The Best Anime Movies Not From Studio Ghibli – MovieWeb

From Perfect Blue to Miss Hokusai, let’s look at the greatest standalone anime movies outside of the wonderful Studio Ghibli.
When ‘good anime movies’ are discussed, what comes to mind most often is Studio Ghibli, and rightfully so. In the 36 years of its existence, this studio produced many visually gorgeous and intellectually riveting films which became some of the best anime of all time, as well as gaining critical acclaim and box office success worldwide. Ghibli has crafted its own distinct brand of magical realism and sentimental, intimate portrayals of everyday activities, like cleaning and cooking. Even 'Ghibli food' has its own topic on Twitter, each post easily gaining 35-50k likes!
The wonderful world of anime should not be narrowed and defined through Ghibli only, though. There are a plethora of genres, from rom-coms to horror, beautifully represented and pioneered by anime studios, less known to viewers outside Japan. Some, such as Paprika, Perfect Blue, and Ghost in the Shell, even came to inspire Hollywood blockbusters from the likes of Nolan, Aronofsky, and the sisters Wachowski.
Japan long parted with the misconception that animation is a medium aimed solely at children. Anime’s target audiences are teenagers and adults in equal measure, because they understand that sometimes live-action, no matter how good, simply cannot achieve such fluidity of motion, rich facial expressions, and surreal and varied visual eccentricities that are available in animation. Anime can blend amazing visuals to such a refined storytelling capability, each shot stylized perfectly, be it a tale about raging Tokyo gangsters or a high schooler experiencing first love.
With such an abundance of masterful creations, the question arises: where to start? Ahead of the release of Suzume no Tojimari, from anime giant Makoto Shinkai, this fall, let’s look at the ten best standalone anime movies, not from Studio Ghibli.
An unflinching look at the reality of bullying — from the point of view of the bully. This adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga A Silent Voice is moody and sensuous, not shying away from teenage angst: fractured friendships, longing for love and acceptance, and self-hatred. Ambient music and delicate hand-drawn visuals help convey the fragile inner world of Shoya, who tormented a deaf-mute classmate. Having become a social pariah, he faces his victim — and his conscience.
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Shoya decides to mend the relationship with her, but the quest for forgiveness is far from easy. This uplifting story about growing up and redemption, one which utilizes the anxieties of youth in order to create something motivational about self-improvement, quickly became a hit in Japan,grossing $20 million in the year of its release.
Scorching sun, sticky melted ice cream, and the whiff of an adventure — a quintessence of the beginning of a perfect summer break. Kenji is a math genius, who is forced to pretend to be the boyfriend of a girl he secretly likes. He follows his crush to her ancestral mansion and accidentally stumbles upon an artificial-intelligence demon, Love Machine — the chaos ensues. Summer Wars director Hosoda Mamoru is a legend in the world of animation. Hosoda has a knack for stories centered around multigenerational families and well-thought-out intricate virtual worlds.
Satoshi Kon's filmography is famous among not just anime fanatics, but also film buffs in general. His Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller that explores the dangerous depth of obsessive fandom. It critiques the pop-culture industry, its entire network of greedy consumption, and talent exploitation. The story follows Mimi, a member of a J-Pop idol group, who desires to change her image into that of a mature actress — futilely trying to find herself in the process. Filmmakers have paid homage to the fantastic and disturbing visuals of Perfect Blue, most notably Darren Aronofsky in his Requiem for a Dream (which has exact shot-for-shot remakes of the film) and Black Swan.
The Little Mermaid meets Speak in the gorgeous film The Anthem of the Heart. It is a sincere fairy tale, about a girl cursed to be silent — learning to communicate with the world without words. It is not saccharine, though, as the Anime News Network wrote: “There's a quiet loneliness to many of the sequences here that really sells them, and the film also isn't afraid to step into key spaces that many adolescent dramas avoid.” The movie lets these teenagers, who don’t know how to tell each other about their feelings, show everything through their expressive character designs and body language.
A winner of the 41st Ottawa International Animation Festival in the category of animated features, The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is a bonkers anime that follows a student who decides to go all out — she will drink to her heart’s desires and have a taste of nightlife. Her secret admirer follows her into the night streets of Kyoto, and they find themselves in various comical, drunken and outright magical situations in the ancient city. This movie, described by The Guardian as “a hallucinogenic trip down a rabbit hole,” is a love letter to Kyoto. A particular allure of this feature are the uniquely dynamic and whimsical character designs, not typical of anime. They were created by Yusuke Nakamura, one of Japan’s most popular modern illustrators.
This upbeat kid-friendly movie is full of heart and fan-service. Penguin Highway is a fun summer detective story with science-fiction elements, cute but refreshing, as the viewers can never be sure where the story will take them next. One day a group of Adele penguins suddenly appear in a small island town. Only Aoyama, a science-loving preteen, can solve this mystery of where they have come from. Not without the help from his friends, of course.
Director Hiroyasu Ishida wanted to emulate hand-drawn aesthetics with digital techniques to create a radiant, crisp, multidimensional feel, with the backgrounds of forests and fields being the most visually stunning. The movie proved to be successful both among critics and audiences, winning excellence awards and entering the top 10 in the box offices in the first week of its release.
Tekkonkinkreet has an ethereal and derelict, futuristic universe of underworld Yakuza, narrow alleys, and sharp corners, a fantastical, colorful setting to a story that at its core celebrates family love and loyalty. Brothers Black and White parkour their way through Treasure Town and try to protect it from cruelty, crime, and corporate greed, craving to tear their beloved city apart.
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Director Michael Arias approached the adaptation of Taiyo Matsumoto's manga without the intention to copy the visual style, but to instead create an experience. The end result is sensory bewilderment that takes the viewer's breath away. Rough-hewn visuals, skewed angles, and odd movements work wonderfully with the world-building and the storyline given. Tekkonkinkreet received numerous awards, including the Mainichi Film Award and the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.
A laidback romance that feels like the sweetest soda sip during a hot, sweaty summer, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a soft and earnest tribute to first love. This movie intelligently introduces genre and romance movie clichés, only to elevate them with visual and verbal poetry: slow-motion shots, subtle glowing, supple neon accents, the character’s fascination with music and haiku. Such a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of a teen love story (their meet-cute, and the impending separation that comes with the end of summer) brings home the film’s message of celebrating love and art. With a 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, this film can be considered an instant classic of the melodrama genre.
Many animes from the early '90s are a pinnacle of aesthetics. Every image is deliciously detailed, all the characters are strong and one-of-a-kind, and the plots are positively absurd. The dark comedy Old Man Z is a great representation of the period. A haywire computer seems to have been inhabited by the spirit of an old man’s wife and, in a desire to visit the sea, breaks out of the hospital and wreaks havoc around the city. The only one who can stop him is a gentle young medical student, who always stayed kind and loving to the elderly in her care. While bright and satirical, this story is as much about compassion as it is about colorful mecha. Old Man Z won the Mainichi Film Award for animation in 1991. In 2001, Wizard Entertainment included the film in its top 50 anime to be released in North America.
Miss Hokusai uncovers the story of one of the most notable figures of Japanese culture — Hokusai… or rather, his daughter Ōi. Due to the position of a woman in the society of that time, she had to show her works under her father's name. This intellectual biopic is a patchwork of episodes from Ōi’s life, subtly showing her growing into herself, talented in her own right, even when compared to her genius father. The use of natural light gives delicate visuals, close to the aesthetic of Hokusai paintings. This contrasts with fiery electric guitar music on the soundtrack, modernizing the story. A great compliment to the honest, feminist review of Japanese history and culture. The movie has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for Annie and Satellite Awards.
Writer, self-proclaimed movie and TV-reviewer, and a certified connoisseur of twitter memes


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