Despite anime’s popularity amongst Western audiences, the Japanese genre is still a divisive topic with cineastes. Dismissive audiences often perceive an impenetrable generational/cultural divide and associate anime with hentai and its lurid subgenres like lolicon and shokushu goukan. Some moviegoers will never get past visions of rampant tentacle sex and their own pop culture blind spots to appreciate anime for what it can be: artistic and expansive animation that has the power to portray fantastical worlds with conviction. Several anime titles are set to release this month, and we wanted to offer ten recommendations that even the staunchest haters can appreciate — a variety of emotional, action-packed, and beautifully composed works that make great introductions to the genre. Feel free to leave your own recommendations, below.
If you’re fond of surreal imagery that is dreamily composed, violent, and erotic, Eiichi Yamamoto’s Kanashimi no Beradona (Belladonna of Sadness) is a visual paradise. Loosely based on Jules Michelet’s sympathetic tome La Sorcière — about the plight of witches during the Middle Ages — this early anime tells the emotional story of a repressed woman in Feudal Japan who is tricked by the Devil. Animator Gisaburo Sugii later went on to direct the Street Fighter television series, and illustrator Kuni Fukai is best known for another psychedelic project — the mythological Metamorphoses. The imagery and story can be graphic and disturbing, but the animation is truly beautiful. Fukai’s style for Belladonna resembles traditional Japanese watercolor paintings focused through a psychedelic, art nouveau-esque lens. Sadistic scenes are set to Masahiko Satô’s somber grooves.