The wonderful 26-part tv series (not the two OAV series). The quality of the animation is stellar, and the story is well-known and wild. Tenchi Masaki's uneventful life is twisted by the arrival of extraterrestrials. Best bit in the opening: Mihoshi arrives in battle mecha to apprehend Ryoko, but trips over a Coke can. That just about says it all. Episode 6 focuses on the relationship between Mihoshi and Kiyone, and the karaoke scene gives us a glimpse into why Kiyone puts up with such a childish partner. There are just too many good moments for me to mention them all. A must for any anime collection.
Tenchi Muyo--the Mihoshi Special
Mihoshi is asked to justify her existence, so she tells of one of the Galaxy Police's most important cases--one which she seems to be making up as she goes along. Ryooko steals a powerful fuel and passes it along to Washu, who's out to destroy the universe. For the first time--and definitely not, as it turned out, the last--Ryo-Ohki acts like Luna, tells Sasami to transform into Pretty Sammy and inspires only some of the laughs in a very funny special. The opening sequence casts Mihoshi in a parody of western fairy tales with the song "Sleeping Beauty on Her Balcony". And Ryooko has to be the only intergalactic pirate whose hideout has a name-plate and a doorbell! Great fun. Subtitled.
Tenchi Muyo In Love
A wonderful letterboxed feature that homes right in on the basics of the popular manga/TV/OAV series. It's a little bit Star Wars, a lot of Back to the Future as Tenchi and his crew (all female) travel back in time to protect Tenchi's mother from the intergalactic criminal Kain. They also watch Tenchi's parents (in high school, circa 1970) meet and fall in love. Pick your favorite character (Sasami, Washu, Aeka, Ryoko, Mihoshi)--they all get character bits throughout the movie. But the fight scene at the end belongs to Lady Achika; we all should have such devoted mothers. Dubbed into English.
Tenchi Muyo In Love II: Midsummer Eve
Subtitled "Daughter of Darkness" for the English dub. Tenchi gets a surprise visit from a daughter who's almost as old as he is. Recriminations fly while Washu tries to sort it out. Seems an old frienship of grandfather Yosho's has gone sour, and Tenchi's dim-bulb "daughter" is part of the payback. This has quite a bit of Juraian backstory along with the fun and thrills, and a great J-pop closing theme.
Tenchi Muyo In Love III: Tenchi Forever
We're so used to the whole Tenchi Universe being humor-driven that this one is going to literally hurt some people. It's downright melancholy. Tenchi vanishes in the beginning after fleeing another Aeka-Ryoko battle; when next he's found, he's been gone for six months, but seems to have aged six years. He's a college student, studying art and living with a girl. Yes, there is some sex in this one, but it only contributes to the not-funny tone. Once again, grandfather Yosho started this karmic ball rolling, so there's even more Juraian backstory. This one is tragic or just a downer, depending on if you liked it.
They Were Eleven
In many respects this 1986 film is a classic space opera: ten cadets take their final exam at Space Academy by crewing a ship for 53 days. They're from various planets, so not all are human, and some have esper or other powers. But there are eleven crew members; why is the odd person there? The real difference here is that this is based on a manga by Moto Hagio, so there's a major homoerotic ambiguity in this film, as in her other sci-fi manga. Dubbed, and one character has a Texas accent, but don't let that stop you from checking this out.
Umi ga Kikoeru (I Can Hear the Sea)
A slice of life from Studio Ghibli, directed by Tomomichi Mochizuki from a novel by Saeko Himuro. There's a new girl at the rural high school; she's from Tokyo, living away from home because of her parents' marital breakup. Right away she starts playing mind-games with everyone, but some are more willing than others to stand by her regardless. The ending is classically Japanese, as a man and a woman stand looking at each other at a train station: neither speaks, but a lot is happening under the surface. Subbed.
Unico in the Island of Magic
Based on Dr. Tezuka's characters and an original story idea, this is a nicely compassionate story that brings out all of Tezuka's classic themes. A young man is in danger of being corrupted by the wizardry he learns from his master (actually an old marionette); his little sister, Unico and a baby sphinx set things right. Directed by Norimi Murano (making this, if my Japanese is accurate, one of the few films here directed by a woman) and dubbed into English.
Everything you may have heard about this festival of sex and violence (or sex AS violence) is true...and then some. One of the most notorious H-animes. The sex is pretty explicit, the violence is incredibly gory as demons battle, laying waste much of Earth in the process. This movie also gets to flaunt a sexual conservatism in spite of its visual excesses. The script tolerates the early clumsy explorations of two teenagers, but the more unconventional or deviant the practice, the worse the demonic power gets. There's even an implication that illicit sex triggered the disastrous 1923 Tokyo earthquake. Outrageous anime that still serves a conservative agenda. The dubbed version edited out the most explicit scenes.
Some representative episodes in Japanese, including the first episode, featuring the breakthrough comic of Rumiko Takahashi, queen of manga. Welcome to the upside-down world of Lum, she of the tiger-skin bikini and the electric temper...
Urusei Yatsura 3: Be Forever Love
Forget whatever you know about the manga/anime series by Rumiko Takahashi; this is a free-form fantasia using the manga characters, Alice in Wonderland and other odds and ends.
Urusei Yatsura 5
"Darling" Ataru may be off the hook; it seems Lum was already betrothed when she came to Earth, and her fiancee shows up to push his claim. He arrives in a chariot drawn by potbellied pigs, which is a really dubious mode of transportation. A Lum-double adds to the confusion, and she and Ataru have to re-enact their original chase. The series was almost totally out of gas by this time, but this film still has its points.
Vampire Hunter D
Mainly interesting in the way the Japanese play around with the classic "rules" about vampires set down by Bram Stoker. This film gives it up altogether and posits a half-human breed (pronounced vam-PEERS). Much violence, some nudity.
Vampire Princess Miyu
Unlike the above, or the comic treatment of vampires in some Japanese manga and anime, this one bears a closer resemblance to Masuki Kobayashi's amazing cinematic ghost-story collection Kwaidan, and not just because it's a four-part supernatural tale. In a detatched, creepy, sometimes erotically charged atmosphere, spiritualist Himiko Se seeks out the 14-year-old girl/vampire of the title (the same age as Sailor Moon, just for comparison's sake) and ultimately has her universe totally turned around. Written by Noboru Aikawa; directed by Toshihiro Hirano; subtitled.
An hour's worth of anime that doesn't get interesting until the first 45 minutes are done. The final portion of the film does what the Japanese do very well: ring unique changes on the Transylvanian vampire legends. Before that, a lot of shooting, a LOT of cursing, nothing special. Directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi. Dubbed.
Vengeance of the Space Pirate
As much as I would love to report that this is a feature film where Ryoko finally beats out Aeka for Tenchi, it's actually a dub of Reiji Matsumoto's 1982 Captain Harlock: My Youth in Arcadia. About 30 minutes has been cut, it's been rearranged into a more linear order, and the dubbing, while more literally accurate than most, is technically sub-par. Still, it captures much of the vision of Matsumoto best-known anti-hero. Harlock and Toshiro join forces with Pirate Queen Emeraldas and the underground broadcaster Maya when the aliens of Ulmedas take over earth. The usual anime wartime violence; Emeraldas's bodice gets ripped but that's as close to nudity as it gets. Still a classic.
An X-rated parody of Sailor Moon! Okay, the girls are college coeds instead of in junior high, and Luna has been replaced by a filthy old tomcat, and the astrological symbols now appear not on the girls' foreheads but in more intimate locations, but you get the idea. The parody aspect actually saves this from being just another hentai cartoon.
The Venus Wars
Of the many post-Apocalypse Japanese features, this one is more interesting than usual. Earthlings settle on Venus, bringing their problems with them. The character of the reporter is particularly good. Dubbed into English. Directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who wrote the original manga.
Video Girl Ai
We've been through these triangles before, right? Takashi is a major classman: good friend, great athlete, plays stand-up bass in a jazz band. Among the girls in love with him is Moemi. She confides her love to Youta, who has been in love with Moemi. (Heck, that sums up my love-life in college.) For solace, Youta finds a mysterious video store named Gakuroku ("Paradise") and turns to a cassette of a "video girl" named Amano Ai (translation: The Love of Heaven, and beautifully voiced by Megumi Hayashibara). However, Youta plays it on a defective VCR; Ai comes out of the screen; complications arise, not all of them humorous. Especially the last episode; this is among the most poignant, even heartbreaking (in spots) anime. Conversely, the animated "shorts" after the first 3 eps are hilarious. Based on the manga of Masakazu Katsura.
Vision of Escaflowne
This series started out with Hitomi Kanzaki, a high school runner (and Tarot card reader) and her crush on her runner/ boyfriend "senpai" Amano. In the middle of a heat, a lad dressed as a medieval Japanese knight (but with some un-medieval mecha attachments), Van Fanel, appears on the track. Hitomi ends up on Gaia, a planet orbited by both Earth and the moon. "Lodoss" was pure sword & sorcery; this version rings some interesting changes on the theme. The scene where we first see Van's wings is truly amazing. And the character of the half cat/half girl Merle is one of the cutest in all anime. Wonderful score by Yoko Kanno; the opening song "Yakusoku wa Iranai" (You Don't Have to Promise Me) is sung by Maaya Sakamoto, the voice of Hitomi; she was 15 years old at the time. Subtitled.
Warriors of the Wind
The English translation of "Kaze no Tame no Naushika", above. Inferior on two counts. First, this is a pan & scan version of a film that was originally letterboxed. Second, the entire ecological subplot is in the 20 minutes cut from this version; one wag referred to the missing footage as the 20 minutes "most likely to offend Union Carbide". With all that, it's still a highly impressive film, which should give you some idea how phenomenal the original is.
An hour in Japanese, unnecessary as it turns out because of all the sight gags. Unlike the manga, this features an unanthropomorphized cat and some really stupid people.
Wind Named Amnesia
A 1993 feature that has an 80s feel about it. It's a post-Apocalyptic in which the world ends not with a bang but a whimper; in an instant humanity's memory banks are erased. One guy is left to function on a more-than-animal level, so he begins a cross-country odyssey. In one episode he finds a city in which two people enact all the parts; it's just a shame that their names are Homer and Lisa. Some sex and nudity, quite a bit of violence, but the overall effect is low-key. Dubbed. Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki.
Another pre-Akira anime feature, the embodiment of "epic sweep". War between various factions threatens two couples, one high-born, one low. Most are wiped out by the end. A few ideas here echo those of Tezuka. Dubbed.
Wings of Honneamise
Another of the great anime epics, and a stunning debut for Gainax. A society which is just trying to get its space program together draws its pilots from the dregs and misfits of the other services. One pilot, Shiro Lhadatt, leads a picaresque life, including falling for a religious fanatic and her daughter. The tech is fascinating, the story is dense. Dubbed. Hideaki Anno was one of the lead animators.
You're Under Arrest
Dubbed, which is a shame, since the title of Kouzuke Fukishima's manga in the original (Taiho Shichauzo!) sounds so aggressive; one of the best titles to try to say out loud. The first episode doubles back to the meeting of Tokyo policewomen Natsumi & Mayuki, softening their characters a bit from the manga. Great visuals, though. This one was animated after the success of Fukushima's "Aa! Megami-sama".
The first four eps of a 1987 Tatsunoko Studios TV series directed by Yoshio Mizumura. The plot is a kind of cross between Star Wars and the Gundam franchise, but the real inspiration for the series was the plastic raygun used by the characters. Earth colonizes a planet called Morris(!) but have to fight off the alien Noza Empire to do so. Dubbed.