Thursday, September 20, 2018

Top 10 Anime Licenses

As strange as it is to imagine, now is the best time to be an anime fan. Not only does streaming make just about anything easy to find, ancient series that have never been released overseas have finally gotten official home video transfers. Whether it's long-awaited license rescues such as Armored Trooper Votoms or Zillion (out in mere weeks!) or long time requests such as Xabungle, Galaxy Express 999: the series, or Space Runaway Ideon, 2018 has been the year of the classic.

Much of this is due to the SD Blu-Ray format which allows far more content on far fewer discs which allows cheaper production costs, but also because there is an audience for this material now that didn't really exist decades ago. This is because most anime didn't get TV broadcasts back in the day. If you wanted to get into a series you basically had to hold your nose and dive into the deep end. For longer series this meant being selective with licenses.

But now that the home video and streaming options are so plentiful now, longer series no longer have their length working against him, and the more obscure series have the best chance ever at being found.

And 2018 has shown it with the biggest concentration of classic licensed series in a long time.

But why stop there? Surely there are all kinds of series missing in action that deserve a shot for an overseas audience. Whether classics questionably skipped over back in the day, or good series that have simply fallen into obscure spots, I could list a lot of anime that deserve a new shot at life. But where to start?

So I'll construct a list of two pillars here. The first is of formerly licensed series still waiting to be picked up again, and the second are series that, for one reason or another, never had a North American release to begin with, and desperately need one. Both lists could fill the Pacific Ocean.

I should also mention, I have a list of my own most wanted anime, both licensed and not, that I have set aside to remind me when I have the spare scratch to nab them. I took some of this list from there. This means much of this is personal taste, but I'll try not to repeat myself on previous posts (this means no City Hunter. I've posted about it enough) and put out some surprises. There's plenty of good anime that deserves the spotlight.

You also won't be seeing anything recent for the simple fact that just about everything recent gets licensed. There's really no point listing them. This list will be spanning decades earlier instead.

10. Monster

Not a surprise that it's here, I know. For one, this is one of my favorite manga series that has enjoyed tremendous success. And for good reason: it's fantastic. It even had a recent Perfect Edition re-release of the manga. However, Viz licensed the anime, gave it a great dub, aired it on television, botched the home release (13 episode releases for a series over 70 episodes? Dumb move), and let in fall into obscurity for years afterwards. Monster deserved way better than it got.

Short of someone like Discotek license rescuing this and giving it the full SD on Blu-Ray approach for more content on fewer discs, Monster's long length means it probably won't get picked up anytime soon. But it should be. This series is a masterful cat and mouse good vs evil tale that is rarely matched. It also helps that this remains Naoki Urasawa's lone seinen work to ever be adapted to anime. For some reason.

Short of illegal mean, there is no way to watch this great series legally. And that is a shame.

9. Armored Police Metal Jack

This series is so obscure it isn't even illegally subbed. Being that it is a Sunrise period from their pre-2004 Golden Age, that is quite impressive. I couldn't tell you why this series is listed here except that it's the definition of popcorn entertainment. Essentially a cyberpunk superhero show, it is typical of pre-2004 Sunrise in that it is exciting, dynamically directed, and well worth your time seeking out.

Three men are nearly killed defending a boy from a terrorist attack and are brought into a special project in order to save their lives. They become special agents in the fight on crime and a sinister plot unfolds that goes into some weird places.

I'm a bit puzzled this wasn't licensed back in the day. This would have aired just fine right after Ronin Warriors (another show that should be license rescued, but I digress on that one) on Toonami. Being that this is still hard to find even via unsavory means, it is a good candidate for licensing. I do hope to see it brought over one day in the near future.

8. El Hazard: The Magnificent World

One of the most influential anime, and one of the originators of Isekai explosion in popularity, it is hard to believe this isn't currently licensed and hasn't been in a dog's age. It can't be an issue with the studio. The TV series remake is both licensed and available for legal streaming, but the original superior OVA is still in licensing limbo. It might have something to do with the original licensors for both being different, but that is still hard to swallow. It is absurd that no one has rescued it yet.

Four people from our world are thrown into a distant fantasy land where a war is brewing, and they become involved. Based on the premise you might think this just a typical Isekai series, but El Hazard offers a bit more than that, and at 7 episodes its brief length makes for tight watching. This is one that is ripped off a lot more than its influence is ever cited.

I'm not sure what odious licensing games allowed the TV series to be picked up, but not the original, but that has to change. El Hazard deserves rescuing.

7. The King of Braves: GaoGaiGar

I'm puzzled that I even have to write an entry for this series. GaoGaiGar is one of the last pure super robot series, and one of the last done in traditional cell animation, at the tail end of the 90s near the end of anime's golden age. It's a very important series, and very well loved. With that pedigree you'd figure it would be easily available to find. And yet it has not been picked up for release since its original license over a decade ago during the dark days of licensing.

Explaining GaoGaiGar would take more space than I've afforded here, so I'll be brief. The series essentially is a super robot show blown up to eleven, long before Gurren Lagann was a twinkle in Gainax's eye. The action is intense and gigantic and characters contribute to a large cast that all influence the story in important ways. It represents everything people like about super robot shows in one package. In many ways it is the ultimate mecha series.

But as of right now it floats in limbo. At least it doesn't have Aniplex chaining it to absurd prices like Gurren Lagann which is locked out of affordability due to it. Still, it should be licensed again. And maybe with the recent wave of old licenses it will finally get the shot to succeed overseas it always deserved.

6. Daitarn 3

Yoshiyuki Tomino is one of the most respected directors in anime, even beyond his Gundam franchise. Despite that, his track record of licensed series isn't the best. You see, Gundam doesn't have much in the way of licensing issues these days, and several of his non-Gundam series have been seeing release (Xabungle, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Space Runaway Ideon) but his pre-Gundam works have been widely ignored. While Brave Raideen and Zambot 3 are both important in their own ways, and probably more than this one, I would like to see Daitarn 3 get the respect it deserves out of obscurity.

This is actually Tomino's most classically pulp series. It's also his most straightforward. A super-spy super robot mecha series with fast paced action and with zippy pacing, it's also one of his easiest to get into. Of course, it's still Tomino, so you can expect certain . . . things to happen at certain points, but that isn't necessarily a problem. It just means it keeps you on your toes.

Hopefully now that more of his more known work has been released overseas, this older overlooked title can finally get the time in the sun it deserves. With series like the original Mazinger Z getting released, it sure has a great shot.

5. Fang of the Sun Dougram

Next to Tomino, Sunrise had another director of mecha series during the '80s, and in many ways he is more up my alley than Tomino is. Ryosuke Takahashi is that man. He tended to have more adventure style series, where the plot is focused on a point A to B storyline and the obstacles that get in the way of the protagonists. The most popular of these series is Armored Trooper Votoms, one of the best mecha series ever made. However, his first series, Dougram, was quite a powerhouse itself lasting 75 episodes and becoming a phenomenon in Japan.

Dougram is about guerrilla fighters taking on a corrupt governor that declares himself dictator. This series details the conflict between the two sides above as the skirmish heats up and explodes. If you know Takahashi then you can expect a lot of overwhelming darkness before the light cracks through in unexpected places. He also has a bizarre sense of humor that manages to never break canon of the serious moments. Nonetheless, his themes are universally positive despite what you might think about mecha from that era.

This has never been licensed, and, unfortunately, I find it is the least likely Takahashi series to be licensed since it is the longest. But that doesn't mean it should be passed over. Mecha series today could stand to learn a lot from Dougram and it being licensed would show more people why.

4. Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe)

One of the single most influential series to ever come out of Japan, I am still floored to this day that it has never been licensed outside of the movies. No manga, no anime series. We're talking decades of anime and manga rising, crashing, and rising, in popularity and not once has Ashita no Joe ever been given so much as a test run. Despite that, it remains one of the most sought after licenses for readers and watchers to this day.

The series follows nobody orphan Joe Yabuki as he scrapes by to find a way by in the brutal modern world. Boxing finds him and gives him a way to fight back and build something for himself. And that's what he does. The series catalogs that journey to find a brighter tomorrow. And depending on your view of the world, you might say he finds it in the end.

Ashita no Joe is a tight sports drama series with a message that either frightens or intrigues people depending on how they view where the world has gone in a modern post-WWII society. Needless to say, its overall theme has not dated, which means it is always perfectly relevant for licensing. Here's hoping that happens soon. I'll be waiting.

3. Panzer World Galient

As I said before, Ryusuke Takahashi was an interesting figure in the mecha world. Between Dougram and Votoms, his most popular and enduring works, he made Panzer World Galient. This was a gem. Here he created a sword and sorcery giant robot story with legendary mecha, a medieval pulp world, and an evil army hoping to dominate everything. As you imagine, this is pure classic anime.

An usurped king, a lost prince who must reclaim his throne, and a quest to destroy the evil that threatens to overturn order. This is a sort of pure pulp experience that anime reveled in long after mainstream publishing had forgotten it. And now anime itself has also lost its roots in much the same way. I can't say that isn't a bit of a letdown, but this series certainly is not one.

Still, the day for this to be licensed is hopefully not far away. Other Takahashi series have been licensed (Votoms, Gasaraki, and Blue Gender) and this one is better than at least one of those were. Surely this would have a better shot than a series three times the length like Dougram would. This is the sort of thing Discotek would revel in.

2. Space Battleship Yamato

Also known as Star Blazers, the series has also been remade into animated movies still being made now, and the manga by Leiji Matsumoto is also coming out this year, but the original series is in a bad place, licensing-wise. It's the only piece of the franchise not readily available. And considering it is the original space opera anime, that is insane. It is the reason most of the best anime even exist.

Aliens invade Earth and use radioactive meteorite bombs to send humanity underground. There they remain, trapped. The humans build a ship called the Yamato to try and bring hope back to humanity. This is their last stand. Space opera greatness ensues.

It doesn't have quite the problem with licensing that something like Macross has, but it should be more easily available, especially with the movies and manga coming out and being quite successful. The series that started it all should have the same availability. Hopefully with the recent licenses of other parts of the franchise means it is a sign it will be made readily available once more. It really should be out there for everyone to see.

1. Blue Comet SPT Layzner

I'm not going to pretend this is the greatest anime never licensed, or even Ryusuke Takahashi's best series overall, but it is my favorite unlicensed series. It was even almost licensed back in the day, but the deal fell through for whatever reason. This adventure series is split into two parts with an ending OVA that is really dynamite.

In a world where the Cold War never ended, a UN Mars base is attacked by aliens. They are fought off by a lone pilot who rescues the survivors and begs them to take him to Earth. An invasion is coming, and they are massively outgunned and outnumbered. Oh, and the man who saved them is half-alien half-human who holds a secret that might unite, or destroy, a possible path to peace. This series is about his journey to Earth and to find the key to understanding both sides of himself.

Not everyone likes this series as much as I do, but Layzner has just about everything I look for in an anime, and Takahashi's tendency for finding a ray of hope in pure despair shines bright throughout the entire run. Were this licensed, I would be first in line for it. It's been a long time coming. And, really, with Votoms licensed, Layzner now has a real chance. And I truly hope it happens.

Those are my picks. If you have any of your own I would love to hear what they are. Japan has quite the backlog of animated shows worthy of being brought overseas, or just re-released at all. And now that more old series are being licensed than ever before, more people can discover just what inspired so many people for so many decades now.

That is what I mean by now being the best time to be an anime watcher. You have new material readily available, but the classics are finally getting their shot at a proper release, and the attention they rightfully should have had to begin with.

If you've been out of the scene for a long time, for whatever reason, now is the time to come back. Your options are better than ever.

And they're only getting better every day.


  1. Yeah, I don't know what the hold up with Yamato is. I've often found that anime fanatics are generally not appreciative of the history of the genre despite their snobbery. Metal Jack looks fun :)

    I've been watching the Lodoss War OVA recently. When I first saw it in the 90s, I didn't like it because it felt too much like a standard D&D ripoff (which was more right than I realized at the time). Watching it now, after a couple of really awful official D&D movies and a general face-planting of fantasy movies after LOTR, I find it much more tolerable :)

    1. Yes, I've always thought the same. Gamers, for instance, kept compilations and old game downloads on sites like GOG alive. Movie buffs will also constantly recommend old flicks. But anime fans have a certain limit for what they will watch. The less weeb-ish, the less interesting, I suppose.

      Lodoss is very much D&D: the anime, but considering how bad D&D fiction is nowadays, it's actually quite a breath of fresh air. Fantasy anime before video game tropes took over really was a unique beast.

    2. Lodoss actually has a bunch of spin offs. Besides the obvious Legend of Crystania, it also apparently shares a universe with Rune Soldier Louie. Which makes it a perfect way of showing how you can have wildly divergent DMs and themes in the same 'campaign setting.'

  2. The series I still wish they'd license?

    Combat Mecha Xabungle.

    It mystifies me that they don't. It's Tomino, and Happy-Tomino at that. It's hilarious. And its arguably a predecessor for Overman King Gainer and Gundam Reconquista in G.

    1. Xabungle actually was recently licensed by Maiden Japan with Space Runaway Ideon and Armored Trooper Votoms. It's why I didn't list it here.

    2. That's amazing news!

      And I thought I just came over here for interesting commentary on nerd stuff. :D