Anime Film for a Mature Audience: Features, Shorts and Directors
Sometimes within the sea of a film discussion, a rare, open minded adult will ask me, “What anime is good?”. We’re talking adults aged thirty and beyond. It is a hard question to answer for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, everyone’s taste in entertainment is different. Secondly, anime is often awash in adolescent coming of age stories or over-the-top comedies in high school settings. Even if you’re in a mood to re-visit the horror of high school, only a few of these stand out. There is a very simple reason for why it is more difficult to recommend an older person anime. Anime’s country of origin must be taken into account.
In Japan the majority of anime is aimed at the pre-teen to young adult crowd and, sadly, isn’t much more mainstream than in the West. When I visited Japan in November the only shows I managed to catch on free-to-air were Chibi Maruko-chan and another (kill me) Yu Gi Oh spin off series. I did watch a lot of soap operas at 11pm, but not late enough for the 1am ‘cool’ anime slot. Between snacking on onigiri, eating green tea soft serve and checking out a noisy Maid Cafe in Akihabara, most of the over 40s in anime stores were the staff behind the counter!
Dedicated to confused Mums, Dads and friends of anime fans everywhere, I would like to try to cover movies in order to describe the many faces of anime. The focus of this article is to recommend serious film with adult themes.
The first section covers the films. They are all great, so they have mostly been listed due to how broad of an audience they cater to.
The second part mentions short films.
Finally, the third will go through some information on the directors themselves for those who would like to see more of their work. Happy watching!
Part 1: Feature Films
I could have written an article about anime television series for adults to watch, but this is a very broad category for those who might not have seen much anime. What full time working adult has the patience to fit in a television series alongside their usual television viewing? Films are less time-consuming to watch in comparison to a TV show, fairly easy to get a copy of without breaking the bank, and give a comprehensive view into what anime has to offer. There are hundreds of directors I could write about, but I’ve decided to focus on ones that have made some films that could be catered to an adult audience, and more importantly, titles that stand up in time.
10. The Garden of Words (2013)
“A gorgeous short film designed to tug on the emotions as much as it fills the eyes” – Serdar Yegulalp, About.com Reviews
The Garden of Words is the latest installment from director Makoto Shinkai. While Shinkai has dabbled in the realm of feature film with varying success, he seems to have found a happy medium with short stories. This 45 minute tale follows 15-year-old Takao Akizuki – a peculiar boy who loves shoes and hates school. When it rains, he likes to go to the park. One day he meets a mysterious older woman. Alarm bells may be ringing at this point. Thankfully the film does not wander into weird unethical realms that many comedic anime do.
The animation is what draws most viewers to Shinkai’s work, and this film actively promotes his artistic tendencies. The coloring and lighting effects are the most recognizable with a futuristic, brightly colored look. The backgrounds are re-creations of the popular tourist spot, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Again, amount of detail and colors are stunning, making still life look like photos. As this is a romance piece there are not many fancy action scenes or explosions to behold, however Shinkai makes an effort here to have movements in the background of each shot depicting Tokyo city life. The character designs by Kenichi Tsuchiya break free of the current ‘moe’ (overly cute) trend. The eyes are not overly big, the proportions are realistic and the film overall is tastefully drawn.
The background music by Daisuke Kashiwa is an almost, non-stop piano piece. It is hypnotic and joyful to listen to and definitely something that could be enjoyed on its own. It suits the mood of the film perfectly. The movie ends with an upbeat, but nicely sung pop song called “Rain.” which has an endearing melody that is very easy to have on repeat. I am quite fond of anime dubs but this one is a flop. The acting is not where the problem is, but the casting choices. The 15 year old protagonist is voiced by Patrick Poole, and you can tell Poole is a lot older than 15. Since the age difference between the two protagonists is important in this piece, it’s a shame this was messed with. Maggie Flecknoe is great as Yuki and accurately portrays the role as intended by the original Japanese edition.
In 45 minutes we get a well rounded view into the struggles the main protagonist faces: family, school, and questions about the future cloud his brain. Yukino is equally interesting although the information about Yukino is released slowly. It all hits a steady climax at the end of the film, with a small section after the credits to signify that the results may not be as grim as they seem. The film is highly narrative based but it uses all the five senses so it feels like we are part of the world the characters are in. For a mix of relaxing, interesting, and sad, The Garden of Words may be an intriguing step into one section of the anime world.
Why non-anime fans might like it: It is beautiful in both visual and sound aspects and the narrative style is pensive and emotive. Romance drama fans are very likely to enjoy it.
If you like this you may like: Voices of a Distant Star (2002), 5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
9. Porco Rosso (1992)
“The most underrated film from the Studio Ghibli catalogue” – Wilson McLachlan, Left Field Cinema
Porco Rosso, literally “red pig,” is a character drama about a Bounty Hunter pig named Porco and the friends he meets who try to understand him. It is a film from the famous studio Studio Ghibli, although this one is likely to be better appreciated by adults from the discussions about career, relationships and reflecting on the past. Like the Garden of Words, Porco Rosso has a laid back, mellow tone which is unlikely to get your blood pumping, substituting intense action scenes for substantial intellectual and emotional appeal . There are comedic moments but it is not a comedy, and it may leave you thinking afterwards.
Animated in 1992 the film does not have as much artistic depth as Ghibli’s later work, but it is still pleasant to look at. The colors are soft, and the drawing is fluid. The effort put into animating motion is apparent in the scenes with plane flight. The character designs are nearly identical to Ghibli’s later work but retain a cute, yet realistically proportioned charm with a variety of body shapes, sizes, and simplicity. It seems for this film the goal was to reflect the feeling of being airborne, and the music perfectly captures the feelings of aloof, carefree joy. The soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi captures perfectly the wistful feeling of flying – especially in a particular flashback sequence I will not spoil, however, the melodies do not linger in your memory like some of his other works do. The English dub is passable. The strongest performances are in the leads and supporting case: Kimerly Williams-Paisley (Two and a Half Men) and Susan Egan (Hercules) are splendid as Gina and Fio.
The characters are the strongest part of the movie. They are interesting, likable, and the driving force of the film. The story hangs off them so it is not worth exploring the story without spoilers being inevitable. The only downside to the film is it finishes open ended. Porco Rosso is a well rounded, down to earth character study which is worth a watch for those who like something without lots of explosions and convoluted action – It helps if you like planes, too!
Why non-anime fans might like it: It is gorgeous to listen to and interesting and heartwarming to see the characters change over the course of the movie.
If you like this you may like: The Wind Rises (2014), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
8. Patlabor 2 (1993)
“If you’re looking for something wholly dramatic, insightful, and mature then you’ve come to the right place.” – Theron Martin, Anime News Network.
Patlabor 2 is a film that can be watched as a stand-alone for the story, but those who desire some additional background knowledge of the characters should watch the Patlabor OVA series, which connects movies one and two. The Patlabor: The Mobile Police (1989) universe takes place in the future where giant robots called “Labors” are used to execute a variety of tasks, either with construction or fighting purposes. The police of the future create a Patrol Labor unit, called “Patlabor” for short. This film takes place chronologically three years after the events of the first movie and follows the Patlabor team as they unveil the mystery surrounding a terrorist attack in which the Yokohama Bay Bridge is destroyed by a missile. The team believes JASDF is the culprit. Are they right?
Patlabor 2 shares a lot in common with Ghost in the Shell. The characters of both films are trying to track down a single person in order to solve a mystery. The three act structure plays out very similarly in this film to Ghost in the Shell. The first act is mostly chit chat between characters and political ramblings. The second act amps up the tension, with some sprinkles of philosophical talk. The third act is where any and all the action happens, which in Patlabor includes explosions and characters holding up guns to each other. The final scenes of Patlabor are less creepy than Ghost in the Shell, but the imagery will be engraved in your mind for a long while. You won’t find any cyborgs here. There is more focus here on nature and city life, which is a pleasant contrast to all the dreary greys in Ghost.
The perfect trio of Mamaru Osshi’s visual style, Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack and Kazunori Ino’s screenplay make for some very beautiful, unforgettable scenes. When there is little dialogue the visual romp makes up for it. The character designs are realistic but still pleasing to the eye. They are drawn more proportionately and less cartoon-like than the television series which is a step up. Body language and subtle nuances are portrayed perfectly. The way each shot is composed stands out, mostly for his European inspired camera work. Every shot is gorgeous and captivating. The detail in the machinery is impressive. A lot of love is put into the fluidity of the movement, particularly in the final act.
For those familiar with the television series, many characters have changed positions in their organization. Sadly, I don’t remember any of their names, and while I didn’t have any strong attachment to them, I didn’t hate them either. It’s easy to sympathize with the cast as they lead familiar adult lives. The story, albeit a little slow, fits nicely into its running time. Scenes that appear earlier on and seem unimportant are proven otherwise. Patlabor 2 is a film better experienced than described. I can’t say I enjoyed it as well as I could have, and recommend others to track down at least a couple of episodes of the original Patlabor series. However, it is stunningly beautiful and it is worth watching for the visual splendor alone.
Why non-anime fans might like it: Not only is it aesthetically amazing, but it is also a solid mystery, a crime story with an amusing bunch of characters.
If you like this you may like: Patlabor (TV), Neon Genesis Evangelion Rebuild 1 (2007)
Add a star if you are more familiar with the characters. Also please note that the video listed below is the opening credit sequence. There were no trailers available that I felt did the film justice.
7. Only Yesterday (1991)
“This film knows what it strives to be and executes it well. Though it won’t be for everyone, it represents the quality and artistry that Studio Ghibli is known for.” – Kaikyaku, The Nihon Review
Only Yesterday is one of the least known Studio Ghibli films and is directed by Isao Takahata. It tells a tender story of a 27 year old woman who travels to the country for the first time, and reminisces on her life thus far to better understand herself. It may sound dull (I certainly thought so) but Only Yesterday is one of my personal favorite from Studio Ghibli. The narrative jumps back and forth between Taeko asking herself questions, and flashbacks of when she was younger. The way the story manages to make the constant switching coherent is comparable to the Lars von Trier film: Nymphomaniac (2013). Of course, only a lot less violent and more uplifting.
The character designs are fairly similar to the usual Ghibli style: round faces, small eyes and noses, and a variety of different hair styles. The colors are remarkably softer than Miyazaki’s work – they appear almost water color-like. The backgrounds, while sharing a flat 1990s look, are nicely detailed and there’s enough movement to keep one entertained, especially during flashbacks. A great deal of effort was made to emphasize facial muscles to make it look like the characters were 27. This is the most obvious change to the artwork style and it does not always work; There are times when Taeko looks like an old woman! Otherwise, the film stands up to modern animations in quality, just as much as the previous 90’s titles on this list.
The soundtrack, like that in Garden of Words is mostly composed of piano tracks. There are also some acoustic and pleasant orchestral ones to spice the music up and add a little variety. The ending credits is one of the most visually creative I have seen from an anime, and it is backed up with a gorgeous song: “Ai wa Hana, Kimi wa Sono Tane” by Harumi Miyako. Sadly, the film was never considered marketable enough to receive an English dub but it just means there are less decisions to make regarding your viewing experience.
Story-wise, Only Yesterday is weaved in with the characters and tied directly to the conflict raised at the start of the film. The flashbacks with Taeko are incredibly familiar, realistic, refreshingly down to earth, and oddly nostalgic. Many familiar experiences of growing up are displayed on screen: the pros and cons of puberty, the stress of receiving good grades and trying to deal with the lust versus love ordeal. It weaves in funny, heartwarming, and sad moments. Along with the deep and meaningful discussions with the male protagonist, Toshio, it makes Only Yesterday the most character rich Studio Ghibli film to date. This is certainly a movie that is best watched once you’re past your school days, or at least partially. Each scene adds on to the other and helps bring the film to a satisfying, logical conclusion.
Only Yesterday is a poignant, mature coming-of-age film which elicits a mixture of emotions from the viewer. It is wonderful to see the characters journey through the past, present, and have hints for the future. Highly recommended for those who like drama.
Why non-anime fans might like it: It is the most down to earth, in depth character study I have seen in anime film so far. The main female protagonist is coming to terms with a mid-life crisis which has been done in many films but arguably not quite like this, or in an animated form. If you like coming of age movies you can not pass this one up.
If you like this you may like: Whisper of the Heart (1995), Wolf Children (2012), Usagi Drop (2011)
6. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
“The first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence.” – James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic & Terminator)
The Wachowskis were so pleased with Ghost in the Shell that they supposedly transferred some scenes in their directorial hit, The Matrix, as homage. This is a clear demonstration of the impact this film has had worldwide. The Ghost in the Shell franchise is over a decade old but is still going strong. After Ghost in the Shell, a sequel, Innocence (2004), was made, as well as a popular TV show adaption. It has no intention of slowing down, as part one of a prequel to this film was released last year in Australia’s REEL anime screening.
Ghost in the Shell follows Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg who is part of the security agency Section 9. Along with her colleagues, they try to track down a computer hacker called “the Puppet Master” with some interesting results. It was based off the manga by Masamune Shirow, who is known for his other famous work, Appleseed (1985). The Puppet Master appears to be sneakier than they initially anticipated as things do not go according to plan.
Ghost in the Shell is a mystery thriller with little action and lots of discussion. Think crime shows or dramas like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). Many of the scenes are dialogue between the members of Section 9 as they try and solve the mystery. The animation is mostly stagnant except for the rare action scene, the beautiful opening sequence, and the third act. When the animation kicks up, it looks incredible with stacks of detail and fluid movement. It is interesting that the mix of cell animation and computer graphics, “digitally generated animation,” was considered ‘the future’ at the time. Hey, at least it still looks good by today’s standards.
The characters are brushed over except for the two who are crucial to the story: Motoko and the Puppet Master. As Section 9 discovers more about the hacker, Mokoto questions her own identity and tries to figure out what reality is. This scene helps humanize Motoko. Up until this point, she was just a girl doing an investigation.
The clearly defined three act structure of Oshii’s films can be considered a blessing or a curse. They start very stale with lots of mood setting and dialogue. There is a very clear transition from the dullness of the first act to the intrigue of act two. More mysterious things happen and the investigation becomes more engaging. The momentum is saved for Act Three where all the action and climax of the film is. The creepy, eerie resolution is reserved for the very last scene of the film. While the casting for the English dub isn’t bad, the delivery is a little clunky and awkward at times.
With a combination of gorgeous sequences enhanced by Kenji Kawai’s score, Ghost in the Shell is worth watching once even if it may not grace your list of favorites. If you prefer more action in your sci-fi Ghost in a Shell Arise (2013) is part one of a set of prequels to this film and is worth tracking down to give a more thorough introduction to the characters.
Why non-anime fans might like it: The film plays out a lot like a crime/mystery thriller which takes time to build but gives a big payoff at the end. The music and some of the animated sequences are haunting and unforgettable.
If you like this you may like: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2003), Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013), Serial Experiments Lain (1998), Eden of the East (2009)
Like Patlabor 2, I have also put the opening credit sequence here as I can’t find a suitable trailer.
5. Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)
It’s a beautiful journey, albeit an ominous one. Slowly, the mood of the trek shifts from excited and childlike to desperate and profound.” – Justin Sevakis, Anime News Network
Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) is based off the 1927 novel by Kenji Miyazawa. In watching this film you are in part introducing yourself to some old (at least to me) Japanese literature. You can even read the story online if you don’t mind being nearly completely spoiled for the screenplay adaption. It made such an impact on the Japanese community that it was adapted into numerous theater productions, musicals, and has been referenced in many anime. The most recent of these is the equally fabulous Mawaru Penguindrum. Miyazawa was inspired to write his novel after his beloved sister died. It tells the story of a young boy, Giovanni, who decides to hop on a train to the Milky Way with his friend Campanella on the night of a festival. This rendition of the story was directed by Gisaburo Sugii (Astro Boy).
Though in the book the characters are human – in the film they are represented as anthropomorphic cats. Takao Kodama, who has mostly done work from the 50’s and 60’s designed these fuzzy creatures. This is something that is so unusual for Japanese anime (maybe not so much in the 80’s) that it could easily be mistaken for some obscure Disney creation. Please don’t be put off by the unique style (guilty) as it quickly becomes forgotten thanks to the rich characterization. The dark hues with high saturation fit nicely with the much darker yet nicely detailed backgrounds. More impressive than the detail are the numerous religious and spiritual symbolisms and the use of symmetry to give the film an eerie tone. The animation won’t win any awards for detail but it is quality work: fluid in all movement.
The music by Haruomi Hosono is more of a continuous musical journey like Yellow Submarine or Fantasia due to the harmonious variety. There are all kinds of interesting, hypnotic sounds, from drawn out synths and melanges of piano and… I can’t even tell what most the instruments are. Even if you’re put off with 80s synths – these ones aren’t that bad- they do not make up the entirety of the soundtrack; whether or not you weed these out the synth music, the soundtrack is an impressive piece of work. When shots for the film are drawn out too long the soundtrack keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Be prepared for a fun nostalgia ride in the English dub because Veronica Taylor (aka. Ash Ketchum from Pokemon) plays the main character. Crispin Freeman plays his friend Campanella, but he takes all the gruffness out of his voice and brings out a very well mannered young, cat-man. I couldn’t even tell it was him until I looked it up. The delivery makes the emotion completely believable and heart breaking. There is one particular line from Freeman that nearly made me cry! The English dub is surprisingly fabulous and one of the strongest I’ve seen for an 80’s production outside of Studio Ghibli adaptions.
The film has been seen by children as it is non violent with safe language, although the themes and philosophical discussions in the screenplay definitely make it a film for adults as well. The story is abstract and interesting, filled with questions about the meaning of life, death, being human and happiness. As the Galactic Railroad stops at each respective area the characters meet a wide variety of human people whom talk to them about their lives and experiences. The characters are explored in some depth, not just the main two cats either. You learn the way the way each character thinks, their values as well as life experience. The quiet, kind hearted nature of Giovanni made me love the character right away and I stopped thinking it was weird he was animated as a cat.
The Night on the Galactic Railroad is magical, incredible and inspiring in an indescribable way. Every aspect of the film is intriguing: from the cute cats, the profound background art, symbolism; the mystical, absolutely stunning soundtrack, the moving English dub, and the insightful nature of the screenplay. The film stands up in time amazingly and should really still have a DVD still in print (last published DVD release was in 2001). Please look past the weird looking cats and give it a shot – you may find you like them after a while.
Why non-anime fans might like it: The cats are cute, the music is wonderful, and the story is unforgettable.
If you like this you may like: Mawaru Penguindum (2011)
4. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
“Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.” – Roger Ebert Reviews
Perhaps you have already heard of Grave of the Fireflies. It is listed in the book “1000 films to see before you Die” as a great war film. This film by Isao Takahata is the most moving and violent of all Studio Ghibli films. It is an interpretation of the 1967 semi-autobiography by Akiyuki Nosaka. It follows two young children, Seita and Setsuko as they struggle to survive in World War II Japan.
Don’t let the date of the production fool you, Grave of the Fireflies still holds up to today’s standards of animation, especially with background detail and character designs. The colors are dull, but perhaps it’s set that way to describe the grim setting. It doesn’t share the same pristine shine or polish of Ghibli’s later work but the film still presents a set of chilling images.
The music may not be by Hisaishi, the mastermind of other Ghibli works, but Michio Mamiya matches the quality of his follow composer. The composition choices are so beautiful it could move you to tears before the characters have their say. The tracks range from a simple solo to a piece played by a full orchestral ensemble, a variety that contains the track for the right mood at the necessary times The English dub is very strong in acting and casting. There are no voices that did not fit.
Like the film Atonement or Life is Beautiful, war is presented from the perspective of those of civilians. The emotional impact and day-to-day living is depicted with frightening and heartbreaking accuracy. It may be seem slow to those who are used to lots of action, but every scene contributes to the overall story. There is a particular scene on a beach which could have been shortened, perhaps, but that’s it. The ending will linger with you long after the film is over. It is perfectly thought out in terms of timing, music and screenplay.
This film is highly recommendable to viewers who love autobiographical content in their movies, have an interest in war stories in particular or simply want to see a war story from a different angle. It may not look as flashy as later movies but it has a raw tone about it, only emphasized by the unforgettable soundtrack and endearing characters. Grave of the Fireflies remains one of Studio Ghibli’s best work from the 80’s.
Why non-anime fans might like it: It is based off a true story, is moving and beautiful.
If you like this you may like: The Wind Rises (2014), Now and Then, Here and There (1999)
3. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
I avoided watching Tokyo Godfathers for the longest time because the story sounded overly simplistic and cheesy to me. Three homeless individuals who try to bring an abandoned baby back to its family? Reminding myself that one of my favorite anime directors, Satoshi Kon was part of the production was one of the only things that motivated me to click play. “You have to at least try to watch it”, I kept telling myself. I’m glad I did. I found that from the first lines I was getting sucked in by how interesting and unconventional the characters were. It’s the relationships between these characters that kept me enjoying this film from start to finish.
Kon shows the innocent side to human nature in Millennium Actress and the dark side of the psyche in Perfect Blue. Tokyo Godfathers strikes a balance between the two. It has an entertaining, dark sense of humor mildly similar to the French hit comedy Tai Tois!. The characters have good intentions but as the film unfolds we learn how they went off the rails. They are unique and likable in the strangest possible ways. The baby is springboard that throws all these odd-ball characters together: a middle aged alcoholic, a transgender woman and a runaway teenager. It’s the kind of circumstances that made The Breakfast Club so interesting: a group of people who wouldn’t interact under normal circumstances feel forced to.
There isn’t much new I can say about the aesthetics. Even though Tokyo Godfathers was released a few years after Millennium Actress there isn’t much difference in the quality of movement besides more detail in the backgrounds and vibrant lighting effects. This is by no means a bad thing – Tokyo Godfathers does a great job at portraying scenes from all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, from the posh upper class to the destitute slums and their corresponding inhabitants. From its synopsis the film sounds like it could be a lot of chatting and not much doing. Its surprisingly the opposite. The characters get involved into a series of events that snowball from one conflict to the next.
Compared to other films by Satoshi Kon there is not as much of a blurred line between dream and reality which makes the film a lot more accessible to those who don’t love thinking much about what they just watched. Now I can see why Lynzee Lamb from Anime News Network listed Tokyo Godfathers as her number one anime film to watch at Christmas. It truly stands apart from other anime or Christmas films in general due to its different subject matter. With strong writing, a great upbeat soundtrack and an especially creative opening credits its definitely worth giving this film the benefit of the doubt.
Why non-anime fans might like it: It has everything one could want from a film – rich characters, humorous and sad moments, some action scenes and an interesting story.
If you like this you may like: Paranoia Agent (2004), Welcome to the NHK (2009)
2. Princess Mononoke (1997)
“You won’t find many Hollywood love stories (animated or otherwise) so philosophical. “Princess Mononoke” is a great achievement and a wonderful experience” – Roger Ebert Reviews
Princess Mononoke is often referred to as one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best work, as it won 30 awards in Japan alone. It is set in a world where nature is a vital and integral part of society, and spirits, Gods and Demons walk about. One of these Demons curse a warrior named Ashitaka, which prompts him to leave his village and out to find a cure. It sounds simple but the premise is a great spring board for a wonderful adventure story.
You can’t mention Ghibli titles without praising the animation and sound aspects, and that remains true here. The artwork is different enough from previous work with the main characters to remain distinguishable. This is mainly thanks to the variety of interesting costumes and weapons to behold. The background art is the most impressive, even if it looks flat due to the lack of computer added lighting effects and depth that other titles like Spirited Away have. It is still detailed, colorful, and beautiful to look at, just in a different way compared to more recent work. The action scenes, which combine sword fights and guns, are a marvel to watch. They’re crisp, clear and fluid. No matter what shot is on screen, there is action happening somewhere.
Joe Hisaishi delivers some of his best orchestra work in this film. The score is both enchanting, rich and powerful. Even the main theme which plays on the DVD menu screen is listenable for hours on end. The English dub is solid. Billy Crudup (Watchmen) perfectly fits the voice of Ashitaka and Claire Danes also sounds suitable as San (Stardust). No matter which version you watch the movie is equally as moving. The characters are mostly adults and help move the story along. Even if the protagonists Ashitaka and the wolf girl, San are distant at first they grow on you over the course of the film. Even the side characters get time in the spotlight. They are all interesting and likable in their own right. The story ends on a satisfying note and wraps up most, if not all, lose ends.
It is the combination of fabulous animation, a magical soundtrack, and a strong script with drama, action and even a hint of romance that makes Princess Mononoke such an enjoyable experience. It is easily recommendable to viewers of nearly any age. The only ones who are less likely to stomach the film are children, as there is plenty of swearing and blood.
Why non-anime fans might like it: It has a bit of everything: comedy, drama, action and wraps it up with wonderful visuals and a killer soundtrack.
If you like this you may like: Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind manga (1982)
1. Millennium Actress (2001)
“A piece of cinematic art. It’s modern day Japanese animation at its best […] It’s animated, but it’s human and will touch the soul of anyone who has loved deeply”. – Kevin M. Williams, Chicago Tribune
Millennium Actress is often named as Satoshi Kon’s “best film”, although it is probably the film viewers have enjoyed the most. It won the Grand Prize of Japan’s Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival, tying with Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ for that year. As the title suggests this film depicts the life of a retired actress who stopped making movies at the height of her career. A group of enthusiastic film makers decide to make an autobiographical documentary of her, so track her down for an interview. What comes forth is a heartbreaking web of love, career and life as Chiyoko tells her story in a mix of narration, flashbacks and a odd combination of dream and cinema sequences. A close comparison would be the narrative style of The Notebook, only a lot more diverse and surrealist.
Kon likes to be deceptive, so the film jumps between settings in order to tell the story. We see the events as Chiyoko describes them, which cut into sections of films she has starred in, to the interview room in her house. The documentary film makers are often there in the background, having a say in how they are imagining the scenes playing out. This method of storytelling is compelling, creative and dramatic, keeping the audience on its toes.
Kon is very clever with his decision of when to keep music or sound effects in and out of scene. When there is music it can range from subdued to exhilarating, with a big focus on European-style instruments mixed with oriental. It can move the viewers to feel like they’re floating, or in the scene with Chiyoko. It is a completely engrossing style. The side characters for the English dub are questionably cast, although the acting comes across believably.
The camera doesn’t move around a great deal. Kon’s art style is stunningly close to real life without being off putting. The colors are rich, movement plentiful and backgrounds close to reality, without sharing the precise detail of Studio Ghibli. It conveys the atmosphere and setting of Europe without exaggerating or underwhelming the scene. It’s productions like Millennium Actress which reminds me why I feel justified to give low scores to other anime made in the early 00s. The animation here blows most mid 00’s productions out of the water.
The characters are endearing and interesting, with the heroine being the obvious driving force of the story. It often feels like you are the one experiencing Chiyoko’s life. Aside from her, the secondary male character is the only one given any detail. The other side characters are passing glimpses in the life of Chiyoko. They have enough personality and empathetic qualities to be likable, despite not having a great deal of story to back them up.
The ending is unpredictable, realistic yet incredibly moving, but not in disheartening way. This film is almost like the less gritty version of Perfect Blue. Millennium Actress is more pleasant and down to earth. Instead of the change of scenes depicting the characters instability, this method shows a more well rounded view into the actress’s life. I highly recommend Millennium Actress to all whom would like to see something different – not just in the world of anime, but animation and film in general.
Why non-anime fans might like it: This film, like Only Yesterday, is one of the best anime films focused on the detail of the main character. The animation style is grim, but haunting – the soundtrack even more so. The ending is one of the most powerful anime film endings I have seen to date.
If you like this you may like: Perfect Blue (1997), Paprika (2006)
Given how many anime film there are, what are some runner ups? As famous and important Akira (1988) and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) are they were not on the list due to their much larger overarching stories only being introduced in film form. To get the full experience from both titles, the respective manga are better. Kite (1998), Perfect Blue (1997) and The Wind Rises (2014) nearly made the list as well, but were overshadowed by some of the other titles by the same director. The films by Mamoru Hosada are also very enjoyable but did not make the list due to them not being for a ‘mature audience’.
Part 2: Short Films
If you’re really concerned as to how dark or varied anime can get you may be interested in taking a look at some short films. Wikipedia lists 61 entries for short films, and Short of The Week lists a few others that have originated from Japan. There are plenty more that exist beyond what is described below, but they are harder to find as there is no way near as much coverage for anime short films compared to television shows and movies.
The Animatrix (2003)
“Just about everyone can find at least one short that they can enjoy, and most will enjoy far more than that. You owe it to yourself to see this at least once.”- Robert Nelson, THEM Anime Reviews
The Animatrix a compilation of nine short film by different directors exploring the history of The Matrix universe, and their connections to the sequels. The films vary in quality to mediocre to excellent, depending on the script, artwork, soundtrack, and director. They were presented in different order over a variety of releases. I would like to cover the top four here. The DVD also has a fabulous extra explaining the history of anime which I highly recommend to any newcomers to the medium.
The Second Renaissance (Part I and II) were written and directed by Mahiro Maeda and contained canon information provided by the Wachowski’s; the directors of the original The Matrix films. These short films basically take Morpheus’ spiel to Neo about the Matrix in the first film and expand it into a narrated piece. It depicts how the world of today was transformed into that in The Matrix and the post Apocalyptic world. The artwork is highly devoted to the machines, and is more of a montage as it utilizes news clippings and interviews to construct its narrative. It has minimal dialogue and no definite characters. The film probably couldn’t have told the full story without narration, but it would be really interesting to see the whole story in more detail if they wanted to extend it into a feature. The soundtrack was appropriately dark and the voice over somehow made the film extra creepy.
In A Detective Story Ash, a private detective is hired to track down Trinity, our favorite computer hacker from the franchise. It is a black and white animation in style of film noir. It is written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop). It takes place before the first The Matrix film and utilizes a 40’s style New York setting. I can’t release much information without spoiling it. High points of this one include the interesting take on the protagonist, Ash’s life, the artwork, and the great music.
Beyond follows a young girl who discovers a haunted house in her neighborhood, which is actually a glitch in The Matrix. It is one of, if not the most colorful of The Animatrix shorts. It has many vibrant colors and probably one of the most anime-ish character designs, while maintaining vibrant, detailed backgrounds. Again, there isn’t much I can say about this one without spoiling but it stands up above the others due to its endearing female lead character.
Kid’s Story was also written by the Wachowski’s. It depicts a young teenager who discovers, like Neo, the existence of The Matrix. It is the only one of the films that has Neo in it, and takes place between the Matrix and the Matrix reloaded. The artwork is colorful, character designs realistic with lots of fluid movement. The lines are very sketchy and thick, but an effective and unique style. The screenplay is simple but effective. Its ability to build suspense is amazing.
The Animatrix is surprisingly accessible in second hand retail outlets or cheap at DVD outlets, and is definitely worth taking a look at for the rich variety of art, music and story content, related to a wonderful franchise.
Why non-anime fans might like it: The Matrix and animation. Period.
If you like this you may like: Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Score is above if I was averaging out ratings from all the shorts.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s three short stories explore themes that have a level of appeal to adults. In 2001, Animage magazine ranked Memories on their list of 100 greatest anime productions. In total the film lasts 81 minutes, but within that time frame three very compelling stories are told. Each of the stories are thematically unified by the concept of memories. The memories transcend into the physical world and plays a pivotal role in the psychology of each of the characters. This section reviews each part individually.
Magnetic Rose is a hauntingly beautiful short directed by Koji Morimoto. The artistic style is distinctly beautiful and simultaneously horrifying with its realistic approach. The story is told through well-developed characters and very realistic acting. The dramatic tale follows the crew of The Corona, a deep space salvage freighter that encounters a distress signal that leads to a spaceship graveyard orbiting a giant space station. Two of the ship’s engineers, Miguel and Heintz, enter the abandoned space station to find the source of the distress signal.
The abandoned station has a European-style interior with furnished – albeit decaying- rooms. It is revealed that this was the home of a formerly famous opera diva named Eva Friedel, who disappeared from the world after Carlo Rambaldi, a fellow singer and her fiancé, was murdered.
The characters are haunted by memories. Miguel is haunted by Eva’s ghost, incapable of letting go of her glory days and her love, Carlo. Heintz is haunted by the memories of his dead daughter. The film resonates with the viewer because of the very adult themes it explores: loss and love. The inability to let go of one’s past – in Eva’s case – and the necessity to push forward – in Heintz’s case – is precisely what makes the film so appealing. The tragic deaths of the Corona crew is highlighted by Eva’s haunting operatic singing of a song largely influenced by Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
The animation provides a striking contrast between Eva’s beautiful ideal and the terrible reality they live in. Throughout the film, the Corona is struggling against a powerful magnetic field that is resonating from the abandoned station. The field is manages to crush the Corona and add it to the rose-like shape around the station.
The film may start off slow but builds to high intensity that is absolutely captivating. The European-style interior of the station is comfortable and familiar for people that are not as familiar with anime or Japanese culture, and the heart aching moments can reach out to a broad range of adults. Highly recommended.
Stink Bomb pulls away from the dark, dismal mood in the first short, Magnetic Rose. It is a dark comedy about a lab technician, Nabuo Tanaka, battling the flu. The character accidentally swallows some experimental pills that react with the flu shot in his body. The pills are a part of a biological weapon program and, by reacting with the flu shot, his body develops a lethal body odor. While napping, his odor kills everyone in the Lab that he works in and he receives instructions to deliver the experimental drug to Tokyo. While on his travels his odor’s potency reaches a point that gas masks and NBC suits offer no protection against it.
Amusingly enough, Nabuo has absolutely no idea that he is the cause of world-wide panic. Similarly the audience has no idea that he is the problem (though there is room to believe it is) until the middle of the film. When the army realizes that he is the cause and try to escape, he runs with them, effectively killing them all because he thinks the gaseous mist following him is caused externally.
As opposed to the operatic music in Magnetic Rose, the opening sequence of Stink Bomb is accompanied by delightful, upbeat music that does little to hint to the tragedy that is about to occur. Similarly, the characters are all drawn with thin, soft lines that provide a gentle aesthetic appeal. Even in their deaths the characters look more entertaining than horrific.
This anime film is not meant to insight terror in a viewer, but more-so it is supposed to humorously critique the importance of warfare. When weapons are developed in secret, an innocent bystander could be responsible for utter destruction. (Think Deedee from Dexter’s Laboratory). The anime would not be as entertaining to kids as to very jaded adults with very dark humors and an appreciation for caricature.
The final short in Memories, Cannon Fodder serves as another critique on society. Within this world, everyone depends upon their canons in order to survive, and the education system revolves around military training. This militaristic lifestyle is so normal that the parents heavily criticize their children for falling behind in their weapons education.
The animation style revolves around industrialism. The extremely large sizes of the canons are daunting and the pollution and societal decay is evident in the representation of the characters that look less than human. It is evident that their form is a result of this war as the young boy in the film has a large portrait of a more “normal” looking historical figure.
The music by Hiroyuki Nagashima blends brass band and orchestral music with a drum cadence that heightens the urgency revolving around the war which, seemingly, has no rhyme nor reason. The young boy in the film is a product of the cruel world he lives in. Firing the gun at an invisible enemy and presumably killing thousands of people is a fantasy that plays out in his day-dreams.
Why non-anime fans might like it: While produced in 1995, the film is very relevant to today’s standards and perspectives. Particularly in a post-9/11 America, it has been very easy to otherize an enemy without any rhyme nor reason. The film also appeals to adults because of its representation of children. The child in the film views war as an idealized game, and – while it seems cute at first – the deeper meaning behind his perspective is horrifying in its own right.
Why non-anime fans might like it: With a range of art styles ranging from beautiful to captivating, a variety of adult themes approached from serious and humorous standpoints and issues that are relevant to today’s society, Memories is worth your time.
If you like this you may like: Steamboy (2014) Mushishi (2006).
Review by Jemarc Axinto.
The brilliant Satoshi Kon combined forces with other noteworthy talents Mamoru Oshii and Makoto Shinkaito to create Ani*Kuri15, a series of 15 1-minute shorts made by a different director. This pile of shorts are so quick to breeze through that they are more like commercials for anime as a whole so if you want to get any indicator as to the variety in the anime universe this is the title to pick. It won’t blow anyone’s mind although it does make for a very entertaining, quickly based 15 minutes. Like most short film compilations the quality of each segment varies both objectively and in terms of personal tastes. I would highly recommended it just on the gimmick alone.
She and Her Cat (1999)
This is one of the first productions Makoto Shinkai ever made, besides the one minute and a half Other Worlds in 1997. It remains one of my favorite titles to put on when I’m feeling nostalgic. The version listed below is an English fandub of the film, although you can see the Japanese version, voiced by Makoto Shinkai and his wife as part of the Voices of a Distant Star DVD. It is fairly straightforward story about the life of a cat’s owner from the perspective of the cat himself. It has a lovely piano soundtrack which is almost constantly playing in the background.
Part 3: The Directors
If you enjoyed any of the films I mentioned in the original list it may be worth a look at other films these directors have produced. Consider it a springboard, if you like. More veteran anime viewers may be all too tempted to point out all the other directors I missed out on in this section. Since I am aiming this article towards adults whom may not have seen lots of anime it seems counterproductive to overload their consciousness. Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri are examples of other well known anime directors and may be worth investigating if you enjoy trailers of their work. I am personally not a fan of what I have seen of Kawajiri so far, though! Enjoy.
Miyazaki is the first director listed here, because if you are one of the few adults who have never heard of him, it is about time you did. He is the director most often associated with Studio Ghibli, a very well known animation studio in Japan. His films are also the easiest to find. There are probably copies of his work at your DVD rental store right now. Studio Ghibli’s work have been distributed by the Walt Disney Company so often big name actors dedicate their talent to the English dub version, easily placing them among some of the best English dubs the industry has to offer.
His films often have magical, mythological, spiritualistic and shintoism (messages to respect nature) elements to them, as well as doses of comedy and drama depending on which title you decide to watch. If you enjoyed Princess Mononoke, which I listed earlier, The Wind Rises and Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind are his other serious films. However he has also struck a chord with viewers for creating family film. Spirited Away (2001) and Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) are fantasy, adventure films which are enjoyed by both children and adults. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery service are also very popular. I highly recommend readers check out my other article 5 Essential Studio Ghibli Viewing to get more information on these particular titles. It is also worth noting that Miyazki only makes up one of many directors at Studio Ghibli.
Miyazaki’s characters are often young women, whether it’s 10 year old Chihiro from Spirited Away or late teens Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Of course, there are male leads too, but they are often reserved for his serious films. Unlike Disney villains, Miyazaki’s antagonists are more well-rounded than they first appear. Some of his films contain no villains at all. Miyazaki explains this by stating that the world is more complex than this simplistic good vs evil concept, and he believes children should be exposed to that. He also believes that children should be shown the good side of the world. For example, anti-war and some feminist messages are often present within his films, as well as re-occurring themes of the power of love. He also has a love for planes so be prepared to see a few of these. The director retired in 2013 due to his failing eyesight.
With a variety of great, wonderfully animated films for any audience you could imagine, you should not ignore Miyazaki if you would like to have any knowledge of the heights anime can reach.
It is difficult to recommend Shinkai’s works blindly to an adult audience, as the romance-drama genre is for a specific breed of sappy person to begin with. It you love films like The Notebook, the Time Travelers Wife, Dear John or Atonement, you will probably find something to like about these. What sets Shinkai’s work above your standard romance-drama is the unique, gorgeously detailed animation, and the heartfelt piano music. It is worth watching at least one of his films just for the sake of seeing a different style of anime. Enjoying Shinkai’s works is reliant the ability to emphasize with the topics involved.
Makoto Shinkai often writes stories about young people in romantic relationships whom are separated from one another in some respect. They are heavily reliant on narration in form of the characters thoughts, in order to explore the various sensations and experiences that accompany these sad circumstances. Story is not usually the focus, but character, atmosphere and poetic style writing. I have already written about Makoto Shinkai, which is why I am only brushing over him here. In this article I highlighted The Garden of Words and She and Her Cat. If you like your sappiness mixed in with other genres, The Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a feature length film with more focus on adventure! For those who are learning about film, Shinkai made Voices of a Distant Star (2003) by himself which is a moving piece of animation in its own right.
Isao Takahata is one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli, and one of the most prominent directors of the studio besides Hayao Miyazaki. His films are generally more serious, often either more obscure than Miyazaki’s or down to earth. He was inspired to work on more serious content after seeing the 1980 french animated film Le Roi et L’Oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird). This film has not been released in English except for the internet titled The Curious Adventures of Mr Wonderbird. He has been quoted to include Italian neorealism – 1960’s Bicycle Thieves – as influence. Expressionist elements are also present within his films as abstract representations of thought are shown.
His debut into the animation world was through Toei Animation. He released the movie Hols: Prince of the Sun or The Little Norse Prince (1968). It didn’t sell well when it came out but now has a tiny niche of followers. Even with its simplistic character designs the story can be appreciated by adults.
Takahata and Miyazki collaborated on many projects since then. Takahata also dabbled in television. One series that is still popular in Japan today is Heidi: Girl of the Alps (1974), which was based off the Swiss children’s book Heidi. Even though it has been very successful internationally it has only briefly been available in the English language. For those who are interested in this story it has been released twenty different times, the most recent version being a British film called Heidi (2005). 50 episode Anne of the Green Gables (1979) was also a work of his based off a classic children’s novel. Anne’s story has also been produced into multiple theatre productions, films and television series. Takahata and Miyazaki later found employment with Telecom. The company was supposed to be moved to the US, but conflicts between Japanese and US’s ideas of animation style were unpleasant enough that the duo, along with their colleagues, left to eventually form Studio Ghibli.
In this article I have highlighted Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday, but his films don’t end there.If you like cartoon-like, watercolor style animation the family exploration My Neighbors the Yamadas is entertaining, although it is more like watching a television show due to the skit organization of the movie. Isao Takahata’s most recent film came out alongside The Wind Rises. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) seems to return to the water colour style of drawings seen in My Neighbors the Yamadas. It’s based off the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Its been receiving praise from a variety of sources.
Takahata may not have as long of a resume as Miyazaki but his films match his in quality.
Ohtomo was highly influenced by film. He used to love seeing them so much he would travel hours to reach his closest theatre. Aside from film directing he contributes a lot of his time to Sunrise productions, but has donated his talent to a segment in the anthology Robot Carnival, contributed in either directing or writing talent to each segment of Memories and Neo Tokyo. His other feature films include Steamboy (2004), Freedom Project and SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers. He has been highlighted here for his work on the short, Memories, although there is one title I have not gone into much detail yet which deserves extra attention.
Otomo was possibly one of the biggest influences on the 80’s crowd with his release of Akira in 1988. Personally, I am not a big fan of the film but have grown more respect for it after viewing some of the other gateway titles for the 80’s. It is hard not to gape in awe at the detailed, fluid animation which broke budget records at the time and cringe at its multi-cultural soundtrack. Geinoh Yamashirogumi is known for mixing different music styles together and this style was integrated into Akira in a similar way that Greg Edmonson combined different cultural sounds in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Akira encapsulates the best-of post cyberpunk, appocolyptic anime film of the 80’s, and the visuals are as stunning today as they were thirty years ago. For those who are unsure what the film is about, the found-footage film Chronicle (2012) was claimed to be inspired by Akira. This film is what Ohtomo is most well known for.
Much like Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, Akira was adapted from a much larger manga that took 8 years to write. In result a lot of the subplots and characters got removed. According to Brent from Otaku, no Video the film covers the first third of the movie and brings a lot more to the characters, which are about as exciting as cardboard in the film. I have read the first volume so far and it focuses more on Kaneda, whom is a much more likable character compared to Tetsuo. It is far more enjoyable and more elements of the story are explained so far. The webmaster Ric from Animetion claims that its down points are few. If you can cope with excessive violence and an occasionally confusing story Akira is definitely worth reading.
His newest work in 2013 was Short Peace, an anthology containing four shorts.
Multi-talented film maker, director and writer, Mamoru Oshii (born 1951) was heavily influenced by European cinema as a student. After graduating from Tokyo Gakugei University, his first step into the anime industry was being a storyboard artist on Ippatsu Kanta-kun (1977), a cartoon about a boy who enjoys baseball (Japan’s most loved sport!). To date, he has directed 38 titles and written 26. I have highlighted his films Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell in this article.
Over his career Oshii has dabbled in lots of different roles for various studios, although his his film debut kicked off after the success of Urusei Yatsura TV (1981). Oshii had created the storyboards and directed the TV show, so it only seemed fitting that he lent his talent to two films, Urusei Yatsura: Only You (1983) and Beautiful Dreamer (1984). Rumiko Takahashi, the writer of Inuyasha wrote the manga Urusei Yatsura. It is a sit com about the most perverted guy on earth becoming the love interest of a beautiful alien. The English dub was so hilariously terrible it stopped airing after episode 3. The series is out of print but can still be found on some sources like Amazon and Ebay. The opening sequence displays how cutesy and light hearted story compared to his later work. Beautiful Dreamer is distinctly different in tone and style to the television show. Clearly this is where Oshii has a chance to write what he loves and sets himself up for his successes to come.
Oshii’s films often explore philosophical questions. He stated in an interview that he considers visuals to be the most important followed by substance. This comes through in his movies which may be slow but have some mesmerizing sequences. He is a director next to Satoshi Kon who could be considered closest to making art-house film. He enjoys exploring settings that are different to ours, whether futuristic or fantastical. His character designs aim to be true to real life, and he has adopted European documentary style in his execution of storyboard with the lack of a moving camera, careful usage of sound effects and music. His films often include adult characters and balance drama, science fiction and slice of life. If you are one who loves European cinema, you will find a gold mine of goodness with Oishii.
“Satoshi Kon used the hand-drawn medium to explore social stigmas and the human psyche, casting a light on our complexities in ways that might have failed in live action. Much of it was gritty, intense, and at times, even nightmarish. Kon didn’t shy away from mature subject matter or live-action sensibilities in his work, and his films will always occupy a fascinating middle ground between ‘cartoons’ and the world as we know it.” – Dean Blois (Lilo & Stich, How to Train Your Dragon)
Satoshi Kon was influenced by famous science fiction writers Yasutaka Tsutsui and Philip Kindred Dick (adapted into films like Blade Runner, Total Recall ). He also has a soft spot for comedy like Monty Python and Terry Gilliam. Since I am a fan of Monty Python he gains an extra point of respect from me! I have paid close attention to Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers in this piece.
He released his first manga in college, Toriko, not to be confused by the anime and manga series of the same name. Following that was a collection of short stories called Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (2006). He supervised Patlabor 2 and contributed to the script of Magnetic Rose from Memories. His directorial debut started in 1997 with the thriller Perfect Blue, which I have already reviewed and would highly recommend to thriller fans. In 2004 Kon directed a 13 episode anime called Paranoia Agent, which was basically an excuse to include all the short stories Kon liked, but that didn’t fit into any other place.
Stylistically Satoshi Kon shares a lot in common with Mamoru Oshii. He was inspired by European cinematography so integrates this into his own work. The most easily distinguishable stylistic choice of Kon’s is his character designs, which are a co-creation between him and Kenichi Konishi. They are realistically proportioned and represent a spectrum of faces, instead of just the idealized face. It very true to life, almost unnervingly so, but its a great contrast and interesting to see in the anime world. In an article by Andrew Osmond, when asked about why Satoshi Kon doesn’t just make his films live action, he replied: “In animation, only what is intended to be communicated is there. If I had a chance to edit live-action, it would be too fast for audiences to follow.”. Also in a Midnight Eye interview (by Jason Grey) he claimed: “I have no interest in making a live action movie at all, in part because I like drawing so much.”. Like Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon prefers writing female lead characters as he says being a man, he can not understand them as well so prefers to work with them. It is a strange intrigue that he has built upon by expanding on these characters as much as possible.
His films often switch between dream or hallucinogenic states, which Kon justifies by his belief that humans experience life through different mediums. “The human brain is mysterious; we can’t share the time axis in our memory with other people. I’m interested in trying to visualize those nonlinear ways of thinking.”. On the subject of the internet, in an interview with Midnight Eye Kon noted: ” I think in countries like Japan and America and other countries where internet is prevalent, people can anonymously seek or release things they can’t speak of offline, as if there’s a part of the subconscious that’s uncontrollable and comes out on the internet. That is very much like dreams.”
After his untimely death due to pancreatic cancer, Madhouse staff are trying to complete his project Dreaming Machine, which was half finished. They are fishing for money but founder Masao Maruyama states that he wishes to have it completed within the next couple of years. It will be very different to Kon’s other works as it is aimed at both children and adults and will feature an all-robot cast. Below I have listed two of his films that I believe will appeal to the biggest audience due to the mix of themes and genres. However, for those who are Alfred Hitchcock or thriller fans, Perfect Blue will fit the bill.
Whether you are a fan of comedy, drama, science fiction or slice of life I hope this overview of anime film give you somewhere to start on your journey into an exciting medium with lots of variety.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Monsterous article! “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” and “First Squad: The Moment of Truth” are two titles that needs to be here.
I have not heard of any of these- the shame! But now I will look them up. Thanks for the comment!
Ohh and “House of Five Leaves”!
Wow, the more anime you watch, the more you discover like:
Eden of the East
Higashi no Eden is awesome
Wow well what do ya know watched all already enjoyed um allthough
Can’t believe I read through all of this (that’s a compliment). Can I request you write a similar article on mature reads in the Manga spectrum?
I would love to but I have not actually read much manga. Thanks for reading through the whole article – it took me months to write so I’m surprised people bother ha ha
Great primer for the genre
If others want other titles included maybe they should…… uh….. write their own piece.
What’s next? 🙂
Amazing selection of directors and titles. This site offers some really quality content.
I am so happy to see Patlabor 2 on this list you have no idea! I loved that anime, and while it can be confusing at first it was so worth it.
Great job Jordan. This article makes me want to explore the mysterious land of Anime (well, it’s mysterious to me). Congrats on getting splashed on the Billboard!
Thanks! I do feel special if I’m on the billboard lol
Please check out some of these , or at least the trailers. 🙂 there’s ought to be one (or two) you will like
I LOVE cowboy bebop! I wish it were MUCH longer! I will def check out the animes mentioned here, they’re more my style..
monster must be one of the best
Hajime no Ippo should be on here as well. Even though it is considered a shounen manga, a majority of the content is very seinen in character.
I would like to say that this was an awesome list, but personally I’ve never seen any of them.Only watched like one or two anime movies in my life. This can be a good gateway.
Great opportunity to find some more you like 🙂
ive seen/watching the majority of the list and the rest is on my to watch list. thanks!
Stein’sGate is one of my favorites, and so is Monster. Ever see Eden of the East?
AKIRA. Incredible, incredible movie.
Mushishi, Champloo, Gundam 0080, TTGL, Kaiji, Baccano!, Sakamichi no Apollon, Katanagatari, Welcome to NHK.
Thanks for this. I needed something to do instead of studying for finals.
If you want realistic fiction, Usagi Drop and Kuragehime are both good slice-of-life shows suitable for non-anime fans.
True adult anime would be something like House of the Five Leaves. I don’t think there has been anything mature since.
I have not even heard of that, but I will look it up. Thanks for the comment!
What a comprehensive post. My recommendations include:
Cowboy Bebop (space, action/adventure)
Darker than Black (action)
Death Note (drama)
Juuni Kokuki (fantasy, drama)
Monster (suspense, drama)
Planetes (space, drama, romance)
Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen (historical drama, action)
Honey & Clover (romance, slice of life)
Great Teacher Onizuka (comedy, school — even though it takes place in a HS, it’s enjoyable)
…And this is, like, the tip of an iceberg.
Monster, Cowboy Bebop, Planates, Ghost in the Shell SAC, Now and Then Here and There, and Ergo Proxy are all good examples of shows that I would say are specifically catering to an adult anime pallet.
I could recomend Silent Service and Ookiku Furikabutte, both aimed at adults, but drastically different in stlye, composition, everything.
Berserk. Berserk needs to be on this list.
I really appreciate this! I’ve been looking for some new things to watch but I have trouble finding animes that I like. Will try these!
my all time favourite anime: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
If anyone’s up for shows, Ergo Proxy is also pretty awesome if you like mystery and series where stuff gets explained towards the end and before it is mindfuck
No mention of “Serial Experiments Lain”? That is one of the most mindblowing anime – and it’s short enough to watch in a few days.
As a former anime fan who wanted to give some new titles a try soon without jumping into the fandom bs, thank you!
Millennium Actress is one of the best anime I have ever seen. Nice list.
You’ve must have put a lot of research into this, great job! I’m a anime fan for sure. Samurai Champloo is my fav. Just an awesome combo of story lines and action.
Manga’s always and forever better to read than watching the anime. Just saying.
Having watched most of these. I can guarantee you will have feels, excitement, anger and fright.
some day I will go back through my favorites and actually investigate all of these lists of awesome things people compile. some day.
You definitely need to try out Psycho-Pass. The characters were all adult and the anime was more mature. As in had some thought-provoking moments and the action at times could be a little gruesome, but its bearable. Best of all its free of fan service moments.
i second psycho pass
great teacher onizuka
city hunter (this one is very long)
shiguiri death frenzy
ghost in the shell
these are all solid – excellent anime (except kurozuka….that one had so much potential too). they are serious , no-nonsense, no fan service etc
Very in depth! I’m happy to report I’ve seen quite a few of these. I really need to give Ghost in the Shell another shot it just didn’t click with me the first time.
There are plenty of mature anime around. I admit, not many with casual nudity, or adult-esque torture scenes, but there are many anime children wouldn’t understand.
-Spice and Wolf
I’m mature enough to enjoy a variety of genres.
I only watch adult themed anime. I think the freedom that anime geared towards adults has in regards to themes and ideas is certainly what draws me to it, but it will always depend on the merits of a series itself.
Although I’m not sure if you could call it exclusive to adults, Uchuu Kyoudai is probably the best example I can think of where I’m able to enjoy and appreciate it precisely because I’m older now. It’s very appealing to those who have more life experience and can understand where these characters in their late 20s and older are coming from.
I want to see it all. I’ve been looking for a good anime with deep forward-thinking ideas for so long!
I’ve watched all these except for Princess Mononoke, might have to check it out. Another great series for adults is Welcome to the N.H.K.
You know, in my younger years I loved anime. I’ll at least give one of these movies a shot.
Can we add Ghost Phantom of the Requiem, me and my wifey marathoned it last night, wasn’t expecting to watch cartoon in this age. amazing
Anime for mature audience are really rare. I think Bartender and Gallery Fake, for instance, are maturest among all the anime. But even if I recommended these anime for mature audience, I wouldn’t expect these for adults of all ages. In other words, even these anime would be on the boundary at best.
Wow this is a monster~ Such an awesome list. I’m definitely going to send this to my college friends who think anime is dumb as a guide of what they should watch. You included so many awesome titles! Satoshi Kon is on my watching list, so now I’m excited to watch his work! A+
Thanks heaps Mary 🙂 Satoshi Kon is awesome. I avoided his work for ages because I thought the artwork was weird but I actually love it! His stories are so interesting.
It’s all about Monster. If you anyone is looking into adult stuff that is the right thing for you.
It’s a psychological drama (with elements of horror) engulfed in mystery and settled in the real world, without any paranormal abilities or unreal scenery. Almost all of the characters are adults and overall tone is ery serious; I could easily imagine a blockbuster movie coming out of it.
Dynamic change of POV and incredible profiling of EACH character will keep the action flowing, even if it lacks serious and constant action scenes.
I seriously recommend it.
Grave of the Fireflies is the best anime ever made.
There’s a bunch more I’d like to recommend, but they’re not coming to mind right now.
Haibane Renmei! A short series that manages to be a lot more mature in it’s themes then it might appear. It gets very dark in the second half especially.
My top mature anime:
Ninja Scroll: no kids, action, probably the best ninja anime out next to…
Basilisk: romance, drama, action, ninja. It’s a really nice anime. It’s not just about fighting though. There are lots of social issues dealt with and responsibilities to be maintained due to tradition. Sort of Romeo and Juliet-esque, except not retarded and stupid and angsty.
Ristorante Paradiso: older gentlemen who work in a restaurant in Italy. Really atmospheric and whatnot.
Honey and Clover: not sure how much this counts, but most of the cast is over 18. In fact, the youngest main character is eighteen while the others are in their twenties just about. It’s all about them shedding the last bit of childishness and becoming functioning adults. Extremely awesome slice of life/romance anime.
Higashi no Eden: similar to Honey and Clover, but more plot-centric as it includes action and suspense. Characters are freshly graduated from university, around 22 years old.
Ghost in the Shell: grown adults, extremely smart sci fi with some kick-ass action and psychological themes.
Yes I liked all of them. Add:
Hataraki Man – a story about female newspaper worker, about her relationship with co-workers and about how her work affects her private life.
Antique Bakery – four men running a bakery, trying to overcome their personal problems and fears at the same time. Some shounen-ai hints in this one, but mostly serving as a comic relief elements. This show is not about gay love.
Kemonozume –> probably one of the best things I ever saw, all characters are grow men and women, it has some sex scenes and intense violence, but it’s not hentai. Real adult issues dealt with, such as dealing with the family, dealing with yourself and your lovers and what society perceives etc.
Fucking yes, mature anime are always awesome. Anything with non-corny/non-kiddy themes and visuals are awesome.
I don’t think mature anime is dead, but it’s dying. The latest messed-up mature anime I’ve seen is Corpse Party. Man, that was so messed up, it’s good.
Happy to see this article published 🙂 ! I still haven’t seen Princess Mononoke, I never knew the premise before reading about it now, but it’s moved to the top of my list now. Thanks Jordan!!
Also, article as a whole is very comprehensive, and very interesting to read; I’ll probably check out most of the other titles as well 🙂
Thank you! so glad you found it interesting
How about Appleseed? Does that fall under this category. I found it, and the sequel, to be interesting. They are similar in nature to Ghost in the Shell in that they explore the nature of humanity and the individual through the introduction of cybernetic life but add in genetically engineered clones. The story does not feel like the usual high school angst stories and is interesting and well paced. I think that Ghost in the Shell overshadows the film so it’s just not as popular.
This is fantastic. Thanks very much.
If anyone is looking for older/mature anime series then i can suggest a few. Claymore, Cowboy bebop, Ergo Proxy.
For actual adult series, try some stuff like Bartender, Hataraki Man, Rescue Wings.
Occult Academy (I actually really enjoyed this anime, and I felt it had alot of components that adults like to watch shows for)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Serial Experiments Lain
Monster would fit right up for an adult audience. The same with Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I guess. These are the kind of shows that generally lack teenagers, and is mainly focused on older individuals without much kiddish humor and stuff that probably youth wouldn’t care much about (politics for LoGH, and whatever was in Monster).
Bartender is suposed to be an adult themed Anime since it talks about alchool, it is really a unique experience and I felt really relaxed while I was watching it, but in my opinion you need to have the right mood to watch this but is definetily great.
Ghost in the Shell is very deep and in depth, and I also just enjoyed watching a kind of mystery / paranormal anime called Mnemosyne. It’s pretty interesting and I would say if you liked Elfen Lied, you’d probably like this.
Damn, people listing some good stuff here!
Wow, great suggestions all around – a very good resource *bookmarked* I haven’t seen a few of your short films listed.
I was curious if you were going to put the End of Eva on here…I’m considering starting an article on the film and Anno’s fondness for French New Wave film techniques ;^ )
Monster, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Mushishi and Ghost in the Shell. Mushishi doesn’t have mature stuff like cruelty or sex, but it doesn’t have childish stuff either. Kind of philosophical(but not really XD). The same goes to Cowboy Bebop.
Thanks a bunch for this wonderful list of recommendations Jordan. I confess, I’m one of the people who dismissed Anime as being rather childish in terms of its storytelling (though I’ve always thought that aesthetically it’s a beautiful artform). But as I’ve watched shows like Elfen Lied and films like The Animatrix and Akira, I’ve realized that there’s a whole chunk of Anime that is geared towards an adult audience. Again, this is a terrific article Jordan 🙂
Thanks August 🙂 Glad you liked the article. You should definitely check out some of these movies!!
Afro Samurai – action
Battle Angel Alita – action
Canaan – action
Detroit Metal City – comedy
Dogs: Bullets & Carnage – action
Ghost in the Shell series – action/drama
Samurai 7 – action
Senkou no Night Raid – action
Terra e… – action/drama/military
whilst some are shonen, they do provide an adult theme, and I’d probably recommend most for an audience of 16yrs and over
Ergo Proxy was good, though slow
Monster is probably the best anime. It’s adult themed, unique, and has an incredible story. It’s 80 episodes though and can be slow. Still one of my top rated animes
Personally, I think any adult would enjoy Mnemosyne. Slightly reminds of me of Elfen Lied.
Durarara! is pretty bad ass, reminds me a tiny bit of Black Lagoon
And I’m watching an underatted gem of an anime right now called Himitsu: The revelation. Detectives delving into the mind of the murdered to find their killers.
man, i’ve been aching for a mature anime for about 2 and a half years now. Everything people seem to be watching is Clannad or The Melancholy of Whatsherface.
There are actually a number of mature series around. At least one airs every season. If you’ve really been waiting years for it, then you haven’t been looking very hard.
Some movies/fantasy stuff that might be worth a go that are a bit more light hearted but still adult oriented-
Mai-Mai Miracle – I actually haven’t seen this but I’ve heard it described a few times as a bit Ghibli like.
Little Witch Academia – Very short movie, the most noticeable thing about is the animation.
Princess Arete – I haven’t seen this one in years. I remember it having a lot of fantasy and being like a fairy tale.
Miyori no Mori – It has environmental and forest themes like a number of Miyazaki films do.
Taiyou no Ouji – This a film that both Miyazaki and the other main director from Ghibli Takahata worked on, it’s an earlier work from the 60’s.
I guess I have never thought of Anime as being adult or not, except when it comes to the more ‘graphic’ titles in the genre of Henti. It was good to see that some of what I have watched myself are considered adult anime, like Ghost in the Shell and the Animatrix. I will have to look up some of the other titles you suggested, thank you for going into such depth.
That’s ok 🙂 I hope you find some titles you like.
I like a few “adult” anime series. I have a hard time understanding them sometimes though since I’m still a teenager but I like a change of pace every once in a while.
In my opinion, grown adults enjoying content aimed at children is a little strange. But what’s even stranger, is content aimed at grown adults that is designed in such a way that it appears to be aimed at children. Like those manga that focus on a group of like, elementary school girls doing cute, innocent things… aimed at grown adult men. Kinda creepy.
Great biography on the directors! Enjoyed reading it.
And since we all seem to go with recommendations, here are mine.
Berserk (the movies)
There you go! And these
Death billiards (a good one for psychological no gore, just great)
Switch (this is a good one for psychological)
Shigurui (a great anime with a bit of gore and bit of a story)
There are plenty of anime for us adults, some I like:
Eden of the East
Welcome to the NHK
Maybe Higurashi no naku koro ni also.
Really nice article, took me two sittings to read it though lol
I recommend the following series for whom ever interested in this theme:
Angel Beats! – does contain a bit of drama towards the end but worth watching and can be targeted for a mature audience
Baccano! – if your more into action with a bit of gore and a very good story then this series is well worth watching and is definitely for a more mature audience
Cromartie High School – if your more into comedy then this is worth having on your list. It’s tagged shonen but the references can at times be more targeted at older viewers
Mushishi – supernatural fantasy anime with an excellent script to match
Natsume Yuujinchou – and if you happen to like Mushishi and are into slice-of-life type series with the supernatural, then also give this one a try. Comes in 2 seasons.
It took me about a year writing on and off to finish the article, so I don’t blame you!
Thanks for reading it all 🙂 I’m glad you liked it.
Denpa Teki na Kanojo, its a very short series, but its very dark and filled with psychos.
Suisei no Gargantia.
have you tried the kara no kyoukai series?
Jordan amazing article , i sat down there an read every word and it was a great description of directors and animators. you definitely make me want to watch all those films. Thank you
Thank YOU for writing such a lovely comment and reading the whole thing 🙂 Hope you like the movies!
I just finished “The wind rises” which gave me a lot of feels and I suggest anyone not to miss it. Anyways, great article. I can only imagine the effort and work you went through to finish it. Since you didn’t mention it here I was wondering if had seen “Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust”. It has some very beautiful artwork and is for mature audiences. Another movie that has the criteria to fit on this list is “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” which was suggested by another commenter but since I have seen only its trailer I can’t really say anything about it.
PS: guys stop suggesting anime series instead of movies, you’ll confuse the newcomers…-_-‘
I heard a lot about Kon and his films Paprika and Millenium Actress. I am a big fan of Studio Ghibli. That said, I find it surprising you did not mention Spirited Away uner the heading ‘you may also like…’ Still, even till now I have not seen Graveyard of the Fireflies. Something I must remedy. Thanks for this article.
That was actually a very good list of great animes.
Some great recommendations – and I’ve only watched about half of them! Thanks 😀
Good article. Personally I would have included La Maison en Patits Cubes in the short film section, given it is about an old man reflecting on his life I think it would resonate deeply with mature audiences.
Very happy to see Millennium Actress on the feature film list. Satohi Kon was one of my favorite anime directors, and I feel that Millennium Actress is his crowning achievement.
I knew Princess Mononoke would be on the list (how could it not be), but I’m still happy to see it there.
Great list. I’d also recommend checking out the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series.
Shame not to see Wings of Honneamise on here. Decent selection but it would have been nice to see a few more obscure titles mentioned rather than the Miyazaki/Kon/Oshii/shinkai that everybody already knows about. Yoshitoshi Abe’s work deserves a mention for example.
I wrote the article to help get adults into anime, so some of the obscure titles weren’t a great idea. I have heard of Wings of Honneamise, but haven’t seen it.
Well done! Very very convinced to see Night on the Galactic Railroad now 😀
Nice list! In the mood for some anime again.
What a great post! This is just what I needed to get myself back into an anime watching state of mind.
My own suggestion for a must-see anime by new viewer and old is Claymore. It is an older anime with the first manga volume appearing in Shonen Jump in 2001. It is a beautifully artistic anime with a very dark atmosphere. I would suggest this to any non-anime viewer who is into fantasy and action. Not to mention the list of amazingly strong and mostly female characters is pretty awesome.
Anime can be hard to expose to newcomers, but the movies and shorts picked here are the perfect chooses to show newcomers. “Grave of the Fireflies” is to this day the saddest film I’ve ever seen. Very good article.
I definitely agree with your mention of Millennium Actress. Personally my favourite Satoshi Kon work is Perfect Blue, but I did an analysis of Millennium Actress for my HSC English and I found it’s fascinatingly structured and composed. I already hailed the late Kon as a genius but properly analysing his work really cements it. Garden of Words is another fantastic entry on this list, I actually eagerly await the day I can push it onto an adult who doubts the potential of the medium.
Great article! I still need to watch Night On The Galactic Railroad- I loved Penguindrum beyond belief so I think it’s important viewing.
Wow! what an excellent reference. I have been looking for a source like this since I first watched Akira and was ready to leave the world of Sailor Moon behind. Thanks a lot!
Nice list! These are some lovely selections.
Princess Mononoke: “The English dub is solid.” Unsurprisingly, as the dub was written by Neil Gaiman.
Very nice and well thought out list, but you should definitely add Barefoot Gen to the films recommended if you like Grave of the Fireflies. They are so similar they are almost the same movie…both excellent and heartbreaking.
My wife and I are both older now so I am always looking for more mature amime (and manga). I’d say my favorites so far are…
Series: (not in any particular order…depends on my mood)
2. Space Brothers
3. Cowboy Bebop
4. Usagi Drop
5. Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit
6. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
8. Time of Eve
9. Black Lagoon
11. Darker than Black
12. Kino’s Journey
13. Mardock Scramble
14. Samurai X
1a. Ghost in the Shell (and GitS 2.0)
2. Garden of Words
3. Appleseed (al 3 CGI films)
4. Angel’s Egg
6. Grave of the Fireflies/Barefoot Gen (similarly hard to watch but both excellent films)
7. Cowboy Bebop
8. Vampire Hunter D
9. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Major Marino Kusinagi . Is how I’m going with the spelling.. to me represents an innumerable sum of human beings aware of the thought of being aware ,😉 if not a smaller number. of those first encountering the term “ascensioned” thanking all God’s and Devils inclusive. This feature upon nearly 100 loops left me further informed on the beast of politics and the rewards of Belonging to the militarized industrial complex . That’s all for now.
Angel’s Egg (1985) never gets any love, which is a shame. This is perhaps the result of how hard it is to find–it is on YouTube, but the quality does not do it nearly enough justice. Nevertheless, a nice little list here. I’d be more interested to see a list of anime shows only because the pool of anime films is significantly smaller.
Hi Cielesia, sorry for the lengthy delay in replying. In an earlier draft of the article I did mention Angel’s Egg, but since it couldn’t be recommended to absolutely everyone it didn’t make the final list. It is definitely a unique anime film, although it is aimed toward a very specific group of fans. I hope this makes sense.
Very impressive to see a comprehensive list of anime recommendations with a variety of genres! I would’ve loved to see more animes on the heavier side of the plot, such as ergo proxy, or some of the lighter ones, like Urusei yatsura or Azumanga Daioh.
Hi Coriandres, I’m very happy to hear you liked the article. It was focused specifically on films rather than television shows which is why Ergo Proxy, Urusei Yatsura and Azumanga Daioh didn’t get mentioned. I think there is another article which looks at these called, “Perceptions of Maturity in Anime”. I’d recommend you give it a look. Thanks for your encouragement.
You’ve got some great picks here, but all of them seem to fall into the same generation/studio and I’m kinda wondering if there might be anything newer out. Not that this stuff isn’t timeless, or still great, but because I often find that videos are pretty reflective or the neurosis or happenstances of a particular generation, but I liked the list!
I’m not sure this is reflective of a generation as I watched a number of films from the 80s which came out before I was born. Like I said in the article, this list can be used a starting point…. if I had written about all anime films for adults it would have been very difficult. I hope this helps.
Thanks for the detailed list! I don’t watch much anime, so these selections are great for my “To Watch” list.
Fabulous! That’s the whole point I wrote it.
I understand why you chose not to list anime series, but if you are talking about adult anime you should consider a shout-out to “Psycho Pass” and let your audience decide whether they wish to invest the time to watch it.
Of all the anime here I have only heard of Princess Mononoke, and even with this I have no familiarity with the show. Very much a good guide with older anime choices that I will have to return to for reference.