I first discovered anime in the mid 90's, buried in the pages of gaming magazines. Japanese culture fascinated me and the artwork and more mature content which anime promised instantly grabbed the attention of my teenage self. At the time, anime was very hard to come by, especially for someone who lived on farm in Nebraska. However I eventually started seeing VHS tapes of anime titles showing up in the music shop in the mall. I also started getting some anime catalogs in the mail to expand what was available to me.
At $30 a pop, they were extremely expensive back then. What's worse is that you're basing your choices off the text and pictures on the box or the description in a catalog. Today anime is available everywhere, from most streaming services to Wal-Mart, but 20+ years ago it was definitely a niche.
With only so much disposable cash to risk on blind buying these movies, I weighed each decision carefully. Thankfully, I did pretty good.
Anime month continues here at Retro-room, so without further ado I present the 5 anime movies that most directly influenced my love of the genre. If you're old enough to remember Streamline Pictures, these selections should likely resonate with you.
#5 Vampire Hunter D
The first anime I ever watched was the original 1985 Vampire Hunter D. Within the first few minutes, I was hooked. The movie is an anime classic, featuring grotesque monsters, harsh violence and even nudity. The novelty of seeing nudity in animated form was jarring, but after a few more films under my belt it started to feel weird if an anime movie didn't feature nudity. In fact, every movie on my list has both graphic violence and at least some nudity. But hey, that was anime films of the 80's and 90's. The characters from legendary artist Yoshitaka Amano were greatly altered to suit the animation, but are clearly evident in their designs.
#4 Fist of the North Star
Ratcheting up the violence to absurd levels, Fist of the North Star was the film adaptation of the manga and TV series of the same name. The story was bonkers for anyone coming in with no knowledge of the franchise, but it was certainly entertaining. Imagine the combination of Mad Max with *Ricky-Oh: The Story of Ricky" and this is what you'd end up with.
#3 Ghost in the Shell
Featuring fantastic art and nicely integrated 3D animation, Ghost in the Shell is an absolute anime classic, garnering enough notoriety to earn a live action US-based adaptation starring Scarlett Johansen in the lead as Motoko. Not only does the film sport some slick visuals and expertly choreographed action sequences, the story is deep, nuanced and presents some heady philosophy about what it means to be human.
#2 Ninja Scroll
Definitely a guilty pleasure, Ninja Scroll is an adventure following wanderer Jubei as he gets himself tangled up with the eight Devils of Kimon, a group of deadly villains who each possess bizarre supernatural abilities from a hulking man who can turn his skin to stone to a cruel necromancer who fills his reanimated corpses with gunpowder. Its extremely violent and has several uncomfortable sexual scenes, but the action, artwork and animation defined the distinct style of famed director Yoshitaki Kawajiri who also brought us Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
Of course it would be Akira. Arguably the greatest and most important anime movie of all time, Akira follows a group of biker punks who get caught up in a government program which experiments on children in hopes to extract their psychic abilities. Its weird, visceral and a visual feast.
Akira is largely credited with breaking anime into the West, as it actually received theatrical exposure in the early 90's, with a theatrical re-release in 2001. While I wasn't able to attend the re-release, I do have a beautiful, rare poster from the showing in New York City. I've watched Akira more times than any other anime film, so I can easily say its my favorite of all time.
So if you're an anime fan, which movies were the most influential on you? Let's discuss!
Thanks for reading. As always, upvotes, resteems and comments are appreciated!
Cover Image Source: Electronicbeats.net