About a year or so ago, I posted a list of my favorite anime from the 1970s and 1980s. Today, I have decided to post my personal five favorite anime from the 1990s. There are two titles on this list that technically began airing in 1989, but the majority of their run on Japanese television was during the 1990s, so I am including them on this list. But as is usual with my lists, it is being presented in alphabetical order rather than being a Top 5 list.
I don’t think it’s terribly surprising that Cowboy Bebop made the list, since it’s considered to be such a classic now. It really has withstood the test of time, because the creators of the show made sure not to utilize elements that would have made it feel dated years later. This is especially true when it comes to the music. Yoko Kanno’s score is brilliant, and it still sounds just as fresh now as it did when the series first premiered around 20 years ago.
Cowboy Bebop really stands out from a lot of its contemporaries, due to how it was able to combine several different influences viewers wouldn’t normally expect to see together. But the writing is so well done that these disparate influences work well together.
Dragon Ball Z
After the Dragon Ball series, Dragon Ball Z took the franchise to a whole new level. There’s more sci-fi elements involved, and the addition of the Saiyans to Goku’s back story really changed the tone and storytelling for the franchise. There’s still plenty of fights, though, so it doesn’t lose its roots as a fighting anime.
Admittedly, as the series goes on, the power ups and fights can get a little ridiculous at times. However, many of the characters in the franchise, whether we first met them in the original Dragon Ball series or in Dragon Ball Z, are fun and interesting enough that it helps the viewer overlook some of the absurdity and ridiculousness of the power ups.
The Dragon Ball franchise is still going now, thanks to Dragon Ball Super, which is a testament as to how much of a classic this anime has become over the years.
Only Yesterday is a Studio Ghibli film directed by the now late Isao Takahata, and it was released in Japanese theaters in 1991. It may have been a Studio Ghibli film, but it’s not what one would now consider a “typical” film for the studio.
The main protagonist is an unmarried 27-year-old office lady named Taeko, who has lived her whole life in Tokyo and works at a company in the city. At the beginning of the film, she decides to take a trip into the country to help her elder sister’s husband with the safflower harvest.
While traveling on the train, she recalls memories of when she was a 10-year-old schoolgirl in 1966. When she reaches her destination, she meets and is picked up by her brother-in-law’s second cousin, Toshio. The film shows Taeko learning about harvesting safflowers, getting to know the family she’s staying with, and the time she spends with Toshio. Taeko’s memories of her 10-year-old self are intertwined with what’s happening to Taeko in Yamagata, and Taeko finds herself questioning her feelings and what she wants in life.
I really enjoyed Only Yesterday, and thought it was a very well-done film. It probably helped that I was in my later thirties when I saw the film for the first time, so I was able to understand where Taeko is coming from.
This anime has become quite the classic, with its quirky humor, martial arts mayhem, and romantic comedy. Ranma and his father, Genma, fell into the cursed springs at Jusenkyo, and Ranma now turns into a girl and his father into a panda when they come in contact with cold water… and hot water returns them to normal. Genma and his old friend, Soun Tendo, arrange an engagement between Ranma and Soun’s tomboyish daughter, Akane. These two really hate each other at first, but seem to grow closer as the series progresses. But as new potential love interests for both characters enter the scene, some very strange love triangles (or whatever shapes they end up making) develop.
The series is definitely at its strongest in the earlier episodes of the series. By the end of the series, though, the stories are nowhere near as strong. Unfortunately, since the manga was still ongoing when the anime was being produced, there was never a true ending for the series. However, as readers of the manga know, there still wasn’t a true ending in that version, either. But even with some of its weaknesses, Ranma 1/2 is still an enjoyable comedy series and deserves being called a classic anime.
The Vision of Escaflowne
The Vision of Escaflowne follows a 15-year-old girl named Hitomi Kanzaki, and she’s a runner for her school’s track team. She has a fascination with tarot cards and fortune-telling, which ties in with a pack of tarot cards and a mysterious pink pendant that her grandmother gave her when she was a little girl. Hitomi learns that Amano Susumu, a boy on the track team that she has a crush on, will be leaving her school. Hitomi asks Amano to watch her do a practice run; if she beats her time, she wants Amano to kiss her. While in the middle of her run, a boy about Hitomi’s age named Van Fanel suddenly appears on the track; the boy is wielding a sword. A dragon appears, and together, Van and Hitomi defeat it. After Van claims a stone from the dragon, both he and Hitomi are taken a planet called Gaea.
Hitomi and Van find themselves having to fight the Zaibach Empire, and are aided by a steampunk mecha called Escaflowne. Other characters join their party, and the story really takes off.
As the relationship between Hitmoi and Van develops over the course of the series, I found myself wanting to see the two of them somehow be able to remain a couple if Hitomi finds out how to return to her world. Without providing spoilers, all I will say is that even though the series may not have ended with the “happy ever after” ending I was hoping for, it still ends in a realistic and satisfactory manner.
The Vision of Escaflowne mixes fantasy, steampunk, mecha, and romance to create an interesting and compelling story, and the animation really complements the story. Many of the protagonists in the series are characters that the audience can relate to and care about.
Even though I’m heaping all this praise of the anime series, I would highly recommend avoiding Escaflowne: The Movie. It’s a re-telling of the anime series, and for me, it just wasn’t very enjoyable.