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.
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 10: 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 9: 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 8: 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 7: 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 6: 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.
Number 5: Black Jack OVA
This 12 episode series follows the unlicensed medical genius Kuroo Hazama, “Black Jack” as he performs surgeries and saves lives that would otherwise have been lost – at a massive price, of course.
I first found this series on the Animax network when I was getting into anime at age 14, and while it was sort of disturbing at times, I loved it.
The animation and soundtrack are beautiful and the series’ episodes are all more or less standalone stories, so you don’t really need to watch from episode one to know what’s going on – though that is useful for the occasional references to previous episodes.
In terms of characters, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Black Jack seems heartless but you know as a viewer that he’s going to take the case regardless. The many patients/clients that the doctor works with are all more or less the same, with the only differences being in their circumstances.
The only character that irritates me is Pinoko, the doctor’s faithful sidekick and daughter figure. For the most part she’s just loud and obnoxious.
I also quite liked the level of realism in the series. When Black Jack takes a case (which we know he will), the focus shifts to whether he’ll succeed or not. That’s one of the few things we don’t know: will he succeed in saving this patient’s life?
Much like in real life surgeries, the doctor does occasionally fail and lose a patient; the aftermath of such a loss serves as a reminder that Black Jack isn’t some supernatural miracle worker. He’s a mortal man and makes the occasional mistake; sometimes at the cost of a patient’s life.
Number 4: Perfect Blue
If you love a good mystery thriller then this might be something for you to check out. Based on the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Perfect Blue was the directorial debut of Satoshi Kon – who later became quite the prolific writer and director in the anime scene.
The film follows Mima Kirigoe, the lead singer in a pop music group as she leaves the music industry to become an actress and finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious stalker who causes all kinds of chaos, both physically and psychologically.
I won’t say anything more on the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it. This is one of only three brain bender anime films that I’ve seen and it left me truly shaken. I’m not squeamish by nature, I don’t spook too easily anymore, but this film was downright terrifying. Why? Because anyone could end up being stalked by a crazy person. I was looking over my shoulder for months after I first saw this!
Sadly, however, it seems like Perfect Blue has been all but lost in amongst all the newer titles that keep coming out.
Number 3: Kiddy Grade
Kiddy Grade is a sci-fi/comedy/action series that ran from 2002 to 2003.
The series follows Éclair and Lumiere, two ES Members (covert operatives) of the GOTT, an organisation that acts as a sort of police force in space.
Not much else to say about the plot. The two main characters go on various missions throughout the series and deal with a couple of mysteries and so forth and that’s it.
The animation and musical score are lovely – with the exception of the vocal tracks – those irritate me for some reason. The voice acting is top-notch; Monica Rial, Colleen Clinkenbeard and Laura Bailley play their parts perfectly. The series blends action, adventure and comedy seamlessly and even the sillier scenes are a lot of fun to watch.
Unfortunately this series seems to have fallen by the wayside so to speak. I don’t know anyone who’s seen Kiddy Grade – probably because of the few similarities between the Gundam and Evangelion Franchises.
Number 2: Samurai Gun
Think of Batman in feudal Japan and take away his ‘no killing’ rule; you’ll get something of an idea for this 13 episode series’ story.
Set at the start of the industrial revolution, the series follows a group of rogue samurai – the titular samurai guns as they fight against the cruelty of the current shogunate.
The animation and music are great, the voice acting is excellent, and the story, while not very original, is well thought out and fairly well executed.
The reason behind this series’ lack of attention is, I think, its content. There’s a lot of profanity, some sexual content and loads of violence. Not really ideal for viewers younger than 16 or 17.
Another Quick Honourable Mention: Le Chevalier D’Eon
Running from 2006 to 2007, Le Chevalier D’eon follows D’eon de Beaumont, a knight in the service of King Louis XV as he and a group of companions work to solve the murder of his older sister, Lia – herself a knight – as well as several other disappearances involving women of France during the late 18th century.
Political intrigue and conspiracies, supernatural forces, hints of romance – what more could you ask for? The action scenes are well shot too, as shown in the following clip.
The story is interesting and the characters are quite likeable. To top it all off, you learn a bit of history – sort of.
I’m not sure about why this one doesn’t really get a lot of attention anymore but it certainly gets far less than it deserves. It’s full of action with little room to breathe and if you like a good mystery this will certainly keep you occupied.
Number 1: Cyborg 009: the Cyborg Soldier
Don’t let the dorky art style fool you, this is probably one of the darkest series I’ve seen in years – and I saw it back when it started airing in South Africa years ago!
Based on the manga of the same name and airing from 2001 to 2002 for 52 episodes, Cyborg 009: the Cyborg Soldier follows nine ordinary people who were taken by the mercenary organisation known as Black Ghost and turned into cyborg weapons. Instead of working for their captors, they use their powers to protect people and become quite a team in the process.
It sounds like your typical kid-friendly shounen series; everything from the art style to the music seemingly pushes that idea. But there is so much that I missed when I saw it years ago as a kid that stick out to me now – the number of people who get killed in the first episode, for example.
There are also some really morbid discussions about death and dying in some episodes, which get pretty heavy. Thankfully there’s a significant amount of humour to offset the darker moments – though I’m still pretty shocked at how much darker the series is than I remember it.
It’s a lot of fun to watch if you don’t mind the darker material (which I don’t) and it’s quite a shame that a series like this would just vanish into obscurity fated to be unknown to all but those who watched it back in 2001 and 2002.
Fun Fact: Cyborg 009 had its first screen adaptation with a film in 1966.
Why have these titles become under-appreciated and obscure anime?
I think it’s 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, ten under-appreciated and/or obscure anime that don’t get nearly enough love! Maybe you’ll give them the love they deserve <3
So you like anime. Cool, we now like you. As a gift of thanks, have this article on the best anime of 2017.