Part 2: Task: 12 Days of lesser known animated show/film recommendations
Hey, guys! I’ve been a bit down lately, so in order to give myself something to do, I decided to share with you all the lesser known, underrated or entirely hidden gems of the animated world (as far as I know), be it show or film.
-The animation must be traditional (no CGI unless it’s minor and in the background; i’ll do an all CGI list later).
-The recommended work must have soothing, inspiring or otherwise admirable leads with realistic emotional connections.
-The plot of the story must be intriguing if not wholly believable and the artwork must meet certain aesthetic standards.
-The characters must have emotionally realistic interactions with one another in ratio to the time allowed for them to interact.
-The animation in question may be from anywhere in the world.
Also, feel free to clue me in on any that I don’t list, because I would really appreciate a new animated find!
As a matter of course, a great deal of the listed shows/films will be ‘anime’, simply because japanimation has the monopoly on the most unique and varied story lines, and Japan (and sometimes France) are the only ones making mostly traditionally drawn animated features still.
Alright, here we go … …
Day Two: Fairy Tale Films :)
The Day of the Crows
I absolutely adore this film. Not only is The Day of the Crows a superbly animated feast for the eyes, but the characters, lessons and honest interactions take it a level above most children’s films. Not only that, but the dialogue is wonderfully translated from the French to the English subtitles. As a matter of course, I prefer watching films in their original language unless the dub has some inventive dialogue or more adequate voice acting, but this little known gem isn’t likely to pick up a dub any time soon anyway, so all of you who only watch dubs should make an exception for this one.
It is the story of a young boy who has been raised by an ogre in the woods, until one day he must leave the protection of the trees for the nearby village in order to save someone precious to him. While there, he meets a young girl and begins to learn the touching history of his family. It’s a delightfully nuanced film. Really, don’t miss it!
Note: The title is mildly misleading, as any crow characters are showcased near the end of the film and don’t get much screen time. But why should that bother anyone?
Fusé: Teppō Musume no Torimonochō
Is there any anime lover who would pass up a film with adorable characters and animal transformations? Well, I actually would pass up the ‘animal transformations’ part, but that may just be me. Fusé is a touching fairy tale centring around a young huntress who befriends a dog-like humanoid named Shino. What puts this movie a pitch above the other films out there with a similar premise is it’s refusal to give the characters more slack than any real person would get. People die…there’s a surprising amount of gore which I feel is somehow toned up despite the soft animation. It’s the sort of film that makes you laugh less because it’s funny and more because you know your window to find things humorous is rapidly disappearing. You want the characters to be happy….you think they should be because the film is so cute…but it’s the bitter-sweet trick of the story.
It’s based on the Hakkenden, an old Japanese novel series that details the exploits of the ‘Dog Warriors’, beings reincarnated from the slaughtered spawn of a princess and her dog lover. This is part of why I can forgive the dog-creature theme, because the characters within the story on a few separate occasions refer to the story as a ‘counterfeit’ or parody of the Hakkenden.
An old Russian animation about a young woman who is the child of Spring and Winter, stepping into a village for the first time and learning that she does not have the capacity to love as other humans do. It’s very touching, very whimsical, and in the end bitter-sweet. I’d recommend it for the beautiful artwork alone, but the characters are given a surprising amount of life considering how old the film is. It’s clearly a labour of love.
The Dead Princess and the Seven Knights
An old Russian film based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The most fantastic thing about this film is that from start to finish the entirety of the script is one looong poem, complete with rhymes. I believe this film, Snow Maiden and The Twelve Months are all apart of the same collection, but these three are not dubbed into English, like some of the better known in the series, such as The Snow Queen.
The Twelve Months
If you are familiar with this film, it may be because you’ve watched the anime incarnation. I’d advise you to watch this one instead. Not only are the characters a bit more vital, but the art is a step above the anime and the humour is a bit more fluid. It is a Cinderella-like tale about a girl who wanders into the woods after being forced to preform an impossible task, and receives guidance from the Twelve Months, who are portrayed as a band of merry males of various ages having a meeting around a camp fire in the dead of winter.
Kirikou and the Sorceress
Kirikou and the Sorceress is a fascinating film about a young boy who, from the moment he is born, is able to talk and think like an adult. But he is still only a baby, and is very small because of it, which causes troubles between him and the towns people, and eventually gets the attention of a wicked sorceress that finds him a nuisance as he starts to use his size for unusual heroic feats.
Every character is fun, the dialogue is insightful and the resolution is terribly sweet.
Tales of the Night
A series of re-worked fairy tales told through ‘shadow puppet’ visuals. Beautiful stories, really. All of the interactions between the characters are unique and admirable, and every tale has a satisfying conclusion. You may think the shadow puppet look takes away from it, but, really, it only gives you a bit more emotion to savour since every character looks pretty much the same, allowing their intentions to nakedly drive the stories, rather than their looks.
The Last Unicorn
Based on the book of the same name, and with a screen play by the author, this film is one of the better known ‘hidden gems’. The story follows the ‘last unicorn’, as she searches for others of her kind, who are being held captive in a barren land that is very far away from her gentle forest. She gathers loyal and endearing companions along the way, and eventually looses a bit of herself in the throws of a pseudo-romance with a prince.
It’s a classic. The animation is unique and whimsical, and the pacing, characters and eventual resolution are all wonderful. It was my favourite film as a child.
The Princess and the Pilot
The Princess and the Pilot is a touching tale about the blooming tenderness and self-awareness between a pilot and the princess he is tasked with transporting across the ocean. There is political intrigue, bold decisions and the rude awakenings of reality in a war torn country. Both the leads are relatable and worth the care you inevitably develop toward them. And though the ending is a little frustrating, it is handled in a realistic and tentative manner that shows the meaning of personal feelings, even if physical circumstances can’t reflect them.
Miss Hokusai is the fictional and slightly sensationalised biography of an actual historical figure from the Japanese artistic past. The story is told in a series of self-contained artistic episodes that explore the philosophy needed to produce vital art, by teaching the characters emotional lessons through supernatural interactions. It’s very unique and telling, and every character has a degree of believably that is pleasantly attention grabbing. Some might complain that the formatting leaves a bit to be desired, but I’m pretty sure this is all intentional.
Princess Arete is one of those rare princess films that is all about a princess and her character building, and not at all about romance.
Little Princess Arete is kept in a tower where she grows increasingly depressed, despite her night time slips into the town bellow her window. By a bitter sort of luck, she is kidnapped by a wizard, and from here able to experience the world, albeit under a curse. The film has a very charmed and truthful grasp on the meanings in minor interactions and it never betrays the passionate heart of it’s female lead.
It’s a bit slow, but if you watch movies for the enrichment they provide and not for the face paced thrills, this one may be for you.
An old Japanese feature from the ‘60′s about a young boy who must do battle with a wicked witch to protect his home and family. The characters are enjoyable, the battles are pretty neat and the animation is a proto-perfect anime film suite. Honestly, if you’ve seen Kubo and the Two Strings and then you see this, you may feel, as I have, that it is like the spiritual grandfather to Kubo.
The Life of Guskou Budori
If you’ve ever seen Night on the Galactic Railroad, these two may look familiar to you. As you watch Guskou, you may develop the suspicion that the characters are an alternate incarnation or perhaps even a canon reincarnation of Giovanni and Campanella.
The Life of Guskou Budori is about said titular character as he navigates life after the death (otherworldly kidnapping?) of his younger sister during a great famine. The animation is simply gorgeous, and if you can forgive the incredibly vague narrative, you may just find yourself walking along a very enchanted dream.
Like Galactic Railroad, all of the characters are anthropomorphised cats. I’m unsure why that is, but it’s cute and inventive. It too, is based on a book. If you haven’t seen Night on the Galactic Railroad, I would also recommend that one, as it is very touching and poetic, but it is very slow. If you happen to like both of them, the anime Spring and Chaos, another anthropomorphic cat tale, may be for you, as it is about the guy who wrote the two aforementioned stories.
Tales from Earthsea
If you are a studio Ghibli fan, you may be in for a treat. This is a loose adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin’s seminal work the Earthsea series. It wraps into one film the characters and issues of four books, and so it doesn’t do the books much justice as it has bit off a bit more than it can chew. But if you accept it as an entirely different story that happens to have similar magical rules and the same names as the Earthsea series character’s have, the film is quite good.
Young Arren is a disturbed young man who runs away from his posh life and is picked up by the Arch-mage Ged. After making a special friend and fighting a deranged wizard, Arren learns how to own up to his fears and find peace despite his crimes. I recommend watching the original Japanese dub, as it is a bit more insightful about the Earthsea world.
It is directed by Miyazaki’s son Goro. If you like this film, you may like his other, more well rounded film From Up On Poppy Hill (my favourite Ghibli film), and Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, which is an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’s book of the same name (and a far more skillfully crafted adaptation than Tales from Earthsea. The perks of being a seasoned animator, I guess).
If you like the films, or even if you don’t, I recommend reading the Earthsea series and the Howl’s Moving Castle series. I prefer the latter.
A by itself, B-/C+ if compared to the books.
Fire and Ice
Fire and Ice is one of those barbarian films from the early 80′s. It’s got action and romance and wild prehistoric beasts, an obvious bad guy that’s still pretty well rounded despite his minor screen time and a bit of sorcery that you can laugh at if your mind is dirty enough to catch the innuendos. In a nutshell, Fire and Ice is a great late night blast from the past that every child of the 90′s should see at least once.
With art overseen by the legendary Frank Frazetta, I think any serious artist could find this film pretty rad as well.
The Cat Returns
The Cat Returns is a fascinating continuum of Shizuku’s story from Whisper of the Heart (another Ghibli film). It’s a fairy tale to the max, complete with a dapper cat ‘prince’ and woefully silly damsel-in-distress. It’s a lesser known Ghibli film, which is why it’s on the list, and if you do watch it, I recommend pairing it with Whisper of the Heart, a high school drama about a young girl’s blossoming romance and her attempt to write a novel, since it’s only right to see the little strings that connect the two tales.
It’s funny, charming and the Baron has a British accent ;) Mmm-mm delish!
Whew! What a long list!
Next time: Best Comedy Supernatural animated shows/films.