Ask John: Which Anime Have Been Ahead of Their Time?

Question:
I was wondering are there any hentai releases where the animation/story was ahead of its time?


Answer:

Since this is such an intriguing question, I’d like to expand its scope to include all anime. And while it should be taken for granted that “Ask John” responses are my own personal and subjective opinions composed with the knowledge and perspective I have at the time, I want to re-emphasize that point in order to explain why my selections may not be comprehensive or identically match anyone else’s.

Answering this question first requires establishing a clear understanding of the question. An anime production that is “ahead of its time” is literally one which exhibits characteristics more similar to its decendants than its contemporaries, implying an extraordinary degree of artistic vision. However, while an anime ahead of its time is revolutionary, it is not necessarily trend setting. So it’s important to distinguish a difference between productions that are “ahead of their time” and productions which are ground breaking or trend setting. For example, the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam television series revolutionized the robot anime genre and introduced an influential new type of robot anime. However, poised on the cusp of the 1980s, as it was, Mobile Suit Gundam served as a deliniation between the “super robot” genre of the 1970s and “real robot” genre of the 1980s. So rather than “ahead of its time,” I think that Mobile Suit Gundam premiered at preciesely the right time.

Mushi Productions’ 1973 art film Kanashimi no Belladonna is an unusual work because of its drastically contrasting content and style. The film primarily consists of still images and limited animation, making it seem primitive even in comparison to its contemporaries. However, the film extensively used the type of psychedelic and impressionistic imagery and animation that would later appear in international films like the animation of director Ralph Bakshi and the animated sequences of director Alan Parker’s film “Pink Floyd: The Wall,” and numerous 80s anime OVAs. More importantly, Kanashimi no Belladonna contains extensive sexual imagery that is still potent and shocking today. The fact that this 35 year old film feels powerful and provocative today is a testament to its status as a film ahead of its time.

Director Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature film, 1979’s Lupin the 3rd: Cagliostro’s Castle, is an amazing, literally timeless production. The film’s visual design, animation quality, characterizations, and action belie its actual age, as the movie literally seems like it could be a brand new production. Any viewer unfamiliar with the film’s history would be hard pressed to guess that the movie is as old as it is.

The one and only erotic anime that I believe deserves the acclaim of being “ahead of its time” is the original 1986 Urotsukidoji trilogy. Even today, more than twenty years later, there has yet to be another erotic anime that rivals the epic scope and theatrical quality animation of the original Urotsukidoji series.

Calling the 1987 film Wings of Honneamise “ahead of its time” is simultaneously justified and inappropriate. The film’s lavish attention to visual detail is extraordinary even for 80s anime that’s often characterized by its intricate visual minutiae. However, even by contemporary standards very little, if any modern anime rivals the tremendous detail of Honneamise. In effect, if Wings of Honneamise is ahead of its time, time may have yet to catch up to it!

1995 saw the debut of two anime productions deserving of being called truly visionary. The Evangelion television series was, in effect, re-released theatrically in 2007 with mere comestic updates. Similarly, the original Ghost in the Shell motion picture will be theatrically re-released this year, also with mere superficial upgrades. Unlike films re-released for the sake of nostalgia, both Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell are able to sustain contemporary releases because the fundimental content of their original 18 year old versions feels contemporary today, and can easily keep company with modern productions. In effect, it could be argued that Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell were mid-2000s anime made and released a decade early.

It may be too early to nominate relatively recent anime as productions ahead of their time because we haven’t yet determined if the future has caught up to them. For example, animator Makoto Shinkai’s 2002 short film Voices of a Distant Sar may one day be recognized as a predecessor of studio quality digital animation produced independantly by a single artist with consumer grade equipment. But since Voices of a Distant Star presently remains a unique work, it’s impossible to determine whether it’s “ahead of its time” or simply a unique work among its contemporaries.

Similarly, it’s still too early to determine whether the 2006 internet anime series Flag is an extraordinary anomaly or whether it will feel similar and comparable to anime produced some time in the future. Right now, the series’ unusual documentary style and strict development of a serious and believable future extrapolated from contemporary science and politics feels exceptional and much more visionary than average contemporary anime.

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