Today as I relish the bumbling of the cooing pigeon’s fussing about the birdfeeder, thinking about summer’s I may never quite have, could never possibly have and all those I so far have had (not that I’m willing to count anymore). Though I despise the heat and refuse direct sunrays on my pasty, burnable bone sack, I sit back in the shade and breathe in the fresh air and think just how lovely summer can be when I don’t have heatstroke. A springtime soul at heart who prefers lush grass to scorched, a contradictory Leo, it is in my latter years that I have found something palatable about the season.
The blaze of the heat, the azure skies peppered with blooms of stark, white fluffy clouds, the cool blue waters of the ocean lapping at your feet, the crisp call of the cicadas on the breeze; there's nothing quite like a hazy, lazy summer’s day. Wait a minute, did I say Cicadas? Crickets in the UK yes, but an abundance of Cicadas? An insect relatively rare in this part of the world? Well, sounds like I’m talking about an entirely different continent.
I am. Because there is certainly nothing quite so tantalising as a summer in Anime.
It’s no secret that I’m a lil’ Anime nerd. Of course I seek the hyper-realistic, fantastical realms of animation to get my seasonal fixes somehow. I could go out and create my own memories, embrace this thing called life and thrive as much on the art of others as well as the art of simply living. But I do that. Sort of. Sometimes Anime just fills the blanks. Like plaster in my crevice-infused spiritual house - too much subsidence I guess.
Both recognisable and often refreshing, Anime has an ability to transport its viewer. Some places are long gone, have never been, taken from memories and imaginations of skilled artists and storytellers. I am filled with sentimentality, awe and nostalgia. My heart weeps and soars. Do I get that looking like a boiled weiner dog from a jar? No.
So here’s 13 Anime to Enjoy this Summer.
13. Penguin Highway (Dir. Hiroyasu Ishida, 2018)
A quirky romp to start things off. A coming of age story, Penguin Highway follows a naïve, endearing if a little obnoxious young boy on the cusp of teenager-dom as he investigates the strange arrival of penguins in his village. With the aid of his friends, the dental assistant he crushes on and his love of science he tries to understand the phenomena whilst navigating his burgeoning feelings and thirst for knowledge.
Cutesy and compelling, funny and fantastical whilst grounded, this feature debut by Youtube animator Ishida is beautiful and strange all in one. Most of all it’s fun. Embracing its absurd premise, the adaptation of Tomihiko Morimi’s novel (the author of The Tatami Galaxy and Fox Tales) revels in the delight of youthful curiosity, inspiration and adventure; director Ishida fixates on the desire for discovery, in itself the most pure want, tethered to our own inner child – that’s what summertime is for after all. Though far from perfect, this one is unique and fun watch.
12. Summer Ghost (Dir. Loundraw, 2021)
This film is suffering a little beneath accusations of Makoto Shinkai rip-offs, who in himself was accused of ripping off Ghibli. If we go back far enough we’re going to see some stupid pattern where cynics open their mouths and complain about rip-offs left, right and center when even calling something a rip off at this point is bordering on rip-offery. Make what you will… The age of pessimism has gotta be wrapping up. The world is shit; duh. Let’s delight in something else for a while, in the novelty of 2D animation for one.
Personally, I was refreshed.
I loved this short, executing a tale that does not overstay its welcome yet encapsulates the trials and weightiness of modern life. Three teens come together, meeting online as they plan to find the enigmatic Summer Ghost. With a bag of fireworks, they attempt to summon the spirit of a young woman rumoured to have committed suicide who can only be seen by those within reach of death. All that ties these people are the Ghost, desperate questions about mortality and their solemn troubles. However, the meeting leads to an unfurling mystery surrounding the deceased woman.
10. Lu Over the Wall (Dir. Masaaki Yuasa, 2017)
What a delight; Lu Over the Wall is as close to The Little Mermaid Yuasa is ever going to get, somehow melding a wonderful adventure and conscientious tale exploring the merfolk lore in a unique, rather musical sort of way. In a seaside village, the locals have condemned music, reinforcing the legend of the threatening mermaid that lurk nearby and consume humans, roused form the murky depths by song.
Teenager Kai takes little notice of rumours and spends his time making looped beats and uploading them online and along with his new found friends, secretly begin jamming sessions too. However, one night Kai is visited by a strange girl who emerges from the ocean and delights at his music. The merfolk are real, but how menacing are they really?
I love Yuasa films. His exaggerative comedic, cartoonish style, his neat blend of musical and visual storytelling, pulsing with life like a fever dream, is never out of place with many a classic helmed by him. I mean, Devilman Crybaby is a phenomenal retelling of a classic manga. Mind Game, The Tatami Galaxy (mentioned again), his latest Inu-oh; I can go on and on. He’s one of animations most exceptional modern directors.
9. Children of the Sea (Dir. Ayumu Watanabe, 2019)
I wrote a whole review on this film, 'From the Sea...', so taken by it as I was. An adaptation of the Daisuke Igarashi’s five volume manga of the same name, it’s almost Akira-esque in its apocalyptic philosophy and transcendentalism, toeing the line with a cosmic body-horror at times. I was totally surprised by this stunning, enigmatic film. It’s also a patient and lingering mediation. Hypnotic animation, slice of life and coming of age and something altogether more, it’s a challenging and unusual experience all of its own.
A teenage girl’s summer vacation is disrupted following her exclusion from the handball team. With no desire to waste her days at home with her alcoholic mother, she mooches at the local aquarium where her father works. It is here she meets a mysterious boy. Raised by dugongs, he now lives at the aquarium, where research is conducted on him and his brother and their water-dependent bodies. As strange bond forms between the three of them, taking them on dazzling explorations of the ocean, they are soon swept into the bizarre preparations of the sea creatures of the world for the upcoming seismic even known only as a ‘festival’. Where do these two other-worldly boys fit into the upheaval of the ocean?
8. Summer Days with Coo (Dir. Keiichi Hara, 2007)
Let’s get cute now because I need it at this point in my life. Summer Days with Coo reminds me of a lot of animation adventures I watched growing up, the ‘if you love them let them go’ narratives that have seared into my brain that I seldom forget (of course I need an alternative outcome to E.T). This film simply tickled that fancy of pure, unadulterated excitement and wonder, capturing the delightful friendship between a young boy and his Kappa friend, a tortoise type, water-dwelling yokai of Japanese folklore.
A young boy living in the suburbs of Tokyo whiles away his summer vacation until he uncovers a unique stone which turns out to be a fossil harbouring a baby Kappa. Sleeping underground for hundreds of years, they fast become friends and he names the little creature Coo. Though happy with his new family, Coo soon desires a return to nature and his own kind, stifled by his life among the humans.
7. Goodbye, Don Glees! (Dir. Atsuko Ishizuka, 2022)
When three misfit teens come together one summer night to light fireworks and reminisce for what seems the last time, their evening goes awry with a renegade, unlicensed drone. The next day, rumours amongst their classmates of a forest fire caused by their antics flood their social media and determined to prove their innocence, they embark on the hunt for the drone footage that will provide evidence, now lost somewhere in the mountainous forests beyond their home village.
Oof! I could not take my eyes off this film. If there was anything that helped reignite that fire for Anime this year, it would be this one. An artfully, unashamedly sentimental adventure of three boys on their last hurrah as school and life sees them following different paths and growing up. Kinetic composition, a heart-swelling soundtrack, contemplative sequences infused with that dusky palette as summer comes to a close and youth is left in its wake, it’s a stellar work from studio Madhouse and director Ishizuka. She brought a tear to my eye that’s for sure! Pining for a nostalgia that was perhaps never even mine, for that Stand by Me-esque comradery that is found in no other place but the past, Goodbye, Don Glees! in traditional fashion revels in the journey of self-discovery. It’s never about the destination after all.
(Disclaimer - Letterboxd users are wilfully miserable and decidedly ignorant about films in general unless it’s Ari Aster or Greta Gerwig)
6. Kids on the Slope (Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe, 2012)
I feel like I haven’t written about Watanabe in years, yet not a day goes by I don’t interact with Cowboy Bebop. I have Bebop on the brain. Brainbop.
But this entry is not Bebop - I've written plenty on it after all (here in my reflection on the timeless dynamics of the charctsers and crew How I’ve Found Ways to ‘…Carry That Weight’. Hard as I tried, I just couldn’t quite wangle a summertime vibe from that melancholic masterpiece, and the film is blatantly autumnal with the Halloween parade so I had to dig a little deeper. I even considered Samurai Champloo; equally summery, a warmer, perhaps slightly more playful classic than the repeatedly mentioned (Bebop) and fits the theme of this article more so than his powerful Terror in Resonance and Hilarious Space Dandy. But I realised something; all of these I have covered in numerous articles. And there was one, very summery and often under-appreciated short series that I have yet to cover. Kids on the Slope.
All those Watanabe flavours are there. Sultry scores by the iconic Yoko Kanno, electric animation - the accuracy of the instrument playing -and that indescribable coolness all wrapped up in a period piece following three high schoolers in the 1960’s united by their unique love of jazz music. A lonely, introverted classical pianist and top student collides with the school delinquent and somehow a friendship blooms. Jamming in the basement of a fellow student, they find themselves stepping out of their comfort zones, thriving and feeling with the throes of love and losses, embracing their youth through the rhythmic, unpredictable nature of music.
5. Summer Wars (Dir. Mamorou Hosoda, 2009)
Another director I have talked lot’s about is Hosoda. I’ve been rather loud when I’ve ranted about my love of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (my essay Time Waits for No One is manaic proof) which to this day is still my absolute favourite among his works. But this doesn’t quiet fit my summer theme as much as I would like. So I went with the obvious choice. Despite that choice being a real challenge the first time I watched it. Summer Wars is one I have found over time to grow on me in ways that came so easily for Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast, yet those re-watches were worth it in the end.
Equally funny and engrossing, the chaotic energy stands out the most, maintaining its energy thorughout. This sci-fi plays around with reality and online personas as well as the tricky manoeuvrings of romance and family. A tech nerd is asked by his classmate to pose as her fiancé during a summer trip to her family home for her Grandmother’s birthday. Though a secret crush of his, he must weave the complicated and hectic antics of her large family whilst also combatting his own problems; the biggest being a monumental, careless technical error he created in the digital world of OZ, inhabited by millions of profiles internationally.
4. When Marnie Was There (Dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014)
A foster child, Anna, is sent to the country for the summer due to health reasons, hiding an uncomfortable secret from her adoptive family that weighs heavy on her. Whilst there, she is seen as sullen and hostile by the local children and struggles, as she does at home, with making friends, instead, spending her time drawing the old house by the sea that has enraptured her. That is until she meets the strange girl who lives there. Her name is Marnie, and swiftly a friendship blossoms. However, she is not quite what she seems and soon Anna must investigate the mystery of Marnie and her own troubled family.
And then I cried. Based on the novel of the same name by British author Joan G. Robinson, it infuses that bitter-sweetness of the coming of age tale and all of that Studio Ghibli spark. With a swelling score and touching upon the themes of friendship, abuse and familial love, I was enraptured by how mature and heartfelt this film was. It’s so grounded in comparison ot the catalogue of Ghibli works, no slander though that is, somehow taking something rather banal and weaving magic into the everyday. Healing and reassuring, it’s a comfort film that must undo me to put me back together again.
3. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Dir. Tatsuyuki Nagai, 2011)
Five years after Menma’s death, she has yet to move onto the Afterlife. As her friends have drifted apart of time, with the pressures of school and life now weighing them down, finally they reunite to help her remember and fulfil a wish that will help her pass on. In doing so, their own pasts are unsettled and they must face hard truths about themselves and their futures.
Why did this list get so emotional all of the sudden? A brief but impactful story, I found myself shaken by this series and its gut-wrenching tale of friendship, grief and memory. Ruminating on the simplistic days of old, the importance of those memories we share together, with a lovely set of memorable, realistic characters and a whimsical plot, it’s a perfect summer tale.
2. My Neighbour Totoro (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
When two girls move with their father to the countryside to be near their sick mother, they encounter the forest spirits that roam nearby, swept on adventures and shown the marvellous magic’s that shape our world.
I don’t need to spend a lot of time here. It’s Totoro. If you haven’t seen it, you will see it. If you don’t want to see it… you will see it. If you have seen it, you’re gonna watch it again. My inclusion of it on this list bears no weight on these outcomes. Its life affirming, utterly adorable, pure heart-swelling fantasy that sweeps you into the enchantment of nature and childhood glee, of that novelty of wonderment, brimming with wonderful creatures. Just watch it.
Miyazaki, with Ghibli and Isao Takahata, just knows how to make us feel alive. Give us hope. Sparkle a little sentimentalism and delight in the everyday. Without him I would never have learnt to romanticise my existence. We wouldn’t have that massive furry forest beast, or cat buses or soot sprites or No Face or moving castles or the kodama or hunky tax-evading wizards! Check out my top Ghibli picks here.
1. Into the Forest of Fireflies Light (Dir. Takahiro Oomori, 2011)
Oh, to see this film for the first time again. Often lauded as one of the most tear-jerking anime, I steeled myself as I ploughed through that entire list of sob-fests to trigger some kind of feeling in me. I was perhaps mildly unhinged at the time and was taken out by almost each one, my hardy armour nothing more than tin foil I’d over bent and frayed. But, before watching Clannad: After Story and ruining my life for good, I embraced this short.
During summer vacation with her grandfather, little Hotaru gets lost in the forest. Warned of the spirits that reside there, she is frightened and begins to cry. Only to be found by a mysterious masked boy named Gin. She runs to him but is abruptly stopped to her dismay, for he has been cursed; should he ever be touched by a human, he will disappear forever.
Sharing a stick, he leads her out of the forest and asks her never to return. However, what begins is a timely tradition each summer in which Hotaru travels to her grandfather’s and whiles away her days in the company of Gin. With the passing years, they grow closer. Until, at last, they can no longer deny the mutual feelings that have bloomed between them.
A perfect, deeply moving and romantic fable that I feel completely encapsulates the perfect Anime summer flick, Into the Forest of Fireflies Light is a minute masterpiece. Those deep lush greens of the summer dappled with light that bleeds through the leaves in the canopies above. The ancient land peaking up amongst the foliage, marring the steps that wind up the mountain they climb each year together. The tripping and tumbling of the fireflies at night, playing on the cooling air of those warm nights; that atmosphere pulses and thrums with the spellbinding presence of the ancient spirits. Then there is the sweet melodic score that resides beside the chaste love story, one full of as much yearning and longing as there is companionship and respect.
Ugh I love this film! Go watch it and cool down with the tears.
There you have it. Thanks for taking the time to peruse my list today. I was torn between an animated or live action list (more shockingly, even a hybrid) but I settled for anime. I suppose what I would have recommended in the end would have been present on various other lists I have compiled so far. I hope you have found some enjoyment out of this recommends today and better yet a new favourite and do let me know what some of your beloved Summertime Anime are. Cheers!