What a fantastic month I have had thanks to the vast amount of wonderful movies I had the privilege to watch. This marathon was one I was particularly excited for because I hadn’t seen many anime movies prior to this. I wanted to knock out an equal amount of famous classics and critical gems to get a pretty good sense of what the anime community thinks are true quality movies. Needless to say, I liked every single one of these films. This marathon was 100% satisfying and entertaining, but some definitely outperformed others in my personal opinion. Here I will list them in order of my favorites leading up to the one I enjoyed the most. Along with them will be a miniature review of sorts to state my general opinion. And yes…there are tons of Madoka pictures.
14. Ghost in the Shell (7/10)
Synopsis: In a world where everything is connected by a network, the human body is being replaced by “shells,” a synthetic body that carries over ones consciousness.
This movie was one I could not avoid if I were to call myself an anime fan. It’s a title spoken to almost anyone who knows a thing or two about anime. I was curious if the movie had aged well. Was it simply good for it’s time, and since overshadowed by newer and better movies? Not quite. There is still a lot here to appreciate about Ghost in the Shell even today. For one, the story, despite being retold in several variations across movies and books, still gets your brain ticking the moment it unfolds. Secondly, the music is still incredibly chilling and adds an extra layer of finesse to the otherwise gritty sci-fi world. While this story didn’t feel “new” to me since I watched it in 2014, I could still appreciate it and I always look for new expressions on familiar scenarios.
While the innovative storyline was great, the overall flat tone of the whole movie definitely kept my interest hovering at one spot the whole time. The lack of comedy, and overall serious tone of every single character made it feel a bit monotonous and one-dimensional. I’m not saying I hate serious anime. In fact, I love it. But this one was different. If you’re going for a no-nonsense approach, then the only way I get drawn in is through psychological captivation or emotionally charged characters. This one did have a bit of that cerebral exploration I love, it lacked all the emotion I also desire in weighty anime.
I knew that it was a classic, but I had no idea just how much influence this anime had after looking it up after watching it. I didn’t know that the idea of the “neck-jack” in the Matrix was inspired by this movie. It was an honor to finally see it, but unfortunately it’s not up there in my favorites for me. I do, however, completely respect this anime and will downplay no one who names this as a favorite.
13. Paprika (7/10)
Synopsis: In this world, therapists have the ability to enter the dreams of their patients. One doctor decides to take her work outside of it’s legal boundaries using an avatar called Paprika in their dream world.
This movie is nuts. Something I can only compare to the most bizarre of artistic expression out there, Paprika is a highly imaginative exploration of the wacky lunacy that goes on in people’s dreams. The true plot is more of a corporate drama in which the devices to enter the dreams are stolen by someone within the company. The story does eventually lead to a satisfying conclusion about learning the true emotions and thoughts of people through this lucid dream-like state, but the overall core of this movie lies in what it does, not what it says.
The dreams are literal abstract worlds that actaually do a sophisticated job of portraying the incessant randomness that dreams can consist of. And this is just one dream. Later in the movie, the chaos amplifies when one dream collides with another into a cacophony of weird and delightful sights and sounds. We’re still not done. Then this dream world breaks out of it’s “shell” and enters the real world. Something that can only be described as absolutely insane. In the end, the plot is a bit lost in the crazy antics of the movie, but it still stands as a fresh and innovative directing style that definitely helps it stand out.
12. Berserk Golden Age Arc 1 (6/10)
11. Berserk Golden Age Arc 2 (8/10)
10. Berserk Golden Age Arc 3 (8/10)
Synopsis: Guts is a combative prodigy who joins a military faction called Band of the Hawk, and is set in a fantasy medieval world.
I’m simply going to state my thoughts on each movie below. As for the trilogy in it’s entirety, there are a couple traits that are prominent throughout. First, is the art style. Using a mix of CG and animation was both a hit and miss for me. Just like the currently airing Knights of Sidonia, some parts look great, typically involving greater detail like movement, combat, blood, and destruction. The smaller details however, like facial expressions create too many awkward looking scenes. It made a lot of moments fall flat only because the face lacked the true emotion that classical animation conveys so well. Secondly, the violence. This anime is gratuitous. Not just with blood, but with human nature leading to all kinds of torturous moments. And in my opinion, a lot more was there than necessary.
Movie 1 – In my opinion, it’s the worst of the three. This movie introduced all the “pawns” to this political chess game. While the combat scenes in this movie were amazing, the characters just simply looked unappealing. This movie in particular focused on character drama that came off with way too much melodrama that made it feel more like a soap opera (as my room mate said) It was a rough introduction to the world, but luckily all of the mundane drivel stopped here.
Movie 2 – Now we move on from the overly-sentimental drama of the first to the emotional adventures of the second. This time, the characters all took a step in the right direction by expressing a more natural range of expressions, mixed with some comic relief, and climaxing with a massive war on a battlefield that suitably deserves to be called an epic. While the fantasy element was still just a tease at this point, there was a lot introduced in this movie that made me more interested.
Movie 3 – This was the best movie, but contained my least favorite scene. It’s the controversial one that some of you are definitely thinking of. Let’s start by what this did right: Hell. This movie took the characters and plunged them into the demonic world that was teased since the beginning, and it was utterly and satisfyingly twisted and dark. Haunting imagery, creative and frightful apparitions, and a terrifying increase in scope kicked this anime into overdrive. Unfortunately, when the enemy was pretty much annihilating the hero, they threw in a rape scene. One that, for a few seconds, fit the story and the moment quite well, but then continued for much longer than it needed to. Let me talk about this for a second.
A rape scene in an anime isn’t unheard of, nor do I think it should be controversial. In fact, Kara No Kyoukai has a rape scene as well and that’s in my top ten anime of all time. It’s because, like every other type of scene, there’s a right way and wrong way to do it. I think Berserk did it in the wrong way. If a scene like that gets dragged on for as long as it did, there are two routes I see it going. Route 1: the length of the scene is necessary because during the scene they are communicating several climactic emotional moments and developing characters through this form of torture. Kara no Kyoukai did this. It hauntingly portrayed the woman to the audience and you actually learn about her character. It’s a tragic and dark way of doing it, but it worked. Route 2: the length of the scene is NOT necessary and all you are doing is letting your inhibitions turn off and simply reaching for shock value. This is what Berserk did. The ONLY point of this rape was a taunt by a demon to humiliate Guts who had already been defeated. Sure that works. Show it. Oh, but it’s still going? Well they must have something else they want to explore with this rape scene. Oh no? You’re just going to keep raping and Guts is just going to keep looking angrier and angrier? That’s not effective. In fact, the first ten seconds of the scene was already perfect, and the other extra minute and a half literally went backwards and destroyed what you instantly just created. I had to discuss it at length, because unlike an overly long dialogue scenethat gets boring, and overly long rape scene literally gets to my stomach when it’s done in this kind of way.
9. Tsumiki no Ie (8/10)
Synopsis: A man living in a strange world drops an object deep into the water below his house. As he goes diving for it, you learn the history of this world, and himself.
Do yourself a favor and just watch this. I’m sure if you have the time to read my thoughts on this evocative and brilliant anime short, then you have time to watch it entirely. This is an anime short that won an Oscar. It’s the only anime short to have done so, and I can definitely see how it managed to snag that accolade. There are no words, only music and whimsical animation that tells the story through the art alone. And this speechless method proved to be just as emotional and impactful as any other method of delivering a story. The art is simple, but has a unique aesthetic that makes it feel truly out of this world. You owe it to yourself to watch this.
8. Kara No Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin (8/10)
Synopsis: A two-part drama story involving characters that can see the future. Part 1 features a man and a woman both blessed with this ability. One tries to continue her life as a normal school girl while the other uses it to become a serial bomber for hire. Part 2 jumps ten years forward where a young girl who’s part of a powerful family goes with a partner to investigate a fortune teller in the city.
Kara no Kyoukai is in my top ten anime series of all time for it’s sublime art style and it’s woefully dark atmosphere. The series is known for having beautiful action scenes, morbid themes of the supernatural, and a dark plot that explores several different smaller story lines. This movie isn’t technically part of the main series of movies, but simply a side story getting the full movie treatment. As such, I probably shouldn’t have went in expecting something as epic as the best Kara no Kyoukai movie. What I did get was a clever and insightful look into a story about glimpsing one’s future that was very refreshing.
This time around, the action was kept to a bare minimum. There is essentially one action scene in part 1 of the movie and everything else is drama and character based. To some, that is an instant turn off. That’s never the case for me as I always appreciate dramas or anime that focus on aspects other than action ones, but it was a bit underwhelming that this movie didn’t contain another majestic fight with Shiki that the main series is so full of. Because of this, it definitely felt “smaller” in scope and suffered just a little bit from it.
But let’s talk about what this movie did right. The animation is no joke, and contains some of the highest caliber of artwork I’ve seen to date. The characters are all vivid and alive. I never once stopped roving my eyes over my screen to take in every scene. But Kara No Kyoukai is about much more than looking pretty. It’s writing was the best it’s ever been. While the stories were less epic than previous ones, the amount of clever exposition they had the characters convey was captivating. It was more than just explaining the rules of precognition. These were realistic, emotional conversations that felt raw and intelligent. Of course, symbolism and speeches that have multiple meanings had a huge part to it. The music, as always in this series, was absolutely entrancing as well. Fans of Kalafina should note that this is the movie series they became famous from, and they return to add their hypnotic vocals to the mix again. It doesn’t take long to realize that you are viewing a true work of art when watching this movie
7. Princess Mononoke (8/10)
Synopsis: A young boy gets unexpectedly involved in a struggle between spirit guardians of the forest and the people consuming it’s resources.
This legendary Miyazaki epic has been calling my name for the longest time. I decided that I couldn’t overload this marathon with all Miyazaki films, so I chose the two I wanted to see the most. Princess Mononoke was one that I pretty much knew I would love. What I didn’t expect, was the moderate level of blood and violence. Sure, it didn’t throw me off, but I just didn’t think that this particular studio would go that far. The animations is definitely the eclectic mix of cute, fascinating and weird that Ghibli is known for. The creativity poured into this movie is downright amazing and I loved seeing all the little spirits of the world.
I initially thought this would be like Ghost in the Shell and feel like an old version of some movie I already saw, but to my surprise, the story felt quite new to me. On a bare level, it’s similar to any other natural preservation-esque story, but there was also the large dosage of Miyazaki’s lively imagination that made this movie a lot more than it’s story. It’s a world, one that Ghibli creates with so many of their movies, and half of the joy in seeing these films is to simply see the world come to life.
6. Sword of the Stranger (8/10)
Synopsis: A young runaway boy and his dog meet a traveling swordsman who has a mysterious past, and the three end up journeying together and eventually learning the true identities of each other.
Sword of the Stranger instantly grabbed me from the opening scene. The beautiful age of martial arts and ancient Japan and China were captured amazingly well. On top of it’s great resemblance of that era, it’s action scenes also brought the movie to the next level. Bloody, fluid, and crisp, each fight was a visual treat and captured the same mental aspects that martial arts live action films do in that a fight amongst masters is more than a test of body, but of mind. The characters were also very likeable. The kid comes off as a brat, but when you see that it’s because he’s been betrayed by people close to him, you start to sympathize.
The story, while suitable, definitely was the one characteristic holding the movie back. It was mildly predictable and didn’t bother to do anything too outlandish or clever, instead following a route that I felt simply served it’s purpose for the characters. I would have preferred this be developed into something longer. Complexity aside, the story was still satisfactory and executed well enough. If it keeps you interested from one gorgeous action scene to the next, I won’t complain much.
5. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (9/10)
Synopsis: A girl gains the ability to literally leap through time, and as she seeks to avoid a foreseen circumstance, she ends up risking the loss of what she truly loves.
Miyazaki isn’t the only director who’s demanding my attention. Mamoru Hosoda managed to grace me with his directing skills with the utterly fantastic Wolf Children Ame and Yuki. While his library isn’t quite as extensive as Miyazaki, his films have gained a similar level of critical reception. Now, after watching this film, I already see one of the director’s strongest abilities, and that is to instantly create interesting and endearing characters, and introduce work them perfectly into the narrative. His movies aren’t like Miyazaki. They aren’t about fantasy worlds, but about real characters going through a realistic situation with a touch of fantasy that serves to add unique properties to his character development.
This movie in particular had me in love with the characters from the first minute. The main character is brash, energetic, and kind of clumsy, but that also goes into how she uses the power, and what ultimately comes back to bite her. She immaturely avoids one of her friends confessions of love and uses her power for trivial tasks until she realizes there’s a limit to how many times she can use it. She then runs out of uses just when she needs them most which awakens a deep character progression that ultimately leads her to realizing the true form of love that was hiding within herself. It’s truly moving stuff, layered with comedy and and essence of joy and youth that signifies a Mamoru Hosoda film.
4. Howl’s Moving Castle (9/10)
Synopsis: A young lady gets cursed with old age, and to seek a cure, she travels to the fabled Castle of Howl. A castle that actually moves on it’s own.
I feel like this movie, even more so than Princess Mononoke, shows Miyazaki’s spectacular creativity in all of it’s splendor. Howl’s moving castle is one fantasy to the next. Fire demons that are actually cute, doors that lead to multiple dimensions, and humans that transform into creatures, are all introduced in one of the most fresh takes on the adventure genre I’ve ever seen. While I did like the art style in Mononoke more, mainly because of the setting, I can’t deny that this world was the more interesting one to get immersed into.
On the whole, I felt like the cast of characters was hit or miss. Howl was a fantastic mysterious character, and the fire demon was more appealing than I ever would have thought. The main character, while awesome, felt a bit unrealistic. When she was an old lady, she seemed to lose her timidness, which felt a bit unnatural. I didn’t prefer the old lady version in most cases. And the witch who cursed her with old age eventually came back and she kind of overstayed her welcome as well. In the end though, minor character gripes hardly count as a flaw in this enchanting movie.
3. Time of Eve (9/10)
Synopsis: In a world where AI robot housekeepers are a common occurence, one owner finds himself at a mysterious cafe where one rules is present. “Treat all robots and humans the same.”
Time of Eve is incredible. I love anime that do grand things with a minimalistic style. The setting is incredibly small, and so to is your view of the world. However, the people in this cafe have seen this world, and as such have their own thoughts on it. Each scene takes you from one character to the next, developing what the world, and their lives within it, are like. When the point of the anime is to make you consider the thoughts and situation of others, than it’s genius to have the anime actually introduce you to the world through these characters.
It’s not just the innovative form of storytelling that makes this movie great. It’s the serene atmosphere, quirky comedic moments, and surprisingly emotional sensations that make this anime come together as a terrific story on a small scale. The music too deserves praise with it’s singular orchestra track truly adding to the multi-faceted nature of this anime. This is a movie version of the TV series, and I watched it to see which version was the best. I think that, even though they were close, the movie version is truly the better one.
2. Summer Wars (9/10)
Synopsis: A young talented nerdy boy is asked by a pretty girl from school to accompany her on a trip to her families house, not knowing the full details of what he was asked for. This then leads to him meeting what might be the coolest family in all of anime. Also in this world, a single network has taken over much of the world’s industry and has been hacked, and this boy isn’t super nerdy for nothing!
Summer Wars has taken most of what I love about all the previous anime movies and wrapped it up into one incredible showcase of anime creativity and execution. It has the zany wackiness of Paprika represented by the virtual network that almost everyone in the world uses. That world is grounded into a reality complete with a vast array of enjoyable characters who is the girls family. It also has the grounded characters and amazing writing that I enjoy from only the best of the anime movies out there. The main character also get his chance to shine by having a very unique talent and finds a way to make himself useful to a family who has no reason to believe in him.
If I were to have an MVP award, it would go to the grandmother of this movie. She is the best character that I’ve come across this entire marathon and I wish there were more grandmas like her in real life. This is also another movie by Mamoru Hosoda so his signature ability to make the characters well-defined and capture a great sense of youthful motivation makes this movie almost inspiring at times. It was also really epic to see the main character use his brain so much, he literally bleeds from his nose…a moment similar to going super saiyan, but only in your brain. I think I have to hand it to Hosoda, who may have become my favorite anime movie director with Miyazaki at a VERY close second.
1. Madoka Magica: Rebellion (10/10)
Synopsis: The world was transformed thanks to the heroic journey of Homura. So why is it that this new world feels too good to be true?
Ahh yes, Madoka Magica. The series that took the Magical Girl genre and corrupted it all the way to the core to create a fantastically dark and emotionally wretched world has finally gotten it’s eagerly awaited conclusion with this final film in the trilogy. The first two movies simply recap the TV series, but this third and final movie is all-original material and boy was it something else. I was always iffy on the art style of Madoka Magica. Part of me thought that the fight scenes were a bit too surreal, but when I started the third movie, I realized I was looking forward to those scenes. I realized how unique they were and ended up addicted to the crazy art style.
This movie started off showing the magical girls in this new world, and delivered the best fight scene in the entire series, complete with a dizzying amount of detail from the transformation scenes to the eventual defeat of the foe. This is still a Magical Girl anime, despite how dark it is, and on that front, this anime was absolutely adorable. It’s probably the biggest juxtaposition that actually works in anime to have these innocent girls corrupted by a greater power at work that uses their unstable emotions against them.
But this is also a tragedy, despite how full of “Magical Girl” it is, and on this other front, this movie transcends excellence, and becomes near perfection. Homura’s journey wasn’t over, and her tragic character is put through more trials and tribulations until she finally resolves herself to a drastic option to end things in a truly spectacular fashion. For those that haven’t seen this series, let’s just say that we’re literally at the level beyond gods here. We’re talking about forces of nature that rewrite the very laws of the universe. Madoka Magica is an anime that tries to make sense of universal ideals and thrusts little girls at the forefront of the mix who are just trying to grant a single wish. And one wish, that of a lone girl’s happiness, has taken us on an intense journey through this entire thrilling saga.
There was one movie that I wasn’t able to see, which was Wind Rises by Hayao Miyazaki. It wasn’t in theatres, nor is it out on video yet, therefore I decided to put up the blog earlier without, rather than wait for it. Besides, that, my hunger for amazing anime has been significantly pleased with this marathon. However, this is a hunger that I feel will last forever, and because of that, I already do have my next marathon planned. I’ll have a post about it soon enough. 🙂
As always, thank you very much for reading. I can’t express the gratitude to anyone who takes time out of their life to read about my nerdy obsessions. I can only continue what I am doing in hopes that I have more for you to enjoy reading! Until next time!