Anime and Studio Ghibli

(Petr Baudiš)

I try to get all the movies with Japanese audio and obviously prefer external subs (default in the table) to the hard (H) ones. All of them are playable by mplayer (possibly with required compiled-in Matroska and/or OGG support). Note that all of them are about two hours long, so if they are only on one CD, it implies the rips are not of particular quality. Tough.

Note that I've bought Ghibli Collection (12 DVDs) from YesAsia Global. JP/EN/ZH audio, EN/ZH subtitles, "storyboard" version and some trailers. Very nice. Films I have on those DVDs have 'D' in the CDs field.

Sorted roughly by how much do I like them (YMMV, and likely will). Most of the rating differences are negligible, anyway.

Director EN Name JP Name CS Name CDs Fmt Audio Subs Genre Remarks
Miyazaki Spirited AwaySen to Chihiro no kamikakushiCesta do fantazie 2,DAVIJPEN(H) Kids, AdventureThis is probably the best Ghibli film (for me), perfect synthesis of the intriguing themes from the previous Miyazaki movies
Miyazaki Kiki's Delivery ServiceMajo no takkyubinDoručovací služba slečny Kiki 2,DDIVXJPEN,CS KidsLovely and relaxing. Great opus on the theme of coming of age, gaining independence, and finding yourself.
Kondo Whisper of the HeartMimi wo sumasebaŠepot srdce 1,DDIVXJPEN(H),CS RomanticTeenage romance without a single kiss - and in the Ghibli style. Enchanting.
Takahata Only YesterdayOmohide Poro PoroStřípky minulosti 1,DDIVXJPEN(H),CS PsychologicalNo action whatsoever, but very moving. Some rate this even higher than Grave of the Fireflies (less emotional charge, but deeper and more artful story).
Takahata Grave of the FirefliesHotaru no hakaHrob světlušek 1,DDIVXJPEN(H),CS WarPerhaps the saddest and most emotional film I ever saw.
Miyazaki Princess MononokeMononoke-himePrincezna Mononoke 2,DOGMEN(!)CS AdventureVery spectacular fantasy adventure, together with Chihiro probably the one with the most complex and powerful messages (but you may need to take some time to fully digest them - the message may seem confusing at first). Also features the richest characters (though not so deeply rendered as in some other Ghibli movies).
Miyazaki Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindsKaze no tani no NaushikaNaušika z Větrného údolí 2,DDIVXJPEN(H),CS AdventureWonderful story, but with extra appeal for the people who like the Dune eco-theme and such.
Miyazaki Laputa: Castle in the SkyTenku no shiro RapyutaLaputa: Zámek v oblacích 2,DMTKJP,ENJP,EN,CS Kids, AdventureThe prototype of the perfect children adventure.
Miyazaki My Neighbor TotoroTonari no TotoroMůj soused Totoro 1,DDIVXJPEN(H) KidsFascinating journey to the world of children.
Takahata My Neighbors the YamadasTonari no YamadaMoji sousede Jamadovi 1AVIJPEN(H) FamilyPicture of life of one Japanese family. Not the classic anime art, sometimes a little lecturing, but very funny and very enchanting
Takahata Pom PokoHeisei tanuki gassen pompoko 1,DOGMJPEN(H) WeirdVery Japanese, possibly kind of weird for a western man at first, but still quite enjoyable.
Miyazaki I can hear the sea

Ocean Waves
Umi ga kikoeru 1MTKJP,ENJP,EN,CS,SK RomanticTake the feel and artwork of Mimi, flavour it as Omohide and serve as similarly touching romantic story with all the Ghibli subtlety. This TV movie does not come on par with the feature films (and takes longer than many to figure out), but still pretty nice.
Miyazaki Howl's Moving CastleHauru no ugoku shiroHowlův chodící zámek 1AVIJPEN(H) Romantic, AdventureThis is a CAM RIP!
Its plot is rather gappy compared to the other Miyazaki films, I'd say - nevertheless it is still a nice movie.
I'm doubtful about its qualities but I will postpone my final say until I see it in a reasonable quality.
Miyazaki Porco RossoKurenai no ButaPorco Rosso 2,DMTKJP,EN,FRJP,EN,FR AdventureQuite philosophical but also funny - well, I didn't like it that much as some others, but some people rate it very high
Miyazaki Lupin III: The Castle of CagliostroRupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro 1AVIJPEN(H) AdventureSomehow lacks the subtletly and depth of the Ghibli films. Perhaps most similar to Laputa, but lacks its beauty and magic, and is more toony. Still - cool action and plenty of fun.
Miyazaki The Cat ReturnsNeko no ongaeshi 1,DAVIJPEN(H) Kids?I kind of disliked the artwork, the story was very blunt, and while the whole film was supposed to be about character development of the heroine, I spotted only very little of that, and very flashy. Overally not worth Ghibli, I'd say.

What film to start with?

The first Ghibli movie I saw was Kiki, and it deeply resonated with me, but if that misses you, it's possible you will get bored quickly - it's one of the Ghibli movies with the least action, I guess. Overally, my toplist might not be good order for seeing the films at all, actually.

So, if you are convinced this all is just infantile pictures for kids, be sure to watch Hotaru no haka. Princess Mononoke is also not meant primarily for kids (actually, I'd argue that this is the one Ghibli movie not suitable for kids under 13) and will give you marvelous artwork and great adventure, while conveying a quite complex message.

Many people will see Spirited Away first - which might be a fine choice and I personally believe this is the greatest Ghibli film, for many reasons. But it is also quite different from the other movies. That means if you didn't like it, you might still like other Ghibli films (some Ghibli fans love everything but really dislike this one), and if you liked it, still don't expect all the other movies will be like that. The spectrum of the Ghibli movies is very rich.

Theme trails

While each Ghibli movie is different, there are some common themes they keep returning to, often tackling them from different angles and with different approaches. The following division may not be perfect and it is certainly not exclusive - most of the movies are complex mosaics of different themes on different layers. The works are sorted by the approximate strength of the theme in them (as I see it).

Coming of age - crossing the boundary between childhood and adulthood, finding your identity and gaining independence. Main theme: Kiki, Whisper, Chihiro, Howl, Cat Returns, Ocean Waves (in a way). Minor theme: Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, Only Yesterday (in a way).

Ecology - the harmony between man and nature. Main theme: Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, Pom Poko. Minor theme: Chihiro, Only Yesterday, Totoro.

These two above are kind of Ghibli "trademarks".

Kids - the excursion through the joys and hardships of the childhood. Main theme: Totoro, Only Yesterday (in a way). Minor theme: Laputa, Hotaru. (I believe not Chihiro and certainly not Kiki.)

Adventure - to keep you on the tip of the seat, focus on the action. Main theme: Mononoke, Nausicaa, Laputa, Lupin, Porco Rosso, Howl. Minor theme: Cat Returns, Chihiro. Perhaps Pom Poko and a bit of Kiki.

Romance - romantic love as the key theme. Main theme: Ocean Waves, Whisper, Howl, Porco Rosso. Minor theme: Mononoke, Chihiro, Lupin.

Honorable Mentions

Of course Miyazaki-sama attracted me a bit more to the Japanese animation so slowly, I've been picking up other anime works. Honestly, large portion of the anime production is quite entertaining but rather shallow, though I still think the standards are higher than in the western film/series production, which is admirable. I've been quite picky so far so I really liked most of the films/series I've watched. Below I list only those that can compare themselves at least with the second group of Ghibli movies, and that still is only few.

The Big Three

I just have to mention ABe Yoshitoshi's Haibane Renmei, an absolutely wonderful anime series (short - 13x20 minutes). It can certainly contend with the top Ghibli movies and combines a wonderfully deep and complex story Miyazaki would not be ashamed of with the full emotional impact of Takahata's masterpieces. If you liked the Ghibli movies this is a certain must-see. This is my most favorite anime and series (animated or not) from all I've ever seen.

Now and Then, Here and There is very dark (but not in the Lain style) and very heavy GotF-grade 13x20 series. By the Grave of the Fireflies grade I mean that it shares similar themes (war and children) though in a very different story (not that it would not be pacifist as well), and that it may be similarily emotionally impactful (slightly less, IMO, because:). It is more brutal than GotF and also more graphic (though not as much as some reviews would have you to believe; no R-rated scenes). And it's gona make you shiver. The story isn't complicated and the characters are not very complicated or deeply evolved, but damn it works! It's the kind of work about children but definitely not for (at least younger) children.

Kino no Tabi is strangely reminding of NTHT (see above) perhaps in style elements, though topically it's very different. The story talks about a journeyer travelling through a country between fairly isolated lands, where each land is characteristic of something. Very allegorical and philosophical, but fun to watch and inspiring. Generally suitable for children but watch each EP yourself before deciding, there is some violence scattered; and this is not very cheerful series. 14x20.

Other Good Stuff

ABe Yoshitoshi also cooperated on Serial Experiments Lain. It's quite a dark series with significant cyberpunk and some satirical overtones (it's not a comedy though), while of course also juggling its fair share of philosophy and psychology. Admittelly, I've been a bit disappointed by the resolution and perhaps it's been too dark for me, still it's certainly one of the top animes I've seen. The usual 13x20 format.

Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo - strong journey stories.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is surely somewhat extraordinary beast. In its first two thirds, it gives you a window to how the regular anime production looks like - giant robot battles, fan service, etc. In the last third, things get an astonishing turn and it is anything but shallow. It is certainly a masterpiece in this regard and the meta-story around its endings tells something about how popular it was and perhaps what impact it has (possibly one of the largest in the history of anime; huge number of other anime production was influenced by it, and it was quite possibly one of the most known and popular series ever). 26x20 format (plus an alternate feature film ending etc, that's complicated).

Somewhat less (but not much less) honorable mentions:

I also have watched FLCL. Well, it is crazy (and genuinely weird), but I kept laughing almost all the time. :-) (Note that this is not something to show your ten years old sister.) An interesting thing is that while I would not say the story is deep or very complex (which does not mean that there won't be a lot of things you won't get, sometimes cultural references and sometimes things just moved too fast for me), those wonderful Japanese people still managed to give the story multiple dimensions and some degree of complexity; it is not your everyday straightforward Disney storyline like let's say Kim Possible.

Random further list of what I've seen and remember: Niea_7 (comforting and relaxing), The Melancholy of Haruhi *Whoever* (intriguing concept combined with "simple entertainment"), Texhnolyze (sorry, this is one I just didn't manage to finish), Millenium Actress (very nice), Tokyo Grandfathers, Hikaru no Go (actually astonishingly catchy series), Death Note (oh the drama), Naruto (on 4x speed).

While it's really mostly on the "entertainment" side of things, I also can't not mention MegaTokyo. Not everyone's taste, but I love it (except that the time moves forward hideously slow).

Note that I strictly abide the FanSub codex - you won't get an anime licenced in Czech from me (AFAIK, that currently concerns Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke). (For enemy lawyers: this does not imply that I do copy other movies.)