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Top 5 Greatest Sci-Fi Anime

Hold your breath and buckle up - - this week, we're goin' to space! Will your sci-fi sub-genre be represented?

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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."

NUMBER THREE = = GHOST IN THE SHELL (and STAND ALONE COMPLEX)

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

Anybody who doesn't not know the name Katsuhiro Otomo (or, worse yet, who only associates it with STEAMBOY) is living a damaged and incomplete life. AKIRA is a classic in every sense of the word.

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.

My heart is racing just looking at this! AKIRA gives me serious medical conditions.
My heart is racing just looking at this! AKIRA gives me serious medical conditions.

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...

Just one example...
Just one example...

NUMBER ONE = = WINGS OF HONNEAMISE (ROYAL SPACE FORCE)

This may ruffle a few feathers, but HONNEAMISE is one of the best and most unique sci-fi movies in anime; and also the best work Gainax has ever produced. (Yep, better than EVA. Believe it).

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.

Even the uniforms are meticulously designed and ornamented.
Even the uniforms are meticulously designed and ornamented.

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

Marshal Victoryon April 29, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.

Again a list with things i have never watched. Was expecting Space Cruiser Yamato even Cowboy Bebop up their.But that depends on the school of sci fi you belong to. one says no jokes... hard sci fi has no jokes.. other says ligthn up theirs jokes.

i could argue Psycho-Pass but its to soon for it to be the top teir ... especialy since i have not watched some of the top teir :/

Kuma_From_Argentina is online on April 29, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.

@Marshal Victory said:

Again a list with things i have never watched. Was expecting Space Cruiser Yamato even Cowboy Bebop up their.But that depends on the school of sci fi you belong to. one says no jokes... hard sci fi has no jokes.. other says ligthn up theirs jokes.

i could argue Psycho-Pass but its to soon for it to be the top teir ... especialy since i have not watched some of the top teir :/

I agree with you. Yet I think Psycho-pass deserves at least an honorable mention as the best Sci-fi anime of recent times.

Paprika is another good choice for a spot in the top 5. Satoshi Kon rocks it out. Summer Wars could also be counted if it wasnt such a rip-off of the digimon movie by the same director.

zaldaron April 29, 2013 at 6:23 p.m.

To much emphasis on the animation for me I would put galaxy express and ghost in the shell up higher and would add eva.

SuperTienchaon April 29, 2013 at 6:32 p.m.

No Bubblegum Crisis! :(

I gotta see that Royal Space Force movie though it seems interesting.

Marshal Victoryon April 29, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.

@Kuma_From_Argentina: Think so much of Psycho-Pass plan to buy it on dvd the japanese version next month for my birth day .Also think to much is made of it being a deconstruction of a theme than a good solid story.

Already own Cowboy Bebop but may give my version to a friend an buy the japan version . All the arguments for GHOST IN THE SHELL tho true also aply to Cowboy Bebop it had wide afect on how an who saw anime .At one point both were with AKIRA what any comic book fan in my area thought of when they thought anime .The holy trinity of sci fi fans in animated form.

Space Cruiser Yamato just starting to watch an when it was known as Star Blazers in the states i would hear arguments it helped pave the way for Robotech .But with all things opions difer.I do like these lists tho i keep finding new things to look into.Tho some are hell to find copies of.

@SuperTiencha: also agree Bubblegum Crisis had a afect many anime from Burst Angel to even Ergo Proxy or at least a healthy similarity.

sickVisionz moderator on April 29, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.

@Marshal Victory: What volume are you buying? Also, if you live in the US and have a BD player, you may want to grab the BD version. It will work in your system plus there might be extra stuff with it.

Dream moderator on April 29, 2013 at 8:19 p.m.

What about Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

Marshal Victoryon April 29, 2013 at 8:54 p.m.

@sickVisionz: I watch anime on my computer 24 inch lcd 1920x1200 i did install a blue ray player but my old vista system has had some problems of late. ill get a new player probly total media 6 from arcsoft for software to run it ,power dvd realy let me down on a few blueray movies actualy.

For most older anime dvd is fine for me. An cheeper actualy japan version from place i order from genraly is cheeper an my comp can play them np. PM me if ya want link but the version of psycho pass im looking at is dvd 1-22 by HFE regon coding 0 so it work most everywhere. just subs in english chinese an malay but most anime i prefer subs over dubs any way.

Your refering to the blue rays like Manga makes for ghost in shell etc that will work state side .. mostly? Some tiems the bluerays in euro codeing wount play all the special features.

Top8caton April 29, 2013 at 9:12 p.m.

*clears throat*

Where's Cowboy Bebop?

Kino88on April 30, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.

I actually really liked Planetes, especially the way it built up to such an unpredictable and white knuckle finale,

Donwunon April 30, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.

Dig Deeper into Galaxy Express 999

Leiji Matsumoto's meditation on mortality and social class. Beginning as a manga series, it moved on to films, Original Animated Videos (OAV), and a television series.

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