Written by Jonathan Griffith
Greetings all my quarantined fans of anime at the Michigan Theater & State Theaters. Jonathan here! Sponsorship Assistant for the Michigan Theater Foundation, local artist/illustrator, and – according to my friends – living embodiment of a Shonen anime protagonist.
The Michigan Theater was off to an exciting start with our anime programming this year. In January, we packed the Main Theater with almost 1200 teary-eyed fans to watch the premiere of Makoto Shinkai’s new film “Weathering With You.” February ramped up the fun, filled with crazy late-night anime features including a couple of sold-out screenings of Miyazaki’s masterpiece “Princess Mononoke,” and an electric, applause filled screening of Studio Trigger’s new feature length film “Promare.”
Now it’s March… and well, you know. We’re all just hunkering down so we can continue to enjoy watching post-apocalyptic anime rather than living in one. I kid because we all know a day will come soon where this situation will be long behind us and the Michigan & State Theaters will once again be Ann Arbor’s premiere destination for watching one of my favorite genres in all of feature-length animation.
In the meantime, while we’re all chilling at home braving the rigors of social distancing and waiting to see what the Michigan & State Theaters will be playing once society is deemed pandemic free, here’s a short list of personal recommendations of anime titles currently playing on various streaming services right now to tide you over. Hopefully, you find a new favorite, but I hope even more that we see you all soon!
Available on Hulu
Let’s get this one out of the way. It’s a no-brainer. Akira is a bonafide classic. In the event you haven’t seen it yet, you might have been hearing about it a bunch lately in online discourse cause of something eerily prophetic in the film’s climax. The film’s protagonist arrives for the brain-bending final conflict set in the ruins of the stadium built for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which is plastered with “do not enter” signs on account of a massive viral outbreak. Freaky, right? This film is way more notable for the fact that since its debut in 1988, – directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based on his manga of the same name – it still stands as one of the greatest achievements in hand-drawn animation. Prophetic vision or not, if you’re a fan of film, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Miss Hokusai (2015)
Available on Netflix
If you’ve ever been in an Urban Outfitters circa 2010 or even have a perfunctory knowledge of art history, you’re likely familiar with a woodblock print entitled “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” Yes, the poster in your best friend’s boyfriend’s dorm room was not made by a graphic designer, but rather an incredibly prolific artist by the name of Katsushika Hokusai during Japan’s Edo period. “Miss Hokusai” tells the story of Hokusai’s daughter O-Ei, an incredible artist in her own right, but who never stood a chance of operating outside of her father’s shadow. The film serves as a very loose interpretation of her life, exploring her complex dichotomy. Assuredly though, it’s sensationalized in all the best ways and is brought to life in magnificent fashion by the incredibly talented folks at Production I.G. Also, I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the fun and slightly anachronistic score by Harumi Fuuki.
Available on Amazon Prime & CrunchyRoll
Ah, the anthology film. All my fellow medium-old folks out there might remember this lost concept, but for you young folks out there, back in the 80s and 90s, animators used to collaborate together to create separate, discrete films, which they combined to make a feature length work based on a core theme. My personal favorite is the strangely mad and sublime “Robot Carnival.” The film is comprised of nine short films directed by a who’s who of now legendary figures in the animation industry, including “Akira” director Katsuhiro Otomo and music by Studio Ghibli mainstay Joe Hisaishi. Now if you’re looking for something deep in regards to narrative, “Robot Carnival” is definitely not for you. But, if you’re looking for masters of the craft positively strutting their stuff, please check this film out!
Available on Netflix
An integral portion of manga virtuoso Kentaro Miura’s decade spanning manga masterpiece “Berserk,” is brought to vivid, blood-soaked life by Studio 4C in a trilogy of films referred to as “The Golden Age Arc Trilogy.” Before I jump into it, I’m going to warn you: this series of films is not for the faint of heart. For all my film fans out there looking to avoid certain triggers, please research these film’s content before you jump in. Spread across 3 films – “The Egg of the King”, “The Battle for Doldrey”, and “The Advent” – this film series follows a mercenary named Guts who survives in a war-torn land alongside an infamous group of warriors known as “The Band of the Hawk.” The films deftly weave insane battles with intricate character work, exploring the complex relationship between the aloof and traumatized Guts, the ambitious leader of the “Hawks” Griffith, and the “Hawks” unit commander Casca. You might not believe me when I say this because the films do feature a rather iconic action scene where Guts earns the moniker of “The 100 Man Slayer,” but at the very core of these films there resides a beautiful message of hope.
Available on CrunchyRoll and for FREE on Youtube.
In the name of the moon, stay at home and watch this movie! You don’t even have to shoo the kids out of the room for this one. We all know and love the Sailor Scouts (in case you don’t, they’re a team of teenage women who are granted superpowers to fight evil invading cosmic forces) and this just-barely-feature-length adventure sees Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts facing off against a globe threatening alien invader from Tuxedo Mask’s past. The film is full of the gorgeous pastel backgrounds, hilarious team chemistry, and romantic action those familiar with the Sailor Moon anime have come to expect. It culminates in an intricately animated finale atop a crumbling asteroid that’ll have everyone just counting down the minutes until we no longer have to social distance and we can once again embrace our friends and love ones.