75. Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)
Director: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Masayuki
If you’re an anime fan and have never watched the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, you are likely no more than three degrees separated from someone who has a passionate opinion about it, effusive or otherwise. What began as a 26-episode television series produced by Gainax and directed by Hideaki Anno quickly morphed into nothing short of a cultural phenomenon within the sphere of anime, thanks in huge part to the show’s unmistakable mecha designs, inspired animation, iconic character designs, and a plot that was equal parts harrowing, esoteric, and uncompromisingly meta. Released as the first installment in Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy, Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone is essentially a shot-for-shot high-definition remake of the first six episodes of the original series, albeit condensed to the length of a standard feature and filled with new designs and animation. Whether you’ve watch the series when it first aired or are curious to see just what all the hubbub is about, Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone is a fantastic introduction to one of the most celebrated and divisive animes of the late 20th century.
74. Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light (2011)
Director: Takahiro Omori
Based on Yuki Midorikawa’s 2002 manga of the same name, Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light tells the story of Hotaru, a six-year-old girl who befriends a forest spirit named Gin while vacationing at her grandfather’s home in the mountains. As the years proceed and their friendship deepens, Hotaru and Gin begin to develop feelings for one another. However, their relationship is burdened by the fact that Gin’s body will disappear the moment it comes in contact with the touch of a human being. Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light is a poignant and wistful story of star-crossed love that cuts to the core of its main characters and relishes its vein of rich emotional depth. A short and impactful film whose beauty and tenderness merits the best of comparisons to the likes of Miyazaki and Shinkai while remaining something wholly its own.
73. Sword of the Stranger (2007)
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.
72. Fist of the North Star (1986)
Director: Toyoo Ashida
You’ll be hard pressed to find an anime with more eye-popping violence than Fist of the North Star. The film and preceding television series, both directed by anime luminary Toyoo Ashida, follow the exploits of Kenshiro, a superpowered martial artist who wanders the wastes of a post-apocalyptic future brought on by a nuclear apocalypse as he aids the helpless by vanquishing the wicked on a personal quest for revenge and retribution. Think David Carradine’s martial arts western drama Kung Fu, only on steroids. To call the film “ultra-violent” is an understatement. Produced in 1986, Fist of The North Star earns the dubious honor of being so extreme that the original Japanese release had to be heavily censored with strategic cuts and psychedelic distortion effects. Its age most definitely shows through the somewhat dated crudeness of its animation and its paper-thin plot, but what one can confidently praise Fist of the North Star the most for is its comically unrelenting self-awareness and sincerity in knowing exactly what it is and sticking to it. An unabashedly fun action movie that touts the over-the-top machismo of Schwarzenegger and Van Damme in their prime.
71. Wicked City (1987)
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Set in a contemporary world where humanity shares a secret treaty with a hidden realm filled with demons, Wicked City follows the story of Renzaburo Taki, an agent of the clandestine “Black Guard” organization devoted to enforcing peace and balance between the two worlds. On the eve of the treaty’s renewal, Taki and his newly assigned partner from the demon world are assigned to protect Giuseppi Mayart, a lecherous VIP whose presence is vital to brokering peace from a militant sect of demon renegades who want to plunge the world into darkness. The first collaboration between Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Hideyuki Kikuchi, the so-called “Stephen King of Japan” more famously known for the Vampire Hunter D novel series, Wicked City is quintessential ’80s anime material: dark, violent, hyper-sexualized, and absolutely not for children. Kawajiri’s signature flair for Lovecraftian horror and stylized action is on full display here, elements that would be further explored in Demon City Shinjuku and later refined through his career-defining work on such films as Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
70. Colorful (2010)
Director: Keiichi Hara
Keiichi Hara’s 2010 film Colorful is a stark and beautiful about-face when compared to the director’s previous work as a storyboard animator for such shows as Doraemon and Crayon Shin-Chan. Adapted from Eto Mori’s 2007 novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a wayward soul who, after arriving at the waystation of the afterlife, is gifted with the opportunity to regain its life by reincarnating in the body of a suicide victim. Placed in the body of middle-schooler Makoto Kobayashi, the soul is granted six months to solve the mystery of its own death and in doing so rediscover the intrinsic value of life itself. Colorful, in spite of its name, is a movie that tackles weighty topics such as the societal pressure to succeed and conform, adultery, depression and suicide, albeit with an ultimately a life-affirming tone. Taut with emotional tension and existential nuance, Colorful is a film that rewards on a visual and emotional level.
69. Angel’s Egg (1985)
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Angel’s Egg is not only unlike anything Mamoru Oshii has ever done as a director, it’s arguably unlike anything else in the medium of anime, period. Created during the period of Oshii’s career following his departure from Studio Pierrot, Angel’s Egg is not so much a narrative as it is a bizarre tableau of gothic imagery and thematic sobriety that seeps across the screen like a living painting throughout its 70-minute duration. Rather than offering a concrete premise that’s paced out through story beats and revelations, the film itself explores the question of why we search for meaning in anything in the first place, a visual meditation on how reality and our idea of reality is shaped through what we choose to believe in. The film ponders the question of whether anything exists at all, on whether ideas of the past that haunt the collective consciousness of humanity can reify themselves in the present tense, of whether belief in the perception of anything is worthwhile or reliable. These are themes that Oshii would go on to further explore, particularly through his work on Ghost in the Shell, but nowhere near on this level of abstraction. Angel’s Egg offers so much room for interpretation and nuance, but what’s unmistakable is this: it’s a must-see anime that no two viewers will watch or interpret quite the same way.
68. A Letter to Momo (2011)
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Hiroyuki Okiura’s sophomore effort is quite the departure from the paramilitary fatalism of his 1999 debut Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. After the tragic passing of her father, 11-year-old Momo Miyaura and her mother Ikuko move from Tokyo to the family home on Seto Island to start over. While adjusting to her new life, Momo discovers an unfinished letter addressed to her by her late father, along with a mischievous trio of Yokai spirits who follow her around constantly. Impeccably animated with character designs by Masashi Ando brought to life through Okiura’s signature talent for realism, A Letter to Momo is a profoundly touching all-ages film that manages to fit in a couple of choice yet memorable moments of hilarity opposite its core dramatic story. Special credit should be paid to Dana Snyder’s comedic performance as Kawa, as well as Kazuhiro Wakabayashi’s masterful sound direction. Over seven years in the making, A Letter to Momo is testament to not only Okiura’s dogged creative persistence, but also his considerable talents as an animator and director.
67. Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012)
Director: Takayuki Hirao
Junji Ito is one of the most celebrated names in contemporary Japanese horror fiction, easily warranting mention along the likes of Shintaro Kago and Kazuo Umezu. With award-winning manga shorts such as “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” and “Uzumaki,” Ito broke through as an unmistakable luminary of Japanese horror and established himself as a recognizable name both at home and in the West. Gyo, arguably his most famous work, revolves around a young couple who are assaulted by a horde of homicidal fish monsters with mechanical spider legs. Takayuki Hirao’s film is a serviceable adaptation of Ito’s original, albeit with a few controversial directorial decisions such as switching the manga’s protagonists which establish the movie as a work on its own. Ultimately Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack is an effective horror film if questionable adaptation, with interesting characters, bizarre twists, and choice sequences that pay direct homage to Ito’s inimitable art style.
66. Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Mamoru Oshii’s work on the anime series Patlabor and its subsequent feature film are considered by many, including the director himself, as the turning point in his career. After leaving Studio Pierott and striking out on his own as a freelancer on a few projects, Oshii would join the independent creative collective Headgear and become a major influence in shaping the aesthetic of their first project, Mobile Police Patlabor. Although Patlabor: The Movie can be described as a pure pop entertainment film, it still manages to incorporate the elements of history, politics and religion that define Oshii’s signature as a director. With a solid mix of action, mystery, and not-so-subtle post-WII era commentary, the first Patlabor film is not only an essential installment in Oshii’s filmography but in the canon of anime history.
65. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Director: Isao Takahata
Isao Takahata’s final film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, also happens to be his first in over 14 years. When Takahata’s previous film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, was released in 1998, it was unofficially known by those who worked on it as “the film that broke Studio Ghibli.” Such an ignominious title was owed to Takahata’s choice to eschew traditional cel animation, the process by which all previous Ghibli films had been produced, and opt to animate the film entirely through computer, with each frame meticulously painted and animated through digital process. For Princess Kaguya, Takahata would again return to reiterate and arguably refine this technique, imbuing every frame and scene with the sort of scrupulous attention one would expect from a master calligrapher or Ukiyo-e artist. The film recounts the story of Japan’s oldest folklore story, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, wherein a young celestial maiden born from the root of a bamboo plant is adopted and later championed as a princess as she struggles to understand her identity as both a mortal and a child of the heavens. The movie’s grueling seven-year development and Takahata’s uncompromising commitment to perfection ultimately paid off, delivering a film of uncontested visual and thematic beauty.
64. The End of Evangelion (1997)
Director: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki
The final two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion are notorious among fans of the series.Titled “Do you love me?” and “Take Care of Yourself,” the two-part finale infamously sidelined the climactic finale to the series’ central conflict, instead opting to take place entirely away from the action within the subconscious of the show’s protagonist Shinji Ikari as he wrestled to resolve the self-loathing and hatred which plagued him throughout the story’s duration. The unconventionality and unsatisfying nature of this conclusion prompted disgruntled fans to issue death threats on Anno’s life and Gainax’s building to be defaced with graffiti. In response, Anno set to work on an alternative ending to the series to be produced in two parts and aired in theaters. If you were looking for a spiritually affirming and uplifting conclusion, End of Evangelion is not that movie. Instead, what fans were treated to was perhaps one of the most nihilistic, avant-garde and devastating endings to an anime series ever conceived. In short, it is the best and worst of everything that is Evangelion combined to create a film that is unlike anything that had come before it. This much is certain, that despite its unrelenting darkness, End of Evangelion remains true to the ethos of its subtitle—that the joy of death is in the act of rebirth.
63. Spriggan (1998)
Director: Hirotsugu Kawasaki
During the tail end of the Cold War, a scientific expedition unearths a massive structure that turns out to be the mythical Noah’s Ark, which turns out to be less a biblical vessel of salvation and more a preternatural warship of mass destruction. As clandestine paramilitaries and a rogue U.S agency converge on the Ark’s location to harness its power in a bid for global supremacy, special ops “Spriggan” agent named Yu Ominae is dispatched to accompany the team sent to excavate the Ark site and prevent its apocalyptic reawakening at all costs. Despite being “supervised” and partially written by Katsuhiro Otomo and shamelessly trumpeted as the so-called “next Akira,” Spriggan had little hope of rising to the meteoric heights of expectation heaped by such a comparison. Instead, what it turns out to be is a super-powered Indiana Jones meets Armageddon spy flick packed with thrilling chase scenes, psychic martial art showdowns, and breathtakingly beautiful montages of the sparse picturesque plains and mountains of Nepal. For anyone who adheres to the “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” mentality in regard to late ’90s action anime, Spriggan is required viewing.
62. Macross Plus (1995)
Director: Shoji Kawamori, Shinichiro Watanabe
Originally created as a four episode OVA, then re-released as a cut-down, theatrical version with 20 minutes of new footage, Macross Plus is the first Macross sequel that takes place in the original timeline of the TV series. Creator Shoji Kawamori ret-conned Macross II and Do You Remember Love? as parallel world stories, setting the stage for Macross Plus as the first “true” sequel to the popular original. Macross Plus take place 30 years after the war between the humans and the alien Zentradis, detailed in the original show, and instead focuses on two rival test pilots (and former childhood friends) and their struggle to be the first to secure funding for a new, experimental fighter that would replace the current model. As with all things Macross, the two pilots are a part of a love triangle with a woman from their childhood, who is now the producer of Sharon Apple, the most famous singer in the galaxy (actually an Artificial Intelligence). Things start to go wrong when Sharon Apple achieves sentience and goes rogue, taking over the SDF-1 Macross ship and threatening thousands of lives. Macross II is an unconventional “sequel” in that it’s structured similarly to the original show—an overall threat, a love triangle, a famous pop idol—yet it remixes these elements in a strange but satisfying way. Macross II is perhaps best known for its heavy usage of CGI, a novelty at the time, and its fluid, realistic dog-fighting sequences, something Kawamori was obsessed with getting right. As an OVA converted into a theatrical, it’s not as beautiful as Do You Remember Love?, but the battle scenes in particular are incredibly detailed, and the mecha designs are (as always with the Macross series) top-notch. Macross Plus, like all things Macross, has a complex history in the United States. The theatrical version was never made available as a dub, and is now very hard to find—but the OVA is readily available, and almost as good. Buyers beware—like much ’80s/’90s anime, there is a pointless “almost rape” scene that serves no essential purpose, and story-wise, Macross Plus lacks the narrative push of the original’s “alien invasion” plotline. Still, for anyone looking to delve deeper into the Macross universe, Macross Plus still gives you exactly what Macross does so well—and this time, it’s official canon. —J.D.
61. Phoenix: 2772 (1980)
Director: Taku Sugiyama
Osamu Tezuka, creator of such seminal manga/anime as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack, is often referred to as “the Walt Disney of Japan,” and for good reason. The impact of his work is almost incalculable, and unlike Walt Disney, Tezuka was an equally adept hand at both simplistic children’s fables and complex, philosophical works that dealt with the questions that lie at the very heart of humanity. Phoenix is a 12-volume manga series that falls into that latter category, and one Tezuka considered his life’s work. Phoenix: 2772, then, written and produced by Tezuka, loosely adapts characters and concepts from several volumes of the manga. The story is set in a distant future in which the earth is ruined and humanity is dying, its only hope a young man’s quest to find the Phoenix—a mythical creature whose blood is said to heal all, and grant immortality. The young man, Godo, sets off with his crew to capture and kill the Phoenix, but as with any quest for immortality, they are doomed before they even begin. A vision of mankind’s future as bleak as any seen in film history, Phoenix nevertheless ends on a psychedelic, cosmic note of beauty and hopefulness, making the two-hour journey of the film an ultimately worthwhile one. The character designs are firmly Tezuka-esque—one character is pretty much an exact clone of Tezuka’s Black Jack (no complaints here!), and the animation is shockingly fluid for the time. The background work is simple but clean. This is clearly feature film level animation with some musical sequences (particularly the dialogue-free first 12 minutes) and action scenes that rival anything in the Disney canon. This is a hard one to track down, as it’s mostly out of print in the United States, but if you can clap eyes on a copy, you won’t be disappointed. As an animated entrée into Tezuka’s greatest work, Phoenix: 2272,/i> is a perfect example of why his oeuvre was so much more than just Astro Boy. —J.D.
60. Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)
Director: Hiroyuki Kitakubo
The date is October 31, 1966. The military personnel stationed at the Yokota Air Base are scrambling for deployment on the eve of the Vietnam War while students at the base’s adjourning high school excitedly ready themselves for the campus’ annual halloween celebration. In the midst of this bottleneck of international tension and unsuspecting revelry, a mysterious transfer student named Saya has come to the school on a mission: to hunt down and kill a trio of terrifying creatures who prey on the blood and bodies of their human prey. Blood: The Last Vampire is significant for many reasons. The movie is not only the first anime film to be foremost produced entirely in English with Japanese subtitles, but also the first to eschew traditional cel drawn animation and be drawn and produced entirely through digital imaging software. Although already long ago pioneered by Disney on such works as Pocahontas and Mulan, this fact about the film’s production signifies a subtle yet seismic paradigm shift in the history of anime production and subsequently the culture of the medium at large. Blood was a proving ground of sorts for many of those involved, among them Kenji Kamiyama, a young screenwriter and background artist who would eventually go on to direct the television series adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell. Top that off with Katsuya Terada’s richly detailed character designs and beautifully photorealistic backgrounds, and you have an anime film packed with a surprising amount of aesthetic and historical significance considering its lean 48-minute running time.
59. Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan (1993)
Director: Shigeyasu Yamauchi
As the eighth and best theatrical release in possibly the best known anime franchise on the planet, Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan has probably been seen by more people than most of the other films on this list. Luckily, it’s well worth your time, whether you’re a fan of the ongoing series from which it sprung or not. The story, which, as with most other DBZ movies, is simply an excuse to gather the Z fighters together to combat a new threat to the universe. This time it concerns a super saiyan—a warrior from an alien race—who wants to enslave humanity, and whose quest begins with an orchestrated revenge against the heroes of DBZ. In other words, a typical shounen plot for perhaps the ultimate shounen show. What then separates Broly from the many other DBZ movies and specials? Two things: Broly himself is a silly but fun, over-the-top villain—a Super Saiyan version of The Hulk who only gets more powerful the angrier he gets—and the battle scene (comprising half of the film), which is endless fun for fans of kinetic action. Like any good theatrical film based upon an ongoing series, Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan contains everything that makes the series a hit, while offering the more fluid, cleaner animation that comes with a theatrical budget, and highlighting the best thing about the show itself—the pure, addictive thrill of great beings doing battle. As with all DBZ-derived material, Akira Toriyama’s simple story and pleasingly drawn characters remain a joy to watch for both kids and adults. If you are wondering about the massive appeal of the Dragon Ball franchise, Broly is as good a place as any to dip your toes into Toriyama’s best known work. —J.D.
58. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
One of Studio Ghibli’s undersung treasures, Whisper of the Heart is a heartwarming coming-of-age story infused with fantastical imagery and endearing adolescent romance. Whisper of the Heart is the story of Shizuku, a stubborn and precocious bookworm who, after meeting Seiji Amasawa, an ambitious young violin-maker who shares her affinity for literature, is inspired to pursue her own passion for writing as an alternate means of accepting and professing her nascent affections for him. With spectacular aforementioned fantasy backdrops commissioned by artist Naohisa Inoue and the memorable inclusion of Olivia Newton-John’s rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” Whisper of the Heart is a beautiful movie and a bittersweet farewell effort from Yoshifumi Kondo who, at age forty-seven, passed away from heart complications.
57. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010)
Director: Tatsuya Ishihara, Yasuhiro Takemoto
Attempting to describe the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise to a newcomer, let alone an outright anime neophyte, is anything but simple. A twenty-eight episode anime adapted from a series of light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is ostensibly a science fantasy slice-of-life comedy centered on the supernatural misadventures of a group of Japanese high schoolers lead by the series’ pugnacious, foul-mouthed namesake. The series is a prime example of postmodernism, with self-referentiality, existential crises, and a non-linear continuity that has captivated and infuriated fans since it first aired. Running at two hours and forty-two minutes, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the second longest anime film ever produced, and the series’ capstone. The film follows Kyon, the series’ true protagonist/audience surrogate, who awakes one day to a world in which nobody remembers either him or Haruhi Suzumiya, the latter whom, as you might have gleaned from the film’s title, has inexplicably disappeared. A darker, more introspective human drama that wrestles with the “many worlds theory” as readily as it subverts expectations, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a remarkable film and an impressive finale for one of the most conceptually ambitious, genre-defying, and critically divisive anime series of the last decade. That being said, you’ll save yourself of whole lot of confusion by approaching this film only after you’ve watched the entire series. Trust me on this.
56. Night on The Galactic Railroad (1985)
Director: Gisaburo Sugii
Anime owes a great debt to the legacy of Kenji Miyazawa. One of the most prolific Japanese children’s fiction authors of the 20th century, Miyazawa’s work is transcendent, and Night on the Galactic Railroad is without a doubt his opus. The story follows Giovanni and Campanella, two young boys from a hillside town who are swept up on a mysterious dreamlike voyage across the boundless reaches of time and space aboard the titular railroad. A deft fusion of Christian symbolism and Buddhism, the novella is akin to that of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince or Edward A. Abbott’s Flatland in how it’s able to elicit spiritual and emotional profundities from a deceptively simplistic premise. Gisaburo Sugii’s adaptation is a treasure of Japanese animation, a film that can aesthetically captivate a child while provoking philosophical and religious contemplation on the part of an adult. With the exception of portraying the main characters as anthropomorphic cats instead of human children, Sugii’s film is a exhaustive tribute to Miyazawa’s legacy, going so far as to incorporate the auxiliary language Esperanto (one of the author’s many passions) throughout the film’s signage and intertitles. If you’re looking for a children’s film with a more cerebral take on faith and religion, go check out Night on the Galactic Railroad.
55. Battle Angel (1993)
Director: Hiroshi Fukutomi
Based off of the first two volumes of Yukito Kishiro’s long-running sci-fi manga series, Battle Angel (or Gunnm, as it’s known in Japan) is the story of Gally, an amnesiac cyborg who wakes up to a dystopian future after being rescued by a kindly prosthetic scientist and later embarks on a personal journey of self-discovery and adventure. Despite the series’ popularity and the manga having run for a cumulative nineteen years, Battle Angel adapts only the first two volumes of the series. The film is premium cyberpunk material, with sprawling cityscapes, homicidal cyborg junkies, brooding bounty-hunters, and an enormous megacity hanging above the mainland separating the haves from the have-nots. Battle Angel does a wonderful job of fleshing out Gally’s initial arc from an unassuming youth to a formidable bounty hunter and martial artist. The film’s impressive quality only makes absence of any subsequent adaptation all that more peculiar. Battle Angel just barely scratches the surface of its source material, but if you’re looking for vintage cyberpunk story and a concise introduction to Kishiro’s opus, you’d be remiss not to give this one a shot.
54. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
The nature of Miyazaki’s oeuvre is such that it brims with an embarrassment of riches, each film in its own part situated indelibly into the continuum that is the anime canon. His films garner so much acclaim for their visual storytelling and emotional virtuosity that even those few that could be considered his “worst” movies still rank leagues above those animators who only aspire to his status. Case in point: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki’s take on Kazuhiko Kato’s notorious master criminal is at once a rip-roaring heist film with heart and what might arguably be Miyazaki’s lesser films. Chalk it up to Miyazaki’s nascent efforts as a director, Castle of Cagliostro suffers from a plodding middle-half and a disappointingly simplistic antagonist while still somehow managing to sparkle with his signature charm peeking through the baggage of a preexisting work. Fans of the series passionately criticized the film for relieving Lupin of his anarchic predilections and instead casting him in the mold of a true gentleman thief, stealing only when his nebulous sense of honor permits it. In any case, The Castle of Cagliostro remains an important and essential artifact of Miyazaki’s proto-Ghibli work. A flawed Miyazaki film is a triumph all the same.
53. A Thousand and One Nights (1969)
Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Created by Mushi Productions, the studio behind such classics such Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion and Dororo, and produced by none other than anime patriarch Osamu Tezuka, One Thousand and One Nights was the first installment in what would later come to be known as the Animerama series, a trilogy of thematically linked experimental erotic films created for adult audiences. Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto and written by Tezuka with the assistance of Kazuo Fukasaka and Hiroyuki Kumai, the film’s initial release in Japan was championed for its abstract animation, experimental live-action footage, adult storyline, and psychedelic rock music score. One Thousand and One Night would later be dubbed and receive an American release, predating the adult animated film phenomenon sparked by Ralph Bakshi’s 1972 Fritz the Cat, only to flop and receive a limited release. The English dub of One Thousand and One Nights is thought to be lost to the annals of history, with only the film’s original subtitled version to stand as a testament to one of the most bizarre and intriguing experiments in Japanese animation.
52. The Animatrix (2003)
The Animatrix is, without a doubt, the best thing to come out of the Matrix franchise since the original movie. At the height of the series’ popularity between production of the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, the Wachowskis recruited the talents of seven of the most preeminent directors working in the field of anime to co-create an anthology of nine short films set within and around the continuity of the Matrix universe. All the familiar tropes are present: the mirrorshades, the kung fu acrobatics, the pulsing rain of digital kanji. But the greatest quality of the Animatrix anthology was in refracting the singular vision of the Wachowskis to a kaleidoscope of yet-unexplored visual and conceptual possibilities within the series’ core concept. Whether it be Mahiro Maeda’s chilling prequel in “The Second Renaissance,” Shinichiro Watanabe’s low-tech noir mystery in “A Detective Story,” or Peter Chung’s bizarre and psychedelic journey into the mind of a human-designed matrix with “Matriculated,” the Animatrix dove directly into heart of films’ collective mythology and reimagined it with every last drop of untapped creativity the series had then yet to muster.
51. Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (2000)
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.