Best Asian Animation That Isn't Anime - VRGyani News and Media


Monday, August 30, 2021

Best Asian Animation That Isn't Anime

The world has become more globalized. Now, thanks to modern advances in communication and transportation, it’s easier than it ever has been to consume and interact with media from all over the world. Why then does the world of animation remain so insular? So much of the animated content we see in the West primarily comes from America, France, or Japan. If asked about animated shows or movies from Asia, many folks would probably be inclined to think firstly - and only - about Japanese anime. And why wouldn’t they? Ever since the early 90s, anime, with it’s visually unique style, beloved properties, and incredible genre variety has captured the attention and adoration of countless viewers.

But the animated world, just like the rest of the world, is so much wider than just a small handful of countries. Some of you might just be interested in exploring beyond the realm of the famous island nation, but don’t know where to start. How do you venture outside of one of the few major countries in animation today? This list is here to answer that question with a few carefully selected suggestions.

I’ve compiled a healthy mix of adult and children’s movies from all over Asia. From China to Kazakhstan, from horror to romantic comedy, from 2D to 3D, there’s something on this list for everyone. Nearly all of these entries have links through which you can either watch or purchase the film discussed. Hopefully you, the adventurous animation explorer, will be able to use this list as a springboard for your next deep dive into international animated content! So sit down, pause whichever anime episode you’re watching today, and let’s go through some of the best Asian animation that isn’t anime.

파닥파닥 (2012) - South Korea

English Title: Padak Padak

Padak Padak, sometimes alternatively titled as PADAK or Swimming To Sea, is an independently made 3D adult animated film from South Korea. Despite the aquatic main characters, Padak Padak is far from being Finding Nemo. If you’re familiar with how live seafood restaurants work, then you’ll get a sinking feeling when you learn that that’s exactly where our fishy protagonists are trapped. Padak, our main character, is a mackerel that’s been taken from the sea and placed into a tank at said live seafood restaurant where she and her fellow fish both await, avoid, and grapple with their inevitable demise. While the rest of the fish in the tank don’t hold any hope of escape, Padak has known the sea, and she’s determined to get back to it. The grim setting is played very seriously, as is the mortality that the fish deal with. Death, specifically the torturous death by the hands of the restaurant’s chef, is shown in gorey detail, adding to the psychological horror of the film. This film is an interesting piece to delve into, not just for its story, but for a few interesting details about it as a film. For example, it’s one of the few movies available for rent or purchase on Steam. It also began life not as a large studio production, but as a bit of a passion project by the director, Dae-Hee Lee, who released it to the Jeonju Film Festival before it got a theater release in South Korea. Though the animation might not be as immediately beautiful or complex as say, something from Disney, its gritty, dulled nature bolsters the thought provoking, emotional, and existentially terrifying story that Padak Padak brings. Surprisingly, this movie is something of a musical. There are three different songs within this movie: "Forgive Me," "Nightmare," and "Think About It/The Eel’s Song," each of which are shown in a different style of animation. This movie is heavy, but if you can stomach the premise and the more grisly visuals, then it’s definitely worth the watch.

마당을 나온 암탉 (2011) - South Korea

English Title: Leafie: A Hen Into The Wild

This is a film that deals with ideas such as freedom, inhumane animal treatment, the love of a mother, and the limitations our bodies impose on us, all through the eyes of Leafie, a chicken who escaped an egg farm and goes to live in the wild. From there, she finds a duck egg and hatches it, going on to raise her newly adopted son despite not being a duck herself. When her son, Greenie, gets to an age where he realizes his mother and he are not the same, he leaves her, only to wind up in trouble at the same farm Leafie originally escaped from. Visually, the movie is stunning. The animation is fluid, the character designs memorable (you can’t forget the strangely buff anime ducks even if you wanted to), and the backgrounds are beautifully rendered. Even the darkest moments of the film have such evident passion behind them. You really should choose sub over dub, as the Korean voice actors, just like the artists, really give their all into their performances. There are a few more jarring parts of this movie - for example, there are a couple disconcerting bouts of toilet humor - but aside from those moments, the movie is very cohesive. You come to love Leafie, you see her as a person, you see how she struggles and just how strongly she loves, and you want her to succeed… And that’s what makes the ending so powerful. Now, this is also where the sub vs. dub debate comes in, as the English dubbed version is also the censored version. This is another reminder that unless you’re sharing this movie with a younger audience, the subbed and uncensored is definitely the way to go, if not for the VA’s stunning performances, then for the beautiful, brutal, bittersweet ending that Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild delivers. This movie is a little tougher to find, but the censored version of the sub can be found on YouTube for free, as well as the uncensored ending.

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九色鹿 (1981) - China

English Title: "A Deer Of Nine Colors"

"A Deer Of Nine Colors" is a vintage 2D animated short from China. The plot is, fascinatingly enough, based on a story described in a Buddhist mural. This mural, titled "Ruru Jataka," can be found on the walls of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China. The story is a basic morality tale of how life is precious and must be protected. The animation itself is gorgeous. Vibrant and colorful, the style of the film is one that mirrors the original mural in both its color and character designs. Each character is imbued with a sense of movement and grace, especially our titular deer. Animated character motions, like walking or running, are lovingly rendered and full of life. The cinematography might feel a little jarring to modern day sensibilities, with awkward jump cuts, our main character fading in and out of frame in lieu of walking, and relatively strange moments of movement by various characters, but the beauty of this piece will ensure that you’re never bored while watching. Instead, slower moments feel more like they’re giving you time to take in the incredible artistry of the setting and animation. The soundtrack, as one might expect for this era, is full of traditionally styled chinese vocals and instruments that not only fit with the tone of the movie, but perfectly compliment the visuals. Despite being from China, the film has a strangely nostalgic feel, bringing up memories of fairy tales and old VHS animated movies from a bygone era. It can be viewed with English subtitles for free on YouTube.

罗小黑战记 (2019) - China

English Title: The Legend of LuoXiao Hei

The character this movie centers around has an interesting history behind him that runs longer than this singular movie. LuoXiao Hei was created by artist MTJJ, where he originally featured in Flash animated shorts, as well as Webtoon comics. As of now, there are about 43 animated shorts centering around him, along with this feature film. This film is intended to be a prequel to the animated shorts, following the Cat Spirit LuoXiao Hei after his home is destroyed due to deforestation. Thrown outside of his comfort zone, the plot follows him in the aftermath of this displacement, caught between loyalties to his supernatural kin and his human master. The animation in this film is truly something to behold. Reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film while remaining visually distinct, this movie displays a mastery of 2D visuals that we don’t often see in a world of 3D films. The backgrounds are an especially gorgeous part of the movie, drawing you into this world where monsters and humans exist side by side. The animation and cinematography is just as visually impressive. The dynamic camera angles, the explosive movement, the fluid motion, all of it coalesces into a magnificent piece of art. If you want to see this particular work of art, it’s currently available in Mandarin on Vudu to rent or purchase, and an English DVD is also now available!

Dayo: Sa Mundo ng Elementalia (2008) - The Philippines

English Title: The Wanderer In The Land Of Elementalia

The Wanderer In The Land Of Elementalia, sometimes just shortened to Dayo, was the first all digital feature-length animated film to come out of the Philippines. This movie follows Bubuy, a young child whose grandparents are kidnapped and taken to a mythical land known as Elementalia. With the help of a new supernatural friend, Bubuy ventures off to save them. This Filipino milestone features a mixed 2D/3D style, with the characters being 2D and the backgrounds being rendered in 3D. This film heavily features Filipino folklore and pop culture elements, and was heralded by critics for showcasing a perspective unique to the Philippines. In a country where even today much of the animation put out is in service of Western outsourcing, it felt monumental to create a film all on their own that shows their lifestyle and folklore. This passion for the project is evident in its production, as the film itself had a budget of about $1.3 million USD and took a team of over 500 local animators to create. The film’s musical score has won multiple awards, including ‘Best Sound’, ‘Best Musical Score’, and ‘Best Theme Song’ at the 2008 Manila Film Festival. The animation is akin to a more smoothly animated American television show or made-for-tv movie from the 90s, both in visual style and character design, but that doesn’t detract from its cultural significance or its viewability. What might affect it’s viewability is how difficult it is for Western audiences to find and watch. Multiple trailers and making of videos are available to watch on YouTube, as are some full uploads of the film, but none of these are subtitled and, save for the trailer narration and some words in the making of videos, all are in Tagalog. But, even if you aren’t fluent in Tagalog, it’s still worth a watch for its historic and cultural merit!

Hayop Ka! (2020) - The Philippines

English Title: You Animal!

You Animal! is an adult animated romantic comedy from the Philippines, and one of only two on this list available on Netflix. It’s also the very first Filipino animated movie to be distributed via Netflix, although it’s only available in territories outside the U.S. The narrative of You Animal! follows Nimfa, an anthropomorphic cat living in Manila who falls into a contentious love triangle between her poor boyfriend Roger, a mutt who works as a janitor, and a wealthy, successful dog named Iñigo. The tone of this movie can best be described as a ‘soap opera’, full of romance, comedy, and a lot of drama. Interestingly enough, this 2D film caused a bit of a stir upon its release, in part due to it being the very first Filipino adult animated film. In a country that can lean more on the conservative side of things, this movie’s open discussion of sexual topics, abortion, and the wealth gap was shocking for a lot of people. For others however, this movie sheds a necessary light on the darker sides of life in the Philippines, and supporting this film is another step towards getting Filipino animated content into the global limelight. The animation style in this film is unique, sporting lineless, almost geometric character designs atop detailed, painterly backgrounds. Movements are fluid, lifelike, and when they need to be, dramatic. This movie oozes with the love and care the animators and production team poured into it, and if it sounds like something you might want to watch, you should. Supporting animated projects from ‘underdog’ countries like the Philippines will ensure that they have enough of an audience to continue making art!

Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya (2019) - India

Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya, sometimes simply referred to as GGBB, is a 2D animated musical film. This story follows two inept musicians - Goopi, who loves to sing, and Bagha, who loves to drum - throughout their travels across the land. Together, they are blessed by the King of Ghosts and get into countless adventures, avert wars, and try to bring happy endings to all they encounter, all with song! Though this film only clocks in at about 80 minutes, Goopi and Bagha themselves have a surprisingly long-lived history. These characters first appeared in a 1910 story created by Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury, a Bengali writer and painter. Later, Upendra’s grandson Satyajit Ray would adapt the story into three live-action films in 1969, 1980, and 1992. Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya is simply the latest iteration of this long-lasting duo, inspired specifically by the first film from 1969. The visual design and the music this movie brings are its best parts. The songs, many of which are available on YouTube, are beautiful. Each one is sung and drummed with such energy and skill, it’ll be truly difficult to find one you like best. The visuals are just as unique as the music, featuring 2D digital puppet animation with strikingly wild and colorful character designs. Character movements, though not extremely refined or realistic, flow perfectly with the tone and pace of the music. If you’re a fan of one-of-a-kind music and art, you should definitely watch this film. It’s currently available on Amazon.

Lava Kusa: The Warrior Twins (2010) - India

Lava Kusa: The Warrior Twins is another film that has a striking resemblance to 90s Western style cartoons. The story is based on the famous epic Ramayana, which features the twins Lava and Kusa. The story follows the two throughout their young lives as the epic does. This movie was released to acclaim in its home country. It took a significant amount of resources to create, requiring three years of production and a budget that equated to $5 million USD. Despite the attention it received within India at the time, this film can be surprisingly hard to find in the West. A full HD version of it exists on YouTube, though it is entirely in Hindi and without English subtitles. A few DVDs of the film can also be found for cheap on eBay, as well as a listing on Amazon that is currently out of stock. The visuals are bright and colorful, with moments of 3D animation in a largely 2D movie. Though the style mirrors 90s cartoons from the West, the animation is far from lacking, showing off dynamic action scenes and eye-catching imagery. Song, dance, magic, and action are heavily shown in this movie, imbuing the film with a sense of childhood wonder and excitement. The music, as is fitting for the nation famous for Bollywood, is something to behold. The soundtrack, which is available independently from the film, features famous Indian singers such as K. J. Yesudas and K. S. Chithra. If you have an interest in Indian music or epics, give this one a go!

"Sitara: Let Girls Dream" (2019) - Pakistan

"Sitara: Let Girls Dream," sometimes shortened simply to "Sitara", is a Pakistani short film and the only other project on this list available to view on Netflix in the U.S. This film tackles the still very real issue of child marriage. The film follows Pari, a young girl, and her older sister Sitara who live in Pakistan during the 1970s. Both of them dream of becoming a pilot one day, only for Sitara to find out that her father is planning to force her to marry a significantly older man. The film’s ending is truly bittersweet, with the final portion of the story told through illustrations in the credits. The production of this short was an immense challenge for Waadi Studios, who were resource-strapped during its creation. They wanted to create a high quality animated film, but obstacles like old machines, hour-long power outages, and production taking place in a company short on animators were constantly in their way. Despite it all, "Sitara" was completed and released on International Women’s Day. The film went on to win three awards at the 2019 Los Angeles Animation Festival and have a special screening at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Interestingly enough, this film is silent, allowing us to experience this story with only the visuals and our thoughts. The immense care and commitment that the entire team had for this film is evident even within the first minute. The setting is lovingly detailed, the city the sisters and their family inhabits is beautifully crafted and immersive, and the way that the character’s emotions are displayed through their bodies is incredibly moving. Every ounce of hope and joy that the characters feel is evident, as is the depths of despair and betrayal that the family feels towards the father. This beautifully heartbreaking short film, with both a message and a studio that deserve support, is one you should definitely watch.

"Fatenah" (2009) - Palestinian Territories

"Fatenah"is an obscure and largely undocumented indie short film created by Ahmad Habash. It was the very first 3D animated film made in the Palestinian Territories and provides the audience with a surprisingly realistic and compelling storyline. Set in the same territories the film was made in, Fatenah is a young woman who one day discovers a lump on her breast. Realizing she needs treatment, she goes off in search of medical help. The film, which, according to the promotional poster, is based on a true story from 2005, depicts the difficulties surrounding seeking medical treatment in the war-torn Gaza Strip. The accuracy of day-to-day life in Palestine as well as the frustrations of the everyday people there are meticulously portrayed throughout this film. The film makes a specific attempt to show how the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip dangerously restricted the Palestinian population’s access to proper healthcare. As is to be expected with a region so turbulent, the production value of the film isn’t very high, with the total budget estimated to be somewhere around $60,000 USD which, for a half hour 3D animated film, is very low. The visuals can come off as cheap or amateurish to those who stumble upon it, with it’s general lack of textures, stiff movement, and blank faces, but that shouldn’t deter you from watching this piece of Palestinian history. This hidden gem can be found for free on Vimeo, uploaded by the original creator. The movie is in Arabic, subtitled in English, so make sure to have captions on. The voice acting is surprisingly competent, and the soundscape, though a little basic, is effective. If you like to be able to explore the perspective of someone else through film, this is definitely worth a watch.

다람이와 고슴도치 (1977-2013) - North Korea

English Title: Squirrel and Hedgehog

Squirrel and Hedgehog is a special entry on this list for two very specific reasons. Firstly, it is the only television series on this list, spanning a total of 34 episodes created between 1977 and 2013. Secondly, it is objectively pro-North Korean propaganda made by the nation itself, one of the few to find its way outside of the nation. The plot centers around Squirrel and Hedgehog, who live in and defend their paradisiacal home of Flower Hill from ruthless enemies who seek to destroy it. It’s no secret that North Korea is a master of propaganda, and such undying loyalty to the state isn’t something that’s only taught upon adulthood. Squirrel and Hedgehog is made for North Korean children, complete with jarring amounts of guns, gore, on-screen death, and thinly veiled visual metaphors in favor of the totalitarian regime. Of course, the titular characters and their home are stand ins for North Korean citizens and North Korea, respectively. They, along with the rest of Flower Hill, fight against the Rebels of Mt. Rock and the Wolves’ Den, meant to represent the nation’s most prominent enemies. Interestingly, this show’s choice of species for its characters tends to indicate which nation they’re meant to represent. Weasels are Japanese, wolves are Americans, mice are South Koreans, and bears are Russians. There’s also a one strangely sensual fox in the cast that is meant to be American… I guess even in ruthless dictatorships, furries still find a way. The story of the series isn’t particularly complex or nuanced, but Squirrel and Hedgehog provides a fascinating insight into the potential childhood experiences of North Korea's youth. If you’re interested in delving into this bizarrely violent children’s show, nearly all episodes of this series can be viewed on DailyMotion.

Tatsumi (2011) - Singapore

Tatsumi is a 2D Singaporean film that was released in 2011. This movie is actually something of a biopic, following the life and career of mangaka (manga artist) Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The story takes place in an occupied postwar Japan, where Tatsumi meets his idol, Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astroboy) and creates a new genre of manga called ‘gekiga’ (this genre, which translates to ‘dramatic pictures’, is aimed at adults and tends to have a more cinematic style and mature storytelling). The creator of this film, a Singaporean director and comic artist named Eric Khoo, fell in love with Tatsumi’s beautiful works and wanted to pay homage to him. Khoo wanted to properly display Tatsumi’s iconic style throughout this movie, a the team found to be rather unchallenging. Tatsumi’s artwork was so movie-like, it was noted that all they really had to do was adjust the frames to be in a widescreen format. Rougher, inky lines with punches of black amid softly applied color give the entire film the true image of a comic book. Fittingly enough, the main narrative is interspersed with animated versions of some of Tatsumi’s most well known works, such as Hell, Just A Man, and Occupied. Though this film was animated in Indonesia and originally voiced in Japanese, main production took place in Singapore, and as a result it’s considered a Singaporean film. It’s available for DVD purchase through Amazon, as well available for viewing on streaming services like OVID US, Criterion Channel, Tubi TV US, Hoopla US, and Kanopy.

นาค (2008) - Thailand

English Title: Nak

Nak is a 3D animated TV movie that aired on Thai PBS Kids. The film provides a refreshing twist on Thai folklore, telling a story where some of the country’s most famous ghosts, such as Mae Nak, Phi hua Kat, and Krahang, work to save humanity from a powerful evil spirit. While the animation itself is fairly standard, the stylization and character design fills this movie with life. Despite a large portion of the movie taking place at night, the urban Thai cityscape setting is full of color and excitement. The movie includes elements of sci-fi, Japanese pop culture aesthetic, and reimaginings of Thai folklore. The film garnered mixed reviews upon its release - which might be why it’s so hard to find today. Save for trailers that can be found on YouTube, some stills of varying resolution, and entries on a few websites, Nak is almost nowhere to be found. Aforementioned mixed reviews are attributed to the attempted modernization of traditional folklore, with the reimagining of Mae Nak as a crop-top wearing hot-pink haired single mother threw some off, and for others, the attempted integration of almost Star Wars-style settings and technology clashed too harshly with the traditional cultural elements. However, if mashups between new and old is something you fancy, this might just be the film for you to try and seek out!

Ер-Тостик и Айдахар (2013) - Kazakhstan

English Title: Er Tostik and Aydahar

Er Tostik and Aydahar is a primarily 3D animated film from Kazakhstan that was released in 2013. The story follows Er Tostik, a brave knight who valiantly battles the evils of the Underworld. Trouble rears its head, however, when those evil forces combine and form the fearsome Dragon of Aydahar. The film styles itself as a children’s fairytale, blending traditional Kazak folk stories into a cohesive narrative. This movie was the country’s first animated domestic feature film, as well as Kazakhfilm’s first animated project. It took over three years to hit completion with a team of about 50 people behind it. It was obvious that those who took part in this project were immensely proud of their work, even more so of its historical significance within the Kazak animation community. It received widespread acclaim within Kazakhstan, earning over 31 million Kazakh tenge at the box office and easily surpassing its 1.2 million KZT budget. The animation itself, while not groundbreaking in terms of technicality, is still impressive given the size and limitations of the team creating it. The 3D animation was created partially through manual rigging, and partially through motion capture, which can account for some of the more awkward movements in the characters, but the film still remains impressive. Scenes of 2D animation can be found within this movie as well, just as lovingly made as the rest of the film. Unfortunately, despite the monumental accomplishment this film is for Kazakhstan, a subtitled version isn’t available for English speaking viewers, but you can watch the Russian dub on OK.RU.

"Batik Girl" (2018) - Malaysia

"Batik Girl" is a Malaysian short film created by R&D Studio. The story emphasizes familial loss and love. After suddenly losing both of her parents, our unnamed main character finds herself grief stricken until one night, she finds a magical batik painting in her grandmother’s studio. This is a silent film, but though no dialogue is used, sound effects and a beautiful musical score accompany the characters throughout their journey. Released in 2018, this piece is nothing short of a work of art, quickly winning multiple awards in countries all over the world. The studio that created "Batik Girl" is still new to the stage, only being founded in 2011. However, they aren’t letting their size or their relative obscurity stop them from creating what might be some of the most breathtaking independent animation out there today. The animation particular to this film is mostly 2D with 3D elements. It lays heavy emphasis on colors and 2D patterns, with its 3D rendered backgrounds being more realistically styled. This short film is available for free on YouTube from R&D Studio’s channel. If you’re interested in continuing to support and follow their films, check out their Facebook page!

KEEP READING: Exclusive 'The Boxtrolls' Featurette Showcases LAIKA's Stop-Motion Animation Ahead of New Blu-ray Release

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