Monday, July 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – My Top 10 Favorite Episode Arcs

Star Wars: The Clone Wars” stands as personally one of my all time favorite animated programs, and in my opinion is a benchmark in the Star Wars saga. I loved the characters, I loved the action, I loved the expanded universe, and most of all I loved the opportunity to see unique stories told that you’d never be able to see in a theatrical “Star Wars” movie. Now I understand if casual Star Wars fans would prefer to just stick with the movies, and have no interest in sitting through an animated series with 122 episodes total. Regardless, there’s still so many quality episodes from this series that shouldn’t be glanced over. So I’m going to narrow down my personal top 10 Episode arcs that I highly recommend checking out. Now episode arcs from this series can range between two or four episodes, so this won’t be a traditional top 10 single episode countdown. With that said, if you’re a Star Wars fan of any sort, these are the episodes from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that I don’t think you should miss, because personally I’d place these among some of the best of what the Star Wars saga has to offer.   

#10 The Rebels of Onderon Arc (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “A War on Two Fronts”, “Front Runners”, “Soft War” and “Tipping Points” 

In my opinion, Season five was hands down the best of this whole series, and as you’ll notice on my countdown, most of my favorite arcs came from this season. Things were strong right off the bat with this epic four part premier arc in which Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice Ahsoka Tano leads a band a Rebels to revolt against their corrupt and evil kingdom. While there is definitely a lot of “War” in this “Clone Wars” series, they’ve never looked or felt more different than in these episodes. The best way to describe this arc is if the large scale battles and imaginative creatures of 2009’s “Avatar” became one with the look, feel and characters of “Game of Thrones”. That may sound like a radical combination, but that’s what you get with this arc ... and it’s outstanding for it. Aside from the unique medieval setting, I really love the characters in this arc. Of course we have Ahsoka present to represent our main cast, but I really like all these other one shot characters, some of which I feel could have had their own spin-offs. Actually, this arc introduced the character Saw Gerrera, who years later would be played by Forest Whitaker in the spin-off movie “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story”. I think this is a very underappreciated arc from the series, but definitely a favorite of mine, and one that I think could have passed as a standalone movie on its own.

#9 The Clone Cadet Arc (Season 1 & 3)
3 Episodes – “Clone Cadets”, “Rookies” & “ARC Troopers”)

One of the shows crowning achievements was humanizing the Clone Troopers and making them more than just cannon fodder during the battles. While this arc isn’t the most linier of the series, it was still a poignant example of how this show was going to expand the “Star Wars” saga in new, exciting and character driven ways. This arc follows the journey of a group of clones called Domino Squad who start off as failed cadets in training. We then see their valor, as some give their lives to defend their base. It all comes to a close in one of the shows most epic battles, as the evil droid army launch a full scale attack on the troopers home planet. We have rookie clones facing impossible odds, and it highlights these soldieries as individuals that the audience can care for. Captain Rex in particular is one of the best characters to come from the series, and is a personal favorite of mine among “Star Wars” characters in general. Also the episode “ARC Troopers” features the first paring of the shows two main villains General Grievous and Asajj Ventress, which was nothing short of epic.

#8 The Rain of Darth Maul (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “Revival”, “Eminence”, “Shades of Reason” and “The Lawless

We all remember Darth Maul from “The Phantom Menace” right? He was that really cool looking villain that got killed before he could do anything impactful. Well, one of the best ideas from this series was to bring Darth Maul back from the dead in the season 4 finally, and make him the main threat of season 5. It was a real treat to finally see Darth Maul as this menacing and larger than life villain, which he never achieved on film. His new design was stellar, and his voice was downright chilling. Naturally having Darth Maul as the primary focus of this arc, the writers were able to go all out with him, and his never dying quest for revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi who attempted to kill him back in the movie. Maul and his brother soon spread across the galaxy like wild fire, concurring all in their path. They bring Jabba the Hut and the entire Hut clan down in ruins, they take control of the Death watch clan, assemble their own personal army, and even take over their own planet in which Darth Maul becomes a ruler. Seeing Maul perched on his throne room chair is a chilling image and always stuck with me. His means of enacting vengeance on Kenobi are also really intense, and lead to one of the shows most tragic deaths. The action in this arc is also some of the shows best, and isn’t afraid to feature some really dark material. The violence on display is shocking for an animated program of this sort, and proves that Star Wars: The Clone Wars” wasn’t for little kids. Everything builds to a deeply thrilling showdown between Darth Maul and his former master The Emperor. Seeing these two titans clash is like the best of fan fiction come to life, and it is brutal, but highly entertaining to watch. On a side note, the final episode of this arc titled “The Lawless” is dedicated to the memory of the late voice actor Ian Abercrombie, who up to this point in the show had supplied the voice of The Emperor ... may he rest in peace.

#7 The Lost Padawan’s Arc (Season 3)
2 Episodes – “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt

One thing that “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” absolutely got right was introduce us to new original characters to go along with the familiar favorites. I my opinion it was Anakin Skywalker’s young apprentice Ahsoka Tano who stood out as the shows big break out character, and personally one of my five all time favorite Star Wars characters. She went through various peaks and vales through the series, and it just made her a more well rounded individual then the others. One of the brightest moments in her journey came in the season three finally, in which she’s kidnapped by a group of hunters that aim to use her and several other captured young Jedi for sport. Now stranded on a foreign jungle planet, she has to utilize all her strength and growth to survive, as well as inspire her captured companions to fight against their oppressors. You could almost describe this arc as “Predator” meets “The Hunger Games”, and it’s awesome! The battles, particularly the climax are some of my favorite action highlights from this show as a whole. More than anything, this is a great turning point in Ahsoka’s journey. It’s the moment where she really matured from the annoying and overly enthusiastic young Padawan she started as at the beginning of the series. Her relationship with her master Anakin is also developed in a small but very effective way at the end of the arc. Another small highlight is that this arc features a special guest appearance from Chewbacca, who aids our hero’s during their escape. It’s a short yet memorable and highly entertaining story arc from the series that shouldn’t be missed.           

#6 The Gathering Arc (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “The Gathering”, “A Test of Strength”, “Bound for Rescue” and “A Necessary Bond

Now here’s a surprisingly fun series of episodes that are very different from what the show usually produces, but it also feels like classic “Star Wars” at heart. Ahsoka Tano leads a small group of kids aspiring to become Jedi on a sacred rite of passage, where they face their flaws, and forge their own lightsabers. During the mission, the group is attacked by pirates lead by Hondo, who aim to steal the Jedi’s force sensitive lightsaber crystals, but end up taking Ahsoka prisoner instead. With the other adult Jedi’s out battling General Grievous, it’s up to the kids to embark on a wild adventure across the galaxy in order to save their friend, and earn the title of Jedi. Of all “The Clone Wars” arcs, this one appealed to my inner child the most. I remember being a kid and imagining myself as a Jedi going on exciting outer-space adventures of this sort. Now having a series of episodes revolving around a group of kids may seem obviously aimed to appeal to young viewers, but it’s all handled with a very mature direction. The young Jedi cast is surprisingly likable, all with distinct personalities, each learn valuable moral lessons, and they just make for a memorable group of characters. Of course having Ahsoka Tano present in this arc as a main character is always a plus. The pirate Hondo is voiced by the exceptionally talented Jim Cummings, and the character really shines in this arch as both one of the most charismatic and funniest villains the series has ever produced. Yet another stand out character from this arc is the robot Huyang who is brought to life by “Doctor Who” himself David Tennant, who actually won an Emmy Award for his voice work on this show. On a side note, the closing episode “A Necessary Bond” marks the final appearance of General Grievous in the series, and it’s one of his best battles. It’s consistently fun, there’s great action, the cast is terrific and “The Gathering” itself works great for building on the lore and mythos of the Jedi.   

#5 Yoda’s Journey Through the Force (Season 6)
4 Episodes – “The Lost One”, “Voices”, “Destiny” and “Sacrifice

This season finally arc marks the end of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and it’s a suitably poignant swan song for the series as a whole to go out on. In fact, the final episode of this arc titled “Sacrifice” is widely considered by fans as probably the absolute best of what the show has to offer. After making a frightening discovery of the origins of the Jedi’s very own clone army, Yoda goes on a spiritual journey across the stars in an effort to find answers. Instead he finds himself facing various challenges and tests from several different mystical creatures. He learns more about the force, and discovers even more hidden secrets about the universe at large. This was a surprisingly touching series of episodes, complete with terrific character moments, genuinely deep moral values, sensational animation and it builds on the lore of Star Wars like few others before ever did. One of the many highlights is that Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill supplies the voice of a guest villain called Darth Bane. The biggest highlight of all comes at the end when Yoda comes face to face with The Emperor, which leads into an awesome dual. Obviously The Emperor's real identity isn’t revealed to Yoda until the movie “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, but this was a great warm up to their theatrical showdown. Also, after the tragic passing of Ian Abercrombie who previously supplied the voice of The Emperor, he was replaced in this season by the great Tim Curry, and he absolutely shines in the role. This is the arc in which Tim Curry was given full rain to take a legendary Star Wars villain to new heights, and subsequently, it's one of his greatest villain roles. While not my absolute favorite of what “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” has to offer, it’s still a powerful series of episodes that closes this amazing TV show on a high note.

#4 The Slaves of Zygerria Trilogy (Season 4)
3 Episodes – “Kidnapped”, “Slaves of the Republic” and “Escape from Kadavo

Now here’s a very different kind of story arc that took me by surprise, and features our hero’s in a unique situation. The entire civilian population of a city is taken captive by a ruthless clan of slave traders called the Zygerrians, who are also in direct service to the shows main villains. All four of our principle main hero’s Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Captain Rex go under-cover on the Zygerrian home world in an effort to free all the slaves, but end-up becoming prisoners themselves. It’s an exciting premise that features some of the shows finest action, and it’s interesting to see Anakin Skywalker battle his personal demons in this situation. This is also a rare case in which all four of our main hero’s are present for one arc. The Zygerrians also make for a memorable group of villains, as their both ruthless but also kind of interesting. Their evil queen for example takes a liking to Anakin Skywalker, and puts him to a test, she’ll set all his companions free if he willingly surrenders his life to her. I especially like all the little throwbacks to the original “Star Wars” trilogy, particularly the opening Jabba the Hutt sequence from “Return of the Jedi”. We even have Ahsoka put in an attractive slave dress that’s less skimpy then Princess Leia’s original gold bikini. Memorable battles, individual character highlights and a situation that breaks away from the familiar Clone Wars formula make this my personal favorite arc from season 4. 

#3 The Holocron Heist Trilogy (Season 2)
3 Episodes – “Holocron Heist”, “Cargo of Doom” & “Children of the Force”)

While this series was credible for bringing back many fan favorite villains like Darth Maul and Boba Fett, it was actually the show’s original villains that stuck with me the most. My favorite of the shows rouges gallery by far was the new bounty hunter Cade Bane, who personally is my second favorite villain in the entire “Star Wars” saga behind Darth Vader. In the season two premier arc, we saw just how devastating he is as both a threat, and just a plain cool villain. Now we’ve seen past bounty hunters put up a good fight against Jedi, but Cade Bane was the first to inflict nuclear size damage to the Jedi order as a whole. He broke into the Jedi’s sacred temple, ruthlessly killed several members along the way, strategically outsmarted our hero’s, kidnapped several force sensitive children and aimed to brain wash them to become servants for the evil Emperor. While our villain definitely shines, our main hero’s Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano are still very involved and have their own meaningful character arc’s incorporated into this one. The middle episode “Cargo of Doom” features some of my favorite action highlights of the show, including Walkers in space, and a massive brawl in a zero gravity room. The best moment of all is a confrontation involving all three of our principle characters Anakin Skywalker, Cade Bane and Ahsoka Tano. It’s here we see how one bounty hunter can have total dominance over two armed Jedi, and all while using nothing but his ruthless intellect as a weapon. It’s just a solid season premier that further develops our main characters, thrills us with creative action set pieces and more than anything shows off one of the franchises greatest villains in all his glory.    

#2 The Mortis Trilogy (Season 3)
3 Episodes – “Overlords”, “Alter of Mortis” and “Ghosts of Mortis

Before this arc, I had been passively enjoying the series, but it was this arc from season 3 that turned me into a devoted fan of “The Clone Wars”, and things haven’t been the same sense. In this arc, our three Jedi hero’s find themselves stranded on a mysterious planet that seems to have been created from the force itself. While on this strange world, they meet three mystical beings that put Anakin Skywalker through a series of challenges to determine if he’s “the chosen one”, and a series of internal struggles ensue along the way. Not only does this arc develop our characters further, it also enhances and explores the mythology of the Star Wars universe. The setting of this strange planet is arguably the most imaginative and atmospheric setting of the saga as a whole. The three mystics also make for fascinating characters with unique capabilities that we’ve never seen before. Their abilities also lead to some fascinating action sequences that are both visual spectacles, but I also care about the individual characters, which makes these battles all the more engaging. The villain of this arc is only referred to as “the Son” and he’s one of the shows stand out foes. I especially love the internal journey our main characters go through, as Anakin struggles to find his path, and his relationship with his apprentice Ahsoka reaches new heights. There are also several little surprises along the way, including Liam Neeson reprising his role as Qui Gon Jinn. The best moment of all is a scene in which Anakin looks into the future and see’s all the devastation he’ll cause as Darth Vader. The animation and designs in this arc is stunning, I love how it explores the lore of the series, and it was the first time “The Clone Wars” broke away from the familiar took full advantage of its expansive potential.           

Of course I had to draw the line somewhere, but before I reveal my #1 favorite here are some individual episodes that deserve an Honorable Mention ... 

Hostage Crisis” (Season 1)

The Deserter” (Season 2) 

Bounty” (Season 4) 

Carnage of Krell” (Season 4) 

Death Trap” (Season 2)

#1 The Final Journey of Ahsoka Tano (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi” and “The Wrong Jedi

As I stated above, Ahsoka is personally my favorite character from this series, and I think she’s earned the right to be called one of the great classic Star Wars characters. Her journey took many exciting twists, and the most impactful moment of her character arc by far came in the Season 5 finally. Rather than go for a big action spectacle, or have our hero’s face a larger than life villain, this season finally chose to center its attention on the struggles of someone meaningful, and broke away from the shows more familiar formula. After a terrorist bombing, Ahsoka is framed for the crime, as well as a subsequent murder. Thus she’s forced to go on the run to prove her innocents, while being chased by the very troops and Jedi she fought beside. With no-one left to trust, Ahsoka is forced to make an alliance with none other than her arch enemy Asajj Ventress, which is an awesome paring. Obviously set-up’s like this have been done in other shows and movies, in fact there’s a scene in a sewer that’s lifted right out of “The Fugitive”, and three of the episode titles “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi” and “The Wrong Jedi” are all clearly named after the classic Alfred Hitchcock crime thrillers “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Thief” and “The Wrong Man”. However, everything from the direction, to the atmosphere, to the visuals, to the mystery plot, to the riveting chasses, to the emotional connections with our characters are all dialed up to eleven in this arc. There’s a great sense of passion in thisone, which is consistently felt through the voice acting, the writing and especially the musical score. Of course the action, particularly the light saber duals are among some of the series best, but the focus always goes to the characters first. This is when action is at its best because I feel for the characters, and wanted to see Ahsoka get through this situation. The whole arc just felt refreshingly different from past episodes, and wasn’t afraid to take risks. Even the twist reveal of the villain is very poignant, and a frightening hint of what’s to come. Admiral Tarkin also works very effectively as an internal threat for this arc. 
Finally, this arc closes on one of the best on screen character moments the series ever produced. Seriously, to call this ending my absolute favorite moment from the TV series is an understatement, because in my personal opinion I think the closing scene from “The Wrong Jedi” is one of the five greatest, and most emotional highlights of the entire “Star Wars” saga. This concludes my countdown of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite animated TV shows. If you’ve never seen “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and have no interest in sitting through all 122 episodes, I hope my countdown at least provided some good options to check out. It may not have been perfect, but when this series was “good”, it really was some of the best of what “Star Wars” has ever offered. 

The End      

My Top 15 favorite moments in the Harry Potter series

      Wow, I remember being in 4th grade when the first Harry Potter film came out and now the final film is here, ending an outstanding series that I feel privileged to have grown up with. So to celebrate I’m counting down my top 15 favorite moments from this amazing series. Now it’s not easy to select just 15 moments or even 100 for that matter because there are so many great moments in this series but I’ll do my best. So prep your brooms and get ready to launch into my top 15 favorite moments from the Harry Potter Series.
#15 Opening to Half Blood Prince 
 Of all the films in the sires, this one has my favorite opening , I love how it starts with the WB logo, we hear Bellatrix in the background, followed by flashes on the events from the last film. Then the title shows up with powerful music playing in the background and then we get awesome shots of the camera zooming through ales and crashing through walls. It’s almost like a theme park ride. Overall a great opening, too bad the rest of the film isn’t as exciting.  

#14 Harry and Herminie dance (from Deathly Hallows Part 1) 
 Of all the relations in this series, the one that always came off as the strongest to me was the true friend ship between Harry and Herminie and this little dance was simply the most joyful moment between the two.
#13 Spider attack (from Chamber of Secrets) 
 This whole movie was like a collection of adventure serials with Ron and Harry getting in one huge predicament after the next. But the most exciting moment for me was when they were trying to escape the dark forest from an army of killer spiders. It was intense, thrilling, and the last time we would see that awesome flying car.  
 #12 Dumbledore’s quick escape (from Order of the Phoenix) 
 This is just an awesome scene, Dumbledore is about to be taken away to prison but he makes a quick escape by grabbing onto the tail of the Phoenix and disappearing in a large, fiery eruption. What better way to end it then with this fun line, “You may not like him minister but you can’t deny, Dumbledore’s got style”, perfect.  
#11 Sky Battle (from Deathly Hallows Part 1) 
 Now this was a teat, what better way to get you excited for the adventure ahead than by starting the film with an awesome sky chase. Spells are being fired left and right, the stakes are higher than usual because more characters are involved and we get lots of on road vehicle destruction, awesome! 
#10 Harry and Lupin talk on the bridge (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 I don’t know what it is about this scene that I love so much but there’s something moving about it. It’s the first time we really see Harry have a simple heart to heart conversation with another teacher. There’s no life changing moral or anything but the setting is great, the background music is nice and soothing and Lupin’s words carry so much care and understanding towed Harry and his family that it makes for such an emotional little moment without anything being to overly dramatic, it’s all simple and pure.   
#9 Arriving at Hogwarts for the first time on boat (in the Sorcerer’s stone) 
 This was such a perfect first shot of Hogwarts castle, the music fits it perfectly and it’s such a memorable little moment that it’s actually on par with seeing the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road for the first time from “The Wizard of Oz”.     
#8 The “Something Wicked this way Comes” quire (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 This small little musicale number is just awesome! The lyrics are great, the sound of the low drum in the background is perfect and it creates such a foreboding, yet lively atmosphere. I love how beautifully all the visuals and images match with the song. First we see a dark reflection of Harry’s face in a window, then it dissolves to a shot of horseless carriages ridding off in the rain and finally the interior of the great hall, fantastic!

#7 Dumbledore vs. Voldemort (from Order of the Phoenix) 
 The entire third act of this film is just one amazing action scene after the next with all the characters trying to escape the ministry. What better way to end everything then an amazing one on one wizard dual between Voldermort and Dumbledore. I could have filled this list entirely with scenes from this battle, but if I had to choose one action moment it would be this dual. It’s not just a collision of spells, there are all kinds of energy elements that are being used, like water, a fire snake, shattered glass,  shadow energy, it’s just an amazing dual.
#6 The Tail of the Peverell Brothers (from Deathly Hollows Part 1) 
 None of the previous films ever gave use anything like this awesome story. This was so unique, the visuals and animation were strange yet so fascinating at the same time. I love the whole mood, atmosphere, its terrific ways of making transitions and Emma Watsons narration was so cryptic that it brought everything to life perfectly. 
#5 Every single Quidditch match from the series 
 I couldn’t pick one individual Quidditch match, there all outstanding. The first time seeing a Quidditch match in the first film was simply amazing, I had never seen anything like it before. The second film just built on top of it by having Harry compete against Draco and get chased by that rouge bludger. The third film was much darker and more haunting, the rain is falling on them, the grim (creepy dog omen of death) appears in the sky and Harry is chased be death eaters. Bottom line, whenever I watch a Harry Potter film, always look forward to the Quidditch matches.      
#4 The PETRONAS charm (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 It was such a spectacle to see Harry find the strength within himself to conjure a massive PETRONAS shock wave that takes out an army of death eaters. The music, the visuals, the sensation of this whole scene was simply riveting.
 #3 Flying Buck Beak (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 I absolutely love atmospheric flights in films and this is when I first discovered how effective they are. I love all the different shots of the castle and landscape and how it all matched perfectly with the stunning music in this scene. It almost feels meditative and it fully allows you to take in all the atmosphere and genius that the film has to offer.

#2 The ending to Chamber of secrets 
 This is something that I can only describe as the best feel good moment of the entire series. There couldn’t have been a more satisfying ending then seeing the great hall in thunderous applause, we get one final shot of every main character (including one last great shot of Richard Harris as Dumbledore), the camera backs out a window, we get an amazing final shot of the castle, all matched with some great music and it always leaves me with such a powerful and satisfying feeling, like this is the perfect way to end a film.      
#1 The possession scene (from Order of the Phoenix) 

 This scene is just epic and it’s one of the most powerful moments I ever experienced in the cinema. Harry is being torn apart by Voldermort and we get a lot of creepy images and negative flashbacks from the previous films, (which is really cool, how often does a character flashback on events from past films). Then from looking at his friends he remembers why he has strength over Voldermort, he’ll never no love or friendship the way Harry does and then in his last breath he looks at his enemy and says “I feel sorry for you”. This is why we love this character, he’s a hero who looks at his enemy, not with hate but with sorrow that he’ll never know what it’s like to be loved. He then defeats his enemy by bringing up all positive thoughts about the times he’s had with his loved ones. The music in this scene is stunning, the images are right on, and the emotion in this scene is the highest that have ever come from this series and that’s why it stands as my favorite moment from all the Harry Potter films.
Will the last film have a scene that can top this, well find out, when I review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2.  

My Top 10 Favorite Anime Movies

     As you’d probably expect from my Blog title, I’m a big movie guy, and I love a verity of films ranging from musicals, to action, to comedy, to horror, to animation, etc. However, some things take longer for me to discover then others, case in point ... Japanese Anime. At first I had no interest in it, and for years paid no attention to any animated movies from Japan. However, as a man who loves movies, I occasionally like to explore and see new things. Once I started to watch some Japanese Anime movies and TV shows, I was instantly hooked. There is an art and style to Japanese animation that’s all its own, and very inspiring. In fact, many American film makers have been deeply influenced by Anime movies and shows. Over the years, I’ve actually begun to respect Japanese Anime as “on par” and in many cases even superior to American animation. 
I love that Japanese animation is very traditional, with little to no computer effects, mostly hand drawn and sensational to behold. It’s about time I post a list of my personal favorite Anime movies. TV shows like “Cowboy Bebop” and “Attack on Titan” would have to be mentioned on a different list. Also, this is a list of my own personal favorite Japanese Anime movies, it will include some lesser known films, some movies based on TV shows I grew up with, and less of the popular ones that usually populate most greatest Anime movies lists, so don’t have a heart attack if I don’t include such popular animated titles like “Akira” or “Spirited Away”. Agree or disagree, these are my personal top 10 favorite Japanese Anime movies I’ve seen.       

#10 Perfect Blue (1997) 

From the late great director Satoshi Kon, comes a gripping psychological thriller that’s on par with
any one of Alfred Hitchcock's classics.
The film follows a girl named Mima, who was a Japanese pop idol, but retired from music to pursue an acting career. In an effort to separate her new life from her old one, she takes on some risky and disturbing roles that she would have never done in the past. As she goes deeper and deeper into her first film role, she starts to lose her perception of what is real in her life and what is fiction. Soon, several murders are committed, involving people that Mima is close to, and a mysterious fan boy begins stalking her, suggesting that maybe he’s the killer, or is it much deeper than that? The film is brilliantly shot, putting us right in Mima’s mind set as we too are wondering what’s a dream, what’s on stage and what’s real. This film was highly influential for such films as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan”, and it’s really cool to see the similarities. Be warned, “Perfect Blue” is not a film for the faint of heart, as it contains some really disturbing imagery, and tense psychological themes. As for me, I was captivated from beginning to end, the mystery intrigued me, I admired how stylish the direction was, albeit over stylized at times, but still captivating. It’s a very trippy thriller, with a twist ending that leaves an impact, and in my opinion it’s one of director Satoshi Kon’s best films.

#9 The Wind Rises (2014) 

Director Hayao Miyazaki is often regarded as the Walt Disney of Anime directors, but personally, that’s not giving him enough credit. 
In my opinion, he should go down in history as one of the greatest filmmakers on planet earth. He knows how to write and direct near flawless films. His 2014 movie titled “The Wind Rises” is his final film project and a beautifully fitting swan song for the acclaimed director. This is the most down to earth of his films as it’s based on a true story, and takes place during World War 2. The focus is on an aviation architect who dreams of building and designing plains. He doesn’t have any political interests, he just wants to build air craft’s that will be of benefit for mankind, not just one country. Sadly his inventions are used as destructive weapons, showing just how costly someone’s ambitious dreams can be, even if it was well intended. It’s a very straight forward story about following your dreams, but it’s done very well as it addresses both the struggles and costs that may inevitably come from one’s vision. It’s a genuinely inspiring film and even a touch relatable. When you have a dream as a child, grow older maintaining that dream and envisioning it as you go about your daily life ... you start to see your dream present in other things. There’s also a love story going on that’s equally beautiful, and quiet dramatic. While the movie has some noticeable passing issues, it compensates with some breathtaking visuals, and a touching story that demonstrates the impact of one man’s ambition. The film runs the whole gambit of emotions as it follows this dreamer over 10 years of his life, and in the end, its quiet the journey to experience.

#8 The Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006) 

Ever have one of those days where nothing went right, and you just wish you could do it all over again? 
Well, that’s the common problem for a young girl named Makoto, who just needs more time to get things done right. Luck would have it that one day she comes into contact with a tiny device that allows her to go back in time whenever she wants to, and where ever she wants to. Now with all the time in the world on her side, she does whatever she wants to, like fixing little mistakes, study longer for tests, spend more time with friends, and just has fun with herself. However, there’s a small price that comes with her time traveling, and that’s an unintentional side effect it leaves on the other people around her. As the drama unfolds, we see a change in her, and how she utilizes her time travel. It all builds to a beautifully bitter sweet ending that’s among my favorites I’ve ever seen from a Japanese Anime. This movie is everything a good coming of age film should be, it’s funny, thoughtful, touching, adventurous, dramatic and wildly inventive, with one of the most highly effective visual designs that I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most original time travel concepts I’ve ever seen, and I love that the film takes full advantage of how fun, yet tense the experience can be. If you have some free “time” on your hands, definitely check this one out.  

#7 is going to be a tie between two films,

7 (A) Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie 2 - The Sealed Card (2000)
7 (B) Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (1999)

Both these films are adapted from Anime shows I grew up watching, and they make my list out of pure nostalgia. Cardcaptors and Pokémon were the two shows that introduced me to Japanese Anime in the first place, and the whole reason I took interest in seeing films like “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”. I can’t make a persuasive argument that either of these movies are “good” exactly, but there still very special in their own way, and I just couldn’t imagine keeping either one of my list.

Cardcaptors” in particular is very special to me as it was the very first Anime I watched in its original Japanese language. The show revolved around an everyday girl named Sakura who’d occasionally have to protect her home town from magical oddities that had a tendency to disrupt her peaceful life. The movie “Cardcaptor 2 - The Sealed Card” was the shows swan song, and a more then satisfying conclusion to the series. Rather than close this fantasy adventure saga with a big spectacle, it’s a very subdued, quiet and peaceful epilogue that brings closure to Sakura’s journey, both magically and on a very relatable level. I can see how some viewers may regard this film as boring, but I love these characters, I enjoy spending time with them during their everyday life style, and it’s great to see Sakura finally get together with the boy she loves most. There’s also a decent magical mystery that’s slowly being unraveled, and leads to a climax that’s both thrilling and quiet touching in its own way. The animation is wonderful, the atmosphere is just as magical as ever, and when the film ends, it just leaves me with those warm nostalgic “feels”.  

Pokémon by contrast was never as special, but it was still a part of my late 90’s childhood, and the film I remember watching the most was their second movie, also known in Japan as “Pokemon: The Power of One”. 
This is the only time in which I felt an honest effort from the creators to make a legit movie, as opposed to another episode with a slightly bigger budget. It’s more of a quest based film, as the characters from the show find themselves on a journey to collect magical objects from various islands. When all the pieces are united, it will save the world from an imbalance in nature, which is threatening to flood the planet. The stakes are higher, it’s fast passed, and there are some great animation highlights. The characters from the show are still boring, but thankfully there are some interesting new characters that balance things out. Plus, after all these years I’ve never forgotten the films instrumental music track, which is honestly quiet breathtaking to listen to. The main “Power of One” theme song performed by the late Donna Summer is also a firkin great song that really gets to me every time I hear it. Like I said, I wouldn’t recommend either “Pokemon: The Movie 2000” or “Cardcaptor 2 - The Sealed Card” to anyone not familiar with the source material, and nostalgia aside, I know they’re not great movies by any means. However, both are harmlessly derivative Anime adventures, and memorable little trinkets from my child hood.   

#6 Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) 

Arguably the most delightful and simplistic of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated treasures is “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. 
I’ve always felt that this film is to studio GHIBLI what “The Little Mermaid” was for Disney. This is the movie that actually introduced me to Hayao Miyazaki, and I’ve been a fan ever sense. The film revolves around a young teenage witch leaving home to make a life for herself, and fate leads her to a small town where she becomes a delivery girl for a bakery. From there on, it’s just the life and times of this young girl, the people she meets and all the little adventures she has along the way. This could have been a very boring premise, but thanks to its lead heroin and cheerful overtone, it’s one of the most charming experiences I’ve had. Kiki is just so genuine and delightful that I just love following her on her journey. There’s something about watching a person just live their life that makes the experience feel very down to earth, just with a little magic thrown it. In Disney’s English dub version, Kiki is voiced by Kirsten Dunst and she just hit’s it out of the park by bringing the character to life with a personality that’s both young and sweet, but also grown up and mature. What can I say, with a lovable lead heroin, a light as air story and some truly gorgeous animation, “Kiki's Delivery Service” is a great film for the young and young at heart.

#5 Patema Inverted (2014) 

How does one describe “Patema Inverted” without sounding crazy? Well, I’ll start by saying that it’s arguably one of the trippy-est and most original movies I’ve ever experienced. 
The story revolves around a princess named Patema who comes from an underground world, but wishes to explore, and see what lies beyond. Her search leads her to the surface world, where all of gravity is reversed, and even the society is backwards. With her world literally turned upside down, our princess meets a young boy who actually has quiet a lot in common with her, despite coming from opposite grounds. Both are explorers, both dream of seeing the larger world, and both happen to be orphans. Together they form a strong friendship, get into several crazy situations, and aim to bridge their opposing societies together. It’s an ingenious concept that combines a wild upside down world with a social allegory, and it’s just so creative with its unique setting. It’s all about seeing things from a different perspective, which is so creatively conveyed by our characters. Sense we have people walking on opposite sides of gravity, it allows the animators to get really creative with lots of cool angles, neat shots, and some visually arresting imagery. The characters are standard, but genuinely likable, and they share some really nice scenes. More than anything, “Patema Inverted” is a film that takes familiar story elements, but combines them with lots of imagination, making this a unique and extremely entertaining experience. 

#4 Tales from Earthsea (2006) 

Once again from Studio GHIBLI comes the 2006 Fantasy Anime picture “Tales from Earthsea”, which is based on the book series of the same name. 
When a young prince named Arren murders his father, he soon realizes that he must battle the dark side of his very soul, because deep down he truly loved his father, and apparently had no control over his own actions. Prince Arren teams up with a mysterious wizard named Sparrow Hawk who vows to help our hero concur his demons before he can concur his enemies. Along the journey they encounter Dragons, an evil wizard, and a young woman with a burned face … yet she’s actually more beautiful than any stereotypical princess. I’ve always loved old school sword and sorcery films, and to see one come to life in the beauty of a Japanese Anime make this a personal gem of mine. More importantly, this is the kind of fantasy movie that Hollywood needs to make more of, because it doesn’t focus on big battles or over blown spectacles. This film is all about these interesting characters, and this mystical world that’s just dripping with atmosphere. The music only adds to the cob wonder that the setting creates, the animation is sensational, and there’s this subtle laid back tone that allows you to be fully submersed in this magical world. It has the buildup and high stakes of a fantasy epic, but it also has deep topics on the importance of life, and just makes the film feel like something special. 

#3 Castle in the Sky (1986) 

Of all Hayao Miyazaki's classic Anime, I think “Castle in the Sky” is the most thoroughly entertaining by far. 
The movie begins with a young princess descending from the heavens with a magical crystal around her neck, and she lands in a small town full of miners. She’s discovered by a young boy who’s an explorer, and hopes to find a mysterious island floating in the sky. It’s soon revealed that the young Princess is in fact a descendent from the very kingdom on the floating island, and through a series of events, the two find themselves embarking on a journey to find this mystical land. Along the way they encounter air pirates, giant robots, and armored soldiers. Much like “The Adventures of Tintin”, “Castle in the Sky” is a strait forward action adventure that both kids and adults can enjoy. While it doesn’t have the emotional highlights of other Miyazaki films, it absolutely shines with creativity, imagination and an intriguing fantasy mythos. The setting of the floating castle in the sky is one of the most spectacular locations I think I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. The design is unique, the art work is stealer and it just creates this strong other worldly atmosphere. The film is also blessed with a very talented voice cast, including Anna Paquin as the voice of the young princess, Cloris Leachman as the high-spirited air pirate, and of course Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame as the voice of the main villain. Oh Mark Hamill, he’s always awesome voicing animated villains, and this is one of his most deliciously evil performances. With its fast pace, memorable characters, and imaginative setting, “Castle in the Sky” is simply a high spirited adventure flick, on par with any classic Indiana Jones film, and worth checking out.   

#2 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) 

Naturally I’ve included a couple of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic movies on my list, and there are still so many other good ones that I just couldn’t fit in, but here it is at last, in my personal opinion the greatest of Miyazaki’s films by far is “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”. 
I know most fans would say that either “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke” are his greatest achievements, but neither of those films left the same impact on me that “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” did. This was only Miyazaki’s second film, and the amount of ambition, creativity and captivating artistry on display just blow my mind. It just feels like the most epic, and the most inspiring of his works, but that’s really all subject to my personal taste. The story takes place 1000 years in an apocalyptic future, where the earth has been consumed by a toxic jungle, giant insects run amuck, civilizations wage war for ownership of the last surviving human populations, and cot in the middle is a brave young Princess named Nausicaa who’ll fight to her dying breath to insure peace is made across the land. That’s not just peace with the other kingdoms but also with the creatures that roam the planet. Strait to the point, this film features my favorite Princess character I think I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. Seriously, Princess Nausicaa has a warm heart and charming personality, but she also commands authority, takes serious action and always takes charge in any given situation. The supporting cast too is also excellent, with some great vocal talents including the always great Patrick Stewart in the role of a mighty swordsman. Also for a film set in a dying apocalyptic future, it has quiet a beautiful atmosphere, and some visual marvels. This movie was made back in the 1980’s, and it’s a true testament to the art of animation considering that no computers were used in the making of the film, yet it looks so phenomenal. A great cast of characters, powerful performances, stealer artistry, epic storytelling ... “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” just seems to have it all, and is easily my favorite of Miyazaki’s treasures. It could have been my number one favorite Anime movie in general, but there’s still one other that wins over by a hair.

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions ...

Spirited Away (2001)

Millennium Actress (2001)

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Tokyo Godfathers (2003) 

#1 When Marnie was There (2015) 

Even if you’re not a fan of Japanese Anime, this is a movie that I still highly recommend because “When Marnie was There” is as beautiful as movies get.  Beautiful in its artistry, beautiful in its storytelling, beautiful in its theme, beautiful in its atmosphere, and it’s an experience that’s just plain good for the heart. 
The story revolves around an orphaned and asthmatic young girl named Anna, who’s basically shut herself out from the world ... and she hates herself for it. Her foster family sends her on a trip to stay with some relatives, in hopes that it will help her asthma, and maybe even allow her to branch out of her socially confined shell. At first she has a hard time fitting in, but everything changes once she meets a mysterious young girl named Marnie. As the two spend time together, Anna learns how to live her life to the fullest and a powerful friendship ensues between these two young girls. However, something about Marnie is very “out of place”, or maybe even “out of time”. Something strange hovers above both Marnie and the house she comes from, ... something “Ghostly”. Mysteries soon unfold, origins get unraveled, deep life lessons are learned, then everything builds and builds to an ending that’s so touching and beautiful that it’s hard not to get chocked up over it. Seriously, I rarely cry after watching a movie, let alone an animated one, but every time I watch this film, I’m always tearing up at the end. It’s a movie that combines real life struggles with a magical “Twilight Zone” like setting. I dare not go into any more detail, because I couldn’t do the film justice, and it’s an experience that viewers just need to have on their own. It may be a very recent film, but “When Marnie was There” stands tall and strong as my favorite Japanese Anime I’ve ever seen, and personally, it’s one of my favorite movies.