In the first MM Top 5 for 2017, Rob Stoakes looks at the best anime films to have ever been released. Click the link for an in-depth review of director Rupert Sander’s Western take on Ghost in the Shell.
For more top 5 lists published frequently, head on over to the MM Top 5 page to see what topics we’ve already covered. Think you’ve found a topic we haven’t had a look at? Leave a comment below and Movie Metropolis will look into it.
Ok, I know that this is the most predictable list that you’ve ever read, so let’s get this right out of the way.
#1) Spirited Away
Yes, I’m putting number 1 first because you know it, I know it, even Otto Von Bismarck knows it and he died almost a century before this film was made. You know how there are a load of people who hate horror but LOVE The Shining? Well, this film is the equivalent for anime.
It’s beautifully animated, beautifully designed, beautifully paced, beautifully written and I absolutely hate talking about it because everyone under the sun bangs on and on about how great this film is. And it is, absolutely, but trying to seriously praise this film is like saying “Hey, has anyone heard of this ‘bread’ stuff? You can put butter on it and everything!”
So, no, the rest of this list is going to be about all of the anime films that deserve to be given a spotlight along with that selfish Miyazaki fellow. And really, how dare he have all the best ideas? Why can’t he just sit back and let others have brilliant ideas instead?
#5 Ghost In The Shell
This is going to seem like a strangely low placement for some. After all, Ghost in the Shell is the first anime to get a live action adaptation in the West, and is one of the most influential anime of all time. And yeah, there’s a lot of reason for that.
It’s deep and thought-provoking, has brilliant art direction and equally brilliant action, and has a strong female protagonist whose very being raises questions about what it means to be a woman. At times, it feels like you’re watching a true adaptation of an Isaac Asimov story.
But it is also really really boring for much of its runtime.
Don’t get me wrong, the good bits outweigh the bad bits, and the plot is at least interesting enough that I’m not sure why the new movie’s plot has just become Robocop with lesbians (despite that being the BEST MOVIE PREMISE EVER), but when the movie decides to drag its feet it is insufferable.
Long, boring monologues from both the main character and the villain turn what should be a more energetic version of Blade Runner into a philosophy lecture with The Big Show with an equally confusing ending. It’s a classic, but not everything about it is “classic”.
#4) Dominion Tank Police Part 1
Now, if you want something by the same author with a faster pace…
It’s actually surprising to learn that these two have the same author. Ghost in the Shell stands in that same genre of anime films as Revolutionary Girl Utena and The End of Evangelion that tower over you and scream “ANALYSE ME!” while the rest of anime is dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, with very little inbetween. And Dominion Tank Police shares the same camp with the basic premise of “Hey, isn’t police brutality wacky and silly?!”
On the surface, the two share quite a bit; a strong female lead fights crime in a cyberpunk future as part of a brutal police force, with elements of satire dotted throughout. The difference is that Dominion Tank Police has tanks fighting giant inflatable dildos and catgirl stripper twins conspiring to steal urine and vicars playing golf with grenades.
Outstandingly, Dominion Tank Police Parts 1 & 2 are the failed pilot of a long running TV show bashed into two movies, and if this is the debut then goodness knows what the epic finale would’ve looked like. As such, it does have the budget of a tin of beans from Lidl, but it makes up for it with some very appealing designs that hide just how cheap it is as well as the funkiest disco soundtrack ever played over and over again until your ears rot.
Its main draw, though, is Leona Ozaki, who is one of the best female characters in all of fiction. No, seriously, she is. She’s not especially nuanced, admittedly; her one and only motivation, action and conversation topic is “drive a tank and shoot people”, but that’s a lot more than most supposedly badass female characters get even now, plus she has every trait one could want in an action hero without having so much that she’s boring and one-note.
She’s brave but sometimes scared, she’s fun but sometimes cries to draw empathy, and she’s silly but at times is actually scary even to the audience. Who’s the last action hero so awesome that you were scared of them? James Bond? Ha! Leona would probably eat his martini glass and spit it back at him.
I think I have a crush on a cartoon character. Moving on…
#3) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
A lot of you have probably responded to this with “Bwuh? What’s that?” and the rest are currently rolling their eyes so hard that they’re about to get a good look at their own brain. Well, if you’re not sick of it already then get ready to be sick of it.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is about… umm… a girl who leaps through time. Yes, if she is travelling at a fast enough speed then she will start to see some serious s#!t and relive the same day over and over again and falls in love with a time traveller and wow. This is every single time travel story wrapped into one, isn’t it?
Well, the short and blunt answer is yes. However, it’s got much more on its mind than the state of time travel and the cosmos (which overall are small potatoes, am I right?) Rather, it’s a story about being stuck between two stages of life, and that as much as you gain by moving on from childhood, you also lose a lot. And it does so by being funny and tragic without being tonally deaf, along with a very unique, more sketchy and fluid art style. In short, it’s great. I mean, what anime film could be possibly be better?
#2) Princess Monoke
Oh. Hello again, Miyazaki.
Yes, the guy who made the greatest anime film of all time also made the OTHER greatest anime film of all time. Princess Monoke is basically the answer to the question “What if Pocahontas was made while the animators were all on the same acid trip? And was directed by Eli Roth? And was actually good?”
It’s a story that is universally understandable but told in a way completely unique to Japan and probably Miyazaki himself. A man with a deadly illness must travel to a distant to cure himself and steps into the crossfire of a war between nature and industry. The complexities come in the characters themselves. The villains act heroically, the heroes act villainously, and neither nature nor industry come out of the battle unscathed and uncompromised.
Of course, the best kind of film is one where you could mute the film and still know what was going on, and Princess Monoke is a testament to that. While stunningly animated, of course, it’s the art direction that really sells the film for me. The dreamlike imagery progression of events pulls you along in such a way that you could miss half an hour of it with a power nap, wake up, and still know exactly what’s going on. And it does this without ever seeming weird for the sake of weird.
And it’s weird, yeah, but never by getting in the way of the entertainment. There’s a lot of similarity with Miyazaki’s earlier film, Nausikca of the Valley of the Wind, but that was a 90 minute film that felt like it was 3 days long. Princess Monoke, by contrast, is half an hour longer and races by like an F1 car. It’s honestly the best anime of all time… excluding Spirited Away.