Reading through some of my past blogs, I realised (much to my horror) that whilst I have done LOADS of blogs related to Fantasy, and even a few dedicated to writing tips, I’ve yet to really do any blogs that are Anime/Manga related. Considering that my writing is heavily inspired by this, it seems a little strange that I wouldn’t do that. So to appease the Otaku’s that follow my blog, today I’m looking at my Top Five Anime Style Films.
Anime has grown in strength over the last few years – as has its films. I’m not talking about films based on famous franchises, like Pokemon, Naruto, Dragonball Z and all that, but films done in an Anime style. Whereas these films were fairly underground to begin with, thanks to such studios as Studio Ghibli, Anime films have been thrust into the mainstream and given the attention they deserve.
So today, I’m going to be looking at my top five Anime style films. These are the films that for me, have a certain magic to them and give me a sense of magic when I watch them. Or, I just find them damn entertaining to watch! Again, like with all my lists, this is just based on films I have watched and I list them in no particular order. Some are well known – others not so well known to give a balance.
But before I start the list, I want to give an honorary mention to one film:
Howl’s Moving Castle
Because I know this film has a strong fan base, I wanted to at least talk about it so that people felt I wasn’t ignoring it. And don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing film to watch. It’s a tale of a young girl that becomes cursed by a witch and turns old. In her quest to become young again, she becomes involved with a young sorcerer that takes her on an amazing adventure.
It’s full of colour, magic and amazing visuals. The world it is set in is beautifully crafted and some of the shots are just breathtaking. But, if I’m being honest, I found the English dub to be – well, a little bland if I’m being honest. The voice actors all seem to speak their lines without any real emotion to them. And considering it’s made up of some top quality actors (like Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and even Christian Bale) that’s a surprise. Only Billy Crystal (who voices Calcifer) seems to have any real character to his voice. That, and the ending is just a cluster of things happening at once – it tries to throw too much at you at one time and get’s confusing.
But overall, it is an amazing film visually, so worth checking out.
Ok, onto my list.
1. Spirited Away
My god, this film is just BEAUTIFUL to watch. So much so that it moves me to tears occasionally. Whereas Howl’s Moving Castle lacked emotion for me, the same could not be said for Spirited Away.
Our main protagonist is Chihiro, a ten-year old girl that gets trapped in a world inhabited by spirits (all inspired from characters in Japanese mythology) along with her parents – who get turned into pigs. Now stuck, she has to try and find a way out of this world, save her parents and avoid the wrath of Yubaba, a witch that is overly bossy and commanding. Getting a job at a bathhouse, Chihiro makes friends with Haku, the spirit of the river, and many other characters along the way.
Much like I had to give praise to the world in Howl’s Moving Castle, the world in Spirited Away is also beautifully detailed. It feels so much like our own world – and yet different. The characters that inhabit it range from the strange, to the downright creepy and disturbing. I think the creepiest character is No-Face, a large blob like creature with a white mask that becomes obsessed with Chihiro when she shows him kindness – then goes on a rampage when she rejects him (this character actually inspired the character Arakune from the Blazblue series). The film also has a slight environmental message to it, as some spirits convey the state of the human world. One example (without giving spoilers) who is a Stink Spirit, covered in muck and waste – representing how the rivers are being spoiled and corrupted by humans dumping their crap in it. It’s not thrown in your face like some environmental messages – but it does get the point across.
Chihiro is an interesting and believable protagonist as well. She’s not a wisecracking heroine that knows how to fight – she’s a scared child, lost in a world she doesn’t understand. Whilst she does start off a little whinny and bratty at first, the journey forces her to grow up pretty quickly and in the end, she becomes a much better person because of it, learning to care about others more than herself. The relationship she forms with the other characters helps to eventually overcome Yubaba and reunites with... oh, sorry I’m giving spoilers here!
As well as amazing visuals, the music is just stunning. Composed by legendary Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, the music just sooths your soul and helps you get lost in the moment. It perfectly captures the emotion of the scene – whether it be horror, funny, dramatic, or even heart warming or sad. I guarantee you that at one point, this music will bring tears to your eyes. Music in films can be a very powerful tool if used correctly and the music in this film does its job very well.
This is one of those “close to perfect films” that ticks all the right boxes – and one of the few films I can find no fault in. Whether you’re a fan of Anime or not, you have to check this film out and get lost in the magic of it.
2. Princess Mononoke
I was actually lent this by a friend at my old job a couple of years ago, hearing that I liked Anime films. I borrowed it and watched it, not really sure what to expect – but I ended up loving it just as much as Spirited Away.
Princess Mononoke is a blend of Period Drama and Fantasy, set during the Muromachi period (yes, I had to look that up) of Japan. After saving his village from an attacking demon, Ashitaka becomes wounded by the demon, his arm becoming cursed. This gives him superhuman strength, but will eventually kill him. On his quest to find a cure, he stumbles across a human encampment, fighting for their survival against an oppressive Imperial reign and the spirits of the forest, who seek to take revenge against the humans for plundering their resources. Along this, Ashitaka meets San – a girl raised by wolves and has a hatred for mankind.
Throughout the film, there are two main conflicts. The old ways of magic and nature – and the coming of humanity and technology. Both are in constant conflict with each other throughout the film as the spirits struggle for survival against humans that may no longer need them. However, what is really clever about the film is that there ARE not real heroes or villains. Though they are plundering the forest, the humans are by no means evil – they are just trying to survive. Their leader, Lady Eboshi (voiced by Minnie Driver) is a kind hearted and selfless woman who will do anything to protect her people. The forest spirits, angry that their homes are being invaded, are fighting for their survival. It’s an ambiguous conflict that lets you make your own choices.
Much like Spirited Away, it has a strong environmental message and is a good metaphor for modern day Earth as much as it is for the time. With the increase in numbers of humans on the planet, more and more forests are being torn down so that they can make more housings (or other things) for the humans. In the process, the forests are slowly dying.
The main character Ashitaka is an interesting one (voiced by Billy Crudup – the guy that did Doctor Manhattan in the Watchman film). He’s not your standard hero in the sense that he doesn’t really have a major quest to accomplish – he just is trying to save his own life. By becoming involved in this, he gradually becomes more heroic and tries to find a peaceful way to resolve the battle between the forest and the humans. San (voiced by Claire Danes) becomes his almost unwilling helper, but still mistrusts the humans for what they have done.
Finally, the film has strong feminist themes. Lady Eboshi protects her people from the oppressive Emperor and will do anything to look after them. She even teaches the women of the settlement to handle weapons so that they can protect their men – something which would have been unheard of at the time. For those that like strong female characters, you will find plenty in this film.
A great mix of magic and modernisation, Princess Mononoke is a highly entertaining film. Whilst it may not be as emotional as Spirited Away, it certainly is a well put together film, with an ambiguous conflict that lets you decide who the heroes and villains are.
3. Fist of the North Star
If any film perfectly captures the over the top nature of Anime, it would be this one. This was one of the first Anime films I ever saw – and boy did I think it was demented! This film is little more than over the top violence, gore and completely overpowered characters. And I love it!
Based on the Manga of the same name, the film is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, devastated by nuclear war. The world has now become a sort of Mad Max type wasteland – with gangs, mutants and other monstrosities roaming the planet trying to find food and other things to stay alive. It’s a violent world and only the strong survive.
Enter Kenshiro (or Ken as he’s known in the English dub), an expert in the martial art Hokuto Shinken (aka Fist of the North Star), the most deadly form of martial arts known to man. This can cause people to explode from the inside out and allows Ken to do some really over the top martial arts moves. Ken’s girlfriend Julia has been taken by Shin (Fist of the South Star), who is the leader of an oppressive regime that pretty much holds the world in his hands. Add to this that Ken’s brothers Jagi and Raoh are also fighting for control, Ken finds himself in a battle for humanity – and a fight to protect Bat and Lynn, two kids that come under his control.
In many ways, there is very little plot to Fist of the North Star, and what there is has more than one hole. But Fist of the North Star is known for its over the top violence and utterly ridiculous levels of violence rather than its story. Ken is seriously overpowered and effortlessly pwns anyone he comes across. Yeah, I guess you could say that he is a bit of a mary-sue. But the bad guys he fights are just so unlikeable and horrible, it’s probably a good thing that he can kick their ass. Heck, there’s even one bit where he punches a building and it falls down. It even lands on him and he walks through it like nothing happened! You KNOW your character is badass when stuff like that can’t hurt him!
The fights are bloody as hell, but awesome to watch. Heads explode, gore flies and even buildings get smashed up. It’s completely style over substance – but then again that works in the films favour. For me, the BEST bit of the film is when Ken fights Zender, the huge leader of a vicious gang, who is holding Lynn hostage. He tells him to put Lynn down, Zender refuses. Ken then bursts from his top (yet amazingly in the next scene, he has it back on. Logic... who needs it?), his muscles bulge, then he whacks Zender hundreds of times with punches (called “The Hundred Crack Fist of the North Star” in the Anime). Zender gets up, threatens Ken – who just replies “You’re already dead,” and then Zender explodes in a burst of blood.
It’s completely over the top and completely lacking in characterisation and plot – but like the recent Spartacus series, you have to take it with a pinch of salt and not take it too seriously. If you just want a no-frills action movie with lots of violence and amazingly cool fighting moves, this is for you!
4. Barefoot Gen
I’ve said before, in past blogs, that Anime and Manga doesn’t always have to be about Fantasy – it can deal with real life issues as well. This is a perfect example of it.
Again, this is based on a Manga of the same name – and semi autobiographical. Barefoot Gen is based on the writer’s (Keiji Nakazawa) experiences during the Hiroshima bombings. Already hearing that gives you a cold feeling if you know that moment in history.
Personally, I think the Hiroshima bombings is one of the greatest human atrocities ever perpetrated - so any film that can prove to people how horrible it really was, I'm in favour if it can educate them - and hopefully make sure it never happens again.
Anyway, the story follows Gen, a young boy who lives with his family. It starts off as a slice of life kind of story, with Gen and his family trying to make a living throughout this difficult moment in Japans history. About 30 minutes into the film, the Americans drop the nuclear weapon – and the horror starts.
This film holds NOTHING back in terms of showing the effects of the nuclear weapon. You see people burned alive and melted by the effects of the weapon. There is even a disturbing moment where a mother shields herself to protect her baby from the blast and the two get fused together. Gen survives, as does his mother, but his family are killed when their house collapses. That scene along will be enough to make the tears come forth. After that, Gen and his mother have to try and find a way to survive in Hiroshima – now devastated by the effects of the bomb.
I personally think Barefoor Gen is highly underrated amongst Anime films. It’s not an easy film to watch – and is extremely bleak in places. But it is a true story, set around the ever poignant theme of human survival, and the spirit of humanity. If you get a chance to see it, I recommend it. But have a box of tissues nearby – believe me, you’re gonna need it.
Hands down, this is my favourite Anime film of all time. Even though I love all the films mentioned above, they cannot come CLOSE to the power and awe that Akira leave me in. Even though I’ve seen it a million times, and in several different dubs, I still feel a sense of wonderment in seeing it.
Akira is a cyberpunk adventure, set in Neo Tokyo, years after a massive explosion that decimated most of Tokyo – caused by someone known only as Akira. Little is known about Akira – other than he had intense psychic powers (almost godlike). It follows Kaneda, a young biker, and his friend Tetsuo, who come across children with these same psychic abilities. Tetsuo discovers that he himself has these same psychic abilities – and goes on a rampage across Neo Tokyo, hoping to find who this Akira really is.
The overall theme of Akira is the abuse of power and the way it can corrupt people. The idea of psychic powers is very similar to that of the atomic bomb and the destruction it causes. Tetsuo is for all intents and purposes, a walking atom bomb – capable of destroying anything he comes across. However, his powers do have limits – as is discovered in the final act of the film, which is one of the most disturbing moments in Anime. Those who have seen the film will know what I’m talking about! Let’s just say that it gave me nightmares after seeing it.
Akira has a fantastic story – with many brilliantly crafted characters – all with their own motivations and reasons for their actions. Within the destruction caused by Tetsuo, there is a heavy political struggle and a resistance wanting to overthrow the oppressive government. Kaneda gets caught up in this as he struggles to stop his friend Tetsuo. Their rivalry is one of the best on screen dynamics I’ve seen in a film. Both are best friends and yet their conflicting ideals force them against each other. It raises a great point – what would you do if you’re best friend became your worst enemy?
One of the reasons Akira is one of my favourite movies is the animation. It is by FAR the most realistic animation I’ve seen in an Anime film. Every single movement of the characters is painstainkingly drawn out frame by frame, to add a sense of realism to the characters. The body moments and facial expressions are realistically portrayed and almost feel like you’re watching a live-action film at some points. The whole film is like a comic book come to life and the result is just awesome. The only other Anime film that comes close to replicating this type of realistic Anime style is Ghost in the Shell, but even that doesn’t match up in my opinion.
You know how I said that Fist of the North Star was violent? Well Akira is equally as gory and sick in places. But actually, some of the more disturbing moments of the film (other than the ending) is when the city is being destroyed and you hear the screams of people being killed. The violence is obviously not the main selling point of the film by any means, but be warned – you NEED a strong stomach to watch this!
Put simply, Akira is a landmark in Japanese animation and arguably the film that catapulted Anime into the mainstream. It isn’t just my favourite Anime film of all time, but one of my favourite films of all time. I heard a while ago that they were planning a live action version of Akira – which I am DREADING with a passion. If you look at past live action films based on Animes (Speed Racer and Dragonball Z live action to name a few), you know it never goes right.
As a side note, when my brother first went away to Newcastle to study at University, he actually brought me a boxed set of Akira before he went away. It remains the best present he’s ever given me!
So that’s my list. What’s YOUR favourite Anime films? I’m sure I’ve missed out a ton I could mention, so please leave a comment below and let us know what you think.