Perhaps you are new to anime, so a fuller-than-usual explanation is given. As well as short reviews, pointers for more information, and tips on how to get the videos, are given. There is a lot of information on the WWW about popular anime videos, so I don't feel obliged to repeat long synopses, pictures, etc.
List of Titles See also Post-1987
Hayao MiyazakiA near-legendary anime director, Miyazaki, working with Studio Ghibli, has scripted and directed a number of great anime movies. If you meet Japanese adults, you may well find that even if they don't know anything about the average anime and care less, the Miyazaki movies are the ones they let their kids watch.
Nausicaa (Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa), 118m, 1984.
Literally, "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind". Considered by some to be Miyazaki's best, and one of the finest animated movies ever. Princess Nausicaa lives in a world of the future, devastated by war and pollution, and slowly regenerating itself into a rather alien place, infested with giant insects. Meanwhile the surviving humans continue attempts to destroy each other. Nausicaa has to help her people when they are invaded, and overcome hatred and violence, not least within herself. The sound-track music is very fine too.
The English dubbed version, "Warriors of the Wind" while cheap and easier to obtain, has lost half an hour of the more subtle and ecological material and isn't in widescreen. You owe it to yourself to view the original. Database entry
Laputa (Tenku no Shiro Laputa), 124m ,1986. Image (11K)
Literally "Laputa, Castle of the Sky". Info. Another masterpiece, again featuring Miyazaki's fascination with flight. Sheeta falls to earth from an airship attacked by air pirates, and is found by an orphan boy, Pazu. There follows an action-packed chase as Sheeta is pursued by both the pirates and the secret police, who want the "levitation stone" she wears around her neck, a key to the mysterious flying island,Laputa. Muska, the leader of the secret police, is, like Sheeta, a descendant of the rulers of Laputa. Will cute Sheeta melt the pirates' grasping hearts?
Everything is perfectly realised, from the mining village (inspired by a visit to Britain), to the airships, to the vegetation.
Incredibly, this was not released in the West till 2004, asides from two showings on British TV in 1989 & 1992. The dub version I've seen plainly derives from this screening.
My Neighbour Totoro (Tonari no Tototo), 75m, 1988. Image (46K)
Somewhat in contrast to the previous two movies, this is an idyllic vision of country childhood. Mei and Satsuki move to an old house in the country to be nearer their mother, who is in a sanatorium. Their father catches the bus every day to go lecture. The girls encounter some woodland spirits - the Totoros.
Voted by some fans as their favourite movie, of any kind, ever. And yes, there is a bit of flying in it... (Available in a low-priced, dubbed US edition.)
Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyubin), 105m, 1989.
(literally "Witch's Delivery Service"). Kiki, a 13-year old witch, lives in a world not too different from our own. At 13, she has to leave home and find a city where she will earn her own living, using her magical talents. In this delightful movie, she faces difficult problems of self-reliance, finding things do not always turn out as she hoped, suffers the agonies of wondering if a boy really likes her, and makes friends. Some critics have complained that not a whole lot happens, but this is a mistake, as most of the conflicts are internal. Typically pleasing is the scene where Kiki and the young artist talk in the artist's house. A wonderful and wise piece of entertainment.
US dub & sub?
Ponpoko, (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko), 119m, 1994. Image (37K)
Director, Screenplay, Original Story: Isao Takahata. Japanese raccoons - tanuki - are real animals, imbued with magical powers in Japanese folklore. A community of tanuki decide to fight back against the encroachments of modern Japanese real estate development, using the shapeshifting and other powers at their command. This is a delightful and often very funny movie, making a commentary on what has been lost in the drive towards prosperity in modern Japan.
DVD: US, UK .
Whisper of the Heart (Mimi o Sumaseba), 120m approx, 1995. Image (36K)
Literally "Prick up your Ears", a.k.a "If you Listen Carefully". From Studio Ghibli, dir. by Yoshifumi Kondo, script by Hayao Miyazaki (who also directed a short computer-generated section of the movie).
Young Shizuku, who lives in a modern Japanese city, finds her attention drawn to a boy, Seiji, who she initially dismissed as uninteresting, but who has been reading the same books. She follows a cat to a small shop full of wonderful objects, and, inspired by Seiji's passion for violin-making, asks if she can write a story about a cat sculpture, the "Baron".
The movie contains fascinating vignettes of Japanese family life, and school life, and the backgrounds are so realistic they gave me an acute attack of nosalgia. It also, refreshingly, celebrates the intellect, as well as being a love story. The fantasy interludes (which form a very small part of the movie) are also good. I thought it was all totally wonderful, and rate it as one of the best anime and best Japanese movies ever. I'm sure you will also recognise the theme song!
Database entry DVD: US: UK.
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime), 120 min approx, 1997. Image (20K)
A.k.a "Princess Ghost".
Set in medieval Japan, this has as major characters a young man, Ashitaka of the Emishi clan, descenant of a defeated royal house, and a woman, Eboshi Gozen, leader of a group of ironworkers, whose fortified community is under attack by giant white wolves led by Princess Mononoke. Mononoke represents, obviously, the embattled forces of nature under threat from man's activities.
The movie has to date been released theatrically in Japan, USA, etc. Generally avaiable on DVD. The medieval setting is so detailed that the movie looks rather like a Kurasawa epic, and the fight scenes, in which Mononoke bounds about as though on springs, are a bit reminiscent of a Hong Kong action movie. It's all rather bloody, and the ending, which I shan't reveal, is quite weird. Definitely an epic.
Sundry Other TitlesWings of Honneamise, (Oneamisu no Ttsubasa Oritsu Uchu Gun), 119min, 1987. Image (50K)
This is one of the most sumptuous anime releases ever made. Two hours of breathtaking animation achieves the rare feat of creating an entire alternative world on screen. It's an epic story of a civilisation's first faltering steps into space. The Royal Space Force is a dead-end posting for dreamers and failures, only allowed to continue because the rulers foresee cynical uses for it. The young hero, Shirotsuro Lhadatt, joins the Space force after failing selection for the Air Force. A chance encounter with a devout young woman encourages Shiro to press himself forward for selection as the first man in space. Meanwhile hostilities simmer, and the poor are demonstrating against the extravagance of the space program. As the program nears completion, the military conspire to use the launch site as a bait to trigger an all-out war.
This has everything - superb animation, high-tension action, humour, good characterisation, and a well-realised world-creation. The characterisation of the devout girl Leiquni is particularly noteworthy. The movie attracted little attention in its native Japan because of poor publicity, and has had limited attention in the West from anime fans more interested in collecting girly action comedies. Yet it deserves to be seen as one of the finest animated films ever made, and as a thoughtful piece of SF moviemaking.
UK release, US release (125m), dub & sub.
The British (and possibly other) editions are cut to remove the somewhat gratuitous (and out-of-character) attempted rape scene, making the video more suitable for minors but also making a nonsense of this section of the movie. (see 1995 reviews for a summary.)
Database entryThe UK subtitled edition has the same cut. If dissatisfied, look out for uncut subtitled import editions, or get the US fan script from the INTERNET.
Iczer-1 Special Edition, 90m. Image (13K)
A classic alien invasion/horror anime that powerfully pitches the naive viewer headfirst into an alien universe. It's stylishly made, with rather sympathetic aliens, convincing looking sets, strange symbolisms, and tentacled horrors that make the first-time viewer jump. The Earth is defended by the android Iczer-1 (of female appearance) aided, rather unwillingly, by a terrified Earth girl, Nagisa. This is the only anime in which a giant robot gets to stomp on a little girl.
Don't bother with the Iczer follow-ups which are nothing like it. There's a US dub edition which I haven't seen, and which should be approached with caution as alien-ness is the strength of the original.
Urusei Yatsura Image (56K)
Not a single video, more of a Rumiko Takahashi industry. Stupid Japanese schoolboy Ataru gets mixed up with a bikini-wearing alien girl (Lum) and a lot of other annoying aliens, to the disgust of his nice girlfriend, Shinobu. I suggest you check out the first TV anime volume (or the manga) to learn who everyone is, then sample 1 or more of the 6 movies.
US & UK subtitled releases. See database entries.
This is not a single video, but a mini-industry, again based on a Rumiko Takahashi manga. Ranma goes on a martial arts training trip with his dad, but they fall into a magical pond, with the result that every time Ranma gets wet he turns into a girl. And Dad turns into a panda. Dad tries to marry Ranma off to a girl (Akane) whose father runs a martial arts dojo. It's a great comedy, with moments of thoughtfulness. I've watched the first episode any number of times.
You get the essence of Ranma 1/2 if you watch the first 7 TV episodes. If you want to carry on and watch scores more episodes, the two hour-long OVAs or the later short OVAs, that's up to you but you might find it palls.
US sub & dub releases. See database entries.
Akira, 124 mins, 1988
High-budget sci-fi anime movie that caused many people (including probably the author/webmaster) to discover the existence of Japanese animation. Terrorism, street gangs, secret government programs, psychic powers, stunning effects and fast-moving action. Database entry
A recent TV series (26 episodes), Escaflowne is one of the all-round best anime TV series made to date, with a strong series-long story and plenty happening in each episode. With a brave schoolgirl heroine, an alternate world, and bits of school story, fantasy, SF, romance, giant robots and so forth it covers all the bases. Hitomi Kanzaki, a 15 year old girl interested in athletics and fortune-telling, is whisked into an alternate world by the agency of a pendant she got from her grandmother. Once in Gaia, she finds herself called "The Girl from the Illusory Moon". All the characters appear as individuals integrated naturally into the story. The quirky designs look a bit shoujo -ish.
The series does take a bit of getting into. I advise you view the first 4-episode volume, preferrably with subtitles & hifi sound, before being put off.
Jap. LDs (with surround sound). Special Feature
One of the most vivid and archetypal shoujo anime TV series, in which a naive 15 year old girl, Nanako, is admitted to an exclusive girl's school which proves to be a hotbed of rivalry and ill-repressed emotions. On her first day the beautiful Shinobu befriends Nanako with an enthusiasm that seems rather excessive... Meanwhile the tall and artistic "Saint-Juste" wilts hopelessly, while the lovely "Miya-Sama" rules her exclusive sorority with an iron will. Many snobbish girls are enraged when homely Nanako is voted into the Sorority. This series features adult themes and situations; definitely not for juveniles.
The character designs are often ravishingly beautiful and the atmosphere generated by the story is intense. Translation essential, but only 7+ volumes available with fan-subs. It is adapted from a short Image (60K) Image(60K) manga series.
Again, not a single video but a six-video series. It features three schoolgirls: A-Ko (red hair, very strong), B-Ko (blue hair, very clever and scheming) and C-Ko (yellow hair, very feather-brained). A-Ko and B-Ko are best friends, but B-Ko wants C-Ko for herself and will go to ANY lengths to get her way. Cue destruction, home-made giant robots, etc. And C-Ko is really an alien princess. Cue space-ships. Classic anime comedy.
Check out either the Project A-Ko movie (1986) or (my favourite) the Plot of the Daitokuki Company (first OVA). If you like that, check out the last two OVAs (Blue/Gray) which form an alternate side-story.
US dub & sub; UK dub. Get a Japanese or sub version (equally comprehensible!). Avoid the dubs as they're awful and quite destroy OVA #1.
See database entries (OVA list)
Ghost in the Shell, 1995
High-budget SF anime about cyborgs. Despite being co-produced by Manga Video, quite thought-provoking between the shoot-em-up bits. Lots of computer animation, realistic backgrounds, good music.
Char's Counterattack (Kido Senshu Nu Gundam),120m, 1986
Part of the sprawling Gundam saga, this shows Neo-Jion leader Char Aznable and the climax of his rivalry with Amuro Rey. In this movie, Char plots to destroy the control of Earth over the space colonies. The neo-realism of Gundam is very different from earlier giant robot stories, and the political plotting, confusing battles, and unstable loyalties all contrive to make this a convincing story. It also features the cute, impulsive girl, Quess Paraya, who switches sides and develops a crush on Char, not that it does her much good.
Patlabor 2, 90m, 1993
Yet another sprawling series. "Patlabors" are giant robots used as tools for police work. This second movie, rather sober and politically wise, and excellently designed, is about an attempted coup in Japan. An gripping thriller, with hardly a robot to be seen. US, UK.
Robot Carnival,100m, 1987
Collection of short anime. A showcase for various directors' animation and storytelling talents. Japanese DVD; there is also a cheap Far East DVD that works OK. (US VHS dub discontinued.) Subtitles are largely unnecessary, as the first dialogue occurs 20 mins into the DVD!
Crusher Joe,125m, 1983
A.k.a. "Crushers". Joe heads a team of space mercenaries, the "Crushers". Features a disappearing heiress, pirates and a doomsday weapon. One of the best, rip-roaring space operas ever made. Also famous for the first, fifteen-second appearance of the "Dirty Pair".
Database entry US, UK, 1988, poss. now unavailable.
Porco Rosso Image (15K), Image (13K)
About an Italian aviator. A Miyazaki movie that didn't quite make the first list. Contains a lot of elements that look more than a little familiar to those who saw the previous Miyazaki movies.
Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka),90m, 1988
AKA "Tombstone of the Fireflies". Very moving film about a boy and his little sister, caught up in the destruction, family break-up and famine that marked the end of the Second World War for Japanese citizens. US sub & DVD. Database entry
Dagger of Kamui (Kamui no Ken), 132m, 1985
a.k.a. "Revenge of the Ninja Warrior", "The Blade of Kamui". A historical fantasy set in Meiji-era Japan. Hounded by the sinister Bishop Tenkai, Jiro wanders northern Japan and America, trying to uncover his past and the secret of the dagger he carries with him. US dub & sub. Database entry
a.k.a. "Once Upon a Time". A beautiful story about love, greed, betrayal and death, that deserves to be better known. A young man living in a rural community is offered rewards to spy for one of two powers engaged in a bitter struggle over water supplies. The prince of one country and the princess of the other are in love, yet are forced to serve their warring countries, with tragic results. The spy is largely responsible for the destruction of the low-lying country, and his own love does not escape.
Note that the US dub (by Streamline,95m) deviates significantly from the Japanese text, as does the UK dub ("Once upon a Time",95m) which reputedly was edited for 7-year olds. Database entry
Macross: Do You Remember Love (Chojiku Yosai Ai Oboete Imasu Ka), 115m, 1984
. a.k.a. Clash of the Bionoids, etc, etc. A variant of events in the first Macross TV series, it has some fine battle scenes and gloomy romantic moments. And seen on a projection screen, the art is pretty good.
US & UK dub & sub, several variant versions. Database entry
UrotsukiDoji (Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji), 45m, 1987
a.k.a. "Legend of the Overfiend", "Wandering Kid". Probably the most notorious anime of all in most Western countries! The Chojin and the age of demons is about to return, uniting the realms of demon, half-demon and man into one (an unnervingly convincing notion, it strikes one while watching). Amanojoju and his sister Megumi (half-demons) seek the Chojin. A superbly made visionary and unrestrained horror-fest, with hallucinogenic demons, tentacle rape, gore, etc, etc, totally unsuitable for under-18's or those of a sensitive disposition. Many Westerners will find it grossly offensive. Nicknamed "Urotsuki Dodgy" by some fans (In fact, it's less obscene than the news from Algeria or Bosnia.)
Caution: just possessing an uncut copy of this can get you into trouble in some countries. UK: movie version (cut), US: various versions including uncut. Don't show it to your lowlife friends 'cos they'll drool over it and demand a repeat showing. How else do you think Manga Video made so much money? Far too many sequels, increasingly rubbishy and unnecessary.
Gigi and the Fountain of Youth (Maho no Princess Minky Momo),80m, 1985
a.k.a. "Magical Princess Gigi". As the Japanese title indicates, this is in fact Minky Momo, one of the popular Magical Girl type of anime, intended for little Japanese girls. It's been sold in the West as a children's video. The heroine, Princess of a magical land sent to Earth, can turn into a grown-up female to solve people's problems. Don't be put off, in fact almost anything short of nuclear war can happen in this movie. And mostly it does; it's a real riot! And beautifully designed. Rarely is so much fun had for so little expenditure. Database entry
US, UK dubs, 76m.
Ninja Scroll (Jubei Ninpocho),94 min,1993
Superior ninja action movie, well animated, with wonderful set pieces and a coherent plot. Based on Japanese legends. Database entry
Not one of my personal favourites, but so well-known that it deserves a mention. Most successful of all the magical-girl-fighter anime. Dim average schoolgirl becomes leader of transforming girl warriors who fight Evil. Aimed at girls, Sailor Moon was also popular with boys. The show is not afraid of death or serious unpleasantness.
Database entry Info. on above titles
How to get your videos
If the title is released in your country, you just have to order it from a video shop and wait a few days. Most DVDs contain both dubbed and Japanese-with-English subtitles versions, but it is unwise to assume this without checking. It may not be exactly the version you hoped for, but it will be reasonably priced, legal, a decent copy, and typically in hifi stereo/surround sound.
As a variant of this, you can order a video (for your own personal use) from another country via specialist dealers. This is more costly and more of a bother, but may well give you more choice (Eng. subtitles etc).
As a further variant of this, you can get most anime (except the really old and obscure) from Japan on superior quality DVD (Region 2). This is very expensive (up to Y5000/Y6000 per 30 mins), plus charges. And it'll be (surprise?) in Japanese. (A few recent DVDs from Japan have English also.) There are also Japanese NTSC tapes, but being intended for rental, they cost as much as the LDs. Within Japan however, one can often find used ex-rental tapes, distinguished by their attractive cheapness! Bargain bin LDs are also sometimes seen.
Be aware that the temptingly cheap DVDs offered for international sale on Ebay are indeed too good to be true - they are mostly pirated editions of poor quality, unintelligible subtitles and unreliable delivery.
FansubsOnce upon a time, a few fans realised that the authorities would turn a blind eye to (or even legally sanction) the practice of making copies of imported anime and passing them around at the cost of tapes and sundries. As for the copyright owners, they couldn't care less what happened in a small way in some foreign country where nobody was ever going to license the product anyway, and "any publicity is good publicity."
Nowadays, almost any recent un-licensed anime, good or bad, is potentially available, often subtitled in English by teams of linguistically gifted and technically skilled fans, if you make the right contacts. Distribution (of questionable legality) now is usually by digital download of highly compressed files in divx and other formats. As for the wretched foreign licencees, they have to work very quickly to licence and distribute a good title, before half the fans who might be interested have obtained a cheap soon-to-be-illegal copy or seen it at a convention.
If you do obtain downloads or fan tapes (whose quality ranges from professional to awful) you should seriously consider binning them or buying again if a legitimate release appears. The British anime market is dying. What role fansubs might have played in this I'll leave you to figure out.