Tom’s Top Ten – Essential Anime Films , Part 1
It’s a tough question to answer: “What’s a good anime?”, as my house mate posed to me the other week. “I’m really interested in watching more anime, but I don’t know what to watch…”. I tried to narrow the playing field by enquiring about what genres she may be interested in, “A bit of everything really…”
I never did answer her question properly. I gave her a DVD to watch, which she seemed to enjoy, but here at last is the definitive answer that I couldn’t give you at the time: a varied collection of anime features available on UK DVD to put you on the track to becoming a hardcore otaku. (In no particular order)
1) Princess Mononoke
It seems apt to begin our list with a film from the most prestigious anime feature studio there is: Studio Ghibli, and after much debate I chose Princess Mononoke.
After a giant boar spirit attacks his village, the last prince of the Emishi people, Ashitaka, is thrust into a quest to discover what has driven the spirit into such rage. His quest leads him westwards, where he discovers Iron Town, and the source of the boar’s hatred.
On it’s release in the summer of 1997, Princess Mononoke sky-rocketed to the top of the Japanese Box Office’s list for highest takings, where it was later overtaken by Titanic (and subsequently by another Studio Ghibli film: “Spirited Away”). Written and directed by co-founder of Studio Ghibli, and esteemed director Hayao Miyazaki, the film epitomizes the notable environmental characteristics that are frequent features of Miyazaki’s works.
It was hard to make a definitive choice on which of Miyazaki’s films to include in this list, and Princess Mononoke faced some stiff competition with films such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbour Totoro, both equally “essential” films for any anime fan’s collection.
From a prestigious studio to a luminary manga artist Osamu Tezuka (Creator of Black Jack and Astroboy amongst others), often referred to as “The Godfather of Anime”, or Japan’s Walt Disney, Tezuka took many western influences in his art, and many features of the manga style can be traced back to him. The 2001 film Metropolis is based off a manga by Tezuka, first published in 1949. The manga itself was inspired by a 1929 silent film of the same name.
Metropolis is a city state of the not so distant future, in which humans and robots coexist; the height of industry and economics, and a pioneering centre of science, the story begins at a ceremony to commemorate the completion of a massive skyscraper named “The Ziggurat”, where private detective Shunsuku Ban, and his journalist nephew Kenichi arrive from Japan in search of a criminal wanted for a number of crimes including the trading of human organs.
As disillusionment festers amongst the poorest citizens, robots are objects of hatred by the poor, and heavily policed by the rich. With this backdrop, a rather special robot is created to satisfy it’s masters grand goals.
It was the night before Christmas, and on the streets of Japan, a group of three eclectic homeless people find a baby abandoned in the snow. The trio, consisting of a teenage runaway, a serial gambler and a strangely artistic yet delusional transvestite, embark upon a moral mission on raising and returning the child. But the journey is not as simple as one might think, with each step kicking up new dilemmas along with some of the cast’s deepest secrets. As tensions flair, the group is left to solve the mystery of the missing baby and conquer their personal problems along the way.
Tokyo Godfathers is directed and co-written by talented director Satoshi Kon (creator of other notable films: Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue and Paprika), who tragically passed away in 2010 from cancer aged only 46.
4)Rebuild of Evangelion
So, technically speaking this is a series of films rather than one film, but it’s worthy of a watch. So what is Evangelion? And why is it a “Rebuild?
Evangelion was an incredibly well received anime from the mid-90s, which spawned one of the most successful anime franchises around today. After a cataclystic event referred to as the “Second Impact” destroyed Antartica, and wiped out half of the human population on Earth, Shinji Ikari is summoned to Tokyo-3 by his estranged father in order to pilot an experimental bio-mecha unit to help protect the city from the giant monsters (called “angels”) that have been attacking, and prevent another catastrophic disaster befalling the world.
Whilst I have mixed opinions on the series itself, Evangelion is widely regarded as one of anime’s greatest, and a topic that of discussion that will spring up in many a gathering of geeks. You need no longer feel left out of the debate, as the Rebuild of Evangelion adapts and edits the story of the classic series into a new collection of films, that proposes to iron out some of the nagging points of the anime, particularly its controversial ending, a point with which fans share mixed opinions.
There are four films scheduled to the Rebuild series, with two currently released in the UK.
5) 5 Centimetres Per Second
From some of the most established figures in anime and manga, we are brought to a relatively new face. Makoto Shinkai has only produced two feature length film, and yet devoted fans already dedicated a day to him!
5 Centimetres Per Second is a collection of 3 related short films combined into 1 feature that tell the story of how distance affects love. The tale is told mostly through a series of internal monologues from the main character of each section. Whilst the pace may be slow, and it may not be action heavy, 5 Centimetres Per Second is heartfelt and emotional. A true masterpiece for the patient watcher.
It is not only the story that makes 5 Centimetres Per Second an anime essential, but also Shinkai’s art style. The scenery is absolutely stunning, perhaps the best in the anime industry, and worth appreciating even if you can’t connect with the romantic storyline.
Unfortunately, this is where the list ends for today, but there’s still 5 more to come. Tune in next time for more anime essentials, including some more Studio Ghibli, a trip to the 80s, and a long running anime franchise under appreciated in the West.
What do you think of our list of essential films? What do you think should make the list? What’s your favourite anime film and why? Tell us your thoughts!