Major Old-School Anime Titles Hit Blu-Ray

Format war can have a silver lining. As Blu-ray continues to replace DVDs, it seems some old anime series have come back to the market this year. I haven’t been keeping a super-close eye on this like a fanatic, so when I say “back to,” I might be speaking loosely in some cases, but still.

I only regret that, due to life circumstances, my current anime budget is zero. If it weren’t, I’d snatch these up. So, just to be clear, this is a list of stuff I want, not stuff I’m reviewing. I believe strongly in compensating artists for their work, so I don’t do bootlegs, and that has the unfortunate effect of putting a lot of gaps in my first-hand anime knowledge. I’m passing on the news of these titles because a few of these are works I tried to acquire legitimately in the past, but failed to do so. For that reason, their re-release is notable.

This is a handful of arbitrarily selected “want to see” titles based solely on my personal taste. (NOTE: You may need to turn off Adblock to see the images.)

The Vision of EscaflowneThis 26-episode series appeared in 1996 and ran on Fox Kids back in 2000. It had some serious fans and is considered in some circles to be something of a classic. This show uses the premise of a schoolgirl getting sucked into an alternate universe that looks like a fantasy RPG, a conceit that was hugely popular through the ’90s but seems to have largely died off lately, probably because a lot of people have decided it’s played out. This series attempted to appeal to both a female and male demographic, combining the lost-schoolgirl fantasy RPG concept with humongous mecha. Well-known for its crazy-cool setting and lush landscapes inspired by Nepal.

I once rented the ill-advised movie adaptation from a video store, back when we still had video stores. Like most every attempt to condense an animated television series into a single film, it was incoherent and all-around bad, most especially in its attempt to make the story more edgy by turning the heroine suicidal. I’ve always heard good things about the TV series, however; I tried to find a legal, non-bootleg set of this about five years back and couldn’t locate one. So the re-release pleases me.

Magic Knight Rayearth. Speaking of lost schoolgirls and mecha, the massively prolific and massively overrated four-woman manga-ka team CLAMP beat the Escaflowne people to that combination by about three years. I admit I haven’t seen the anime adaptation, but I have a complete set of the manga, including its comparatively disappointing sequel. It has the honor of being the only CLAMP title I actually like (I will never, ever understand their popularity).

For whatever reason, Magic Knight Rayearth is often named as a magical girl title even though it doesn’t follow the usual conventions. It features three plucky young girls who, like all Japanese schoolgirls, get sucked into a fantasy RPG universe where they run rapidly through several conventions of the genre before the hard-twist ending in which the authoresses give their audience the middle finger as only CLAMP can.

Key the Metal Idol. This one has been newly released to DVD, but not Blu-ray. This was an “experimental” OVA title when it came out from 1994 to 1996 from Studio Pierrot, the same studio that first created the magical idol genre with Creamy Mami. Directed by the otherwise unknown Hiroaki Sato, this is one of those deliberately opaque, art-house-style anime that want desperately to convince their audiences that they have a lot on their minds. It predates the similarly occult Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain, though it’s less well-known than either. It also contains more nudity and adult content than other titles on this present list (T.H.EM. Reviews gives it an R-rating, but that’s not official from the MPAA).

This is an unusual take on the magical idol: the protagonist is an emotionless robot told she can become human if she makes 30,000 friends. Since this is before Facebook, her only recourse is the dark and seedy underbelly of the Tokyo idol scene. Whereas your typical anime looks at pop idols with saccharine-coated glasses, treating idolhood as a harmless pastime or worthy career move, Key famously skewers the industry. This show might be more relevant to an American audience now that Walt Disney has gotten into the same kind of girl-wrecking business. Reviews tend to be mixed; viewers either like Key‘s esoteric presentation, complexity, and attack on Japan’s celebrity industry, or they hate its slow pacing.

Scrapped Princess. This is based on a light novel by Ichiro Sakaki. The production was an early success for Studio Bones, which later did competent work on an adaptation of a similar Ichiro Sakaki title, Chaika – The Coffin Princess. This is another RPG-inspired fantasy series, this time about a young girl left to die because of a prophecy that she would “poison the world” upon turning sixteen. Having survived the early attempt on her life, she is now roaming the countryside with a pair of protectors, trying to stay alive and find the secret of the prophecy before the fateful birthday arrives. Some anime fans remember this as an early favorite; some consider it entry-level because it eschews a lot of popular anime tropes or Japanese cultural references in favor of a quasi-European setting.