Doctor Tenma's life is destroyed when he chooses to operate on a young boy, a victim of an apparent home invasion, instead of the mayor of the town where he lives. The boy vanishes, and Tenma discovers disturbing evidence he might have become a serial killer. Determined to set things right, the doctor descends into Europe's underworld to find him and stop him any way he can.
Adapted from an equally spellbinding manga series, this psychological thriller has more in common with SE7EN, Silence of the Lambs, or the Alex Cross procedurals than many other anime titles. Once started, it is all but impossible not to watch it through to its quietly devastating conclusion. (It's also one of the few anime that is not set in Japan, although the doctor himself is Japanese.)
Set in a land that's reminiscent of a mash-up of multiple Asian cultures (mainly Japan and Tibet), Moribito follows spearwoman-for-hire Balsa as she's entrusted with Chagum, heir to an embattled throne. The powers-that-be want the boy, and the two are forced to go on the run, change their identities, battle any number of foes, struggle to survivem and peel back one layer of deception after another.
For mature audiences because: Some violence (the show's a grand adventure saga first and foremost), but mainly because the way the show deals with concepts like the way a nation creates -- and attempts to live up to -- its own mythology. (The story was derived from a series of young-adult novels written by a woman who was also a sociology professor, and it shows in how smart and engaging it all is.)
Dr. Atsuko Chiba leads two lives. By day, she's a researcher working on a revolutionary device that allows people to enter each other's dreamspaces (take that, Inception). By night, she's "Paprika," the feisty black-market dream therapist who uses the device to aid those for whom traditional therapy can't reach. When the device is stolen, it's up to her alter ego to save the day before reality's buried under a deluge of dreamtime madness.
Yasutaka Tsutsui's maverick SF novel read like a tarter version of Michael Crichton, and director Satoshi Kon brought it to life in an equally lively and wide-eyed way. Sadly, this was Kon's final feature film, as he died of pancreatic cancer while working on his next film, The Dreaming Machines.
For mature audiences because: Sexual and suggestive material abounds (the film is rated R), and like Kon's other movies it explores issues of identity and illusion that might be best appreciated by older viewers.
14. Paranoia Agent
This was Satoshi Kon's one foray into episodic TV, and it's astounding stuff: it plays like a lost Rod Serling screenplay as directed by Christopher Nolan. An urban legend is circulating about a mysterious figure named "Little Slugger," who can put you out of your misery if your life's falling apart. A pair of detectives discover Little Slugger may in fact be real -- but the more they dig, the more one layer after another of lies and delusion fall away until the very fabric of reality itself starts to crumble.
For mature audiences because: Violence and some sexual material, but mostly because of the all-pervading sense of paranoia -- hence the title -- that makes this show all the creepier the more you think about it.
15. Perfect Blue
If Paranoia Agent was Satoshi Kon channelling Hitchcock, this is Kon's Dario Argento moment. A pop star retires from her singing career to try and make it as an actress, but her life begins to spiral down into madness and murder when someone starts trying to drive her out of her mind ... or is she just cracking up all on her own? This was Kon's first feature-length production as director after being a supporting staff member on many other projects, and it has the confidence and audacity of a veteran director at work.
For mature audiences because: Violence, sexual material -- including a truly disturbing "simulated" rape scene that is somehow all the more disturbing because it's being acted out -- and many moments of head-spinning, heart-in-mouth terror.
A far-future epic about the most dangerous, illegal, and eagerly-anticipated race in the whole galaxy, one which makes the street drags in The Fast and the Furious look like kids playing with Matchbox cars. Contestants JP and Sonoshee wrestle with both their rigs and each other's emotions while nefarious forces on all sides collude to either rig the race, shut it down, or blow the participants to kingdom come. The whole thing took seven years to make, and it shows in every single meticulously hand-drawn frame.
For mature audiences because: Bad language and some violence, but mainly for the way it hearkens back to the works of Ralph Bakshi, the 1970s animation director whose Heavy Traffic, American Pop and Wizards tried to make animation cross over to adult (read: R-rated) audiences. REDLINE recalls the funky aesthetic of that era, but with a modern fast-moving anime sensibility.
The nation of Honneamise has been boasting about their space program for some time now, but in reality it's little more then an excuse to funnel money into a PR program that trumpets its accomplishments for the sake of intimidating other nations. Then when a man is in fact chosen to be launched into space -- the soft-headed, single-minded Lhadatt -- the men behind this rag-tag mission find themselves coming together to make the impossible happen, despite their own cynicism. Magnificently animated by GAINAX, the same company behind Evangelion, it's like a documentary history for a time and place that never existed.
For mature audiences because: Those of you old enough to remember when Neil first walked on the moon, or when the shuttle first cleared the tower, will get more than a little thrill of remembrance with this film. (Also recommended for mature audiences because of a badly-handled scene of attempted sexual violence on the part of the protagonist, the film's biggest flaw.)
A prequel to the Rurouni Kenshin TV series, which spells out the origins of Kenshin as described in the final story arc that concluded the originating manga. Kenshin was rescued as an orphan by the man who trained him to be a killer ( better that than being sold as a slave) and is an assassin for a squad of revolutionaries. When he finds himself falling in love with the sister of a man he was assigned to kill, the last thing he expects is for her to return the same feelings. This proves to be the downfall of them both, and the consummate artistry of the storytelling and animation makes this almost unbearably sad story into something transcendent.
For mature audiences because: Violence (graphic bloodshed), political machinations, and a story of doomed love that will have the hardest-hearted in the audience blowing their noses.
Two swordsmen -- one blind, the other crippled -- prepare to face off in an unlikely duel. This show is the story of how they came to be rivals in both love and honor, against the backdrop of a samurai-era Japan slowly choking on its own decadence. It's not a pretty picture, but it's one so skillfully put together that its very repulsiveness also becomes fascinating.
For mature audiences because: Violence and sex, both separately and together. "Graphic" and "disturbing" are some of the politer words for this show. (Was the title not enough of a tipoff?)
20. Speed Grapher
Former combat photographer Saiga is sucked into a bizarre underworld where the ultra-rich can have any desire they want fulfilled -- and even others they don't know about yet. Suddenly he's become one of the "Euphorics," a subclass of humanity with powers that others would kill -- or die -- to have. If people plus superpowers equals X-Men, this is more like XXX-Men, with fetishism and eroticism galore -- but also a complex and absorbing story that speaks to a time where the rich get richer and everyone else pounds sand.
For mature audiences because: Violence, sex, perversion, political corruption, and the wanton abuse of paper money as cigarette papers. Yes.
21. Tokyo Godfathers
Satoshi Kon (yes, him again!) directed this very, very loose reworking of John Wayne's Three Godfathers. Instead of the Wild West, it's set in urban Tokyo, where a trio of homeless misfits -- an alcoholic, a runaway teenaged girl and a transsexual -- blunder across an abandoned infant and try to return it to its parents. This sets into motion a whole chain of insane misunderstandings
For mature audiences because: Mature situations -- homelessness, gender dysphoria, but also because of the way the movie hearkens back to the screwball comedies of classic Hollywood.