Right up front, let me hit you with a disclaimer: COVID ain’t over. It ain’t gonna be for a while and if you live in the United States, it’s especially bad. Just because theaters are opening back up doesn’t mean you should be going. Follow your state’s guidelines regarding precautions that need to be taken. It’s not worth risking your health and the health of those close to you to see a movie. If you feel it’s safe enough, make sure the theater you’re going to is taking precautions and always wear a mask.
Keeping all of the above in mind, if you’re like me, the prospect of returning to watching movies in a theater is very exciting. Thanks to the movie review shows I was a part of in college, I watched more movies in theaters the last two years than I probably had the three years prior. I love watching films in theaters. So let’s all be safe and smart so we can go back to the movies without worry soon.
This has been a rather barren year for movies, but overseas, Japan has quite a few anime films lined up. Some have already been released over there. While it’ll be a while before any of these are released internationally, it pays to know what to look forward to, whether it comes this fall or in 2021. Some of these very likely could come to streaming services. Regardless of whether we’ll be enjoying them in a theater or on our couches, here are some of the most exciting anime films on the horizon.
Violet Evergarden: The Movie
Japanese Theatrical Release Date: September 18, 2020
International Theatrical Release Date: Unknown
I completely forgot this was coming out. To tell you the truth, I’m surprised it’s coming out this year at all. Though to be fair, when I heard there was a Violet Evergarden movie, I assumed last year’s Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll was the movie. Instead, that was just a side-story, though quite a good one from what I’m told
Violet Evergarden was my favorite anime of 2018. It was a phenomenal, gorgeous tale of empathy and grief. When it ended, it left itself open to the prospect of an even grander conclusion to the story of Violet, who still struggled to cope with the loss of the man who made her want to become more human.
The best parts of Violet Evergarden were the stories of other people, whose complicated feelings tied up in loss and depression rubbed off on Violet – helping her to grow. Her own story, while emotional, felt like something was missing. The film could be just the closure the story needs, though I’m slightly cautious.
Watching the trailer, I worry the drama might become repetitive throughout the theatrical runtime. The ending of the show gave off the impression that Violet was finally on the path towards closure, but the movie sees her wallowing in emotions we saw her battle until the end of the show.
Director Taichi Ishidate crafted an experience that rewarded those who could overcome the heavy subject matter. I fear – perhaps irrationally – that the story may begin to almost become a parody of itself, wallowing in the melodrama that made it so successful in the first place. It will come down to execution, something I have no grounds to doubt after what the show achieved.
If this truly is to be the end of the story, then this film’s release feels even more unreal. The MyAnimeList page, at the time of writing, is bare as can be, even now, a little under a month after the release in Japan. I would love to talk more about the staff working on the film and who has returned from the series, but it seems I’ll have to wait for the translation.
As happy as the film’s release makes me, I feel a swell of sadness knowing that some, such as Violet Evergarden‘s art director Mikiko Watanabe, are no longer around to see it. This is the second major project Kyoto Animation has worked on since the arson attack last year, the previous being the last Evergarden film from 2019. Time will tell how the studio will bounce back, but with a Free! movie and the second season of Dragon Maid coming in 2021, the studio is proudly proclaiming “we’re still here” and I couldn’t be more excited.
Given the show’s history, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a limited theatrical release followed by an international streaming release. Netflix already has the rights to every other entry in the series. I would expect a Netflix release for certain, but Funimation may very well bring it in theaters. I heard rumblings about a confirmed theatrical release date, but at the time of writing, I’ve found no concrete source for that.
Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel III – Spring Song
Japanese Theatrical Release Date: August 15, 2020
International Theatrical Release Date: November 18
I still remember getting chills watching the fight between Saber and Berserker in the theater when Heaven’s Feel I came out. I also recall thanking God that Heaven’s Feel II released the week right before I had to leave for Japan. I will be pissed if I can’t see the grand finale in a theater.
Kinoko Nasu’s Fate universe is one of my favorite works of modern fantasy. The fact that the franchise can approach so many different genres and subjects in one world is an achievement and the product of a great world established by Nasu.
Heaven’s Feel is the darkest of the original visual novel’s three routes and the one I know the least about, story-wise. The choice to adapt the route as a film trilogy has been a contentious one, not only for the time constraints but for the choice to remove arguably vital character development for characters like Ilya and Kotomine.
My friends who have read the VN tell me the route is less the “Sakura Route” and more of the “Ilya/Kotomine Route.” As humorous as the claim might sound at first, I like that idea a lot. I wasn’t in love with Heaven’s Feel II as much as the first one because as much as I understand why people like Sakura, I don’t think she’s that interesting.
With all that said, it would be wrong to judge the decision to focus so heavily on Shirou and Sakura’s relationship without seeing how the trilogy sticks the landing. Ufotable’s animation and sound design have been a big tastemaker in the anime community in the realm of action design. Yuki Kajiura’s reputation as a composer speaks for itself. This film, mediocre or amazing, is going to be a spectacle.
Fathom Events officially announced the release of the third film slated for November 18, with a double feature of the first two films on the 14, just a few days prior. If you haven’t seen the first two, it’s worth seeing in theaters (just be safe).
Umibe no Étranger
Japanese Theatrical Release Date: September 11, 2020
International Theatrical Release Date: Unknown
A title with a bit of French flair, a bright color palette, and a gay romance. On that alone, I’d already have reserved my seat and grabbed my car keys. Umibe no Étranger is a film about an aspiring novelist who develops a crush on another young man who suddenly leaves home. When the boy returns years later and reciprocates his love, the novelist finds himself nervous and unsure about commitment. So begins a complicated love story.
What excites me about Étranger is that its another gay romance with seemingly strong visual direction and a good budget. I feel like Yuri on Ice paved the way for more LGBT anime with better talent behind them and since the Yuri on Ice movie is stuck in perpetual limbo I’ll take what I can get. Thankfully, nowadays that doesn’t mean I have to settle for a lesser product necessarily.
Studio Hibari is producing the film. While you may not be super familiar with their work, you might recognize the work of their subsidiary, Lerche. They made the very risque Scum’s Wish back in 2017, as well as Assassination Classroom. Recently, they’ve produced Toilet-bound Hanako-kun and Radiant.
A lot of the production staff are names that are new to me, which is always something I like to see because if I end up liking the film, I have someone new to keep an eye out for. Étranger looks exactly like the kind of cute, wholesome story the world needs right now. Here’s hoping it comes soon.
Given, The Movie
Japanese Theatrical Release Date: August 22, 2020
International Theatrical Release Date: Unknown
Japan is cranking out an LGBT twofer. Given was a sweet show about a boy named Mafuyu joining a rock band at the behest of the drummer Uenoyama, who quickly develops a crush on him, coming to terms with his sexuality. It was criminally cute and for as satisfying as it was, there was more to be done.
The film seeks to explore the complicated love triangle between Haruki, Akihiko, and Ugetsu. This whole story took a back seat to the main pair in the show but looks to be the central focus of the film. Whether this is the bow to finish off the anime adaptation or just the bridge into more seasons down the line, it’s great to see a continuation.
Funnily enough, this is another production by Studio Lerche and in fact, this and Umibe no Étranger are both titles produced by Blue Lynx, a subsidiary of Fuji TV that licenses Boys’ Love films exclusively. They’ve popped up quite a bit in recent memory and based on the content they are attaching themselves to, they’re making quite the name for themselves.
If I’m concerned about anything with the Given movie, it’s the animation. In my review of the series, I talked about how the CGI used during the musical performances could be distracting. It wasn’t terrible, but it did clash with the artwork. Judging by the trailer, it doesn’t seem as though they went all hand-drawn for the film, which is disappointing.
Regardless, if you’ve been looking for more LGBT romance, Japan is keeping you fed this year.
If you haven’t watched Given yet, it’s available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll.
Demon Slayer: Infinity Train
Japanese Theatrical Release Date: October 16, 2020
International Theatrical Release Date: 2021
Demon Slayer was one of the best shows of 2019, which says a lot considering how much good stuff we got last year. The best part about getting a new movie to capitalize on the success is that it isn’t even a side-story or filler content.
How many times do we get anime films that divert resources for non-canonical stories? It happens a ton and as much as I sheepishly buy into the hype surrounding these films, they are rarely substantial enough to say it was completely worth waiting longer for a new season. The most you can hope for is that they completely nail it as My Hero did with Heroes Rising, which is almost like the optional “ending” of the series.
Demon Slayer said “screw that” and decided to turn the next arc of its story into a full film. So it is a canonical continuation of the story in film form. I love this idea so much because it allows directors to adapt smaller arcs in a far more time-economical fashion. This way you don’t have to stretch out an arc unnecessarily.
As for the narrative reasons why you should be excited… I mean, it’s more of Demon Slayer. That show could be so intense and so endearing all the same. It has some of the best characterizations of antagonists- major or minor – that I’ve ever seen. You can completely hate one of these villains but by the end, when you learn why they are the way they are, you find yourself feeling for them.
An exact international release is unknown, but it will be sometime in 2021.
In the meantime, if you haven’t watched Demon Slayer yet (what are you doing?), it’s available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll, Hulu, and FunimationNow.
Princess Principal: Crown Handler
Japanese Theatrical Release Date: February 11, 2021
International Theatrical Release Date: Unknown
Hands down, one of the best shows from 2017 was Princess Principal, a steampunk spy story set in alt-history London. When I reviewed it one year ago, I praised the show’s complicated cast of characters, a collection of liars, in a city built on lies, fighting a secret war to bring down the walls dividing the people of London.
Though I held off watching it for quite some time, I was surprised how much I fell in love with the show. It’s the kind of story that surprises you with how smart, exciting, and most importantly, emotional it can be. The endearing ensemble cast made a great impression in just one short season.
It was steeped in a rich aesthetic that was delivered masterfully by composer Yuki Kajiura. One painfully short 12-episode season later, I was thankful I’d gotten into the show at the time I did. Had I fallen in love with it when it aired, the wait for a continuation would have been all the more painful.
Three and a half years later, the first continuation is slated to come out in February of the new year, after originally being slated to release in 2020. I have a feeling this will be a short film, however, as when the Crown Handler project was announced, it was said to be a series of six films. This seems like a Garden of Sinners situation, where each of the films ranges in length.
Assuming the time between the films isn’t too long, I don’t have a problem with this. Releasing stories like this means that they often are never too long or too short. They tend to take the necessary time to tell their tales and be done with it.
Much of the same production staff are returning, such as Director Masaki Tachibana, Composer Yuki Kajiura, Mechanical Designer Fumihiro Katagi, and others. The biggest difference is that this film series is being produced officially by studio Actas, which co-animated the first season with Studio 3Hz.
If you haven’t yet checked out Princess Principal, it’s available for legal streaming through Amazon Prime Video and HiDive.
Evangelion 3.0+1.0 – Thrice Upon A Time
I mean… It’s gonna happen. It was going to happen no matter what this past summer. But people have pointed out that they’re still working on it right now… so was it unfinished or are they just taking the extra time to make it even better? Maybe the COVID delay was a blessing in disguise Regardless, the more time they take to fine-tune it, the better.
In the last week, when people were speculating the possibility of the final film being six hours long, I was actually kinda excited by the idea. It wasn’t true… at all, but I liked the idea that in the eight years since the last film, Anno just said “screw it,” and made a marathon of a film to end everything. I’d be down. Make it the Metal Gear Solid 4 of Eva. Just give us every answer we’ve always wanted.
I genuinely love the Rebuild films so I have nothing but faith in this film. It’ll come out… when it comes out.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish
I have reasons to be skeptical of this film and not just because the title refused to use an oxford comma (yeah, I’m that bitch). See, ever since Your Name and A Silent Voice exploded in popularity, I feel like we’re seeing an oversaturation of obnoxiously beautiful teen drama films. Fireworks ended up being mediocre and Kimi no Suizou Wo Tabetai was one of my least favorite movies of 2019.
Maybe I’m just cynical, though. I am genuinely happy that Bones is making another film. Sometimes I worry that all the time making My Hero Academia takes away from the smaller projects that they could be working on. I suppose we’ll figure out whether this is a bang or a bust after it releases in December in Japan.
Fate/Grand Order: Divine Realm of the Round Table: Camelot – Wandering; Agateram
Of course, a Fate title wouldn’t fit on just one line…
Well, it’s Fate/Grand Order, so it’s not gonna be great (just being real). However, if Babylonia taught me anything, it’s that Grand Order is a hotbed of gorgeous sakuga. Granted, Babylonia was made by CloverWorks and this film is being made by Signal.MD. Still, the series sort of demands a certain level of animation quality at this point. With Production I.G. producing the film, I have a feeling it can meet that demand. Plus, with a top-billing performance by Mamoru Miyano as Bedivere, this will hopefully be a well-acted joyride as well. I guess we’ll see in 2021.
Yuri on Ice The Movie: Ice Adolescence
I’m convinced it doesn’t even exist. The fact that it’s called Ice Adolescence reminds me of Revolutionary Girl Utena: Apocolypse of Adolescence. Part of me kinda hopes the film is just a weird, heavy, dramatic character study that makes us all sad. It would make up for how stupidly long we’ve waited for it.
With things being the way they are, it’s understandable to feel down. For me, not being able to watch new movies the way I usually do hurts and I know I’m not the only person who got heartbroken when Heaven’s Feel III got delayed back in the spring. So take this list as a reminder of all the cool stuff we have to look forward to when things are – hopefully – a bit more pleasant.
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I hope you enjoyed this list! For more of the latest anime news and reviews, keep an eye on Anime Quarterly!