle to achieve. Here, Hara gives us a story where the parents of Shin-chan and his buddies get caught up in a big new theme park that allows adult visitors to re-enact their childhood dreams. This means that the adults cut and run, leaving a city of forlorn little kids wandering the streets. This gives us the incredible tableau of a crew of preschoolers taking over a bar (don't worry, they're not interested in the booze, just in raiding the soda fountain and belting out karaoke versions of the Carpenters' “Yesterday, Once More”), while their folks disappear, taking on greedy, childlike characteristics. The director makes sure we notice that this behavior isn't really that far from their behavior as adults, and it bears mentioning that the theme of baby boomers wallowing in their own pasts to the detriment of society is perhaps more relevant than ever. It all ends in a nutty chase scene, and what might be the single greatest fart joke in the history of cinema. Crayon Shin-chan at its strongest is as whimsical as a Miyazaki movie and as cutting as a Satoshi Kon film.
14. One Piece: The Island of Baron Omatsuri
Yeah, remember that little screed I wrote about trying to minimize the impact of Shonen Jump movies? Here's a Shonen Jump movie that defies that kind of categorization, something both familiar and enchantingly different. It's the best One Piece film by several nautical miles, and simply put, it's because of Mamoru Hosoda. Here, in pitting the good old Straw Hat gang against the seemingly friendly leader of a mysterious island society, Hosoda manages to reverse-engineer everything that makes One Piece fun, while also creating the most un-One Piece media there is. Hosoda's stamp on the material is overwhelming and permeates the movie all the way down to the character designs, which are just off-model enough to make you realize something's off. The story is a simple but resonant one about how important strong friendships and support are in resisting the influence of bullies and assholes. Prior to making this movie, Hosoda had recently departed from Studio Ghibli after getting kicked out of the director's chair for Howl's Moving Castle. What an odd coincidence! (Note: This is not a coincidence.)
13. Chie the Brat
My favorite Isao Takahata film is My Neighbors the Yamadas, in which he takes a distinctly watercolor-esque, un-Ghibli approach to adapting a warm, gentle family comedy manga. My other favorite Isao Takahata film is Chie the Brat, which is based on a manga about a tough, sarcastic grade-school girl keeping her broken-ass family together by the seat of her pants. The title character frequently laments her circumstances, which involve trying to keep her dad, the good-hearted and immensely strong Tetsu, out of trouble (he's also an incompetent hoodlum), trying to see her mom, who's keeping her distance from the situation (Chie, of course, warns her lonely mother not to come running back too fast; dad hasn't learned his lesson yet!), and running the family yakitori stand. She's supposed to fit the third grade in there somewhere, too. The thing is, Chie is so good at being an irascible, snarky straight man to the film's parade of dopes, you almost hope her home life never quite settles down. Takahata takes what is sometimes a jarringly sad tale and makes it vibrant and warm, but my favorite part about Chie the Brat is the title character. Not just her personality, or the excellent, hilarious performance by her voice actress Chinatsu Nakayama. I mean this: if you want a master class on how to use body language and facial expression effectively in animation, see this movie and watch Chie carefully. Chie the Brat features the work of Yasuo Otsuka and Yôichi Kotabe, two of the most important anime artists ever, collaborating on the character designs and animation. Consequently, you can't take your eyes off Chie—her face alone is hilariously expressive enough to carry the film with ease.
In 19th-century Japan, a simple villager is framed for the murder of his sister and mother. Facing execution, he flees with a monk who looks kinda like the lead singer from Judas Priest, who gives him a mysterious dagger, an opportunity for bloody revenge, and a chance at redemption. One exhilarating, globe-trotting adventure later, dotted with historical figures like Mark Twain and Geronimo, the village kid, Jiro, comes to a terrible realization: the monk had been playing him the whole time. In a nutshell, the story outline emphasizes what sets The Dagger of Kamui apart—it's its heightened scale. Because of this, the fact that the hero travels to Russia and the US and beyond, I think of this film as closer to something like Once Upon a Time in the West, a story where the hero traverses vast distances, than a traditional chambara film. This is also a real visual trip, a candy-colored, psychedelic wonder of a ninja movie. It's not Rintaro's absolute best film (Galaxy Express 999 beats it by a nose), but it's certainly his most interesting. You can see every facet of the director in this movie – the brutally strong visuals, the tortured and driven hero, the human tragedy, and of course, the frustratingly jumbled storyline. Still, the payoff here, Jiro's final confrontation with the monk Tenkai, makes the journey worth it.
Cobra is the magnum opus of Osamu Dezaki, one of the hardest-working and most innovative animators to ever grace the business. It is also based on manga by Buichi Terasawa, beefy, adventuresome fare from men's seinen magazines of the late 70s and early 80s. As a result, we get a movie that is both bawdy and elegant, crass and refined in equal measure. It's an excellent balance to strike; Dezaki would find similar success a couple of years later with Golgo 13 But here's the thing: he didn't have Hayao Miyazaki working for him on Golgo 13. Along with an especially proficient staff, Dezaki's penchant for experimenting really suits this movie. He was always trying something new, and Cobra's innovation is its multi-plane background shots, where vast cityscapes sweep by in stages. It's the kind of trick that looks great in motion, but is hard to convey otherwise. Aside from the technical flourishes, Cobra is one of the most fun anime action movies of the 80s, in which a rakish and charming space pirate teams up with a succession of nubile bounty hunters to fight the intergalactic crime lord Crystal Boy. What sells the movie is Cobra himself—he's a bit jocularly sexist, which was the style at the time, but still carries a sort of sad tenderness for the women he teams up with, who always end up in danger as a result. Decades later, they still make new Cobra animation from time to time. I think we have the strength of this film to thank for that.
10. The Sparrow in the Pumpkin
Half a decade before Tezuka founded Mushi Production and revolutionized the Japanese animation industry, a manga artist named Ryuichi Yokoyama dreamed of starting his own studio. And so he did, in 1956. Just a few years and several animated experiments later, Yokoyama and his new studio Otogi-Pro gave us this movie, whose title kinda defies simple translation. (“Hyoutan Suzume” means “Gourd Sparrow,” so I tried to render it as something a little more elegant and familiar.) Yokoyama and his staff of about 20 (including future luminaries like Eiichi Yamamoto) deliver 50 minutes of bizarre, charming, colorful, and mostly dialogue-free fare about a society of friendly frogs. (Yokoyama loved his frogs.) Only one of those frogs, Danbei, isn't that friendly—he's terrorizing the town with his slingshot, and the only thing that might challenge his mischief is a mysterious gourd. This is a feature film that looks wholly unlike anime as we know it—it's somewhere between rapid-fire cutout animation and a fluid, expressive style of cel animation. I can't even say that there's no other indie anime like it—there's no other anime quite like it, period. It's of an era that was after the early/artisan era of Japanese animation and after the “shadow staff” days of the war, but before the film studios got into the business. For a long time, this movie was inaccessible—prints were out there, but not easy to obtain. Otogi Pro's entire catalog came out in an academic DVD set, so I think it's time to drag this out of the shadows.
9. Megazone 23 Parts 1 and 2
Here's another rare OVA pick, but Megazone 23 did run in theatres as well, so it counts. Megazone 23 is one of those great examples of how failure can still yield greatness—originally envisioned as a TV series, plans fell apart, but there was still enough footage for director Noboru Ishiguro and his merry men and women to cobble together into an OVA. What they came up with is electrifying, a neon-colored vision of Tokyo in 1985, when life was good and cares were few. Protagonist Shogo has a good job at the McDonald's, but he's mostly concerned with riding his bike, picking up girls, and listening to the latest single from pop idol sensation Eve Tokimatsuri. One of his biker buddies ends up passing him a weird military prototype motorcycle before getting killed, and when Shogo mounts up, he discovers that there's a whole other world underneath Tokyo—a labyrinthine portal to the stars jealously guarded by the military. Aside from the great animation, hot mecha design, and bumpin' songs by Kumi Miyasato, Megazone 23 presents both a compelling vision of what it meant to be young in 1980s Japan, and an intriguing study of youth vs authority figures. Shogo pushes for absolute fairness, but B.D., his adversary and military counterpart, knows the world is too complicated for kids to deal with on their own, and ultimately puts himself on the line to guarantee everyone a future. Part 2 is sort of a whiplash-inducing visual departure (replacing the stylized character designs of Hirano and Mikimoto with the more realistic work of Umetsu), but the story parts are still phenomenal. You can skip part 3.
8. The Adolesence of Utena
Revolutionary Girl Utena is the most important anime of the 1990s. Everyone tries to tell me that Evangelion was perhaps more instrumental to the medium, but they're wrong. Everything Utena had to say about society, about sexuality, about alienation and abandonment, was crucial, and it looked and sounded freaking awesome while doing it. The Adolescence of Utena, Studio BE-PAPAS's cinematic finale to the whole experiment, hits the reset button on the story, sending Utena Tenjou, the girl who would be prince, to Ohtori Academy anew. There, she'll have her bad feelings for her ex-boyfriend Touga manifested as sword duels. Anthy Himemiya, the mysterious Rose Bride, will make her question everything she knows about herself. Other duelists will be laid low by school scandal and childhood trauma. And in the center of it is the End of the World… a mysterious garage. You know what they say about Chekov's car! The Adolescence of Utena may be a follow-on to the TV series, but the film stands on its own as one of the most interesting anime movies of the 90s and one of the prettiest animated films ever made. This kaleidoscopic celebration of coming of age does require a repeat viewing or two to sort out the positively Gordian storyline, though. You might say that's a drawback, but I say it's an excuse to watch the Utena movie again!
7. Lupin the 3rd: Mystery of Mamo
Almost everyone says that The Castle of Cagliostro is the best Lupin the 3rd film. It's right there on Paste's list, at number… fifty-four?! More than ten spots behind goddamned Steamboy?!? Oh, right, stuff like that is part of why I made this list. I'll agree that Cagliostro is a better adventure movie, one that's more suited to a really wide audience… but it's not as good as The Mystery of Mamo. This film is the essential Lupin the 3rd experience. It has the whole gang, it has a bit where Zenigata falls down the stairs chasing Lupin, it has a totally unnecessary shot of Fujiko getting ripped out of her catsuit, it has cameos from numerous dead world dictators, it has a huge number of odd 70s branding and cultural references, it has a genuinely weird villain. It has an absolutely sensational action scene where Lupin and Jigen are forced to flee an attack helicopter, which follows their Rolls Royce right into the sewer tunnels and keeps on shooting at them. Best of all, Sōji Yoshikawa's script is weirdly topical. It has stuff about cloning, put to screen just a year after the first test-tube baby was born. It has that globe-trotting style to it, and one of the secondary villains is literally Henry Kissinger, who sics a beefy G. Gordon Liddy stand-in on Jigen and Goemon at one point. Mystery of Mamo has everything that makes Lupin the 3rd weird, but it's still a hilarious comedy, a thrilling action flick, and a great caper.
6. Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon
The story of Susanoo's duel with Orochi, the eight-headed dragon, is one of the foundational myths of Japan. Small wonder that Toei moved pretty quickly to make it into an animated film! But this is an animated film like no other, because it's the movie that introduced the animation director system, in which a team of talented animators turn their work in for a unit director to review. It's the job of the animators to create frames quickly and efficiently, and it's the job of the animation director to correct those frames so everything looks right and stays on model. This seems obvious now, but it was brand new at the time. Aside from that, this is the first of Toei's many animated masterpieces that really felt complete. Earlier films like Alakazam the Great could be quite good, but felt a bit spartan, in terms of plotting and characterization. From start to finish, Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon is a winner. Its flat, streamlined style has gone on to influence a broad swath of animators around the world, from Genndy Tartakovsky to Tomm Moore.
5. Mobile Suit Gundam movies I-III
There had to be some Gundam on the list, and even thirty years later, the original story of Federation vs Zeon, of Amuro vs Char, of Newtype vs Newtype, is still the best Gundam to see on the big screen. It has mecha action that was impressive at the time and still looks great, it has emotionally involving characters, and it has a compelling story that remains the linchpin of all Gundam media. The second movie is particularly strong, a swirling cinematic tornado of action and tragedy. What's interesting about going back and watching these movies now is how so many of the story beats and make-you-cry moments feel overly familiar. The big flourish at the end with Amuro floating towards his crewmates seems almost stale, but that's only because we've had thirty years of everybody ripping these movies off over and over. My only complaint is that this famed trilogy, like the original Star Wars trilogy, is no longer available in its original form – the soundtrack's been replaced.
4. The Wonderful World of Puss n' Boots
The title isn't hyperbole. Puss n' Boost really is wonderful, a raucously funny, clever, swashbuckling comedy-adventure full of exciting chases, pitched battles, catchy songs, and hilarious villains. Story-wise, it's not so different from the classic Charles Perrault fairy tale, in which a brash, loquacious cat wearing boots convinces a peasant boy that he has the moxie to shake off his nasty brothers and win the hand of the princess. To spice things up, the film makes the ogre from the original story the big bad guy (a notable change, since Perot the cat took the monster out himself in the original fairytale!) and adds a set of secondary villains, a trio of charmingly bumbling enemy cats. You can tell that Kimio Yabuki and his staff made this film after staggering through the tribulations of Horus, Prince of the Sun; in contrast with the previous film's serious tone and tortured production cycle, this movie is a simple affair that was finished in just eight months. One highlight is the ogre himself, who's weirdly amusing and chummy when he isn't trying to murder our heroes. The big finale, with its chase across castle ramparts, is a particular highlight, featuring Hayao Miyazaki and Yasuo Otskua trading animation cuts throughout. I sometimes put on a convention panel that examines the films and TV shows that Miyazaki and Takahata made before Ghibli was formed, and clips from this movie never fail to get the crowd laughing uproariously. Puss n' Boots leaps and dances off the screen; it makes Disney movies of its era look dumb, which admittedly isn't that hard to do. Decades later, Toei still use Perot as their company mascot.
3. your name.
Did you really think I was going to skip something like this? your name. is the most critically acclaimed and successful anime movie at the time of this writing! But hey, it's absent from Paste's list, which really just means that the two writers who compiled the list didn't get to see your name. on a plane ride before the piece was due. If you haven't had a chance to see this film or at least read some reviews, I'll keep it simple: your name. is the crystallization of everything Makoto Shinkai has spent the past decade repeating and refining in his films about grief and loss and nostalgia and memory. It takes a simple story convention—two people switch bodies, kinda like Freaky Friday!—and uses it to cover an incredible amount of emotional ground. Its characters, Taki and Mitsuha, are simple and sympathetic—he wants a little more out of life, and she wants to be somewhere else besides her small town. When they start switching bodies, after the shock wears off, the two find themselves using the experience to help each other, and better appreciate their own lives. Of course, the mystery of why they switch bodies needs solving, as well as a certain incident involving a comet's passing. I'd try to explain a bit more, but this is the kind of movie where the adjectives I use don't quite seem to convey what I want to say about it. It's the sort of movie that makes me glad to live in the time when it was made. See it.
2. Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato
More than any other single reason, the surreal absence of Space Battleship Yamato from the Paste list drove me to make my own. See, it's not enough to include something by Leiji Matsumoto and figure you've checked off that box. Yamato is quite different in tone to a lot of Matsumoto's solo work, and taken alone, it's one of the most enduringly popular anime ever. But there's a lot of Yamato. Even in terms of cinematic films, you've got a good half-dozen to choose from. I think the best movie is a toss up between Be Forever Yamato, which translates weirdly to the small screen thanks to a sudden aspect ratio change midway through the film (the producer loved marketing tricks), and this movie. Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato has everything that made the franchise popular-- large-scale “space navy” battles, themes of brave sacrifice in the face of darkness and defeat, and complex, formidable villains. This film (which is sometimes called Arrividerci, Yamato) in particular cemented Yamato as a cultural force—it was intended to be the thrilling conclusion, but was so popular that it gave way to a still-growing number of sequels, spinoffs, and new Yamato projects. The film owes a lot to the traditional Yamato team of producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Matsumoto himself, but I think the key person in this film is Toshio Masuda, a Nikkatsu lifer who used his skills to amp up the film's human drama. So much of we love about modern science fiction anime originated with Space Battleship Yamato, and this movie has all of the best stuff.
I was drafted to run the anime theatre at a recent science fiction convention, so of course I scheduled Horus, Prince of the Sun. I've seen the movie many times, but I settled in to watch it with the crowd at the convention, because 1) I always find something new that impresses me about the movie, and 2) I love being in the room with people who are seeing it for the first time. Horus - Prince of the Sun is a movie that tends to leave viewers' jaws hanging open—it's the very first exemplar of the true potential of the medium, that anime could be more than just greasy kids' stuff. Isao Takahata's epic adventure story about a young boy uniting a village, winning an adversary to their side, and defeating an enemy together is equal parts rollicking adventure, protest film, and bold cinematic experiment. Its serious, sober tone was like nothing before it. The way a single key animator, Yasuji Mori (him again!) drew every frame of Horus' adversary-turned-ally Hilda left viewers astonished—rarely had a character in an anime film emoted so much while saying so little. The movie was a failure on release, because Toei were unhappy with Takahata's involvement in labor disputes and didn't understand what they had on their hands, so they buried it, not understanding that they'd just planted anime's version of Yggdrasil. (Okay, maybe that's overselling it just a teensy, tiny bit.). The emerging wave of high school and college kids studying animation, the first otaku, wouldn't stop talking about it. Horus - Prince of the Sun is the most astonishing feature directorial debut in animation; now I'm underselling it.
There's your Other Top 100! What'd I miss? I've heard talk of stuff like Madoka Magica: Rebellion, the Card Captor Sakura movie, and of course Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions Can you think of still more overlooked classics? How about recent films? There are a lot I left off, aren't there? Really, what we need to do is to create a third top 100 list. I'll leave that to you, dear readers!
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