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Toons of the 2000s: Reviewed Cartoons You Probably Haven't Seen, But Really Should

Go back to the Toons of the 2000s Intro.

Throughout this decade, toonzone’s news team has reviewed a truly impressive number of cartoons. Along the way there have been many disappointments, but also many strong works well deserving of praise. From time to time, they’ve even had occasion to review exceptional achievements that may eventually be remembered as enduring classics. But there’s another category, that of the underappreciated or underexposed triumph that deserves much more appreciation than it normally receives. Today, our staff highlight five hidden gems from toonzone’s archives. If you haven’t given these a serious viewing, there’s no time like the present!

Freedom

Contributed by Ed Liu




 

 An extended ad for the anniversary of Nissin Cup Noodles probably isn’t
the first place one would look for a serious and exceptionally good
science fiction series that celebrates space flight. However, despite
its highly commercial origins, Freedom is an excellent, extremely accessible anime series that harnesses the drive for space exploration from The Right Stuff,
dropping it into the 23rd century in the lunar colony Eden. Believing
that Earth has been turned into an uninhabitable wasteland, the denizens of Eden submit to the totalitarian control of the Guidance
Council, with the exception of rebels like the series’ hero, Takeru. When he
discovers that the state of Earth is far different than what he has
been told (and, more importantly, when he learns there’s a babe down there),
he embarks on quixotic quest that sends him to Earth on a wing and a
prayer.

The series is exceptionally good hard science fiction. It features Akira‘s Katsuhiro
Otomo as character and mecha designer, and the cel-shaded CGI is surprisingly successful. However, the elements that make the series truly
memorable are its humanistic core, its ability to subvert the expected
cliches, its unflagging enthusiasm, and its contagious sense that our
destiny lies in the stars. I’m not sure why Bandai has made the series
so hard to find (the beautiful Blu-ray boxed set is out of print, and
even the DVD boxed set seems tougher to obtain than it should be), but
it’s a series that’s well worth the effort to seek out.

Jubei-Chan 2

Contributed by Duke 



The original Jubei-chan: Ninja Girl was a good series with solid
action and a fun story. While it never set records or anything, it did
have enough of a fanbase to get a sequel series 5 years later. 
That sequel series – Jubei-chan 2: The Counterattack of the Siberia Yagyu – completely blows the first season out of the water.

The biggest selling point of the first Jubei-chan returns as
Jubei, in a change from every other magical girl series out there,
refuses to don the Lovely Eyepatch and become the reincarnation of
the legendary swordsman Yagyu Jubei. This time around, instead of some
lackluster bad guys existing seemingly only to have a bad guy to beat,
we get well-developed antagonists in Freesia Yagyu and Kita
Ressai, who each have very personal reasons for constantly going after Jubei; you actually feel for both near the end of the series.
Add to that the constant drama among Jubei, her father, and fellow
ninja Mikage, and you’ve got enough story to take on most anime series
out there.

Jubei-chan 2 backs up its plot with some of the
greatest sword fights I’ve ever seen on television. Almost every single
episode has a sword fight, and all of them are storyboarded and
animated with such excellence that it makes one neither remember nor
care why these people are fighting, just so long as they do it
all again. But when you take Akitaroh Daichi, add in some of Madhouse’s
best animation, and mix in some incredible music (raise your hand if you
ever thought violins and pianos could be used to make a J-Pop song),
you get 13 episodes of pure awesome. The only negatives are this
annoying CG…thing that appears every once in a while with no
explanation (though it comes into play later in the series) and a
lackluster Blue Water dub, though the latter at least has consistency
with the original season, also dubbed by Blue Water. Still, even with
these minor problems, Jubei-chan 2 is one of the most underrated anime series of recent memory, and it is much more deserving of a license rescue than, say, Magikano.



My Beautiful Girl, Mari

Contributed by Ben Applegate


Back in 2005, I moved to Seoul, Korea, and set out to insinuate myself
into the local animation scene. My goal was to find a Korean voice in
animation – a master capable of matching the accomplishments of the
greatest anime directors. If only I’d known that I could’ve just walked down to Suncoast and bought the ADV Films release of My Beautiful Girl, Mari instead.

Directed by Lee Seong-kang, Mari sees a middle-aged office worker,
Nam-woo, reminiscing about his childhood in a fishing village and the
fantasy of a kind, magical girl who gave him solace while his family
life fell apart. Compared to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, obviously Lee’s idol, Mari seems spare and light. The animation is mostly limited, and there’s
only 80 minutes of it. But as a student animator in Seoul once
explained to me, Korea is a tiny market – the country is roughly the
size of Indiana – and all the money for animation goes into video
games, leaving none for ambitious filmmakers. In that context, Lee
pulls off a miraculous debut. With no outlines, the pastel-shaded
characters seem ready to float away – as they sometimes do – into Lee’s
colorful seascapes and forests of giant flowers.

Though it didn’t quite lead to the grand arrival of Korean animation
many were hoping for (and Lee’s sophomore effort, Yobi, the Five
Tailed Fox
was not nearly as interesting), Mari is still a touching,
overlooked treat.

Star Trek Animated

Contributed by Ed Liu



There really aren’t too many cartoons from the 1970′s that have withstood the test of time, but the animated spin-off of Star Trek is definitely one of them. This Filmation cartoon successfully
preserved the same sense of fun and adventure as the live-action series,
largely due to the participation of a lot of the original cast and
writing crew. The series made exceptionally few compromises in its jump from live-action to animation, with none of the usual idiocies
that make many of its contemporaries so insufferable to watch today.
The Spock-centric episode “Yesteryear” is one of the finest Trek stories
from any medium, and episodes like “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” or “The
Jihad” tackled political and religious topics that are absolutely taboo
to animated series today, unless it’s South Park or Family Guy mocking them. As with all of Filmation’s cartoons, the kindest term for
the animation is “extremely limited,” but even so, moving to animation
allowed effects that would have been prohibitively expensive in
live-action at the time. The hardcore fans can argue whether it’s canon
or not, but it’s worth pointing out that this series identified what
James T. Kirk’s middle initial stood for and also provided perfectly
worthy sequels to many fan-favorite episodes. With the recent feature
film successfully rebooting the Star Trek franchise, interest in the
adventures of the original series crew is riding high, but it would be
a mistake to skip over the animated adventures of the first Kirk,
Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew.

(related links: History of Trek animated and Filmation’s many animation tricks of Trek).

Welcome to the NHK

Contributed by Radical Raven



Welcome to the NHK is a wonderful series that manages to tell a
heart-felt, epic story while simultaneously being a hilarious send-up
of the otaku sub-culture. The show stars Sato, a hikikomori – a man so reclusive and paranoid that for the past four years he’s
barely left his tiny, filthy apartment. Nor has he had any need to -
his parents send him allowance under the assumption he’s in college,
and this precarious situation takes care of his every need. He’s
reached the bottom of the barrel, his future is looking pretty bleak,
and he allows his talking appliances to convince him that this sad
state is occurring through the efforts of an evil organization, which
he named the NHK. (That’s a joke. Look it up.) Enter Misaki, a teenage
girl who claims she can solve all of his problems if he agrees to meet
with her every night at a certain park; these meetings are what she
collectively calls “The Project”.

The thing that primarily distinguishes Welcome to the NHK is
its outstanding cast. Sato himself is a magnificent protagonist. His
situation and feelings become frighteningly familiar as the show goes
on, and the trips we take inside his fantasies offer up some of the
most creative bits of animation in the show. Misaki is, early in the
series, mysterious and vaguely sinister: she makes a gradual 360 near
the middle, which terrifically reverses her and Sato’s roles. Sato’s
otaku friend Yamazaki is a hilarious caricature of the anime nerd who
still manages to prove quite endearing and – horrifyingly – sometimes
relatable. The last of the four major characters is Sato’s high-school
flame, Hitomi, who seems to be the coolest of the four but is actually
at least as deranged as any of them. Actually, it’s hard to decide who’s the most insane character in Welcome to the NHK: the unspoken moral of the show is that everyone is insane, at least a little bit, even if some people do better jobs of
hiding it. Like the best art, this reflects the real world almost
exactly.

Perhaps most importantly, the show is hilarious. Sato’s
various exploits (including an attempt to make a Hentai game,
accidentally attending a suicide party, and trying to trick his mother
into thinking he actually has a life) are portrayed as humorously as
possible, even while the show is busy being profound. The characters
themselves make even the stalest material seem fresh. It’s rare for a show to succeed at being both a comedy and a drama simultaneously, but Welcome to the NHK does it. This one is a must-watch.

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