The anime streaming monopoly is all but here, and its public face is Crunchyroll. Backed by Sony, the combo of Funimation, Right Stuf and its own legacy library, Crunchyroll is here to stay as the anime lover’s place to go for everything they need…as long as those things don’t include Studio Ghibli movies. Those all live over on HBO Max, but the series offerings are extra strong to make up for it.
That said, there are surprisingly few movies available on Crunchyroll—with a total number still in the 30s as of this week, with the addition of the box office hit Jujutsu Kaisen 0—and even fewer certified classics. But, as its Funimation deal is rolled out onto the service, you’ll start to see more and more. But if you’re desperate for a solid and contained anime story right now, you do have options. Even if, like in the case of Akira and Your Name, you have to search for them manually because they’re listed as “series” with their subbed and dubbed versions as “episodes.” Not helpful, but still there, at least.
Here are the best movies on Crunchyroll:
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
The sum total of anime cinema from the early ’90s to present day is marked by the precedent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Set thirty-one years after after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the former and teetering precariously on the cusp of social upheaval. The film follows the stories of Kaneda Shotaro and Tetsuo Shima, two members of a youth motorcycle gang whose lives are irrevocably changed one fateful night on the outskirts of the city. While clashing against a rival bike gang during a turf feud, Tetsuo crashes into a strange child and is promptly whisked away by a clandestine military outfit while Kaneda and his friends look on, helplessly. From then, Tetsuo begins to develop frightening new psychic abilities as Kaneda tries desperately to mount a rescue. Eventually the journeys of these two childhood friends will meet and clash in a spectacular series of showdowns encircling an ominous secret whose very origins rest at the dark heart of the city’s catastrophic past: a power known only as “Akira.” Like Ghost in the Shell that followed it, Akira is considered a touchstone of the cyberpunk genre, though its inspirations run much deeper than paying homage to William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Akira is a film whose origins and aesthetic are inextricably rooted in the history of post-war Japan, from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the “Anpo” student protests of that era to the country’s economic boom and the then-nascent counterculture of Bosozoku racing. Akira is a film of many messages, the least of which a coded anti-nuclear parable and a screed against wanton capitalism and the hubris of “progress.” But perhaps most poignantly, at its heart, it is the story of watching your best friend turn into a monster. Akira is almost singlehandedly responsible for the early 1990s boom in anime in the West, its aesthetic vision rippling across every major art form, inspiring an entire generation of artists, filmmakers and even musicians in its wake. For these reasons and so many more, every anime fan must grapple at some point or another with Akira’s primacy as the most important anime film ever made. Long Live Akira!—Toussaint Egan
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Much like his contemporary Mamoru Hosoda, Makoto Shinkai is a director who is frequently championed as the “new” Hayao Miyazaki in the conversation surrounding who will succeed him as his heir apparent. This comparison however, much like in the case of Hosoda, ends up being frustratingly reductionist in its appraisal of both directors. Shinkai’s films are not light-hearted family adventures or archetypal pillars of anime canonicity, but tense, melancholic odes to contemporary Japanese society that highlight the ways in which physical, emotional and temporal distance inform the shape and course of human relationships. His fifth feature film, Your Name, exercises Shinkai’s predilection for “star-crossed love” to its narrative and thematic endpoint, situating the budding romance of the film’s protagonists at the epicenter of an astrological event of nothing shy of life-or-death consequence. The recipient of over a dozen awards, in addition to becoming the highest-grossing anime film of its time, Your Name is Shinkai’s most critically and commercially successful production to date, a masterful film that ranks among the very best the medium has to offer.—Toussaint Egan
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most critically successful manga and anime series of the early 2000s. Premiering in 2001 and spawning two long-running television adaptations, Fullmetal Alchemist follows the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two prodigiously talented young men whose respective limbs and bodies are taken from them in a grisly alchemic accident. Becoming state-appointed alchemists, they search for the mythical philosopher’s stone as a means of restoring their bodies to their original state. Conqueror of Shamballa picks up from the conclusion of the 2003 anime series, with Alphonse’s body fully restored though his memory erased and Edward stranded on the other side of a portal leading to a strange yet familiar world teetering on the cusp of a world war. With an intriguing alternative history story that intermingles key figures such as Karl Haushofer and Fritz Lang and events such as the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, as well as an impressive series of destructive final fight scenes storyboarded by Yutaka Nakamura, Conqueror of Shamballa is a satisfying if irresolute capstone to the original anime and far and away the best Fullmetal Alchemist film to date.—Toussaint Egan
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Trying to pin down Masaaki Yuasa’s 2004 breakout debut with a summary is no easy task, as the now-storied director behind such modern anime classics as Kick-Heart, Ping Pong and The Tatami Galaxy revels in defying expectations with his maximalist anything-goes approach to animation. When 20-year-old aspiring comic artist Nishi dies in a yakuza hold-up while attempting to protect his childhood crush Myon, his soul meets God before escaping Limbo and reassuming his body moments before his tragic death. The couple lead a high-speed getaway in one of the Yakuza member’s cars before diving into the ocean and being swallowed into the belly of a … see what I mean? Mind Game is like witnessing a seven-hour Ayahuasca trip encapsulated into a feature-length film. Impressionistic, avant garde, and above all unique, Mind Game is a confusing and exhilarating shock to the senses that’s just shy of impossible to forget.—Toussaint Egan
Silent animated shorts set to dramatic orchestral music, commonly known as Silly Symphonies, were all the rage in America throughout the 1920s and ’30s. Perhaps the most famous example from this era of animation was Fantasia, produced by Walt Disney and released to critical acclaim in 1940. Robot Carnival is anime’s answer to that film, a collection of nine short films produced by nine of the most esteemed anime directors and character designers of their time. For sure, not every short shines as a pillar of canonical greatness, e.g., Hiroyuki Kitazume’s “Starlight Angel” or Hidetoshi Omori’s “Deprive.” But when a short does shine, it’s a sight to behold. Koji Morimoto’s “Franken’s Gear” is a brilliant choice for an opener, while Manabu Ohashi’s “Cloud” is a melancholic gem that memorably experiments through the use of scratchboard animation. Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s “Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion” is a imaginative take on the Giant Robot subgenre that’s as ridiculous as its name, and Takashi Nakamura’s “Chicken Man and Red Neck” is the true anime analog to Fantasia’s iconic “Night on Bald Mountain.” Even if Robot Carnival was not an awesome collection—and it is—it would still be a remarkable timestamp of when a constellation of talented young director align to create a project born completely out of a love for the medium.—Toussaint Egan
Director: Masahiro Ando
The feature debut of Masahiro Ando, whose career was distinguished solely by being a episode director and key animator for such series as Wolf’s Rain and Witch Hunter Robin, Sword of the Stranger possesses all the key pieces and players that make up a prototypical, though otherwise satisfying chanbara action film—a nameless ronin who abstains from bloodshed in a quiet bid for atonement, a youth cast at the heart of a fanatical plot, and a ruthless foreign adversary who yearns solely for a worthy opponent to face in battle. What really distinguishes the film apart from its ilk are the sparse yet impressive action sequences choreographed by legendary key animator Yutaka Nakamura, culminating in what is arguably one of the most stunningly animated sword fight showdowns between “No Name” and the European Ming commander Luo-Lang. If you’re looking for a solid samurai action film with sword fights that are a cut above the rest, Sword of the Stranger is that film.—Toussaint Egan
Director: Yasunao Aoki
Endless Waltz was originally produced as a three-part OVA wrapping up the story of the Gundam Wing TV series, which takes place outside the normal continuity of the Gundam “Universal Century” timeline. The movie cut is the superior viewing experience, however. Endless Waltz takes place one year after the events that wrapped up Gundam Wing, and involves the Gundam pilots, and their enemy Zechs Merquise, coming out of retirement to battle one last threat—and in some cases, each other. Where the Gundam Wing TV series had a plot that tended to meander, and sometimes used cheap animation or repeated cels, Endless Waltz is a feast for the eyes—filled with gorgeous, fluid battle scenes that any fan of giant robots will appreciate. Add to that the very smart decision to have the great Katoki Hajime (Short Peace, Gundam 0083) redesign the Gundams into their “evolved” forms, and this becomes much more than a simple end of series cash-in. For this film version, several shots from the OVA were retouched, and there are some mild adjustments to the original animation. As a payoff to the TV series, it’s a great way to visit with the Gundam pilots one last time, and as a stand alone, it works well enough that even if one is not familiar with the source material, it’s a fun ride. The usual questions about the cost of war, the price of peace, and human determinism that run through virtually all Gundam series are on full display here. If you want a concise example of what Gundam does so well relative to other types of giant robot anime, this is a dance worth taking. —J.D.
Director: Haruo Sotozaki
A new anime sensation is sweeping audiences off their feet: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. The series follows Tanjiro, a young man on a quest for vengeance against the demons who slaughtered his family. In his quest, he joins the Demon Slayer Corps—the force sworn to protect humanity from demons—and learns the way of the Demon Slayers through intensive training. Yet, the series is about so much more than vengeance: It is about found family, processing grief, coping with trauma, and inner strength. Amidst the beautiful battle choreography and animation are quiet, emotional moments that give the characters a complexity not often seen in male-oriented manga, or shonen. Now, months after the end of the hit first season, American audiences can now experience the season-capping film, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train. Mugen Train begins with Tanjiro (Natsuki Hanae) and his companions Zenitsu (Hiro Shimono)—a perpetual scaredy cat—and Inosuke (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka)—who wears a boar mask and has an explosive temper—boarding the Mugen Train as part of their next mission. Once on the train, the trio find Rengoku (Satoshi Hino), a high ranking soldier in the Demon Slayer Corps with expert fighting techniques, to receive their next mission. There is something demonic on board consuming passengers and it’s up to this group of four to protect those on the train. They also quickly learn this threat is more than just a regular demon, but a much more powerful one who can manipulate dreams. The tone of these sequences fluctuate both in subject matter and animation style, and yet it all comes together as each dream—and their aesthetics—teaches the audience even more about these characters, their pasts and their deepest desires. Mugen Train is a feast for the eyes with its bright colors, meshing of animation styles and meticulously designed environments that emphasize the action. It’s a gorgeous film that expands the universe of Demon Slayer, but because it is canonical and provides a bridge between seasons, it is not a film meant for newcomers to the franchise.—Mary Beth McAndrews
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Mamoru Hosoda is championed as one of the greatest anime directors working today. That reputation is owed in no small part to him being touted as the heir apparent to the cinematic legacy of Hayao Miyazaki, who formally retired from directing following the release of his then-final film The Wind Rises in 2013. Despite this glowing association, few of Hosoda’s handful of films have managed to graze the same strata of cinematic accomplishment and canonical enshrinement that typifies the storied career of the Studio Ghibli luminary. Such is the case with The Boy and the Beast. The story follows that of Ren, an orphaned boy who, after stumbling through an Alice in Wonderland-style passageway into a world of mythical creatures, is adopted as a pupil by the brash and indolent swordmaster Kumatetsu, who vies to become the lord of all beasts. All of the surface components of a great film are there, with stunningly crisp animation, charged fight scenes, and a tasteful use of computer graphic imagery to accentuate these sequences. However, The Boy and the Beast is hamstrung by an over reliance on supporting characters narrating the emotional arcs of the protagonists instead of letting them speak for themselves, and a weak grasp of story structure and character motivations exemplified by a ponderously sporadic middle-half. In spite of these shortcomings, The Boy and the Beast remains a visually impressive and entertaining film to watch that puts all of Hosoda’s abilities and indulgences as a director on display, for better or worse.—Toussaint Egan
And, as a treat, the worst movie available on the service (and also the worst live-action videogame movie ever made):
Director: Tsuyoshi Shoji
Somehow looking even cheaper than the original OneChanbara movie, Chanbara Beauty: The Movie—Vortex (AKA OneChanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers which tells you exactly all you need to know about this intensely amateurish film) feels like a rediscovered VHS copy of a movie some buddies made over a weekend one lazy summer after conning a few aspiring actresses. The tagline for the film, “She is back…aroused and unleashed!” sets the tone for director Tsuyoshi Shoji’s terrible sequel, which recasts its leads, rewrites backstories and even resurrects characters that died in the first film with no explanation. The effects are so ugly they make the pixels and polygons of the original look quaint and endearing. At least at its heart, it still somewhat resembles its game source: There is still a vaguely cowgirl-esque woman cutting zombies in half with a katana. And yes, she’s still in a fuzzy bikini. The swordplay looks like the viral “Star Wars Kid” was fight choreographer for a bunch of women in revealing costumes, all shot so amateurishly that even perverts looking for a titillating time will have difficulty making heads or tails of the exploitation at hand. Stiff, colorless and stagey in costume, make-up and acting, it’s only fitting that the film looks like a musty old Playboy left out to rot in the woods. Fans of the games could make a better version of an OneChanbara movie in the 80 minutes it takes to watch this one.—Jacob Oller
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