Many anime fans today feel like there’s too much anime today. Every season 50 new shows start up, and it can be really difficult to keep up with even just a small amount of them. But it wasn’t always like this, in fact it wasn’t really until the mid 2000’s that it really exploded. Before that there would only be 30 new shows, at the most. But today is a different time from back then. But one of the things I love about watching old anime, and don’t mean stuff from the 90’s here, I’m talking 50’s and 60’s, is thinking about how crazy it is that I can watch these movies, and still be entertained, and relate to the thematics of it, regardless of the fact that they were made 40 or 50 years before I was even born! Which is why today, I’ve decided to share my love for obscure, and sometimes rather weird anime movies from the 50’s and 60’s (and one from the 70’s, cause it’s just that good). All in no particular order, of course.
10. Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke – Magic Boy
This was actually the first anime film to get a theatrical release in the United States, all the way back in 1961. The background art is great, although it feels a bit too similar to 1958’s ‘Hakujaden’ in terms of presentation. The animals almost look identical, although the plot itself is very different. It’s about a young boy named, you guessed it, Sasuke, and his quest to defeat an evil witch named Yakusha. In order to do this however, he needs to meet up with an old man and learn powerful magic. The animation is still very smooth looking and the background art has that rustic look to it, which I love. Sadly, a few of these movies decided to not put much effort into the sound design, and it shows. The sword fights feel tensionless and boring, because you don’t really hear the swords clashing. Even so, It’s worth watching.
1959 (1 hour and 23 minutes)
9. Soratobu Yuureisen – Flying Phantom Ship –
Shotaro Ishinomori of ‘Cyborg 009,’ ‘Kamen Rider’ and ‘Super Sentai’ fame was in charge of the writing of this movie, but I strongly suspect he had a big hand in the visual direction of it too, as it is very visually distinct from the other Toei movies, and more in line with the style of ‘Cyborg 009,’ which appears later on this list, and which he is the original creator of. The plot is about a young boy named Hayato, but one fateful day, his parents are tragically killed by a giant robot. Down on his luck and depressed, Hayato swears revenge on the robot and the Phantom Ship it supposedly came from. However, as he enters a secret passageway where he learns that things aren’t exactly as he thought they were. The characters are very big (in that they take up a lot of space on the screen) and the backgrounds, while still gorgeous, aren’t the main focus. Some of the character designs in this movie are super cool though, and Hayao Miyazaki did a lot of animation and design work on this movie, so if you’re a fan of his, then that’s another reason to check this out!
1969 (1 hour)
8. Nagagutsu wo Haita Neko -The Wonderful World of Puss in Boots –
This is undoubtedly my favorite film out of these, and with good reason. The animation is super fun and full of joy, and the plot, while simple, works just fine. It’s about the titular character, Puss in Boots, whose actual name is Pero. He’s been declared an outlaw by his town for the crime of helping mice. After escaping punishment, he meets up with a young boy named Pierre. When Pero learns that the princess is searching for a bride, he becomes determined to make sure that Pierre is the one chosen, but as they both find out later on, it’s going to become a lot more difficult than they thought. The character design is top tier, and the sound design is a huge step up from previous movies. This movie is also where the mascot for Toei Animation itself comes from, which is an interesting tidbit. Highly recommended you check this one out if you’re ever in the mood for some light hearted fun!
1969 (1 hour and 20 minutes).
7. Gulliver no Uchuu Ryokou – Gullivers Space Travels: Beyond the Moon
If you’re in the mood for tons of fun and whimsical animation, simple yet great character designs and a weird, but nice looking aesthethic for the backgrounds, then I can wholeheartedly reccomend this movie to you! It’s definitely a treat to watch, and the plot, while nothing outstanding, is just what it needs to be. The main character Ted is thrown out of a theater showing a movie about Lemuel Gulliver after it’s found out that he didn’t buy a ticket. After some time, he ends up meeting with Gulliver himself, who is now an old rocket scientist. Together with some other friends, they travel to the Planet of Blue Hope, which has been taken over by the Queen of the Purple Planet and her army of robots. They must now fight the invaders and restore Blue Hope to it’s former glory. It’s also adapted from a novel, Gulliver’s Travels, so if you’ve read the original it’s based on, you’l probably get some extra enjoyment out of this. There are some refrences to the original, at least.
1965 (1 hour and 20 minutes)
6. Saiyuuki – Alakazam the Great
This is probably the movie I’d reccomend the least, but I still think it’s important to talk about just how good the background art looks. The movie itself manages to emphasize that by having what I’d call fairly boring character designs, but it’s worth watching because it’s adapted from the chinese story ‘Journey to the West,’ so if you’re into Dragon Ball, I think it’s worth checking out just to see where all the imagery came from in the first place. And watching a one and a half hour movie is a lot easier than reading a 500 year old novel. The plot itself is about a monkey named Son-Goku who is born from a stone. When he learns about humans, he goes to train with an old hermit. After surpassing his master and learning many spells, he becomes overconfident, and is imprisoned. In order to regain his freedom, he has to travel along with Prince Amat, who is on a pilgrimage.
1960 (1 hour and 28 minutes)
5. Arabian Nights: Sinbad no Bouken – Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad –
The sound design is great compared to the movies that came before it, the character designs also look a lot better, and I found the plot to be a lot more engaging compared to the other Toei movies of the same era. While it doesn’t really have much meat on its bones thematically, it’s still an intriguing movie that I enjoyed quite a lot. The plot is about Sinbad and a boy, Ali, who are stowaways on the transport ship “Boulder,” but they win their proper places on the ship after currying the favor of the captain. Afterwards, a beautiful princess namd Samir jumps on board in order to escape a wicked minister who wants to marry her, and Sinbad goes through a series of adventures to protect the princess.
1962 (1 hour and 21 minutes)
4. Taiyou no Ouji: Horus no Daibouken – Horus, Prince of the Sun
This is a really fun movie, with an above average plot and some great directing, which isn’t suprising, considering that Isao Takahata was the director for it. Hayao Miyazaki also did key animation on this. The animation itself is really good, although there are some scenes that feel a bit stiff, but most of it is good. I love the enviroments that are showcased in this movie, they all look detailed and really great. The plot is about a boy named Horus who one day, while being attacked by silver wolves, finds the sword of the sun. On his deathbed, Horus father reveals that their family came from a northern seaside village, which was devastated by the terrifying ice devil Grunwald, leaving them the only survivors. Before dying, Horus’ father urges his son to return to the land of his birth and avenge the village. Together with a small bear named Koro he starts the journey and runs into a great adventure fighting against Grunwald and his subordinates who want to rule the world.
1968 (1 hour and22 minutes)
3.Tatsu no Ko Tarou – Taro the Dragon Boy –
This is a personal favourite of mine. I love the way the themes are incorporated into the movie, and whole they are simple and aren’t exactly expired in depth, they do a great way of explaining it without being too in your face-it’s a kids movie after all, so I like this aspect a lot. The fight scene at the end is also very cool. The plot is fairly straightforward, and it’s about a young boy named Tarou, who is searching for his mother who was apparently turned into a magic serpent. In order to do this, he leaves on an adventure.
1979 (1 hour and 15 minutes)
2. Anju to Zushiomaru – The Orphan Brother –
When I mentioned how some movies from this era decided to forgo good sound design, I was mostly referring to this one. The signature cute animals are back, I find the plot very captivating, and the visuals are extremely pretty. The story is about the two brothers Anju and Zushioumaru, who live a peaceful life in rural Japan with their kind and gentle father—the steward of the emperor’s hunting grounds who teaches his children to respect nature and protect animals.However, when the local lord frames him for burning the hunting grounds; Anju and Zushioumaru, along with their mother and a few animals, escape to Kyoto to ask the emperor to pardon their father. Sadly, the large scale sword fight at the end doesn’t have sound effects for the swords clashing, which makes it feel really lame. Still though, the emotional crux of this movie is very strong. Also, Isao Takahata (co-founder of Studio Ghibli) worked as Assistant Director on this movie, so if you’re a fan of this work, check this out!
1961 (1 hour and 23 minutes)
1. Cyborg 009
While I don’t think this is anywhere near the best of the movies I’ve featured on this life, it is the one I would reccomend you watch the most if you’re interested in watching these for historical value. The plot is about a young man named Shimamura Joe, who gets hurt after a car crash. He then gets rescued by the scientist Dr. Gilmore, and is remade into a robot, and joins the team of Cyborg fighters, himself being the ninth one. Together, they fight against evil. The way it portrays the characters is very different from the other movies. In the many its contemporaries, the characters are small on the screen, they don’t take up much space. However in this movie, they’re big and take up lots of space on the screen, which means that there is a lesser focus on background art. This movie also came out at the same time that cyborg heroes really started becoming a thing, so if that interests you: check this out!
1966 (1 hour and 5 minutes)