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Mamoru Hosoda is championed as one of the greatest anime directors working today. That reputation is owed in no small part to him being touted as the heir apparent to the cinematic legacy of Hayao Miyazaki, who formally retired from directing following the release of his then-final film The Wind Rises in 2013. Despite this glowing association, few of Hosoda’s handful of films have managed to graze the same strata of cinematic accomplishment and canonical enshrinement that typifies the storied career of the Studio Ghibli luminary.
99. Mobile Suit Gundam F-91 (1991)
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
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Set 30 years after the events of Char’s Counterattack, Mobile Suit Gundam F-91 is a strange anomaly in the Gundam universe, yet not an unwelcome one. The story happened because Yoshiyuki Tomino had decided to begin a new Gundam story set a full generation after the hard-won peace achieved at the end of Char and Amaro’s final battle. Originally set up as a series, Tomino recruited a “greatest hits” of his former collaborators for the project, including Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Kunio Ookawara. It’s unclear exactly why, but somewhere in the early stages of the production, internal conflicts resulted in the series being shelved. Not wanting to abandon the project (approximately 13 episode scripts had been written), Tomino decided to condense the story he had been developing into a movie. The result, Mobile Suit Gundam F-91, is a messy but very worthy entry in the Gundam canon. The story revolves around an attack by a separatist group, the Crossbone Vanguard, against the unsuspecting earth colonies after years of peace. Amaro analogue Seabrook Arno and his Gundam, F-91, are the heroes around which the plot revolves. Of particular note here are the sleek Gundam designs—Tomino wanted much smaller Gundams for this entry that felt more like “Mobile suits” and less like giant robots—and some of the most brutal fight sequences in any Gundam project. Starting off like most Gundam tales, with clean divisions between factions and a clear focus on key characters on either side of the conflict, things get messy by the third act, coming to a somewhat clumsy and unearned happy ending. Yet like most of Tomino’s other work, the action sequences are thrilling, the characters are vibrant, and the Mobile Suits are … well … mobile. Mobile Suit Gundam is a somewhat underappreciated stab at a reboot, but one that’s worth checking out and one that doesn’t require any foreknowledge of the Universal Century timeline to enjoy.
Suit up. —Jason DeMarco
98. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
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Mary Norton’s 1952 classic The Borrowers is one of the most oft-adapted children’s books of the 20th century, with feature-length renditions from the likes of such directors as Walter C. Miller, Peter Hewitt and Richard Carpenter. So what exactly can a modern animated adaptation set in contemporary Japan hope to mine from a premise that, however enchanting, has all but been exhausted by previous iterations? That was the task set to Hiromasa Yonebayashi for his directorial debut. Spiritually faithful to that of its source material, Arrietty’s story is focused on 12-year-old Shawn’s chance discovery of a nymph-like creature while staying at his mother’s childhood home and the evolving friendship. It’s typical Studio Ghibli fare, with impeccably rendered matte backgrounds, empathetic characters, a great score, and all of the requisite high-profile voice performances that befit a Disney-licensed production. All in all it’s a satisfactory debut, an average entry in Studio Ghibli’s otherwise stellar filmography with no especially high moments but a serviceable portrayal of a well-loved story that’s sure to play well with children.
97. Ah! My Goddess: The Movie (2000)
Director: Hiroaki Goda
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A sequel to a five-part OVA from 1993, based on a popular manga, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is the very rare example of a film based on an existing anime/manga franchise that’s superior to the original source material. A self-contained story revolving around college student Morisato Keiichi and the Goddess Belldandy, the film finds ways to inject more drama and urgency into the typically light-hearted romance of the original story, while the longer run time allows more room for character development and deepened motivations for all of the main cast members. Putting Belldandy at the center of a plot to hack the Yggdrasil computer in the heavens (long story) and forcing Keiichi to grapple with what Belldandy has come to mean to him places the romance and sweetness that was always the heart of this series in the foreground. The animation quality is very high, with some well integrated CGI allowing Fujishima’s wilder concepts to finally reach fruition in a way the more limited OVA budget couldn’t. Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was well-received by both critics and audiences, and spawned two later TV series that were similarly well regarded. In the wake of today’s popular fantasy seinen/shonen titles, Ah! My Goddess now feels somewhat ahead of its time. Either way, this sweet, fun romance is worth checking out. —J.D.