I’ve always been a fan of anime, with my first experience watching Dragon Ball as a kid. Over the years my tastes haven’t changed too much, with the majority of films I lean towards being colorful fun titles with expressive characters. I also wanted to highlight some films that get a bit overlooked compared to their counterparts (everyone knows about Princess Mononoke and Akira) and hopefully, some of my affection for these films will wear off on others. They deserve it!
Pokémon: The Power Of Us
As a lifelong Pokémon fan, I would be remiss not to include one of the many (as of writing this, 23) Pokémon films on this list. What I love about The Power Of Us is that it tells stories of regular people in the Pokémon world. Our main hero (besides Ash of course) Risa is actually quite uncomfortable around them. Another character is a scientist who has his Pokémon help with research. It’s great to see how people and Pokémon live together and help each other in daily life and not just the usual battles. It’s a world I’d love to live in.
My favorite Studio Ghibli film flip-flops from time to time, from Castle in the Sky to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind depending on the day. They’re all great for different reasons so it’s hard to choose. Porco Rosso feels underappreciated in comparison to its siblings though, and I want to recommend it if you haven’t seen it.
Porco is a man cursed to look like a pig who lives out his days in the beautiful Adriatic Sea as a bounty hunter, seeking out pirates. I love that the majority of the film is grounded in reality with hints of magic here and there. The detail on all of the planes and their machinery is beautiful and reminds me how much love and care is put into each Ghibli film. As well, Porco is voiced by Michael Keaton in the English dub and I think it fits his gruff-yet-kind personality quite well.
Magical Sisters Yoyo and Nene
Yoyo and Nene are “cursers”, witches who remove curses. One day some Tokyo buildings start appearing in their world, and they become wrapped up in an adventure involving both witches and humans. I like how fleshed out the story in this is and I don’t believe it’s based on a manga or series but a standalone film. There are some fun moments of technology vs magic, with a phone game being a major plot point. It’s fun to see the differences between the two worlds, and the world of the witches is so fun and vibrant. I love their skull-cat familiar.
Brave Story is based on a series of fantasy novels that have become quite popular in Japan and spawned several video games and a manga adaptation so it was no real surprise when it eventually became a movie. Wataru is a shy 5th grader who gets transported into a fantasy world and pretty much is the closest thing I’ve seen to an RPG in movie form (until I watch the Dragon Quest movie, maybe). He gains party members, learns spells, collects magical crystals, and fights bosses. I will give a general warning that this film is nearly 2 hours long which can be quite a lot. It really is you taking a journey into this world alongside Wataru.
Keen-eyed fans may recognize this as the follow-up to the legendary Akira by creator Katsuhiro Otomo. The intense level of animation frames and detail known to his work are back, with a Steampunk setting. Ray is an inventor following in his family’s footsteps when he gets caught up in a plot by a corporation to steal a source of endless energy. Together he and a girl named Scarlett travel around the 1866 London Exhibition and figure out a way to stop The Foundation. CGI is used in places to help out with the traditional animation, like gears and reflecting glass and it looks gorgeous. Steampunk has fallen out of favor in recent years but I think this is one of the best additions to the style. Also, Patrick Stewart is here in the English version!
Origin: Spirits of the Past
Do you have a film you love so much you want to share it with everyone you know? That’s Origin: Spirits of the Past for me. When the film begins, a forest of trees mutated to survive on the moon gains sentience and returns to Earth, destroying their futuristic Cyberpunk culture and returning the planet to its natural state. We pick back up later when the Earth has been almost entirely overrun by the Forest, with small pockets of human civilization on the outskirts. It deals with our connection to nature and how with all things, there must be a balance. It’s a gorgeous film and I am overdue for a rewatch.
I’m always astonished by the variety of stories in anime films, they span all genres and tell incredible tales, from huge sweeping fantasies to slice-of-life goofiness. There are countless films to watch and with most of us spending more time at home these days, now feels like the perfect time for me to fall in love with animation all over again.