Since the early 20th century, through anime: one can deep dive into thought-provoking scenarios to get a glimpse of the complex environmental problems, social issues, ecological issues, personal development, cityscapes, landscapes, videogame landscapes, urban architecture, etc., to name a few. For architects, anime can open up the vaults of imagination and fantasy with architecture playing a vital role in any anime. No doubt, the lines will continue to blur between what is real and unreal in the realm of fantasy in the future.
In the words of architect Louis I. Kahn, from the extracts of “White light Black shadow” presented at Rice University:
“If I could think what I would do, other than architecture,
It would be to write the new fairy tale,
Because from the fairy tale came the airplane,
And the locomotive,
And the wonderful instruments of our minds…
It all came from wonder.”
From the sea of options, 15 anime of diverse genres are picked up to give you an insight into the anime world:
1. Psycho-Pass: The Movie | 2015 | Sci-fi, Crime
Designed as a utopia with noble intentions—the Sibyl System, surveillance and futuristic monitoring system in Japan, led to the creation of a dystopian society due to its certain flaws. Set in 2116 Japan, the animated cityscapes, landscapes, dark artwork of the city, well-choreographed fight scenes, industrial touch, perfect lightning, jaw-drop architecture and brilliant vehicle design—make this a wholesome visual treat for the eyes.
2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | 2009 | Dark Fantasy, adventure
The anime takes place in a fictional country, Amestris, composed of various nations and is inspired by real Germany and other European countries. Central City, the official capital of the country, is the largest city in Amestris having a radial plan and it sort of resembles Palmanova town in Italy—a perfect mixture of military and civil aspects of the renaissance utopias.
Packaged with bundles of drama, emotions, actions, comedy and pretty neat architecture, the story is about two brothers’ search for a Philosopher’s stone after performing the forbidden act of alchemy, thus leaving them in damaged physical forms.
3. Arte | 2020 | Historical
Circa 16th century Florence, Italy—Arte is a noblewoman who aspires to become an artist—but a girl from a noble family becoming an artist was a taboo and was seen as something alien. Art at that time was an exclusively male profession. Arte goes on to do a rigorous apprenticeship under a master artisan and becomes a one herself.
It is interesting to note that Arte shares her name with a female Artist during the 16th century Renaissance—Artemisia Gentileschi, who was also an artist, specifically, an accomplished early Italian Baroque painter, inspiration to many having overcome prejudices of her time. If you are familiar with paintings such as Susanna and the Elders, Madonna and Child, and Cleopatra—these are her artworks.
4. Howl’s Moving Castle | 2004 | Fantasy
“Less is more” is definitely not the motto of this anime, in fact, it is the opposite. With one of the best soundtracks ever, the animation is a perfect blend of steampunk, whimsy, dreamy, and mystic aesthetics—in hindsight, the Wizard of Oz type of story. The story is about a young girl cursed by a witch, and to break the spell she is accustomed to be the companion of a young wizard and his walking castle (the wildest creativity!). The story revolves around love, loyalty and has an anti-war subplot.
Colmar city in France is the main setting for the movie—a hybrid of German and French architecture with cobblestone streets, storefronts, alleyways and astonishing landscapes.
5. Attack on Titan | 2013 | Action, Dark fantasy
Attack on Titan depicts a post-Medieval European society where a near-extinct human race lives inside the fortified cities; an epic fantasy set in a utopian world. The reason being the Titans—the gigantic cannibalistic humanoid beings.
The design of towns depicts the Germanic culture and Madagascar’s influence with serene surrounding valleys and forests. It shows the conflict between technology, the natural world, and mythology. The story is about Eren and his friends who seek to take revenge from the Titans after experiencing a tragic loss and destruction in their hometown. They further step-out outside the walls and join the Scout Regiment for the battle against the Titans.
6. Carmen Sandiego | 2019 | Mystery, Comedy, Action
Trained as a professional thief in the V.I.L.E. Academy, Carmen Sandiego can be christened modern-day Robin Hood, who chooses to work in fact against the thieves. For the traveling geeks and sitcom lovers (has loads of good puns), this will be sure an adventure to watch. Nick-named black sheep, Carmen Sandiego, traveling the globe—from Indonesia to Ecuador— pulls out heists with her three other teammates.
With a blend of anime and a standard 2-D, it has an old-school animation style. This oddball is on this list for various reasons: clean graphic, outstanding lighting, textures, and realistic fuzzy looks. Those interested in shot composition, visual storytelling and color themes can learn a lot from this. No wonder it has begged the Primetime Emmy Award in Outstanding Animation, and Awards for best character design and best storyboarding.
7. Ghost in the shell | 1995 | Sci-fi, Cyberpunk, Thriller
If you are a die-hard fan of the movie, Matrix, then this one is definitely for you! And probably have seen live-action scenes in the Matrix; it is from this anime these scenes were majorly borrowed. With its exotic urban architecture, Ghost in the Shell explores what it truly takes to be fundamentally—a human—after undergoing artificial enhancement and replacement.
Animated in 1995, it is set in the year 2029 (much ahead of its time), where a war is going on between the authorities and mind-hackers. The location is set to be in a futuristic fictional metropolis called New Port City; the architecture is inspired by real-life spaces of Hong Kong while transforming it into a dreamlike hyper-stylized megacity.
8. Anohana Franchise | 2011 | Supernatural
A modern classic and an emotional rollercoaster, the anime sets in the Chichibu city with traditional streets, bridges, temples, shrines and beautiful sceneries. The storyline revolves around a girl, whose death affected the lives of her closest friends. Although she died while in elementary school, her childhood friends—even 10 years after her death, haven’t yet overcome the past trauma. With the return of her as a ghost, the story further explores how they will deal with the loss of their dear friend to further move on in life. The music and psychology addressed in the anime are commendable.
9. Whisper Of The Heart | 1995 | Adventure, Romance
I am sure many of us have felt a certain level of an existential crisis when stepping our bare feet into the unfamiliar professional world. Anyway, we take the first step swimming in the uncertainties—knowing it wouldn’t obviously kill us. Set in the Seiseki Sakuragaoka, a peaceful middle-class neighborhood, Tama in Tokyo in the 90s, this movie subtly captures this rarely addressed topic, young people’s anxieties. It teaches about apprenticeship, patient dedication to craft, and nurturing friendship with other artists.
It is about not giving up on your dreams, polishing and finding the gem inside of you—a tale of heartfelt aspiration and yearning. An intriguing tale of a girl who is a book-worm and aspires to be a writer, and one day she finds out that every one of the books she borrows from the library has been already previously checked out by a boy (who tried to get her attention this way).
10. Sword Art Online | 2012 | Sci-fi, Adventure fiction
Sword Art Online (SAO) sets in a virtual reality world known as “Aincrad”—where players use gaming technology, Nerve Gear, a VR system for the realistic gaming experience. But when the game goes live, players get amazed by the amazing features SAO offers; soon horrified by the fact that one basic function is missing—a log-out button. So, to regain their freedom, players have to conquer all the 100 floors of Aincrad! Also, game over means death in both worlds: the real and virtual. You can say it’s an Anime version of hunger games but in the Virtual Reality (game) world.
11. Another | 2012 | Horror, Mystery
Dark, mysterious and perfect amount of creep factor what makes Another an unexpected puzzle. Like Final Destination, you know something is bound to happen and figuring out, it infuses even the smallest suspense moments like the passing of a van on a freeway, running down a staircase or using a lift and will make you hold your breath.
Set in Yomiyama, Japan, the story has a pretty classical setup with supernatural events, tragic events and gruesome deaths with blood and gore in the school involving a girl, Mei Misaki.
12. From Up on Poppy Hill | 2011 | Drama, Family
In preparation for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the story is set in 1963 Yamate in Yokohama—a historic neighborhood in the port city with beautiful scenery and active harbor. The story is an ode to conservation and historical preservation rather than destroying it. Teens from Yokohama try to save and restore the school’s clubhouse from being demolished. With the commendable design, interior, and lightning, the clubhouse is a technical wonder.
13. A lull in the sea | 2013 | Fantasy, Romance
Inspired by the port city in Mie Prefecture, Kumano, Japan—the anime is a total eye-candy and pure aesthetics, set in the Shioshishio village located under the sea. A long time ago, all humans lived beneath the sea; obviously, these people were given a special ability to breathe underwater called “ena”. Over time, some people preferred living on the surface (thus, losing ena) and some still lived underwater.
In order to attend a school on the surface, two childhood friends are forced to leave the sea. Well, the story doesn’t end here—these children’s lives started to change as they encounter the deep hatred and discrimination that existed between the people of the sea and the surface.
14. A Certain Scientific Railgun | 2009 | Sci-fi, Action, Adventure
A spin-off of “A Certain Magical Index”, A Certain Scientific Railgun is a story set in a metropolis ACADEMY CITY in western Tokyo with a population of 2.3 million, of which 80% are students. The city is a center of the development of the supernatural powers. Students here are enrolled in various curriculums for the training.
Being a futuristic city, it is at the forefront of scientific development—roads and alleyways have hidden cameras, minuscule machines to gather data continuously, and monitoring systems for any spy or terrorist interventions. The story is about the daily lives of esper (individuals with psychic abilities) girls in the city.
15. Children Who Chase Lost Voices | 2011 | Fantasy, Adventure
The movie carries us on the journey to the legendary country named Agartha where it is thought that the dead can be brought back to life. Agartha has a rural environment of towns and villages.
The visual storytelling is breathtaking with dreamlike landscapes—an amazing blend of color and light, precise water effects, weathering and dirt, the moving wind, the colorful insects, and the wildlife animation—adding up to a whole rich visual experience with tiny and subtle details. The story shows the hope of finding love and hope after a tragic loss in one’s life.