Top 7 Low-Key Innovative Movies and Series

Originality and innovation are things that I cherish when it comes to so many creative works. Whether they be movies, TV shows, books, games, or even on the rare occasions of sports, I do applaud those qualities when they are shown. Sometimes I feel like being innovative let alone unique is somewhat of a rarity in this world. You know, I could complain about how unoriginal things are, but I decided to go the positive route so I can show my appreciation for different things as well as being kind to my mental health.

While originality is a dealmaker for me with what I watch, there are times where some people are trying to be obvious in being creative. Don’t get me wrong, I still like it when people do so as long as they aren’t pretentious about it. With that being said, I think some movies and TV shows are more creative than people give credit for or at the very least don’t try to make a big deal about their unique concepts. When it’s done right, these works can be very good on so many levels. Sometimes the more subdued examples of innovation are the ones that can be the most exciting for me anyway.

Here are my guidelines for this list:

-For starters, this is all personal opinion, so please don’t take it as some definitive kind of article. You might have some good examples that could work with this concept.

-The movie or series in question isn’t making a statement by it’s uniqueness or trying to shoehorn everything in the story and presentation.

-The creators don’t brag about how unique or original their works are.

-Obviously, these are works that I have seen in my life so far.

Okay, let’s make this happen, and here are my picks for seven of the most low-key creative movies or series I’ve seen.

7: Close-Up

We’re kicking it off with an Abbas Kiarostami film and it was the very first one I’ve seen from the late Iranian director. While it looks a lot more grounded given the cinema verite/neorealism aesthetic as to be expected from Kiarostami, there is still a ton of creativity going on. This is one of the few docufiction works that could really fool people into believing it’s real, when it’s actually a fictionalized recreation while deconstructing documentary tropes and cliches. They even break the fourth wall by having Mohsen Makhmalbaf in the movie especially when you consider the main character/real-life person Hossain Sabzian is on trial for impersonating that director. The levels of truth and fiction converge in a subtle, yet heavily impactful way that most directors would not be able to handle with all the various nuances there. Even though this was made in 1990, the concept of Close-Up still holds up to this day and I don’t think this movie gets enough credit for being a highly original work. Don’t get me wrong, Kiarostami’s work isn’t for everyone regardless if anyone “gets” Iranian neorealism, but I’m still giving him his flowers whether people put him in high esteem or not. This is seriously an innovative work.

6: Shamanic Princess

It has been a long time since I talked about this obscure 90s OVA and I know it was one of the first anime I reviewed on here. I could certainly go full-on anime hipster by describing Shamanic Princess as having a dark magical girl story over a decade before Madoka Magica “made it cool”, but that would be shallow of me to do so. The animation is gorgeous with the various European scenery and avant-garde aesthetics that are still impressive to watch to this day. There were some unique things going on with the Tiana/Lena rivalry dynamic with how they’re treated on Earth and the Guardian World, a mature storyline with darker elements, and how the episode order is atypical with the last two episodes acting as a prequel leading up to episode 1. This could throw off some viewers, but it made sense as they reference the older events in the earlier episodes there. Shamanic Princess still blows my mind despite some flaws how it was created by the director of Outlaw Star of all people and the character designer of the Magic Knight Rayearth anime series (funny enough, some people have mistaken it as a Clamp work because of that association). It certainly gets points for being a fully original screenplay, so that’s something right there. The mix of dark fantasy, atypical plot pacing, and subverting magical girl tropes before it was WAY too trendy where it’s basically the norm in the current anime zeitgeist. Shame how Shamanic Princess doesn’t get enough credit for introducing these elements newer otaku take for granted with the art design, storyline concepts, and having a maho shojo-esque story for people who hate Sailor Moon, the PreCure/Glitter Force franchise, or even Card Captor Sakura. Trust me, those doubters can take this 6 episode work seriously.

5: Theatre of Wrestling

Some of you might accuse me of putting this on the list due to recency bias and with me being an open fan of the Nottingham-based indie wrestling federation known as Wrestling Resurgence, but come on now. Like YOU would’ve thought of a concept like this one? Let’s be realistic here. Pro wrestling is not exactly a place when it comes to creativity. How about having a two-part documentary/performance series incorporating the coalescing the history between pro wrestling with theatre, having short plays that recontextualize wrestling tropes, and having some *GASP!* artistic merit at the same time? Guess what? That actually happened with Theatre of Wrestling. Everyone involve should get an award for making something super innovative with the informative, yet intriguing documentary before showing the fun performances with various wrestlers from England and Canada (because of Gisele Shaw). I know I’m repeating myself, but anyone who thinks pro wrestling is nothing but big roided-up guys slowly moving around beating each other needs to slap themselves sideways. Resurgence delivered their Arthouse Wrestling vibes to this innovative video series this year that I think non-fans could find legitimately entertaining.

4: Yugo the Negotiator

Here’s another anime pick on my list. I could rant and rave about how Japanese animation takes more chances than their Western counterparts (especially America), but I don’t want to come off as THAT biased or go to that conversation in this post. Yugo doesn’t get enough credit as being a creative work and it’s a shame how it’s still obscure. It may not seem that obvious to the uninitiated, but how many anime protagonists do you know that are hostage negotiators or are forced to not use violence to get the job done despite being in violent situations? Go on. I can wait. Not only that, but I’m happy that Yugo Beppu is a protagonist who is able to be intelligent as a primary character trait while having an insane amount of willpower and not being some frail nerdy type. That is a huge plus for me. There are certainly other animated works with better production (I confess the animation quality is one of it’s low points and having two different studios clashes), but the story, innovative aspects, and the characterization more than make up for those shortcomings. Yugo the Negotiator is a forgotten series that is way more creative than meets the eye. Of course, I just have to mention that not many anime series out there have a dub that corrects mistakes that the Japanese version made like mistaking Arabic as the national language of Pakistan when it’s actually Urdu. I’m just saying.

3: Daughters of the Dust

The fact that this movie is part of the National Film Registry among far more popular works regardless if they deserve it or not still blows my mind. Kind of like Close-Up minus the docufiction setting, Daughters of the Dust does a lot of subtly original things. There’s a nonlinear narrative despite taking place in the 1900s, a poetic sense of filming, and meshing both realism as well as some supernatural type of filming. This movie also gets it right by being the first film about Gullah culture as well as the first film period to use the Gullah language as a major form of dialogue in addition to English. Bonus points for having a director with that heritage handling the story and characters. The linking between the past, present, and future was done so tastefully and never in a haughty or pretentious way. The fact that this is also the first full-length movie to be directed by an African-American woman (Julie Dash) should definitely be noted here. Daughters of the Dust should be used in the canon of academia for its cultural, innovative, and dramatic value. Boy, I wish I watched this when I was back in my university days!

2: Hikaru no Go

Okay, is ANYONE surprised that I would put Hikaru no Go on this list especially after giving it a very positive review last year and being the first series to get its own Top 7 list back then? Come on, this series from the minds of Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata is one of the most original anime/manga series I’ve seen. The fact that a full-on story about Go players exists speaks for itself and I doubt anyone else would have come up with this concept (especially from manga-ka associated with Shonen Jump, let’s be real here). The story is longer, but I’ve been invested with the originality, realistic characters, the fact that no one is some invincible player or gets away with cheating their way through the series *cough* Yu-Gi-Oh! *cough* is a huge dealmaker for me. I love the fact that Hikaru no Go has an impeccable mix of drama, creativity, character development, and educational value gives this a huge edge over so many of its shonen peers. For the opposite reason of Theatre of Wrestling, this series isn’t even violent at all, so that should shut up all the anime haters who think Japanese animation is nothing but mindless fighting action or straight-up blood-fests. Go do one (see what I did there?)! Adding some credence to me calling this creative was how the manga was the inaugural Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize Award for the Creative Award category which is made for innovative manga works. It’s the only Shonen Jump work to win that award and one of the very few to win any Tezuka Award. Do you want to know the most recent SJ anime/manga series to win the award regarding the namesake of Astro Boy’s creator? Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba! Even vastly more popular works like Naruto, Bleach and One Piece don’t have that accolade. Seriously, Hikaru no Go deserves to be on this list or any other that involves creative animated series.

1: The Last Angel of History

John Akomfrah isn’t talked about enough when it comes to creative and innovative filmmakers even if most of his work involves documentaries or art installation videos. Time to change that. This Ghanian-British auteur is mad ingenious and The Last Angel of History is definitely an example of his portfolio. This film blends documentary, docufiction, avant-garde, and most notably sci-fi of the Afrofuturism variety. The fusion of real-life history, speculations of the future, and the fabric of the African Diaspora need to be seen to be believed. Even though this was a small indie work, there have been arguments that it influenced far larger movies or series that even Akomfrah has noticed. The “Black Museum” episode of Black Mirror incorporated the imagery as homage and there was also this big blockbuster movie that came out a few years ago with some of those aesthetics. What was it called? Oh, yeah. BLACK PANTHER! Yeah, even Ryan Coogler and Marvel have to give props to John Akomfrah for setting up Afrofuturism in a cinematic context despite nowhere being near as successful. The mix of interviewees of all types of fields such as authors, academics, and musicians (George Clinton being the most famous one) alongside this fictional narrative of a time-traveler gave it a great touch! Seriously, I strongly urge you to check out The Last Angel of History as well as Akomfrah’s other works in his portfolio. This film let alone his filmography doesn’t get enough credit in various film circles with how influential he is or his films.

That was my list. What movies or series do you think are low-key innovative?

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

The lightbulb picture is from Medium.

Close-Up is property of The Criterion Collection. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property on The Criterion Collection.

Shamanic Princess is property of Anime Works. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Anime Works.

Theatre of Wrestling is property of Wrestling Resurgence. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Wrestling Resurgence.

Yougo the Negotiator is property of Shinji Makari, Shuu Akana, G&G Direction, and Artland. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Shinji Makari, Shuu Akana, G&G Direction, and Artland.

Daughters of the Dust is property of eOne and Cohen Media Group. The screenshot is from YouTube is property of eOne and Cohen Media Group.

Hikaru no Go is property of Viz Media. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Viz Media.

The Last Angel of History is property of Icarus Films. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Icarus Films.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s