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ANIME SPECIAL: TOP FIVE MUST-SEE, UNDERRATED 1988-89 ANIMES By My Brother, Miles Straughan

ANIME SPECIAL: TOP FIVE MUST-SEE, UNDERRATED 1988-89 ANIMES By My Brother, Miles Straughan

My fellow geeks, reads, readers, and everything in between.  You are in for a real treat!  April is my little bro-bro, my nerd bestie’s, birthday month.  He is a guru in classic anime, deeply enjoying the ones of the ’70s and 90s.  His writing is brilliant, but he was a little shy.  So, let us give a round of applause and support to my bro-bro, Miles Straughan.  

“Grab your hairspray, put on your Walkman, and get in the Delorian. We’re cruising down memory lane and onto the hazy neon streets of the 1980s.

The Japanese entertainment industry saw an unprecedented explosion of creativity, freedom, and expression through the mediums of film, music, fashion, and technology in the 80s. This modern renascence was chiefly due to the economic boom Japan was experiencing in its post-war Bubble Economy. Which, like all good things, popped far sooner than those enjoying it would have hoped.

For this article, though, we’ll be focusing on the rise in popularity of the OVA genre. OVA or Original Video Animations were typically released direct to video, often consisting of one to six episodes of varying length. With smaller passionate teams, less restricted creative control, and more focused budgets, this subset of anime would showcase some of the most unique, beautiful, and enthralling animations ever produced. In contrast, Syndicated TV series of the time had fallen out of favor with creators for their restrictive schedules, corporate meddling, and shoestring budgets. Along with the advancements in home video technology like Betamax and Laser Disk, and more money in consumers’ pockets, anime companies were waging an all-out war for their shows to be the ones on your screen.

Let’s begin, though, at the end of this golden age of animated artistry, starting with the year 1988. Why, you ask? Because it’s the year my anime amigo, my comic compadre, my sister was born. In celebration, I’d like to share some of my favorite anime that the industry’s best and brightest had to offer in these most auspicious years.

Gunbuster:

Animated by the legendary studio Gainax, Gunbuster was an OVA series that ran for six episodes from 1988-to 1989. It would see the directorial debut of film visionary Hideaki Anno, who would redefine the mecha genre and change the landscape of anime with his groundbreaking creation of Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1995. Not to mention reinvigorating tokusatsu classics with his live-action Godzilla, Ultraman, and Kamen Rider movies.

The story of Gunbuster begins on Earth under the threat of a looming alien invasion. Centering around our main character Noriko Takaya on her quest to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a space pilot in hopes of one day venturing out into the sea of stars, seeking answers to the mysterious disappearance of her father and his ship, the Luxion.

Gunbuster features some of the most blindingly brilliant displays of animated action and mechanical design with an attention to detail bordering on inhuman. Supported by an equally incredible cast of actors and writers, from tense combat scenes and heartbreaking tragedies to gut-busting humor, the story’s emotional impact will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. If you love mecha, sci-fi, or just want to watch cute girls in leotards and leg warmers pilot giant robots in space, you owe it to yourself to watch Gunbuster.

Currently, the only version of Gunbuster available to stream legally is the condensed theatrical version you can watch on Hi-Dive. If physical media is more your style, I’ve got great news for you. The retro revivalist over at Discotek Media are working on a remastered Blu-ray release of the complete six-episode series and finally dubbing it into English for the very first time. With an estimated release date of mid-2022, be sure to pick up a copy if you’re interested and support the rescue and restoration of other classic anime languishing in outdated media obscurity.

Dragons Heaven:

Directed by Makoto Kobayashi with character designs by veteran mecha artist Toshihiro Hirano. 1988 would see the release of Dragon’s Heaven, an intriguing hybrid of live-action robotics and traditional 2-D animation. With an art style reminiscent of famous French comic artist Mobius, the film has an alluringly unique appeal that immediately catches the eye and keeps you invested.

Our heroine Ikuuru discovers an ancient shipwreck while exploring the desert wasteland. Her presence awakens its guardian, putting her face to face with the sentient war machine Shaian. He explains to her that he has been asleep for a thousand years after his defeat during the war. Awaiting a new pilot so that he may avenge his comrades and defeat his nemesis, the ruthless Elmedain. With the animated portion of the feature lasting around 25 minutes, it’s woefully short but incredibly rich and will leave you begging for more. The live-action practical effects robot scenes during the intro are a fascinating spectacle of their own. Director Kobayashi had a passion for robotics and special effects and wanted to bring the robots of the story to life with their own cinematic. Kobayashi paid for the live-action shoot out of his own pocket, calling it his passion project. Which you can see in the excruciating detail he put into the design and function of each robot.

There’s nothing quite like Dragon’s Heaven. So if you like beautiful, strange, and unique films, this one is a must-see. There is no officially available way to stream Dragon’s Heaven, unfortunately, but you can easily find it on YouTube if you so choose to.

The Five Star Stories:

Adapting prolific mecha mangaka Mamoru Nagano’s magnum opus, The Five Star Stories hit Japanese screens on March 11th, 1989. Taking place in the Joker Star System, our story begins with Ladios Sopp. A genius mecha designer and pilot. Hitching a ride with the charismatic Routh Mission to the city of Bastogne to attend the unveiling of Dr. Ballanche’s new Fatimas, androids designed to assist Headliners, pilots of giant machines called Mortar Headds. When Lachesis, one of the new Fatima’s, chooses Sopp as her headliner against the will of her prearranged partner, the wealthy Juba Barada. A highspeed hoverbike chase ending in a massive mecha mele highlights the fluid animation and breathtaking art that make this film so beloved.

With a galactic scope and massive scale, this sweeping space opera is an arduous journey of war, political strife, and finding love amidst the ruins of conflict.

The film is a feast for the senses, from the gorgeous visuals that sparkle with life to its stunning soundtrack. You won’t want to miss this shining gem of mecha magnificence. There is sadly no streaming service where you can watch the film unless you want to track down an old ADV DVD as I did. Nevertheless, I highly recommend watching it however you can, Dominion Tank Police.

From the mind of cyberpunk scion Shirow Masamune, creator of Ghost in the Shell, comes Dominion Tank Police. In a post-apocalyptic world where the air has been rendered toxic and crime runs rampant. The lawless streets of Newport City are patrolled not by squad cars but by hulking tanks ready to dish out some heavy metal justice. Enter our heroine Leona Ozaki, the headstrong, tankloving pilot of her beloved miniature tank, Bonaparte. Along with her hapless partner Al and the rest of their dysfunctional department, they crush, smash and explode their way to victory against the infamous Buaku and his gang of thugs. Though not before they give the poor chief a heart attack from all the paperwork their perilous pursuits cause.

Part police drama, part buddy cop comedy, Dominion is a whirlwind of fast-paced action, quick-witted humor, and stylish flair that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Like most of these older series, there is no official streaming platform you can watch this on, but a quick search online may yield results.

Riding Bean:

Created by action manga maestro Kenichi Sonoda in 1989. Riding Bean showcases the exploits of the brutish Bean Bandit and his sharpshooting femme fatale partner Rally Vincent. They run a courier business transporting goods and people safely to their destinations in his custom supercar “Roadbuster” for a hefty price. Think Jason Statham’s Transporter but with a lot more hair. Bean and Rally get wrapped up in a conspiracy involving the kidnapping of a wealthy young girl.

With the high octane car chases and gunslinging action of The Fast & the Furious, Riding Bean will leave you hanging on for dear life as it drifts its way into your heart.

Riding Bean is available to stream for free on RetroCrush along with the rest of their ever-growing catalog of retro, rare and obscure anime.

Baoh: The Visitor:

From the enigmatic and eternally youthful creator of Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure comes its predecessor Baoh. Taking inspiration from some of Araki’s favorite 80’s monster movies. Baoh plays out like a classic blockbuster sci-fi thriller, complete with bloody violence, grotesque monsters, and supernatural powers.

The film follows the turbulent struggles of Ikurou Hashizawa and the mysterious young girl Sumire. After being captured by the shadowy organization DORRES, Ikurou is implanted with an alien parasite named Baoh for their bioweapon research. On the other hand, Sumire is being held captive for her psychic abilities. After freeing Ikurou from his imprisonment and making quick work of the guards, they escape the train that was transporting them and flee into the city.

What unfolds is a nail-biting game of cat and mouse between our heroes and the hoards of horrifying creatures and super-powered killers. All while Ikurou struggles to come to terms with his newfound powers, using them to protect those he loves and take revenge upon the people who cursed him with this fate.

If you love Jojo and want to see what the author’s work was like before then or want a solid sci-fi action thriller, Baoh is out of this world.

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It looks like the portal to this blast from the past is coming to a close. Before we go back to the future, I hope I was able to spark an interest in you with at least one of these underrated gems. There’s a whole world of exciting and undiscovered anime out there just waiting for you to find.  Until then, keep it old school!”

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