As a Studio Ghibli enthusiast, exploring the world of modern Anime outside of Ghibli can be a tricky endeavor. Movies and shows just don’t ring as true as Ghibli’s masterpieces, whether the original Manga outshines the film adaption, or the overly active franchise boasts poorly handled gender portrayal. So when I do find a non-Studio Ghibli Anime that pulls me in and leaves me breathless, liberal feminist artist me (who watched every Ghibli movie and can recite their titles in chronological order) has found the gates to paradise. Below is a list of my 5 favorite non-Ghibli Anime in no particular order (and I’ll add, I excluded any series or movies which I found were outshone by their original Manga, so that’s why a few titles aren’t present)
A Silent Voice (PG-13)
When it comes to the Shojo (Anime and Manga aimed for a female teenage audience) slice-of-life genre, we can expect a level of drama and darkness to underlay the pastel narrative of (most commonly) a highschoolers’ coming of age. A Silent Voice, however, delves deeply into the effects of childhood bullying, and makes us as viewers really think about the effects of our actions instead of simply using the difficult topics of the character’s pasts to invest our interests. Surprisingly, while taking the time to address it’s darker side, the film still manages to retain a hopeful message and stuns with gorgeously detailed animation and a relatable and broken cast. Similar to Only Yesterday, From Up On Poppy Hill, or When Marnie was There, A Silent Voice takes a deep look at our everyday lives. And as a fan of the Manga series (the film’s basis), I can attest to the power and success of this adoption which I personally find is only occasionally rivaled by adaptations of other works. Currently available on Netflix and rentable on Apple TV and Amazon Prime
I have to make a confession. I haven’t read the Manga that forms the basis for this two season Anime. In the future when I’ve succeeded in finding myself a copy, I’ll come back and write a comparison post. But, even without that knowledge, I really believe this is one of the best examples of storytelling in Anime outside of Ghibli. If you’re not familiar with the series, Mushi-shi (set in between the Edo and Meiji periods) centers around a main protagonist, Ginko (seen in the image above) and his occupation as a Mushi-shi or specialist in a strange branch of life forms known as Mushi. What makes the series's storytelling truly intriguing however, is the fact that every episode (or chapter in the case of the Manga) stands alone as a complete story including a climax and resolution. And to me as an aspiring storyteller, the level of narrative success achieved in each 20 minute instalment can't help but blow me away. I’d compare Mushi-shi to Princess Mononoke, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and My Neighbor Totoro. Watch season 1 free on Tubi or on Hulu with subscription and season 2 free on Crunchyroll (if you have a good ad blocker, you won’t even have to deal with ads!)
Patema Inverted (Not-Rated but it fits under the Rating PG)
Where the last two Anime were based off of manga that were published prior to the adaption’s release, Patema Inverted (GKIDS) is a completely original film. I find that an admirable quality from an animated film, but not only is Patema Inverted original, it manages to tell a pure and clever story that kept me fully invested, and stays completely away from adult anime stereotypes (making it the ideal film to share with your Ghibli loving young friends). Set in an alternate version of the future where half of earth’s population have their gravity reversed, Patema Inverted follows Patema, a young inverted girl (person with reversed gravity) who struggles to uncover the reason for the hatred between her people and earth’s non-inverted population. This film fits in the vain of Miyazaki’s classics Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the sky, while bringing us something completely new. Available for a small fee through Apple TV and Amazon Prime or watch through Hoopla Digital (a program available for free through some libraries)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (TV-14)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, based off of a YA japanese fantasy novel of the same name, is a hidden treasure among Anime and desperately needs more attention. This 26 episode fantasy series is by far one of the most empowering Anime I’ve seen to date, and is an epic example of brilliant world and character building. Following Balsa, a female spear-wielding bodyguard in her early thirties, this Anima details her mission to protect her newest charge, the young prince Chagum (see image above), who, because of a mysterious water spirit's curse, is being hunted by the emperor, his father. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit has the epic sweeping storytelling of Princess Mononoke and the radiant beauty of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya with overlapping themes on gender and the environment with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. A must-watch (or read) in my book for any feminst anime or high fantasy fan. Unfortunately the only way I know how to watch Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit right now is to buy a copy of the DVD. However, there may be other options available out there.
When push comes to shove, I love something wildly original. And if there’s one Anime that embodies the word wild, that film would have to be Studio Trigger’s Promare (a GKIDS film like all of Ghibli’s works.) Promare isn’t like Ghibli, not really. But when it comes to masterful storytelling, majorly complicated characters, and animation that leaves you speechless, Promare, like Ghibli, has you covered. Animated with a combination of traditional cell animation (like all the classic Ghibli films) and modern computer animation techniques, one of the best comparisons to this film might be Sony and Marvel’s smash hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. However, Promare retains it’s Anime authenticity and also brings to mind American animated (Amerime) shows like Voltron: Legendary Defender. Like Patema Inverted (also on this list), Promare tells a completely original story (set in the world most of this studio's works are in, the Trigger Verse). From 2019 and to date the newest work on my list (the third American theatre showing was cancelled due to Covid-19), this work is in my opinion an Anime for the future. This story brings to mind Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and (through a bit of a stretch) Spirited Away, while holding similar themes to Princess Mononoke. (I’ll also be clear to note, while this film has a good number of awesome female characters, their designs aren’t great, tho not the worst in the industry. This in my mind is the lowest point of this film.) Watch through HBO Max with subscription, on Apple TV or Amazon Prime with a small fee, or through Hoopla Digital (a program available for free through some libraries)
Each of the Silverfists take turns sharing their thoughts about illustration found in graphic novels, games, album art, and more...