Perfect Blue (1997) Written by Sadayuki Murai Directed by Satoshi Kon
I have tried to get into anime throughout my life, and I just don’t think it’s my thing. When I was in college, I had friends who would regularly consume Dragonball, Inuyasha, or whatever else was on Toonami. I ended up watching several films & parts of shows like Vampire Hunter D, Hellsing, Attack on Titan, among others. I can say that I usually enjoy feature films. I love Akira and Metropolis; I think they push past many tropes that generally don’t click with me in this particular animation genre. Of course, Miyazaki is fantastic, but he exists in a category all his own. Perfect Blue is something beyond anything I’d ever seen before, an anime with clear links to some of the best psychological thrillers of live-action cinema.
The Spine of Night (2021) Written & Directed by Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King
American animator Ralph Bakshi saw his star rise and fall across the 1970s and early 1980s. He’s fondly remembered as the director behind numerous fantasy films of that period, Lord of the Rings probably his most well-known work. Because hand-drawn animation had many limitations, Bakshi would often employ rotoscoping, a technique where film of live action actors is drawn over, adding textures and embellishments but keeping the fluid motion of real people. This technique would evolve into digital motion capture, and rotoscoping has become a niche technique used sparingly. However, Richard Linklater has used it to make his films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Inspired by Bakshi, we have The Spine of Night, a dark horror fantasy that tells of another world where ancient dark magic prevails.
If Cryptozoo feels like an indie comic book, you wouldn’t be wrong. The creator Dean Shaw is a comic book writer/artist. The work looks like a crude outsider art piece with hints of inspiration from other obscure animated works. I personally saw a lot of Fantastic Planet in the character movement and the themes of the narrative. The story is ambitious but ultimately fails to come together, in my opinion. There’s something here, but I don’t think all the ingredients mixed well. We have an animated film that wants to build a vast world and talk about the environment & humanity.
Violence Voyager (2019) Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
Shadow of the Bat (Season 1, Episodes 57 & 58) Original airdates: September 13 & 14, 1993 Written by Brynne Stephens Directed by Frank Paur
Shadow of the Bat does many things and feels like a movie boiled down into weekday afternoon animation. It’s the best modern presentation of Batgirl we’ve ever gotten outside of the comic book, and it really showed how poor she was brought into the films with Batman & Robin. What’s interesting here is how separate & independent Batgirl is from Batman & Robin, the characters. Her origins are born out of a story centered around her, and the established heroes play supporting roles in this two-parter, with Robin being the more prominent of the two, in my opinion.
With the success of 1989’s Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns, it was clear that Warner Bros. was going to cash on this newfound love for the Dark Knight. One of those ventures was Batman: The Animated Series, which aired on Fox before moving to the WB network for its final season. BTAS exploded on the children’s television scene as nothing else had before. This was not the Superfriends, or the other Hanna Barbara takes on Batman. It also wasn’t exactly a one-to-one match to Tim Burton’s vision of Gotham City. While the series was undoubtedly influenced by the Burton films, it also owed much to the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s. There’s even a strong vein of Hitchcock through the series with its emphasis on the darker aspects of the human heart as well as explorations of the subconscious mind.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) Written by Dr. Seuss Directed by Chuck Jones & Ben Washam
This is my favorite of the classic Christmas animated specials. When I was in the middle of my childhood, in 1988, I think that TNT bought the rights to the Grinch and aired it exclusively on their network. As stated before, I grew up without cable television, and so I’m not sure how I saw this special and remember it so well. I’d like to attribute that to how well animated and written the story is, and so it ingrained itself firmly in my memories. The special came back to broadcast in 2000 on The WB and has floated around networks like ABC and its current home NBC.
Frosty the Snowman (1969) Written by Romeo Muller Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. & Jules Bass
By the end of the 1960s, Rankin-Bass had solidified themselves as one of the major animation companies in North America. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer began their ascent, and in 1969 they had eleven films & animated specials under their belt. This was going to continue into the 1970s but would steadily decline in the early 1980s. When Frosty hit the air, we saw Rankin-Bass at their prime. I would also say this is by far my least favorite of the popular re-aired Christmas specials, but I’ll get more into that later.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) Written by Romeo Muller Directed by Larry Roemer
Rankin-Bass dominated holiday television for decades, yet almost none of their productions are remembered aside from this one and maybe a sprinkling of others. Rudolph was the beginning of what would become a bizarre shared universe with Santa Claus, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, and more. All of this would serve to inspire later work, especially A Nightmare Before Christmas, which exists as a sort of lost Rankin-Bass crossover between Halloween and Christmas. Rudolph keeps airing every year, but I wondered if it still held up as time has passed and stop-motion animation has evolved since.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Written by Charles M. Schulz Directed by Bill Melendez
This is my favorite of all the classic Christmas specials. It’s very in line with my own complicated feelings about the holiday, imbued with a sense of melancholy while still not lacking that charm you expect from these cartoons. What’s funny is upon its initial viewing for executives, they hated the cartoon. It was seen as too slow-paced, the music was off-putting (genuinely shocking to me), and they hated the animation. This shocked the creators as they were sure this would be a holiday classic from the start, and fears set in that it would never air again. Instead, the public fell in love with the story, drawn to the fact that this wasn’t a shallow feel-good Christmas story but deeper and talking about something more profound.