I really love interesting movies. I love offbeat, stylized, and absolutely zany stories, so I figured I’d share a few films that I’ve immensely enjoyed recently. Some are cute and light, some heavy and contemplative, others just delightfully trippy. All of them visual treats.
This list won’t include the more well-known releases of the past few years — and of course no Ghibli, simply because we already know how wonderful all of those are. I also won’t have my personal favorites such as The Boy and the Beast, Wolf Children, and Summer Wars on here because they are all directed by the same master of art, Mamoru Hosada, and I love them all so much I feel I’d spend the entirety of the time talking just about them and the masterpiece that is Digimon: The Movie (don’t @ me!).
So here are some relentlessly interesting anime films for you to check out that vary in genre, style, and “feeling.” Which is to say — there’s something here for everyone.
This was one I stumbled upon by happy happenstance. It’s the shortest on the list and less of a movie and more of a special or an OVA (original video animation). Jellyfish Restaurant is an exploration of self-discovery and grief that has a quaint, seaside setting and quietly fascinating story.
When a young man hiding a tragic secret washes up on the shore outside of a small restaurant he is picked up and taken in by the aloof owner of said restaurant — who is also harboring a bit of a secret himself. Reflecting on their time spent in places that they have accidentally found themselves a part of, the short film paints a beautiful picture of coming to care about the people and places in which we live and how we heal and deal with the tragedies that life hands us. It’s one of the most emotionally driven on here in that it really felt like it was trying to get to the heart of some of our most pressing human problems. It stuck with me, honestly, in the way that bedtime stories do. Except this one made me want to take a quick dive into the sea on a nice sunny day — which is something I’m grateful I can do but also something I never do quite often enough.
Fuse: Memoirs of a Hunter Girl
I immensely enjoyed Fuse, to the point that it actually inspired me to write this list! It feels the closest to a traditional Ghibli movie in that it’s a colorful, experimental, and beautifully done story that marries coming-of-age with romance and tragedy. There’s a little bit of gender exploration — of womanhood and manhood and the identification with neither — of freedom and impulse and the right to exist. But at it’s core it’s about a young hunter coming to terms with who she is and wants to be.
Hamaji is a young huntress from a remote village who moves to Edo to join her brother after the death of her grandfather. Set during the Sengoku period in Japan, the city of Edo is looking for willing hunters to take down the Fuse — beings that feed on human souls —that are threatening the city. And Hamaji and her brother are up to the task.
A reflection on fate and living, it shares a similar vein of love and acceptance that Jellyfish Restaurant does; in that the places we inhabit tend to make their roots in us regardless of how we arrive to them. It’s a needed message during a time like this when we are grounded in life more than we might have been before, and I know it felt important for me, personally, to hear. This movie is really a delight visually, and balances its violence and its beauty with enough whimsicality to make it feel like the modern fairy tale it is. I highly recommend it for fans of Ghibli films. Think Princess Mononoke meets Spirited Away.
The Dragon Dentist
This one is my favorite flavor of strange — it involves a giant dragon and the people who serve as its “dentists” during a time of war between the people of the dragons and those who aren’t of the dragons (the origins of said war are a bit…vague).
The dentists themselves live on the dragon, of course, with their main occupation being keeping the beastie’s teeth clean and literally fighting the cavities, which take the form of dark, monster-like creatures. The two-episode special focuses on Nonoko, a dragon dentist, and her journey after she discovers a boy, Bell, who materializes from the dragon’s teeth.
It is bonkers as hell but is done so well and with such fluid, wonderful animation that it gives the outlandish premise a grounded and lovely polish. Nonoko’s determination is contagious and Bell’s at first reluctance but than growing love for the community of dentists is beautifully done and nicely realized. It also has an antagonist who, despite limited screen time, made me very angry. I highly recommend this to anyone who, oddly enough, enjoys shows like Eureka Seven with that good brand of quirk. It’s kind of like if the Borrowers cleaned your teeth instead of stealing your sugar cubes.
Haikara-san ga Tooru: Here Comes Miss Modern
I’m immensely grateful that this is two movies, because after finishing the first one I was completely ready to nope my way out of its ending. But knowing there was a second one made the cliffhanger far more tolerable.
That said: I am a trope-weary soul, and these movies are trope-heavy but sometimes I can’t help but love explicitly sentimental films that wear their hearts on their sleeves. The two-part movie stars Benio Hanamura as a tradition-bashing, gets-drunk-often heroine who is forced into a marriage based on an old promise between two families. Of course her betrothed is handsome and kind and eventually she realizes she’s falling for him but not before he’s called off to war!
I spent half of the first movie wondering if her love interest was a himbo or just acting like one, and quickly realized during the second movie that he’s most definitely a himbo. These movies are romantic and melodramatic, but watching Benio grow up — literally, since this movie takes place over a few years time — into a responsible, caring, and selfless woman made it all feel very worth it. This is definitely a feel-good Hallmark channel choice with all the zaniness you would expect from a shoujo period-piece romance, but I don’t want that to sound dismissive. I used to hate romance but lately it’s been something I’ve come to appreciate and these movies are joyful celebrations of the genre that’s often derided a bit too much. I recommend this to Bridgerton fans who are okay with soap-opera levels of insanity but also plenty of genuineness. It teeters precariously into being a parody a times but I think that really adds to the charm.
And hey — jealousy over love never fuels hatred and is actually handled nicely. It’s a really refreshing take!
Empire of Corpses
This one is my shit. I’m aware that it was largely panned by critical audiences, but I absolutely loved this film when it first came out for the sheer audacity of the premise.
It’s the first of Project Itoh’s line of films — which I recommend checking out if you want to sink some time into gritty sci-fi — and subjectively the best. It’s got crisp, beautiful animation, a very anime story, great character design, and some of the coolest (and, dare I say, wasted) world-building potential I’ve seen in a minute. It isn’t perfect, but it is dark and it is fun.
Empire of Corpses focuses on John Watson, a young scientist who illegally and only partially resurrects his deceased “friend” Friday, and winds up being coerced into joining the British Secret Service to hunt down Victor Frankenstein’s legacy. It’s said that Victor’s book is able to fully bring people back from the dead, soul and all, which is what John ultimately wants for the currently despondent and soulless Friday — so it kind of works in his favor. The setting is a 19th century England in which Victor Frankenstein, Ulysses S. Grant, and armies of dead people all co-exist, and that’s cool with me, dude. In this alternative history, corpses are able to be reanimated thanks to advances in analytical and medical sciences and it has to do with that small, actually theorized sentiment that the soul has weight and when we die we lose that weight. An experiment that still hasn’t been repeated for what, I’m sure, are obvious reasons!
Empire of Corpses is very hard-science-but-with-magic and weirdly enough it works. I recommend this to fans of is-this-gay?, fantasy, historical fiction, and those who enjoy steampunk without it being all goggles and weird top hats. Only some goggles and normal top hats.
Night Is Short, Walk on Girl
It’s not cheating if it’s Masaaki Yuasa! I know his Devilman Crybaby notoriety makes him a more prolific director than most listed here, but Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a film I don’t often see being talked about as much as it deserves to be!
In it we join a young university student— who we only know as kohai (“Junior” in the school-ranking sense) — as she explores the city nightlife and finds new adventures, wacky characters, and is all the while being lovingly looked after by a “senpai” who has a crush on her. It has the usual personality and stunning visuals of a Masaaki work, and a great, quirky soundtrack and absolutely delightful protagonist. Yusuke Nakamura also serves as the character designer and illustrated the original 2006 novel the movie is based on. And I absolutely love Yusuke Nakamura’s work, which is likely why this film in particular is so appealing to me.
It ran a small festival circuit and, out of all the movie above, is actually the most critically lauded. And it deserves it! An art piece of a film in general, Night is Short, Walk on Girl makes me miss the energy of city nightlife and subsequently look forward to the day we can all reclaim our seats at our local dive bars.
There are plenty of other lovely movies to check out I’m sure, such as any of the Mamoru Hosada films I previously mentioned, as well as Masaaki Yuasa’s other recent work Lu Over the Wall, which is a musically-invigorating delight. Netflix has also started to offer a surprising number of anime films for streaming, from heartfelt short film collections like Modest Heroes to a 3-part re-imagining of the Godzilla series. It seems we’re in a relatively golden age when it comes to globalizing the movie market.
Now just got to keep my fingers crossed for Demon Slayer: Mugen Train coming out soon…