With all the anime that’s coming out in the UK every month, it can be hard to keep up with everything that’s worth watching. Everyone knows about Full Metal Alchemist and Naruto, but what about Kino’s Journey and hell, even Riding Bean! This is where Anime UK News comes in; our new article is “The UK’s most underrated anime” – in which each of our writing team picks out some great anime that is released on UK DVD but is, for whatever reason, under-seen and under-valued. Take a few minutes, have a read and perhaps check out some anime that you’ve overlooked in the past!
Kino’s Journey review by Nargis
Kino’s Journey is one of those rare anime’s that makes you stop and think. About the world and the place we all have in it. It follows the adventures of Kino as she travels the world on her talking motorcycle, Hermes, spending only three days in each place before moving onwards. Travelling from city to city, they encounter societies at different stages of civilisation. Thoughtful, shocking and funny, Kino’s Journey explores the world, its faults and what it takes to survive.
Kino, the gun-slinging girl is hip, blunt and despite her attempts to not get involved in the lives of the people she meets, she does so. These experiences not only question the kind of world that she lives in but also her own ability – can one person change things and more importantly, should you? With Hermes wheels burning rubber on the open road, it’s easy to get swept away on their journey, not knowing where the road ahead will take you.
Through her journey we see not just the beauty of the world but also the ugly side of humanity, encountering war and death – If the world is filled with sadness and tragedy, why does Kino continue travelling? Everyone has to find his or her own answer to this question. Kino’s world, much like the world we live in, is terribly flawed, but even so, if you look hard enough, you will still find beauty hidden within.
New Dominion : Tank Police review by Lewis
From Masamune Shirow, the man behind such series as Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, comes New Dominion: Tank police. Newport City is under increasing attack from criminals and terrorist organizations and it’s up to the highly controversial Tank Police to bring law and order back to the city. In a bid to cut crime the distraught Mayor tries to pass a bill to outlaw the production of weapons, a highly profitable business, but will this bill be the end of her? Just how far does the corruption go? With their trusty tank Bonaparte our short fused heroine, Leona Osaki and her partner Al take to the streets to find the answers.
This 6 episode OVA was introduced to the U.K by Manga Entertainment in 1994 and is one of the most overlooked anime of the 90’s. This remake of the previous Dominion: Tank Police takes on a different story from that seen in the original with various changes made to the cast as well. The beautifully done cell animation, while dated, looks fantastic with time and effort placed into some wonderful scenery. One of the shining points about this OVA is the soundtrack. Bursting straight out of the late 80’s with its electric guitar riffs and pounding drums which gets the pulse racing and blood pumping.
The dub performance is somewhat ropey on the background characters, with misfit voices galore, but the main cast of voice actors suit it perfectly. For those not satisfied with the dub the original Japanese cast is also included. One of my favourite things about New Dominion: Tank Police is the snappy script and the relationships between the characters, What can be better than having an opening with “Lets blow these bitches away”. With many of today’s modern shows focusing more and more on eye candy it’s great to look back on a series such as this and get just as much, if not more enjoyment out of it.
For the pocket money price (Varies from £5 to £13) New Dominion: Tank Police is one gem every fan should have in their collection.
Bubblegum Crisis review by Martin
Back in the old days of the OAV, Bubblegum Crisis was the definitive science fiction action show. It told the story of the Knight Sabres, four female vigilantes who battled the Genom Corporation and its robotic army of ‘boomers’. With butt-kicking female leads, gruesome mechanical monsters and a high-tech vision of Neo Tokyo, it did much to promote anime in the West; its gritty cyberpunk aesthetic following in the wake of Akira at the end of the 80s. Although the animation is showing its age now and there’s a decent, more up-to-date, remake in the form of BGC: Tokyo 2040, the original OAV is a stylish and entertaining piece of nostalgia that many sci-fi fans ought to appreciate.
One defining feature is that of the soundtrack: it’s classic 80s J-rock that oozes retro cool! There’s a different opening and ending theme song for each individual episode as well, not to mention several other songs that were used as background music. Kenichi Sonoda’s character designs are distinctive of course, and their personalities match the more playful and less angsty atmosphere than the remake did. The episodes are often self-contained as well, with a ‘monster of the week’ format initially before longer story arcs appear.
Unfortunately, that is a criticism I can level at the series, albeit a minor one. After only eight episodes, a corporate dispute meant that the original storyline was not continued any further until the arrival of Bubblegum Crash. That said, the more episodic nature of the series means that this isn’t such an issue as it might have been and once you get past the somewhat weaker opening volume, it’s classic girl-with-guns sci-fi action and plenty of character development to boot. With a number of newer additions to the Bubblegum Crisis universe, the original OAV can still hold its own.
Riding Bean review by Andy
Bean Bandit is Chicago’s best underground deliveryman, with plenty of enemies on both sides of the law. Now he’s being framed for kidnapping and extortion, and has been landed with the package (a ten-year old girl), while the real kidnappers make off with a cool $2 million. When Bean realises he’s been had, all hell breaks loose in the windy city as a desperate race to get to the real crooks – and the cash – begins.
Riding Bean is all about high octane thrills and spills, with enough cars, guns and explosions to put the whole A-Team to shame, and car chases to rival the Blues Brothers. Bean himself is a no-nonsense tough guy who sounds like Elvis, and his custom ‘Roadbuster’ car is one of the coolest fictional vehicles outside of a Bond movie, capable of driving sideways at the touch of a button, as well as bullet-proof windows and wheel spikes. Chasing him down is rogue cop Percy, who’s essentially Inspector Zenigata in a Shelby Cobra GT-500 (the same as Rally’s in Gunsmith Cats, and a personaly favourite of mine), and an entire force of incompetent police.
Watching Riding Bean is a bit like sitting down in front of an Arnie movie – you just sit back, switch off and let the carnage unfold in front of you. As a quick blast of out and out fun, Riding Bean more than delivers. If there’s any critisism I have, it’s that the DVD is dub-only, and the video transfer is VHS quality, but as this was quite an early DVD release I can forgive. If you liked Gunsmith Cats, you’ll find much to like here, and Riding Bean remains one of the most enjoyable quick-fix action hits out there.
Vision of Escaflowne review by Sarah
‘Enter a World of Science and Sorcery’
It begins with a pounding beat, a song full of yearning and wonder, and a sky filled with angels. ‘Vision of Escaflowne’ sweeps the viewer along through twenty-six episodes with its inspiring story and magical music. It’s still, eleven years on, an irresistible mix of epic fantasy adventure and romance. Hitomi Kanzaki, the high school heroine, finds herself spirited away from this world to the war-torn world of Gaea. Emperor Dornkirk of the Zaibach Empire is bent on world domination and recovering the lost power of Atlantis. Recognized as the girl from Gaea’s Mystic Moon (Earth), Hitomi is soon drawn into the conflict when she uses her psychic abilities and tarot cards to predict the future. Torn between her feelings for the two young men she encounters, Van, king of Fanelia, who pilots the legendary white dragon guymelef (mecha) called Escaflowne and the dashing Caeli Knight, Allen Schezar, Hitomi discovers that she has a pivotal role to play in the ultimate fate of the warring nations.
‘Escaflowne’s’ mechas resemble gigantic armoured knights whose cloaks act as cloaking devices. Flying ships of baroque complexity cross the heavens. Hitomi encounters cat girls (including Van’s faithful companion, the fiercely possessive Merle) and magicians, shapeshifters and scientists.
And is there a connection between ancient Emperor Dornkirk and Earth? Why is he so determined to capture Hitomi and use her powers? Then there’s Lord Dilandau, surely one of the most dangerous of all crazed anime villains, whose distorted face and battle-lust conceal an extraordinary secret…
So why watch ‘Vision of Escaflowne’? Engaging, sympathetic characters, thrilling battle scenes and well-paced story-telling, for one. The English dub is exceptionally good and fans of DBZ may recognize the voices of Kirby Morrow, Brian Drummond, Paul Dobson and others from the Vancouver studios. But for me what makes ‘Escaflowne’ extra special is its score. This was Yoko Kanno’s first major TV series (‘Cowboy Bebop’ was to follow two years later, then films based on both series, then ‘Arjuna’, ‘Ghost in the Shell S.A.C’ and ‘Wolf’s Rain’). ‘Escaflowne’ is written for full symphony orchestra and chorus and the epic sweep of the score, from heart-stopping battle music to the quiet, mystic chanting of the name of ‘Escaflowne’, lifts the series to a higher plane. If you’ve loved Yoko Kanno’s other scores you’re in for a surprise – and a real treat.
Voices of a Distant Star review by Ryan
Voices of a Distant Star is an incredibly moving, aesthetically and emotionally vacuous piece of art. Crafted almost single-handedly by director Makoto Shinkai (a miraculous feat, considering the beauty of it all), Voices of a Distant Star is heartfelt in the way few other animes could hope to be.
The story is that of Mikako, a young girl schooled to fight the threat posed by the alien Tarsians, whilst all the while trying to maintain contact with her childhood friend, Nobaru, through cell phones. But in her line of duty, Mikako strays ever further from home, widening the gap not only between the sending and receiving of messages on her and Nobaru’s phone, but between their lifespan, as Nobaru continues to age, whilst her travel decelerates the process. Eventually, after years of waiting for a message, and making his heart colder to prevent the pain, Nobaru finally stops waiting. When he does receive a message however, it says little more than that it will take over eight years for single messages to reach one other. Miles apart, the two make their own progress, as Nobaru tries to go on living without her, but is pulled back by every infrequent message, however short, whilst Mikako fights for her life, and a chance to see him again.
Despite being only thirty minutes long, and featuring sci-fi elements which only really serve to provide a base for the emotional undercurrent and theme of contact, Voices of a Distant Star can’t help but leave an impression on the viewer. Shinkai’s masterful drapery of light, emotion and the impression of warmth, in and out of the cold – which is iconic of his visual style – promulgates in a story simultaneously absorbing, cosy and painful. I’ll never forget the time I let my teacher borrow Voices, and that when she gave it back, I had never seen in her manner, or heard in her voice, quite so much interest and respect for beauty (as she almost cried during our conversation). I hope it will have the same effect on you, and don’t forget to listen to the director’s cut, in which the director Makoto Shinkai and his wife play the only two speaking roles of Mikako and Nobaru.
Dead Leaves review by Paul
Dead Leaves is vulgar, sadistic, violent and slapstick [insert more adjectives here] – an unrelenting 50 minutes of nonsensical stupidity and adrenaline-fueled animation. Here’s all you need to know. Panda and Retro wake up somewhere on Earth; both are naked and suffering from amnesia, while Retro has a TV screen for a head. They wander into a near-by city and quickly embark on an especially brutal crime spree; this includes beating up random people, stealing cars and dangerously speeding through the streets. They may not possess their memories, but it’s made fairly clear that Panda and Retro aren’t particularly nice people. Eventually they are caught, and soon find themselves deported off to an infamous space prison, known only as “Dead Leaves”. Things go down hill from there.
The plot’s not especially important, what this is is simply visceral entertainment, animation that’s vibrant, colorful and constantly moving. Not a minute goes by without someone being punched, drilled, cut or killed, in other words, it’s an adolescent’s day-dream; put Dead Leaves in front of a group of 14 year-olds and watch them implode with delight. This isn’t something for the straight-laced anime fans, rather the kind of person who enjoys wearing those velcro shoes with flashing green lights.
It’s directed Hiroyuki Imaishi, a talented Gainax graduate clearly hallucinating on a big bootle of Tesco’s cheap Red Bull equivalent energy drink. Given his style here is so distinctive, it’s no surprise he has gone onto helm Gainax’s newest mecha anime – none other than the equally free wheeling Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Imaishi’s energy is pulsing through Dead Leaves; the bizarre character designs, frenetic pace and stylized camera angles; at 50 minutes length it does become a bit tiring, but then there’s always Tesco’s energy drinks to keep those sleepy eyes open.
Has this article convinced you to pick up some anime that you perhaps haven’t thought to bother with in the past? Please write in and let us know, we would love to hear about what you think of this article and the anime we’re recommending! Also, mail in and let us know about your most underrated favourite!