Anime in the mid to late-1990s was actually the best time to get into anime. This was the time where the creative forces behind anime began pulling themselves away from the ultra violence that gave anime a bad reputation and began pushing themselves for great stories that has withstood the test of time. Some of the most beloved and most recognized anime came out of this era; it was truly a renaissance (one we haven’t seen before or since)! This was also the time where anime crawled itself out of the dark corners of just being available for blockbuster video to now being aired on television, creating such worldwide acclaim and how we all first watched anime for the first time. For the longest time, the marketing for East and West has always been something that both cultures couldn’t appeal to one another, then all of the sudden, shows like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon started selling merchandise and we couldn’t get out of the door without even hearing of the franchise. It as well opened doors to anime that had much more mature content than your standard cartoon that we seen in Saturday Mornings children’s broadcasting and Adult Animation late at night. Also, I prefer this era of anime more so than modern anime because they had a sense of realism and humanity instead of being too shiny, sharp, and overboard with the design & storytelling that lost the appeal that I felt so many years ago. There are anime today that I enjoy, but somehow the anime that came out from this era has that everlasting appeal that even future generations of Otaku will appreciate and enjoy! This was the panicle of what anime achieved and I still await to see if anime would ever be this good again. At last, here are the ten best animes that I certainly enjoyed watching from this era!
Number 10. – Flame of Recca
Flame of Recca follows the exploits of Recca Hanabishi: high school student, ninja with the mysterious ability to shoot fire, and fireworks enthusiast. And where would our shounen hero be without the help of his cronies? First there’s Domon, the nose-ringed, mohawked, token brute, who is by far the coolest. Then there’s Fuuko, queen of the panty flash, she harnesses the power of wind … think about it … you’ve almost figured it out … there you go. And then there’s Mikagami, the angsty bishounen (pretty boy) asshole whom Domon should place between two comically large slices of bread and devour. There’s also Recca’s love interest, Yanagi, who has magical healing powers which (surprise surprise) lead to her being captured by a megalomaniacal madman with immortality on his mind and cookie monster eyes. Said abduction sets our intrepid young heroes out to save her, and thus our story begins. Ah, shounen plotlines … an old concept, but I feel it works well. Like I said, Flame of Recca’s not working to bust any brains here. So how did this anime make it on the list? Well, it’s just the simple fact that I just have the biggest nostalgia for it because it’s one of the animes that got me into anime and I still have a soft spot for everything this series had to offer.
Number 9. – Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
Inspired by Jules Verne’s classic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is a celebration of young love and a coming-of-age story created before Anno and Gainax took a darker turn with titles like (that overrated piece of shit) Neon Genesis Evangelion. Contrary to these later series, Nadia – the Secret of Blue Water remains a light-hearted adventure story and is one of the most beloved and influential anime of all time. Nadia – the Secret of Blue Water’s strongest point is its characters. Having thirty-nine episodes allows for plenty of development and fleshing out of even the most minor characters. Jean and Nadia’s romantic ups and downs always brought a smile to my face, as did Marie’s precociousness. Each character is believable, likeable, and crucial in their own way to the progression of Jean and Nadia’s development as characters. The web of character relationships was meticulously built to allow for great interaction between the characters, and there are few better casts of characters in anime. Probably one of the best television series ever to come out of Japan, Nadia is thoughtful, breezy, and pleasantly un-cynical. Not director Anno’s most personal work (if that’s what you want, check out Evangelion), it remains most likely his best. It’s among the most consistently entertaining shows I’ve seen, from Gainax or anyone else.
Number 8. – Record of Lodoss War
Record of Lodoss War is as steeped in the traditional garments of fantasy as you could possibly get. You can easily see where European and American role-playing games have had an influence in the making of this one. The heroes, deities, villains, and monsters could easily be found in any D&D game. Animation and art are pretty good, except for some annoying stock footage that gets recycled in battle scenes. The action is smooth and convincing. All the players on the screen fit their roles well. The soundtrack gets the job done mostly, even though it’s a little rinky-dink and annoying in some areas. The plot is a pretty good one, one that tries to go beyond the “six heroes decide together to save the world” storyline that seems to plague too many RPG’s and fantasy stories nowadays. The story builds up to a very nice climax, allowing for a few surprises along to way to keep the watcher on his/her toes. The only complaint I have is that the ending seemed a bit rushed. The producers could have easily devoted at least one more volume than they did on the ending. Characters are all wonderfully done; everyone plays their part to the hilt, interacting with one another just as I would expect them to do. The heroes are a nice balance between fully-competent and human. Especially endearing are the romantic pursuits of Deedlit towards a clueless (not to mention BLIND) Parn. Fun stuff. I actually like the dubbing very much for this one, too. Most of the voices are matched really well, and the ones that change still fit their roles well. I actually LIKE hearing Woodchuck sound like he’s from Brooklyn; it just seems to fit him better. Overall, if you like fantasy in any way, you’ll like Lodoss. It’s not perfect, but who cares? It’s a lot of fun.
Number 7. – Golden Boy
You wouldn’t think that a perverted lech would make for a good lead in any series, much less a genuinely likable one. But Kintarou manages anyway in this hopelessly dirty-minded, yet basically good-hearted series that is postpubescent fantasy at its most improbable. In each episode, Kintarou must learn a new skill to survive, whether it be computer programming or swimming or cooking noodles. (Or, in the last episode, animation!) In each episode, he is surrounded by or in close proximity to beautiful women. And he does precisely what guys would do if they had no such thing as self-control. Or common sense! The funny thing about this series is that, considering the levity of the subject matter, the animation is flat-out gorgeous. The expressions on Kintarou’s face, the girls, and well, everything is drawn well, with plenty of detail, and a healthy dollop of gloss to go with the bounce, so to speak. The music’s appropriate, and the characterization, as it were, is sufficient – they’re not merely bra sizes, anyway. (Besides, usually, the women in this series obviously don’t wear bras.) But for all the fan service (and some outright nudity) in this series, when it comes down to it, the lechery is supposed to be a facade for Kintaro’s true feelings of respect and admiration for women. He never actually does anything with them, and some episodes turn out to be really cute by the end. Still utter fantasy, but harmless in the long term. Golden Boy cuts to the bone of what most men are really thinking when they’re pursuing a girl. It’s not sensitive. It’s not New Age. But it’s one-hundred-percent guy, and it’s hilariously dead-on.
Number 6. – Outlaw Star
This series has a little of everything. Among the crew of the Outlaw Star are a handsome but occasionally dorky hero; his teenage-genius sidekick; a cute but painfully shy android girl; a tradition-loving female ronin; the ship’s cantankerous computer, with the personality of a depressive who’s resigned to his fate; and a predictably spazzy catgirl. This should give you some idea of how well it sticks to all the cliches of 90s-era sci-fi anime. And yet it transcends those cliches at the same time. Be it romance or comedy, action or drama, fantasy or sci fi, Outlaw Star has it all. And it blends them all together very well. Far too many times in the modern anime world do we see anime with romance or comedy just thrown in the mix to try and fill up space or add a certain touch here and there. However, most of this falls flat on its face. But in the case of Outlaw Star, these genres blend seamlessly together to create quite the animated tapestry. The plot of Outlaw Star is essentially a mystery story more than anything else. It asks many questions throughout the show. However, it seems that some of these questions were a bit too easy to answer on our own. Although the story is interesting and fun, it is essentially a mystery story and with no mystery; one is left wondering, “What’s the point?” The show’s biggest strength is the appeal of its cast of characters. This likeability comes straight from Outlaw Star’s cast of original quirky characters. From the braniac Jim Hawking, to the silent but deadly samurai girl, Suzuka, everybody will find someone to love. Another reason this show has such great appeal to newer anime viewers is stellar music. The opening song, “Through the Night”, kicks things off with a bang. It gets your blood pumping and heat racing. By the time the show actually starts, you’re already excited about it! However,Outlaw Star isn’t just about getting people into anime. It has a lot to offer to the more seasoned veterans as well. Outlaw Star won’t disappoint.
Number 5. – Macross Plus
Macross Plus is a 4-episode OVA series, produced by Studio Nue. Triangle Staff and Bandai Visual. It was released in 1994, with an exceptional standard of production for its time, then oft considered the pinnacle of anime. If you watch it now in 2012, you would still see just how much the animation has stood over time. The hand drawn animation coupled by a slight touch of CG is a lost now. Macross Plus is among the absolute classics that truly defined anime. The other thing that makes Macross Plus amazing is the soundtrack. The music used for this anime is among the best and it truly stands out. The background music is perfect for every scene, and for the concert scenes the techno music is amazing. No one could be unmoved by “Voices”, Myung’s theme song, it sounds equally great when she sings it or when it’s instrumental. The music is also central to the plot and characters in more than one way, it ties everything together by evoking the right actions and reactions so much so that the sound in this series is like another character. Once again though, the story takes a hit for this anime. Granted that it’s from a time where anime isn’t really that diverse in the story. It’s the only aspect of the anime that truly feels a bit outdated. It’s predictable and clichéd but I can only imagine how big of an impact the anime made when it was released.
Number 4. – Trigun
The experience is genuinely human — while pretty much any consistent anime viewer knows there will be pacifists in any given series, Trigun balances this perfectly. With pure-hearted, idealistic, visionary heroes versus macabre, sinister, yet intelligent villains, many differing outlooks on life are explored. It is this fact that causes Trigun to exist on a tier of its own, and has earned its place in many circles as a work of pure genius. That said, Trigun works around Vash the Stampede, a wanted criminal with a 60 billion double-dollar bounty on his head. Right off the bat you get the feeling there’s something more to him than meets the eye, as he would much rather inhale a box of donuts than massacre a town. Like many leads in anime, Vash appears to be obnoxiously pacifistic, continually reciting his motto of, “Love and peace!” As you might have already guessed, unlike other series that choose to implement this cliché, Trigun presents a solid reasoning behind Vash’s philosophy. While the first half of the series focuses on developing his personality, the latter certainly presents a number of interesting challenges and decisions for the pure-hearted idealist to confront, many which do no merit joyous outcomes. Where most might immediately turn to Vash as the deepest character of the series, I actually turn to co-villain, Legato. A devious, cunning sycophant, one quickly characterizes him as nothing but a bloodthirsty sadist. However, while to an extent this might be true, Legato remains completely logical, concise, confident; certainly nothing close to the stereotype commonly given to such evil. The perfect enemy in all respects, the choice Vash is forced to make regarding him toward the end of the series will, most probably, stick with me until my deathbed: those who have seen Trigun know what I am referring to. This fathom-deep intimacy with the human mind, found through each of the main characters, makes Trigun, in my book, a must watch for every anime fan. Vash, Meryl, Milly, Wolfwood, Legato, Knives — all are designed with this spectacular precision. A superb mingling of comedy, action, drama, and intellect, it has a number of qualities that give it a broad range of appeal. Whether you’re new to the world of anime or a battle-worn veteran, Trigun should definitely be on the top of your list of series to see if you haven’t watched it already.
Number 3. – Samurai X / Rurouni Kenshin
Rurouni Kenshin recounts the adventures of Kenshin Himura, a wandering swordsman struggling to begin a new life in the Meiji era. Once a feared manslayer, Kenshin has taken up a reverse-blade sword and pledged to use it only to protect others. Humor, action, and romance are all incorporated into Rurouni Kenshin’s style, and the show manages to deliver on all counts, although it doesn’t particularly excel at any of them. The action was no doubt the high point, and the warrior philosophies espoused by several of the show’s characters were often thought-provoking. The comedy was consistently humorous, but I found little of it to be truly laugh-out-loud funny. Romance and drama elements were mercifully infrequent, and although they were sometimes moving and inspirational, they typically tended towards melodrama. The highlight of the show is definitely the romance between Kenshin and Kaoru because it’s just so satisfying to watch as their relationship continues to grow. Looking at it at a woman’s point of view I can see why Kenshin is nearly every girl’s dream man. He cooks, he cleans, he’s great with children, and in his spare time he occasionally fends off power-mad swordsmen bent on taking over the country. Her charming blend of strength and innocence gives him what he searched ten years to find—a reason to value his own life. Kenshin’s personal conflicts marked both the most effective and most frequently-used dramatic theme. Rurouni Kenshin has a variety of elements that appeal to a widespread audience, making it one of the best-loved anime series of all time, despite its flaws. Its colorful visuals, compelling theme, and lovable characters will leave an impression on any anime fan. It may not become your new favorite, but its quality and longevity cannot be denied.
Number 2. – Berserk
Berserk has the same problem that many other anime have – a lousy beginning that camouflages an exceptionally well-done middle sequence and it was doomed to end in a horrible ending because the anime is basically a commercial for the manga that its based on. But in order to enjoy this anime, just watch episodes 2 – 19 on its own; don’t dare watch the first and last 6 episodes because it’s so out of touch on what made the show so appealing! Once you get past the murky and muddled exposition, you get to actually meet the cast as more than just the standard fantasy archetypes. Before we even had Game of Thrones, we had Berserk as the best anime of its kind. Guts (Gatsu), for example, is more than just the stoic, battle-hardened fighter he seems to be at first. He is a truly interesting head case, a product of years of systematic abuse and ill fortune. He is constantly battling demons, both metaphorical and real, and often wonders aloud about his lot in life. Griffith, on the other hand, is a surprisingly gentle soul, with a mind and wit as sharp as his blade. His beauty seems eerily unfitting for a field of death, and yet when Guts and Griffith fight side by side, covered in the blood of their enemies, it is like they are gods of war, kindred spirits with little else to define their lives. The rest of the Band of the Hawk is made up of very real people, and it’s almost a shame to realize that these are men (and in the case of Caska, women) joined together in the cause of bringing death to their enemies. They are killers, takers of lives, even as they pretend to live “normal” lives as mercenaries. Even the antagonists, the men of Chuda, are portrayed as very human. Guards wonder aloud when they get to go home, or comment on the weather, in the moments before the Band takes their lives. Though the show has a lot of satanic references/imagery, level of sex & violence that’s too much for the faint at heart, and even epic moments that feels so thrilling, the core of the anime is willingness of finding your goal and fit in a place where people care for you. That’s why the friendship of Guts and Griffith is so much more powerful than the love-relationship between Caska and Guts. Because of it’s level of human drama being the core of the show is what makes it forgiving that the animation is on a small budget and even the voice-acting isn’t really as good as it might have been. Berserk incorporates highly tantalizing story elements that make for an emotionally charged watching. You become attached to the main character as you relive his life, his pain and his ultimate fate. What makes it so good is the fact that you seem to live within Guts along the story. Strong pacing, believable characters and a general sense of impending doom makes the suspense all the more precipitous, which enhances the audience’s enjoyment of the series. Overall, with only those episodes that I recommend, the show did it’s job on capturing humanity and the struggle of capturing dreams at its fullest that doesn’t feel it has an equal!
Number 1. – Cowboy Bebop
Otaku are all over the map when it comes to individual tastes and preferences. Some might be magical girl fans and some may be sanin fans who who believes there should be a proper ending to Berserk (and some might be both and some are not at all a fan of anime). But if there was one anime where everyone can agree that’s an anime that could bring everyone together into one identity, it has to be Cowboy Bebop! The reason why this anime got the reception and worldwide acclaim that it clearly deserved is because Cowboy Bebop is the most non-anime ever produced. Though it didn’t have as much success in Japan, it had a huge audience around the world because it felt like an American program that uses western cinema as inspiration. It’s a show that isn’t just one thing; it hops on reference to reference without skipping a beat to Blaxploitation films, to film noir detective stories, to westerns, and even Bruce Lee martial arts flicks! Cowboy Bebop homage has more American films that Quentin Tarantino’s entire filmography. A show that only has 26 episodes to its name has been some of the most beloved program to watch that even Adult Swim still keeps rerunning the show since it debuted in English dub 2001. Cowboy Bebop is so unique that it’s striking that it’s so un-Japanese like nearly every anime in existence. From the jazz soundtrack, the style of storytelling mechanics, the way characters interact, the complexity of its world, and even the humor, it’s all done tremendously well that no other show since could capture that very essence. An anime doesn’t necessarily need to western-nize itself to deem itself a classic, but when we’re talking about something that feels different among the rest, it’s anything but. But Bebop isn’t just a homage, thankfully it’s a lot more clever than that! It’s the way that the character interact and react these outside influences is what makes the show unique on to itself. It utilizes them for clear character and world-building. Still the anime would be as significant as it is without its soundtrack, it still is the best soundtrack ever produced for a TV program and it’s what makes the series! When it you think about it, the show is so watchable is because it’s accessible. The world is so fleshed out and nothing important is left unexplained. There are no alien cultures to money the narrative and technology is so advanced that are grounded on how modern technology would progress (just like how Spike and Jet are confused on how VCR’s work as it’s already happening with newer generations who treat it like cavemen stuff). Bebop is almost anything but mainly a science fiction, but we don’t see it much that way as we focus so much more on the humanity and the drama is front and center with the show that makes us so engaged than any other TV program, not just anime. The series is just so globally minded that it’s more than just anime, it’s nothing more than importance. Cowboy Bebop showed people what they never thought of anime before on what they were missing. Nothing else could be said more so for my number 1 choice of the best anime of the 1990s!
- Top 10 Best Things of the 1990s!
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