The three Germanic Fates (Skuld, Urd and Verthandi) become heavenly sisters Urd, Skuld and Belldandy (who's just as cute as her name suggests), programmers of the cosmic computer Ygdrassil. In one of the most delightful setups in all of manga, college freshman and motorhead Keiichi Morisato misdials for take-out food and gets the Heavenly Helpdesk; he asks for Belldandy's friendship and gets it (in more ways than one). The series of 5 OAVs (I have all but #3) builds nicely on the "magical girl" genre to a surprise twist at the end. Based on the very popular manga by Yoshikazu Fukushima. The dubbed version has Belldandy voiced by the same actress who played Mihoshi in the "Tenchi Muyo" dubs. In the original, her kid sister Skuld is voiced by Aya (Sailor Mercury) Hisakawa.
Agent Aika: Naked Mission
This capsule review is brought to you by the letter "A", as in "Agent Aika", and "adolescent". Honestly, this production can't seem to let 15 seconds go by without showing some female character's panty- or swimsuit-covered crotch. After a while it gets to be ridiculous, and undoes whatever's interesting about the plot (polar caps melt, as in Evangelion, Brain Powerd and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikoo, leaving Chiba as just about all of Japan that's still above water. The title character is a salvage diver, caught up in a search for the cause of the great meltdown). This is the kind of treatment that gives anime a bad name.
This 1988 anime drew in a lot of fans with its rock score, special effects, sci fi trappings and ultraviolence. But you know what? I've watched it and I still don't get it. Then again, I'd already seen Ghost in the Shell and other, more humanist, reworkings of the same material. Based on a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo (whose work is also the basis for Memories and Roujin Z).
Aladdin & the Magic Lamp
Not the Disney version, but an anime retelling that stays pretty close to the source. John Carradine voices the Vizier in this dub, and June Lockhart (from the old TV series Lassie) as Aladdin's mom. Directed by Yoshikatsu Kazai for Toei.
All Purpose Cultural Cat-Girl Nuku Nuku
Or, Family Values, sort of. Ryunosuke's parents have broken up big-time, a separation as acrimonious as The War of the Roses. Akiko, heir to a military-industrial manufacturer, marries one of her scientist/employees, then regrets it. He takes off with their son, literally leading a fugitive's life as two Office Ladies hunt them down. He's perfected and stolen a prototype android, however, whom he gives the brain of a cat (from a kitten killed in a high-speed chase and strafing run by the Office Ladies); otherwise, it appears to be a naive, somewhat off-center teenaged girl who's part pet, part babysitter, part housekeeper and part superheroine. Started out as 6 OAVs, recently spawned a weekly tv series.
The first three OAVs form one arc as Ryunosuke's parents battle it out, try to reconcile, then realize they're only happy when they're fighting (their final realization even has shoujo pastel bubbles and rainbows accompanying the slow-motion battle-- hilarious!). The second set of three introduces Eimi, who claims to be the granddaughter of another of the firm's scientists. Note the use of Windows 95 in the opening credits of the second arc. Subtitled. The first group has the theme "Happy Birthday to Me" sung by the great Megumi Hayashibara, who voices Nuku Nuku. One vocal bonus: Arisa, the most Rambo-like of the Office Ladies, is voiced by none other than Aya Hisakawa -- Sailor Murcury!
Ami-chan's First Love
A 15-minute fully animated letterboxed companion to the Super S Sailor Moon movie. Mizuno Ami/Sailor Mercury finds that someone else is getting perfect marks (besides her) on the high school entrance exam pretests. Right away she gets a crush on the mysterious student. Meanwhile, a terakoya (presumably a figure out of Japanese legend) shows up to railroad all of Ami's energies into her still-awakening libido instead of her studies. (Actually, the sexual awakening subtext is subtler than that, but the theme is pretty easy to spot.) The closing song, "Never Give Up", is classic Japanese pop. Subtitled.
The first dubbed episode of a series that hopefully gets better later in the game. For now, we have a special, ruthless unit of the Tokyo police force designed to combat terrorist threats against Japan; the main threat seems to be the Communist Red May. There are some skirmishes and a scientist looking to field-test cybernetic augmentations he's developed, but the first ep is really nothing to write home about. The closing theme is pretty bad; the singer sounds like she ran five blocks and is too out of breath to hold a note, while the melody is a bad J-pop attempt to sound like Philip Glass.
Angel of Darkness
A seriers of hentai anime. I have the first 3, the first 2 of which have an interestingly subversive subtext.
I begins with a professor at an all-girls academy breaking the eldritch seal at the base of a tree uncovered during construction of the campus. The new campus (with a focus on its Christian chapel) replaces an older structure. In the student body are the protagonists, lesbian lovers Atsuko and Sayaka. Atsuko isn't a mental giant, but her sister's on the academy faculty. But under the chapel is a biology lab gone berserk, where the professor and the school principal have tentacled a dozen students already. Atsuko tries to fight the tentacles off, is killed, but is reborn by the fairy spirits of the forest that imprisoned the evil in the first place. (Not exactly Totoro, but an interesting ecological approach.)
II sets the tone for the rest of the series (apparently) with a different campus. This one is co-ed, and the monstrosity is hidden under the science building. It was engineered by a biology prof, and it is so closely associated with science that the only one who ends up defeating it is Haruka, who falls asleep in science class, and her boyfriend.
III carries the same scientist over, but is less subversive. It's a predictable tale that lets the scientist snare a student who is very un-yasashii. She barely survives, but so does the demon plant, if anyone wants to bother with part 4. Yes, there is a part 4, but I've lost interest.
An early bit of dystopian speculation by Masamune Shirow, long before Ghost in the Shell. The opening sequence frames the rest of the plot; in Olympus, a sanitized and orderly future city built out of the rubble of World War 3 and maintained by biodroids under the guidance of central computer Gaia, there are still heavily-armed police. That's because there are still heavily-armed rebels who seek to destroy Gaia, believing that humankind has bought order at the price of liberty. The film follows policewoman Dunan Nats and her bionic partner Buliarous as they get closer to the heart of the rebel movement. The opening sequence is genuinely shocking.
Don't look for Armitage I or II. In this case, Naomi Armitage is a third-generation robot. The "thirds" are reviled on Mars by the Earth colonists as being too close to human; it doesn't help when one robot assassinates the "last country singer". Kiefer Sutherland supplies a wooden performance as Earth cop Ross Syllabus. Lots of Blade Runner influences.
Two episodes, including the first, which demonstrate that Dr. Tezuka was a force to be reckoned with and his magnum opus was the same. Atomu (a/k/a Astroboy) was a saucer-eyed superpowered optimist, but his first steps off the lab table show Dr. Tezuka's subtle mastery of the limited animation resources available at that time. Required.
Bakuretsu Hunters (a/k/a Sorcerer Hunters)
A tv series with characters named Chocolate and Carrots Glace. A "crack"(?) team of good guys and scantily-dressed gals chase around after evil sorcerers at the behest of a goddess with a China-girl assistant in a "Slayers"-type universe. Got some good stuff.
Or, Your Tax Dollars At Work, Part One. A lot of anime dwell on grotesque and gruesome creations, but let it be remembered that all of the horrors depicted in this movie were real. A dubbed version that lifts only a handful of scenes from the semi-autobiographical manga of Keiji Nakazawa, who as a schoolboy survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Some of the animation is simplistic, like TV animation geared for a kid's audience, but that only makes the events to come more stark and almost unwatchable.
Two OAVs directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi which are based on the "Gunnm" manga by Yukito Kishiro. In one of the most dystopian futures ever presented, the "battle angel" is a lethal young android, basically a human head on a robot body, who helps her inventor scavaenge body parts (usually from criminal donors). Absolutely unique chara design.
Birdy the Mighty
A nice little variation on 3x3 Eyes. Stomu, a nerdy high school senior, gets accidentally killed as part of an interplanetary police action. To make it up to him, he's revived, but that involves his body being occupied by Birdy, a cute female cop. They switch bodies at very inopportune moments while trying to keep the Tokyo water supply from being loaded with a very nasty serum. The robot Ondine has a lot of Terminator influences; the character design by Masami Yuuki recalls his New Dominion Tank Police and long-running equestrian romantic comedy Grooming Up. This is one of the good ones; when are they gonna release the rest of it?
When Osamu Tezuka died in 1989, I thought his output died with him. But Tezuka Productions lives on, and a half-dozen short features are being dubbed into English about an inspired creation of Dr. Tezuka's: Black Jack, the unlicensed rogue surgeon, highly skilled and completely mercenary. (Or so he pretends; he evolved into a compassionate lone wolf.) It caught the manga series perfectly; I got chills just watching the opening sequence. The comics covered very humanist ground, typical of Tezuka manga, addressing issues from capital punishment to abortion to war. Directed by Osamu Dezaki.
"Iceberg; Man with Kimaira", based on an episode from the manga, describes what sounds like a real, though rare and very bizarre, condition called diapharesis, the inability of the body to retain water. It's a downright Gothic story as a wealthy patient, his straying wife, and the poor people of the village all get tangled up in the web. Also along for the ride is Pinoko (as fans of the comic know, she's Black Jack's companion who looks three years old, is about 18, swears like a sailor and was put together from spare parts). Brief nudity.
"A Funeral, The Procession Game" is based on an original story by Osamu Dezaki, but keeps a lot of the classic Tezuka story elements. The doctor is passing through a city (rather like Sapporo) and encounters four high school girls skating in a fountain. Six months later, two are dead, one is comatose, and the fourth is acting very strangely. The subplot about the wastrel son of a clinic owner evokes the fact that, unlike the US system, Japanese hospitals are often family businesses. Black Jack's speech at the end, about why we try to cheat death even knowing that we can't, is one of the finest pieces of prose on medicine I've ever come across.
"The Decoration of Maria and Her Comrades" starts out with a truly wicked condemnation of America's Central American policy under Reagan/Bush as the big power, the "Federal Unites" (which even has the letters "FU" on its flag), moves against a Central American country. Black Jack is brought to the border by the guerilla Maria, who wants him to operate on the guerilla leader, who's dying of cancer. She also drops her clothes and throws herself at Black Jack pretty constantly.
"Anorexia, the Two Dark Doctors" may be the best of the bunch. A European film star is dying of an extreme case of anorexia. As Black Jack races to find the cause and cure, he also has to cope with another medical lone wolf--this one more like Dr. Kevorkian.
"The Owl of San Merida" is also based on a manga story. A young man has bizarre, almost psychic flashbacks to being wounded in a battle he was too young to have fought. The doctor heals him by helping to track down his true heritage. There is brief nudity, but it's a typically Japanese kind of nudity: scenes of a nursing mother, which are far from gratuitous.
"Night-time Tale in the Snow--Lovelorn Princess" is a brilliant adaptation of a manga episode, as Dr. Black Jack gets a commission in the mail (two years late!) and witnesses events hundreds of years in the past in order to effect a healing in the present. Any episode of this series is wonderful; their cumulative effect is an insight into the mind of the genius who revolutionized manga and, by extension, anime.
Black Jack: The Movie
Osamu Dezaki keeps the good doctor alive in a story that has all of the virtues of the OAV series. "Superhumans" start blossoming all over, in sports, the arts and other fields. They don't start paying the price for a couple of years. The good doctor is called in to make it right, in a story that doesn't reveal all its secrets until the very end. One quibble: the device of kidnapping Pinoko was a repeat from OAV #6, but since the OAV might have been an extended dream, who's to say?
I have no problem with series where "the fate of the world" rests on one teenaged girl--some of my favorite anime have this premise (Tenku no Escaflowne, Plastic Little, Sailor Moon). But when a character announces this set-up in the first two minutes of the first episode, I have to worry. There's some good-looking stuff and interesting characters here, and some mercifully goofy omake intervals to break things up, but there's also a lot here we've seen before.
Bubble Gum Crisis
The first three episodes of the very popular series. In 21st Century Tokyo, Sylia Stingray, rock singer Priss and their companions form the Knight Sabers, a power-suited team of vigilantes. One quibble: a couple of the hardsuits seem to have a bad case of "thunder thighs". Kinuko Oomori's rendition of "Konya wa Hurricane" added rock to anime's musical vocabulary in a big way.
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040
The handful of OAVs is expanded into a 26-week series, and it's about time. The plot is elaborated, the look is much more up to date, the rock is still technically retro (sounding 90s rather than 80s) and the characters are given more edgy definition. A brilliant revisiting, on the strength of the first half-dozen eps at least.
Pretty pedestrian policewomen action piece. Imagine Beverly Hills Cop without Eddie Murphy; nice if you like swearing and guns, otherwise it's nothing you haven't seen before. Directed by Yasunori Ide. Lacklustre Canadian dubbing. Not to be confused with the later "Burn Up W" sequel.
Captain Harlock: My Youth in Arcadia
Episodes in Japanese about a team of crime-fighting female cat-burglars.
Chibi Maruko-chan: The Movie
All the friends and family are there in this first feature based on the very popular manga and TV series by Momoko Sakura. The title character decides to draw a picture for a competition, and along the way befriends a collegiate art student; she's also witness to the student's engagement and marriage. The tape is raw, but much of the movie is music videos anyway (the clip where Onionhead fantasizes playing in a band very like the Beatles is priceless).
Choppy and the Princess
see Princess Knight
A hentai series that's more effective than most. Each is a 2-parter.
I begins with "Alimony Hunter" introducing the character of Jun Nakamura. The story opens with a lady architect catching two women making out in a bus station. One of the women later sits down next to the architect on the bus. It's Jun, who we find to be a transsexual, if not a hermaphrodite. The two end up a threesome with Kunihiko, the grown son of the architect's fiancee. Some humorous moments as well as very erotic ones. "Seek" is comic sword-and-sorcery sex a la Dragon Knight. Knight rescues princess from monster, takes her to an inn, where she reveals her tastes are more exotic than his.
II begins with "Virgin Road", a euphemism for the bridal procession. It's also the return of Jun, more brazen than ever, as she puts the moves not only on groom Kunihiko but his bride-to-be Akemi. Akemi ends up late to her own wedding. This is followed by "Famous Trick History: Hooligan Boy". In this one, "EDO" stands for "Entrance Dominant Organization"; in the far future, earth has been terraformed into model cities for interplanetary tourists. One of these is of a medieval Tokyo. A lesbian innkeeper and her gay handyman have to rescue a damsel in distress from a nerdy young mad scientist who tries to take over Edo with giant clockwork dolls. A brief mention of "Cyber City O-Edo 808" in a clip more humorous than sexy.
The first two eps (dubbed), so far, of what looks to be a great series. Our hero has the highly unlikely name of Spike Siegel; he's a futuristic bounty hunter in a time and place where it's a pretty wide-open profession. (The TV show that lists various baddies and their bounties uses a bit of "Duelling Banjos" as its theme!) The first ep is poignant as a romantic encounter goes wrong; then, after a serious shootout, the second ep is a wild farce as Spike and a terrorist race to capture a "data dog". The opening theme, a big-band jazz chart by Yoko Kanno, makes me think "Rat Pack".
A Japanese archaeologist goes looking for artifacts that supposedly contain a message from God. He finds aliens, the CIA, renegade Tibetan monks and a descendant of Rasputin. It's no surprise that there are a lot of Indiana Jones borrowings here.
Devil Hunter Yoko
A very funny series opener even before the supernatural element kicks in, with Yoko going so far as to referee a match between her mother and grandmother. Granny reveals that Yoko, age 16, has to inherit the family business of fighting demons (Yoko's mom never qualified because she wasn't a virgin at that age). Although the humor stayed, the series seemed to gradually take itself more seriously with each installment. Part 1 shows the passing of the torch; in part 2 Yoko acquires an apprentice and a manager(!); part 3 has her travel back in time to undo a curse; part 5 (almost) rounds off the whole series: it has granny turned back into a teenager, the apprentice Azusa possessed by a devil, and Yoko herself is killed in order to enlist the aid of the 107 generations of devil hunters in the family that preceded her; part 6 brings in a doppelgaenger. (If you were wondering about part 4; known as "Part 4-Ever", it's music videos based on material from the first 3 parts). Yoko is voiced by Aya Hisakawa.
Go Nagai's 2-part OAV based on his manga from the 60s. I assume it looked very different when it was on Japanese TV in the 70s. Kind-hearted Akira is apparently the only cast member goody-goody enough to put his soul on the line and become a demon in order to kill demons, accidentally loosed onto the world by clumsy scientists. Subbed; directed by Tsutomu Iida.
Dirty Pair: Affair on Nolandia
Kei and Yuri tangle with the psychic powers of a child and a hidden political agenda. Where "Project EDEN" was flippant and light, this one is downright dark, with illusions within illusions--a couple of them crossing the line into hentai.
Dirty Pair: Project EDEN
You've gotta love Kei and Yuri, who started a whole genre of sexy girl-buddy anime and manga (like You're Under Arrest). This one mixes space opera, James Bond, and Aliens in a wild ride to find out the saboteur of a critical fuel source. Some language not for the younger set; also some nudity, but frankly, Disney's Fantasia showed more skin than this film does. Dubbed with wit and intelligence.
The first four eps, subtitled, of the series based on the manga of Masakazu Katsura. Overpopulation is a problem in the future, so a genetic therapist is sent back to our time to neutralize the Megaplayboy. He managed to impregnate 100 women, whose offspring in turn went on to--you get the idea. She not only uses the wrong medicine, though; she uses it on the wrong guy. Junta would seem to be the least likely candidate for Megaplayboy: whenever he gets near anything even vaguely erotic, he gets violently nauseous. A deft mix of sentimentality and lowbrow humor.
I've collected anime for about 2 decades; if I keep it up for another 2 decades, I probably still won't find an OAV as funny as this one. It sounds like a twist on the magical girl formula at first: Mink is the child of a mixed marriage (human and dragon). She sports little bitty horns, wings and a tail. But the only thing she's concerned with in this story is Dick Saucer, her favorite idol singer (male, for a change). The animation still has the usual Japanese eye-kicks, with the added bonus here of lapsing into Super Deformity at a moment's notice. Add to that the closing theme (based on Beethoven's Symphony #7 but with lyrics as weird as the rest of the OAV) and the thought will no doubt cross your mind: "What were these people smoking?" Unrelenting, insane comedy; subtitled.
Two feature-length H-anime (rather tame Hs, actually) in the sword-and-sorcery genre.
In April 2001 the International Channel broadcast this four-part OAV, which may mark the very first time that this shounen ai series was seen in the west, with all the homosexual nuances intact. Based on a manga by Yun Kouga, this series tells us that (a) there is a planet called Eden; (b) winged humans called angels live there; (c) they come down in pairs to judge humanity (one counts the bad points, one counts the good points). We follow one young effeminate-looking angel, Chihaya, as he tries to help an angel who stayed on earth to become a rock star(!), develops an infatuation with an angel who was actually built by a mad scientist (this story comprises parts 3 and 4) and tries to figure out why his wings have turned black. Subbed: some mild male/male fondling and nudity.
A really fine 7-part OAV series that has something for everyone: Makoto Mizuhara is a Tenchi-like Everyman nice-guy high school student constantly targeted by Jinnai, the spoiled rich kid who bought his way into the Student Council presidency; Jinnai's sister, an entrepreneur on steroids; and a drunken history prof all connect with strange ruins unearthed below the school and get sent to the strange planet of the title. Along the way they encounter Queen Diva and her giant insects (which are as close to mecha as this series gets), a variety of goddesses and other magical types, a talking cat that turns into assorted useful shapes, and a love-interest for Makoto. There's also a plot-twist that requires Makoto to spend most of the series in drag (and he really looks good). The final sequence, in which Ifurita wanders the deserted halls of Makoto's high school, is one of the most poignant I've seen. Dubbed (but then, try finding something by Pioneer that isn't).
El Hazard--The Wanderer
The 26-week broadcast version of the above, sort of. It can be a bit disconcerting to take the same characters, transport them to the same alternate reality, while pretending that the above OAV never happened. Needless to say, having to fill that much more time, the rather different plot gets a bit thin at times, but most of the right ingredients are still there (except Makoto is spared having to dress like a princess). This being a Pioneer production, there are a couple of references to Pretty Sammy.
The Elfin Bride
Fans of Record of Lodoss War should seek this one out. It starts with the wedding of a man and an elf (whose names aren't Parn and Deedlit, but might as well be). Problems with consummating the marriage lead the groom on a heroic quest for lubricant, while the elf stays at home and endures the prejudice against a mixed marriage. Best throwaway gag: after subduing a giant two-headed hydra, the hero takes it home; we see it parked in a giant garage for the night. A deft mix of the comic and the sexual, with even a bit of social commentary; one of the best of the hentai.
The Elfin Bride 2: The Elf Examination
Not quite as consistently sexy but just as funny as its predecessor, maybe moreso. The human hero and his elf bride are still having consummation troubles, so she goes to see an OB/GYN. She not only encounters other patients in the waiting room (hobbits, werebeasts and so on) but also finds the doctor has perverted ideas of his own. Hubby saves the day, accompanied by a helpful member of his family. If your collection really needs hentai, this is a good series, sexy AND funny.
A middle-of-the-Japanese road effort from Tatsunoko; which means limited animation by modern standards, but all the major themes get sounded here. A pet chipmunk named Glico (after the Japanese candy maker?) gets an inkling that there's a life outside the apartment and tries to get to the woods. He ends up spending time in a zoo (where other chipmunks teach him the meaning of "ganbatte") and he encounters a love-interest named Nono, complete with a flashback to her mother's death-bed; even the mainstream kid's stuff in anime is different. The predatory animals (a fox and a cat) are downright demonic; genuinely scary. The other characters are cartoony, but the backgrounds are highly detailed and downright gorgeous in the nature scenes. In this dub Orson Welles voices a bird; Jim Backus voices a rat. Directed by Yakikoto Higuchi.
A 45 minute adult H-short, about the brief love affair between a young lady pianist and her motorcycle-riding boyfriend. In Japanese, with Chopin on the soundtrack, a shower masturbation scene, an intercourse scene and digitized naughty bits.
EYES of Mars
Nice character design and a few curve-balls in the plot make this an interesting pre-Apocalypse (for a change) eco-sci-fi entry. It starts out at a girls' school in the country where the pupils are being encouraged to develop psychic powers. Before film's end, all these statements will be revealed to be lies, as the people of Mars leave to take up life on Earth. Directed by Iku Suzuki; dubbed into English.
Parts 2 and 3 of an x-rated series. Two starts out at a water-slide, where the heroine (who arrived with her boyfriend) is picked up by a lesbian. The scene then segues to the heroine's boarding-house, where the lesbian, the biker-chick she worships, the biker-chick's two disciples and the landlady run into the heroine's inability to reach orgasm. Even the subtitles don't take this one seriously. Part 3 has a coherent plot of sorts, as the above-mentioned orgy cast is inconvenienced when a very male ghost possesses first a girl, then their sex-toys.
The Fantastic Adventures of Unico
The first of two features from the 1980s (a third was filmed in the 1990s) based on a character created by Osamu Tezuka. Unico started out in the teenage girls manga magazine Lyrica, before being dismissed as "too cute" and demoted to First Grader magazine; this film is based on three of the Lyrica pieces. The magical unicorn of the title befriends a demon and a cat who wants to be a human witch. Directed by Toshiro Hirata. Anything based on the work of Dr. Tezuka, Japan's "god of comics", is recommended.
A Japanese high-school student and her kid brother get caught in a time
paradox and literally meet themselves coming and going between feudal Japan
and the present. An interesting dub if only because it was done in
Britain, with the result that all these Japanese characters end up sounding
like Mary Poppins! Not as gothic as some of the short stories of
Rumiko Takahashi, but still an interesting approach.