2021 Film Ranking
by Rakka • Tags: anime film lists
Belle (「竜とそばかすの姫」, Ryu to sobakasu no hime or The Dragon and the Freckled Princess)
I honestly think this film raises the bar for all future anime films—and by a significant amount. Shinkai, eat your heart out and bring your A game, because you may not be my favorite director any longer. Where to start? I do think the plot fumbles the ending (spoilers below). But up until that point, we have a fairly engaging story in the mold of Beauty and the Beast, except mixing in elements of rural Japanese life and teenage growing-up. The virtual world of U is a fairly clever device in this film on all fronts: it provides a convincing excuse to incorporate fantasy elements into the film, and allows for a separate visual and auditory domain that contrasts well with the everyday rural real-world life depicted. For instance, U is all rendered in smooth CGI, making it strikingly visually distinct. The virtual avatars come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, from chibi dolls to furry cheetah humanoids; Belle sets itself apart here as well by depicting a wide range of body shapes, skin colors, and just generally showing real diversity—fitting for a globally interconnected virtual world. Western-style animation makes a showing here, with some of the villains and background characters rendered distinctively—but fittingly—in the vein of American superheroes and cartoons. And of course, Belle being a singer, we get several amazing musical numbers that call to mind—or even top—the best of Disney while still being distinctively Hosoda. In particular, a number of callbacks to earlier films appear throughout the film, from the command center reminiscent of Summer Wars, poses that come straight from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and whales from Summer Wars, that will make Hosoda fans happy.
I think to sum it up, if Disney still did 2D animation, it would look like Belle: visually and auditorially, if not plot-wise, Hosoda has delivered the pinnacle of what 2D has achieved so far. Let’s hope his next film manages to amaze us again.
My main complaint with Belle is that our secondary main character, the Dragon/Beast, is never really fully resolved. We eventually find out his IRL identity, a 14-year-old teenage boy who defends his younger brother from a violently righteous single father, and Belle charges for Tokyo to look for him and help him. But in the end, we don't really see her helping him; she stands up to his father once, but that isn't enough to deal with an abusive parent. Just like all the others who he talks about, promising to come and talk to his father and make everything right, she ended up with just words, not actions.
Drive My Car
Hey, it’s not anime for once.
A three-hour film based on a short story of the same name from Haruki Murakami. Honestly, I’m not sure how to describe this film; it does an excellent job of translating how I feel about Murakami—stories that aren’t so much about the story as much as the mood and frame of mind. Here, our main character is a stage actor dealing with the passing of his late wife and her infidelity; gradually, he opens up to the young woman hired by the stage company as his personal driver while serving as a resident director in Hiroshima. While definitely an arthouse film, and quite a long one at that, it’s worth a watch, and has lots of interesting casting/directorial decisions. (For instance: one character speaks Korean Sign Language and as a result, there are entire scenes that fascinatingly play out as just gestures and expressions.)
Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish (「ジョゼと虎と魚たち」)
An absolutely gorgeous film that ultimately has a bit too generic of a story. Josee focuses on the relationship between Josee, a wheelchair-bound young woman, and Tsuneo, a university student who by chance ends up becoming her caretaker for a short while. I didn’t like how the story was railroaded into the typical path after a certain point, but it is rare to find a romance about adults, and the music and visuals were absolutely top-notch—so it’s still definitely worth a watch.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop
A cute, low-key summer romance film featuring a budding poet ashamed of his voice and a popular TikToker ashamed of her buck teeth. The standout here is the gorgeous color palette, full of punchy colors that work well with the simply drawn, almost low-poly art.
Pompo: The Cinéphile (「映画大好きなポンポさん」)
A vivaciously animated film about what it’s like to…make (non-animated) film, with a very cliché and hackneyed plot. Yet it’s full of life, excellently animated, and fully self-aware of what it is (I mean—one of the characters is a self-declared B film director). So long as you can turn off your brain a bit and not think too hard about the plot (which admittedly has quite a bit of loner wish-fulfillment), this film’ll be an fun and funny look at what it takes—and what it costs—to be a creative.
Princess Principal: Crown Handler 1
Effectively a double-length episode of the TV Princess Principal series. If you loved the all-female moé cast going around kicking butt in the original, then this is happily more of the same.
Fate/stay night Heaven’s Feel III. spring song
Having never watched anything in the Fate universe, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, even not understanding the actual plot, it was still an enjoyable watch thanks to Yuki Kajiura’s dramatic score and ufotable’s incredible fight animation.
Seitokai Yakuindomo: The Movie II
Love it or hate it, it’s Seitokai: rapid fire ecchi jokes with passable animation.
Shirobako: The Movie
An enjoyable follow-up to the TV series. Not too much new happens—I’d honestly think of this more as an extended OVA—but the cast all gets together and more anime gets made. The animators get a chance to stretch their wings, showing off all sorts of styles and genres in various musical and action segments woven into the film.
My dissatisfaction here comes from a mismatch in expectations, not in that I had high expectations, but that I was expecting something less sanded down by Hollywood. I have a list of minor complaints:
- Yueh should either have had no accent and spoken a fictional language like every other character, or else every character should have had an accent and spoken a real language. But as it stands, Yueh’s Chinese-American accent and use of Mandarin is rather racist (in a movie that already is terrible about being “white people ethnic”).
- A lot of interesting worldbuilding gets stripped away. The Mentats are gone, the Bene Gesserit are mostly reduced to magic powers and space Illuminati (which…there was at least a little more depth to them than that I thought?), and the inner Harkonnen conflict is gone.
- I know the characters won’t look all beautiful and perfect anymore, but if the whole point of the stillsuit is to conserve water, wear the godforsaken mask when you’re outdoors! (Funny that this came out in the middle of a pandemic.)
- I honestly didn’t like the overly bombastic score (though yes that was to be expected). On this point, I think it’s just because Dune and Morrowind are so connected in my mind that I just expected something more subtle and tranquil like Jeremy Soule’s score. But, you know, we gotta get to the bombings in the film ASAP…
- Lastly, Jessica and Paul were depicted as weaker than I remember them, especially Jessica, who seems less like a “witch” and more like a overworked mother constantly on the verge of tears.
On this last point, I can see why Hollywood would have wanted to “humanize” the characters, but I feel like it removes the mythic status that Paul is meant to take. And that’s my overall complaint: instead of treating this as an inhuman origin myth, they sanded down anything interesting and tried to make it into a “serious” space drama. Which it partially is, but it’s also the creation of a larger-than-life character. The character teardown doesn’t come until Dune Messiah.
A Letter to Momo
A decent movie about a girl who moves out to the countryside after the death of her father, and moves on with some supernatural help from some mischievous spirits living in her home.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
A live-action musical adaptation of the Wotakoi romcom manga, which centers around a group of game-and-anime-obsessed otaku couples working at the same company. This is a passable movie at best, おたくなじみ (=おたく＋幼馴染) joke notwithstanding.
Mai Mai Miracle
A mostly forgettable romp through the countryside of 1950’s Japan through the mind of a young girl with an extremely overactive imagination and a fondness for daydreaming about things from ancient history.
Streamed on Crunchyroll for the month of October.
- Ashita Sekai ga Owaru toshitemo: I couldn’t be bothered to finish it.
- BanG Dream! Film Live: basically a long music video. Fun if you’re into idol anime.
- Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!: Rikka Version: a recap of the first season with a tiny bit of new content.