The great anime re-watch of 2020

I’ve watched a few anime films recently that wound up being pretty amazing in my opinion. It’s been a little while since I’d actually sat and watched any so it was reassuring that I picked good ones. It’s definitely made me want to watch more though so I’ll be looking into new stuff to get but I also thought it’d be a good chance to go back and watch some stuff I’ve watched previously and see how it holds up. I’m going to leave out Studio Ghibli films for this one though as it’d be very easy to write about all of those and I have 20 films at this point so that might wind up being an a blog of its own. I’ll also be watching with the English dub where that’s available.

Origin: Spirits of the Past – I loved this when I first watched it, I liked the setting of an earth that has mostly been destroyed owing to an accident trying to grow super plants on the moon, and I liked the characters. Upon re-watching it while I still very much enjoyed it I was more aware of the issues with the pacing of the story and how it was all a little underdeveloped and shallow. And while the main characters Agito and Toola are easy to like, they’re never really developed to their full potential and none of the other characters even get to that level. It’s a shame as there are some really cool ideas in play that never really work as well as they could do, it almost feels like a series would have been better than a film to allow for that world building and development to happen. Overall it’s an enjoyable film that could have been so much more, though I did appreciate the hopeful nature of the ending, even if you have to get through the ludicrousness of a walking volcano – which is equal parts awesome and mental.

Sky Blue – I’ve not watched this in years, I always loved the soundtrack and the absolutely amazing visual style, I also remember enjoying the understated English dub and the bleak world the film is set in. It starts with a monologue where Jay, one of the main characters, establishes what led to the world the film is set in as well as the class system that’s in place which is useful. Jay and Shua make for engaging protagonists and their bond is well realised even as they find themselves on opposite sides of the class divide. It’s impressive that a film that’s about 17 years old at this point still looks stunning, it utilises a number of different animation and film techniques which mesh together nicely. The dub isn’t as good as I remember but it’s thankfully still pretty solid, the only thing that really lets the film down in my opinion is the runtime which at 82 minutes because it means the pace is such that certain events don’t get the chance to breath that they should have, ultimately I would have liked more of Jay and Shua’s relationship as it’s the emotional heart of the film but never gets the focus it really deserves which is a shame. The upshot is that it still remains one of my favourite animes in spite of the flaws, the tone and aesthetic coupled with an interesting story and decent main characters outweigh the negatives for me and I still love it.

Metropolis – Another one I’ve not watched in ages, my initial thoughts when it started up was that it hadn’t aged especially well, and given it’s nearly 20 years old at this point it was always going to be a possibility. The backgrounds are stunning but I’m not a huge fan of the character designs as they’re overly stylised and I find them to be quite distracting, it’s a very distinct art style but one that just didn’t really work for me. I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I remember, I found the pace way too slow to the point where it felt like nothing much really happened until the last 20 minutes or so, and while I appreciated the jazz music on the soundtrack and it definitely offered something unique compared to other anime films I also felt like it was out of place. I liked the fact that the story deals with the segregation between robots and humans, and how robots are treated by most humans and the concept of Tima, the main character I’d say, being a robot but now knowing it was excellent and that feeds into the finale which is very interesting, all in all it’s a shame that my opinion of the film has changed over time but these things happen.

Tekkonkinkreet – The only thing I can ever remember about this is that it was utterly insane and didn’t make a great deal of sense, not sure why that’s my defining memory but there we go. It’s definitely not as batshit as I remember it being but it’s definitely very weird and I’m still not 100% sure I knew what the hell was happening for most of it but it was still definitely incredibly engaging. I really liked the art style, the characters are pretty stylised but it’s done in a way that kinda makes them look like comic books come to life, and the scenery is impressively realised too. The voice cast is seriously impressive too, most of the core cast are people with an excellent voice acting pedigree and it really helps as performances are very good for the most part. I think the thing I liked best is that it took the time to establish the bond between the 2 main characters, Black and White, which seems to be something that doesn’t seem to get the focus it should based on the other films I’ve watched on this list. Overall I’d definitely watch it again in the future, if only to try and see if I can finally figure out what the hell os going on.

Steamboy – This was done by the same director that did Akira, which I’m not sure I knew at the time, and apparently the most expensive anime film ever made. I honestly don’t remember anything about it bar the fact that it’s set in Victorian England which is pretty cool, I also vaguely recall enjoying it. It’s got a really distinct visual style which I like and the darker colour palette adds to this as it makes the film feel more grounded. It’s also got a pretty great voice cast with people like Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina and Anna Paquin being involved. The story is alright but largely pretty run of the mill, 2 opposing sides vying for power off the back of advancements made in steam power and stuck in the middle is a young boy.trying to stop it all. The steampunk element with the flying fortress powered by steam is seriously cool and the final quarter of the film is good fun as James flys around using what is essentially a steam powered rocket. The soundtrack is excellent and composed by Steve Jablonsky who was mentored by Hans Zimmer and the influence shows, it’s rather odd to watch an anime with such a western score but it adds to the atmosphere. Overall it’s probably too long and drags a bit in places but it’s entertaining and well worth a watch.

Summer Wars – Within the first 5 minutes I’d realised how little I remembered about this one, the film takes place in settings – the real world and a virtual world called OZ, so there are very different visual styles on display which is pretty cool, the OZ elements are very distinct and stand out where the real world elements look good but are pretty typical of anime. Turns out the virtual world has access to a lot of real world systems so naturally it gets hacked and things go tits up, this is happening against the backdrop of a family gathering where main character Kenji finds himself while pretending to be Natsuki’s fiancé. The family decide to fight back against the hacker and that’s when things start getting a bit outlandish as they seeming steel supplies from the military a university to get a computer setup and then drop a boat in a koi pond to help power it all, it’s delightfully odd. It’s fun and bizarre, there’s a card game in OZ to essentially avert a disaster, and while all this is going on you keep dropping in with the family and seeing how they all interact together, it’d be a lie to say they’re normal but there’s enough that you can identify with that weirdness as all families are weird in their own little ways. It’s definitely a film that’s well worth checking out as it’s unlike most animes I’ve seen and it’s refreshing to watch something a little different.

Paprika – I always get this and Tekkonkinkreet mixed up for some reason, no idea why as they’re very different films though both are seriously fucking weird. The basic premise is that there’s a machine that allows for entry into peoples dreams which has been stolen and it needs to be tracked down before a so called dream terrorist can use it. It’s pretty out there as you’d expect and the fact that it involves dreams means it gets seriously trippy as the film goes on. It’s visually pretty impressive and does a good job of conveying the assorted weird happenings and the voice acting is solid but seems to be a bit all over the place tonally, some actors play their characters completely straight whereas others seem to play it a bit more playfully or tongue in cheek, it’s an odd contrast. I really can’t emphasise how batshit the film becomes over time, especially as the dreams merge together and then start to bleed into the real world. Overall it’s mostly enjoyable if you can get past the weirdness although I have to admit I think it wants to be deeper than it winds up being, definitely worth a watch though definitely not one that has aged especially well for me personally.

5 Centimetres Per Second – I absolutely hated this when I saw it years ago, I found it incredibly unsatisfying and disliked the ending a lot. I have since then learned it’s by Makoto Shinkai who did Your Name and Weathering With You later on, which I loved, so I was keen to give it another go to see if my feelings to it had changed. The first thing I noticed is how pretty it is, I definitely didn’t appreciate that the first time round though it’s obviously not quite as stunning as the other two films I mentioned are which is understandable given it’s much older than those but there’s alot there to appreciate. It’s essentially split into 3 segments set in different time periods of the lives of main characters Takaki and Akari, it’s a story of unrequited love, drifting apart and life going on. I hated it when I originally watched it as I thought it was too slow and incredibly depressing but this time I found it bittersweet and incredibly contemplative, I still would have preferred a happier ending but that’s apparently because I’ve become a hopeless romantic in my old age and just want any romance to work out in the end. The soundtrack is solid and captures the mood of the film perfectly and the English dub is restrained really adds to the emotions. Honestly I’m glad I rewatched it as I definitely have a new found appreciation for the story being told, it’s definitely one that’s worth checking out.

Streetfighter Alpha Generations – This is the third anime Streetfighter film to have been made and I remember enjoying it because it unlike the previous efforts it removed the large cast of characters and focussed on Ryu and his struggle with the dark Hadou, a part of his martial art which relies on killing intent. It’s a more personal tale than the other films which are very much more ensemble focussed, the only other characters from the games who appear are Ken, Sakura and Akuma. First impressions of rewatching for the first time in ages are that the animation and art style haven’t aged especially well, there’s a definite impression of there being a much lower budget available comparatively. The English dub is also not great, though having looked at the work of some of the voice cast I suspect this might be due to the script as some of them have had some good roles after this, they’re just seemingly not helped by the stilted dialogue. The fight sequences are pretty decent though for the most part there’s not enough of them though the final confrontation between Ryu and Akuma is interesting as Ryu struggles not to lose himself to the dark Hadou. It’s actually intensely frustrating to watch as there’s some really good ideas that could have been fascinating had they been expanded on but ultimately it’s just badly executed which is a massive shame.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – This was one of the first anime films I remember having a properly emotional reaction to, it follows main character Makoto as she gains the ability to time travel and initially uses this new power for her own personal gain, sometimes for incredibly petty things like being able to eat dessert again. This selfishness actually makes her incredibly relatable as you can totally understand her reasoning for doing what she does, and this makes it easier to empathise as she starts to understand that her actions have consequences for the people she cares about, including her best friends Chiaki and Kosuke and the film does a great job of establishing the relationship with the 3 of them that feels real. Visually it more than holds it’s own compared to more recent anime films, the soundtrack is excellent and the voice acting is largely excellent, it’s a very well made film that still holds up almost 15 years on. It has the typical problems with time travel where things don’t make sense if you think too hard though it at least deals with potential consequences of changing the future, and doesn’t shy away from the potential for tragedy which is impressive. The only thing I don’t really like is the ending, it leans into the more bittersweet side of things where I’d prefer an outright happy ending but that’ll always be a personal preference. It’s nice to know that it still hits all the same emotional notes even after ages though, I’m definitely glad this one still resonates the same way it always did.

This has actually been good fun, I’ve enjoyed getting to watch stuff again. I think I’ll do this again, It’d be a good excuse to watch some of the Ghibli films again and actually could translate quite well to other films I’ve not seen in ages, it’d keep me out of trouble if nothing else so there’s that at least and heading into lockdown 2 (the sequel) it gives me something to do with the writing providing something to focus on which is always handy.

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