Ten '80s Anime Films You Shouldn't Miss

Here's a list of ten anime films from the '80s that you should definitely see.

Anime feature films sometimes get overlooked with all the fuss being made over various TV series.  The 1980s had a slew of excellent movies get released with some becoming instant classics. In no particular order, here are ten anime films from that time period that are worth a look!

Akira (1988): No list of anime can be complete without the inclusion of the incredible cyberpunk cult classic Akira. It’s depiction of a futuristic neon-infused dystopian Tokyo inspired many films in its wake both in the West and in the East. The story is convoluted in the best way possible and the over-the-top climax of the film is a sight to behold. Akira’s animation quality is gorgeous and it takes cell animation to places it had never been before. While director Katsuhiro Otomo is most famous for the Akira film and manga, he did go on to direct other great anime films such as Roujin Z, Metropolis and Steamboy.

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Fist of the North Star (1986): If you ever thought combining a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic story with bad ass kung fu fights would be a good idea, then this is the movie for you! Fist of the North Star was a long running manga series that was made into both a TV series and a full length feature film—both are worth a watch but my personal favorite is the movie adaptation. The main protagonist Kenshiro is a master of the fighting style known as Hokuto Shinken. This martial arts style is unique because any time Kenshiro punches or kicks an enemy they literally explode into a shower of blood and guts a few seconds later. It’s hilarious to see him just punching the hell out of people and blowing them up left and right.  I first saw it as a teenager and it was the goriest animated film I had ever witnessed—I was in love. It’s super cheesy and has one of Streamline’s patented crappy dubs but it’s still a fun watch.

Vampire Hunter D (1985): This film has the honor of popping my anime cherry in my early teenage years. I saw it on the Sci-Fi channel one Saturday morning and I was entranced by it--I had never seen anything like it before.  Graphic violence and blood in a cartoon?! That’s crazy talk! It was the catalyst for my many years of anime obsession and is still one of my absolute favorites. Vampire Hunter D has an interesting dark gothic look that sets it apart from most anime due to Yoshitaka Amano’s intricate and delicate character designs (Amano is also famous for his work on the video game series Final Fantasy). This film definitely belongs in the horror genre with scary demons and killing galore.  It’s a great change of pace from the mostly sci-fi themed anime films.

Wicked City (1987): Wicked City is a strange animal indeed. If I had to categorize it, I would file it under hentai (animated porn) because it has some very hardcore sex scenes but it’s so stylishly done that it transcends it somehow. It’s like an animated version of Naked Lunch with demons and nudity thrown in and a lot of it is surreal and disturbing. This film definitely isn’t for everyone and I think it would offend most audience members. It has some of the most imaginative and bizarre character designs I have ever seen and the animation is actually top-notch. This would appeal more to the exploitation/cult film fan base but it’s worth tracking down to watch.

Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984): Urusei Yatsura was a well-loved romantic comedy anime TV series in the 1980’s and it spawned several full length movies at the height of its popularity.  It followed the misadventures of a boy named Ataru and his “relationship” with a capricious bikini-clad alien girl named Lum. The second film, Beautiful Dreamer, was directed by Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor fame. What makes this film interesting is Oshii decided to go the unconventional route and essentially remix the characters and even the entire universe. Everything has a foggy dream-like quality and reality itself is changed for the characters. Oddly enough, Beautiful Dreamer ended up being much more popular with Western audiences than in its native homeland Japan.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988):  There have been many films made about the atrocities of World War II but none of them affected me as much as Grave of the Fireflies. The story centers around two siblings, a brother and his younger sister, who end up being orphaned after the war in Japan. You follow their trials and tribulations and it is gut-wrenching to see it all unfold—I end up a sobbing mess every single time I watch this film. In all the darkness that is portrayed there is beauty, however, and in the end a powerful anti-war message is delivered. It’s a very heavy subject matter for an animated film but it is in no way compromised by being presented in this format. This movie should be watched by everyone and not just fans of Japanese anime.

Golgo 13: The Professional (1983): If spy movies are your jam, then Golgo 13 should be on your list to check out. It’s basically a Japanese take on James Bond films with super cool assassin Duke Togo (codenamed Golgo 13) killing people with his sweet arsenal of guns and his hand-to-hand combat prowess. There is intrigue and double crossings at every turn and a whole lot of action packed into a short runtime. Of note is the terrible CGI implemented in parts of the film—this was made at the very beginning of computer graphics and what looked awesome in 1983 looks absolutely horrible now.  You will laugh hysterically when you see it, I guarantee. It doesn’t ruin the movie or anything but it really shows how far when have come with that technology.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988): Hayao Miyazaki has been referred to as the “Walt Disney of Japan” but I like to think he has a style all his own. All of his films are endearing and imaginative and just emanate warmth and heart that is too often absent in children’s films. My Neighbor Totoro is one of Miyazaki’s best films and a joy to watch for both children and adults. Totoro is an adorable, giant bunny-like…thing that brings fun and laughter to the lives of two little girls one balmy summer. Miyazaki always has cute little magical sprites inhabiting his worlds (occasionally they can be scary) and this film is no exception. What I find interesting is this film doesn’t really have an antagonist or situation to overcome—it’s just little calming vignettes. It has a soothing effect and makes the film extra enjoyable to watch.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982): Yes, Hayao Miyazaki gets two spots on this list—his films are just that good! Nausicaä is one of his darker films with environmentalism and anti-war being the most prominent themes. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic land that has been ravaged by a war known as the Seven Days of Fire. The inhabitants now live on a toxic jungle planet that is home to dangerous mutant insects. Nausicaä is the name of a girl who has a connection to the toxic jungle and she can communicate with the insects as well. It’s a beautifully animated film with an excellent soundtrack and has a dire atmosphere that is a stark contrast to My Neighbor Totoro’s happy-go-lucky story.

Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984): Macross encompasses many genres of anime: sci-fi, space opera, giant robots, romance and even pop music. Do You Remember Love? is a reimagining of the TV series The Super Dimension Fortress Macross with all the same characters and a similar story. It boasts much better animation than the TV series and a lot of the mechas were redesigned and given a sleeker look. Amongst all the space battles and fighting robots there is a sweet relationship between fighter pilot Hikaru Ichijyo and a pop idol singer named Lynn Minmay—it’s weird but it works. As in all Macross films, music plays a big role with catchy pop songs and ballads being utilized often. It’s a wacky mixture that works surprisingly well.

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-Michelle Kisner