I can’t believe it’s already been two years since I started this blog. So much has happened, especially in this past year, that it almost feels like I’ve been doing this forever. Just in the past year, I’ve started writing for both The Fandom Post and Crunchyroll (both under my real name), something I never would’ve expected a year ago. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: none of this would’ve been possible without everyone who reads this blog. It really does mean a lot that people care enough to read what I write, so I just want to say thank you, whether you’re a long-time reader or just now stumbling on this post. I couldn’t do this without you guys. Now, here’s the promised list of my favorite anime movies! I’m keeping it shorter than last year’s list since I haven’t seen as many anime movies as TV shows, and I’m also restricting it to only one Miyazaki movie and one Shinkai movie for obvious reasons. Now, onto the list!
One Piece Film: Z
It may seem odd to include a shounen franchise film with the likes of Ghost in the Shell and Your Name, but One Piece Film: Z isn’t your typical franchise film. One Piece has always been head and shoulders above its shounen peers, although the films have rarely captured this. A lot of them are fairly standard shounen fare or just recaps of past arcs; Film Z is neither. Instead, it’s a character study of a villain who has a surprisingly similar way of life to Luffy. Z is simultaneously an intimidating villain who’s obviously in the wrong and a sympathetic figure who could easily be the protagonist in a slightly different story. Of course, it wouldn’t be One Piece if it didn’t also have some great comedy (courtesy of the Straw Hats’ endlessly entertaining interactions) and high-quality action. Unlike the bulk of the TV series, Film Z is incredibly well animated, which complements the fights perfectly. Overall, Film Z is the rare shounen film that perfectly encapsulates the appeal of the franchise without feeling like a throwaway side-story. It’s not quite as good as the series at its absolute best, but coming close to One Piece’s best is more than enough to get it a spot on this list.
Ghost in the Shell
There’s a good reason Ghost in the Shell is one of the most influential anime of all time. Iconic characters, visuals that are still jaw-dropping more than twenty years later, and an all around fascinating look at humanity and individuality combine to make it a classic among both anime and film in general. More than anything else, what makes it stand out for me is the haunting atmosphere that pervades the entire film. The mysterious chanting and instrumentals of Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack perfectly complement the decaying cityscape and confining shots to create an introspective air that pervades the entire movie. It’s this atmosphere that allows the audience to get sucked into the Major’s musings and doubts about her own humanity without seeming pretentious or distant. There have been plenty of different adaptations of Ghost in the Shell, but none have stuck with me quite like the original.
Kara no Kyoukai 7: A Study in Murder Part 2 (…not nothing heart.)
Kara no Kyoukai is not an easy series to watch. Its out of order storytelling, dense philosophy, and somewhat distant emotions make most of the movies difficult to get through, even for someone who loves the series. Coming at the very end of the series, movie 7 retroactively justifies every slow or confusing moment of the previous movies. It removes the emotional distance present for much of the franchise to show us exactly how Kokutou and Shiki feel, while also presenting circumstances that make Shiki’s nature drive them apart. The whole movie is a series of gorgeous visuals, shocking bursts of violence, and Kokutou desperately trying to reach out to Shiki. The movie’s ending is one of the most gut-wrenchingly emotional moments of any anime I’ve ever seen, tying up every loose end and putting a perfect thematic capstone on the series. Kara no Kyoukai isn’t an easy watch, but this movie alone makes it worth the struggle.
I’ve already written extensively on both Your Name. and Makoto Shinkai, but I can’t emphasize it enough: Your Name. is a fantastic movie. It’s ultimately driven by the same core emotions as all of Shinkai’s work, but refined to a near-perfect level and supported by a far stronger plot than anything else he’s worked on. By taking the time to endear its cast to the audience through some excellent comedy and body-swapping antics, it ensures that the heartrending second half hits like a truck. The entire second half of the movie is an emotional rollercoaster that ultimately becomes something beautiful. Your Name. is the sort of movie that’ll have you laughing, crying, and everything in between. It’s an unforgettable experience that I’d recommend to anyone, anime fan or not.
Princess Mononoke isn’t just my favorite anime movie; it’s my favorite movie period. Hiyao Miyazaki is unquestionably a master of his craft, but Princess Mononoke is an amazing achievement even by Miyazaki’s high standards. Beyond its gorgeous visuals and soundtrack, Princess Mononoke is a thematic masterpiece. It’s not subtle with its environmentalist themes, but it approaches the subject with a level of nuance and empathy seldom seen in those sort of films. Rather than a typical black and white morality of “nature good, humans bad,” the film looks at both the positives and negatives of industrialization and shows that nobody is entirely good or evil. Both Eboshi and the animals of the forest are too set in their ways and grudges to seek any real balance, but are ultimately only trying to do what’s best for their people. In the end, there’s no clean answer for what should be done, only a lasting impression that leaves you thinking. Princess Mononoke is the kind of story that’s hard to find any kind of fault in, even after multiple rewatches. It’s a masterpiece of a film by a master filmmaker, and more than earns its place at the top of this list.