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What’s up, Vice-corps! Welcome back to another edition of the TOP 5.
This week, we’re taking on a behemoth of a category: sci-fi anime. There are tons of great examples out there - - enough that it's maybe a little hard to differentiate "sci-fi anime" from "regular anime - - but we’ve done the hard work of whittling the field down to these finest choices.
Each of them represent a distinct sci-fi sub-genre so, yes, we’re expecting more hate mail than usual from this one. Read on and revolt!
NUMBER FIVE = = GALAXY EXPRESS 999
Yeah, this movie looks pretty dated by today’s animation standards, but once you let 999 get its hooks in, you won't even notice, I swear.
The story is captivating, engaging, adventurous and, at times, kind-of goofy light sci-fantasy with tons of different planets to explore, and weirdo aliens to meet. The setting of this show (as with most of Leiji Matsumoto’s work) is fully-imagined, and the tone strikes a memorable balance of grim thrills and relaxing charm.
Once you’ve spent a little time acclimating to the look of the Matsumoto universe (and his nutty, bean-pole character designs), you may find yourself really enjoying how this movie looks. It is rough in parts, but there’s a ton of detail, movement, and 80's flourishes all over the screen.
The real joy here is honestly just in going along for whole the crazy space-train ride. The space-train is just such an irresistibly silly/awesome/appealing/Japanese idea.
Also... intense robots vs. people war with political intrigue and shocking twists!!!!! Lasers everywhere!!!!!
NUMBER FOUR = = PLANETES
This is some straight-up hard sci-fi: so if you’re looking for explosions, big-boobed-aliens, bionic arms and deep-space shoot-outs… then this definitely isn’t the show for you.
PLANETES is set firmly in the realm of possibility, focusing mostly on a motley crew of characters who are tasked with clearing garbage from the Earth’s orbit. That’s right, this is a show about an anti-gravity garbage force. That’s not to say that things don’t occasionally get tense or high-stakes, but most of the conflict revolves around the characters.
This isn’t a particularly flashy show, but the animation is more than competent, the character designs subtle and pleasant, and the sense of weightlessness is startlingly convincing. After a few episodes, you honestly start to forget that this isn’t a real profession, and that NASA isn’t eagerly awaiting your application for "garbage intern."
Some of you may cry fowl on including both of these as one entry on the list, but we deemed them equally deserving, and we aren't using two spots for one franchise here. Nuh-uh. (Sorry, Masamune Shirow!)
The movie defined sci-fi anime in the 90's, and despite , it holds up quite well. It’s short, beautiful, and every scene has weight. C'mon... THE MATRIX wouldn’t exist without it! And the anime boom in the 90's over here was due in no small part to this film's success. Mamoru Oshii was on top of his game, and it shows in every single frame.
If you’re bored by this movie, then you aren’t paying close enough attention. Or you’re looking for a different kind of movie. Or you're an idiot.
Or maybe you aren't an idiot. Maybe you're just looking for STAND ALONE COMPLEX instead (which is why we've included it here, too). It keeps more in line with the manga, focusing the action and complicated intrigue, and is just brimming with interesting ideas, strong visuals, and complex characters.
Both iterations get at the age old sci-fi questions about what the nature of life and identity (basically, the human vs robot war of 999... but internal. Less lasers), which is why GHOST IN THE SHELL is an indispensable franchise for both anime and sci-fi nerds alike.
NUMBER TWO = = AKIRA
The plot can be at times confusing but, at its core, this movie is about a few simple things: characters, action, and incredible visuals. Otomo is one of Japan’s superlative talents, and AKIRA makes that very, very clear. Undeniable, even.
This movie is a cyberpunk masterpiece: full of grit and scum, wires and neon. It's got giant swollen babies, murderous teddy bears, badass future-bikes, psychic purple Louie Anderson's, and epic-as-shit showdowns. This is the height of hand-drawn cell animation, equaled only by the work of other titans of anime like Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon.
AKIRA changed the anime business in the 80's. Hell, given the number of imitations and homages it inspired worldwide, it probably changed the entire animation industry in the 80's. Period. You don’t have to look too hard to find tributes to this classic. Batman even owes it a debt...
NUMBER ONE = = WINGS OF HONNEAMISE (ROYAL SPACE FORCE)
This is a stirring, character-driven, alternate history story of a struggling space force on a foreign planet. Like GALAXY EXPRESS, it's set in a convincing, fully-realized universe and, believe me, that goes a long way in making the story work so well, and the characters so believable.
More importantly, HONNEAMISE uses its sci-fi elements to support the more personal and quiet story of Shirotsugh Lhadatt: his place in society, his relation to a space war, and his romance with a young, religious woman. The film is filled with densely-detailed and richly-realized feats of animation, but it's the "quieter" moments dedicated to this poignant, introspective drama that truly set it so far above everything else in this genre.
This is a movie that goes beyond the boundaries of its genre and its medium. HONNEAMISE can be enjoyed by anyone who’s interested in good film making. We really mean that, this time!
We’ve only just scratched the surface but, unfortunately, that’s all there is room for this week!
Feel free to let us know what grievous errors I’ve made this week in the comments section below. We’d like to do a follow up to this list, so any suggestions (no matter how hair-brained!), would actually be greatly appreciated.
Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - - alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - -dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn