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Greetings once again, Vice-Squad! This week, we’re gonna dig even deeper into anime's sci-fi tradition, scraping around the fringes for the over-looked and under-appreciated.
By now, it should be clear this is where we’re most comfortable...
NUMBER FIVE == VENUS WARS
Ah, VENUS WARS. This is an undeniably strange movie, with some pacing issues, and a laughably unpredictable trajectory, but it’s also a damn fun ride with some cool ideas. There’s a fair comparison to be made to AKIRA - - in that it's about a gang of future-bike riding toughs thrown into a dangerous situation - - but the tone is quite different.
What VENUS WARS does right is present fun situations, cool designs, kickass action... all while looking damn good from start to finish. The film was directed by the one and only Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, known primarily for his character designs for the original GUNDAM (as well as ZETA, UNICORN, and others), and he does well here. He’s one of manga’s great talents, as far as action storytelling is concerned, and that talent translates splendidly to the screen.
The scene where the police chase Hiro through the city during curfew is more than worth the price of admission, and there are plenty more gems like that one sprinkled throughout.
VENUS WAR’s real problem is... just... that it can’t decide which kind of story it wants to tell.
NUMBER FOUR == BATTLE ANGEL ALITA
BATTLE ANGEL (GUNNM in Japan) is something of a fan favorite/classic franchise,yeah, but I don’t hear enough of the kids still talking about it. The manga was a huge, fairly-long running hit; beautifully drawn, packed with action, and with an unforgettable heroine. This OVA adapts the first couple volumes (with some changes to story and character) and ends up epic, satisfying, and effecting.
The animation in both parts of this OVA is pretty stunning, with a ton of character, unique style, fluid movement, and just the right amount of grit. In short, this is steeped in that 90's anime stank that we at the TOP 5 love so much. However, unlike so many OVAs from the 90's, this is an actual complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, if you can believe it.
And, of course, there are tons of crazy robot fighting, robot arms, robo-rocket punches, evil robo-samurai, robo-organ harvesting, and (we’ll say it again) beautiful robotic character animation.
ALITA is the full package, boys!
NUMBER THREE == ROUJIN Z
ROUJIN Z starts as a kind of subdued story about a super-advanced robotic bed to help take care of the elderly (a problem that probably hits way close to home for Japan’s young adults). It quickly spirals out of control into an intense chase-movie, though, when the bed merges with the consciousness of the old man, and makes a break for the ocean.
ROUJIN Z is obviously a strange movie, without an obvious target audience, but if you give it a chance, there’s an awful lot to like. It’s smart and funny, with a big budget and great, slick animation.
KATSUHIRO OTOMO of AKIRA fame wrote the story and screenplay, and it feels like one of his short stories (which, if you’re familiar with his shorts, you’ll know is a huge compliment). The action is frenetic and brilliantly staged, with a nice escalation from beginning to end, and there’s a bit of Otomo’s usual social criticism (read: pessimism); though the tone of the story is far far lighter than his other work.
This is an intelligent, well-made movie, with a lot of talent involved and it shows. It’s nice to look at, and we here at the TOP 5 couldn’t help but be charmed by the story. Things start a little slow, but be patient and you’ll be rewarded.
NUMBER TWO == THEY WERE ELEVEN
The TOP 5 tends to favor the shonen side of anime. It’s one of our few failings, and we aim to rectify that today (well, at least somewhat). THEY WERE ELEVEN is a film adaptation of a manga by Moto Hagio - - the “founding mother” of modern shojo. So yeah, this lady knows how to do it right!
ELEVEN is a character-driven story, set in an abandoned space station where eleven recruits are sent to prove themselves as worthy members of society. The thing is, there are only supposed to be ten recruits. Matters get more complicated from here as things start to go wrong, distrust builds among the team, and relationships start to blossom.
(You know, the usual shit that happens at summer camp... BUT IN SPACE).
The really interesting stuff happens between Toda, the somewhat waifish psychic hero, and Frol, an androgynous alien somewhere between two genders. The relationship between these two characters is both interesting and pretty forward-thinking, especially for the time. The characters do drive the story, and while there is a fair amount of space-intrigue and excitement, the real heart here lies in the intrepid cadets' interactions, their back-stories and their motivations.
THEY WERE ELEVEN isn’t exactly showy in its visuals, but the budget is high enough that everyone looks nice, and there’s a really pleasing style to the faces. Everything moves nicely and there’s some good weightlessness to the outer space stuff. The real visual focus is on the characters; which is exactly where it should be for a story like this.
Give this one a shot, even if you don’t consider yourself a shojo fan. A good movie is a good movie.
NUMBER ONE == ANGELS EGG
We here at the TOP 5 are well aware that this movie will not appeal to most of you out there, and that’s a shame. ANGELS EGG asks a lot of its audience and, to some, it will come across as pure bizarre. For those of you with a more open mind, though, this could be an extremely rewarding experience.
ANGELS EGG is a collaboration between Mamoru Oshii and Yoshitaka Amano. The latter gentleman, of course, is famous for all those FINAL FANTASY character designs, as well as the original VAMPIRE HUNTER D art (if you’re not familiar with his stuff - - google it immediately!). It’s a kind of weirdo experimental art film that will absolutely rub a lot of people the wrong way, and was in fact a big flop when it first came out. Allegedly it kept Oshii from getting work for years!
It has since become a cult classic, of sorts. Well regarded by critics and fans alike. It’s a real shame out-there stuff like ANGELS EGG doesn’t get made more often.
The basic premise of this film is that a girl is wandering around a seemingly abandoned city with a large egg, she meets a soldier with a cross-shaped gun. The soldier is interested in the egg, and there’s a fair amount of distrust between the two, at first.
There are a lot of questions left mostly unanswered here, and much of the movie is open to interpretation. If you want to get really invested in discussion about this film, there’s a lot to talk about, but even if you’re not looking for a conversation piece/mental workout, there’s a ton of striking and powerful images. The tone of the film is undeniably powerful, and though the world doesn’t make perfect sense, it feels fully realized and begs to be explored.
In one particularly memorable sequence, a group of faceless fisherman with harpoons flood the streets to chase the shadow of enormous fish that seem to float through the air, just out of sight. They hurl their harpoons at the shadows cast by the fish until they fade away...
ANGELS EGG, more than any other anime, feels like a dream.
And, of course, it’s beautiful. The style falls right between Amano and Oshii’s, with recognizable aspects of both artists distinctive style. This really captures the density and complex ornament of Amano’s illustration in a way that hasn't been attempted before or since.
If you can keep an open mind and are willing to try something pretty different, then ANGELS EGG is a must-see.
There you have it: five of the best and most under-appreciated scifi anime of all time!
We’re sure you guys have your own opinions about what sci-fi classics don’t get enough love; or maybe you just want to complain that you’ve never heard of any of these (but isn’t that the point?).
Either way, leave a comment in the section below and let me know how you feel. Then suck it up and watch what we told you to watch.
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