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Sword of the Stranger (Anime)

This is a list of the better-known Anime from some of the legends in this craft, and their skill is unparalleled as animation directors. Not only do they need a deep understanding of how to animate but they need to be excellent virtual-cinematographers, as they control the way we view the shots. This is what separates Japanese animators from the rest of the world. Their older films, particularly the horror genre, can be described as having a very strong Film Noir-like style, using strong lead characters, dangerous dames and deep shadows.

The minimalistic styling of the animators is also quite brilliant as they use a lot of shots where the only movement is the camera view, giving the illusion of always being in motion, which I find very effective. Older Anime, again horror, do have a bit of a rep for being bizarrely sex-filled and depraved, which admittedly a lot of them are, but those moments aside, these films are wonderful entertainment and burst with creativity and originality, rarely seen elsewhere.

Most of the films on this list can actually be found on YouTube and are also English dubbed, which is the way I prefer Anime. Animation is ideal for dubbing in any language but only animation. I would never watch a Japanese feature unless it was subtitled as I prefer to know what they’re actually saying but with these old classics I make an exception. The horrors are also not for young eyes, not only because of the sexual content but the horror imagery, which is extremely graphic.

Wicked City (1987) [Horror/Fantasy]

Wicked City was directed by a man whose name is on this list several times, and is one of the greatest of Anime directors, and my favourite. The film most people will know Yoshiaki Kawajiri for is Ninja Scroll (1993), but a bit more recently one of the segments from the Wachowski’s animated compilation,Animatrix.

Wicked City was Kawajiri’s second film; set in Tokyo in a world where good battles evil. There are two worlds that exist, one which we know of then the unseen one known as the Black World, which is a sort of parallel world that is only seen by a very few. For hundreds of years both worlds have lived in relative harmony, thanks to a pact that was struck by the leaders. To maintain the peace, both worlds have their agencies known as the Black Guards, who make sure each side sticks to the agreement.

The pact is due for renewal, but a group of militants called The Radicals are determined to prevent the treaty being signed by the 200-year-old Giuseppi Mayart, who must be protected at all costs. Assigned to protect the elderly man are two agents; one from each world. Taki Renzaburo is a human agent, and the beautiful Makie, represents the Black Guard, and both must keep Mayart alive until the treaty has been signed.

Their job is already tough thanks to The Radicals being able to resist all the psychic barriers set up to protect Mayart, but the old man is sex-mad and sneaks away to have sex with a hooker. His life ends up in danger with Taki and Makie risking their own lives to rescue the sex-maniac.

Sex is a strong theme in this horror and may put some of you off, but what made this film worth the effort was the style and characters, even the sex-mad Mayart.

Goku Midnight Eye (1989) [Sci-Fi/Thriller]

Goku is another from Kawajiri, and was released as a straight-to-video effort because of its short running time of 50-minutes. Goku is the first of two films, and is one of my favorite Anime, because of the originality of the science-fiction angle. Considering this was made back in 1989, it was clever that the writer, Buichi Terasawa, imagined a world where everything was connected the way it is today, via the internet. The internet wasn’t unknown back then but it wasn’t commercially available, or widely known about until the mid-nineties, so it appeared to be a revolutionary idea at that time.

After a spate of suicides by a group of police detectives, who are watching a suspected arms-dealer, their former colleague, Goku, now a private eye, begins to look into the apparent suicides and almost ends his own life in the process. When anyone looks at the arms dealer’s mutant, female bodyguard, who has peacock feathers with hypnotic eyes coming out of her back, they end up killing themselves, or each other. When she confronts Goku with her feathers, Goku stabs out his eye to save himself from committing suicide, but crashes into a river, and is now almost dead and half blind.

He awakens to find he now has a new left eye that can control any computer in the world, including satellites and is also given a new extraordinary weapon; a stick that, when triggered by his eye, can extend to any length he desires. It might sound like a strange weapon but once you see how many uses it has, you’ll soon learn to appreciate just how clever this seemingly simple idea is. He passes out once more but awakens on a park bench with no clue as to who his benefactor was, and why he was given his new power. Goku goes after the arms-dealer, using his new weapon and eye, but things aren’t made easy for him as the dealer is in an almost impenetrable building.

Goku II Midnight Eye (1989)  [Sci-Fi/Thriller]

Released the same year as the first, and also straight-to-video, this was lukewarm compared to its predecessor. It also felt rushed as the animation lacked the flare of the first, or Kawajiri’s earlier work. The first Goku was simply rendered and matched the comic book style it was based on, yet the second appeared even simpler, but not in the same class. The woman from the first, who played a detective, was practically copied for the second, where she plays a client. This, and a few other things made part two a lesser film, but still solid entertainment.

A woman’s brother has been turned into a cyborg and needs special injections to stabilize his aggressive behaviour, which has been getting progressively worse. She hires Goku to track him down before it’s too late and her brother can’t be brought back from his crazed state, but time runs out and Goku must now try to kill the brother, but the cyborg is extremely powerful and uncontrollable. Goku uses his eye and weapon to get to the bottom of how this has happened and find out a way of stopping him, before more innocent people are killed.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007) [Action/Fantasy]

This version of Highlander, released as a DVD, follows the immortal Colin MacLeod, in a similar vein as the original film version. It starts off also in the Scottish highlands, where we see MacLeod mortally wounded but surviving, and is shunned by his clan as they see it as the work of the devil. The clan chieftain allows him to leave in peace, telling him to always remember he’s a MacLeod of the clan MacLeod.

The Romans are making their way up north, and MacLeod is the leader of small army who are preparing to fight the invaders, led by Marcus Octavius; another immortal who ends up murdering MacLeod’s beloved Moya, which sets him on a mission to destroy Octavious for the crime. MacLeod meets up with Octavius over hundreds of years, but, is always prevented from killing him for various reasons, one of which is the fact he’s just not as good a fighter as Octavius. They fight in all the big wars over the years, across the globe but MacLeod finally catches up to him many years in the future.

The world is only a shadow of its former self with people starving and suffering, and there’s an epidemic killing thousands of the people, but unless a cure is found, everyone will eventually die. MacLeod comes across a city which is ruled by a tyrant who, as he eventually discovers, is none other than Octavius. The people in the city are dying off but MacLeod comes across a woman who is almost Moya’s double. The girl wants MacLeod to help break into Octavius’ heavily protected building, where an antidote for the virus is being stored, and after learning Octavius is the ruler of the city, he agrees, in order to avenge Moya.

Vampire Hunter D (1985) [Action/Horror/Fantasy]

Vampire Hunter D is one of my favourites and is extremely popular among fans of Anime, thanks to the stylish animation and the story itself. This was another straight-to-video release, but isn’t any less effective than Anime with a bigger budget, and with a running-time of only eighty-minutes, wouldn’t be considered long enough for a cinematic release as those type of animation are usually around two-hours in length.

D, is a Vampire Hunter who wanders this fantasy land where his services are in demand thanks to an abundance of Vampires. D isn’t the usual type of hunter as he possesses similar strength and speed to the Vampires, and he also has a demon in the palm of his hand. The demon is kept hidden under D’s glove but it chats to D constantly, and has great power. Because the demon’s face is visible it can chew and swallow almost anything, in any amount, which doesn’t sound very helpful but you’ll see just how this can be put to good use for yourself.

A young woman hires D to recover her sister from a powerful Vampire who she claims has kidnapped her sister and has her imprisoned, but D discovers the woman is there by choice as she’s fallen in love with Count Magnus Lee, a Vampire who is also very old. D eventually has to battle with the Count, where he needs to use all his power but the Count is no pushover and D ends up in trouble. There is a followup to Vampire Hunter D but I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as this one so haven’t included it in this list.

Demon City: Shinjuku (AKA Hell City Shinjuku) (1988) [Horror/Fantasy]

This is another Yoshiaki Kawajiri Anime, based on Hideyuki Kikuchi’s novel, and is another example of Kawajiri still learning his craft. EvenAnime by the less experienced Kawajiri, still betters most other directors works in most respects. That said, Ninja Scroll, an exemplary Japanese animated feature, a standard by which most Anime are compared, was created only five-years after Demon City: Shinjuku, withGoku Midnight Eye, I & II in-between the two.

Our reluctant hero (the best type of hero), Kyoya, has had very little training in his style of martial arts, but he’s eventually persuaded to get involved in a war that’s been going on for years. Demons have taken control of Shinjuku, and one man has managed to keep the peace in lots of countries, worldwide. Rama is paying Tokyo a visit, accompanied by his attractive daughter who’s caught Kyoya’s eyes as he watches her on TV, but just after getting off his airplane he gives a speech, but, Kyoya can tell something’s wrong.

World President, Rama, is kidnapped by demons determined that he doesn’t interfere with their plan to take over the world and have demons dominating everywhere, but, his brave daughter Sayaka, seeks out Kyoya and together they try to rescue Rama and fight with demon leader, Rebi Ra, who we see at the beginning of the Anime as he defeats the top defender for “good” in the world and now, years later, Rebi Ra is coming back to wipe out whatever remains of good in the world, so his demon army can finally rule, but, Rebi Ra hadn’t counted on Kyoya stepping up and challenging him.

While the story is rather run-of-the-mill, and the main characters lacking depth, its stylish, imaginative animation cannot be faulted and as such, if the storyline becomes occasionally tedious, Kawajiri’s animation technique always gives you much pleasure and provides more than enough entertainment on its own.

The Professional: Golgo 13  (1983) [Action]

Directed by Osamu Dezaki, who sadly passed away in 2011, had an enviable collection of titles to his credit, but, I only managed to see two of the stylish directors AnimeThe Professional: Golgo 13, and its follow-up to the first, Golgo 13: Queen Bee, made fifteen-years later, in 1998. Dezaki has directed no less than forty-two animated features, which is no small number by any standard but after only seeing Golgo 13, I & II around six-months ago, I’m now determined to catch up on a few that look pretty damn good.

Duke Togo, codename Golgo 13, is totally unknown by anyone, including the audience, never revealing anything personal, and when he takes on a job, the job is as good as done, as Golgo 13 always gets his target. He is highly trained in all manner of taking life and is the best in the business and way better than the competition. His clients range from the FBI, DIA and any other government agency who van afford his extremely high price.

Golgo 13 has been hired to carry out a job just like any other, however, when he succeeds in killing his target in a rather public execution, the young man’s father hires all manner of hitman and mercenaries to hunt down and kill whoever is found to be responsible for his son’s death, which, as it turns out is Golgo. Golgo must try to find out who hired him and why, so, perhaps he can learn why there is a contract on him now. With plenty action and lots of killings, we follow Golgo as he gets closer to the truth, with plenty of blood spilt in the process.

What I loved about this Anime was the high style used by Dezaki and was a delight to watch. Coupled with an intriguing character, in the shape of Golgo 13, this film is in my top 5 position because of the skill that’s gone into the animation, then we have a character of great depth who is so deep and complex, you can listen to his thoughts all day without ever feeling boredom. If you enjoy James Bond movies but prefer fast and bloody action, Golgo 13 will quickly become one of your all-time favorites. One of the best.

Ninja Scroll (1993) [Action/Adventure]

Ninja Scroll is one of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s finest, made in 1993, but, displaying skill he only hinted at in the likes of Demon City: Shinjuku and still outdoing his contemporaries. With the arrival Ninja Scroll he cemented his growing fan-base and basically ruled the roost for a number of years.

Ninja Scroll tells the tale of expert swordsman, Jubei, who comes across the warrior princess Kagero being raped by a huge man who can turn his body into rock, in order to protect himself. Jubei stabs out one of the rock man’s eyes and rescues Kagero. Eventually the pair meet up with an old monk and together they are drawn into a plot to overthrow the government. One character we meet, Himuro Gemma, turns out to be an old and dangerous adversary of Jubei, and Gemma has control of The 8 Devils of Kimon, one of whom is the rock man.

The fights and action throughout Ninja Scroll sets this Anime above most others, as it contains inspiring animation with awesome style, which we expect from one of the best in his genre, Kawajiri, and is no wonder this is still held by most as one of the finest examples of Anime ever made. I’d place it fourth in my list because it really is that good, and should be one of the first films you ever watch if you intend to try out anAnime movie or two.

Sword of the Stranger (2007) [Action/Adventure]

This is my second favorite Anime of all time, and, interestingly, is Masahiro Andô’s first and only animated feature. Everything Andô had done before Sword of the Stranger, was directing TV episodes of lesser known shows, and since doing this in 2007, Andô has only done a few more animated shows and nothing of a feature-length Anime, which is a huge surprise when you take into account the considerable success of this popular film. He was key animator on the brilliant Cowboy Bebop, and an animator on the likes of Ghost in the ShellMemories andPatlabor 2, but appears to be doing little when it comes to directing.

Sword of the Stranger tells of a man with no name who is a brilliant swordsman and is referred to as “no name.” It’s set in feudal Japan with the country under siege from Ming Chinese invaders. Kotaro is a young orphan boy who has been sent from the monastery where he lived with his pet dog, Tobimaru. Kotaro comes across No Name and after Tobimaru is poisoned, the boy asks the ronin to take them to the next town so he can get help for his dog.

So begins an adventure as the troubled ronin helps Kotaro more than he’d bargained for and although the ronin carries a sword and has great skill, he refuses to fight with it unless there is no other choice. The ronin is plagued by memories which he doesn’t understand but he gets some answers by helping Kotaro and he eventually learns something shocking about the boy and why he’s being hunted. This is a must-see for Animefans or anyone who enjoys samurai flicks as this contains stunning fights and incredible imagery. This is a timeless film that will look as good in twenty-years, thanks to stunning artwork.

Paprika (2006) [Mystery/Sci-Fi]

Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, is my favorite Anime for a number of reasons, and being into Sci-Fi played a large part in my liking it so much. The other reason is the sheer brilliance and quality of the animation which is the finest I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched all four of Kon’s feature animations, which include, Perfect BlueMillennium Actress and the critically acclaimed Tokyo Godfathers, with Paprika, created in 2006 being his last, as he sadly passed away in 2010.

A group of therapists have invented a machine, a cortex-stimulating device called the DC Mini that allows them to enter the dreams of their patients but it’s still in its trial phase. One goes missing from the lab and in the wrong hands, the DC Mini can be used to cause havoc and enter people’s dreams without their consent, allowing their mind to be controlled. The only person who can stop the chaos that ensues is Paprika. Paprika is actually the alter-ego of therapist, Chiba Atsuko, who uses Paprika to enter people’s dreams, but, Paprika is also fearless and confidant.

We witness victims of the stolen DC Mini have severe hallucinations and the animating is breathtaking. This is a film that can be watched loads of times without ever getting boring. The story is certainly good but the animation is better and together, make up a film that will stay with you for a long time. If you enjoy Sci-Fi then this is an animation that shouldn’t be missed.

Reviews by Nav Qateel

             ====================================================== On my next Nav’s Top 10 Anime Picks I’ll include most from the list below and I’ll also look for others that may help make a good, #2, in theTop 10 Picks list, to follow-up this collection in the “best of Anime.”

Lady Death Akira Dante’s Inferno Blood C Devilman Darkside Blues Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic Redline Appleseed Heavy Metal Princess Mononoke Cowboy Bebop Perfect Blue

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