The last few years have seen a surge in cult classic movies coming to Blu-ray. In 2014 UK distributor Arrow Films, who “focus on high-quality presentations of classic and cult cinema”, managed to crack the American market and are now part of a big movement including others like Blue Underground and 88 Films who are bringing pulp horror and forgotten gems back to our screens. In the anime world, thanks to the live-action movie we recently got a reissue of Mamoru Oshii’s seminal hit Ghost in the Shell on Blu-ray, Manga UK have also been bringing the classic Dragon Ball Z movies back as high-definition physical releases. Plus Anime Limited will be bringing Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Revolutionary Girl Utena to Blu-ray in the near future. The trend still has yet to fully hit anime scene, but you can see the tides changing. As a fan of 80s and 90s anime and a collector of Blu-rays, I’ve compiled here a short wishlist of perhaps overlooked anime that I feel deserve a new lease of life.
Cyber City Oedo 808
Originally released just a few short months after I was born, in June of 1990, Cyber City Oedo 808 follows the exploits of Sengoku (a foul-mouthed maverick), Gogol (a mohawk-sporting super hacker) and Benten (an androgynous ladies man and generally cool guy), three criminals serving 300-year prison sentences. They are offered the opportunity to use their criminal expertise to put away other miscreants in exchange for a reduction in jail time. Kind of like Suicide Squad if you will. Each of them wears an explosive collar to make sure they don’t step out of line… Also not too dissimilar to Suicide Squad. But the similarities end there, mainly because Cyber City Oedo 808 is actually quite good. Each episode of this 3-parter focuses on one of the trio, with the others also making appearances in each other’s stories, meaning that even in its short runtime you have the chance to grow attached to the squad members as individuals.
I actually first became aware of the show through the music video to Nero’s “Innocence” and spent years rewatching that video, wishing there was a full-length version. Little did I know it was beneath my nose the whole time. It wasn’t until I saw the trailer for Manga UK’s Cyberpunk Collection on one of my DVDs that the OVAs were brought to my attention, and I managed to track down a DVD copy. But the futuristic city of Oedo and its colourful inhabitants (particularly the beautiful bishonen Benten) deserve an HD uplift.
Speaking of the Cyberpunk Collection, this next selection is also a part of that compilation. Set on the darker side of the Bubblegum Crisis universe, the show follows Leon McNicholson’s days as a rookie on the AD Police force, a special branch who deal with a crime related to Androids (known as Boomers in the show). The show is only 3 episodes long, much like Cyber City, but in the case of AD Police, it was far less intentional. A dispute between the production company and the animators lead to the series being scrapped before it had even really got going, but the episodes we did get are excellent. The show tackles questions around the use of AI and cybernetic implants, carrying similar themes to Ghost in the Shell, but more focused on the seedy underbelly of the metropolis the series’ cast inhabit, taking the stories in a much darker, sexier direction. The first two episodes cover the tragic tales of a psychotic cybernetic siren and a subway-surfing cyborg serial killer, while the third (and my personal favourite) is perhaps the best take on a RoboCop-style story I’ve ever seen. The show is over the top, the violence is brutal, and the English dub is very campy, but never feels ridiculous (at least not in a bad way) and I’m gutted we never got more of it. I currently own the series, or what exists of it, on DVD but would be great to see this show given a high-definition facelift, maybe even along with Parasite Dolls, another 3-part Bubblegum Crisis spin-off with similar grim themes. I want to see Boomers smashing skulls and cyborgs getting shot to ribbons in Full HD.
Moving away from cyberpunk and fast-forwarding a decade from the last two, we have a series that I only discovered recently but am already in love with, GTO. It pains me that this is considered a “classic” anime as it was only released in 1999, it’s hard to believe was a whole 19 years ago, but I digress. Great Teacher Onizuka follows the exploits of Eikichi Onizuka, an ex-gang member who is turning his life around and seeking to take a more noble path in life by becoming a teacher… in the hope of finding himself a future wife amongst the students. So maybe not as noble as he’d like you to believe, but his original quest is soon sidelined as Onizuka has to start tackling bullying, delinquent students who want him gone and a whole heap of school board politics.
What GTO does incredibly well is balance, humour and drama, and even a little action. The show has some of the best pacing I’ve experienced in anime, characters are given plenty of room to breathe and grow, and thanks to Onizuka’s off-the-wall personality the show is rarely predictable. I had no idea what to expect going into this one, I watched it on a whim, but by the end of the first episode, I was all in. It’s not generally the kind of show I’d like, I’m not big on slice-of-life or school drama, but this is definitively cut from a different cloth. Now even in its day, the muted tones and uneven drawing style of GTO looked a little dated, but that was exactly what drew me to it. The erratic art perfectly matches the oddball titular character and deserves to be remastered for all to see.
Before Evangelion, there was Gunbuster. This mech OVA series was the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno and is set in the now not-so-distant future of 2023. Our central focus here is Noriko Takaya, a trainee pilot whose skills are questionable, but dedication can’t be denied. You can see the seeds of Evangelion in this series, our hero even starts off a proto-Shinji, a bit whingy and not all that likeable, but her character development over the 6-episode arc is outstanding. And while we’re talking outstanding, this is in my eyes one of the best-looking anime of the 80s, the animation is Incredibly fluid and the art is gorgeous. The fight scenes all play out in the studio’s signature frenetic style. Gainax overcame all the limitations of the time in which this was produced, and arguably put many other 80s anime to shame. This why we need a Blu-ray release. Nobody should be watching this masterpiece in 480p in modern TVs, it’s just wrong.
I would put this down as a must watch for any Evangelion fan or any fan of mecha anime in general for that matter. Its influence on the genre going forward is evident in almost every frame. If we did get a BD release, I’d like to see it as a two-pack with its sequel Diebuster included, mainly because I’ve never seen it and would like to revisit that world.
(For those out there itching to tell me that this is available on Blu-ray in the States, I know. But like many people, my PS4 is my Blu-ray player and as such, I can only play Region B Blu-rays. It’s perhaps even more frustrating that it exists elsewhere and I’d love to see it brought to the UK. Also I hear those are the compilation movies, I’d love the original OVAs so as not to miss anything!)
Battle Angel Alita
Surprise, surprise, another cyberpunk entry. There’s something about dystopian futures that the anime creators of this generation just get so right. This is the one on my list that probably has the most chance of actually being released, as Robert Rodriguez is currently helming a Hollywood remake set for release later this year. Although one could argue that Battle Angel has already been remade. In 2013’s Elysium we see Matt Damon surrounded by echoes of themes and settings from that could have been pulled straight from this anime. The haves living on a floating city high above Earth while the have-nots live and work for them below, the world as we knew it turned into a polluted scrapyard of industrial waste and robot parts. Rather than Matt Damon though, this two-part OVA recounts the adventures of Gally, an amnesiac cyborg girl turned bounty hunter, Ido, the cyberphysician who finds her and fixes her up, and Yugo, a local maintenance boy who befriends Gally whose one ambition is to make it off the scrapyard and get to the illustrious city of Zalem in the clouds high above.
Now while you do see Gally learn and grow over these two episodes, it is a little obvious that this was created as a preview for the manga and as such does leave you feeling like there should be more, but what you do get is slick, polished, well-produced action, bookended by very human story of desire and ambition. And even with its shortcomings in mind, my only real gripe is that this exquisite creation is only available on VHS over here. While there is a nostalgic charm to scan lines and wonky sound, it’s not fair to the piece itself to be allowed to exist only in this format when it has so much to give both visually and audibly, not to mention that it’s not the most convenient way to consume media.
Rounding out my list is an odd one out as I have never seen Wicked City, but based on the trailer alone this neo-noir horror needs to be on Blu-ray. The trailer plays out like Men In Black on acid. Coming from Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who would go on to direct Ninja Scroll, the movie follows Taki and Makie, two agents of the elusive Black Guard who are tasked with keeping the peace between our dimension and the Demon World
This one seems to definitely be more for the gorehounds, and with review quotes like “truly awful” (Chris Hicks, Deseret News) and “Skip it” “definitely not for children and not really for adults either” (Chuck Arrington, DVD Talk) Wicked City has all the makings of a cult classic waiting to be rediscovered that I would absolutely love to see in the highest quality possible.
So what do you make of this list? Anything not there that should be (or vice versa)? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter, and if you like seeing classic anime content alongside our usual news and reviews keep an eye out for what we have planned over the coming months.