Since Studio Ghibli is taking an indefinite hiatus after Hayao Miyazaki’s third (or fourth?) retirement, are otaku looking for that Ghibli magic doomed to an awful emptiness in anime going forward…? Hardly. While nobody can truly replace the godfather of anime, Miyazaki’s stepping off stage for now only means the spotlight can shine more fully on other superstars. And there’s some great new blood, with exciting visions and distinctive voices, whose names you should definitely be looking out for.
Here are just a couple…
More so than Miyazaki’s own son, Goro, this director has demonstrated a true penchant for magical realism–artfully blending slice-of-life drama with larger-than-life fantasy spectacle. On a more basic level, he deserves special kudos for somehow managing to make a feel-good movie about the internet…
You might’ve caught Hosoda’s work already without even realizing it. He made his bones directing the Digimon movie, then went on to re-explore those same MMO-ish themes in greater depth with Summer Wars. Taking place “five minutes into the future,” the film is set in a world where a Warcraft-like game has essentially engulfed the internet. And when a malignant computer virus manifests inside that game, who could possibly save Earth from total cyber-destruction? Why, a 90-year-old granny and the three generations of family who’ve come to visit for her birthday, of course. A heart-warming crowd-pleaser that’s science fiction without being “Science Fiction,” this endlessly-likable flick recalls early Spielberg fare such as E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Hosada’s last film, Wolf Children, is smaller in scope but makes just as much as an impact on feelings. It’s about a young widow who moves into the country to take care of two werewolf cubs after an urban accident tragically kills her husband. Like Let Me In (or Let the Right One In, if you prefer), the flick is a fresh take on familiar folkore, showing the humanizing moments of a monster’s back-story that most horror flicks are too afraid to dwell upon. As the titular wolf children come of age–and feel tugged between civilized humanity and the call of the wild–the fragile, fleeting moments of happiness they share with their mom turn all the more bittersweet by the film’s heartbreaking finale.
The Boy and the Beast, Hosada’s next film, explores the upbringing of feral children from a completely different angle. It dropped in Japan this summer, and should be coming to America… sometime. So, look out for it. Whenever it comes.
Affectionately nicknamed “the Urobutcher” for his gleeful willingness to kill off cast members, this man’s oeuvre runs a bit more… sanguine than Hosada’s. One of the rare anime creators whose notoriety springs entirely from the strength of his writing, Urobuchi turns genres upside-down throughout his work. Whether its the chronal crisscross of Fate/Zero or the magical girl deconstruction, Madoka Magica, he’s continually twisting expectations, and nerves.
The dystopia in his series, Psycho-Pass, is what you’d get if Minority Report met a Clockwork Orange. Taking the premise of pre-crime enforcement to an even more troubling extreme, the cops in this show are literal thought police, arresting “latent criminals” who simply have too many harmful ideas bubbling in their brains. However, recognizing that a certain balance of bad attitude is actually necessary for effective police work, the system scientifically matches clean-minded, by-the-book inspectors with dirty-minded, loose cannon “enforcers” in order to crack the worst cases. Giving a cyberpunk bend to the good cop/bad cop dynamic of countless crime thrillers, Psycho-Pass grounds its big, heady, speculative ideas in relatable emotional issues, exploring how much we’re shaped by all our relationships, big and small.
From dark to light, another of Urobuchi’s series, Gargantia on the Verurous Planet, boasts a delightful elevator pitch. What would happen if a Gundam-esque mech pilot crash-landed into truly alien territory–that is, an ocean paradise where none of his combat training matters? Taking full advantage of the space serialized TV affords, Gargantia shows the real arc of this young man’s gradual and awkward adjustment to his new, peaceful surroundings. There are no great enemies to battle forever. His mech is only good for salvaging sunken scrap. So, what’s he good for, now? And when romance buds with a bubbly local hippy, does she have any hope of truly understanding this lifelong soldier? Few mech shows invite favorable comparisons to Cameron Crowe’s seminal teen romance, Say Anything, but Gargantia works perfectly that way, using this colorful and outlandish metaphor to tackle young grad’s existential angst about what to do next.
While Gargantia is done and wrapped, the Urobutcher recently took Psycho-Pass into feature film territory with a suitably expanded plot about the thought police going global. Like The Boy and the Beast, it’s already come out in Japan, but it should be coming stateside soon-ish. Keep watch for it.
Featured Image Credit: VIZ Media