Anime movies consistently deliver an experience different from what you’ll find in Hollywood, and the level of violence is often enough to make the collective heads of the MPAA explode. But anime movies aren’t limited to just tales of hot chicks with guns; some of the most critically-acclaimed animated films are suitable for all ages, presenting gentle fantasy creatures interacting with children and teaching important life lessons. In short, anime movies are for everyone. The following 10 selections are a great place to start:
- Metropolis (2001) – Inspired by both Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 silent film and Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga, Metropolis is set in a futuristic land where robots and humans live side by side in uneasy coexistence. When young Kenichi and his private detective uncle come to Metropolis to arrest a wanted scientist, they run afoul of a plot by the city’s tyrannical ruler to create a human-looking robot and dominate the world. An ambitious project directed by Rintaro (X, Doomed Megalopolis) and written by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira).
- Fist of the North Star (1986) – In a post-apocalyptic land, the grim Kenshiro searches for his abducted fiancée Yuria. But danger is lurking around every corner, and Kenshiro’s elder brother Raoh is building an army to conquer the planet. Filled with an endless array of wasteland cutthroats, Fist of the North Star is perhaps the most violent animated film that you’ll ever set eyes on. Kenshiro possesses a martial arts technique that causes men’s heads to explode, and he gets plenty of opportunities to use it. And the final showdown between Raoh and Kenshiro results in a whole city getting leveled, something you won’t see in the average martial arts movie. If you still can’t get enough after watching this one, be sure to check out the 1995 live-action version starring Gary Daniels, Chris Penn, Malcolm McDowell, and Costas Mandylor.
- Spirited Away (2001) – Celebrated writer and director Hayao Miyazaki helmed this animated masterpiece that actually passed Titanic in Japan to become the country’s highest grossing film of all time. Chihiro Ogino is a spoiled 10-year-old who’s moving to a new town with her family. But an unexpected detour leads them into the spirit realm, and Chihiro will have to mature as a person and deal with a number of fantastical creatures in order to rescue her parents and escape. The first anime to ever win an Oscar, Spirited Away earned over $200 million at the global box office before Walt Disney Pictures released it in America.
- Tokyo Godfathers (2003) – Set during Christmas Eve, this heartwarming animated tale revolves around three homeless people–a former drag queen, an alcoholic, and a teenage runaway–and their efforts to locate the parents of an abandoned newborn they found. A perfect Christmas movie, it’s also just as enjoyable in July thanks to the strong script from Satoshi Kon and Keiko Nobumoto.
- Akira (1988) – Perhaps the most influential modern animated films ever made, Akira helped the art form gain popularity outside of Japan and stretch the boundaries of what was believed possible. The focus of the story is on Shotaro Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang in 2019 Neo-Tokyo (and the owner of the coolest bike ever seen in a film). When his best friend Tetsuo is captured by the military, it sets off a chain of events that lead to widespread destruction, revolution, and doomed romance. Just make sure you’re wide awake (and sober) when you see this one, as Akira’s complex themes will require your full attention.
- X (1996) – Based on the manga series by the creative team known as Clamp, X is set in 1999 Tokyo, the site of the impending battle of Armageddon. A series of characters are gathered there, each with their own part to play. As friendships are formed and dissolved, the fate of Earth hangs in the balance. While the characters aren’t as robust as those presented in the manga, viewers will still be treated to some awesome action sequences and plenty of memorable imagery. Directed by Rintaro, who also did Metropolis (another entry in this list of anime movies).
- Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Adapting the popular manga to the big screen, Ghost in the Shell is set in a 2029 where the entire planet is joined by a network of global electronics. Hacking is therefore a serious crime, and Tokyo is protected from such acts by Section 9, an elite team that includes cyborg officer Major Motoko Kusanagi. When it’s learned that the notorious Puppet Master is hacking into human minds and implanting false memories, Major Kusanagi begins a quest to find him. But she may not have to look hard, as the Puppet Master has plans of his own for our heroine. One of the first animated films to gain cross-over appeal, Ghost is the Shell has been celebrated by everyone from James Cameron to the Wachowski brothers (who were inspired in turn to create The Matrix).
- My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – Satsuki and Mei are youngsters in 1958 Japan who move with their professor father to a rural house to be closer to their ailing mother. It’s not long before they encounter benevolent wood spirits, and the girls engage in a series of gentle adventures while learning to cope with the concepts of death and rebirth. The film had a major cultural impact in Japan, and the beloved character of Totoro has made cameos in everything from Toy Story 3 to South Park.
- Spriggan (1998) – Yu Ominae is a superhuman agent for the ARCAM Corporation, a group dedicated to protecting powerful artifacts from those who would use them for destructive purposes. But Yu is haunted by his past, and his latest mission to the site where Noah’s Ark is said to rest may be his last. Based on the manga series by Hiroshi Takashige, Spriggan is filled with the kind of over-the-top violence and existential suffering that we’ve come to expect from all the great anime movies.
- Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – Film critic Roger Ebert has referred to this Isao Takahata animated film as one of the greatest war movies ever made. Centering around two Japanese orphans during the firebombing of Kobe, Grave of the Fireflies creates a harrowing tale about the grisly consequences of war. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, who lost his own sister to malnutrition in 1945. Live-action versions were released in 2005 and 2008.
If you’ve ever been curious about all the fuss over anime movies, any one of the selections above should clue you in. So head on over to an online rental service such as GreenCine or Netflix and give them a try. You may also find the following articles on the subject to be of interest: