Obscure anime, titles that have fallen through the proverbial cracks.
As a huge fan of anime and manga, particularly older titles, I’ve had the pleasure – and in some cases, displeasure – of seeing a huge number of anime titles. In fact, I think I’ve probably seen well over 200 titles – not all at once mind you, I’m not that crazy about anime.
But it seems like certain anime titles have sort of disappeared and gone under the radar. Whether it’s due to time, age of the audience or some other factors (i.e. quality of the show and so on), certain shows seem doomed to this fate of disappearing through the proverbial cracks. So, I thought I’d share five of what I think are great obscure anime titles.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of anime titles out there, and sadly we can’t watch them all. So inevitably some series just aren’t appreciated, or worse, they fade away into obscurity and are forgotten.
Now, I should point out that the entries on this list are subjective as they were picked mostly out of my personal experiences talking to people about anime in general – these are basically the titles that either are seldom, if ever, brought up in conversations about anime. The entries on this list don’t necessarily need to be old or obscure; just under-appreciated or not really talked. That said, let’s get busy.
Number 5: Wolf’s Rain
Wolf’s Rain a series that, in my experience, very few people talk about. When it is brought up by those who have seen it, most of the time it’s the particularly emotional ending or the wide landscape shots that are discussed more than the story or characters.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the world is dying. According to an old legend, the end of the world will open the gates to paradise – but there’s one problem; the only ones who can find the gates to paradise are wolves… yes, you read that correctly, wolves are the only ones who can find the way to paradise.
Said wolves were thought to be extinct, when in actuality they’ve been living amongst humans disguised with various illusions. We follow a group of these disguised wolves as they search for paradise.
The series was produced by Studio Bones, Asatsu DK, and Fuji TV; it ran for 26 episodes airing from January 7th to July 29th 2003.
The animation is beautifully done and the characters are all very likeable – once you get to know them. It’s a shame that this series isn’t really talked about very much.
Number 4: Record of Lodoss War
Lord of the Rings in anime format. Need I say more?
The land of Lodoss is under threat from an ancient witch’s spirit who is intent on creating political instability to prevent any single nation from gaining power. A young wannabe knight named Parn and five others are all that stand in this witch spirit’s way.
Yeah, the plot is your generic fantasy coming of age storyline, but the characters are all likeable (although Parn starts out as whiny as they come). The humour is admittedly flat in several instances but there are some particularly funny scenes sprinkled throughout this OVA’s 13 episode run.
Produced by Studio Madhouse, Kadokawa Shoten, TBS, and Marubeni, the series’ 13 episodes were aired from June 30th, 1990 to November 23rd, 1991.
Now, I freely admit that when I first saw this I wasn’t a fan; the animation, while I’ve come to appreciate it, looks very dated. The dialogue is very, very clunky in places and the characters themselves aren’t doing the series any favours either. Still, I like Record of Lodoss War, and it’s just a shame that most, if not all of the people I talk to about anime, don’t know about this series (or if they do they let you think they don’t).
It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Number 3: Angel Cop
Okay, now we’re getting into the really obscure stuff – sort of. This is a series that is known but it seems that only people who’ve watched the show know about it.
Angel Cop was a 6 episode OVA which ran from September 1st, 1989 to May 20th, 1994. The series was licensed by Manga Entertainment for its western release and was produced by Geneon Universal Entertainment, SOEINSHINSA and Studio D.A.S.T.
The story takes place in what I think is an alternate history, at the end of the 20th century. Japan is the strongest economic power in the world. A terrorist group called the Red May is trying to cripple the economy and bring down the government.
The Japanese government responds by creating the Special Security Force; an elite group of people able to operate outside of the law – as the opening narration says: ‘they were judge, jury and executioner’ – to hunt the terrorists. It soon becomes apparent, however, that they aren’t the only ones on the hunt as someone else starts hunting and killing the terrorists before they can get to them.
From what I’ve heard, the 80s were a really, really weird time for anime lovers. The market was saturated with profanity-filled, ultra-violent titles which were seemingly quite popular. And Angel Cop was no exception to this – there’s a lot, and I mean a lot, of blood and gore in this series. and the profanity is near-constant. Now, because of the kind of profanity used, I’m not going to give examples of it, but I will say that nothing is more ridiculous than this line: “If this is justice then I’m a banana!”
I consider this one to be one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ titles. It’s not a masterpiece, but if you’re looking for mindless action then this one might be for you. It’s kind of a shame that this series has fallen through the cracks so to speak, because even if it’s not a particularly good series, you can still have fun with it.
When the series was released for Western audiences there were alterations made due to some politically sensitive materials which needed to be censored.
Apparently when the show was released in the United States, the distributors were worried that there wasn’t enough violence, gore, nudity and so on to get an R-rating so they instructed the voice director and voice actors to spice up the dialogue with near constant profanity; resulting in some unintentional hilarity.
Number 2: Kaiketsu Zorro/the Legend of Zorro
I wonder how many people have actually watched this series because almost no one talks about it. It’s almost as if you had to grow up with the series in order to actually know what was up.
The series was based off of Johnston McCulley’s character ‘Zorro’, and ran for 52 episodes from April 5th, 1996 to April 14th, 1997. It was produced by Toho and Ashi Production Studios. Of the 52 episodes, however, only 46 were aired in Japan and the show became very popular in European countries, Portugal and Spain among them.
The first time I saw this series, it was on a cassette tape in my grandmother’s video cupboards – and I loved it! So much so, that I was actually able to get the whole series on tape – we’re talking a huge number of cassettes found in bargain bins in various supermarkets and grocery stores. Sadly the tapes were all lost as we moved around.
The story follows the adventures of Diego Vega who returns from abroad to find the Spanish army oppressing the people of his hometown. By day, he’s this cowardly idiot and by night – or whenever there’s trouble (which is always in this series) – he becomes the black-clad, masked avenger Zorro to protect the people of California and right the wrongs of the Spanish army.
It seems like just another generic historical action setup – and don’t get me wrong the action scenes are fantastic. But the characters are all so likeable, the comedy (particular from the portly Sargent Gonzales) is hysterical. Just thinking of all the abuse poor Gonzales took while writing this had me in stitches!
The animation is a bit dated but I don’t think it’s as noticeable here as it is with other titles of the time. And who could forget that epic opening sequence and song?
It’s the kind of series which, once seen, will stick with you in one way or another.
A Quick Honourable Mention: Speed Racer (1967)
Running for 52 episodes from April 2nd, 1967 to March 31st, 1968, Speed Racer – or MachGoGoGo if you’re going by the Japanese title – follows the exploits of a young driver as he pushes himself to be the best race car driver of all time… Wow that sounds so familiar! The series was based on the manga that was published from 1966 to 1968 in Japan
I used to watch this one on television all the time as well and I didn’t know or care that it wasn’t a typical cartoon or that the animation was different or the dubbing was a bit weird. Honestly, though, I don’t think anyone cared about that; I mean we all knew the Mach 5 was the real star of the show, right?
Whenever I talk to someone about Speed Racer, they automatically go, “I loved/hated that movie!” – referring to the 2008 live action film with Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci. But this is the series that started it for most fans, or at least for Western fans; it was this from which the anime was adapted.
Number 1: Speed Racer X (1997)
This is a reboot of the Speed Racer anime from the 1960s (yes, what I just talked about) and ran for 34 episodes from January 9th to September 24th, 1997, before being given an English release in 2002.
The story is very much the same as its 1967 counterpart with a few minor changes to make it more dramatic. Now, you might be thinking I’m crazy; “How can this be the most obscure anime?” and you’re right to ask. This is like the anime that time forgot, it’s one of those titles that you see as a kid and go, “Cool, a new series!” then a few years go by and you can’t remember it clearly enough so you dismiss it.
So how do you forget something as epic as a modernised version of the Mach 5 (because let’s face it that’s the real reason you’d watch the show) when you were such a fan of the original series?
Well from what I understand, there was a major licensing dispute between the Speed Racer Enterprise (the people who own the rights to the franchise) and DIC Entertainment, the company responsible for the English dub, which led to only the first dozen episodes or so being dubbed into English for the show’s 2002 release.
So, this is almost like a holy grail of anime. Those who know Speed Racer will know about the manga, the 1967 series, or the 2008 film or all three, but they’ll very seldom know much if anything about the 1997 reboot (unless they’ve seen it), which is sort of sad in a way as it’s not really getting much in the way of recognition, if any at all.
Why have these titles become under-appreciated and obscure anime?
Honestly, I don’t know. I think it’s just the changing times. At one point these series were super popular (or else they wouldn’t have been made at all) but as time went on that popularity faded away. As more and more anime titles continue to come out with better animation, compelling stories with plot twists galore, and just an overall higher production value, these series and many others like them have kind of disappeared for the most part.
Anyways, there you have it, five under-appreciated and/or obscure anime that don’t get nearly enough love! I hope you enjoyed the list, remember though that it was based off of my own thoughts and experiences, so don’t take them too seriously. I do, however, hope that I’ve given you guys a few new series’ to watch and enjoy.
So you like anime. Cool, we now like you. As a gift of thanks, have this article on the best anime of 2017.