While many anime titles new and old are regularly released on DVD and Blu-Ray, there are some from yester-year that lay under the radar for current distributors or are preferred over the DVD release, thus the only means of getting enjoyment out of them legally are through dusting off your VCR and tracking down the VHS releases of said titles online. Some of these I personally own in my collection, so pictures I have of them will be posted to accompany the titles I discuss while others are whatever I could dig up from online. Whether due to censorship or lack of popularity or licensor interest, these are seven titles that would be worth looking into on the VHS format that haven't had a release in the American market in years.
Central Park Media picked up this bizarre 1988 anime comedy in the mid-90s for subbed and dubbed VHS release focused on the female leader of a gang of delinquents named Hinako going up against her school's eccentric and genetically engineered new teacher, Ganpachi. Much of the comedy of this hidden gem comes from the bizarre antics of Ganpachi to "correct" the behavior of his students and trying to counteract Hinako's efforts to take him out of commission. The series has great comedic timing in the delivery of its gags and is worth a look if you don't mind bizarre and mindless comedies. Do be warned though that this baby is becoming harder to find online as tapes of the series are selling anywhere from $30 to $50 online as of this posting.
a pair of OVA titles were made in the early 1990s that adapted story arcs from the manga series with both later getting VHS releases in the mid 1990s by different American distributors with Central Park Media getting Mermaid Forest and Viz Media getting Mermaid's Scar. On their own merits, both OVAs decently adapt the story arcs they follow and have smoother animated details on character designs compared to the 2003 TV anime's rough look, though both have a setback in that you don't learn much about Mana and how she met up with Yuta. There are a fair number of copies you can find of both titles online and you can likely get copies for less than $10 depending on their condition and what site you get it from, with Mermaid's Scar usually being the more slightly expensive title of the two.
This 1988 film anthology with a robot theme was a collaboration between well-known animators of the time period like Katsuhiro Otomo and Yasuomi Umetsu, offering some of the best animation you can find of a 1980s anime title. The film features several shorts of differing moods and direction from the makers who did them such as the over-the-top opening of a mechanical carnival showcase tearing havoc on a village in , a man's efforts to make a robotic companion take a twisted turn in "Presence" and a fun parody of chambara and super robot anime with "A Tale of Two Robots Part 3: Foreign Invasion". Streamline Pictures picked up the film for VHS release in the early 1990s and is dubbed only, considering the company's reputation for rarely releasing subbed releases of their acquired titles during the time period. Prices for the VHS release vary quite heavily from sellers depending on their condition, selling anywhere from as low as $10 to as high as near $100.
This 1978 children's film from Sanrio is notable for how dark it gets in its later developments with the lamb, Chirin, seeking revenge on a wolf that killed his mother. While seemingly light-hearted with the cute-looking character designs of Chirin and the sheep he live with, the movie quickly turns into a cautionary tale that explores the ramifications of running away from home, seeking revenge and nonconformity through Chirin's interactions with the wolf. RCA/ Columbus Pictures had a VHS release of the film in 1990 that was English dubbed and surprisingly faithful to the Japanese script with no censorship and only altering the final song of the movie to give it English lyrics. However, it is becoming difficult and expensive to acquire copies of the movie legally as VHS tapes for Ringing Bell sell for close to $100.
This 1993 film anthology is an adaptation of a collection of war stories written by acclaimed creator of Captain Harlock, Leiji Matsumoto. The film depicts three different tragic stories focused on soldiers facing some sort of dilemma during events that take place in World War II with one focused on Nazi Germany (Slipstream) and two on Japanese soldiers (Sonic Boom Squadron and Knight of the Iron Dragon). Slipstream focuses on a German soldier forced to choose between loyalty to his country or following what he believes is morally right. Sonic Boom Squadron offers a unique perspective on how Americans and the Japanese view the act of kamikaze piloting during a heated battle at sea. Knight of the Iron Dragon focuses on a pair of soldiers trying to return to their air base, unaware that it has been taken over by American soldiers. The Cockpit offers a great visual presentation for an early 90s anime with a great amount of detail put into scenery and plane designs, with nicely animated aerial dogfights that offered fluid movement of planes and a diversity of camera shots like first-person POV shots from within the plane's cockpit. Character designs are drawn in Matsumoto's style, so do expect some crude-looking and deformed characters in comparison to others here. Urban Vision released the movie in subbed and dubbed formats on VHS in the mid-1990s, with online sellers offering it anywhere from $25 to $50 depending on condition.
There have been a number of live-action adaptations of the 1872 children's novel that are known to either tone down or sugarcoat the novel's tragic tale involving poor child Nello and his dog Patrasche. Fortunately for this 1997 animated film adaptation, The Dog of Flanders shows no restraint in depicting the tragic circumstances faced by Nello and Patrasche. The boy and his loyal dog go through plenty of hardships throughout the film that push Nello's optimistic outlook to the breaking point as whatever he is directly or indirectly connected to negatively affects him in some form, showing that hard work, optimism and perseverance don't always get you what you want. It is a believable depiction of life in 19th century rural Belgium showing the large divide and prejudices between social classes, as well as the daily struggles faced by the peasant class. This adaptation is quite memorable for the sad ending it depicts with Nello and Patrasche, implementing some solid use of CG animation despite the simple details shown with the title's scenery and character designs.
The film was picked up by Pioneer in 1999, who desired to release the film to video to coincide with the theatrical release of the American live-action film that year. While released to DVD in 2000, Pioneer had edited out some scenes in the film considered objectionable and slow-moving for American audiences and only included an English dub option for audio. Fortunately, they did release an uncut subbed version on VHS in 1999, which is the version that is mostly sought out by those interested in the film. The edited English dubbed version was also released to VHS, so one would have to be careful with what version they pick up. The version I own in the picture above is the uncut subbed release, while the edited version has different cover art. Regardless, all versions of the film are quite difficult to find online, with prices varying depending on condition and the version being offered for sale.