Ten Aging Anime That Should Be Brought Back
The big players in the R1 anime industry may be largely focused on recent titles, but old anime has been making a noticeable comeback these past twelve months. Bandai Entertainment recently announced the return of Akira return to DVD, while Mobile Suit Gundam is finally getting boxed sets this Fall after a long hiatus. Thanks to Discotek Media Project A-Ko and Rintaro’s Galaxy Express 999 movies are back in print for the first time in years, and The Sea Prince and the Fire Child was given a much-deserved fresh opportunity at exposure. From the same company comes remastered Fist of the North Star and even a license for the very first Lupin the 3rd anime from the 70s. Voltron is already going back into print while Robotech is headed back in a few short months; Media Blasters is still selling Giant Robo to people belatedly realizing that they’ve been missing out on one of the best OVAs ever made. Nozomi’s putting out remastered Revolutionary Girl Utena; Sentai Filmworks even picked up Ghost Sweeper Mikami from obscurity completely out of nowhere. My hat off to anyone who knew what that was without needing to look it up, unlike me!
Yet as positive as all that is, there’s still plenty of slack to pick up when it comes to keeping the classics in print and attainable for the audience of today and for generations to come. Some of the titles at issue are obscure but noteworthy, others had their day but ultimately fell out of print, and a precious few are so loved and respected that it’s practically a crime they were anything other than easily attainable at any point. Get ready for a brief stroll down memory lane, because we’re going to count down a choice selection of classic and old school anime that deserve to be remembered and kept around for the fans of today and tomorrow.
10. The Five Star Stories
In 1989, Sunrise animation created an hour-long movie adapting the first volume of Mamoru Nagano’s career-defining manga. The Five Star Stories manga is distinguished by his intricate mecha designs and detailed artwork, but there’s much more going for it than Nagano’s considerable ability to draw; this is a saga that combines science fiction with its own supernatural mythology and a timeline spanning generations, weaving a tale that truly cannot be described with a lesser word than “epic.” Here we have a story featuring a cast of dozens upon dozens that includes mecha pilots, futuristic knights, android women, sorcerers, soldiers, plenty of royalty, and even a god. Had Nagano’s full story been adapated, the result would have been an animated work outstanding in its sheer scale. As it is this movie serves as a briskly-paced but adequate introduction to Nagano’s universe and plenty of its key players, all while chronicling the pairing of its leading character with his lifelong partner. A whole lot of story is packed into the hour, but action inside and outside the giant robots is not neglected. The Five Star Stories received a subtitled DVD release from the former ADV Films in 2005, which is now out of print and becoming an increasingly scarce collector’s item.
9. Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors
As a Sengoku-era samurai story with a supernatural twist based on Kyokutei Bakin’s 19th century, 106-volume epic novel, studio AIC’s Hakkenden OVA is a serious contender for the most niche title on this list. For thirteen episodes it recounts the difficult lives of eight samurai, all born separately but connected by a common thread of fate. For anyone even a bit weary of 00s anime that portray samurai with a lighter or fantastic twist; Hakkenden is just the serious-minded antidote needed. With its bizarre lore and bloody violence it’s definitely very much a product of the 90s, in the sense that this was one of those “edgy” titles that a fan of the time could pick up to confirm that cartoons could be well beyond being something just for kids and even–gasp!–legitimately mature. Which isn’t to say that this thing is comparable to Ninja Scroll, but it doesn’t shy away from bloody swordplay either. The animation quality might be uneven and not quite as polished as Berserk would be a few years later, but even so it presents a simple-looking but striking style unique to hand-drawn, cel-based animation that is now a thing of the past for better and for worse. Hakkenden is still findable even if it is a permanent resident in the bargain bins of some vendors, but as an older release from the defunct Geneon USA its days are numbered without a fresh license. It and fans deserve more; they literally don’t make them like this anymore.
8. Night on the Galactic Railroad
Once released on DVD in 2001 from Central Park Media, 1985’s Night on the Galactic Railroad has been out of print for years and rendered infuriatingly tough to find. Based on a classic Japanese novel by Kenji Miyazawa, this movie is a moody children’s story packing plenty of symbolism. It’s the story of two talking cats, the hard-working Giovanni and his good friend Campanella, who board a galactic space train that traverses the milky way and allows them to see fascinating things and meet many people. In that regard the movie certainly has something in common with Galaxy Express 999, although in this case we have a film that’s a methodically-paced, heavy metaphor about life and loss rather than 999’s tale about a boy’s growth and self-discovery. It’s not a happy movie or exciting, but it’s a refined creation no less deserving of exposure today than The Sea Prince and the Fire Child.
7. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
An adventure story inspired by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and an early concept from Hayao Miyazaki, Nadia tells the tale of the titular heroine and Jean, a young French boy and aspiring inventor that promptly falls for her. The two meet and end up on the run from a small group of jewel thieves trying to acquire the mysterious “Blue Water” pendant Nadia wears around her neck, though things expand from there when they are rescued and taken in by the crew of the submarine Nautilus and Captain Nemo. The vessel has been waging a long struggle against the imperial ambitions of Neo-Atlantean forces and their villainous masked leader, Gargoyle. Of course the adventure wouldn’t be terribly interesting without some extra layers, which the writing staff fortunately provide. Nadia is capable of stubbornness and a quick temper but grows as a person as she strives to discover her own past and the secret of the Blue Water, which of course turns out to be a macguffin of great interest to Gargoyle. Jean brings youthful enthusiasm to the Nautilus and does his best for Nadia, also hoping to find his long-lost father. Captain Nemo appears to be a cold man at first, but becomes a father figure to the children. Despite a not-so-important “filler” arc, all in all Nadia stands as a fun and satisfying story that shouldn’t be overshadowed by Gainax’s grander works in these days. Though, I daresay everyone prefers to forget about that lackluster movie.
6. Princess Mononoke
Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke is possibly director Hayao Miyzaki’s most epic movie and certainly his most violent, and its DVD from Miramax in 2000 preceded the release of the studio’s entire theatrical output on home video in the years that followed. But its run has finally come to an end and we have learned that the license has gotten away from Walt Disney Home Entertainment for the moment, thanks to the sale of Miramax in 2010 and the company’s licensing of its catalog to Lionsgate, StudioCanal and Echo Bridge Entertainment. Media inquiries to Disney were directed to Lionsgate, who so far have nothing to say about release plans. Some should be made quite soon rather than much later; Princess Mononoke has aged with tremendous grace and its balanced portrayal of the conflict between the industrialized Iron Town and the deities of nature remains admirable and far more nuanced than the eco-friendly parables that Americans tend to be spoon fed.
5. Patlabor – The Mobile Police
The good news is that as a property, Patlabor hasn’t gone away entirely; thanks to Image Entertainment Mamoru Oshii’s two movies are easily attainable for discerning fans, and regarded by many to be this title at its best or at least very close to it. Its OVAs and TV anime from the late 80s and early 90s, however, were Central Park Media releases that fell out of print and lost prospects for a re-release when the company finally went under. With its portrayal of mecha as peacekeepers but mostly as machines used for manual labor, Patlabor certainly fits into the real robot genre. But it’s a blend of police drama, science fiction and character-driven comedy in practice. Its cast are a quirky bunch; just to name two we have Asuma Shinohara, the son of a wealthy industrialist that rebels by serving in the force, and Noa Izumi, a superb pilot so attached to her machine that she names it “Alphonse” as though it were a pet. There’s certainly entertainment and maybe even some social commentary to be found here; I like to think that plenty of Americans can surely find meaning in a ragtag bunch of misfit civil servants trying the keep the peace and do good despite their own vices and meddlesome bureaucracy.
4. Sailor Moon
Ah, Sailor Moon, the show that created a generation of avid fangirls. But past glory isn’t why Toei’s shoujo juggernaut deserves a place on this list. The fact is that this is a title that has sustained remarkable and lasting popularity in a manner similar to Cowboy BeBop and Dragon Ball Z, even though the anime and the manga suffered from years of licensing hell in contrast to the constant exposure that those two enjoyed. The palpable age of the anime seems to matter very little or not at all to the property’s legion of fans; one could not spend five minutes walking through Otakon 2011 without noticing cosplayers that had to have been in grade school at best when the anime was first on television. Now that resilience and the patience of its substantial fandom looks ready to finally pay off. Naoko Takeuchi’s acclaimed manga is returning to the English speaking market courtesy of Kodansha Comics USA this September, poised to finally appease the market’s desires and raise interest to new heights. Meanwhile Toei has been licensing the cartoon for one country after another all year long–just not the United States, not yet, though the time is clearly ripe for it. What’s taking so long, you ask? An excellent question; get in line with the One Piece fans begging for season four on DVD. For now all fans can do is wait for Toei strike a palatable deal to once again cash in on one of the most vibrant and enthusiastic American fandoms that there is. For me, the question is not if but when Sailor Moon finally returns. It is a slam dunk.
3. Robot Carnival
I don’t remember too many of the anime I saw when the Sci-fi channel ran anime on Saturdays in the 90s, but I do remember 1987’s Robot Carnival. It was one of most experimental anime of our time and successfully so at that, and yet it’s never seen distribution in North America beyond a VHS release and those television airings from a time when the SciFi channel was the sci-fi channel and approximately five times cooler than it is today. Robot Carnival is completely original anthology of shorts that all involve robots in some way, but the subject matters varied significantly. There’s a short about a mad scientist trying to bring a hulking mech to life like Frankenstein’s monster, a short about an android fighting to save his charge from an alien invasion, a short about a scientist who builds a lifelike robot girl that attains a personality and thoughts completely beyond what he ever intended, and much more. No idea present is lackluster, and it was all painstakingly brought to life with intricate, hand-drawn detail that keeps it more than watchable today. Even as a sample of great animation for its own sake, Robot Carnival still stands tall even now. Every day that Super Techno Arts does nothing with it is a missed opportunity.
2. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
All this time later the story of Honneamise is a sublime one that’s still worth telling; it’s something to watch its main character, Shirotsugh Lhadatt, steadily transform from a lout working for a dysfunctional space program to a true believer that defies the odds and foils the malevolent cynicism of authority figures that can’t think of a better use for a rocket launch than as an incitement to war with another country. The film is undeniably significant as Gainax’s first major animated work and one of the best animated movies ever made to many fans, but somehow it’s never quite gotten what it deserved beyond the praise of critics. During and after its 1987 release it achieved modest financial success, never quite setting the world on fire like Akira or Ghost in the Shell. When Manga Entertainment put it out on DVD in 2000 the quality was little better than a VHS tape, and in 2007 it fell victim to a high-quality but insanely overpriced high definition release as a part of Bandai Visual USA’s misbegotten marketing strategy to install Japanese spending habits into the rest of the world. That division’s time is thankfully over, but now its Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is out of print and still pricey even after bargain discounts, even if one can track a copy down. An accessible release of good quality is sorely needed, and like Robot Carnival the film’s artistry and detail keeps it an appealing watch despite its age.
1. Perfect Blue
You would think that any film from a veritable auteur like the late Satoshi Kon could stay in print one way or another, but incredibly that’s not the case for 1997’s Perfect Blue; it received a DVD release in 2000 from Manga Entertainment and became scarce earlier than Princess Mononoke. The film was Kon’s first theatrical movie and established the characteristic blending of fantasy and reality that he would become notable for throughout his stellar career, and that element is uniquely powerful here since Kon delivers on the theme with a haunting, adult psychological thriller. A pop idol decides to turn to acting and takes on a fierce role drastically at odds with her sweet & innocent image as a singer, earning her the harassment of a super creepy stalker. Things get even worse when murders start happening and Mima becomes so traumatized by her experiences that she becomes unable to distinguish between show business and her real life, coming into conflict with her own false idol persona. Opinions differ in regard to Satoshi Kon’s greatest work and they probably always will, but like all his other films Perfect Blue definitely stands as an unique product that should always be there for both animation fans and film aficionados. And by the way, how is it that Paprika is the only Satoshi Kon movie out there on Blu-Ray? Somebody, hurry up and take our money!
Got thoughts about the list? Want to give a shout out to an old or aging anime not on this list? Leave a comment on the forums and/or drop me (@GWOtaku) and Toonzone (@toonzone) a message on twitter!