Anime is a growing art form originating from Japan. Described as a style of Japanese animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children; anime is not simply ‘Japanese cartoons’ as many would assume. Firmly establishing itself as an admirable independent genre for the past half century in Japan, anime is also expanding its influence into the western world. The popularisation of the ‘English Dub’ (a translation where the original language’s – in this case Japanese – voices are replaced with English ones) has extended the availability of anime to those beyond the language barrier and has established its popularity across the globe.
In the same way that comic books and graphic novels aren’t picture books, anime aren’t cartoons. Anime cover a wide variety of genres, from sci-fi to romance to mystery to war. Although brightly coloured and magical, they cover adult topics with powerful messages. One moment you can be following a teenager as they enter the drama of high-school life, and the next you can be transported to a magical feudal kingdom where humans and Gods wage war. There is no other genre like it. That is why anime is a unique and alluring world.
On a personal level, I have two favourite anime movies. One is: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and the other is Wolf Children. It isn’t surprising I have favourite anime films considering I’ve been a fan of the genre since the Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon and Pokemon series were dubbed and aired over in the UK in the 90’s, the prime of my childhood. What you may find surprising, is that my two favourite anime films are not Studio Ghibli projects.
Studio Ghibli have produced such internationally acclaimed anime films, it is almost impossible to discuss the topic without so much as a nod to the production studio and their outstandingly talented director/co-founder: Hayao Miyazaki. With titles such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle under its belt, Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have made the world aware of the impact that anime can have on global culture. It dominates its field with beautiful animation, intoxicating music and magical plots that defy the barriers of its sometimes underestimated genre on the international stage. The film studio is so intrinsically linked to the genre, that some perhaps feel that anime and Studio Ghibli cannot be separated. Yet, there are award-winning Japanese animation films that are not a product of the dominating studio. And whilst Studio Ghibli is an anime powerhouse, in this article, the spotlight is not on them.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and Wolf Children (2012) are both films released by Madhouse; the latter also a collaboration with Studio Chizu. Both are directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Both have won the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year in 2007 and 2013 respectively. Neither is associated with Studio Ghibli.
Wolf Children (2012)
Wolf Children follows Hana, a college student who falls in love with a mysterious young man with the ability to transform into a wolf. After his death, Hana is a young mother left to raise their two half-human half-wolf children on her own. The film, although with its fantasy theme, almost uses its magical element as a side-plot to the emotional development of children: Yuki and Ame. Whilst the film focuses on the emotional choice both children face, and the heartache that a confused Hana has to overcome in being a single mother; Hosoda’s story delves into the magic of family and choice with the wolf serving as a catalyst to its message rather than being its central theme.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time follows Makoto, a high-school student who discovers a device that enables her to travel through time. As Makoto learns of the device’s power she soon becomes obsessed with frivolously utilising it to fix her problems, with disastrous consequences for herself and her loved ones. A sequel to the original 1967 sci-fi romance novel of the same name, The Girl Who Leapt Through time is a coming of age story that reminds audiences of the caution that accompanies power and the consequence of selfishness. Unlike Wolf Children, the sci-fi element in this anime is necessary for Makoto’s personal development as she is presented with temptation but wastes her power on selfish acts. The consequences of her obsession with control and lack of responsibility ultimately end in her poetic development; burdened with the knowledge of power, yet without the power to change it.
I hope my brief insight into the anime world has inspired you to reach out into its unique world and enjoy what it has to offer. In anime and manga (the written/drawn sister to anime), there genuinely is something for everyone; the genre knows no limits. These are a few of my favourites because of their beauty and how they so elegantly portray the human condition, but if your interests lies elsewhere I guarantee anime can provide for you. If you would like any recommendations as you’re unsure about where to start, do not hesitate to ask me. Romance, vampires, robots, demons, magic, love, death, war, school; anime contains the greatest plethora of characters and themes available to us. I welcome any comrade into the anime world.