I have often called the 2000s my era of anime. It’s when I really got into the scene and when most of my favorite shows were made. However, the same does not apply to anime films, which I feel got fewer and less interesting as the new millennium began. This makes it all the more important to still celebrate those fantastic movies that we did get, so let’s do exactly that.
The same rules as last time apply:
- These are all my own (shitty) opinions, so these aren’t objectively the best movies… I think. I’d love to discuss the selection and hear your own nominations.
- Only 1 Ghibli film or else they’d dominate too much of the list.
- And, to keep it fair, I am also limiting the list to just 1 Satoshi Kon film.
#10 Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea (2000)
Typically, I try to do these lists without including tie-in movies for other franchises, but A Girl in Gaea is a special case. It released 4 years after Escaflowne and instead of being a slightly cut-down summary of Escaflowne‘s plot, it decided to be a retelling in a very different style.
It didn’t sit well with fans of the amazing original and it’s not hard to see why. The mecha meets medieval fantasy world has been exchanged for a more Asian-oriented setting, the hour-and-a-half runtime means the story is much compacter, and the movie is very fond of edgy violence that isn’t exactly the best fit for Escaflowne‘s setting and storytelling. I can see how these are unforgivable changes to many, yet it’s also these differences that makes A Girl in Gaea so interesting to me.
Escaflowne is great and I appreciate having a movie that lets me see its characters and world in a very different way. Just having a shitty movie cram the show’s whole storyline into 2 hours would be absolutely boring and a true dishonor to the amazing effort put into the original series. A reinterpreted retelling, though? Now that’s different, even if it wouldn’t sit well everybody.
#9 Dead Leaves (2004)
Well that was a controversial take right out of the gate… let’s do another.
Dead Leaves is an anarchic comedy adventure that feels like a perfect middle ground between Gainax’ FLCL and Panty & Stocking. Not entirely surprising, since this was the brainchild of Hiroyuki Imaishi and was actually his directorial debut. When a woman with a strange mark on her face and dude with a TV for a head both wake up naked outside a city with no memory of who they are, they decide the logical course of action is to set out on a crime rampage.
It’s one of those anime that feels more like a bizarre American cartoon for adults rather than a work of Japanese craft. With its crass humor and constant violence, the raunchy characters and barely-concealed sex, it’s not really made for the traditional anime fan.
I’d be lying if I said it was as good as FLCL or P&S, but even then it offers that same kind of wacky fun that few other anime dare to touch on.
#8 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Directed by the phenomenal Mamoru Hosoda in cooperation with studio Madhouse, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is truly one of the classics of the mid-2000s. It’s one of those movies everybody used to recommend to each other and for good reason.
When the young Makoto Konno is one day nearly hit by a train, time reverts to a few moments prior and her untimely demise is averted. Realizing that she now holds a phenomenal power, Makoto begins to use it for anything and everything, be it to fix the tiniest of problems or just to have more fun. Naturally, this is not meant to last and she soon runs into the terrifying realization that there are unforeseen consequences to all this time manipulation.
The movie is a bit predictable at times, but it hits all the right emotional strings and perfectly executes what it set out to do. A great movie for teens and adults alike.
#7 La Maison en Petits Cubes (2008)
For something significantly shorter (though no less touching), check out La Maison en Petits Cubes. Though deceptively French-sounding, this is one of the works of The Diary of Tortov Roddle creator Kunio Kato and you can definitely see the similarity in the artstyle.
This 12-minute film takes us to a world where water is always rising, forcing the inhabitants to continuously build upward. When an old man one day drops his pipe while working on the latest layer of his house, he decides to go back and revisit some old memories. There is not a spoken word of dialogue in the movie and its grimy artstyle mixed with the depressing music creates a captivating atmosphere. It’s very artsy and quite different from anything else in anime, besides maybe some of Hiroyasu Ishida’s work.
If you can spare the 12 minutes, then absolutely check it out.
#6 Redline (2009)
One of Madhouse’s best-remembered feature films, Redline is about an illegal, intergalactic racing event set on a planet belonging to a militaristic dictatorship. JP is set to participate in the tournament with his trusty ride, but there are many eccentric rivals and not all of them are intent on playing fair.
Redline is bursting with style. The character design is top notch, the animation astounding, and the soundtrack got me interested in music genres I didn’t even know I could like. It was one of the first racing anime I ever saw and it instantly made me want to look up where I could find more like it. Sadly, there is nothing that even comes close to resembling it; it’s Initial D in space with ridiculous action, beautiful girls, and touches of comedy. I mean Oban Star Racers is cool, but it ain’t this cool.
#5 Interstella 5555
Putting this on the list is a bit strange, I admit. While it is an anime movie headed by Toei, Interstella 5555 is technically an hour-long music clip that covers the entirety of Daft Punk’s late-90s album Discovery.
The entire film is set to music from the album and tells the story of a hit band from a far-away planet being kidnapped and taken to Earth. After being brainwashed and having their skin and hair dyed so as to seem human, their captor uses their talent to create a new band on Earth that he is the manager of. Meanwhile, a lone hero sets out to rescue the group and free them from the manager’s mind controlling devices.
The plot is a little on the cheesy side, but the musical accompaniment and creative visuals make this a curiosity within anime that I much enjoyed. I was no Daft Punk fan going into movie and would never have listened to their album of my own volition, and still I fell in love with it. That’s gotta be some top tier marketing right there.
#4 Summer Wars (2009)
We can’t talk about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time without also addressing Hosoda’s other major hit:
Digimon the Movie Summer Wars.
OZ is an online platform that is vital in maintaining almost the entirety of society. Nearly everybody uses it, be it for work, competitions, study, or even just for gaming. Kenji Koiso is a nerd who works as a moderator for OZ, making it a big surprise when the beautiful Natsuki Shinohara approaches him and asks if he can come accompany her to a family gathering as a pretend boyfriend. While at this family event, far away from his computer, Kenji learns that his account has been stolen and the hacker is now causing trouble all around OZ whilst pretending to be him.
While it starts out as mean-spirited pranks, the account soon begins to cause serious, worldwide problems and Kenji has to scramble to prove his innocence, all while also trying to convince Natsuki’s family that he is totally her real boyfriend.
Summer Wars is astoundingly good and it honestly hurts me to put it at only #4 for this list. It wonderfully balances an online battle to save the internet with an unfolding family drama, both of which are fantastic storyline that overlap in more places than you’d expect. With its imaginative visuals and lovable cast of characters, this is one of my favorite movies to revisit.
#3 Tokyo Godfather (2003)
The obligatory Satoshi Kon inclusion for this selection of movies is going to be Tokyo Godfathers. I have boundless love for Paprika, but there is something daring and special to this Christmas favorite that, ultimately, had it win out.
This is a story about 3 down-on-their-luck homeless people bumbling their way into an unbelievable situation. An alcoholic, a teenage girl who ran away from home, and a drag queen are out scavenging through the trash when they find an abandoned baby. What follows is a perplexing journey full of surprising twists as the three of them set out to discover who the baby belongs to and soon find themselves in way more trouble than they could have ever imagined.
Each of the 3 protagonists goes through an amazing arc as we learn more about their past and see what they are doing to forge a new future for themselves. Their quest to return the lost baby is filled with touching moments, crazy action scenes, tragedy, and hard-earned victories. The movie constantly shifts gears and you never quite know where it might go next, but it’s all tied together wonderfully and manages to always keep its audience engaged. This was truly Satoshi Kon at his best.
#2 Metropolis (2001)
Based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka and with a screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo, there’s no denying that Metropolis had a pedigree that destined it for success. It’s a dystopian anime where a detective and his young assistant, Kenichi, find themselves in Metropolis; a city where robots live as slaves and the impoverished wile away in slums while the rich enjoy carefree lives in the futuristic upper districts.
They are on the tail of a deranged scientist, but are inadvertently drawn into the city’s drama as uprisings unfold and the city is finalizing construction on an ominous device called The Ziggurat. Key to these problems is Tima, a young girl that Kenichi finds in the remains of laboratory and decides to protect. He soon learns that she is being hunted by both Duke Red, the architect behind The Ziggurat, as well as his adopted son Rock, who is out to kill the girl.
Metropolis is a movie full of barefaced symbolism, from Nazi-era brownshirts enforcing the Duke’s rule over Metropolis under the guise of peacekeeping, to the very obvious connection between The Ziggurat and the Tower of Babel. However, it is very much its own story, with Kenichi and Tima’s friendship forming its emotional core. Its beautiful artstyle may seem childlike and approachable, but it quickly develops into an anime masterpiece with few equals.
#1 The Cat returns (2002)
The Cat Returns is unlikely to be a top pick for many, not from this era and not even necessarily withing Ghibli’s library. To me, however, it perfectly encapsulates what makes Ghibli adventures so fantastic.
When young teenager Haru one day saves the life of a strange cat, her own life takes a turn for the strange and she soon finds herself transported to a kingdom ruled by talking cats. She decides to go along with it and see what might happen, only to soon find herself transforming into a feline version of herself. As the mildly-deranged king becomes ever more dangerous to her, she has to escape with the help of a band of sympathetic friends.
It’s a simple, yet very effective story. A straight-up fantasy adventure with anthropomorphic animals, that makes for excellent entertainment no matter the mood you are in or the age of whoever may be watching along with you. It’s the kind of movie I wish I could have seen as a kid, yet I am also perfectly happy having it now that I am an adult.