The world of sci-fi anime is a vast one, with hundreds of films in circulation since the mediums inception in the 1960’s, there is a lot of places to start watching. So, if you are looking for somewhere to start, but don’t know where, look no further. While some people might give you a list of films to see that contain Akira (Otomo, 1988) , The Girl Who Lept Through Time (Hosoda, 2006), or the Evangelion franchise reboots, I am here to give you a list of 3 lesser known films from the sci-fi genre that will not only challenge you and expose you to the best the genre has to offer, but hopefully give you an introduction to some of the key figures of the anime industry.
1. Voices of a Distant Star (Shinkai, 2002)
The first film I was to talk about is from the mecha subgenre on animation. Basically, what these films usually consist of is massive robots beating the crud out of each other in hype-laced space battles, the american film Pacific Rim (Del Toro, 2013) takes a lot of influence from the anime mecha subgenre. ¹
I want to focus on a very different film, that uses the mecha subgenre in a very different, subversive way. Voices of a Distant Star is a 25 minute long short film from my favorite director Makoto Shinkai.
Instead of crafting a deep space battle epic, Shinkai focuses on the relationship between 15 year old Mikako and her boyfriend Makoto, who are separated when Mikako is drafted to go off and fight in space.
The film digs deep into the struggles their relationship undergoes as the couple is literally separated by space and time, and as Makoto slowly grows into a man, Mikako still remains a young lady as a result of the effects of space travel on her body.
The film is a fascinating concept, and this spin on the genre is really interesting. Shinkai is a quickly rising up-and-comer in the industry and the amazing visuals and touching storytelling displayed in this film do a great job of establishing Shinkai’s bright future in the industry.
2. Paprika (Kon, 2006)
The next film that I wanted to talk about has a plot that might sound somewhat familiar. Imagine a world where technology allows people to enter the dreams of others. Thereby giving people the ability to affect other people through their dreams and cause them to do things.
This is essentially the plot to Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), however, the film I am about to talk about tackled this same exact conflict, but did it four years earlier than Inception, and that film is Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece: Paprika.²
Paprika is the animation genre used to it’s full potential. From the lucid, surrealistic dream sequences, to the wide arrange of colors used throughout the film, this movie looks amazing.
Revolving around a dream therapist who is trying to prevent a madman from wreaking havoc in the minds of the sleeping public, this film is filled with just as much tension and intrigue as it is beauty, and that is saying something.
The director of Paprika, Satoshi Kon, is widely considered to be one of the biggest visionaries in the history of animation. His imagination and animation style and talent matched were matched only by his ability to create intense scenes of action and drama. Sadly, Kon passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 46, having only directed four feature films, the last of which being Paprika.
Regardless of this, Kon’s works have had a massive influence on the animation industry, and the american film industry, inspiring many films including Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010).
3. Nausicaa Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984)
Chances are even if you aren’t a fan of anime, you have probably heard of, or seen, the works of the amazing Hayao Miyazaki. The director of legendary works like Spirited Away (2001), Princess Mononoke (1996), or My Neighbor Totoro (1993) has been tantalizing international audiences since the late 1980’s.
However, while Miyazaki’s main hits like the films listed above have gained various levels of international prestige and acclaim, one of Miyazaki’s earliest and best films is often left in the dust. And that film, is his post-apocalyptic epic, Nausicaa Valley of the Wind.
Nausicaa Valley of the Wind follows the story of a headstrong and adventurous young princess who has grown up on the outskirts of a post apocalyptic wasteland, haunted by giant irradiated creatures that could level whole cities if disturbed.
After the Princess’ peaceful valley is invaded, she is forced to flee to the wasteland, and goes on an adventure that will change the course of her life, and the world around her forever.
This film is a spectacle to behold. Miyazaki’s beautiful animation and use of cutout-esque cel animation for some scenes and creatures was not only revolutionary, but majestic to take in. It really does give a great depiction as to why Miyazaki is the godfather of anime, and why he is considered one of the best of all time.³
Hopefully this list gave you a few more movies to watch, as well as expanded your knowledge of some of the key figures of the anime industry’s past, as well as a great example of its future. Have a great week, and leave a comment down below if you want to further discuss any of the films or directors I have listed above, or anything else pertaining to the anime industry.