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When I was about 4 or 5, my brother taught me the word “Japanimation” meaning “cartoons from Japan”. In western culture, this term was widely used instead of anime until the early 90s. I’ve seen many series over the years including classics such as Sailor Moon, the Tenchi Series, and The Big O. But in this post, I will discuss classic shows that you may have missed. I’m forever grateful to the various cable channels and video stores of my childhood that introduced me to some of these gems.
1. Fables of Green Forest (1973) - This was the first anime series that I ever saw. The show aired in many countries outside of Japan including Germany, where I lived at the time. My entire family enjoyed watching the show together. Of course, we had no idea that it was an anime. It originally aired on Fuji Television in 1973 and follows a group of animals navigating their lives in a vast forest. Fables follows their struggles and triumphs, providing viewers with an entertaining and engaging plot full of drama and adventure. The characters themselves are realistic and lovable, making the anime attractive to a wide range of viewers. Each episode teaches a valuable life lesson. Fables of Green Forest is a must-watch anime for those who love a good story and great animation. It’s a classic series that still influences me to this day. In fact, my siblings and I still quote Sammy Bluejay’s famous “Trouble, Trouble” line from the opening song.
2.Armitage III (1995) - I was first introduced to this anime via the film "Armitage III: Dual Matrix" when I was in junior high. This led to me discovering the Armitage III OVA and the condensed film version called Armitage III: Polymatrix. The story takes place in a future world where human-like robots known as "Third Types" coexist with humans. The central characters, Naomi Armitage and Ross Sylibus, are officers who become involved in the investigation of a series of mysterious murders. The chemistry between these two characters leads to funny, dramatic, and action-packed moments. In addition to action and suspense, the series touches on themes of identity, morality, and what it means to be human, making it a captivating and thought-provoking anime.With its well-written characters and gripping story, Armitage III is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys sci-fi anime.
3.Silent Mobius (1998) - I first laid eyes on this series in the early 2000s on the now defunct TechTV. The classic Silent Mobius anime series first aired in 1998 and is best known for its original storyline and captivating art style. Set in 2023, the series follows a group of policewomen who fight to protect the world from a race of mysterious creatures known as Lucifer Hawks. The series features numerous female characters, including my personal favorite Kiddy Phenil. Each of the characters is unique in their motivations and abilities, making it easy to connect with them and get invested in the story. It was validating to see strong yet emotional women carry the story. From its cleverly composed soundtrack to its intriguing plot points, Silent Mobius is an anime that is sure to leave an impression.
4.Cyborg 009 (2001) - In 2003, Toonami aired the show during the daytime before eventually moving it to a 1:30 am timeslot. This is where I first saw Cyborg 009. This series is a retelling of the manga series from 1964. It follows the adventures of nine powerful cyborgs, known as the "Cyborg Nine", who are tasked with saving the world from a secret evil organization. The show explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and justice, as the heroic cyborgs strive to protect humanity from those who would seek to harm it. Cyborg 009 has mesmerized audiences for generations and remains one of the most beloved Japanese anime series of all time.
5.Twilight of the Cockroaches (1987)-For years I thought that I had imagined the movie. Twilight of the Cockroaches is a classic anime film that is still relevant in 2023. This powerful story follows a cockroach tribe whose peaceful lives are interrupted by an exterminator. Through the eyes of the characters, viewers experience the story of human cruelty and the courage it takes to stand up to it. The film also highlights the power of perseverance and the importance of brotherhood in times of adversity. Cartoon Network often paired this film with another anime classic, Robot Carnival in the early 90s. Twilight of the Cockroaches is a must-watch anime film that teaches lessons that are still relevant today. The film also inspired the 90s movie, Joe's Apartment.
6. Tekken The Motion Picture (1998) - As a huge fan of the Tekken video game series, it only makes sense that I would recommend this movie. Tekken the Motion Picture is a classic within the gaming community, pitting characters from the popular fighting game in an anime-styled story. Fans of the game will appreciate the nods to their favorite characters, while newcomers can appreciate the exciting story and thrilling action sequences. The colorful cast of characters and the unique art style of the film is sure to captivate viewers, and, similar to the game, provide an immersive and rewarding experience for viewers. I also love that we get a backstory for Kazuya and Jun. Whether it's for a nostalgic look back to the beloved game, or for a fresh look at anime films, Tekken the Motion Picture is worth watching. Also, the ending song by The Offspring is amazing.
7.Black Magic M-66 (1987) - I first saw this movie in the 90s on the Syfy Network. This film is only 48 minutes long but a lot happens in those 48 minutes. Black Magic M-66 is the story of a freelance reporter named Sybil who uncovers a mysterious military plane crash. Little does she know, the plane's top-secret cargo are two prototype android assassins with a deadly mission. The military scrambles to contain its secret, but Sybil is determined to expose the truth and save their target before it's too late. The animation, storyline, and voice acting still hold up.
8. Vandread (2000) - I’m grateful for Encore’s WAM channel for introducing the classic anime series, Vandread. Vandread is an anime science-fiction series that follows the journey of Hibiki Tokai and his allies as they search for a new home. The series has a unique premise, with its protagonists coming from two different races – the men from planet Taraak and the women from the planet Mejere. It has a strong focus on exploration and discovery, and the characters all have their own individual development arcs and goals. When I first came across this series, the thing that pulled me in was the awesome opening. In fact, all of the music is great! The series has a large cast of characters so you’ll more than likely find someone that you relate to. If you’re into heart-warming, comedic space-operas, you’ll really like Vandread.
9. Pom Poko (1994) - I first saw this movie when I was in high school. I think it was on the AMC channel but I am not 100% sure. They were showing Ghibli movies each week for a special event. I had not seen this one yet so I was excited to watch it. Pom Poko tells the story of a group of tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dogs, who try to prevent their woodland habitat from being destroyed by urban development. The tanuki use their magical powers to shape-shift to scare off the developers. The film's themes are centered around protecting the environment and the implications of humans encroaching on the natural world, with a gentle, humorous tone and visuals that evoke a sense of nostalgia. If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, I highly recommend this movie!
10. Jungle Book: Adventures of Mowgli (1989-1990) - Jungle Book: Adventures of Mowgli is an anime series based on the classic Rudyard Kipling story of the same name. The show follows the young Mowgli as he navigates the jungle and encounters new friends and foes; learning valuable life lessons along the way. With the help of his animal friends Bagheera, Baloo, and Kaa, Mowgli sets off on his journey. As a child, I watched this series often and it still holds a special place in my heart. (My VHS tape only had a few episodes). The lovely opening song, fluid animation, and endearing character designs draw me to the series to this day.
I hope that you have a few more retro anime to add to your watchlist. Many of these stories still hold up today and bring a unique flavor to the genre. My advice: Take a moment to check out these retro anime gems.
Have you seen any of these anime? Let me know below!
If you have a moment, be sure to check out some of my other posts!