Good for Health, Bad for Education

Akira is a landmark piece of Japanese animation. It was responsible for bringing both manga and anime to a far wider audience. But its impact doesn’t stop there. Akira was the most expensive anime film made at the time. Since it was one of the first to give its characters fully expressive facial features. Not to mention the highly detailed world that was crafted. Akira impacted the cyberpunk genre, adult animation, and a whole lot of modern pop culture (both Japanese and American). Although my experience with anime is limited, I knew this was a film I just had to watch.

The subtitled version is probably better than the dubbed version though. Akira takes place in the far future of 2019. Neo-Tokyo is a very R rated post-apocalyptic city full of street gangs, corrupt politicians, violent protests, and terroristic threats. One particular gang is lead by Kaneda. A youth that looks after his friends and fights off more violent gangs. His friendship is put to the ultimate test when Tetsuo discovers he has telekinetic superpowers. From there they encounter rebel factions, secret government conspiracies, psychic children, and even the mystery behind the titular Akira.

Some of the imagery in Akira is recognizable even if you haven’t seen the film. From Kaneda’s red motorcycle to Tetsuo’s villainous red cape. Along with other disturbing moments, Akira ends with Tetsuo losing control of his powers and turning into a giant grotesque blob. With its fast-paced energy, boundary pushing animation, and complex themes, it’s easy to see why Akira is one of the most influential anime films ever made.


Kaneda rides

Big World

The Secret World of Arrietty (or Arrietty to all my Japanese readers) is not something I expected to see from an anime. Since Arrietty is based on the English series of children’s books The Borrowers. Although the more I think about it, Asians do seem to have a fascination with British culture. I was even more surprised, because the book had already been adapted before in the 1997 live action movie The Borrowers. Plus a few other times on TV. So I didn’t think I’d ever see another version of the story. Arrietty is actually the first Studio Ghibli movie I saw that wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Since I had a completely different reason to watch it. This is also the film debut of Spider-Man actor Tom Holland. Even though I didn’t watch the British dub. As the title suggests, Arrietty puts more of the focus on the borrowers spunky daughter Arrietty. All she wants to do is explore, but it’s a dangerous world out there. Unlike the previous adaptation, all the action is limited to one location. But what a lush beautiful location it is. The threat is also much smaller. Making Arrietty a far more personal retelling of Mary Norton’s classic story.


Arrietty in her little room

There Have Always Been Ghosts in Machines

Ghost in the Shell is the first R rated anime movie that I’ve seen. Before this, I stuck with only the family friendly stuff. Since I’ve always been hesitant about mature animation of any kind. Ghost in the Shell caught my attention because I frequently saw it on “best anime films of all time” lists. I knew it had to be important if it was always present there. Ghost in the Shell is also very important for inspiring many famous science fiction directors. As the film has a unique visual style that blends cel animation and CGI. Giving Ghost in the Shell almost a luminous look. It takes place in the year 2029. In a future where people have integrated with technology and employ cybernetic bodies called “Shells.” Major is the titular “Ghost” in the “Shell” that works with a futuristic police force. Being more machine then woman, she ponders her own existence. While simultaneously tracking a hacker named the Puppet Master. Part of what drew me to the movie was all the nudity in it. Since Major is almost entirely naked throughout. Wearing a nude cloaking suit of some sort. While it may leave you confused, Ghost in the Shell is nevertheless a must-watch sci-fi anime crime thriller.

Ghost in the Shell

Major begins to disappear

Man & Machine

The Animatrix also came out in 2003, in between The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The Wachowskis drew heavy inspiration from anime works when making The Matrix series. That’s how they were able to make The Animatrix in Japan. By partnering with several distinctive anime studios. The Animatrix is a direct-to-video anthology film that tells 9 different stories centering on the Matrix. Stories that I can only talk about separately.

“Final Flight of the Osiris” – The first short is a direct prequel to The Matrix Reloaded focusing on resistance fighters. It’s the only short done in a computer animated video game style. This short starts with a hot and steamy sword fight and ends with a devastating sentinel attack on Zion. It’s the most unique short and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

“The Second Renaissance Part I” – The second short is done in a simple anime style. It explores all the events that lead up to the eventual creation of the Matrix. This short explains that machines were workers and servants that became self aware. So they fought for their rights, but faced oppression from humans. So they formed their own city in order to live in peace.

“The Second Renaissance Part II” – The third short continues the previous story. By depicting the war between man and machine. As well as how humans scorched the sky and were eventually converted into living batteries for the Matrix. These two shorts are very fascinating. They’re probably the best explanation for how everything in the series came to pass.

“Kid Story” – The fourth short follows the kid from The Matrix Reloaded who was obsessed with Neo. It uses a sketchy anime style. This short is all about how someone is extracted from the Matrix. Feeling like you’re in a dream, receiving phone calls, and being pursued by agents. It gives much needed insight into the seemingly out of place kid character.

“Program” – The fifth short is easily the most anime inspired. With a colorful anime style. It features a warrior woman fighting a samurai in feudal Japan. Without context you wouldn’t know it was related to the Matrix. It’s actually set in a training program. Where it deals with the question of whether they should have taken the blue pill instead of the red pill.

“World Record” – The sixth short has the most bizarre anime style. Anime characters have jerky movements and a tall structure. This short explains how people in the Matrix discover the truth about their existence. By using a track runner who reaches almost superhuman speed through the Matrix. This short is weird to look at, but it gives good psychological insight.

“Beyond” – The seventh short centers on a haunted house. The anime style is mostly simplistic. A girl looks for her cat and ends up coming across the aforementioned house along with a group of kids. The house can make things levitate in an otherworldly way. I realized it had to be a glitch in the Matrix. Which brings up a new set of questions for how well designed is the Matrix really.

“A Detective Story” – The eighth short is a hard boiled detective story. So it’s done with a black & white noir anime style. A detective is tasked by agents, to track down Trinity, and bring her to them. So he uses his detective skills to find her by following a metaphorical white rabbit of clues. This short could very much work on its own, because it captures the noir style perfectly.

“Matriculated” – The ninth and final short is done in an Æon Flux inspired anime style. It starts in the real world and ends with a machine being reprogrammed by survivors. They enter its mind and try to convince it to side with them. This short has the most trippy visuals and psychedelic colors. It’s also the short that best sums up the movies man and machine theme.

In conclusion, The Animatrix is a surprisingly good anime inspired film. Some of there anime styles are a bit bizarre for my taste, but they don’t go on for too long. Each segment lasts for about 5 to 9 minutes. While the second and third film may leave a lot to be desired, The Animatrix manages to maintain what made The Matrix so good in the first place. By sticking to simple themes and characters that we actually care about.

Captain Thadeus fights Jue

The Moving Castle Comes to Life

Howl’s Moving Castle is the first Hayao Miyazaki directed movie since he won an Oscar for Spirited Away. It was understandably nominated for that honor as well (it didn’t win though). As Studio Ghibli movies go, Howl’s Moving Castle is decidedly more mature, but still family friendly. The titular moving castle is very creative in a way Miyazaki could only accomplish. Howl’s Moving Castle is about a young hatter being turned into an elderly woman and entering a magical world. It deals with themes of war, age, magic, technology, and freedom. It’s based on a british novel, but Howl’s Moving Castle fits into this anime style quite nicely.


Howl’s moving castle

Land of Laputa

Castle in the Sky is a grand anime adventure with a multi-layered premise. Which is why it’s one of Hayao Miyazaki’s longer movies. Most anime movies that I’ve seen have complex premises. It’s something you eventually get used to. Castle in the Sky is about a lost princess, a magical world called Laputa, pirates, and ancient robots. If you follow Studio Ghibli movies like I do, you’d know that this movie is the first. Characters are still blurred, but there’s actually a straight forward villain. Even in the 80’s the animation is grand and richly detailed. So if you’re ready for a denser anime movie, Castle in the Sky is a good choice to start with.


Piggy Pilot

Porco Rosso is probably the most bizarre Hayao Miyazaki movie. Which is saying a lot. Porco Rosso was one of the last Studio Ghibli movies I saw, because I thought the premise was a little too weird. A World War I flying ace works as a bounty hunter… oh and he also happens to have a pig face (it’s a curse, he wasn’t born with it). But like most of his movies, Porco Rosso is surprisingly great. It’s probably one of the breeziest Hayao Miyazaki movies I’ve seen. Its also got the best sense of humor. Which considering the premise, isn’t much of a pig surprise.


Porco Rosso takes flight

The Spirit of the Forest

Princess Mononoke is Anime’s answer to environmentalism. The movie kept coming up in lists of environmental movies. So since I’d seen a lot of Hayao Miyazaki movies, I figured I should watch it. It’s the standard industry vs nature premise. Only with spirits and giant animals. Unlike the other movies, Princess Mononoke is PG-13. There are some pretty graphic scenes of dismemberment and blood shed. Making the movie a lot more intense than I’m used to. I did expect a creatively different fantasy world though. With characters who blur the line between good and bad. Princess Mononoke is equal parts simple and complicated. Always remember to respect nature.

Princess Mononoke

San (human) tends to Moro’s (wolf) wound

Goldfish Girl

Ponyo is perhaps the cutest anime movie that I saw. This would be my fourth time talking about a Hayao Miyazaki movie. I figured I’d talk about all of his short and sweet movies before I got into the densely complex stuff. Ponyo is the story of a goldfish princess who longs to be human. So she becomes human and that leads her to live with a boy and his mother. The most high stakes thing to happen in the movie is a tsunami. I’ve seen just about every Hayao Miyazaki movie and I think Ponyo is the only one I might rewatch. It’s funny, cute, and easy to watch. If you have kids and want to expose them to anime, then I’d suggest they watch Ponyo first.


Ponyo (left) becomes a human for Sōsuke (right)

Witch Way is Up

Kiki’s Delivery Service is probably the second easiest Hayao Miyazaki movie to watch. I think it might even be the first one I saw. Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of a young witch who moves to a seaside village and gets a job delivering bread. The movie deals with issues such as self doubt and confidence. The movie is about a witch, but it’s not dark and sinister or anything like that. More like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It’s probably also the most recognizable Studio Ghibli movie. Regardless of what I said in any of my other anime reviews, Kiki’s Delivery Service is the movie I’d most recommend watching.


Kiki flies on her broomstick