This year marked a noticeable shift in animated entertainment. There’s a mini revolution brewing; creators and audiences are sick of the predictable and safe and are willing to embrace bold new visions with artistic integrity. When we look back at this year, it may be considered a tipping point in animation history when Western animation companies started to appeal to audiences beyond kids and family. The stories listed vary in style and genre but all maintain a commitment to mature animated storytelling.
Here is a list of this year’s standouts in case you missed them. Please note that some of these stories were released in late 2017. But I’m not a stickler.
Princess Principal is about a team of female spies in a steampunk world completing secret missions to the tune of sexy Jazz music. The show makes good on its premise but the real standout is its enigmatic heroine, Ange. There are many anime girls that can kick ass and look cool. What makes Ange special is that she keeps her motives secret from her allies and the audience. Ange is more than just cool, she’s complex.
It’s seems like every other blog I write makes some reference to Devilman Crybaby. And for good reason; no other anime has delivered such a heart-pounding story paired with a fresh art style. Devilman Crybaby introduced Western audiences to the works of Go Nagai and Masaaki Yuasa. This show pushed the boundaries of what can be conveyed in animation and what anime can look like.
Devilman Crybaby is now streaming on Netflix.
High School settings are overplayed in Anime and yet Kakegurui’s school of high stakes gambling felt fresh and entertaining. It’s the kind of show you can watch, even if you know “Jack all” about gambling. The show’s protagonist Yumeko Jabami, made every episode interesting and unpredictable. I eagerly anticipate season 2 in 2019.
Kakegurui is now streaming on Netflix.
When seventeen-year-old Satou Matsuzaka abducts a little girl named Shio, Satou commits murder to cover her tracks. Can Shio escape her gilded cage? Will Satou escape her family’s cycle of abuse and perversion? Who is really the prisoner? Happy Sugar Life remains one of the most harrowing horror anime I’ve ever seen without being too graphic. The audiences’ fear comes from caring about the characters, and Happy Sugar Life delivers a thriller that’s both empathetic and terrifying.
Happy Sugar Life is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
In The Night Is Short Walk On Girl, college first-year Otome, travels through a surreal night of drinking and festivities while making chance encounters with an upperclassman boy trying to win her heart. Director Masaaki Yuasa utilizes bold, flat colors and cartoony humor juxtaposed with adult subject matter to create a magical realist love story for the ages.
The Night Is Short Walk On Girl will be available on Blu-ray and DVD next year.
Vampires are back, baby! Gorgeous gothic animation, stellar action scenes, richly developed characters and the most empathetic interpretation of Dracula to date. Castlevania is a riveting horror fantasy that pits vampires from across the globe against a rag-tag group of monster-slayers. I’m thirsting already for Season 3.
Castlevania seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Netflix.
Final Space has finally done what was long thought impossible: an original cartoon for adults that’s not a vulgar sit-com. Witness the rebel crew of the Galaxy One travel within psychic dream worlds, across time, through the deepest oceans and escape from hostile alien planets. On the tail of our heroes is the ruthless Lord Commander, a psychic alien powerful enough to rip people apart with his mind! I hope the success of this series will inspire other networks to create more adult cartoons with a focus on action and adventure.
Final Space airs on TBS.
I cannot emphasis enough what a spectacular anomaly the Isle of Dogs is. Can you imagine trying to pitch an animated film about dogs where the dogs aren’t cute but feral and disease-ridden? This is an original PG13-rated independent, stop-motion feature film, set in a foreign country with an unusual plot and expensive production values. Isle of Dogs is arguably the least commercial idea that has become a commercial success. Director Wes Anderson has proven that vision surpasses fashion and there will always be an audience wanting to hear unique voices.
Isle of Dogs is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
From its watercolor visuals to its haunting soundtrack Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children is one the darkest and most distinctive animated films this year. In a post-apocalyptic fantasy world inhabited by drug-addicted animals, Bird Boy must come to terms with his own inner demons before they destroy the ones he loves. I have never seen a film that was simultaneously beautiful and traumatic. There are images from this film that will be forever burned into my psyche.
Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
In The Breadwinner, an 11-year-old Afghani girl must disguise herself as boy to provide for her family after her father is arrested by the Taliban. From its elegant art direction to its emotional story, The Breadwinner is an animated achievement that needs to be seen by the entire world. The animators at Cartoon Saloon deliver a riveting drama while embracing hand drawn animation at its fullest potential.
The Breadwinner is currently streaming on Netflix.
I have written on many occasions about Gobelins Animation School, because I truly believe it is the future of animated story- telling. Gobelins animation is uninhibited by the commercial restraints and expectations of American cartoons or Anime. Each animated short is distinctive in its style and tone. The only unifying quality to Gobelins animation is that they are always beautiful and tell stories for college-aged audiences. This year’s graduation films were much longer and more numerous than in previous years. In apparent response to the social and political challenges we all face, each graduation film told a story that mattered in a way never seen before.
Gobelins full list of animated shorts can be viewed on their youtube channel.
When it comes to this film, most critiques comment on its style. However, Spider-Verse does more than simply cell-shade its characters and add the occasional onomatopoeia. Spider-Verse utilizes split-screen, sharp-cuts, reduced frame rates–all layered intricately over a killer contemporary soundtrack.
The film manages to push genre boundaries with truly threatening antagonists and high-pressure situations. It’s a PG-rated film delivering PG- 13 level content. Spider-Verse’s exploration of more serious subjects comes across as emotionally impactful as opposed to ghoulish. The amount of artistic innovation cannot be summarized in two paragraphs and merits more detailed examination in future articles. Suffice it to say that Spider-Verse does right by Spider-Man’s creators. Rest in peace Stan and Steve, Spider-Man is still swinging high.
Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse is now in theaters