Friday, September 07, 2007

10 Underrated Sci-Fi Anime

Even to this very day, most people still have the preconception that anime is a genre rather than a medium. Just like any other vehicle for storytelling, anime has various genres and here's my personal list of underrated science fiction anime (and there's a point where I just want to go mainstream and mention various super robot shows or go mainstream with Gatchaman or Yamato). What would your list be like?

  1. Legend of Galactic Heroes -- Adapted from the novel of the same name, epic space opera with a cast of thousands doesn't get any better than this. Also the clash between democracy and dictatorship.
  2. Mobile Suit Gundam -- More than just about boys and their robots, Gundam actually tackles several themes such as politics, prejudice, and even psionics.
  3. Ulysses 31 -- Anyone remember this old "cartoon"? While perhaps not the cream of the crop, it does mimic Odysseus's journey in the sense that it was quite tragic.
  4. Ginga Sengoku Gunyƫden Rai (a.k.a. Thunder Jet) - Anthropomorphs aside, Ginga Sengoku Gunyƫden Rai is this cross between space opera and heroic fantasy. You won't come out smarter for watching it but then again the same can be said for Star Wars.
  5. Monster - While perhaps not as tight as I'd want it to be, Monster is one of the more compelling mundane science fiction drama that tackles the question of morality.
  6. Serial Experiments Lain -- Makes more sense than watching the X-Files with cyberpunk themes to boot.
  7. Tokumu Sentai Shinesman -- Hey, I never said all of these titles had to be serious! What happens when you mix a campy sentai series with a businessman theme? You get Shinesman complete with "Business Card Cutter!" weapons and color schemes like Sepia or Moss Green. (I have, by the way, never seen the show.)
  8. Giant Robo (OAV) - More than just a retro release, Giant Robo has that unique sci-fi twist at the end that makes it all the more tragic.
  9. Paranoia Agent - Director Satoshi Kon is this cross between William Gibson and George Orwell and Paranoia Agent is as disturbing as it is a commentary on our consumerist present. It also transforms one of the cuddliest creatures (second only perhaps to Gremlins) into an object of fear and dread.
  10. Windaria - Maybe I'm cheating. Some people consider Windaria more fantasy than science fiction. But movie nonetheless narrates the clash of two kingdoms, of two lovers, each from two different worlds and the tragedy that war brings.


bhex said...

i don't think i'll even get up to 10 XD; and i don't think these are all underrated. these are just old-ish SF anime that i wish were better known.

come to think of it, i don't think LoGH is underrated either... iirc it enjoyed a large following in its time, and it's already a classic now, isn't it?

1. Space Carrier Blue Noah (aka Thundersub) - sue me, this was the first SF anime i encountered that that focused on available technology - not giant robots, robots with feelings, etc. it was regular military folk isolated in a giant submarine, fighting back, dying, and barely winning against a massive alien fleet. while it was relatively grim compared to other space-age anime, there was never a dull moment in it for me.

2. Starzinger (aka Spaceketeers) - journey to the west in space, man, with the sanzo as a pretty blonde princess. much creativity all around. i remember especially loving the awesome backdrops.

3. Terra E (aka Toward the Terra) - i remember watching this and being impressed with the idea of psychics being alienated as freaks, not as the next stage in human evolution... although i have to see it again before i can comment on the production quality.

agreed on ulysses 31. that was awesome stuff.

i'm not sure monster counts as sci-fi... it always seemed like more of a mystery/thriller to me.

Charles said...

My qualm with Thundersub is that it's a Space Cruiser Yamato clone (in the sense that Yamato came first and did it better).

Monster is primarily a thriller but it does have scifi elements (i.e. the German experiments, etc.) and easily fits the mundane science fiction sub-genre. SF after all isn't necessarily just about the science but about society as well.

bhex said...

yeah, i imagine thundersub got the main idea off a more famous anime i haven't seen yet. i rather liked how much it accomplished in just 27 episodes, though.

"SF after all isn't necessarily just about the science but about society as well."

hmm... thrillers could deal with nazi experimentation, but if there is a noticeable lack of detail or focus given to the scientific concepts applied, social or otherwise, i'd be hard pressed to classify them as SF. some nazi-era thrillers DO zero in on the science (-boys from brazil- is the only example that comes to mind right now), but -monster- doesn't accomplish that much. it just hints at what happened in the experiments, mainly for the horror value.

Clyde L. Rhoer said...

Monster is my absolute favorite TV show ever. I love the way it slowly ratchets up the tension over such a long period.

Since you folks seem pretty schooled in Anime could you point to other stuff that is like Monster, or Serial Experiments Lain? Are these kind of Anime contained in one of the genre designations I don't understand? I'd love to watch more Anime, but I'm not interested in the teen sexual identity, or story-light butt-kicking stuff that seems to be most popular here in the U.S. This means I tend to watch Studio Ghibli films and nothing else, as I don't often take risks with Anime having sent too many half watched disks back to Netflix too often.

Charles said...

Hi Clyde! I liked your previous podcast (haven't gotten around to listening to your latest podcast which you just uploaded!).

Anyway, the problem with anime is that most titles that eventually get imported to the US (or are syndicated on prime time TV in Japan) are usually targeted at the teen market. There are certainly shows that have more mature themes (and while Monster is critically acclaimed, I wouldn't by far call it mainstream) but they're usually relegated to cult status.

Monster's classification as a manga title is Seinen, which in general means it's targeted at older men. (Classification doesn't really quite help. Most titles you see in mainstream right now such as Naruto and One Piece and Prince of Tennis falls under the Shonen category or manga targeted at [young] boys. Never mind that the first is a ninja action/adventure story, the second a pirate adventure story, and the last a sports story, or that such shows garners lots of female fans.)

Legend of Galactic Heroes is this huge political/military science fiction epic but it's 110 episodes long and you'll only find it in the Internet (

Right now a show you might want to look into is Death Note. It's a thriller/mystery with fantastical elements (the best I can describe it is a serious, prolonged duel between Westley and Vizzini from the Princess Bride) and while it's a shonen title, it deals with morality and philosophical themes.

Other shows you might want to look into are the movies of Satoshi Kon. If you don't want to try the strange and surreal Paranoia Agent which is 13 episodes long, you might want to look into his movies like Perfect Blue. I hear Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers is great but I haven't seen either. This is more in the real of bizarre, crazier/horrifying than anything that's popped up in Serial Experiments Lain.

Clyde L. Rhoer said...

Hi Charles,

Rock. Thanks for the advice, I'll start looking at finding your suggestions. I'm glad you like the show so far, the most recent one is a bit different from what I normally do, but it has some very interesting parts and some less interesting parts. I've got quite a few Gen Con interviews left.