“You see I really have to tell you
That it all gets so intense
From my experience
It just doesn’t seem to make sense”
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – “Still… You Turn Me On”
First off, I would like to thank my podcast co-host, Keith, for volunteering to go out of his comfort zone in tackling this list. The six-week period before the start of the movie blockbuster season, (this year, the obvious start-off point is the U.S. release date of Avengers: Age of Ultron, May 1, 2015) is the toughest stretch for our podcast; we have no current movies to review, and the movie review is the cornerstone of our podcast.
Many anime movies are based off an anime television show. In this sub-set, 95% of these movies falls into three categories: (1) a condensed re-telling of the series (summarizing 13-26 episodes into a 90-120 minute feature); (2) a conclusion to the series, especially if the last episode ended on a cliff-hanger; (3) a glorified, extended episode (or 3-5 episode mini-arc) that introduces new characters, and locales that are never mentioned again, (something which tvtropes has dubbed, a “Big Lipped Alligator Moment.”)
Another friend, Jerry, introduced me to the phrase “Kangaroo Men showing up and ruining everything,” after I was trying to describe to him almost every anime I watched. Somewhere between the two-thirds and three-quarter mark of the movie, the movie goes from being slightly weird to truly off-the-wall, gonzo weird. Jerry replied that this description also described the live-action movie, Tank Girl.
I would like to explain why the top three in almost every other list fail to make the top 40 on my list (save one, which currently sits at #38). My Neighbor Totoro may embody everything good about a Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli film, but it also embodies all of their weaknesses. The movie has no plot, no antagonists, and thus no conflict to speak of. Even for Miyazaki’s filmography, the target age for this very young – I’d say between ages 4-6. In and by itself, there is nothing wrong with that. But calling My Neighbor Totoro the greatest anime film is like saying Dora The Explorer is the greatest TV show of all time. Just as there are plenty of anime that are not meant for children (i.e. the hentai genre), there are some anime that are not meant for grown-ups. And Totoro is not meant for anyone whose age is in the double digits.
Mamoru Oshii is unlike any other director out there – in anime or live-action films. He loves inserting philosophical themes and religious (especially Christian) symbolism in the backgrounds of his films. My issue with Oshii is that does all of this at the expense of human characters and character development. He seems to have a vendetta against or phobia about dialogues, and having a cast of characters that is greater than the number 2. His best works are movies based on an existing property or tv show, since the series has already established the characters for him. But the greatest sin against the movie, Ghost in the Shell, is its length, or lack thereof. The film is only 75 minutes long, which is short for any feature film. But when you consider how volumes and volumes of manga, which is the source material for this film, it is a sick joke. By comparison, that is like trying to adapt all three Lord of the Rings novels in less than 90 minutes. Personally, I am glad Roger Ebert loved this film, since it gave the entire medium legitimacy here in the U.S. But unless you already read the Masamune Shirow manga beforehand, (which I did), the film is nearly impossible to follow.
Akira has the same problem as Ghost in the Shell. The manga by Katsuhiro Otomo is way too long to be adapted into one movie. At first glance, the movie seems long enough – the run time is 2 hours, and 15 minutes. But the truth is that even that is not enough time to tell the story properly. You can tell because somewhere between the 2/3 and 3/4 mark, the pace suddenly quickens and becomes a giant mess (figuratively, and in the case of the character Tetsuo, literally.) The technical aspects of the film, e.g.: the animation and the score, is the reason why Akira barely makes my list.
Hopefully, by this time next year, Keith’s list would be different; based on the presumption that he would have seen at least ten actual anime films by then. For now, take it for what it is – a first draft of a list compiled by a non-anime fan.
Without further adieu, here are our lists.
The Top Ten anime films
- 10. Spirited Away (2001)
- 9. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
- 8. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
- 7. Astro Boy (2009)¹
- 6. Akira (1988)
- 5. Halo: Legends (2010)²
- 4. The Animatrix (2003)²
- 3. Fist of the North Star (1986)
[redacted from this list]³
- 1. Transformers: The Movie 1986
¹ = Although based on the classic Osamu Tezuka manga, the film is an American-Hong Kong-Chinese collaboration, and directed by the Englishman David Bowers.
² = really an OVA, and never released in theatres in either Japan or the U.S.
³ = I took it off this list since it is not an anime.
Honorable Mentions: Appleseed (1988); Blood: The Last Vampire (2000); Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture (1994); Sailor Moon R: The Movie (1993); Sailor Moon S: The Movie (1994); Sailor Moon SuperS: The Movie (1995); Steamboy (2004); Street Fighter II – The Animated Movie (1994); Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010); Vampire Hunter D (1985).
(You really didn’t think I would limit myself to only 10, did you?) 😉
- 40. Ranma ½ The Movie – Big Trouble in Nekonron China (1991)
- 39. Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie (1999)
- 38. Akira (1988)
- 37. Ah! My Goddess! – The Movie (2000)
- 36. Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010)
- 35. Escaflowne: The Movie (2000)
- 34. The Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006)
- 33. FullMetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa (2005)
- 32. Wolf Children (2012)
- 31. Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 3: Rebellion (2013)
- 30. Vampire Hunter D (1985)
- 29. Tenchi Forever (1999)
- 28. Barefoot Gen (1983)
- 27. Children who chase lost Voices (2011)
- 26. Paprika (2006)
- 25. Summer Wars (2009)
- 24. End of Evangelion (1997)
- 23. You’re Under Arrest! – The Motion Picture (1999)
- 22. Castle in the Sky (1986)
- 21. FullMetal Alchemist 2: Scared Star of Milos (2011)
- 20. Princess Mononoke (1997)
- 19. Perfect Blue (1997)
- 18. Porco Rosso (1992)
- 17. Tenchi Muyo in Love! (1996)
- 16. Redline (2009)
- 15. Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
- 14. Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998)
- 13. Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
- 12. Ninja Scroll (1993)
- 11. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984)
- 10. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
- 9. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
- 8. Millennium Actress (2001)
- 7. Spirited Away (2001)
- 6. Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
- 5. Metropolis (2001)
- 4. Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise (1987)
- 3. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
- 2. Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993)
- 1. Cowboy Bebop – The Movie (2001)
UPDATE: After seeing Kimi No Na Wa (a.k.a.: Your Name) (2016), it is my new #1 anime movie of all time. Every other movie gets moved down a notch.
Next Podcast Unlimited list: Top Ten Ben Affleck movies