“Greatest sci-fi anime movie” is an extremely subjective statement. Any number of classic films could qualify, from Akira to some of Miyazaki’s best work to Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. But for me, nothing tops Interstella 5555.
When Daft Punk announced they were splitting up in February, I knew exactly what to do. I queue up their album-length music video, sat back, and let it wash over me. A couple of weeks later, it’s still the perfect time to enjoy Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (yes, that’s the very real full title). Lucky for you, it’s available to watch online for free — if you know where to look for it.
Interstella 5555 was released two years after Daft Punk’s groundbreaking album Discovery, which mixed the group’s electronic music origins with other genres and songwriting styles like R&B and disco. The anime film uses that music as the backdrop for a gripping sci-fi epic without a word of dialogue.
With not a single spoken word and just a few light sound effects, Interstella 5555 tells an original story with a clear narrative. The plot focuses on an alien band that’s kidnapped, taken to Earth, and forced to perform as part of an evil plot. Meanwhile, an alien pilot named Shep has a dream about the band’s bass player Stella and follows them to Earth in an attempted rescue mission.
It’s not the most complicated plot, but it really does work. However, the best moments are the ones that rely on the emotions of the music to amplify what’s happening on screen. When Shep dreams about Stella, the song Digital Love captures his excitement perfectly. Later, when they meet under less-than-ideal circumstances, Something About Us reflects their tragic love story.
Discovery 5555 was produced by Toei Animation, the legendary studio behind Dragon Ball, Digimon, Sailor Moon, One Piece, and more. Daft Punk also considered several other types of animation, but their love for both anime and manga eventually won them over.
"The music we have been making must have been influenced at some point by the shows we were watching when we were little kids," the band said in an interview for Cartoon Network.
(In the same interview, the band also said their favorite Cartoon Network show was Powerpuff Girls and discussed other anime. “We are fonder of old cartoons and animes. The modern Japanese ones like Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell are good, but we really like the old-school style of Japanese anime.” They mention the 1978 anime series Space Pirate Captain Harlock as a key inspiration.)
The first four episodes of Interstella 5555 were actually released in 2001 on Cartoon Network, but the full film didn’t arrive until 2003 alongside a new album, Daft Club, featuring remixes of Discovery tracks. In 2011, a Blu-ray version was also released. But lucky for you, the entire thing is streaming for free on YouTube.