Studio Ghibli is well known for beloved and classic anime films, so even their worst-rated titles are actually highly regarded.
Studio Ghibli has created some of our favorite anime films of all time. Their movies are thoughtful, intelligent, and beautifully animated, without losing the sense of whimsy which makes the films so special and has earned Ghibli (and Hayao Miyazaki in particular) a special place in our hearts.
But with such a vast filmography, not every film can be as close to our hearts as Spirited Away or Kiki’s Delivery Service. Some films, while charming, fail to land as well with audiences due to subject matter, animation style, or the movie just being a little too bizarre. Let’s look at the 10 worst Studio Ghibli anime, as ranked by MyAnimeList.
10. Porco Rosso: 8.01
Thematically, Porco Rosso is not especially different from other films by Hayao Miyazaki. The story deals with the difficulties and atrocities of war, the responsibilities we have to take for our own actions, and what opening up to and accepting help from other people might do for us and for the world. Porco Rosso is pretty much what it says on the tin: a pig who flies a red plane. While the way he became a pig isn’t ever explained, it appears to be a metaphor for the way he feels about himself, following his actions during the war. But even with this context, it can be a little weird watching a movie, even a comedy, in which the main character is an anthropomorphized pig.
9. From Up On Poppy Hill: 7.93
It's a story of two teenagers, Umi and Shun, work with their classmates to keep their school from demolishing a dilapidated clubhouse where students gather. The film takes a bizarre turn when we learn that Umi and Shun have a photograph of the same man, and both of them believe him to be their father. Despite the burgeoning romantic feelings between them, they have to deal with the possibility that they could be siblings. While the film has the incredible characters and animation we love from Ghibli films, we can understand why this odd story doesn’t rank higher among Ghibli fans.
A retelling of The Little Mermaid, Ponyo follows the story of a young goldfish girl who wants to become human. An endearing and sweet story of friendship and unconditional love. Ponyo and Sōsuke, the little boy who discovers her, do whatever they can to stay together, with Ponyo’s father doing his best to return Ponyo to her fish form so she’ll come back to him. Ultimately, love wins out, with Sōsuke declaring that he loves Ponyo in all her forms, and her father accepts her decision to become a human, knowing that she’ll be well taken care of.
7. The Cat Returns: 7.89
The Cat Returns is an interesting entry into the Ghibli filmography. It's a spin-off of Whisper of the Heart, a story in which a young girl begins to think seriously about life as a writer. The Cat Returns stars a character that she writes a story about, the Baron, who is a statue of a cat in a top hat magically brought to life.
The film follows the adventure of this cat and a young girl as they enter the Cat Kingdom, where she has to use her cleverness and kindness to make her way back to the human world. The film’s almost-sequel status is unique in Ghibli’s history.
6. Only Yesterday: 7.56
Only Yesterday comes as a bit of a surprise for this list, as the film has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite coming out in 1991, the film didn’t reach American audiences until fairly recently and has been well-received by critics and fans alike. The film is a departure from many Ghibli films, with targeting more of an adult audience. The story follows a young woman trying to decide what she wants from her life, and where she would like to spend it, as she travels to spend time in the country and learn about herself and the people who live and work there. It’s a beautifully animated and quiet film, lacking more of the fantastical elements Ghibli films are often known for.
5. Pom Poko: 7.37
There is a lot about Pom Poko that makes it similar to other, more popular Ghibli films. With strong themes about our connection to nature and to animals, and our responsibility to care for them. The ending definitely skews towards melancholy in its own, fitting way. The main characters in the film are raccoon dogs who can shapeshift to become humans.
They plan to infiltrate humanity disguised as humans in order to save the park they live in from becoming more built-up parts of a city. The plot is bizarre, and the character designs of the raccoons so distinctly weird that it’s easy to see why this film might not be higher rated.
4. My Neighbors The Yamadas: 7.26
If we didn’t know that My Neighbors the Yamadas was a Ghibli film, we might not have believed it. The comedy is shown in a black-and-white cartoon comic-strip style and follows the daily lives of the Yamadas, a pretty normal, five-person Japanese family. The film is presented in a series of vignettes showing the things that happen in everyday life for this average family in Japan. While it is relatable, sweet, and silly, it is a real departure both in animation style and in themes when compared to Ghibli’s more popular films.
3. Tales From Earthsea: 7.06
This 2006 adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series was met with mixed reactions when it was released, both from critics and Le Guin herself, who felt the film departed too much from the story in her novels.
The film presents a simple fantasy story of good versus evil, while also presenting some of the more difficult and confusing aspects of Le Guin’s Earthsea world. Earthsea is also one of the more violent Ghibli movies. While this doesn’t always negatively impact its quality, in Earthsea’s case, it feels over the top and unfortunate.
2. Gauche The Cellist: 6.95
Gauche the Cellist is an adaptation of a short story by Kenji Miyazawa. The film came out in 1982, technically before the founding of Studio Ghibli, but was written and directed by Isao Takahata, one of Ghibli’s co-founders. The film feels like an early look at what our favorite Ghibli films would someday be. The story of a mediocre cellist diligently practicing each night with the accompaniment and encouragement of talking animals that visit him, it is a story of communing with nature and trying your best, staple themes of Ghibli films.
1. Ocean Waves: 6.81
Ocean Waves is one of the lesser-known Ghibli films in the States. Released initially as a TV movie in Japan, it never made its way to the US for distribution the same way some of Ghibli’s other films did. The movie features a high school love triangle beween two boys who are best friends and the girl that they both fall in love with. With over-the-top high school drama and strange gender politics, the characters aren’t particularly likable and it’s difficult to want to root for either boy to end up with the girl.