The Sci-Fi London Film Festival always causes a bit of a conundrum at Animetion.  In recent years the festival has expanded, it now runs twice a year (May and October) and has given anime some competition on the Allnighter front.  Whereas once the Anime Allnighter had the cinema largely to itself, now there are often several different all-night cinema screenings running simultaneously.  Annoyingly we'd quite like to go to all of them.

This year's Sci-Fi London Octoberfest was a case in point.  Instead of the Anime Allnighter, which featured Manga's forthcoming Eden of the East in its entirety as well as Studio Ghibli classics Nausicša of the Valley of the Wind and The Cat Returns, you could attend a Guillermo Del Toro Allnighter, a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Allnighter or a Studio Ghibli Allnighter.  In a bit of a break with tradition, we went for the Studio Ghibli one.

  As always the Allnighters are held in the Apollo West End Cinema just round the corner from London's Piccadilly Circus, with the action kicking off between 11:30pm and 12am depending on which Allnighter you went for.  Yep, in a good bit of planning the start times are staggered to ensure the cinema's small reception area isn't overrun between films, when attendees could stock up on free Hagen Daz ice-cream, Mad Dog Energy Lemonade and tea and coffee.  As well as the films and the free food and drink the £30 ticket price also

paid for a goodie bag which contained numerous leaflets and promotional freebies from game publisher Electronic Arts, as well as several free DVDs and a book.  My bag contained copies of Tetsujin 28 vol 1, Otogi Zoshi vol 1, Ghost in the Shell 2.0, the live-action film Skate or Die and a copy of James Herbert's classic horror novel The Fog.

The Studio Ghibli Allnighter was a surprisingly low-key affair.  Held in one of the smaller screens, which was - somewhat surprisingly - only about half full, the Ghibli Allnighter lacked the quizzes and giveaways you get in between films in the main Anime Allnighter.  The low attendance may have partly been down to the films shown.  Nausicša of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away were the biggest films on the bill, with the remainder of the lineup filled by The Cat Returns and Howl's Moving Castle, both quality films but considered lower tier by many Ghibli fans.  The fact that three of the films had received cinema runs in the UK and there were no new films or surprises on the bill didn't help either, as one of the main draws of the Anime Allnighter is the chance to see things in the cinema you wouldn't normally get the chance to.  With Nausicša and The Cat Returns also showing in the Anime Allnighter the Ghibli one had to count on the pulling power of Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, and many attendees would most probably already have them on DVD and many would also have seen them in the cinema as well.

However, Studio Ghibli is popular for a reason, and any four films from their catalogue would make for a decent night's viewing.  The Allnighter kicked off with Nausicša of the Valley of the Wind, which was screened in Japanese from an original (and very clean) cinema print rather that the digital HD remaster many people were hoping for.  Nonetheless it's very rare to see any of Miyazaki or Ghibli's early films in the cinema, and the audience sat in rapt attention as the 1984 sci-fi epic unfolded.  Princess Nausicša's attempts to halt

mankind's war against the spreading toxic jungles and oversized insects of a post-apocalyptic Earth is an anime classic and even after 26 years it loses none of its power.  On the big screen the film is simply glorious and it was a great way to start the night, although once again the ear-splitting sound system that seems to be standard at the Allnighters took some getting used to.  The fun and grossly underrated Cat Returns was next up on the bill, again screened in Japanese (which is a shame as the English dub is probably superior).  The hugely enjoyable film, in which a typical Japanese schoolgirl is thrown into a magical kingdom of cats after saving one from being run over, certainly kept everyone entertained before the decidedly darker Howl's Moving Castle - the only film screened in English - kicked off.  Howl's Moving Castle is widely regarded as one of Miyazaki's weaker films but nonetheless is a excellent and superbly animated fantasy which follows the young milliner Sophie as she seeks out the fearsome wizard Howl in order to lift a witch's curse.  The film contains some of the best animation Ghibli have done but suffers from a heavy-handed military subtext and a rushed ending, it was also the film that saw a couple of people grab a bit of sleep.  The night saved the best for last, with Miyazaki's Oscar winning Spirited Away rounding off the bill.  It's easy to forget how good Chihiro's Alice in Wonderland-style trip to a bath house for Japanese gods and demons is, and seeing it in the cinema for the first time since its original UK release was breathtaking.  For more info on the films shown, check out page 2.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Studio Ghibli Allnighter, but I do think that if the organisers had managed to obtain some more of Ghibli's 'golden era' films from the 1980's - such as My Neighbour Totoro, Laputa Castle in the Sky or Kiki's Delivery Service - interest in the event may have been higher.  It was also a shame that Nausicša and The Cat Returns - great films though they are - were on both the Anime Allnighter and Ghibli Allnighter bill, as it meant there wasn't a great deal of difference between the two events.  Without any surprises or unreleased films (it would have been awesome if the organisers could have got one of the Ghibli Museum shorts) the Ghibli Allnighter always had a bit of an uphill struggle.  Studio Ghibli films are the only anime titles regularly shown on TV and with the DVDs widely available and often pretty cheap it's a tough ask for people to travel to London and pay £30 to see them.  What makes it tougher is that the only billed film not to receive a UK cinema run - Nausicša - was also showing in the Anime Allnighter, taking away a potential selling point from the Ghibli event.  With the critically acclaimed sci-fi anime Eden of the East on the bill as well the Anime Allnighter looked the more interesting of the two.  The Studio Ghibli Allnighter was still an excellent night though, with four great films, a very relaxed atmosphere and none of the technical or organisational issues that have occasionally afflicted the Anime Allnighter in the past.  Despite my gripes the bill was probably the most consistently strong of any of the Allnighters I have been to.  The night went off without a hitch, but could have done with delving into the archives a bit more to bring some films rarely seen in the cinema and maybe some surprises to make it more of an event.  If they can do this then the Ghibli Allnighter could run again in future, and be a sell-out.