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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

Curse of the Wolf and Moon

Several years ago, when I first jointed the ranks of the otaku (read: anime geeks), I noticed a common staple among the older – but not necessarily elite – members of this nerdy subclass. Aside from unkempt beards, thick-rimmed glasses, Twinkie-fueled corpulence, and a smug expression, they wore wolf shirts. There were the occasional gaming humor shirts, dragon shirts, silk dragon shirts, but the most common were a lovely lupus…
 
On not so lovely large frames
 
This also had me worried. Was that my fate as an aged anime fan? Would that curse befall me to? I shrugged it off, kept clear of most borderline geriatric anime fans. Not that they weren’t cool – okay, sure, some were creepy – but more out of fear for the wolf plight. Hopefully this phenomenon only existed in the subgeek circles.
 
How wrong I was.
 
This group might not seem outwardly familiar, but everyone has seen ’em. They can’t be considered rednecks, due to their political and spiritual affiliations. Chances are they lean to the left, vote Libertarian, and listen to Coast to Coast with George Noory (formerly Art Bell). For lack of a better term – since I’m not sure they have a given title – I shall refer to them as Backwoods Wiccans.
  
I first noticed them when visiting the music page for my CELTIC HARPIST FRIEND. The computer I use at work for leisurely netsurfing is ungodly slow. Pages with oodles of graphics either load at the speed of turtle, or not at all. Eight times out of ten, a glitter-fuckfest of a page would crash the browser altogether. I happened to have been chatting with said friend, when all of a sudden she uttered a string of epithets that were downright unladylike.
 
Some members of her fanbase fell into this Backwoods Wiccan school of dumbfuckery. I had a little more success in loading the page, but lo and behold found it splayed to the gills with glittery wolves. And moons. Awe-struck, humored, and slightly terrified, I gathered my thoughts. Dear God, there was an upgrade to the wolf shirt curse. Wolves and moons.
 
And further still, the terrifying trifecta occasionally revealed itself, some people brandished their collective Myspace pages with wolves, moons, and Indians. Odd considering the people proudly displaying these images looked nowhere near American Indian. Some didn’t even look American. Or human.
 
Maybe that’s unfair. I can understand the love of wolves, the acknowledged majesty of the moon, and the illusory idolatry of the Indian. What I couldn’t fathom was how one would want such an effigy on a cheap cotton shirt, stretched tightly on a beer gut. I didn’t get it.

Some light was shed on the subject last Thursday while out with friends at Harvey’s Comedy Club. The opening act, a normal-looking guy with a receding hairline, conveyed his observations about redneck culture. While he was pontificating, I turned to one of my friends and muttered about Backwoods Wiccan attire, particularly the “wolf and moon” t-shirt phenomenon.
 
The comedian segued into an observation about retirees and a mandatory article of clothing they received in the mail at the age of 65. It was…
 
You guessed it.
 
If there was ever a moment of sheer “ROTFLMAO”, that was it, ladies and gentlemen.
 
A couple of days later, I got a text from one of the gals present for the comedy set. It read: “Guys, I saw the wolf shirt without the moon.”
 
“Oh lord,” I thought. I couldn’t even respond.
 
A few days after that, I was reading my usual spread of webcomics at work. One of my favorite strips – GIRLS WITH SLINGSHOTS – ran a comic about lesbians.
 
(For the record, I’ve personally never seen a lesbian don a wolf and moon t-shirt.)
 
I had to pass it on to everyone indirectly involved. The sheer amount of “loupe”-iness was unreal. What could the Great Wolf Moon Spirit be saying to me? Then I thought back to my earlier fear. Maybe it was telling me it was time. After all, most of the anime geeks who donned the wolfwear were in their early thirties. I was 18 at the time, so they seemed much older. But now I’m there.
 
No, I couldn’t believe that. I…can’t believe that. Wait, there’s still hope! I haven’t seen a wolf on a tea pot yet. No temptation!
 
Fuck.
 

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Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 Musings No Comments

I work for tea money.

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