Writing about sakuga in top tier anime movies is a little bit different than writing about it in TV series. Due to the deadlines and nature of a weekly TV series, they are generally full of stark highs and lows, making it really easy to pick out the best stuff. Movies, on the other hand, with their more dedicated staff, longer timeline, and more reasonable budgets, are usually much more visually consistent, making that a little harder sometimes. Fluidity can no longer really be the top criteria because if it was, you would just have a 20 way tie for first place. And what about great looking movies that aren’t consistent? Things like The Sacred Star of Milos? It has incredibly high highs that are definitely worthy of note, but is also much more like a TV series, in that it has plenty of moments where you’re just staring at a panning still. So should that even be compared with a movie that is animated entirely on the 1s? What’s the best way to go about this? I guess I’ll figure it out as I go! Whatever happens, everything I talk about here will be visually awesome. (Also, just a heads up, there are a few explicit scenes linked here for Ghost in the Shell, Paprika, Sword of the Stranger, Jin-roh, and Akira)
I tried to keep the list to stand-alone movies, or at least movies that could be fully enjoyed with very little context, but many visually exciting movies that are heavily based on franchises are included at the bottom. A last interesting note: Sakugabooru has a serious dearth of great cuts from many anime movies, for some reason, so a couple of movies didn’t actually have much material to show off, and may have actually made my 10 if they had, but those are still included at the bottom anyway, with whatever I could find for them(I might have to upload some of those cuts myself..).
So, once again, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
People of note: Takeshi Koike as director, Shinya Ohira, Sushio, Takafumi Hori, Katsuya Yamada, Norimoto Tokura, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Chiharu Sato.
Redline is a crazy anomaly that only exists because of a few crazy guys who love animation way too much. Most notably Takeshi Koike and Katsuhito Ishii. Katsuhito Ishii, in the making of documentary for the movie, said he got the idea for the movie while traveling in the US(specifically LA) and seeing how huge car culture was. When talking to some of these people, it seemed like a lot of them had two major interests, they like movies, and they like cars. So he decided to make them anime fans. But he couldn’t just make a movie about cars, it had to be a fully 2D animated, adrenaline pumping, ridiculous, sexy, thrill-ride that excited even these guys who were used to things like Fast and Furious and Mad Max. It turns out that there are about.. well, there’s actually just 1 person in the industry, capable of making something like that come to fruition, and it’s Takeshi Koike. With a team that averaged less than 20 people most of the time, Takeshi Koike took an astounding 7 years and 100,000 unique drawings to put together Ishii’s movie. And it is brilliant.
Sword Of The Stranger
People of note: Masahiro Ando as director, Yutaka Nakamura, Tsunenori Saito, Yoshiyuki Ito, Hidetsugu Ito, Takashi Tomioka, Masahiro Sato, Shuichi Kaneko, Masashi Okamura.
According to Ando, Sword of the Stranger was born out of the desire to push “current 2D technology to the limit, and show people a new kind of action film.” I think it’s fair to say that he succeeded in that regard. Ando’s eye for detailed action choreography, combined with the limitless talent of guys like Yutaka Nakamura and Hidetsugu Ito, has created my favorite fight scene in anime, period, and realized the best looking samurai movie I’ve ever seen.
Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
People of note: Katsuhiro Otomo as director, Koji Morimoto, Yoshinori Kanada, Yasuomi Umetsu, Shinya Ohira, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Toshiyuki Inoue, Yoshiji Kigami, Hiroyuki Okiura, Satoru Utsunomiya, Shinji Hashimoto, and more.
Like many of the movies on this list, Akira is ridiculous. The level of consistent fluidity, the heights to which its animators reached, and the attention to detail are unheard of before its time, and since. It is truly a project that was intended to push the medium to its upper limit. Even today, over 25 years after it was completed, it is still one of the best looking things to ever come out of this industry, and talked about nearly ad nauseum. For good reason.
The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya
People of note: Isao Takahata as director, Norio Matsumoto, Shinji Hashimoto,Takayuki Hamada, Osamu Tanabe, Akiko Yamaguchi, Hiroyuki Morita,Kenichi Konishi, Masashi Ando, Tatsuzou Nishida, Kazuo Oga.
Kaguya probably has my favorite aesthetic of any anime film ever. The soft, pastel look of the water color-styled animation forces a sort of nostalgia as you watch the movie and makes everything so much more emotional. Going through the complicated process of drawing each frame on pencil and paper, and then digitally filling them in to look like water color took them well over schedule, but the pay off was absolutely worth it. It feels like you are watching a series of genuine watercolor paintings move across your screen, and thanks to Kazuo Oga, that’s actually sort of accurate, as he painted all of the backgrounds and many close ups in water color himself. All in all, Kaguya is a brilliant artistic achievement. Isao Takahata said he wanted to create something that “engaged the viewers imagination“, and for me, nothing else has ever done a better job of it. Please go watch this movie!
Jin-roh- The Wolf Brigade
Studio: Production IG
People of note: Hiroyuki Okiura as director, Tetsuya Nishio, Toshiyuki Inoue, Yasunori Miyazawa, Hiroshi Shimizu, Masahiro Ando, Yoshiyuki Ito, Yoh Yoshinari, Michio Mihara, Tadashi Hiramatsu.
Jin-roh is a dark, claustrophic, and mostly uncomfortable film to watch. It is not really attractive in most senses of the word. What it gets right though, and entirely by design, is realism. Okiura is known within the industry as one of the forefront “realist” animators. His focus is always on making his characters move as realistically as possible and with absolutely no short cuts. There is no excessively flamboyant character animation, or unrealistic perspectives, but there is also constant movement. Even as dozens of people are rioting on screen, no movement is compromised. In fact, it has erroneously been called rotoscoped by professional reviewers in the past, just because it seemed impossible for it to be anything else. The meticulously detailed realism is just that well realized. In 2011, Okiura directed another film, A Letter to Momo, which very nearly took this spot instead, as a much more lighthearted(but still emotionally profound), and traditionally beautiful film, that is every bit as deserving. It also has an additional supernatural element that allowed wonderfully talented expressionist animators, like Shinya Ohira, to really show off. You should really see both.
Welcome to the Space Show
Studio: A-1 Pictures
People of note: Koji Masunari as director, Masashi Ishihama, Mitsuo Iso, Masaaki Yuasa, Shinya Takahashi, Hidetsugu Ito, Norio Matsumoto, Tetsuya Takeuchi, Koji Yabuno, Hironori Tanaka, Shingo Yamashita, and a lot more.
In contrast to the ultra-realistic and grim-dark Jin-roh, Welcome to the Space show is a colorful and vibrant film, designed with a family audience in mind. It carries with it a more typical anime style in both character design, and animation, and utilizes a nicely balanced but expressive animation style that really captures the personality of its young characters as well as the alien creatures that spend a lot of time on screen. In addition to some great and expressive character animation, this movie also has a decent bit of really neat effects and action animation by some of the top guys in the industry. In fact, in case you didn’t notice the crazy list of people who worked on this movie, note that most of them are HUGELY prolific. Also, this weird little thing by Yuasa.
Little Witch Academia
People of note: Yoh Yoshinari as director, original creator, character designer, and animation director, Takafumi Hori, Shuhei Handa,Yuuto Kaneko, Masaru Sakamoto, Shouta Mitsumiya, Mai Yoneyama, Yusuke Yoshigaki, Akira Amemiya, Atsushi Nishigori.
Yoshinari is clearly very passionate about his baby, LWA. Originally an Anime Mirai project, it was wildly successful and spawned a Kickstarted sequel movie, which was also wildly successful, and now even has a full TV series in production. Visually, it is pure Yoshinari, with a look that is very reminiscent of Gurren Lagann, particularly with the special effects. Lots of great 2D background animation, very expressive character animation, and, of course, plenty of exciting action scenes!
Studio: Studio 4°C
People of note: Michael Arias as director, Masahiko Kubo, Shoujirou Nishimi, Chie Uratani, Hiroaki Ando, Toru Yoshida, Tatsuzou Nishida, Yasuhiro Irie, Shinji Hashimoto, Masashi Ando, Hidetsugu Ito.
Tekkon Kinkreet is an incredible visual feat. In order to create the look they wanted, Michael Arias and his crew had to design and render massive chunks of the setting entirely in CG and then digitally finish it with incredible detail. The use of these backgrounds allowed them to create a much more cinematic and dynamic feature. Characters running quickly around corners while the camera mirrors their own wobbly line of sight, near full camera spins, etc. There is no end to the incredible possibilities with such a perfectly designed playground. Utilizing ultra simplistic character designs that are built with motion in mind also allowed them to go a step further in the action scenes, of which this film has a few. There is an intensity to them that I don’t think could have possibly been attained given the economic restrictions of traditional analog animation techniques.
People of note: Satoshi Kon as director, Masashi Ando, Ei Inou, Toshiyuki Inoue, Yoshimi Itaza, Hideki Hamasu, Michio Mihara, Yasunori Miyazawa, Hisashi Eguchi, Hiroyuki Okiura, Shinji Hashimoto, Kenichi Konishi.
Paprika is no doubt the most visually exquisite Kon film. It is colorful, rich, and incredibly detailed. Even beyond his meticulously storyboarded prior works. Making a setting as complex as Paprika come to life, a place where dreams and reality are constantly warping, required talent on all fronts, and having a number of Ghibli veterans, such as Masashi Ando, as well as realist animators like Hiroyuki Okiura, who was previously mentioned in this write up, was the only way to make it happen. Paprika is one of my favorite films, not just for its story, but also for how incredibly beautiful it is in motion.
Ghost in the Shell
Studio: Production IG
People of note: Mamoru Oshii as director, Mitsuo Iso, Toshiyuki Inoue, Hiroyuki Okiura, Kouichi Arai, Toshihiko Nishikubo, Masahiro Ando, Takashi Hashimoto, Yoshiyuki Ito, Tensai Okamura, Hideki Hamasu.
I avoided putting this on the list, to be honest, largely because it has a similar aesthetic to both Jin-roh and Akira, and doesn’t have the consistency of either. But it’s still a visually fantastic film, featuring some incredibly complex and, just cool-looking, animation, including some of the best 2D effects in anime. It is also a powerhouse of talent, with many of its animators going on to become relative household names within the anime industry as directors, or just hugely popular animators. Of course, that, by itself isn’t enough of a reason to be on this list, but those people are known for a reason. They do ridiculously good work.
And that’s my 10! But what about Ghibli!? I mean, I put Kaguya on the list, but that’s it? Sort of. I couldn’t decide, to be honest. I rewatched a few, thought about just playing favorites, thought about choosing based on how many clips Sakugabooru had, and then just decided to make their entire body of work, plus Nausicaa, honorable mentions. Because, honestly, all of their movies are gorgeous. The Ponyo tsunami animation very nearly won me over, but then I rewatched Spirited Away.. and yeah, that’s just as good looking too! So just go find a list of every Ghibli movie ever and watch them all. Even Earthsea, if you want. It’s bad, but it still looks nice. 🙂
Other considerations were: Dead Leaves, Mardock Scramble, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Steamboy, Giovanni’s Island, Kizumonogatari, Madoka Magica: Rebellion, Wolf Children, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, Magical Sisters Yoyo and Nene, Evangelion Rebuilds, End of Evangelion, Blood: The Last Vampire.