I have a particular fondness for great anime films. Some of this comes from their generally fortuitous production circumstances; films are usually afforded better staff and scheduling than television series and thus don’t tend to suffer the production drain or collapse that often afflicts seasonal productions. This means both their peaks and valleys of animation tend to be higher than in TV productions, something you can frequently compare directly when it comes to franchise-associated films. If you want top-tier animation in a vast variety of styles, anime films are your surest bet.
But likely even more than their excellence of aesthetics, it is their diversity and clarity of purpose that attracts me to anime’s film selections. Less wedded to the assumptions of genre and source material that inform television productions, anime films represent many of the most distinctive and unique stories told in animation. The promise of animation is that anything is possible. Absent the physical constraints of live-action cinema, you are inhibited only by the breadth of your dreams. Whether you’re setting up a movie night or just a lazy afternoon, Crunchyroll currently boasts an alluring swath of animated films, stretching the gamut from action to romance to the depths of space. Let’s see if we can find the right movie for your next viewing!
Let’s start off with an easy crowd-pleaser that any action fan should absolutely check out. Sword of the Stranger is set in the Sengoku era and follows a young orphan who comes under the protection of a wandering swordsman. The film’s story is straightforward and iconic, serving mostly as a historically grounded template for facilitating sequences of incredible swordsmanship. Indeed, the action scenes in this film are some of the best the medium has ever produced. Featuring contributions by many of BONES’ most celebrated collaborators and guided by the steady directorial hand of Masahiro Ando, Sword of the Stranger offers fights with an unbelievable sense of speed, weight, and physical consequence, letting you feel the whistle of steel and shiver of muscle as a blow is countered or deflected.
Film is often the place where you’ll find stories that don’t fit into the seasonal anime structure. Nowhere is that more true than in the astonishing Jin Roh, the story of a reluctant soldier grappling with the weight of his crimes. After failing to stop a young suicide bomber, protagonist Fuse ends up running into the bomber’s sister and developing a strange relationship in the shadow of grief. The film was written by Mamoru Oshii and exudes his particular sense of world-weary fatigue as well as his visual fascination with Tokyo’s abandoned spaces. Thoughtful, melancholic, and staggeringly beautiful, Jin Roh is an animated film like no other and a must-watch for fans of Oshii’s more famous film productions. For further Oshii-associated productions check out his first film Dallos.
Alongside Oshii are some fine selections from the catalog of Mamoru Hosoda. His films tend to focus on finding your place within the world, be it through a coming-of-age story or a family drama, and almost uniformly pay close attention to the internal emotional lives of their beleaguered protagonists. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time gifts a high schooler with the power to make short backward leaps in time — with predictably messy results. The Boy and the Beast envisions an entire alternate world filled with beast men and other strange creatures. Each are impressive in their own way, and if you enjoy either of them, you should absolutely check out the rest of his remarkably consistent film catalog. Pro tip: check out his One Piece film One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island if you get a chance as it’s one of the most astonishingly well-animated films out there.
For a more grounded story that might just move you to tears, I heartily recommend the recent Josee, the Tiger and the Fish. The film stars Tsuneo, a college student who dreams of being a marine biologist, and Josee, a woman in a wheelchair who he unexpectedly strikes up a relationship with. Though she’s spent most of her life inside due to her grandmother’s concerns for her safety, Josee dreams of traveling and striking out as an artist — until some cruel twists of fate intervene. Josee is heartbreaking, heartwarming, and astonishingly beautiful, with a riveting core relationship to tie it all together. The highest praise I can offer is “it had me in tears” as the film reduced me to a sobbing mess by its climax.
Finally, let’s celebrate a film that demonstrates the continuing excellence and diversity of anime films all the way through the current year. Though it’s segmented into three sections, The Girl From the Other Side is a cohesive film experience and an aesthetic journey like nothing else in animation. Building off Nagabe’s evocative original illustrations, The Girl From the Other Side presents a world that feels like a living storybook, with characters and color design that evokes the oldest and darkest of fables. Anime films like this demonstrate just how much more animation has to show us if we embrace stories beyond our familiar favorites.
That’s ultimately what most enthralls me about these films; their ability to show me something truly new, something I would never have conceived for myself. Unique art opens doors for us as both creators and viewers, expanding our realm of the possible, and enriching our ability to imagine beyond it. I hope you’ve found a film or two to check out among my selections, and please let me know all your own favorite anime films in the comments!