In a crowded marketplace for streaming services, RetroCrush stands out for its library comprised mostly of older anime series and movies, all available to stream legally and for free. Many of these anime classics were huge hits in the early years of American anime fandom but fell out of print and into obscurity before having their licenses rescued by companies like Discotek. Other classics never came to the States legally back in the day and have only become available recently, allowing fans to finally fill in the gaps in their knowledge of anime history.
There are many old-school anime greats to explore on RetroCrush. However, for those seeking specific recommendations, the following five gems, listed in chronological order of release, are great places to start. Whether you're seeking action, sci-fi, comedy, or the cuddliest sense of pain and despair ever, these anime are ones that any fan interested in the medium's history should check out.
Masami Hata's 1978 anime film Ringing Bell certainly looks like something viewers would expect from Sanrio, the merchandising company behind Hello Kitty. However, the actual movie is way darker than its cutesy character designs and family-friendly pedigree would suggest. Things start off upsetting enough when the main character, an adorable little lamb named Chirin, witnesses his mother being eaten by a wolf. The plot only gets darker from there, as Chirin seeks revenge and decides to become as strong as a wolf himself.
Running a brisk 47 minutes without a single moment of uplift amidst the story's increasing parade of misery, Ringing Bell is a downright bizarre and utterly unforgettable viewing experience that doesn't overstay its welcome. The disjoint between the film's style and substance is effectively handled -- just be sure not to let little kids watch this unless you're ready for some very difficult conversations.
Absolutely legendary among anime fans of a certain age, yet widely overlooked by younger generations, Project A-Ko is one of the wildest action-comedies of the early '80s. It's filled with both exceptional animation and wacky pop culture parodies. The titular character A-Ko is a super-strong high school girl implied to be the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman. She fights with her wealthy classmate B-Ko over the affections of innocent C-Ko, who is secretly an alien princess from a race of all-female aliens invading Earth.
Originally planned as an installment of the Cream Lemon hentai series but deemed so funny and high quality as to warrant its own mainstream non-pornographic theatrical release, the 1986 Project A-Ko feature film received three shorter theatrical films as sequels. All four installments in the main series are streaming on RetroCrush. The first film will also receive a 4K Blu-ray remaster from Discotek, which is scheduled for sale this December.
Otaku no Video
Those interested in the history of the Gainax animation studio and/or Japanese otaku culture need to make time to watch Otaku no Video if they haven't already. This two-part OVA, released in 1991, combines anime and live-action segments. The anime story follows a budding geek's quest to become the "Otaking," the ultimate otaku, and build an otaku-run model and anime empire not dissimilar to Gainax's own ambitions. The live-action scenes feature mockumentary interviews with anonymous real-life otaku -- all of whom are confirmed or suspected to be Gainax employees (including Neon Genesis Evangelion director Hideaki Anno).
Otaku no Video was made in the aftermath of the arrest of Tsutomu Miyazaki, a serial killer whose horrific crimes the media decided to blame on anime and manga. Being an otaku wasn't exactly socially acceptable before the Miyazaki murders, but in the late '80s and early '90s, anti-otaku stigma was stronger than ever in Japan. Otaku no Video, with its mocking but ultimately loving portrayal of anime fandom, served to help reclaim "otaku" as a badge of honor rather than an insult.
The 1995 anthology movie Memories, executive produced by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, contains three short films, each incredibly impressive and distinctive works of animation. The first segment, "Magnetic Rose," is the most famous of the three, and for good reason. Directed by master animator Koji Morimoto and written by a young Satoshi Kon, this mind-bending sci-fi story follows a pair of astronauts responding to a distress signal, who find themselves traveling into the A.I.-recreated memories of a dead opera singer.
"Stink Bomb," directed by The Seven Deadly Sins' Tensai Okamura and written by Otomo himself, is a more comedic story about a scientist who turns into a smelly bioweapon after accidentally taking some experimental pills. The final short, "Cannon Fodder," is both written and directed by Otomo and is a stunning dialogue-free exploration of military propaganda in a dystopian future, animated as if it were one continuous 22-minute shot.
Martian Successor Nadesico
Premiering in 1996, Martian Successor Nadesico was part of the post-Evangelion boom in mecha anime. However, whereas other late '90s mecha series tended to follow Evangelion's lead in their more serious and esoteric storytelling, Nadesico was first and foremost a comedic celebration of older super-mecha anime. While the story of a war between Earth and the "Jovian Lizards" provides stakes and drama, the darkness is counterbalanced by a cast of wacky characters who'd rather be watching their favorite mecha anime, Gekiganger 3, than actually piloting their giant robots.
RetroCrush is streaming both the original 26-episode series and its 1998 movie sequel, Martian Successor Nadesico: The Motion Picture – Prince of Darkness. However, unlike the original series, the movie relies heavily on background knowledge from the show's Sega Saturn video game spin-off in order to make any sense, and is therefore severely lacking as a follow-up to the TV anime's tone and storyline.