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Top 90s Anime You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I’ve been an anime (read: cartoons from Japan) fan for most of my life. If there’s one generalization I hate hearing, it’s that the 90s were considered the “dark age” of anime. That is, until the advent of Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star and their ilk. Since my otaku (read: geek) side blossomed during this decade, I get rather defensive when I hear 90s anime being derided. Sure, there was a lot of crap. (I’m looking at you Genocyber.) However, there were several gems, too. Many of which most normal folks have probably never heard of.

So, I thought it high time to list off a few of my more esoteric favorites from the dark-aged decade that was.

Here are:

My Top 90s Anime You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

In no particular order.

Combustible Campus Guardress

I would never have heard of this OVA (Original Video Animation) if it weren’t for an anime group I was loosely affiliated with in high school. It was released in Japan in 1994, but never jumped across the Pacific pond. And, to this day, I’m confused as to why.

Billed as a parody of the “supernatural high school” genre, the story centers around Hasumi – the titular “guardress” of the title. Her high school is built over a “hellmouth” of sorts, and her duty is to protect her step-brother – the key to unlocking said gate. Demons called Remnants repeatedly invade the school to take said key out. Luckily, the students and faculty are trained in supernatural combat.

Sounds a lot like Buffy, doesn’t it?

Highlights:

The animation and fight scenes are incredible for the time. And despite its lampooning style of storytelling, some of the characterization is rather well thought out. Hasumi remains one of my favorite female protagonists in all of animedom.

Lowlights:

At only four episodes, it’s painfully short.

The Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors

In the early-to-mid-90s, Pioneer (yes, that Pioneer) tried to get into the anime game. Many of the titles under their umbrella were rather impressive. El Hazard, Tenchi Muyo, and Bastard!!! were all thanks to them. However, the series they hyped up as one of their flagship titles never got much fanfare after its initial release.

The Hakkenden is based on a 200-year-old Japanese novel originally titled Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (or “The Eight Dogs Chronicles”). The story is long and epic. To summarize, it deals with eight samurai half-brothers who are all part-dog. I’m…not kidding. The chapters focus on their attempts to find one another, and their quest to bring the Satomi clan back to prominence and prosperity. It’s all very Bushido.

The animated version took a more surrealist and subversive turn, emphasizing the horror elements of the series. It also added a bit of grey to the normally black-and-white/good-vs.-evil events of the story. Clocking in at only thirteen episodes (and one clip show), the sprawling epic was sometimes difficult to follow. I had to re-watch it twice to finally pin all the plot points down.

Highlights:

The animation, the music, and the characters. The story has a very deliberate pace, and the visuals are always striking. The eight protagonists are some of the most fascinating and diverse of all the samurai fiction I’ve absorbed.

Lowlights:

For some reason, directing duties for some of the episodes changed hands, leading to dramatic shifts in animation style. The experience wasn’t too jarring, but two episodes in particular stood out as complete eyesores – “Horyu Tower” and “Hamaji’s Resurrection”, episodes 4 and 10 respectively. The former’s style was too cartoonish compared to the rest of the series, and the latter opted for hideous rotoscope animation. Never a good idea.

Sol Bianca

Three words: Female. Space. Pirates.

The story centers around the crew of the pirate ship for which the series gets its name. Said crew are also named for months out of the year – Janny, Feb, April, May and June. The ship itself is an ancient vessel of unknown technology with the capability of “diving” into hyperspace, as opposed to warping like normal vessels. It is also implied that the ship is biotech in origin.

The series only spanned two episodes; the first was a bit of a stand-alone, while the second tried to set up a larger story-arc. Unfortunately, NEC and AIC – the corporate entities funding the project – scrapped any future development, leaving several plot threads dangling.

In the late-90s, the female crew were given a second lease on life with the Pioneer-backed, six-episode Sol Bianca: The Legacy. The series had nothing to do with the previous incarnation. Aside from the ship design and the character names and likenesses, everything else was changed.

Highlights:

Everything. Simply everything. The first episode of the original series was lightning in a bottle. Storytelling, character development, scenarios, everything about it worked. The second episode was a tad weaker, but still held up to the first.

Lowlights:

Everything about Sol Bianca: The Legacy. God, what a celluloid abortion that was.

Toki no Tabibito: Time Stranger

Yet another anime that never saw a stateside release. I first caught wind of it when I saw various scenes in an AMV (anime music video) a fan had made. The animation was so breathtaking, I had to track it down. Keep in mind, this was 1993. Pre-Internet. By “track it down”, I had to beg a smelly bearded man for a bootleg VHS.

Thankfully, it was well worth the awkward effort. The story focused on a youth from the 25th century who escapes his despotic world. Unfortunately, his vehicle is damaged in the escape attempt, and he makes a pit stop in the 20th century to jury-rig his time machine to a bus. Unlucky for him, though, the bus is already occupied by students and a teacher who join him on his time leaping against their will.

The movie actually came out in 1986, but since I didn’t discover it until the 90s, I’m flimsily including it on this list. It was far darker a story than I’d anticipated, but I rather liked the direction it took. Some of the events play out far differently from other time travel tales.

Highlights:

The animation. Man, this was a fluid piece of work. The detailed art was impressive as well, especially considering that this was pre-Akira.

Lowlights:

The pacing and the 20th century characters – particularly the women. They were annoyingly, stereotypically Japanese. That and the movie ended on a rather open-ended, abstract note. A trope in anime I never liked.

***

There are plenty of other anime from this dark age I could recommend, but I’d better cut this short for now. That’s enough geeking out for one entry. I may jot down more at a later juncture. Do give those titles a looksy if you find yourself in need of a good time-waster.

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Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

Regarding Rooibos (A Pure Matcha – Red Matcha Review)

Rooibos is like the O’Doule’s of the tea world, mainly for the reason that it’s not really “tea” in the traditional sense. Anything tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant; all true teas, that is. Anything else is considered a tisane or herbal infusion. The South African plant gained some measure of recognition as a hearty herbal substitute for black tea. That and – over the course of centuries – it also was used for various medicinal pursuits – gastrointestinal concerns, headaches, colds, zombie plague…you name it. (Okay, I made the last part up.)

The red-brown, needle-like concoction also has a close relative known as honeybush that has a decidedly sweeter taste. Nowadays, both are used as the base for many fruit blends on the market. Rooibos and honeybush also combine well together. Traditionally, rooibos is oxidized in a fashion similar to black tea, but there also exists an unoxidized (i.e. steamed) version – green rooibos – which also happens to be my favorite. Imagine my cocked-eyebrowed surprise when someone championed a rooibos matcha as a product.

I love matcha. The Japanese powdered form of green tea is my go-to morning drink. I use it in place of multivitamins because – in essence – I’m getting a powerhouse-worth consuming an entire tea leaf. Another happy side-effect is the added caffeine and the extra boost in fiber. Sometimes, though, the caffeine can be a hindrance. I one time did a search for herbal substitutes but came up empty. Pure Matcha came to my attention via the bastion of aggregated “information” – Twitter. After a quick dialogue (and some whimpering on my part) they were kind enough to impart a sample for review.

Pure Matcha purports that their primary powder cultivator resides in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. They mention that it is one of the two major producing regions for premium ceremonial-grade matcha; the other being Uji Prefecture. I already knew about Uji, but I was unaware of Aichi. The only other matcha region I knew of was Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture, where most of the Japan’s sencha is grown. There was no information about whether their Red Matcha (the rooibos variant) was made in Japan, but I figured it was.

The rooibos powder itself was finely-ground and almost looked stone pulverized. I doubted it was, given the consistency of rooibos needles and the great care required to grind it down. Whatever the process, the result was a powder with a faded, pinkish hue and the requisite nut-sweet smell that was a rooibos “staple”.

Pure Matcha recommended that – since rooibos powder had a different consistency – to utilize a blender for preparation. While my brother had a blender, I didn’t want to bother with the clean-up. I took an old miso soup bowl that I always used for matcha, boiled some water, and used a chasen (bamboo whisk) for the first test. The red-brown liquid frothed up quite nicely at first, even imparting a happy fizzing noise. The bubbles dissipated soon after, though.

To the taste, and to my relief, I can say it was all rooibos. The only major change was in the texture. Along with the usual nut-sweet profile associated with the little legume was a thicker consistency. It was both slightly chalky but fluffy – a very odd combination. I did a re-whisk with a milk frother to see if that turned up anything different. Aside from a shift in texture more to the chalky, the taste was the same.

Safely said, this was a unique and quite excellent take on an old South African cape-grown cup. I’m not really sure which is the better method, though. Steeping normal rooibos yields a nutty, sweet, dark cup and you get more of it. However, the powdered form yields an even denser brew with even more of that natural sweetness. For sake of laziness, time and prep, I’d say Red Matcha wins by a hair. I would strongly recommend it.

PS ~ If I had one gripe (and it’s a small one) it’s that there isn’t a GREEN rooibos matcha out there. Pure Matcha, get on it. You’d make this lazy, tea-swigging writer very happy.

For more information on Pure Matcha, go HERE.

To purchase Red Matcha, go HERE.

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Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 Steep Stories 4 Comments

Bearing with Boring Ol’ Barley

Sometimes the Asian need to separate themselves – besides by large bodies of water – takes on epically stupid proportions. The worst of which concerns an herbal “tea” that goes by three completely different names. And it’s not even an uncommon infusion. The target of ire is roasted barley.

Koreans call it “boricha”, the Chinese call it “maicha”, and the Japanese know it as “mugicha”. I don’t think I’ve encountered so disparate a naming scheme in my life. Okay, if linguistics is a factor, fine, I’ll accept that. But I don’t think so. After all, the word for “tea” doesn’t deviate much between the three languages. It’s universally referred to as “cha”. So what makes bori-mugi-mai-cha so damn special? I decided to investigate.

Barley is used for many purposes; the most common being culinary. As a drink, it’s sold year-round in Japan, and marketed as a summer season cooler in Korea. Barely mixed with chicory is marketed as a coffee substitute. It is also one of the principle ingredients in beer. Mmmmmm…beer.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah, barley.

I had to try this multitasking grain for myself. On the same Uwajimaya trip where I picked up Mamaki, I ran into scores of barley tea offerings. That settled the “rarity” debate. In typical “poor bastard” fashion, I went with the cheapest and largest I could find; a huge-arse package with at least thirty barley bags in it. Awesomely tacky? You betcha.

The individual bags were a pyramid design, closely resembling the ones put out by PG Tips. (Think British Lipton). Inside the bag were a ton of barley seeds.  On closer inspection of the mesh, they looked like popcorn seeds; smelled like it too. The aroma was roasty like coffee beans but also possessed a buttery quality.

Steeping it was a mild chore. I dunked it into a normal, boring 12oz cup without thinking of the sheer size of the bag. It took up half the mug, easily. I also lacked the foresight to cover the cup initially. This was easily (and stupidly) rectified by putting a tea tin over it. However, I almost spoiled the batch of Lapsang Souchong inside. If one can spoil Lapsang.

The liquor darkened to a woody brown with a roasty aroma that reminded me of coffee/almond ice cream, but without the sweetness factor. Taste-wise, it was something else. I could see why it was marketed as a coffee substitute, for that was the closest thing I compared it to. My brother/roommate had the same opinion.

In short, was it worth the severe name disparity between three major Asian countries?  I don’t think so, but then again, I’m probably making a big deal over nothing. I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to monikers. On the inside, I’m yelling, “Friggin’ pick one!” On the outside, I’m sipping from a cup on a couch.

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Friday, November 26th, 2010 Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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