This article was originally published on August 11, 2011. We decided to revamp the article with newer titles.
It’s difficult to compile a list of anime films to see, but in the end, narrowed down the list to 10.
This is not a top 10 best anime list of all time, but rather, a highly-recommended list for both newcomers and veterans to check out. Each anime that is recommended on the list has a combination of an in-depth story, deep characters, great visuals, and special meaning.
With that being said, I hope you enjoy the picks!
10. Grave of the Fireflies
Fun facts about Grave of the Fireflies:
- A live version was created in 2005
- It has been 67 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- The movie helped its brother film, My Neighbor Totoro, in selling Totoro merchandise
- Noted film critic Roger Ebert has praised the movie as one of the best anti-war films
- The fireflies symbolize many things, including bombs, children, hope, fireflies, and kamikaze planes
Despite that this is one of my favorite anime films, I have only seen it once. However with that single viewing Grave of the Fireflies left an impact on me that few anime have ever done.
The narrative focuses around Seita, a fourteen year old boy who is the son of an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War Two. Proud and determined, Seita is left with the gargantuan task of taking care of his four year old sister named Setsuko. The two live on their own after their mother is badly burned in the Kobe fire bombings of 1945. Before the choice of trying to make it alone, they start by living with their ornery aunt who does nothing but verbally berate them and belittles their efforts. Sick of her abuse, they set off to start their own lives anew.
After finding out their mother has died, Seita tries his best as a strong pillar of support for Setsuko. Soon, however he discovers that the adult world around him is apathetic to the suffering of two children, and little by little it chips away at his soul.
Grave of the Fireflies is a work of tragic beauty. On one hand, the relationship of Seita and Setsuko is heartwarming and is the only thing that keeps the film from being completely emotionally overwhelming. On the other hand, it is unafraid to show the darker side of humanity not in the aspects of real war itself (the enemy is never shown) but the overall indifference to the suffering of our fellow-man, especially children, in times of desperation. It’s almost as if the message of the film is that war was not the killer of these poor children, but the unwillingness to pay attention to their wellbeing by the adults around them.
Being part of the Ghibli filmography it is of no surprise that the visual prowess of this film would be exceptional. Every expression, every action in terms of character movement is animated genius. Never have I seen in an animated film a face contort to express crying so strongly that it made me break down in tears. The backgrounds of this film are sensational and yet maintain a quaint simplicity which makes it all the more tragic that it is destroyed in the end as well.
This film is laced with symbolism which is never heavy-handed or ambiguous but always heart rending and powerfully applicable. The main source of symbolism is the fireflies themselves. Being insects that have a short life but beautiful in appearance, fireflies are used as an emblem for the main characters, this represents a life flame that is to be extinguished.
Fireflies are a strong symbol of transience and self-sacrifice, which in Japanese tradition is a thing of beauty. The tragedy that befalls these children is something should not be forgotten for they lived a noble life even though their lives were short.
Although I have sung much praise about this anime and that it is without a doubt, worthy of being on this list, it is a film that I will never watch again due because of how crushingly tragic it is, taking even the most stone faced people I know and moving them to tears. But it holds a special place in my heart due to the fact that it was one of the earliest anime films I watched.
All in all, Grave of the Fireflies is a film that must seen by everyone for its unflinching portrayal of how war effects innocent people. To me it is the prime example of the aim of an anti-war film.
9. 5 Centimeters Per Second
Fun facts about 5 Centimeters Per Second:
- The movie has won several awards in 2007 and 2008 for best film with special effects
- The Chinese animation show, Xin Ling Zhi Chuang (Spirit’s Window), has been accused of copying some backgrounds with minor edits from 5 Centimeters Per Second
- Director Shinkai has been hailed as the next Miyazaki
- Its piano score has been critically acclaimed
- The manga was created in July 2010 and is still ongoing today
“Five centimeters per second… That’s how fast a cherry blossom takes to hit the ground. Did you know that?” With that piece of trivia, starts a film that is anything but trivial.
5 Centimeters Per Second packs a punch for its allotted run time. There is a lot for a film buff to ponder. I rarely see a film that runs for only about sixty-three minutes exude so many themes and emotions such as love, loss, and anxiety all in little over an hour. All of this is done without the film ever feeling like it is being rushed or containing any scenes that merely act like filler.
This film is also unique in one regard, considering its director is Makoto Shinkai, who is known for making short films without the help of any studio. This is the first film where he now has entire crew at his disposal who gave him a hand in creating a feature length film. The movie truly presents Shinkai’s talent not only as an artist but as a director as well, showing that he has a bright future ahead of him in the world of animation.
This movie is a tale told in three parts: the first part being called Cherry Blossom which talks about the childhood friendship between Takaki Tōno and Akari Shinohara. The two are so close that they speak to one another without using any honorifics, which is very rare in Japanese society. As they grow older they soon fall in love. The duo is soon torn apart because of Akari moving away because of her father finding a new job in another town.
Part two is called Cosmonaut, and concerns Takaki coming to grip with his feelings involving Akari and how another girl in his life, named Kanae Sumida, is now in love with him – albeit the feelings are unrequited.
The final part of this film is called 5 Centimeters Per Second and focuses on the adult life of Takaki.
All-in-all, 5 Centimeters Per Second is stunning with a vast array of colors, shades of light and tone that contrast the themes of the story perfectly. The middle segment of the film, Cosmonaut, shows the skill of the background artist with some truly spectacular visuals that have to be seen to be believed, as every color is exemplified to their utmost brilliance It is a film that demands we stop and look at the huge world around us all the while holding onto the present that we must cherish.
Musically speaking, the soundtrack stresses bittersweet piano pieces that dreamily waltz in and out of scenes which, to me, are put to proverbial use for the characters themselves. The music is telling us that our lives and the people within it may sometimes drift in and out of it and that moving on is a part of life.
This is a story about growing up and accepting the reality that is around us. At times life might kick us and brow beat us with its challenges. Coming to grips with the world around us and accepting that there are some things in life that we cannot have is a huge part of growing up. In hindsight, all of this evokes a translatable emotion because we have all been through the pangs of first love and being forced to abide with the facts that life sometimes is not fair. It is a universal message that makes this anime a movie that anyone can appreciate.
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion: End of Evangelion
Fun facts about Neon Genesis Evangelion: End of Evangelion:
- The movie won both the “Biggest Public Sensation of the Year” and “Special Audience Choice Award” in 1997
- The movie made grossed 1.45 billion Yen
- The reviews have been high on both praise and much criticism by film reviewers
- Averages an 8 out of 10 on IMDB
- There was a 9 year gap between 1997 to 2006 of no Neon Genesis Evangelion releases until Rebuild of Evangelion
Much like many others in the domain of anime fandom, I love Evangelion. I have dissected the story over many times and have analyzed its many intricate meanings. Like many others as well, the ending of the television series left a sour after feeling with me.
Luckily, the eighth film on this countdown was made solely for the purpose to remove that acrimonious aftertaste in the otherwise hearty Evangelion buffet. Yes, this was one of those times where the direct feelings of the fans were taken in consideration and something was done about it by the creative team of an anime production.
But this is by far one of the most emotionally and intellectually powerful anime films that is out there. It is also stronger, in terms of action packed for the Evangelion universe, since it revolves around a battle and a conspiracy that could literally unravel the entire world as we know it. All the while, the psychological issues of the protagonists present themselves in some of the most unsettling ways.
In a technical sense, End of Evangelion shines with battles that are filled with white-knuckled intensity and fluidity that won’t be forgotten. The character designs originally done by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto are revamped in this film adaptation and are as gorgeous as ever. Being a fan of his distinct style, I enjoyed every moment of it.
The Soundtrack of End of Evangelion is composed by Shiro Sagisu and also uses some famous pieces from classical composer Bach, which works to add to the power of the film. In several moments during the film there is no music at all, which gives a sense of uneasy emptiness while providing symbolic meaning. This is a common element found in Japanese cinema to give the viewer time to reflect on what is being shown.
What strikes a chord with me about End of Evangelion is the mentally visceral value of the ending. The series alone is already riddled with enough enigmatic material, but the film takes it to another level with worrisome results. To add more to this point, I held a panel at Fanimecon 2010 about the philosophical elements of Neon Genesis Evangelion. That panel quickly became a forum just about analyzing the film’s ending.
A downside of this film is that, in order to enjoy it, prerequisite knowledge of Evangelion is a must. So for anyone considering viewing this work who have not watched the series, please do so before seeing End of Evangelion.
7. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, 2000
Fun facts about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust:
- Carmilla is based on the novel with the same name by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, first published in 1872.
- English was the first language this movie was released in. The second language released was Cantonese, then Japanese.
- The novel is darker and more violent than its film counterpart
- Averages an 7.8 out of 10 on IMDB.
- English is Bloodlust’s original language, which is extremely rare in Japanese animation.
I was not too fond of the original Vampire Hunter D film. I realize that I am in a minority for making this statement since it would be more than likely that the first film would be on other countdown lists instead of this one. I ask that you hear me out on this one though.
The plot seem disjointed and hurried like I was being rushed to finish the film instead of enjoy it. Sure, it was dark and creepy, especially considering that the artistry is done by none other than Yoshitaka Amano who is famous for doing the art of the Final Fantasy series. But aside from the haunting visuals of Amano’s art style, there is not much else going on for the first Vampire Hunter D movie.
That is to say, until the sequel came out. It definitely revamped the concept in position of artistry and especially in terms of story. Although it does not carry the tone of creepiness that the original held– being more action flick than a horror one it has several elements that the original did not posses such as fleshed out characters and even some humor.
The plot is simple: a young woman named Charlotte is kidnapped by the vampire noble Meier Link. Her wealthy father hires the stoic half-vampire/half-human monster hunter D to bring her back dead or alive. But the Marcus brothers, a band of wise-cracking yet chummy group of vampire hunters are also hot on Meier’s trail. It was unbeknown to D that Charlotte is in love with Meier and let’s just say that this makes things complicated.
The film has everything for just about anyone, who is in the mature crowd that is. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is definitely bloody. But what it also has is depth of character development and a tragic love-story as well as some very witty dialogue.
An interesting concept presents itself in how vampires can be kind-hearted. Despite that some of them may want to be good they cannot escape what they really are. Hunters of the night who prey upon weaker beings for their own survival and Meier portrays this best. All he desires is to be with his human love even though they cannot be together.
The action is very well done, as every fight scene is put against dark and dreary, yet surprisingly dynamic, Gothic backdrops. Concerning the visualization of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, the animation is very detailed and sound-wise, Bloodlust is also a powerhouse of perfect voice acting in terms of the English dub with some stellar acting was done. This is one of those times where admittance of its superiority over the Japanese track must be made. The score of the film is nothing too spectacular but for what the film is worth, it fits and it gets the job done.
All in all, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is nothing short of amazing and it falls into the rare category of a sequel that is superior to the original. On a completely different note, the features of the DVD are impressive holding a ton of extras that really make the DVD worth the money and I highly recommend picking it up.