Before getting to the list, I must give the disclaimer that I’m no expert on anime films. I’m seen the obvious choices but have yet to move beyond the basics. This Top 5 list is for novices who are looking for an entry point into the genre. Inspired by my enjoyment of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and these movies, I am planning to do an anime marathon in the future. I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments section to help with choosing the right entries at that point. Without further rambling, let’s get to the list!
5. Akira (1988)
Filled with action and ambition, this chaotic movie from Katsuhiro Ohtomo is one of the more over-the-top visual experiences that I've seen. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi story is definitely in my wheelhouse, and the mystery behind the secret project is intriguing for a while. I will say that the action devolves too much into characters screaming "Tetsuo!" and "Kaneda!" as everything goes nuts around them. That's the reason this film isn't higher on the list, despite its massive scope and premise.
4. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Since the other four films in this list come from two directors, it's nice that I was able to add a third filmmaker to the mix. This Mamoru Oshii picture was the first in the popular franchise of Ghost in the Shell releases, and it's the only one that I've seen so far. The complex plot involves cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and what it really means to be human. Along with the frequent nudity, the attractions of this film are the intriguing subject matter and some really cool action sequences, especially in the first half before it gets pretty heavy.
3. Steamboy (2004)
The second Ohtomo film on this list, this adventure movie offers easily the most pure fun of these choices. The first half includes a remarkable action sequence that ranks among the best that I've seen in any animated feature. I haven't delved nearly enough into the genre, but I'm a sucker for the crazy steampunk creations of this story. Unlike Akira, this story holds together much better and delivers something beyond the relentless action. It's probably the only choice on this list that didn't receive near-universal acclaim, but I enjoyed this film from start to finish.
2. Spirited Away (2001)
I'm guessing that I could just do a Hayao Miyazaki marathon and find plenty of great choices. Arguably his best-known film, this remarkable fantasy is consistently surprising while hitting all the right dramatic notes. Making a 10-year-old girl the lead is a tricky proposition, but Miyazaki avoids these obstacles and makes her journey intriguing. The scenery and various creates are both grotesque and beautiful, a combination that we rarely see in animated pictures. If you're looking to get into anime films, start your adventure here.
1. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Although I loved Spirited Away, it falls just short of its follow-up, which delivers even more spellbinding entertainment. The vision of the massive castle as it travels along the countryside is a marvel in itself. There's the evil Witch of the Waste, the shape-shifting hero Howl, and even an odd scarecrow who hops around and guides the lead girl. It's a remarkable experience and one of the great fantasy films, animated or not. Like many of Miyazaki's films, it could work as a silent film because the images are so perfectly composed.
Next week, I'll join Jake Gyllenhaal as we try to stop a terrorist attack and find out what the heck is going on with Source Code.