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The Best Releases of Classic Anime In 2014

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Best classics

Hey everyone. As a fan of classic anime, I have to say this was a tremendous year to see works that are ten years or older released in the U.S. The Japanese have been making animated TV shows since the 60s and producing movies steadily since the 50s. In looking over the titles we got in 2014, it really did occur to me there’ve been really good opportunities to learn about what has made this medium so fun and educational leading up to what we have today.

So I decided to take a look at such works since companies have come to realize older anime fans probably like the stuff that made them fans long ago and actually have money to buy some of their long time favorites now. In compiling this particular list I looked at certain criteria like extras, content, video quality, previous availability, and historical value. I went with 12 titles and 5 honorable mentions for another list of 17 titles to talk about. If I didn’t include your fave, don’t fret. Feel free to chime in. I probably missed something here and we can all learn from it. Ok, here goes…

Honorable mention list: Kiki’s Delivery Service (Studio Ghibli / Disney), Devilman (Discotek Media), Ringing Bell (Discotek Media), Creamy Mami (Anime Sols), Lupin III: Bye Bye Lady Liberty (Discotek Media)

12. Sherlock Hound (Discotek Media) – This was a fun rendition of the works characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle done up as animals. Originally known as Famous Detective Holmes, Telecom Animation Film and TMS (with work at times by Hayao Miyazaki himself) managed to create a series children and adults could enjoy here. As there had only been a DVD release by Geneon several years back, it was time for a re-release. Discotek’s set includes a previously produced English dub and a lot of good liner notes.

11. Mazinger Z (Discotek Media) – This was a return to classic 80s nostalgia for kids who saw Tranzor-Z on Amrican airwaves. It was the first anime broadcast in Japan during the 70s to feature a pilot in a giant robot instead of controlling a golem via remote, creating huge trends in toy sales in both countries and in many others as well. Discotek’s release is the first time this show had been brought to the U.S. unaltered with all 92 episodes instead of the 65 shown in Tranzor-Z and they’re a lot of fun to watch. [Review]

10. Casshan Robot Hunter (Sentai Filmworks) – There have been a few remakes of this concept including an OAV series in the 90s, a live action film and a 2000s TV series called Casshern Sins that was eventually broadcast on Adult Swim. There’s also been a video game for the Wii called Capcom vs Tatsunoko which featured this character. But the original adventures of the super android with a teenager’s soul (and a robot dog) had never been brought over until Sentai Filmworks managed to get a deal to distribute all of Tatsunoko Production’s titles. Basically the show follows Cashaan’s battles to prevent an all-too environmentally minded robot army from wiping out humanity and ruling the Earth and is one of Tatsunoko’s better super-hero titles alongside Gatchaman and Tekkaman Blade. Sentai’s blu ray set is nice to look at. [Review]

9. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Sentai Filmworks) – In the early 90s anime powerhouse GAINAX unleashed their rendition of Jules Verne’s tales of nautical steampunk focusing not on his hero Captain Nemo, but his daughter Nadia, who possesses abilities she herself doesn’t entirely understand. Streamline Pictures and ADV Films had brought this show to the U.S. previously, but last year it was Sentai Filmworks’s turn to bring it to a new audience with extremely improved visual presentation. If your only experience with Nadia has been from the previous two companies, you need to do yourself a favor and see this collection released in March 2014. The difference is like night and day. The Japanese promo spots were nice additions as well. [Review]

8. Princess Mononoke (Studio Ghibli / Disney) – One of the biggest happenings in the late 90s was when Miramax announced plans to bring the recently released Princess Mononoke to American theaters. They were allowed to do this on the condition that it be uncut (likely due to Hayao Miyazaki’s prior film Nausicaa getting a badly edited release here years before). When Miramax under the Weinsteins contemplated editing it down, it’s said that Mr. Miyazaki sent them a sword reminding them of their all-important promise. When the film hit the theaters with a new English dub, fans actually came to the art house indie theaters and demonstrated they’d be wiling to pay to see Studio Ghibli works, which likely led to them being released uncut on DVD. So this movie being released on Blu-ray with nice picture quality and decent extras is a cause for celebration for fans who’ve been watching anime all this time.

7. Cat’s Eye (Right Stuf) – In the last couple years, TRSI has been releasing iconic shows produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha such as Space adventure Cobra and Rose of Versailles, so it’s not entirely surprising they managed to get this classic story of female art thieves outwitting the police and criminals alike while looking for their father from the creator of City Hunter onto U.S. shores. The 65 episode comedy drama was broken into two sets with an optional artbox to hold them. The show itself is addictive fun (possibly due to the 80s style opening and closing themes) and had only been released here via an interesting made-to-order service a few years prior. [Review]

6. Dallos (Discotek Media) – In 1983, Studio Pierrot (the people currently famous for producing Bleach and Naruto, among others) tried an experiment by releasing a project directly to home video without any prior TV broadcast or theatrical release. This led to the creation of the Origial Animation Video format that was sustained through much of the 80s and 90s. The 3-part video focused on human miners who had colonized the moon generations before. There’s rebellion toward Earth’s government but something else is also awakening in the moon itself. Dallos was released in the U.S. on VHS along with a set of other edited down anime from Celebrity Home Video. This DVD is the first time Americans have seen it uncut and it has great insights from the director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The shell, Patlabor) and the rest of the creative time on what it was like to make the first ever OAV. There’s also a pilot film previewing what the story would entail. [Review]

5. Horus Prince of the Sun (Discotek Media) – As I type this, this week sees the 74th birthday of anime director and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. Decades before, he helped director and co-founder Isao Takahata to animate this tale of a young boy named who pulls a special sword out of a living rock. The rock creature tells him to go get it re-forged while he deals with a powerful magician who drove Horus and his father from their Norse homeland and uses several plots and hungry animals to kill him. Having been released under other names including Little Norse Prince, this is vintage 60s anime at its finest with many talents working at Toei Doga at the time who would eventually form Studio Ghibli nearly a couple decades later. Discotek’s DVD has a dub that was shown on Turner Broadcasting System in the early 80s and kind of feels like Speed Racer when you watch it. (In fact Corinne “Trixie” Orr voices a character.) There’s also tons of information on the animators, trailers, art designs, commentary tracks by Mike Toole among others. This DVD is an animephile’s dream. I’ll have to write a full review later.

4. Sailor Moon (Viz Media) – It’s been fun watching Viz ramp up their hype machine at Anime Central and Anime Expo. I got caught up into it and I wasn’t even a fan of the show. But watching all these costumed ladies show their enthusiasm at panels and screenings where they’d sing the opening theme song got to be infectious. Soon the first box set came out with the DVDs and blu rays in one package accompanied by a glittery cardboard box and commemorative coin. But honestly, it was the blu ray presentation that was rather nice picture wise. I looked at the previous 90s dub and mid-2000s box set released by ADV Films and this was a much better presentation. The new English dub had believable voices and dialogue and the picture didn’t look bad at all. The extras were nicely put together as well with the convention appearances, dub recordings and fan reactions to the news. The enclosed art book with character and episode descriptions was also a nice treat. It was a very good beginning for the cornerstone of the American magical girl movement of the 90s and I’m hoping the future sets will be equally good. [Review]

3. Bubblegum Crisis (AnimEigo) – This was an interesting experiment to see. Bublegum Crisis was a tremendously popular show in America during the 90s and AnimEigo had released it twice on DVD. However, the show hadn’t been released on blu ray yet. So when company head Robert Woodhead announced this OAV series for kickstarter with different benefits per funding tier, it was a bit of a risk. It wasn’t the first anime to be crowdfunded but still this was the first for a considerably older title that had been released here previously on an older format. The results were rather good as many fans from the old days stepped up and demonstrated how economically viable this distribution method could be. The hard j-rocking cyberpunk story of 4 women wearing power armor to fight the evil GENOM Corporation remains a fixture for classic anime fans and the fact that AnimEigo delivered on its promise of a good product with great picture quality and good extras portends an interesting possibility for future projects from this company. [Review]

2. Cardcaptor Sakura (NIS America) – There were a handful of shoujo anime I used to hear about in the late 90s / early 2000s. Sailor Moon, Utena, Rayearth and this one which almost had a terrible fate befall it. A company called Nelvana decided the best way to introduce Cardcaptor Sakura to the U.S. television viewers was to have the show edited and rearranged Saber Rider style so that Sakura’s male friend Li Syaoran was more of a lead character than she was. This version didn’t last though as too many people knew of the original version where Sakura is *gasp* a lead heroine. Who’d have thunk it? So people instead picked up Geneon’s release about a klutzy, unsure teenage girl who’s given the task of retrieving magical cards with various powers. A friend of mine used to like this show and he kept recommending I look at it to see how Sakura would grow with her abilities and do right by her friends. My friend passed on last year but I can honestly say he was right; this is a great show and NIS America did an excellent job with the shiny cardboard box, and the show’s visual presentation on blu ray. I also liked “The Cardcaptor,” the hardcover artboook containing story and character notes. Med, if you read this somewhere, thanks for turning me on to this series. [Review]

1. Cowboy Bebop (Funimation Entertainment) – Well, unless you’ve been hiding from the anime scene of the internet, you all know by now that the longest running show on Adult Swim was remastered and released in four very different box sets. The series turned 15 last year and still looks as good as it ever did. Each box set had the good visual quality and a ton of extras, but the variations made this the easy no 1 pick overall. You could purchase if you so chose the DVD only set, the blu ray set, or one of two site exclusive box sets which each sold out prior to release. Funimation.com’s release came with nice displays to simulate the appearance of a 70s record collection, while Amazon.com enclosed two art books inside a clamshell keepsake box. It was a worthy testament to how popular this misfit group of bounty hunters has remained all these years and the extras (both ones from the prior Bandai release and ones from Funimation) were very educational and insightful. Any one of these sets is very much recommended for purchasing and learning about the show itself and the anime industry overall. [Review]

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