When asked to pick a must-watch anime film, most people would probably choose “Spirited Away” or other Studio Ghibli (dubbed the “Disney of anime”) classic hits such as “My Neighbour Totoro”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, and “Princess Mononoke”.
While we love Hayao Miyazaki’s work, there are so many amazing anime movies that are worth watching. Whether you’re an anime newbie or a full-time otaku (a common Japanese term for anime and manga fans), here is a list of our favourite non-Ghibli anime films:
1. Akira (1988)
Directed by Katsuhimo Otomo, “Akira” is one of the best-known examples of modern Japanese animation. The film takes place in the post-apocalyptic city of Neo-Tokyo and it focuses on Tetsuo Shima, a teenage biker who is exposed to a mysterious energy source. He eventually develops telekinetic powers that place him at the centre of a conflict that may destroy the world.
The film was so well-received that Warner Bros. wanted to turn it into a live-action film. Since the studio acquired the film rights in 2002, many writers, directors, actors, and producers have been attached to the project. It was recently reported that “Get Out” helmer Jordan Peele is in talks to direct.
2. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
“Ghost in the Shell”, otherwise known as “Mobile Armoured Riot Police: Ghost In The Shell”, tells the story of a fictional counter-cyberterrorist organisation Public Security Section 9, led by main protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi, in the mid 21st century of Japan. The sci-fi film was a box office hit in Japan and was the first anime to reach Billboard‘s #1 video slot at the time of its release.
Fun fact: “The Matrix” series, created by The Wachowski siblings, took several concepts from the film. For example, the digital rain was inspired by “Ghost in the Shell”‘s opening credits.
3. Paprika (2006)
As Satoshi Kon’s (of “Perfect Blur” and “Millennium Actress” fame) final feature film before his death in 2010, “Paprika” is a stunning piece of work that hits all the right notes. Also, the film served as a major inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Produced by Japanese animation studio Madhouse alongside Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan, the film stars renowned seiyu (a term for voice actors in Japanese) Megumi Hayashibara as Dr. Atsuko Chiba aka “Paprika”, a psychotherapist who uses the newly invented “DC Mini” (a machine that can enter and see people’s dreams) to help clients overcome psychological issues. However, the sudden disappearance of the device forces her to delve deep into the dreamworld to retrieve it.
4. 5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
“5 Centimeters per Second” is a romance drama film that was directed, written, and produced by prominent animation filmmaker Makoto Shinkai aka the “new Hayao Miyazaki”. The title of the film derives from the speed at which cherry blossoms petals fall, with petals being the metaphor for humans while the falling represents the slowness of life and separation.
Unlike Shinkai’s previous works, “5 Centimeters per Second” explores realistic themes such as time, space, people, and love instead of science fiction and fantasy. The film even earned the “Best Animated Feature Film” award at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
5. Summer Wars (2009)
Welcome to OZ, a computer-simulated virtual reality world of “Summer Wars”.
Helmed by Mamoru Hosoda (of “Digimon: The Movie” and “One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island” fame), “Summer Wars” tells the story of Kenji Koiso, a math genius who goes to his friend (and crush) Natsuki Shinohara’s hometown to celebrate her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. However, a sadistic artificial intelligence named Love Machine hacks OZ using Kenji’s username and avatar. He must repair the damage done to it and find a way to stop the rogue computer program from causing any further damage.
Thanks to its colourful graphics and stunning visuals, the sci-fi anime film, which grossed USD18 million worldwide, won several awards such as the 2010 Japan Media Arts Festival’s Animation Division Grand Prize.
6. A Letter to Momo (2011)
Funny, magical, and full of emotion, “A Letter to Momo” is Hiroyuki Okiura’s first film in 11 years after “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” in 1999. The story, which took Okiura 7 years to complete, centres around Momo Miyaura, an 11-year-old girl who travels from Tokyo to the remote Japanese island of Shio with her mother after the death of her father Kazuo. She carries Kazuo’s unfinished letter, which contains only the words “Dear Momo”. While staying at her mother’s place, she meets 3 yokai (demons in Japanese) – Kawa, Mame, and Iwa – who are living in her attic. Though fearful at first, Momo befriends the supernatural trio and discovers that they were actually gods sent to Earth in order to atone for their crimes.
The hand-drawn feature film also features a song written and sung by Japanese singer and Southern All Stars keyboardist Yuko Hara.
7. Wolf Children (2012)
After “Summer Wars”, Mamoru Hosoda went on to direct and co-write a heartwarming film titled “Wolf Children”. The characters were designed by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, a character designer for anime classics such as “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water” (1990) and “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995).
The beautifully-shot film follows a young mother named Hana who raises 2 half-human, half-wolf children, Ame and Yuki, after their werewolf father gets killed in an accident while hunting food for his children. To make thing worse for Hana, who doesn’t understand the animalistic side of her children, Yuki and Ame constantly switch between their human and wolf forms. So to hide them from the world, the unconventional family of 3 move to the countryside where Hana tries to sustain the family by being a farmer.
8. Your Name (2016)
If you enjoy unlikely love stories, then you’ll definitely enjoy “Your Name”. Based on writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s (yup, its another Shinkai masterpiece!) novel of the same name, the film revolves around with the concept of fate. It sees a pair of teenage boy and girl embark on a quest to meet each other for the first time after they mysteriously swap bodies. The problem is, the 2 students’ timeline are separated by 3 years.
The critically-acclaimed film, which made USD353 million, surpassed “Spirited Away” to become the highest-grossing anime film worldwide. And that’s not all – it is also the first anime not directed by Hayao Miyazaki to earn more than USD100 million.
9. A Silent Voice (2016)
What happens when you fall in love with someone who was bullied by you in the past?
Based on Yoshitoki Oima’s award-winning manga of the same name, “A Silent Voice” is a powerful coming-of-age tale that depicts real-life issues like disability and bullying. In the film, a young Shoya Ishida bullies a new girl named Shoko Nishimiya because she is deaf. But as the Shoya and his friends go too far, Shoko is forced to leave leave and Shoya ends up shouldering all the blame. A few years later, the 2 meet again. Tormented by his past, Shoya wants to make amends for his actions.
Although “A Silent Voice” was released in Japan last year, Malaysian anime lovers would be delighted to know that it is now available on TGV cinemas.
Were there any anime movies that we’ve left out? Do you have a personal favourite that is not in the list? Feel free to leave us a comment below ?