By the mid-2000s, anime had become normalized in America, thanks partly to the power of Dragonball Z, Pokémon and the “Big Three.” However, while anime had become an accepted pastime, it wasn’t easy to access the diverse array of shows due to limited time slots, heavy censorship and complex or neglected distribution rights. With more family-friendly shows readily available, it was refreshing to see more mature anime pop up on public access, MTV or SyFy.
SyFy has been broadcasting anime since the 1990s, still known as the SciFi Channel today. While it wasn’t a widespread channel and the programming blocks were oddly timed, SyFy was still a beacon for hidden anime gems, typically from the channel-appropriate sci-fi genre but also broadcasting a few horror, thriller and fantasy options.
Patlabor Is a Procedural Gritty Mobile Suit Cop Show
Earthy tones and urban settings ground Patlabor‘s story, adding more relatability to the themes of gentrification, classism and technology. While Labors, this universe’s form of Mobile Suits, have been integrated into the police force among other industries, they are still relatively new, evolving technology prone to complications. There are multiple manifestations of the series in the form of movies, TV shows and OVAs, but the film saw more significant popularity through SyFy and VHS rental.
Labors start going rogue throughout Patlabor‘s version of Tokyo, requiring the thinly stretched police force to uncover why. The film follows this ragtag group of police and others as they discover corrupt elements in the Labor industry. As the issues expand throughout Tokyo, the protagonists attempt to avoid a massive technological uprising that could derail the city’s progress and wreak havoc throughout the country.
Guided by a relatable and pleasant cast of characters, Patlabor is an example of grounded alternate-timeline science fiction. Having human corruption and disenfranchisement as the core cause of this technological breakdown makes the story even more relatable, as hackers and other digital terrorists create strife with modern technology. Similar to Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor feels possible, as the issues stem from human problems relevant today and the movie doesn’t venture too far into the fantastic.
The Drama of Appleseed Humanizes Technology
Appleseed fully embraces a wild technological futuristic after World War III catalyzed scientific evolutions, looking into one of humanity’s routes. Balancing a human perspective with a cyberized human gives Appleseed a unique window into social dynamics and issues that arise from introducing cyborgs and bioengineered organisms into society. Deunan and Briareos partner up to stop terrorists from destroying one of the corner pieces of their community, the supercomputer Gaia. Gaia maintains the networks and facilities of Olympus, a megacity, and the setting of Appleseed.
Instead of an anonymous, detached terrorist, Appleseed adds layers of tragedy and humanity to the story by connecting the terrorists to the protagonists. An emotionally heated cyberpunk pursuit ensues as Deunan and Briareos rescue one of their bioengineered friends from their former human friend’s plot. This conflict challenges human superiority, arguing for balance and respect for all life, even manufactured life.
Deunan and Briareos help transcend boundaries between species through genuine conversation and open-mindedness. Human and bioengineered beings are brought into the fold as greed and corruption taint a promising future. The exhilarating action and real friendships make Appleseed stand among the finest sci-fi action anime ever released.
Macross Plus Perfectly Meshes Music and Conflict
One of the most accessible entries into anime’s classic Macross franchise, Macross Plus gloriously blends music with sci-fi into a beautifully animated and composed work of art. While Macross Plus embraces most aspects of the franchise, its story stands strong on its own, not requiring any prior or further dabbling into the world of Macross. Divided friends, lost dreams and broken hearts add soul to a tale of technological superiority and music.
Childhood friends seek their dreams in the stars and stardom, only to find themselves as tainted versions of their goals. Isamu and Guld grew up competing only to land themselves as test pilots for rival firms inventing next-gen fighter jets. Their jobs bring them back to their childhood home, where they hear something similar to their other friend Myung’s fantastic voice from an AI pop star.
Gorgeous action meshes with stunning and cerebral concerts celebrating passion and corruption. The music is haunting and futuristic, paired with surreal holograms that prey on Isamu’s memories. Yoko Kanno perfectly scores Macross Plus with a haunting soundtrack that remains in the memory bank long after watching. Three friends tussle, separate and reunite to overcome corruption within themselves and a futuristic culture.
The Grim Urban Horror of Tokko Bleeds With Potential
A catastrophic event in a city near Tokyo opens up a chasm that releases demons into the world. These demons inhabit residents of the area affected, often darkening their souls to drive their evil. In reaction, the government opened an organization named Tokko that gathers uncorrupted inhabitants with demon powers.
Ranmaru and Saya, sibling survivors when the demonic pit emerged in Machida, both join the police department to uncover truths. Saya is a voice of reason, seemingly untainted by the demon energy, and tries to keep her brother safe and sane as he pursues their parents’ murderer and copes with post-traumatic stress disorder. Relationships evolve and dissipate as Ranmaru uncovers the truth about his dreams.
An urban horror battle between super-powered police and demonic forces leads to thrilling battles, bloody violence and mystery. Tokko is a quick and jarring experience that offers a nice change of pace from other horror anime with deep source material for those who want more. In addition, there is a vague yet rich mythos about demons that draws in fans of the occult.
SyFy attempted to bring weird genre anime to the masses of the West before the audience existed. Through converging a few new fans and helping enthusiastic fans find new gems like Record of Lodoss War, Project A-ko and Armitage III, among many others, SyFy earns a place in Western anime history. The bravery of a quirky network to bet on an unproven medium helped anime gain more footing with a slow-growing audience.