I’ve thought about how I wanted to highlight all of the anime movies that have been coming out to the States whilst I wait for the blu-ray release so I can properly review them, and after some thinking, I decided that we should keep it simple. A ranking list covering every anime movie I’ve seen in US theaters (or alternative Netflix) from worst to best. No Japan-only films since I don’t really pirate anymore, so whatever that Madhouse film that’s basically A Place Further Than The Universe without the substance won’t be covered. And Yuasa’s films will be on here because although they did get fansubbed last year, I watched the official GKids release this year. Let’s get to seeing if 2018’s movie selection was as great as 2017’s, shall we?
Just for some clarification, the Fate movie is not included because that was released in the States last year. Big Fish & Begonia is excluded on account of being Chinese. None of the live-action adaptations like Gintama or Bleach will be included either. Penguin Highway is not on the list because while I did see that at a convention, I’d rather focus on films that got a more public theatrical release. The new Godzilla movie is excluded because I can’t be bothered to remember my opinion of it other than not being very good. And I didn’t see Haikara-san or Chuunibyou: Take on Me.
Again, I’ll be reviewing some of these films in the future (and I’ve got Take on Me on order as well) so I won’t get too descriptive. That said, these are my short opinions on 2018’s anime movie selection and why they’re ranked the way they are.
13. Fireworks (Shaft)
Fireworks is by far one of the worst anime movies of recent times. The animation and cinematography is some of the worst I’ve ever seen from Shaft, which is shocking considering how well they’ve been doing for themselves lately. None of the characters are given any development or context regarding their actions. And the logic makes absolutely no sense. I’m somehow supposed to believe that there are no people existing in this universe but the important characters, and that high school students have the ability to keep up with a train on foot after said train gets a ten-second head start on them.
In an era where anime movies are larger than ever and all of the big studios are making a name for themselves with well-produced original movies and dramatic narratives, the fact that Shaft fucked up so bad with their first film that wasn’t based on one of their established franchises is just disappointing. They didn’t have to put in the same amount of effort they gave to Kizumonogatari and Madoka Rebellion, but I think Bakemonogatari’s original release looked better than this. The only recommendation I can possibly give it is that it’s kinda fun to watch this film with friends and point out all of the bad decisions this movie made. So of course, I ended up buying the blu-ray in case that ever happens.
12. Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1 (Bones)
I’m hesitant to call Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1 a movie because last I checked, movies are supposed to have structure. Contain a beginning, middle, and end. Not start off with a twenty-five minute long space battle that you wouldn’t understand the context of if you’ve never seen the series, before rehashing the arc where Renton stays with Charles and Ray because…that was the best arc from the original? And by rehash, I mean they just reuse clips from those episodes except with new dubbing work, which is incredibly obvious given how different the animation for most of the movie looks compared to the beginning – also known as the actual new material. They don’t even get to the part of the arc where Charles and Ray literally explode into tiny pieces. It’s just watching Renton go through an important part of his character arc, except the movie doesn’t give a clear reason regarding why Renton is the main character in the first place.
There is literally nothing about this movie that’s inviting if you haven’t seen the original series. All of the backstory regarding how Renton ended up in the situation he’s in is just told to you, which would be fine if the movie developed on said context like most franchise films tend to do, but Hi-Evolution 1 apparently missed the memo on that and decided to give you the context at random intervals for good measure. He barely interacts with Eureka. I don’t understand why he’s loyal to the Gekko when they’ve done nothing positive for him. Ray and Charles are still decent characters, even if their development doesn’t go anywhere by the end, but that’s about all of the positives I have for the plot. I just don’t understand why this movie exists considering it borrows too much from the series, doesn’t set things up properly for future installments let alone stand on its own, and…no I don’t need anything else. Which is incidentally what every Eureka Seven fan should have made clear when the show ended back in 2006.
11. Mazinger Z: Infinity (Toei)
So forgettable that it completely slipped my mind for nine days after writing this post. Seriously, Go Nagai is someone we should really leave in the past.
10. Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Ponoc)
Mary and the Witch’s Flower isn’t bad for a first attempt to keep Ghibli alive, but I really hope Ponoc’s later films are a lot better than this, because aside from the aesthetics, it doesn’t get one thing right regarding why I like Ghibli films so much. The environmental message is completely bog-standard. The villains are poorly realized. The main character doesn’t really go through any sort of personal growth. And despite one of the big draws being a magical Hogwarts-like school, most of the film takes place outdoors or in caves that aren’t particularly exciting to look at. It’s like watching a straight-to-DVD knockoff rather than a true theatrical experience.
Unlike some other Ghibli elitists, I actually like Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Even though they weren’t the best, I thought the films he directed for Ghibli were fun and still a step up over most anime in general. But man, his latest project was a mess. Not Tales from Earthsea bad, but I can’t think of any other Ghibli film worse than this. Yes, I am saying Howl’s Moving Castle was better. Come at me.
9. Pokemon: The Power of Us (OLM/Wit)
Well this movie was a cringy ball of cheese. I was watching this film with my Pokemon-loving friends and we all agreed that we never want to heard the term “Pokemon Power” ever again for the rest of our lives. The “Power of Us” title refers to how the movie takes a more ensemble approach in that it’s about several different individuals dealing with Pokemon-related problems that come together in order to resolve a giant threat with their powers combined. It’s not a bad premise for a movie, but the execution is horribly flawed.
Not that anybody really expects great storytelling from a Pokemon movie, but did they have to make Ash such a Gary Stu in his newest adventure? His entire role in the movie is just to be the all-loving hero with no character development that encourages the other large cast to deal with their Pokemon-related problems, which would be fine if his morals weren’t so childish and he wasn’t such a big part of the plot. The other characters are likable for the most part, but the emotional moments are constantly getting bogged down by exaggerated logic that makes no sense at times (the ghost of a Snubbull coming to life for one specific moment in order to encourage the old lady? Who wrote this?). Animation is still really good as expect from OLM, but overall I’ll take Pikachu talking any day over this film.
8. Mirai of the Future (Studio Chizu)
While it’s not a bad film, Mirai of the Future definitely feels like the weakest of Mamoru Hosada’s output. Rather than being one complete narrative, the story is more like a bunch of fragmented events centered on Kun and his refusal to grow up, which always ends with him meeting his extended family in a magical garden and said family helping him out, only for said development to not go anywhere until the very end of the film, making the pacing tedious. Some of said family members are just flat-out wasted, like Kun meeting his mother when she was his age, only to watch her get in trouble for making a mess and we never hear from said plot line again. And the help said family gives can be very confusing at times, in addition to being childish.
Unlike a lot of elitists, I actually do like Hosada. His narratives aren’t great by any stretch of the definition, but his vision regarding how anime should be is something I respect. And his movies are always watchable at the very least for the pretty visuals, likable characters, and great comedic timing. But his storytelling has been getting worse as of late, and for a guy who was the closest to being labeled the next Miyazaki before Shinkai blew everyone away in 2016/17, that’s not a direction I want to support.
7. My Hero Academia: Two Heroes (Bones)
I guess it’s better than most anime franchise films, but Two Heroes doesn’t have enough substance to it to stand on its own as a great action movie. The animation doesn’t look any different from the TV series, the plot is basically just a toned-down version of Die Hard/The Raid, and most of the characters just exist for fanservice (and that’s if they exist at all. Quite a few fan-favorites only get a few seconds of screentime or don’t even show up until the end credits). Although there’s been some advertisement of the movie focusing on All-Might while he was young, most of that backstory is relegated to the first few minutes of the film before we contrive a reason for Deku and his friends to go to an island and take down Magneto from X-Men whilst the pro heroes are captured.
Whilst whether you prefer the Japanese or English version of the movie is a hot debate, I think we can all agree that the dialogue is clunky in either language. There are so many times where the characters are communicating paragraphs to each other non-verbally that it gets laughable. And the action in this movie is, to put it lightly, not very good. The final fight in particular is a confusing mess of Deus Ex Machinas and the rest of the action is just the standard “characters using powers at convenient times” stuff that you see in the weaker episodes of the series. All in all, it’s an entertaining watch for fans just to see All-Might’s backstory, Deku continuing to settle into his role as the dude’s successor, Mineta being more of a hero than Kaminari, and Bakugo being a complete dick, but that’s about all it has going for it.
6. Flavors of Youth (Comix Wave/Haoliners)
Just read my review of the movie. I really don’t have much to add beyond that.
5. Mutafukaz (Ankama Animations/Studio 4°C)
Another movie that’s light on story. But in exchange, it gives us an awesome visual experience that puts it above the other films below it, even if said experience eventually wears out its welcome after the ice cream truck scene. If you guys haven’t seen this film, which is understandable since the release was so limited and the reviews leaned towards negative, Mutafukaz is a French/Japanese collaboration centered on a strange black creature named Angelino and everyone in the world wanting to kill him because he’s apparently some kind of chosen one. It’s not explained very well and while most of the cast has decent characterization, there’s virtually no character growth for any of these guys. It’s sort of like Redline in that they all get by on sheer personality and high-octane action mixed with a convoluted plot, which does get wearisome for ninety minutes, but it’s worth watching at least once for the experience alone.
I highly recommend watching this movie in English if you can, because the dub is phenomenal. There’s a Grand Theft Auto reference that cracked me up, and who can deny the voice acting power of RZA?
4. Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Science Saru)
This movie has been growing on me after the mixed reaction I had to its Animefest premiere in 2017. Although like Mutafukaz, it’s a movie that prioritizes a great visual style over a story that has something to say (it technically does, but what it says is a bit broad, even with all of the Japanese culture used to tell the tale), this film really does a good job of capturing the feeling of ignoring all of your problems for one night to go out on the town, while showing that what happens that night doesn’t necessarily stay in that night. And if you play your cards right, that can be a good thing. Also, while the main duo aren’t the most interesting to follow due to a lack of growth or even really much personality besides their comedic stereotypes, the antics of the side cast more than make up for it with the (admittedly not great) amount of depth they show underneath their wacky antics.
That said, I’ve been realizing with anime like A Place Further Than The Universe and Planet With that while I do enjoy positive stories, I’m not a fan of when they don’t show the other side of the coin all that well. It’s not a deal breaker for me, but it does deflate my enthusiasm when watching those kinds of cartoons. I know a lot of people love that kind of entertainment, especially since anime is supposed to be an escape from reality for most fans, but I think it’s best when fiction allows us to use escapism to confront reality. It can’t act as more than a catalyst because it’s fiction after all, plus I know that there are people who get so absorbed with fiction that they destroy their personal reality and end up miserable for it. But overall, I definitely prefer that sort of balance of reality and fiction, which is why…
3. Lu Over the Wall (Science Saru)
…I prefer Lu Over the Wall over Night is Short Walk on Girl. In fact, this is honestly my favorite of the three anime that came out during the year of Yuasa, even if it was the one that did the worst, critical-wise. I don’t care what people say about it being boring and substance-less, because as far as I’m concerned, they are wrong. Sure the anxiety the lead and his friends go through isn’t unique, but at least it’s there, and executed well with the amazing animated water/dance sequences. No I don’t care if a lot of the film is reminiscent of Ponyo, because the story is completely different. I had a lot of fun watching this movie at Afest and I had even more fun watching the English dub with friends this year.
This film basically gets right what movies like Mutafukaz and Mirai of the Future get wrong in terms of combining relatively simple storytelling with a great visual style. It’s high-octane all the way through whilst allowing some real human emotion and growth underneath the insanity. None of Yuasa’s recent output have impressed me the way his earlier works have, but he’s a really talented guy that I respect a lot, and I hope he continues to make whatever he wants with his new studio.
2. Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms (P.A. Works)
Maquia has plenty of flaws. The characterization is a bit start and stop due to the numerous time skips, the plot is a little hard to follow due to said time skips, and the drama can get overdone to the point of predictability. Also, the computer animation becomes pretty obvious at points due to how it doesn’t mix well with the character animation. But everything else about this movie is incredibly impressive from the vastly original lore and impressive world-building used to bring said lore to life, to the many human moments between Maquia, Ariel, and the other characters as they struggle to fight against the flow of time.
I know everyone and their grandparents have said this by now, but Mari Okada’s directorial debut is an incredibly impressive one, with a lot of what characterizes her long track record of horrible anime actually working in this particular narrative. But while shows like Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan only get worse to me over time, I think Maquia is one of those anime that’s just going to get better as I get older and find myself unable to fight how time changes things. Wonder how the English dub is? I really liked the one Seven Arts gave to A Silent Voice.
1. Liz and the Blue Bird (Kyoto Animation)
This is the one anime I watched this year that managed to crack into my favorites list because I just couldn’t bring it in myself to disagree with the anime Youtubers I don’t really like or MAL in general that this was one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It’s such a brilliantly told personal journey between two girls who will eventually have to grow apart and the personal turmoil that comes with that without being overdramatic about it like it was in the original series. And what I like the most about the film is how it assures that while the split is inevitable, it’s still a long ways off, there’s a lot of fun to be had until then, and there are other important things you should strive for than a high school friendship.
And of course, the visual storytelling in this movie is absolutely phenomenal. I love how so much of the story is communicated through visuals, atmosphere, and music with dialogue being kept to a minimum. I love how the entire film takes place inside the school in order to emphasize that it’s the most important location for these girls at the moment. I love how the movie never depends on the series that spawned it in order to convey the plot, even removing Sound Euphonium from the title itself (I’m looking at you, Two Heroes). It’s not for everyone in the same way that Return of the Obra Dinn isn’t for everyone; but for me, it’s the best anime movie of the year, as well as the best anime (and probably movie as well) of the year in general.