Favourite Non-Ghibli Anime Films


I haven’t yet come across an anime fan who actively dislikes, or who is at least unable to appreciate, the works of Studio Ghibli. The likes of My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away are often cited as some of the best anime films of all time, and understandably so – the studio is well-known for producing beautiful artwork, memorable soundtracks, and emotionally impactful stories with an often very dreamlike quality to them.

Still, there’s something to be said for variety, and it would be a shame to overlook some of the other magnificent anime films that have been created over the years. The below titles aren’t an official list of any kind, but simply a nod to those films that have likewise made a significant impression on me – a handful of non-Ghibli movies that I personally feel deserve just as much recognition for their craft and emotional impact.

The Sky Crawlers (Oshii Mamoru, 2008)

I’ll just get this out of the way right now – I’m not a big Oshii fan. I accept that his material is generally of a very high caliber, and I respect him as a director, but I don’t actually like the majority of Oshii’s work. The non-Oshii directed TV series aside, I’m not even that into Ghost in the Shell. That being said, The Sky Crawlers is an entirely different story. Not only are we treated to some to-notch animation but The Sky Crawlers manages to do for me what most Oshii films fail to – namely, evoke a significant emotional response. The movie has all the usual trademarks of an Oshii production that fans will no doubt appreciate, including a quietly building tension and a meticulous attention to technical detail, but where his other titles usually have me admiring the craft of the piece and then quickly moving on, The Sky Crawlers feels genuinely yet understatedly poignant. You might need to exercise some patience, because Oshii sure doesn’t like to rush things, but the film delivers where it counts.

Tokyo Godfathers (Kon Satoshi, 2003)

This is where I probably have to dodge yet more rocks by saying that I’m also not a huge fan of the late Kon Satoshi. Yes, I get that his films are widely considered to be classics of the medium, and yes, once again I can see why that is. Kon’s work is generally unsettling, intense, and surreal, with a highly-charged atmosphere and a strongly psychological bent. ‘Heartwarming’, ‘soulful’, and ‘uplifting’ definitely aren’t the words I’d typically use to explain his style – and yet, those are exactly the words I’d pick to describe Tokyo Godfathers. This is actually my annual go-to Christmas/New Year movie, and that’s despite the fact that we’re talking about three homeless people – a transgender former drag queen, an alcoholic, and a runaway teenager – making up the main cast. It sounds depressing as hell, sure, but it also somehow manages to be moving and sweet (and at times pretty hilarious) anyway. It feels downright weird to say this, but if you’re after a film that’s all about family and the power of miracles (but that doesn’t drown itself in cheesy drama), then you should really get around to watching this.

Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki/Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (Hosoda Mamoru, 2012)

Given popular opinion of anime, I sometimes seriously question my own taste. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is probably Hosoda’s most popular title, and I like it a lot but don’t love it. Summer Wars is also plenty popular, but I honestly didn’t like that one at all. On the other hand, Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, while not quite as lauded by the Western fan community as either of the previous two titles, is still by far my favourite Hosoda-directed film to date. The visuals are lovely of course, but it’s the depth of characterisation and down-to-earth maturity of its themes that lends Wolf Children an edge for me, and makes me take an otherwise fantastical story completely seriously. Somber in some places, uplifting in others, Wolf Children isn’t exactly what I’d call a happy movie – in a way it might even be considered something of a tragedy, depending on how you look at things – but it’s a movie that deeply appeals to me nonetheless, and is one of those rare gems that’s both relatively straightforward as a story and yet also beautifully subtle.

Hotarubi no Mori e/Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light (Omori Takahiro, 2011)

At just 44 minutes in length, this perhaps feels more like a long-ish standalone episode than a movie, but it’d be a real shame for people to overlook it simply for that reason. As Omori’s first time in the director’s chair for a film rather than a TV series, Hotarubi no Mori e is most definitely a success, and comes across a bit like a Ghibli production might if it happened to be primarily romance-focused; it’s by no means sickly sweet, but is very gentle and obviously made with a great deal of affection. In some ways, this film isn’t dissimilar to Omori’s Natsume Yuujinchou – it’s a simply-told and completely unpretentious story, but I find that its lack of plot complexity only lends to its beauty, which has no need of embellishment in any case. Short runtime aside, Hotarubi no Mori e explores the relationship between the supernatural and the human with a lot of care, and the movie packs a powerfully emotional punch without resorting to melodrama. It’s a pure, tender, and perhaps above all nostalgic watch that shouldn’t be missed out on.

Question of the post: What are your favourite non-Ghibli anime movies, and what about them made you like them so much?

Note: I have yet to watch Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni/In This Corner of the World (Katabuchi Sunao, 2016) which looks fantastic and sounds like it’d be totally up my alley. In fact, based on what I already know of it, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t amazing. It’s on my immediate to-watch list, so no spoilers on that one please.

45 thoughts on “Favourite Non-Ghibli Anime Films

    • I liked that one, but I didn’t love it. I think I must be really fussy with my anime movies, even moreso than with TV shows, because while I like a lot of anime films I watch, I very rarely end up thinking of them as favourites or masterpieces.

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        • I think some Ghibli films are overrated, but not all. I firmly believe that Totoro, for example, is worth every bit of credit it gets and then some as a masterpiece of the medium. Ditto for Spirited Away. I count both films among my all-time favourite anime productions of all time.

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  1. Oh, I have plenty, and I do not regard Miyazaki-san as a God. He has been topped repeatedly – even on his own pitch (style/themes).
    Kon Satoshi rates as my all-time fave, but since you’re mentioning Hosoda-san – why: he is *occasionally* standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Kon-san in my estimation.
    “Tokyo Godfathers” – I hearty concur with you, ma’am! It is a work of genius. For the better part of a decade, I too got it out and watching it over Xmas/New-Year. (Incidentally – I *finally* spotted the last miracle. Took me ten times through.)
    “Wolf Children” … what a fabulous little movie (I say ‘little’ because the story-line was so very ‘domestic’. No grand themes/saving-the-world stuff. The mother was the star, absolutely. She held it all together, her suffering was intense, her courage and perseverance exemplary. So much beauty in the most common of all tales – parenthood.
    To pick a Hosoda fave: “Summer Wars”. The family stuff was so SO delightful, and the Koi-Koi game – GOLD!
    To pick a Kon fave: “Millennium Actress”. (I think you probably already know why – but as always, is is about my emotional response, and that is highly personal.)
    Finally, “In Our Corner of the World” is a different kind of gold.
    I’m predicting, since you loved “Wolf Children” so much. that you will adore Katabichi’s work.

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    • I know I’m in the vast minority here but I just… didn’t care for Summer Wars. At all. I liked the first third of the film well enough, and then as soon as the AI/virtual reality plot set in, the story lost any semblance of emotional impact for me. I’ve never really forgiven it for that.

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      • Yes, you are; but I’m now detecting a consistent theme running here: you’re a person that needs deep emotional engagement with movies (of any stripe, I’m guessing?). The surface imagery and story-trickery matter much less.
        Gird your loins and get “In Our Corner of the World”. It is still resonating for me.

        Now I’m curious: Makoto’s “Your Name”? Yes or no?

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        • Honestly, no, not really. Which certainly isn’t to say I didn’t like Your Name or didn’t think it was good. I do think it was way overhyped though, and that the last half hour or so was a bit too melodramatic for my tastes. Generally speaking, I tend towards the more understated.

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          • I concur, once again. I went with high hopes, after all the hype it was getting. (Obviously it REALLY resonated with Japanese audiences!) And I came away with … “Oh well, I guess it had sense to the target audience.” Re the final half-hour, agreed. That was when it jumped the shark for me. Like: “This will wrap it up nicely; well done- ” [15 minutes later] “- *now* WTF is going on …?”

            Oh well, good on him. After a whole strings a beautifully rendered misses, he finally had a hit. Now he’s go pot-tons of money to make a whole new series of beautifully rendered misses.

            I own a few of them BTW (and his signature) but I never watch them. I’ve got far better* stuff to never watch.
            [ * personal opinion only]

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  2. I literally just watched “In Our Corner of the World” and holy crap did I have some feelings for that. Should not have watched it so late at night and home alone! >..<

    That being said I'm a big fan of "Colorful", "Interstella:5555" and "Angel's Egg". "Colorful" made me bawl my eyes out. Hit me close to home too. Some elements of Interstella didn't age well, but the storytelling, music and animation did. And well, Angel's Egg was unsettling. The kind of unsettling that made me think about my life, but I probably shouldn't have been doing that at almost 4AM and such.

    I agree though, while Studio Ghibi captured a lot of attention (and it's much easier to track down and share with others) non-studio Ghibi films are just as good if not better in a lot of respects.

    This list also reminded that that at one point I did own "The Sky Crawlers" on DVD, watched it but I remember very little of it. That probably means I should be re-watching it soon.

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    • If you’ve seen anything of Natsume Yuujinchou and enjoyed it, you’ll very likely enjoy Hotarubi too (although they’re not connected at all in terms of story, just general tone). Either way, it’s a great movie, highly recommended. I hope you get to give it a watch at some point. 🙂

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  3. Wolf children I’m on the same level as you I liked the movie, but didn’t fall over heels for it. As way back first viewing it haha. Beautiful movie though most I’m interested to watch honestly is hotarubi no mori e!. Heard nothing but good things about it so keen a lot hehe 😁 great list Artemis. Your posts always spark an idea for me and this one certainly has hehe

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    • Pale Cocoon is very good, I agree. I’m a bit more on the fence about Kimi no Na wa. I’m not saying it’s not good or that I didn’t enjoy it, but I do think it was way overhyped.

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  4. Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal is one thing I always recommend, especially if they liked the series. It’s nice to prove that the series wasn’t even worth half of the movie.

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  5. One that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, about an alternate history fascist Japan and the relationship between a police storm trooper and the sister of a terrorist.

    I’m not entirely sure it’s in your wheelhouse considering the movies you’ve liked but it’s definitely subtle in its depictions and has many long wordless shots a la Drive. My peeps and I podcasted about it here : https://podcastleinthesky.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/episode-10-jin-roh-the-wolf-brigade-and-the-company-of-wolves/

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    • That’s a good one, and definitely a film I enjoyed a lot for its emotional complexity. While I wouldn’t call it an all-time favourite, it’s easily my favourite Okiura Hiroyuki-directed work to date.

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  6. Great list. Tokyo Godfathers and Hotarubi no Mori e are definitely on my list, but I haven’t seen them yet. I’ve never heard of the Sky Crawlers. Wikipedia tells me it came out in 2008; it’s very rare to find something that came out that late (I’m old), which I never heard of (it’s quite common for shows pre-1990). I think I’ll put it on my list, just on strength of the screen shot, which is very appealing.

    It’s rather interesting, but we’re on the same wavelength (with maybe minor differences) when it comes to Hosoda. Quite enjoyed The Girl who Lept through Time, but Wolf Children is his master piece. (Summer Wars was mostly dull. Boy and the Beast was better, but I don’t have the feeling I’d have missed anything, had I not seen it.)

    Now try telling people you’re not that much a fan of Miyazaki. Heh. Totoro is great, and so is Princess Mononoke. I like Spirited Away and Nausica; the rest is take-it-or-leave-it material (or I haven’t seen it: Ponyo, The Wind Rises), except for Howl’s Moving Castle, which was a total dud for me. I fair much, much better with Takahata (but then I’ve been raised on Takahata: his World Master Piece Theatre shows were hugely inflental on my taste development – I must have been four to five, when I first watched them, and they still hold up).

    I liked End of Evagelion, but sort of consider it an extension of the series. Same with The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which looked really good. I liked A Silent Voice a lot, but I’m not sure if it could make a favourite list (not enough distance). I have a feeling I’m forgetting something really important. None of those films is it…

    There are quite a few I’m very curious about, but haven’t seen yet:

    Steamboy
    Hi no Tori
    Barefoot Gen

    come to mind. (And I, too, have In this Corner of the World on DVD, but haven’t seen it yet. Same for Your Name, but I have lower expectations for that – Shinkai works better for me when he’s more… detached? I loved the She and Her Cat short, but I think my favourite of his is Voices from a Distant Star. Full-length films? Probably A Place Promised in our Early Days – haven’t seen Garden of Words yet.)

    Also, I’m still marvelling how the X movie can be this aweful, when the series is that great… I very nearly didn’t watch the series due to that film. Only caught it on a re-run, because I was bored.

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    • I liked Howl’s Moving Castle, but I have to admit a lot of that enjoyment stemmed from the voice acting in the dub. I’d also read the book before, as I’ve been a big Diana Wynne Jones fan since my early teens (RIP), and it was interesting to see what sort of changes were made in the adaptation.

      Steamboy bored me out of my mind. I have no idea whether that was just me though, so I’d be keen on hearing what you have to say about it if/when you get around to watching that one.

      Oh, X. So bad it was legitimately funny. I do still adore the series though. ❤

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      • Howl: I’d probably like the books better than the film, from everything I heard.

        X: It’s on my mind a lot recently, since they issued a nice boxed set out of nowhere in my region (Germany). I bought it immediately, since I’d never seen the Japanese original (and the cast is promising). it also includes an OVA episode I think I haven’t seen.

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        • The books are extremely British, in the best possible way, and very different from the film. Highly recommended.

          The X series OVA is a good episode, but I’d advise watching after the rest of the series, assuming it’s been a while since you’ve watched it. There are a lot of flashbacks, despite it being titled ‘episode 0’.

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          • I think it was around 15 years ago that I last watched it (seen it twice). Thanks for the tip. (And episode 0 with flashbacks? Interesting.)

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  7. Pingback: Anime Blog Posts That Caught My Eye This Week: June 29, 2018 | Lesley's Anime and Manga Corner

  8. I can’t say I agree with your opinions on Satoshi Kon or Shinkai’s Your Name, but I would recommend Miss Hokusai, if you have not watched it already. You like understatements and, if you like Japanese paintings as well, you may enjoy it.

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  9. Hotarubi no Mori e i recently watched that and had a cry, i loved it.
    I watched “Your name” last year, i quite enjoy it, its one of my favourite films.. in the sense that they.. well k can’t say much without giving away too much.. but i like what they did.. its my favourite kinda film like that. 😑

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    • Yes, Hotarubi no Mori e is a lovely little film, isn’t it?
      I have watched Your Name as well and enjoyed it, but it’s not a favourite of mine. I thought the movie was a bit overhyped to be honest.

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    • While not one of my top favourites, it’s definitely a movie I like. (It’s also a Studio Ghibli film though, and as much as I absolutely adore many Ghibli works, that’s not the topic of this post.)

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  10. Tokyo Godfathers was such a good movie. Then again, I like a lot of stuff from Satoshi Kon.
    Some of my favorite non-Ghibli anime movies would be the following…

    The Place Promised in Our Early Days
    Perfect Blue
    Paprika
    Jungle Emperor Leo (1997)
    Roujin Z
    5 Centimeters Per Second

    Liked by 1 person

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