The Best Miyazaki Animation You’ve Never Seen

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Fancy yourself a fan of the singular genius of Hayao Miyazaki? Think you’ve seen all his best work? Because I’ve collected a large chunk of his filmography that many of his western fans have yet to see…

Hey all, it’s Henry, and I’m in a bit of a Miyazaki renaissance at the moment. Last month I saw The Wind Rises, the deeply personal feature that may end up being the final film in Hayao Miyazaki’s illustrious career–I want to believe that this is another of his false retirements, but the man is 73.  After seeing Wind Rises, I spent several weekends at a local art house taking in a career retrospective of his Ghibli work. They’re showing directorial efforts like Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, and Spirited Away,  along with films he produced, like the highly underrated Whisper of the Heart. I’d seen them all multiple times before (when I worked at a video store, Ghibli films were predominantly played in the background), but seeing those classics with a packed theater audience made them feel brand new. It was a great way to celebrate unarguably one of the best animators that ever lived.

Thinking about my days at the video store also reminded me of the fact that most people are only aware of Miyazaki’s famous work starting with his Ghibli films, not realizing that Nausicaa was a film made by an animation veteran with more that 20 years of experience in film, TV, and manga. I don’t fault fans for not knowing about his earlier works, because it takes a good deal of research and many are hard to find legally, some having never been made available in the US. If only there was a helpful list of Miyazaki’s lesser seen cartoons to expose people more of his massive body of work… Oh well, too bad. Thanks for clicking on this anyway.

Seriously though, here are a handful of examples of Miyazaki’s directorial work that don’t get as much exposure as they deserve. I’ll start with one that’s fairly personal to me…

1. Sherlock Hound / Meitantei Holmes

Sherlock Hound is (I believe) Miyazaki’s last TV series before directing Nausicaa, though thanks to issues with the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this furry version of Holmes’ life didn’t air until 1984, the same year as Nausicaa. Miyazaki only directed 6 episodes before production was halted and he moved on to his first Ghibli work, so who knows how his career would’ve gone if he’d directed the full series of this Japanese/Italian co-production. As it stands, you’ve got a half dozen shows that have all his artistic flourishes disguised as the type of kid-friendly mysteries Disney would later rip-off in The Great Mouse Detective.

It looks great even now, thanks to the high quality standards of both Miyazaki and animation studio TMS, the group behind all the best looking episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. TMS didn’t screw around with fluid, vibrant animation, and though they ostensibly told detective stories, Sherlock Hound is high adventure in the Miyazaki mold. You’ve got chase scenes, old airplanes, strong women, smoking, angelic orphan girls, bumbling police officers, comedic tone, and striking attention to detail. TMS has been nice enough to post all the episodes on its official YouTube page (you can stop watching after the sixth show, unless you really love Hound and company).

I start with this one because I saw it as a kid with no clue who Miyazaki even was. I just knew that this show was animated better than anything I was seeing on Nickelodeon at the time–yes, even better than David The Gnome. I have very vague memories of seeing an episode in a first or second grade class, along with the opening scene from Kiki’s Delivery Service. Clearly some otaku had taken over the classroom and was showing us their bootleg VHS copies of these cartoons, and for that I thank them.

2. Lupin The Third – The Second Series

Speaking of copyright troubles, here’s another early work of Miyazaki’s that isn’t all that known in the west either. The Lupin III series was around before Miyazaki worked on him, created in 1967 by manga artist Monkey Punch aka Kazuhiko Kato. Lupin is the world’s greatest thief and the grandson of French literary star Arsene Lupin, despite Monkey Punch having no legal permission to create what was basically fan fiction at the time. That didn’t stop Lupin from gaining enduring popularity in Japan, and Hayao Miyazaki is just one part of Lupin’s history–though he and several other future Ghibli employees played significant roles in Lupin’s continued success.

Miyazaki, with longtime collaborator Isao Takahata, worked on the first series of Lupin cartoons in the early 1970s, then during a hiatus, Miyazaki directed his first feature film, Lupin’s Castle of Cagliostro, an undeniable action classic that encapsulates so many of the man’s talents. Then, in a surprising move, Miyazaki returned to Lupin’s TV series to direct two separate 1979 episodes. The shows were very informed by his work on Cagliostro, while also paying homage to the Fleischer Bros’ classic Superman cartoons, along with giving hints at the larger worlds he’d produce at Ghibli.

In his truest depictions, Lupin is a crude, lecherous, entertaining criminal that has killed with little remorse, but Miyazaki softens him into a goofy gentleman thief, which some Lupin purists reject, but it makes the character work better in Miyazaki’s more earnest world. Wings of Death features Miyazaki standards like aircraft porn, bald guys with mustaches, and indulgently consumed meals, with some standard Lupin silliness thrown in, like narrowly outsmarting Zenigata and Fujiko spending much of the episode partially nude. Aloha, Lupin is the finale for the second series, with Lupin stopping a would-be nuclear bomber, and battling robots that are virtually identical to the marquee automatons of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Shockingly, Miyazaki apparently doesn’t look back on his Lupin work with much fondness, characterizing it as a retread and proof of an uncreative period. While I wholeheartedly disagree, it isn’t surprising he focused on his own creations after this.

3. Future Boy Conan (aka Conan, Boy of the Future)

This one was pretty unknown to me until very recently, but it quickly became a new favorite while researching this article. After Miyazaki and Takahata left Toei’s animation group, they pitched a series of their own, the 26-episode Future Boy Conan. Set in a post-apocalyptic world not too different from Nausicaa’s, the story follows Conan and Lana, a young boy and girl that survive 2008’s destruction of Earth and begin searching for what’s left of humanity. Ghibli fans will also find the relationship between Conan and Lana reminiscent of Castle in the Sky’s Pazu and Sheeta. This was Miyazaki’s first series as director (with Takahata supporting him) and while it’s a little rough, it’s very much his work, taking viewers on an unforgettable adventure.

The series apparently didn’t do very well when it originally aired in Japan, but has gone on to become an influential work to many animators, as well as having success outside Japan (though it’s still basically unknown in the US). Conan found particular popularity in the Arab world, which is why you’re just as likely to find this show subtitled in Arabi as you are in English. Anime buffs might also be interested to know that Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino worked on Conan as well.

4. Chage & Aska’s On Your Mark


Hayao Miyazaki's – On Your Mark by gamer3000x

Feature films and TV series take a lot of work, so there are times when Miyazaki to chooses express some of his smaller ideas via short films. Most of them can only be seen by visiting Tokyo’s Studio Ghibli Museum, and another that can be seen while flying on JAL airplanes, which is where I saw Imaginary Flying Machines. It’s impressive in this day and age how Ghibli has been able to keep viewing these works so limited, but before all that Miyazaki and his team worked on a short film meant to be seen by everyone in the early days of pop music videos.

During a period of writer’s block on Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki turned his attention to this six minute long adventure set to the rock song On Your Mark, telling the dialogue-free tale of two policemen freeing a very special young woman from imprisonment in a distopian future. It’s a gorgeous work that also was one of Miyazaki’s first works to incorporate CGI, which he’d go on to use in later films.

That’s all of Miyazaki’s directorial work I’ll explore today, though there’s always more room to find, like his key animator and storyboard background with anime versions of children’s novels like Puss in Boots and Anne of Greene Gables. However. this article gives you enough viewing homework as is. But if you have any suggestions for Miyazaki’s work that I missed, go right ahead and share them in the comments!

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16 thoughts on “The Best Miyazaki Animation You’ve Never Seen

  1. Sad that he was so down on his work w/ other properties like Lupin. Would love to see more of his interpretations of established characters / stories,

    1. I’d say Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away. They’re very Japanese, maybe a little slow, but have quite a bit of action, and aren’t the usual anime you may have seen (and certainly not the standard American cartoons.) His earlier movies aren’t as interesting, to me, they’re more like regular cartoons, but still unique. Start in the middle, with Mononoke or Sprited Away, then move back to the beginning, and finish with my least favorite, Ponyo, and his likely last movie, The Wind Rises.

    2. Honestly, what is your tolerance of anime in general? Hayao Miyazaki films tend to be better than most of his peers in the animated medium, but a fair amount of them still use common anime tropes and require some understanding or tolerance of Japanese culture, a common criticism of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke being some viewer confusion into their culture not being easily transferable to Western equivalents (ex: we don’t have bath houses and they’re in Spirited Away)

      But my favorites are Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises.

      1. thanks guys. my anime tolerance is fairly high. shit like Dragonball and Pokemon never appealed to me, but I have pretty big attachment to some of the usual classics, Akira, so on.

        while we’re at it, I loved the shit out of Attack on Titan, what’s another modern show I should check out?

        1. The two modern anime I’d recommend are Psycho Pass and Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World). They are both very different takes on utopian societies in the future, but in terms of quality I’d say they’re both exceptional. They’re also both short runs so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting through them, although I did just see some news that there will be a Psycho Pass 2, but the run out right now is a completely contained story that doesn’t leave you at cliff hanger like Titan did. Psycho Pass is 22 episodes and Shin Sekai is 25.

          Psycho Pass picks up pretty quick so if you like what you see in the first episode it only gets better. Shin Sekai has a bit of a slow start but after about 3 episodes you finally start to understand what’s going on and things get really good. Just be sure to not be fooled by it’s kiddie appearance at first, as it is actually a very mature show. The scene at the beginning of the first episode should allude to the darker things that are happening under the surface.

          With that said, if you prefer more action then Psycho Pass would be the better one to go with as it is often very intense in much the way Titan was, although Shin Sekai can occasionally also be very intense when it needs to be. Honestly as much as I really loved Psycho Pass I’d have to say Shin Sekai might have the best story of any anime I’ve seen. In it’s 25 episodes it accomplishes so many things. I can’t recommend it enough.

          Both are free legally online.
          Psycho pass is on Hulu http://www.hulu.com/psycho-pass
          and Shin Sekai Yori is on Crunchyroll http://www.crunchyroll.com/shin-sekai-yori-from-the-new-world

      2. I’ve never felt alienated or “out of place” while watching Miyazaki films, or, for that matter, any Ghibli film. I believe the minimal cultural understanding they might require of the viewer is already such a large part of mainstream culture anyway that it almost feels natural.

        Then again, it might just be me. One of my favorite Ghilbi fillms (which I saw for the first time about two weeks ago) is Only Yesterday, which is commonly hated on for being rooted in realism, whereas the most popular of their films explore fantasy settings.

        I have also been in a Miyazaki renaissance lately, trying to watch every Ghibli film and overlooked Miyazaki works like the ones listed here. I started off having only seen a handful, but decided to watch all of them since I could barely remember what I had seen.

        I started in January, beginning with Princess Mononoke. In the past two months I continued with My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Naussica, Castle in the Sky, and Only Yesterday.

        Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. Hank, thank you so much for this, and PLEASE feel free to make some more lists. 😀

  2. I recently saw several Ghibli films I hadn’t known about, about everyday life of different characters in Japan. As someone who gets really disappointed when cartoons have to feature action (Samurai Jack has some great, quiet episodes, that have to have a stamdard fight in the last segment,) I sometimes like to see stories that could easily be done with live actors, but they choose to draw everything instead.

    The non-movie stuff I’ve seen of Miyazaki’s hasn’t really stood out to me, other than the art style.

  3. Thanks for posting these Henry! Miyazaki’s one of my favorite directors but I haven’t checked out any of his TV work yet. I’ll probably give some of it a shot.

  4. Ah Lupin III. Not a huge anime fan but I always loved catching it on adult swim. Nice article Mr. Gilbert! My goal this summer is to educate myself by watching some of Miyazaki’s work.

  5. Great idea for an article Hank, I have a great appreciation for Miyazaki films but haven’t checked out much of his tv work yet. That Sherlock Hound episode was very nice and looked amazing so I am gonna watch the rest, thanks!

    Wanted to thank all y’all at Laser Time for the great stuff that has been happening on the site lately, think I will start doing a monthly donation to show support, would love for some of you to maybe do this as a job and hope that helps.

  6. Great list! I’ve always loved On Your Mark, it makes me tear up I tells ya.

    The older Miyazaki stuff had such a great texture to it. Not sure if it’s the older film stock or what, but the earthy color tones just feel so warm and cozy. I get that same vibe from Inspector Gadget episodes too, which also had amazing animation.

    I recently learned about Mei and the Kiitenbus, a short sequel to Totoro, which is only shown at the Miyazaki Museum. There’s a sneaky cam of it on Youtube.

  7. Very impressive! It’s good to see Western Miyazaki fans slowly discover the first half of his career. How baffling that so many still believe Cagliostro or Nausicaa was the beginning of his career, rather than the mid-point?

    There are still a few more films that weren’t mentioned in your essay: “Horus, Prince of the Sun” (1968), “Puss in Boots” (1969), “Animal Treasure Island” (1971), “Lupin III TV series” (1971-72), “Yuki’s Sun” (pilot film, 1972), “Panda Kopanda/Rainy Day Circus” (1972-73), “Heidi, Girl of the Alps” (1974), “3000 Leagues in Search of Mother” (1976), “Tenguri, Boy of the Plains (1977), “Anne of Green Gables (1979).”

    In addition to these, Hayao Miyazaki was the producer on Isao Takahata’s 1987 live-action documentary (which some animated clips from Studio Ghibli), “The Story of Yanagawa Canals.” There are various animated shorts as seen on the 2006 DVD, “Short Short.” And, of course, there are the Ghibli Museum short films.

    Of all the films of the Takahata/Miyazaki canon, the most important and influential works are Horus and Heidi. Practically everything that follows flow from those two groundbreaking masterpieces. I would also hold Future Boy Conan in their company; it may be Miyazaki’s definitive anime work, one that combines the freewheeling cliffhanger adventure style of his earlier years, with the darker, sober themes of Nausicaa and beyond.

    Hope that helps! Great post!

  8. I’ve seen 3 of these, though I didn’t know one of them was related to Miyazaki 😛 I do really love paying attention to older animation in retrospect now, trying to place talent to works. Like, once you’ve seen Lupin III Part 2, you can see TMS’ work EVERYWHERE. From Space Adventure Cobra to the Nick Jr. DiC classic “The Littles”, you see the same crazy run animations, facial expressions, etc. that Lupin had.

    Its always fun to go back to older stuff and see “Proto Ghibli” hooks when you’re going down a Youtube hole, which makes it really annoying when people like CINAR and Saban replaced all the credits with the people responsible for the localization 🙁 I recently was reminded of, and looked up, Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics – another Saban bringover – and it seems SUPER clear that Yoshiyuki Momose (the character designer for Ghibli’s classics; you KNOW the look of these characters. Also the character designer for the Ni No Kuni games) designed the characters for at least some of these stories… but there’s no Japanese credits so *screams* 😛 Its sort of fascinating to see who’s responsible for dubbing and chopping up and re-editing Japanese cartoons of the 80’s and early 90’s, but I really wish there were easier ways to hunt down this kind of info.

    Thanks for giving me stuff to check out! Great list. How did I not know about Sherlock Hound?! 🙂

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