Ask John Editorial: What Anime Features Haven’t Been Licensed?

Discotek’s recent announcement of plans to re-release the 1986 Fist of the North Star movie in America caused me to ponder which other significant feature length anime films aren’t officially available in America but should be.

Feature length anime productions, whether theatrical movies or OVAs, are frequently a desirable acquisition for domestic licensors because single features often have more perennial longevity than serials, and consumers are more eager to invest in stand-alone features than serials. Not every anime film is a hit in America. There have been many stand alone releases on American DVD that haven’t sustained commercial success. But features like Akira, Vampire Hunter D, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, and the Ghibli movies remain popular sellers year after year for a number of reasons. Feature films are often pretty spectacular. They’re the result of bigger production budgets, and they often have top-notch staff, resulting in top quality anime. Consumers also appreciate a purchase that they only have to make once. A multi-volume series requires multiple purchases. A single movie provides a complete entertainment presentation in one package, from one purchase.

There are countless anime features unlicensed or presently unavailable on American DVD, but most of the highest profile and most viable titles are already available on American DVD. However, what about those that aren’t commonly available in America now? The original Fist of the North Star movie was doubtlessly one of the few remaining especially desirable licenses. The 1987 Robot Carnival and 1984 Macross movie are also probably high on the list of vintage anime movies desirable for American re-release.

The contraction of America’s anime distribution industry has regrettably resulted in a number of exceptional anime films slipping out of American circulation. Although never especially big sellers, it’s a terrible shame that Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) and Grave of the Fireflies (1988) are now out of print on American DVD. Likewise, Geneon’s American DVD release of the fantastic and whimsical 1998 film Catnapped! (Totsuzen! Neko no Kuni Banipal Witt) has slipped into obscurity after never gaining the American audience respect it deserves. Right Stuf International’s VHS license for the 1980 Toward the Terra movie has been renewed for American DVD. I personally hope for a similar situation with Right Stuf’s vintage releases of Ai City and Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yoko. The 1986 Ai City theatrical film is one of the mid-80’s finest examples of psychedelic, wildly bizarre, and stylistically explosive 80s anime excess. The 1985 Leda OVA is a fine example of amazing hand crafted effort put into the creation of the best 80s anime. Many American animation fans may fondly recall Sanrio’s 1981 film Sea Prince and the Fire Child (Sirius no Densetsu) and 1985 film A Journey Through Fairyland (Yousei Florence); both films well deserving of an American re-release that may not happen because, while both excellent anime movies; they’re not films with especially large contemporary American market potential. Finally, on a less substantial but no less deserving note, the 1994 Fatal Fury (Garou Densetsu) movie remains one of anime’s best video game adaptations. It’s been unavailable on American DVD for a number of years.

Serving as a sort of transition between films that deserve an American re-release and those which deserve an American premiere is the 1986 film Windaria. Available on American DVD in an edited version with missing footage and an altered soundtrack as “Once Upon A Time,” the exceptional uncut version of this memorable masterpiece has never been officially released in America.

Perhaps the most iconic of all anime films to have never received an official American release is director Mamoru Oshii’s acclaimed 1985 art film Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago). Considering the respect Oshii and character designer Yoshitaka Amano have in America, it’s baffling why this film has never received an American video release. The movie isn’t likely to score well among a large percentage of America’s anime fans used to more conventional, mainstream productions, but it will attract the attention of both viewers interested in the art of Japanese animation, and foreign film cineastes. It’s almost equally curious why the 2004 Mind Game and 2007 Genius Party (and its 2008 sequel Genius Party Beyond) movies haven’t received an American video release.

The 1992 Run Melos! motion picture isn’t very well known among American anime fans, but I’m sure that many of them would be interested in watching this major film that featured gorgeous art from Perfect Blue and Paprika director Satoshi Kon, and Jin-Roh director Hiroyuki Okiura. Director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s 1986 motion picture Arion is another admirable anime film set in ancient Greece, long overdue for an American release. The 1990 TV movie Like the Clouds, Like the Wind (Kumo no You ni, Kaze no You ni) has sadly never had an official American release. Director Gisaburo Sugii’s 2005 family fable Stormy Night (Arashi no Yori ni) is also rather unknown and severely under appreciated in America despite being a major box office hit in Japan. Although similar in theme to Disney’s 1981 movie Fox and the Hound, Arashi no Yori ni applies a unique Japanese sense of palpable tension and danger, making the film just as interesting for adult viewers as children. It doesn’t hurt that the film is also very attractive, visually. 2002’s independent anime film Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space may be too outre for fans of conventional, mainstream anime, but it’s regrettable that this unique picture has never received an official American release. And finally, I’m eagerly hoping for an unmolested American release of the third Crayon Shin-chan movie from 1995. Crayon Shin-chan: The Ambition of Unkokusai (Crayon Shin-chan: Unkokusai no Yabou) may be the most fun of all the Crayon Shin-chan movies. This film also exhibits fluidly animated samurai swordplay action that unexpectedly outshines nearly every other existing samurai action anime.


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