For many, it’s all about the holiday rush, and all it entails, but for some of us, it’s time to bundle up and perhaps catch something cool to watch at home. Which is likely the reason why I felt it time to seek out some favorite anime series that are now out there, and worth checking out. And also, perhaps as an entirely new generation of US fans takes to the bandwidth like mad, it might be good to shed some light on some notable favorites that we can sample online for free, and support US & Japanese anime companies while we’re at it. It’s time to embrace both past & future, so let’s go!
Who could have imagined that a show marrying the Japanese Alpha/Omega stylings with those of Marvel would be this fun, or this popular outside of Japan? A manga title with more than one life to it’s name, and a tv series with enough of a reputation for two shows, and you have an original take on Western archetypes that may remind some of just how invigorating tv anime can actually be when unique voices are heard. These are the adventures Love & Peace preaching Wanted Man, Vash The Stampede, a lone marksman with a reputation for a slew of crimes even he may not be aware of. (Nor could such a goober even be capable. Or could he?) And the hapless insurance reps out to fact check on the legend, only to invite a slew of bizarre gun-toting villainy, and some of the most interesting fantasy concepts to grace anime on tv. Didn’t hurt that the show’s scripting was largely supervised by Yosuke Kuroda, and the show features memorable music by Tsuneo Imahori. While the latter episodes don’t really live up to the premise (largely to that classic Achilles Heel of the manga being far from over at the time of production.), there are enough elements to recommend here for those days when one really wants their populist anime with that magic word, fun.
Don’t let the name in the link fool you. This is a long-cherished memory from the days when I personally still found Gainax to be bulletproof. The tale of unlikely love between a pair of flawed overachievers is an at-times masterful follow-up to Evangelion from director Hideaki Anno. Introspective shoujo is an unexpected choice to follow up such a deeply impactful project, and Anno pulls no punches, as much of the same team that tore the Mecha Melodrama a new one attempts the same for high school romance. And yet, this is only the beginning to what is overall a pretty bold experiment of a series that ratchets up where most shows of this kind end. Love happens, but then what? The examination of young love in a world where illusions are all that stand between each of us often illuminates some harsh, but valuable truths, even as the show which in near burgeoning Gainax fashion, begins to fall apart. And yet true to their reputation in the late 90s, they do so with style & heart. Also worthy of note is the first appearance (for me at least) of seiyuu wonder, Mayumi Shintani, who would later grace the walls of Tsurumaki’s OVA dynamo, FLCL. Great series if you can also see though the feedback & frequent pops near the end.
Anyone out there still have memories of playing D & D, and losing patience, only to alter the rules for your own purposes with random cracks in logic, and questionable motives? (I know I’m not the only one)Then Slayers may be just the 90s show for you. Based on the popular Dragon Magazine creation of the same name, this is possibly the ultimate starring vehicle for the one and only Megumi Hayashibara, and is an infectiously silly parody of western-inspired fantasy archetypes. Yeah, sure we have you requisite warriors, magic users, and fire-breathers, but never with leads like the infamous sorceress Lina Inverse & dim bulb swordsman, Gourry Gabriev. In their endless quest for money and copious amounts of food, our heroes meet a wild assortment of comrades, enemies, and some of the goofiest creatures this side of a Monty Python movie. Oh sure, the animation is crude at times, and the production value is near non-existent, but so much of what comes out via the at times stream-of-consciousness humor of the show adds refreshing dimension to a genre most crying for this sort of ripping. Even when plotting goes from easygoing, into needlessly convoluted, the gags just keep coming, making the whole affair a joy from days long gone. A true rainy day favorite.
Has it really been seven years already? When Mahiro Maeda unveiled his big television follow-up to the GONZO OVA groundbreaker, Ao no Roku-go (Blue Sub No.6), many of us were in awe of just how far this studio went in regards to world-building, and offering a hopeful glimpse into anime’s wide-open future. Last Exile is classic Space Opera in the mold of Star Wars, Yamato & the like, with a heart of gold, and an unprecedented longing for steampunk legend. The tale of young pilots Claus Valca & Lavi Head, who by sheer chance,are whisked headlong into a long-standing war between nations, as the “benefactors” of their technological epoch look on with disdainful eyes. The characters are classic in creation, as are the means by which the story expands into full-blown epic territory. The crew along with noted designer, Range Murata went above and beyond with an entire planetary revision, as well as the creation of an wholly original form of aviation. The sky battles presented are among the most memorable scenes anime has displayed in the last ten years. It is a show of the digital age, and even as the technology has advanced by bounds since, it is the story that allows the visuals to continue to inspire. Undoubtedly not the kind of show one can expect again anytime soon. Not to be missed by anime or film fans.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan(2007)
Over a year ago, I made a post regarding this , so I won’t go into why this series is so special. But in context of a recent post I made regarding that Gainax touch, this was a show I personally feared upon announcement. Not sure why, but when the materials came to me at the office, my first reaction was sheer fear. The internal feeling was not unlike a battered spouse seeing that the significant other was drunk again. Yes. A part of me was so ready to keep my distance, until a co-worker implored me to watch Hiroyuki Imaishi’s big lunge into tv show direction with the assurance that the G crew weren’t screwing around this time. Upon realizing that we were witnessing Gainax’s take on Joseph Campbell by way of Go Nagai & Super Robot-Fu, the ice of apprehension melted away, and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan washed over me like few action shows ever have. Irony, or no, it is an astonishing achievement from a studio that had been coasting on a battery of easy-sell shows post-EVA. If you’ve yet to catch this show, I’m not sure if anything I mention here will help. But for a long-jaded fan of the anime dream, this is pure manic catnip.
Proof positive that sports manga can indeed connect with fans outside of Japan, comes Slam Dunk, the tv version of Takehiko Inoue‘s high-school basketball saga is available via ANN, and is something of a little miracle that it’s even here. That said, this is a wonderful version of what is easily one of my personal favorite manga narratives of all time. It’s all about finding your calling where one least expects it, and the seduction of life’s simpler problems. When fight-prone, girlfriendless delinquent Hanamichi Sakuragi is lured into joining the Shohoku High basketball team, an entire world of possibility opens up, as well as a galaxy of newfound difficulties from teammates, rivals from other schools, and perhaps even a shot at the nationals. Vividly remembering the trouble it took to bring this here initially, and feel quite lucky that it’s still on the periphery in streaming form. While on a different level from Inoue’s classic manga, this is still an energizing show with attitude to spare.
Say what you will about CLAMP, they truly became little burst that ingited a growing, dedicated following of shoujo manga & anime here in the US. And this is anime auteur, Yoshiaki Kawajiri‘s vision of their incomplete magnum opus pitting fate vs. destiny in a violent, angsty free-for all.. A startling action-melodrama that blends so many elements, it becomes easy to forget that it’s a shoujo tale at heart. The tale of Kamui Shiro, and his return to Tokyo that will lead him to either destroy, or save humanity alongside two warring factions of element manipulators has nearly something in it for everyone. Released nearly five years after Rin Taro’s controversial movie version of the finale, X as a tv show is able to allow the viewer to better understand character psychology, as well as better grasp the stakes. Puncuated by some incredible action sequences, even at a time when CG integration in anime was still a mildly crude element. While again, not a definitive version of the epic follow-up to Tokyo Babylon manga, it is still quite exciting to see such an ensemble show come together the way it does.
Years later, and I’m still a little fuming angry at some fans for outright dismissing this show when it was new. After the massive success of Cowboy Bebop everywhere but Japan, it only felt natural that many eyes would be focused on director Shinichiro Watanabe’s return to tv. And yet, perhaps it was a little too out there for fans of the previous series. An infectiously hip, irreverent take on Jidai Geki & Chambara sagas with a jazzy hip-hop score, and tons of pop-culture references. In many ways, it is exactly the same formula that worked for Bebop. With the late 90s-early 2000s love of things old Japan, it seemed destined for favorites status, and even if it did experience quite a little boom of success, it was nowhere near the fervor that followed Watanabe’s previous work. And it’s a terrible shame since it is also a damn great series. (I quote filmmaker Guillermo DelToro, when he recently asked regarding Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: “You wanna know why we see so many bad movies out there these days? Because whenever someone tries something different, nobody shows up!” So either hang your head low, or get with it, and give this show a real viewing. You won’t regret it.
Fruits Basket (2001)
Now it’s back to what is probably the signature shoujo release for US fans over the last ten years. While I haven’t watched it since it’s initial airing during those strange months in 2001, I do remember it being a penultimate show that not only entertained with it’s unique ensemble of colorful characters, but also illuminated some of the more optimistic sides of the human condition. Young & resourceful Tohru Honda has lived on her own (in the woods no less) for some time, and in a strange twist of fate, meets aquaintance with a most unusual family with a unique curse, to each become an animal of the Chinese Zodiac! Visually unique director Akitaro Daichi’s take on Natsuki Takaya’s manga hit excels in goodness where most shows wouldn’t, and racks up an impressive emotional punch. Post Sailor Moon, and post-Fushigi Yuugi, Furuba was released at a pitch-perfect time where female fans were finally getting their say, and doing so with heartening abandon. And let’s not get into the memorable cast including Yui Horie, Tomokazu Seki, Aya Hisakawa, Kotono Mitsuishi, and many others. The overall hopeful tone of the show makes up for another case of making up an ending for anime’s sake, but in all, Fruits Basket as a whole is classic viewing for anyone looking for that special pick-me-up. Again, looking back at when this was new, I’m still amazed how well it has persevered despite history. In a time when it was easy to fall into cynicism, it was sure great to witness a creation that offers hope in simple actions.
Eden Of The East(2009)
Seriously. What else can I possibly say about Eden Of The East? Quite possibly, one of the unsung heroes of the last five years, this genre-bending ride is something of a miracle. Should you wish for a better realized review of this series, please consult here. It’s always heartening to see shows that have more than merely fans to satisfy. So many flourishes of creativity, and spirit permeates an entire 11 episodes that one may almost find themselves dumbfounded with how well it mixes concepts, creating a genre all its own. Like a supercool origin story style film, it doesn’t offer answers so much as posits some burning questions about living in a post-911 world, and yet it does it with sensitivity, and surprisingly light-hearted humor. An astonishing feat in an era most ready to settle for creature comforts.
And now for a Bonus:
Streaming Wish List!
Now I know this is far from any remote realm of possibility, but please allow for bizarro-world rules to reign for just a moment because there are plenty of great shows that I wish were available to at least allow more new school fans to sample. Here are just a few from the current top of the brain.
Rose Of Versailles (1979-1980): Osamu Dezaki’s amazing take on Riyoko Ikeda’s classic regarding Oscar Francois de Jarjayes. a young lady raised by her father to be a man, and her bizarre fate to become a minor part of Marie Antoinette’s world during the French Revolution. A bold & brilliant series that deserves more viewers.
Space Runaway Ideon (1980-81): Yoshiyuki Tomino’s lesser known masterwork is becoming something of internet legend. Regarding the discovery of an ancient god mecha on a distant planet, and the lives of those it affects is a fractured at times, but ultimately satisfying hard left for mecha anime. One just has to see it to believe it.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon[in untouched form](1992-1997): There’s just no disputing it, the tale of whimpering heroine, Usagi Tsukino and her empowered friends is something of a milestone that cannot be denied. Even if some company was able to secure the first season, I’d be happy. Quite possibly the ultimate magical girl show. A fascinating, albeit overlong time capsule that deserves quick reference for potential fans.
Super Dimension Century Orguss(1983-1984): Featuring most of the same crew behind the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but bear no connection to it aside from words in title, this is a fascinating expansion of mecha-laden science fiction that could only be made in the 80s. Beset by more than one setback toward US release, this is a truly unique show that I wish more could see.
Shoujo Kakumei Utena (1997): Now really, one needs to experience Rose Of Versailles to truly gauge the impact crater made by this brilliant series. From Yoji Enokido’s often psychedelic-minded scripting, to Kunihiko Ikuhara’s bizarre direction, what we have here is Evangelion for the classic shoujo/yuri set. It’s just mindblowing how this worked so well. Now that Right Stuf/Nozomi are primed for a re-release, here’s hoping more can see what all the noise was about.
Any more you’d love to see revived online as a Try Before You Buy?