Neon Genesis Evangelion

I don't know which is the more noteworthy feature of this series: its very lush animation or its story, which owes a lot to Giant Robo and the whole "teenagers-piloting-mecha-to-save-the-world" genre, but with a major twist. The Earth was invaded in the year 2000 by an Angel, a giant bio-mechanical being, melting the polar cap and knocking Earth off its axis in what was called the Second Impact. By the year 2015, Tokyo is rebuilding when the Angels reappear. In comes a teenager, Shinji, whose father is the brains behind the Evangelion designed to fight the Angels. Shinji, however, is estranged from his father and doesn't want to pilot the Evangelion, until he realizes the only other pilot, the haunting red-eyed Rei, was too badly wounded in the last run to go again. Shinji and the Evangelion bond on a genetic level--which makes it rather dangerous, since Shinji's bitterness toward his father keeps getting in the way. The whole 26 episodes subbed (actually the last 2 are raw, but I downloaded scripts--actually a necessity), plus the first four dubbed, with some brief nudity, profanity and lots of giant robot fights. This tour-de-force for animator Hideaki Anno was extremely popular in Japan, and it's understandable: giant robot duels mixed with Japan's current post-recession malaise. I consider it the greatest television series ever made, period.

Ninja Resurrection

And I thought Hollywood played fast and loose with history.  The facts: in 1633 the new daimyo at Shimabara began imposing higher and higher taxes, touching off an inevitable peasant revolt.  They rallied around a Joan of Arc figure, a teenage Christian boy named Shiro Amakusa, and for a while the tax revolt took on the trappings of a holy war.  Eventually, after some initial successes, the revolt was crushed, since the rebels had no military leaders; just a few ronin advisors.

Might have made an interesting movie.  But this is just a horrorshow of swinging swords, flying bodyparts and demonic possession.  I guess it's a well done horrorshow, if you like that kind of thing.

Ninja Scroll

There are lots of ninja in this movie, and several scrolls, but the significance of the title escapes me (the original title was Jubei the Wind Ninja). There's plenty of violence and some sex as Jubei is sent to head off a plot to overthrow the Shogun.

Oh My Goddess

see Aa! Megami-sama

On Your Mark

Hayao Miyazaki took time out in 1995 to create a seven-minute music video for Chage and Asuka.  The result starts with Blade Runner, throws in Jonestown and the Aum Shin Rikyo cult, and even a bit of Chernobyl to tell of two future cops who buck the system to rescue a very special hostage.  I could watch this seven minutes (which tells more of a story than some films do in 90 minutes) every day, except that I end up crying when I watch it.   Everything Miyazaki does is amazing, and this is no exception.

Orguss 02

I had no expectations at the beginning of this mecha-fight series, but it really sneaks up on you.  Set between two vaguely Eastern European countries at war, the story has a young officer sneak behind enemy lines to track their recovery of the giant Decimators, mecha that hadn't been used in 200 years.  Along the way he gets help from an apparent esper and meets characters who are nicely designed and are definitely not cardboard characterizations.  The final battles are very impressive.  A six-part 1993 OAV series by Fumihiko Takayama that still outclasses some of its peers.

Perfect Blue

Based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, this is the first film directed by Satoshi Kon, although Kon has worked with Katsuhiro Otomo on Roujin Z and Memories.  You've seen this kind of story before--idol singer wants to change career paths by starring in a bloody and sexy TV series called Double Bind but is tormented by fanatical fan--but the power of this treatment is that Kon keeps things spinning mercilessly.  Between the insane fan and the equally crazy website, this is Gaslight times two; you're never sure what's really going on until the final minute.  Very suspenseful; with very gory murders and explicit nudity in the rape scene.  English dub of the uncut version.  One review mentioned Hitchcock; this is more like DePalma or Scorcese.

Phantom Quest Corps

In Japanese it's a pun: "Yugen Kaisha" uses variant kanji to indicate that it's a group of ghostbusters rather than a limited corporation.  I'd like to tell you more about Ayaka Kisaragi and her crew, but this 4-part OAV is rather stingy on back-story and character development.  (A lot of this stuff is covered in a fifth installment, episode 0, sold separately, or on websites.)  The laughs just don't seem to be as outrageous as Ghost Sweeper Mikami, or the supernatural elements as chilling as Vampire Princess Miyu.  The animation is top-class, but this time it can't disguise a certain poverty in the storytelling.

Plastic Little

A lot of anime is based on manga; here's an anime that has inspired its own manga. Satoshi Urushibara's graphic designs, directed by Kinji Yoshimoto, focus on Tita, a 17 year old girl who has inherited her missing (presumed dead) father's job hunting whales as pets(!), as well as her father's ship, a hi-tech job with a diverse 5-person crew. This episode, though, catches her up with a political intrigue and the rescue of a scientist's daughter. Even if you think Sailor Moon has done to death the whole klutzy action heroine genre, the plot makes it seem fresh. With a hurricane equal to anything by Hayao Miyazaki (and that's saying something!) and violence, rough language and nudity for the jaded. Favorite line, spoken by a macho crewman before a certain-death run: "When we break into Heaven, I'll take the point." Subtitled. One of the best all-around anime I've seen lately; highly recommended.

Please Save My Earth

I wish I could give an unqualified ringing endorsement to the six part story based on Saki Hiwatari's 21-volume shojo manga. Alice Sakaguchi, a teenager recently moved from Hokkaido to Tokyo, has a dream in which she sees herself as a different person, working in a research station on the moon. She gradually picks up friends who share her strange dreams, and gets closer to the little kid next door, who is also more than he seems. The story builds impressively, with espers, infernal machines and all sorts of emotional entanglements. However, there's the last episode; I could follow the lengthy flashback to Shion's childhood, but the last few minutes--well, one webpage has described it as a "collage of events from the manga". Which means that most folks who don't know the manga will react: "Huh?" Dubbed; directed by Kazuo Yamazaki.

Update!  Those who are mystified by the series can get (some) relief  from the "Image Video", a 30-minute collection of music videos that never appeared in the series.  We find out about Mokuren's idyllic childhood, broken only by the death of her mother.  We see Shion, who had troubles of his own even after the war.  We learn the purpose of Shion's infernal machine.  We learn a little more about the Sisterhood of Sarjalin.  And we get a literal translation of the haunting theme, rather than the Trish Ledoux "singalong" version.  If you're going to get the series, you need this supplement as well.

Princess Knight

The dubbing of this feature, which strings together several episodes of Dr. Tezuka's TV version of his history-making manga Ribon no Kishi, is unbelievably bad; sometimes it sounds as if one guy is doing all the voices, and in a bad falsetto at that. Get past this, the cutesy interludes (reflecting Dr. Tezuka's inspiration: the all-girl Takarazuka Opera) and the fact that the Prime Minister is given the klutziest name in all of animation (Duralumin, an aluminum alloy; c.f. Princess Sapphire) and you get a taste of what makes this series unprecedented in its time. In a kingdom where a woman can never succeed to the throne, Sapphire is raised in drag. This started a trend toward gender-bender animation and comics for girls that continues in Japan to this day.

Princess Minerva

A lot of bosomy swords-and-sorcery a la Slayers.  Things are a bit dull, so the title character holds a tournament; the winner gets to be her bodyguard.  However, she enters the contest herself, disguised as Cutey Kamen (a double Go Nagai tribute).  She also tries her hand at idol singing; she's terrible, but then, who wouldn't be terrible accompanied by a German band?  Humorous, but a few serious moments, and probably the most exotic curse in all of anime: "Fornicator of toads!"  Subbed.

Princess Rouge

The first three episodes of a series that scans like a sinister Aa! Megami-sama.  Rouge literally drops onto a student bicycling through the country; she's lost her memory, so the student gallantly offers to help her. Unfortunately, there's a good reason she lost it: she and her two sisters are being hunted by a source of galactic evil.  As you can imagine, there is already a lot out there like this one, one way or another...

Project A-ko

In this neo-Tokyo anime, sci-fi takes a back seat to a satire of the lesbian conventions that inform some other Japanese cartoons. A-ko, the superpowered and chronically late junior-high student, and B-ko, the ice-queen older classman, fight over, then must rescue, the truly obnoxious C-ko. That A and B fight over such an undesirable catch is the joke. In Japanese; no subtitles. Brief nudity.

Ranma 1/2: Nihao My Concubine

Brilliant graphics and a plot that just sort of gives up on logic altogether make this classic Rumiko Takahashi. The Ranma gang get shipwrecked on an island with a wizard who creates bizarre tests to choose which among the castaways will be his bride.

Record of Lodoss War

A 13-part series, subtitled. This is one of the best sword-and-sorcery tales to come down the pike. It starts pretty pedestrian, with a young knight (Parn), a light (as opposed to dark or evil) fairy (Deedlit), a dwarf, a sorcerer, a novice priest and a thief. There are a lot of complications from other characters, and the adrenalin really picks up when a mercenary swordswoman and her berserker boyfriend show up. But the dragons--!

Revolutionary Girl Utena

The first thirteen episodes of the 39-week series for Japanese tv have been dubbed/subbed for US release, but it took a few years to get the other 26 subbed and/or dubbed.  Utena Tenju attends a mixed high- and junior-high-school with a bizarre palace-cum-fencing arena out back.  As a child she received a rose ring from a prince who admired her fortitude as an orphan.  His admiration gave her a taste for men's clothing.  The sexual ambiguity increases as she picks up a "bride", named Anthy.  This all has something to do with the school's student council getting odd messages signed "Armageddon" and someone's plan to bring about an undefined "revolution".  You can't guess the plot-twists.  It starts out fun enough, but the decadence starts creeping in around episode 5; you may want to hold off showing this one to the younger set unless you preview it first.  This warning definitely applies to episode 12, wherein Anthy kisses Touga's sword in a very suggestive manner.  There's a story-arc involving the Black Rose, and the grand finale wherein Utena is (maybe) slain and Anthy is revealed to be the source of all evil--or not. You don't believe it?

Riding Bean

The streets of Chicago are hardly safe as it is; Kenichi Sonoda's gun-and-anything-else-runners Bean Bandit and Rally Vincent only make matters worse. Rally went on to star in "Gun Smith Cats". Some of the design work was by Satoshi Urushihara (see "Plastic Little"). The cop-car crashes (among other scenes) owe a lot to "The Blues Brothers".

Ringing Bell

This is one of the Sanrio cassettes from the early 80s (along with "Sea Prince" and the Unico movies). It starts out with some really cutesy animation, then turns in a direction that can only be called an homage to samurai movies. A lamb's mother is killed by a lone wolf; the lamb first tries to kill the wolf, then asks to become his apprentice! (Yeah, like you're gonna see this one on The Disney Channel either.) Directed by Masami Hata from a novel by Takashi Yanase.

Roujin Z

From Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of "Akira", but with a lot more touches of humor which "Akira" could have used. Otomo has always been more of a satirist anyway, and the spirit of his work is nicely preserved in this film. It's one thing, after all, to have government types design a fully-automated hospital bed to tend to the patient's needs; less predictable is that a bunch of elderly pensioners would hack their way into the bed's CPU to give it the personality of the patient's late wife. With a great finale and a recurring cat reminiscent of the "What's Michael" series. Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Dubbed into English, with a few obscenities cut out courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel.

Rurouni Kenshin

The first dozen episodes, subbed, of the anime based on the epic manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki. It's 1878, ten years into the Meiji Era, but much of Japan still has a feudal look to it.  Still, modernisms (police, etc.) pop up to remind us that this is a time when the old samurai was considered obsolete.  Along comes the title character, who sounds all of 14 years old and who looks downright pretty at times, trying to cast off his reputation as a murderer and using his samurai technique only to protect the weak.  The first weakling he comes across is Kaoru, a young woman left to manage the family dojo on her own.  A lot of classic themes sounded in this one.

Sailor Moon

Most of the approximately 80 episodes translated by DIC, plus a lot of subbed and raw episodes, including some of the final season. Look on other websites (last time I looked, about 2,000 SM pages) for details; I declare, like Barney the dinosaur, web anime people either love SM or hate it. They got more worked up over this series than they did about Dole versus Clinton. The word "cult" could apply here. Then again, it's easy to see why this gained a fanatic international following, especially if you check out the original episodes. To borrow the title of Terrence McNally's AIDS play, this is a series about love, valour and compassion. It's also about Tsukino Usagi, a ditzy, chronically tardy, junior-high crybaby, who finds she has superpowers as the reincarnation of Moon Princess Serenity. That she turns into a super-powered crybaby is a good continuing gag, but the series builds impressively from there. Like a certain vampire slayer, this is a major empowerment fantasy for female viewers. And to think Bandai just wanted to use it to sell toys. Based on the manga of Naoko Takeuchi, who pulled the plug in 1997 on both anime and manga after 5 years and 200 episodes, 18 volumes of manga, plus several volumes of the "prequel" Sailor V, hour-long specials, short specials... Best moment: when Chibiusa, visiting Tokyo from the future, communicates with Sailor Pluto, who guards the portals of Space/Time (in the non-dubbed versions). When the transmission ends, Chibiusa's plaintive cries of "Pu!" are milked for all they're worth. Funniest moment: in the S series, the debut of Sailor Chibi Moon, whose attack consists of a Pez dispenser that shoots luminous hearts and plays Pac-Man music.  Guaranteed tearjerker: the last episode of the R season, when Chibiusa, her mission accomplished, prepares to return to the 30th century, and she finally drops her attitude against Usagi and says what a Japanese audience would have waited for months to hear: "Arigato, mama".

Sailor Moon R Movie

(No other title). A one-hour letterboxed full animation feature. The Super S Movie (below) is aimed at a younger crowd; this one is much more sophisticated, but also contains a lot of echoes of the end of the R series. The emotional faucet is turned on full force when Fioret re-enters Mamoru's life (in a way that at first suggests a gay relationship). He's actually the vanguard of an alien force of invading flowers (yeah, sounds stupid, but it works). There's a lot of personal history of the senshi, and we see for the first time that they need Usagi as much as she needs them. An incredibly worked-out plot factors in everything from Mamoru's attempt to steal a kiss in the botanical gardens to the birth of Usagi's kid brother! Among the influences on display here is the cinema of Francois Truffaut! (IMHO, the only problem is in the final song; decent enough Tokyo pop, but it sounds like it belongs in a Gamera movie).

If this is an in-joke, I wish someone would explain it: the subtitling by "Jerry, Club DKJY" is well-done except for the closing credits. For whatever reason, the actor who does the voice of Fioret has a name which in kanji looks like Ko Ayakawa (my apologies; my kanji is pretty rusty). The English subtitle, however, lists the voice actor as "Yusaku Godai". He is, of course, the college student and erstwhile suitor of Kyoko Otonashi in "Mezon Ikkoku" by Rumiko Takahashi, and Godai's name in kanji doesn't even come close to what's in the credits. What gives? Subtitled.

Sailor Moon S Movie: Princess Kaguya

Loosely based on an extended story from the manga by Naoko Takeuchi, an alien princess tries to freeze the earth.  A bishonen astronomer and his fiancee, a Japanese lady astronaut, cross the alien's path, as do the Sailor Senshi when Luna gets a crush on the astronomer!  This is definitely Luna's show, and even allows her to become human in the climax.  Subtitled.

Sailor Moon Super S: Miracle In the Black Dream Hole

A one-hour letterboxed full animation feature that picks up the Sailor Senshi after they've been together a while. Chibiusa is now Sailor Chibi Moon, and even the "outer" sailors put in an appearance when fairies (lied to by Queen Vadiana) kidnap earth children to take to an orbiting spaceship. The song that lures the children is as catchy as, but not as obnoxious as, the FAO Schwartz song. This appeals to a younger crowd than the usual SM stuff, but it's not necessarily juvenile. In Japanese; subtitled. Brief nudity.

Sailor Victory

Another rarity broadcast on the International Channel, these are two eps that tried to lampoon any anime it could find.  In futuristic Mikado City, the police need to call on a science team of six girls (well, five girls and an android) in sailor fuku to save them from assorted perils.  I counted send-ups of Evangelion, Sailor Moon, Bubblegum Crisis, Key the Metal Idol...  Subbed; funny stuff and a great closing theme.

Sayonara Ginga Tetsudoo 999

Like most sequels, this doesn't come close to the original. In Japanese.

Sea Prince and the Fire Child

Back in 1983, RCA/Columbia put out about a half-dozen Japanese animated features directly on cassette produced by Sanrio Studios (those wonderful folks who brought you "Hello Kitty"). This is probably the best; a singular work directed by Masami Hata. It's the mythical Romeo & Juliet story of a love between beings of fire and water. The characters are rather westernized, looking like the work of Max Fleischer, but the story--well, you'll never see this one on The Disney Channel, what with the elements of incest, lesbianism and suicide. None of this would be unprecedented for a Japanese audience, by the way, or anyone familiar with the Kojiki, the Shinto creation myth. A sweeping orchestral score at least as good as the one in "Nausicaa". The end credits feature production sketches that suggest a movie influenced by Arthur Rackham. Some nudity.

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi

Subbed/dubbed DVD of Miyazaki's 2001 masterpiece; winner of the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated Feature--one would have hoped that it would put Hollywood (and especially Disney) on notice that there was definitely a new kid in town. I don't know what Ghibli spent on this movie, but they put every yen up on the screen; visually it is one of the most lavish anime ever. The ten-year-old girl Chihiro's plight is an intriguing mix of old arechetypes (some Asian, some from the Odyssey) and modern references (including the soot sprites from Tonari no Totoro). An absolute must-see.

Serial Experiments Lain

Director Ryutaro Nakamura wins the 1998 "Ghost in the Shell" Award for a fascinating interface of computers and "the real world".  Lain is (no surprise here) a 13 year old girl who still sleeps in animal pajamas, shy and withdrawn.  But she's the only person to answer an apparent e-mail sent by a schoolmate after the schoolmate had committed suicide.  Then her personality starts going through major changes.  Even when you think you know where this is going, it doesn't go there.  Dubbed.

Shamanic Princess

I described Giant Robo as an anime Wagnerian opera.  This series of six OAVs can, keeping the metaphor alive, be compared to Claude Debussy's Impressionist opera Pelleas et Melisande.  The magic effects are absolutely unequalled, and Tiara's partner (a fast-talking ferret named Japoro, reminiscent of Eddie Murphy's Mu Shu) is a fun little side-kick, but the story-line...  The word "impenetrable" comes to mind as Tiara takes on two old friends to capture a throne (I think).  Parts 5 and 6 double-back to a "prequel".  I promise you that (except for parts of Evangelion) you've never seen anything like this.

Silent Service

Dubbed version of a feature based on a controversial (meaning, pro-military and anti-American) manga.  It's really just a Japanese take on Hunt for Red October.  Japan and the US have, against all treaties, built a new generation nuclear sub.  The crew is taken from another sub "sunk" to provide sailors with no link to the surface world.  But the sub's Captain Kaneda develops a samurai ethic, goes public with the sub, renames it Yamato and declares it to be an independent nation!  It's all a game of chicken to force the US to admit that it really doesn't regard Japan as an equal but rather as a client state.  This movie even includes American plans to re-occupy Japan if need be.


The feature film.  Also known as "Dirty Pair Go To Lodoss".  Lina Inverse and her pal Naga are two overpowering, and underdressed, women warriors on the loose in the kingdom of Miploss.  Magic and swordplay, very little of it serious.

Sol Bianca

A space opera with an all-female crew of space pirates, ranging from 10 to thirties and all named after months of the year. Nice character designs, interesting plots, but there are intriguing hints throughout that beg for a part 3.  Subtitled; directed by Katsuhito Akiyama (pt. 1) and Hiroki Hayashi (pt. 2).

Sol Bianca--The Legacy

It isn't exactly part 3, but in 1999 a six-part series, entirely computer-generated, retold the story of the all-girl pirate crew in the spaceship of the title.  Reviews are mixed, and the CGI work isn't as smooth as it could be.  But I like the use of the Spanish culture in part 1 (you don't see that too often), the sketches of Gustav Dore illustrating the Divine Comedy in part 2 (although I could have done without Sancho, who looks too much like the Genie in Disney's Aladdin).  I especially like the Goddess Attack mode on the SolB, and I wish my PC had the ship computer's boot-up screen.  I have the first 2 parts dubbed, and will be looking for the rest.  Directed by Hiroyuki Ochi.

Space Warriors

The generic title for several anime releases; this one is based on an 80s esper manga, "Locke the Superman" by Yuki Hijiri. Locke is fighting Lord Leon the intergalactic pirate, when he realizes he loves Leon's sister. Leon is after the head of the interplanetary conglomerate that killed his parents, tore off his arm and nearly blinded his sister. An interesting blend of the personal and the political, with an ending that is totally bizarre unless you accept the transmigration of souls.

The Spirit of Wonder--Miss China's Ring

From the manga by Kenji Tsuruta; a Chinese innkeeper in Victorian England (who uses martial arts to collect the rent) gets caught up with one of her tenant's bizarre inventions.  She also has a crush on the inventor's assistant, who seems more interested in the village florist.   The "spirit of wonder" kicks in when the assistant sends her a message--from the moon.  Fantastic events in a realistic style.

Spirited Away

see Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakuchi

Star Blazers

The first eight episodes of the 26-week series originally done for Japanese tv by Reiji Matsumoto and called Space Cruiser Yamato. A lot of baby boomers grew up watching anime without realizing it, and this was one of the best imports.

Sukeban Deka

Two OAVs (one dubbed, one subbed) inspired by the manga of Shinji Wada, a specialist in action manga for the girls market. This is perhaps his best-known work.  A teenaged criminal is sent back to high school from prison as an undercover operative.  The warden threatens her mother, who's on death row, to get her to cooperate.  She has a very lethal yo-yo; sounds stupid, I know, but it works.  She goes head-to-head with a wealthy family of lunatic sisters.  It's also been done live.  I happen to like Wada.