This year was a fantastic one for theatrical anime films. However, as most of these have yet to receive a Western release, you might have to wait a while. So here are the amazing 2016 films you have to look forward to.
A Silent Voice
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: In elementary school, Shoya, along with the rest of his class, bullied deaf girl Shoko to the point that she dropped out of the school. In the surrounding fallout, Shoya became the school’s scapegoat and the new target of his classmates’ wrath–even after he moved onto middle and then high school. Still haunted by his guilt and on the eve of killing himself, he has one last goal: to find Shoko and apologize for the pain he caused.
Why You Should Watch It: A Silent Voice is a film all about guilt and how you deal with it. Shoya, so beaten down by years of social abuse, can find only one way to atone for his crime: his own death. Meanwhile, his classmates move all the guilt onto a convenient scapegoat, absolving themselves of their role in the situation in their own minds. Others feel guilt for throwing Shoya to the wolves. Even Shoko is filled with guilt: the guilt of not being normal, of having even her existence be a burden on her family and literally every person she meets.
Yet, despite the depressing introspective theme of the film, there is also hope. Alone, both Shoya and Shoko are doomed by their guilt. But together, each begins to find a different way to atone for their perceived sins, both real and imagined. In the end, it becomes a battle between the weight of the past and hope for the future. But more than that, A Silent Voice is a film that forces you to take a look at the darkest parts of yourself and confront them–because only then can you grow as a person.
Watch It If You Like: The Anthem of the Heart, Tamako Love Story
Where You Can Watch It: Japanese movie theaters
In This Corner of the World
Genre: Slice-of-Life, World War II
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: In the early 1940s, a young Japanese woman moves in with her new husband’s family in a bustling naval port near Hiroshima. As the war takes a turn for the worst, she and her new family struggle with problems ranging from food shortages to bombing raids–all as the darkest moment in Japanese history looms ever closer.
Why You Should Watch It: Many films focus on war, but a comparative few focus on the civilians trying to live their lives in the midst of it. It shows the struggles facing the population in a down-to-Earth way and over the film’s runtime, you witness step-by-step the effects of the war on those people the soldiers are fighting to protect.
In This Corner of the World takes its setup one step further by making it a personal tale about one quiet young woman, leaving her family and moving in with a husband she barely knows. So as society struggles to keep intact around her, she must also try to coexist with strangers who view her as an interloper of sorts. Yet, among the death and destruction–and the end we all know is coming–she finds a place for herself. It is a beautiful, yet tragic tale that shows the best humanity has to offer amongst the worst it is capable of.
Watch It If You Like: Grave of the Fireflies, Barefoot Gen
Where You Can Watch It: Japanese movie theaters
Gekijōban Majestic Prince Kakusei no Idenshi
Genre: Space Opera, Action, Comedy
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: Taking place immediately after the events of the Majestic Prince television anime, Gekijōban Majestic Prince Kakusei no Idenshi (lit Majestic Prince the Movie -Genes of the Awakening-) brings back the team of genetically engineered child soldiers who can pilot giant humanoid mecha. With the absence of one of the members, the other five of the combat unit “Team Rabbits” reconfirm the importance of their bond as a family despite not being connected by blood.
Why You Should Watch It: This film, serving as a sequel to the original Majestic Prince anime (which is available to watch on Crunchyroll), doesn’t try to go outside of its comfort zone, and by doing so, the movie is a ball of continuous fun. As they do in the original series, all the characters–each with their own unique personality–bounce off each other and keep the plot moving at a very good pace. It doesn’t try to become a dramatic masterpiece and is really more like an extension of the television anime. But this means the movie stays true to its identity by being fun, humorous, and action-packed.
This film is one great final present to the fans, but can be easily enjoyed by the uninitiated (minus a few spoilers) with its fluid animation in the action scenes and heart-warming interactions between a cast of lovable characters.
Watch It If You Like: Martian Successor Nadesico, Majestic Prince
Where You Can Watch It: Amazon.co.jp (home video to be released on January 18)
(This recommendation written by Sarah Nelkin.)
Planetarian: Hoshi no Hito
Genre: Sci-fi, Post-Apocalyptic
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: The world is over, covered by a forever cloudy sky. But between the few scattered remnants of civilization travels an old man who carries the very stars with him: the Starteller. As his long life nears its end, he meets three children and tells them the tale of how he got his name–about his chance encounter with a lonely android in a ruined planetarium.
Why You Should Watch It: While many sci-fi stories are large epics or exciting adventures, Planetarian is a small, personal story in a large, uncaring world–and that’s what makes it so effective. The Starteller’s story of his encounter with Yumemi is not one of a desperate last chance to save the world, but is instead one of a man learning the difference between “survival” and “living.”
While nearly two-thirds of this film are reused from the five-episode Planetarian net anime, this film works completely fine as a stand-alone film–telling what feels like the complete story thanks to the epilogue framing device. What results is a film that proves that sci-fi doesn’t have to be big and epic to be powerful. It’s a beautiful story that shows both tragedy and how one man can bring hope to a hopeless land.
Watch It If You Like: Kanon, Clannad, Angel Beats
Where You Can Watch It: Amazon.jp (from 2/24/2017)
Genre: Modern Fantasy, Romance
Non-spoiler Plot Summary: One day, Taki, a young boy from Tokyo, wakes up in the body of a girl in rural Japan. At the same time, that girl, Mitsuha, wakes up in Taki’s body. Communicating only through written notes, the two realize they are body swapping on a regular schedule and begin trying to improve each other’s lives–whether each wants the other’s help or not.
Why You Should Watch It: Your Name. is the second highest grossing film of all time in Japan, second only to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. There is a reason for that: it really is that good of a film. It begins by fully exploring the pair’s odd situation: how they figure out what is happening, how they open a line of communication with each other, and how they choose to handle their decidedly odd problem.
But what starts as a body-swap rom-com becomes so much more. On one level, it is a story about the effect of the people around you and how they change you as a person. On another it is a film about destiny and railing against it, even when there is no hope. What results is a modern classic and an anime that will be talked about for decades to come.
Watch It If You Like: Voices of a Distant Star, The Garden of Words
Where You Can Watch It: Japanese, Australian, and New Zealander movie theaters