Summer anime preview: All the anime movies coming to theaters

Barbara Merkley

American viewers have access to more anime than they’ve ever had before, with record-high numbers of new shows available on streaming. There truly is an embarrassment of anime riches. Not to be left behind, the big screen is also getting its fair share of anime movies to keep us busy this summer.

If you need a break from the latest Marvel movie, you don’t think Tom Cruise is as exciting as a Ghibli classic, or you simply want some animated, rocking alternative to Elvis, there’s an anime movie for you at the local multiplex this year. Here’s our list of the biggest anime releases of the summer, including some titles in limited release you don’t want to miss out on.

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko

A fat woman in bright clothing does laundry on a tiny, rusty, mossy houseboat in Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko

Image: GKIDS

Children of the Sea director Ayumu Watanabe returns with a vastly different, small-scale story. Rather than taking on the entirety of the universe, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is about 38-year-old Nikuko and her 11-year-old daughter Kikuko, who live together on a houseboat in a fishing town. The film centers on Kikuko as she navigates life with a larger-than-life mother who falls for the wrong men, turns every place she goes into a party, and overall has too much personality for Kikuko’s liking. The film boasts exquisite art direction and a coming-of-age slice-of-life story about growing up and learning your parents are human too.

In theaters June 3.

Revue Starlight: The Movie

A character from Revue Starlight: The Movie, lit entirely in red

Image: Sentai Project

Revue Starlight is back. Four years after the end of the TV series, the students of Seisho Music Academy are back to try and achieve on-stage stardom. The story follows Karen and Hikari, two students who find a strange stage where girls settle their conflicts through underground battles in the shape of revues, or stage performances. The anime looked like any other idol show at first, but it quickly proved itself to be something special, with a lot in common with the hit series Revolutionary Girl Utena. The movie offers uniquely stunning action alongside a sense of theatricality and musicality that makes this a gift to fans of the franchise, and an exciting entry point for newcomers.

In theaters June 5 and 6.

Macross Frontier: The False Songstress

Two giant hovering Macross mecha in front of the billowed sail of a ship in Macross Frontier: The False Songstress

Image: Fathom Events

One of anime’s seminal franchises is coming to the big screen. Macross is among the biggest mecha franchises about intergalactic wars where humanity fights aliens using ships that transform into giant robots. The False Songstress is a retelling of the 25th-anniversary series Macross Frontier, which focuses on a space colony fleet looking for a new habitable planet. The series is known for having a bigger focus on political intrigue than previous entries in the franchise, while not forgetting the musical roots of the story. The False Songstress still features the kind of pop music hits you’d expect from a story where idol singers fight alongside fighter pilots.

In theaters June 16.

Fruits Basket: Prelude

Two of the characters from Fruits Basket: Prelude stand holding hands, silhouetted against the sea

Image: Crunchyroll

Fruits Basket is one of the most celebrated remakes of the past few years, and one of the best-received modern shoujo anime. The story follows an orphan girl who moves in with two of her classmates and discovers their family has a curse that causes them to be possessed by the spirits of the Chinese zodiac. The story is a slice-of-life romance full of heartwarming moments, but also somber topics like domestic abuse and mental illness. With two well-received anime adaptations, including a successful remake in 2019, Fruits Basket: Prelude will expand on the recent adaptation of the manga and expand on the story told in the anime. Mostly, the film will include the anticipated prequel story that tells the story of the protagonist’s parents before their untimely deaths. It will also include scenes original to the film that take place after the end of the anime, a treat for shoujo fans.

In theaters June 25-29.

The Cat Returns

A girl with a tiny, top-hatted cat on one shoulder stands amid a flock of birds and a larger cat standing on its back legs in an image from Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns

Image: GKIDS

Even a lesser-favorite Ghibli movie is better than most other movies out there. The Cat Returns is a rare spinoff/sequel to the quite excellent Whisper of the Heart, focusing on the magical Baron cat in a solo adventure with a girl who can talk to cats. The animation style is simpler than in most Ghibli films, but it’s still a whimsical, magical adventure for the feline fan, full of Ghibli heart. Add a timeless theme about embracing what makes us who we are, and you have a family-friendly adventure for the whole family.

In theaters June 26-27.

An idol in an elaborate wedding dress-like outfit under the spotlight in Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell

Image: Fathom Events

The epic conclusion to Macross Frontier: The False Songstress, The Wings of Farewell follows a stunt pilot who falls for a galactic idol who may hold the key to ending the war. The film features some of the best animation in the Macross franchise, as well as catchy songs that are believably meant to hold the power to change the world. Much in the same vein as the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, this movie doesn’t adapt the ending of the original anime it is based on as much as it builds its own original story. It’s full of twists and turns, but it remains unequivocally Macross, an entertaining, catchy, action- and intrigue-packed film with giant transforming robots.

In theaters June 30.

The Deer King

A snarling man crackling with gold energy charges toward the camera in The Deer King

Image: GKIDS

What happens when you take a former Ghibli animator, a former Ghibli director, and a former Ghibli writer, and put them together to work on a fantasy film about the struggles between humans and the environment, and nature versus progress? Well, you get Princess Mononoke The Deer King, of course! As expected from its impressive talent pool, this film manages to deliver a lived-in fantasy world, great action, and a poignant political story of rebellion and prejudice. The film follows a once-proud warrior tasked with protecting an orphan girl while a conflict involving a supernatural curse brews across the nation. The film also has a poignant layer about the importance of medical science in the face of superstition that hits like a pile of bricks in 2022. While we wait for the next big Ghibli hit, fans of the studio better check out The Deer King.

Exclusive fan preview screenings on July 13-14, in broad theatrical release July 15.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

The witch Kiki goes charging through an astonished town on her flying broom in Kiki’s Delivery Service

Image: GKIDS

One of Hayao Miyazaki’s very best movies, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a lovely, whimsical film about a witch girl who sets out to find her way in the world and prove her worth. She makes friends along the way but struggles with becoming independent while having to depend on other people, leading to a crisis of identity that’s strangely relatable for both kids and adults. It’s one of the simplest yet most emotionally complex films Ghibli has ever made, and it also features one of its best supporting characters — Kiki’s familiar, Jiji the cat (voiced to perfection by Phil Hartman in the Disney dub). This is a movie about the pains of growing up, about not trying to speed through life, and about burnout and losing the spark that made the thing you loved doing worth doing.

In theaters July 31 to Aug. 3.


Inu-Oh rocks out to an adoring audience in Inu-Oh

Image: GKIDS

The director of Mind Game, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, Devilman Crybaby, and more experimental, weird, excellent anime, Masaaki Yuasa is about to take a break from filmmaking. But he’s saying goodbye with his most rocking film yet: a head-banging, electrifying rock opera. Inu-Oh takes on historical fiction to tell the secret story behind a Noh performer, biwa musician, and playwright named Inu-Oh, one of the most famous 14th-century performers in Japan, whose life went all but undocumented in the years since — to the point where he became a legendary figure, almost more myth than fact. Yuasa reimagines Inu-Oh as a modern-day rockstar, while still keeping the story in the 14th century. This means extravagant musical numbers with backup dancers, pyrotechnics, and elaborate stages, but with 14th-century costumes and instruments, an anachronistic yet totally rocking experience worth foot-tapping along to.

In theatrical release starting Aug. 12.

Only Yesterday

A stylized girl surrounded by celebratory light in Only Yesterday

Image: GKIDS

Real ones know that Studio Ghibli’s true misunderstood genius was Isao Takahata, the man behind Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko. Between those two vastly different (yet equally great) movies is Only Yesterday, a more slice-of-life drama compared to the whimsy of ’90s Ghibli, but an equally magical and touching story. It follows a woman in Tokyo who visits the countryside and remembers all the decisions and regrets of growing up. It’s like Everything Everywhere All at Once without the multiverse stuff, but just as profound, life-affirming, and heartwarming. It’s one of the most mature Ghibli movies, a poignant exploration of the role women play in Japanese society, and also a film about the pains of growing old. It doesn’t feature giant tanuki testicles like Pom Poko, but it’s still one of Ghibli’s best.

In theaters Aug. 28-29.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Goku, mad and snarling in the rain and wearing big thick glasses for some reason? in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Image: Crunchyroll

Is there anything left to say about Dragon Ball? Not only is this one of the most iconic and lasting anime franchises ever, it helped popularize the medium for a whole new generation of kids in the West. One of the pinnacles of what battle shonen can be, Dragon Ball has a unique blend of action, friendship, world-building, and a compelling hero’s journey, all of which have delighted audiences for more than three decades. After the big success of Dragon Ball Super: Broly, Super Hero will see the return of the Red Ribbon Army, an evil organization that’s plagued protagonist Goku since the original manga and anime. But rather than focusing on the iconic hero, the film gives the spotlight to his eldest son, Gohan, and his former antagonist Piccolo. This probably isn’t the best place to start for anyone who doesn’t consider those names instantly iconic, but for fans who’ve been following the story or want to feel some nostalgia, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is ready to Kamehameha its way into theaters.

In global theatrical release starting August 18.

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