Anime - the good

These are anime that are worth watching but not essential, or maybe for the enthisiast rather than the casual viewer.

The Animatrix
The Animatrix

A collection of short pieces based on the world of the Matrix films. Some wonderful and varied animation styles and interesting ideas but somehow nothing very substantial.


Arjuna
Arjuna (Earth Maiden Arjuna)

A girl dies in a motorcycle accident and as her spirit is leaving the world a being appears and tells her he can save her life, but in exchange she can (and must) save the planet. It's a worthy tale of ecological awareness and personal transformation but let down somewhat by the telling. Juna, the main character, randomly flits between global warrior and angst-ridden teenager and the international eco-defense forces seem happy to let her go from saving nuclear power plants to hanging around in a burger bar. Some of the computer animation is great but it doesn't really blend with the hand-drawn material. Good but seriously flawed.


Boogiepop Phamtom
Boogiepop Phamtom

How to start explaining Boogiepop? A 12 episode series that includes unexplained suicides, the Angel of Death, psychic powers, troubled schoolkids and super-evolved humans. With multiple viewpoints from different characters, a timeline that jumps all over the place, and a dash of existential philosophy. Fascinating and confusing, it somehow hangs together but don't expect too many answers.


Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky (Laputa)

Laputa has a lot of Miyazaki's trademarks - children as the main characters, a mysterious world, bizarre flying machines - and there's nothing particularly bad about it, it's just not one of his best.


Cat Soup
Cat Soup

Surreal and bizarre, Cat Soup is imaginative and inventive but often bewildering. The animation is quirky and interesting and some of the visuals are startlingly unexpected. It has the feel of a troubled dream, mixing childlike scenes with disturbing and disorienting flashes. Odd.


Elfen Lied
Elfen Lied

How do you describe a series that contains gentle teen romance and extreme slash gore horror? The storyline in Elfen Lied is about an escaped mutant killer who's lost her memory, but underneath that the series looks at dysfunctional relationships, child abuse (in many forms), trauma, guilt, forgiveness and redemption. Not for the squeamish or faint hearted! Although it has its faults Elfen manages to deal with its very dark subject matter in human terms and with the hope of healing and recovery.


Ergo Proxy
Ergo Proxy

A bleak, dark future world filled with bleak, dark characters leading bleak, dark lives... you get the idea. Ergo Proxy starts out wonderfully but swiftly degenerates into irritating characters doing strange things for no obvious reason, with heavy doses of (adolescent) existential angst on top. There are flashes of brilliance and some interesting ideas but it was hard work getting through it without much of a reward at the end.
I've only watched this once so I will update this review later.


FLCL (Fooly Cooly)
FLCL (Fooly Cooly)

Take a normal anime series with a troubled teen main character, weird and irritating counterpart, and a hint of strange alien mystery. Then direct it like a child on a sugar rush, with a mix of styles, unexpected tangents and general weirdness, and you start to get an idea of what FLCL is. Maybe. Fast, frothy and fun.


Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society

A feature length film continuing the Stand Alone Complex series. The Major has left Section 9 but there's a new hacker/terrorist threat for the team to deal with. Amazing visuals and the usual GitS byzantine plot but it feels a bit hurried at times, as if it was originally intended for another full series.


Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

This leads on from the first Ghost in the Shell film rather than the Stand Alone Complex series. The Major has vanished into the Net and Batou and Togusa from Section 9 are investigating a series of robot malfunctions - or murders? The plot is as twisted as you would expect but the joy is in the beautiful drawing and the explorations of character and motivation.


The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

A really sweet film that starts off as an ordinary adolescent romance story and then veers off in a very unexpected direction. OK, the title gives a very broad hint about what the 'twist' will be but it's very well handled and brings up some interesting ideas and questions. Reminiscent of 'Groundhog Day' in a lot of ways.


Howl's Moving Castle
Howl's Moving Castle

Another wonderful film from Hayao Miyazaki, but this time his usual young girl leading character has been cursed by a witch so that she's a 90-year old lady. Amazing animation, the best blend of hand-drawn style and computer generated precision that I've seen in an anime. However the storyline gets a little too pushed in the second half and some of the relationships aren't developed in a believable way. Still good though!


Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Politics, power struggles and conspiracies in a fictionalised Japan, seen from the perspective of a constable in the special forces unit. Dark (both visually and in the content) and disturbing, it deals with morality under stress and the use and abuse of power and authority. Good stuff.


Kakurenbo
Kakurenbo

There's a game of hide and seek in which children disappear, where demons roam. Fabulous animation and a palpable sense of suspense and tension make this short film a treat, especially on a dark night with the lights down.


Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki's Delivery Service

A sweet film from Hayao Miyazaki following the adventures of a young witch, sent out into the world to find her place in it. As beautifully drawn and detailed as all of his films, this has some nice insights into the transition from childhood into independance.


Kino's Journey
Kino's Journey

Kino is a traveller, jouneying with her talking motorbike Hermes through an alternate world made up of a patchwork of small countries (where a talking motorbike is nothing special), staying no longer than three days in each of them. Episodic and gently observational we learn a little about Kino's past but the series is soon over, leaving many questions unanswered. Pleasantly entertaining but a bit light overall.
I've only watched this once so I will update this review later.


Last Exile
Last Exile

An example of the steampunk genre of anime, a sort of retro-futurism where 19th century technology and ideas are extrapolated forward to produce modern results. Claus and Lavie run an airborne courier service, by a quirk of fate they find themselves having to deliver a young girl to a flying battleship and from there on find themselves entangled in a titanic war of liberation. The plot is uneven and has some gaping holes but the graphics (both computer generated and hand drawn) are amazing and overall it's surprisingly gripping.


Memories
Memories

Three films written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira. A salvage crew in space discover an artificial world, a young chemist becomes a biological weapon, and a day in a city where everything is devoted to the war effort.


Metropolis
Metropolis

A detective and his nephew arrive in an enormous, futuristic city on the hunt for a dangerous criminal. As the investigation proceeds secrets are revealed and a great threat is exposed - can it be foiled? The visuals are stunningly good, the city is detailed and believable, but the characterisations are poor, most of them act like children or B-movie villains.


My Neighbors the Yamadas
My Neighbors the Yamadas

A cartoon-style (if you see what I mean) episodic film about a quirky Japanese family. Fun but fairly light.


Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

In a world filled with poisonous plants and dangerous creatures (including humans) there's a small village in an untainted valley where life is good. However there are threats to the people living there, and helping fight (and understand) those threats is Nausicaa on her jet powered flying wing. A well told story about ecology and conflict, but a little too long and dated for me.


Neo Tokyo
Neo Tokyo

A collection of three short stories with no obvious connecting theme. Very creative and unusual animation but a bit lacking in plot and characterisation.


NieA Under 7
NieA Under 7

Mayuko is a poor student working part-time in a bath house to make ends meet. NieA is an lazy, freeloading alien who lives in the closet and builds UFOs. There are various other characters, some human, some alien, who fill things out but at its core this is an 'odd couple' story, mainly focussing on Mayuko's struggles to get by, keep on top of things, and (slowly) look to the future. Enjoyable, but some of the minor characters are very two-dimensional and get irritating after a while.


Noein
Noein

Early adolescence can be a tough time - problems with school, parents, friends... not to mention time travelling warriors from alternate dimensions. An unexpected mixture of teen angst and many-worlds quantum theory, Noein takes a while to get going but ends up posing some interesting questions about will, choice and identity.


Now and Then, Here and There
Now and Then, Here and There

A young boy is abducted from Earth and forced into an army of children, who have all been taken from their homes. A powerful look at loss of innocence and abuse of power, and of the way people cope under extreme circumstances. Well done but very, very bleak.


Oh My Goddess!
Oh My Goddess!

A sweet (sometimes almost over-sweet) teen romance with a twist - he is a struggling student while she is a goddess, accidentally summoned from the heavens. A cute set of stories about the ups and downs of first love with Keniichi (the 'hero') desperately trying to live a quiet and ordinary life in the midst of extraordinary events. Light but fun.


Oh My Goddess! The Movie
Oh My Goddess! The Movie

A continuation of the Oh My Godess story with much better artwork and animation but at the expense of most of the charm. The quirky characters have become bland and predictable while the plot starts off interestingly but degenerates into an incoherent series of pointless climaxes. It has its moments but only for fans of the earlier series.


Paprika
Paprika

A machine for recording and sharing dreams is stolen by an unknown terrorist, a detective who was receiving therapy using the machine is drawn into the investigation, and the scientist behind the machine seems to be linked to a mysterious woman. Directed by the brilliant Satoshi Kon this could have been wonderful but falls far short. The story is rushed and confusing, the characters are unconvincing and the false endings are overdone. There are some wonderful images and twists but overall it's disappointing.


Planetes
Planetes

Tanabe is a fresh young recruit who's just starting her career as an astronaut. However when she arrives at the space station she finds she's been assigned to Debris Section - the people who go out and clear up the old junk left by earlier space missions. Planetes is a bit of an odd mixture, early on it seems like a children's program with hyper-emotional and idiotic characters, but as it progresses the plotlines deal with prejudice, discrimination, Third-World exploitation, alienation and other 'adult' themes.


Pom Poko
Pom Poko

A group of 'raccoons' (tanuki) join together to fight off the encroachment of human development into their woodland. The film starts off as a simple comedy but deepens as it develops, bringing in ecological concerns and seeing how the animals' society changes as the situation worsens. At the end it is sadly poignant as it becomes clear that the good old days are gone forever. The pacing is a little uneven and at nearly two hours it's a bit too long but there's some really good stuff in here.


Porco Rosso
Porco Rosso

A flying ace who's been turned into a pig is our hero here, he's jaded and world-weary but you know he'll do the right thing when called upon. Another enjoyable film from Hayao Miyazaki with interesting characters, and surprisingly one without children as the main protagonists.


Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke

Set in medieval Japan Princess Mononoke tells of the conflict between Lady Eboshi, leader of Iron Town, and San, the wolf-raised defender of the forest. However this is not presented as a simple good vs. evil fight, both sides have their depths and complexities. A multi-faceted look at ecological issues, with something in it for everyone.


Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain

Lain is a shy schoolgirl who starts to receive SMS messages from a fellow pupil - but one who has committed suicide. An unsettling start to a very strange series about Lain, her world and her interaction with the Internet. Brilliant, confusing and weird, Lain tells a fascinating story in a unique way, as a viewer you need to work hard to keep up but it's worth the effort. I've not put it in the 'great' list as I'm still thinking about it.


The Sky Crawlers
The Sky Crawlers

In an ongoing aerial war a young pilot arrives at a small airbase but finds nobody there will talk about his predecessor or the pristine condition of his aircraft. As he settles in he finds hints and clues about his enigmatic commander, himself, and the bigger picture behind the war itself. An intriguing, if bleak, look at identity and purpose. Amazing animation, both computer generated and hand drawn, although when they come together they don't quite work. And I hated the ending.


Steamboy
Steamboy

A steampunk film, set in an alternative Victorian England. Ray, a young engineer, receives a mysterious metal sphere in the post and finds himself caught between two groups fighting for possession of it. The animation is excellent but the storytelling is seriously flawed, there's lots of action & SHOUTING but the plot seems like little more than an excuse to string together a sequence of ever-increasing climaxes. Steamboy was said to be the most expensive anime ever produced and sadly it shares the failings of many big budget productions, lots of impressive special effects but not enough story.


Tekkonkinkreet
Tekkonkinkreet

An unexpected delight, Tekkonkinkreet tells the story of two street kids, Black and White, in the shiny, seedy and often dangerous city of Treasure Town. There's a story arc that ties the film together but it feels more like just a year in their lives, things come up and they deal with them. In some ways it's like film noir seen through a child's eyes, the police, gangsters & businessmen are not good or bad guys, just powerful people who need to be given the appropriate level of respect. The animation is spectacularly good and all of the characters have some depth to them. It's a little uneven which is why it's just 'Good'.
I've only watched this once so I will update this review later.


Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

The Gothic horror story lives on in anime - grand passion, the lonely hero, the great climax, Bloodlust has it all. The 'hero', D, is half-human and half-vampire, despised by both sides and the ultimate outsider. As he takes on a task to hunt a vampire who has abducted (or eloped with?) a young woman this inner conflict comes to the fore, in a very understated way.