Everyone knows that Studio Ghibli is basically the Disney of anime—universally beloved by viewers of all ages, with exquisitely crafted tales of love, loss, and personal growth... plus the tendency to do some terrible things to young characters' parents—but there is so much more to the weird, wild world of anime than Studio Ghibli. So on today’s episode of The Dan Cave, we’re going to run down some of the greatest non-Studio Ghibli anime movies you need to see before you hen-die.
I’ve included this Satoshi Kon masterpiece on my lists of best horror anime previously, but it’s also one of the best anime movies period. It’s the story of a pop star named Mima who gives up her career in music to pursue an acting career. Not all of her fans take kindly to this change, and one in particular begins stalking Mima. The psychological thriller takes a turn for the seriously creepy when people on set start getting brutally murdered. To make matters worse, Mima thinks that she might be responsible, and the lines between fiction and reality blur in an alarming way. Kind of like what happens to me when I wake up the night after ordering a large pepperoni pizza...and it’s all gone.
A Silent Voice
Image: Kyoto Animation
We've all done things in our past that we regret, but how many of us take meaningful action to make amends for past transgressions? Such is the core theme of A Silent Voice, in which third-year high school student Shouya Ishida is haunted by the horrible things he did in his youth. He’s force to confront them when he’s reunited with Shouko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who he mercilessly bullied in elementary school. What follows is a genuinely heartwarming story of a young man coming into his own and seeking to right the wrongs for which he was responsible, as well as the long-lasting effects of bullying from both perspectives. Quite frankly, this is the kind of film the world needs to see right about now.
Image: Discotek Media
While many of you have likely seen the simultaneously heartwarming and soul-crushing Grave of the Fireflies from Studio Ghibli, far fewer have seen the brutal, unflinching Barefoot Gen. The film shows the horrific realities of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima from the perspective of a child, chronicling his first-hand experience of the devastation. Barefoot Gen does a tremendous job of depicting the bleak conditions faced by many Japanese citizens during wartime Japan, and the truly haunting aftermath of an atomic bomb obliterating, mutilating, and otherwise maiming tens of thousands of innocent people. Keep a box of tissues nearby and let yourself have the ugliest cry in ages but don’t you dare look away because this is an important piece of history that must not be allowed to repeat itself.
The final film of Satoshi Kon makes Inception look like Babytown Frolics (all the while beating Christopher Nolan to the punch by a solid four years). Paprika tells the story of a near-future world where scientists have developed a revolutionary new therapy technique called “dream therapy.” By using a small device, doctors can see their patients' dreams, and even alter their subconscious from within. One doctor—adopting the dream-persona of Paprika, a literal manic pixie dream girl—begins using the dream machine illegally to help patients outside the facility...which is all well and good until the machine is stolen and reality and dreams begin to merge in terrifying ways. What follows is a mind-bending headtrip of a movie that should induce a Pavlovian response in anyone who enjoyed Persona 5, Inception, or their freshmen year psychology course.
One of the best movies of last year (or 2016 if you’re being pedantic), Your Name is a beautifully told, bittersweet sci-fi love story about two high schoolers—Mitsuha, a girl living in rural Japan, and Taki, a boy living in Tokyo—who wake up one morning to find they've switched bodies despite never having met. This phenomenon repeats itself at random intervals, and over the course of their on-again-off-again Freaky Friday situation, they learn to communicate, help each other improve their lives, and even begin to fall for one another. What follows, though, no one will see coming and is something I dare not spoil here because after having four tiny wines on an international flight, this movie destroyed me in the best way possible.
The Boy and the Beast
An orphaned boy doesn't quite fit in with the rest of society. He runs away from his home only to find himself caught up in a fantastical world full of monsters, mystery, and mayhem. There he must learn an important lesson about himself and grow up in the process. It's a tale as old as time and one executed beautifully by Mamoru Hosoda's The Boy and the Beast, which is at its core, a story about two outsiders—an orphan named Ren and a loudmouthed surly warrior-beast named Kumatetsu—who are trying to carve out an identity for themselves in a world where they feel they do not quite fit in. You know, kind of like how I feel whenever someone brings up the fact that they “looooove jogging.”
5 Centimeters Per Second
Image: Discotek Media
Few people pull off romantic comedies about how people’s relationships change across great distances and over long periods of time like Makoto Shinkai. For anyone who has a long lost love or someone for whom they have carried a torch for years and years despite not living in the same place, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a film for you. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the saga of Takaki and Akari’s friendship and romance from elementary school to adulthood will likely ring true for you in one way or another. So instead of scrolling through your ex’s Instagram posts at 3AM and accidentally liking one from four years ago like a real creepazoid, just watch this instead and move on with you life.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
What would you do if you discovered you had the power to travel through time? Would you visit the far-flung future and see if we ever get flying cars? Would you murder baby Hitler? Or would you use it to fix minor mistakes and to your own selfish benefit? If you chose option #3, you might be Makoto Konno, the star of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Except Makoto, like the heroines of most time travel stories, discovers her actions have ripple effects and can lead to terrible consequences for others around her. What follows is Makoto using a limited number of leaps through time to try and fix what she managed to break before time itself is irreparably broken.
Even though Christmas has come and gone, it's never too early or too late to watch another Satoshi Kon classic, Tokyo Godfathers. This beautiful, touching, and impossibly charming movie tells the story of three homeless people—an alcoholic man named Gin, a trans woman and former drag queen named Hana, and a teenage runaway girl named Miyuki—who discover a newborn baby who has been abandoned in the garbage on Christmas Eve. With a train station locker key as their only clue, this unlikely trio sets out to find the baby girl’s parents. Like all Satoshi Kon movies, this is replete with memorable characters, dynamic visuals, and a real sense of humanity, but Tokyo Godfathers shines a light on a part of Japan that often goes unseen and ignored: the downtrodden and disenfranchised. And in that, Kon show us, there can be true beauty.
Those are some of the best non-Ghibli anime movies you need to watch before you die. You might be asking “What about classics like Akira or Ghost in the Shell?” Obviously you should watch those too. Come on. You’re a smart cookie. Put two and two together. But tell me -- what are your favorite non-Ghibli anime movies? Let me know in the comments below.
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