Anime fans in the United States have it better than ever before in terms of the quantity of anime available for them. Pretty much every new anime gets licensed immediately, and many of the classics are being released on Blu-ray or streaming on sites like RetroCrush.
However, there are still some major anime classics that have fallen through the cracks, due to either rights issues or the rights holders just letting it go out of print. The following classics are either difficult or impossible to watch legally in the US.
Heidi: A Girl of the Alps
One of Isao Takahata's most iconic works preceding the founding of Studio Ghibli, 1974's Heidi: A Girl of the Alps remains unavailable to stream anywhere. Adapted from the 1880 novel Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning by Johanna Spyri, Heidi: A Girl of the Alps was part of the World Masterpiece Theater line-up, which adapted several works of classic literature and folklore into anime. The anime was one of the earliest collaborations between Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, who worked on the show as an artist and screenwriter.
Throughout World Masterpiece Theater's decades-long run, only seven titles have received an English dub at all. Some World Masterpiece Theater anime can be seen on Amazon Prime, including Swiss Family Robinson and Tales of Little Women. However, though Heidi received a warm response in Europe, it now remains unavailable to watch. Sadly, Amerian audiences are left without any way to legally watch Heidi, even though this lovely adaptation played such a key role in anime history.
Future Boy Conan
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Future Boy Conan is a surprisingly upbeat post-apocalyptic anime based on The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key. The show is a major stepping stone in Hayao Miyazaki's pre-Ghibli career and considered a beloved work of art the world over, proving especially popular in the Middle East. The series played a major role in the hit Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, but to this day, it has never received an official American release.
Unlike with a lot of shows that seem to have fallen through the cracks, Future Boy Conan was dubbed and licensed but ran into legal issues. Streamline Pictures, the studio that distributed Akira in America, licensed and dubbed both Future Boy Conan and Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water for Japan Airlines in 1992. Before they could release it on VHS, however, Alexander Key's estate found out about it. Apparently, they were so angered by the idea of Future Boy Conan coming to America that they filed a cease and desist order. The only home-release of the Streamline Pictures dub was in a 3DO game called Conan, The Boy in Future: Digital Library, which only included a brief clip from it.
Angel's Egg is one of the most bewildering films from Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii, an experimental sci-fi film that's as haunting as it is baffling. While it's been viewed fairly widely through piracy (the lack of dialogue makes subtitles unnecessary), no distribution company owns the license to Angel's Egg. Being from such a famous director likely makes it expensive to license, and the film itself would alienate most audiences, so it makes sense why studios are unsure if they can license the film and make a profit.
In the early 2000s, Anchor Bay Entertainment licensed the film and was set to release it. However, they later denied having the rights to the film, leaving it, once again, in limbo. The closest Angel's Egg has come to an international release is when director Carl Colpaert appropriated roughly thirty minutes of the anime into his movie In The Aftermath. So much of Angel's Egg is used in In The Aftermath that Oshii receives credit in the film. However, this is far from the same thing as an official HD release.
A Little Princess Sara
Another World Masterpiece Theater series, A Little Princess Sara was selected in the mid-2000s as one of TV Asashi's 100 Favorite Anime Series as selected by celebrities. On this list, A Little Princess Sara ranked it above the likes of Fullmetal Alchemist, Ranma 1/2 and Bleach. The anime is based on the 1905 novel A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This novel has been adapted to film many times, most notably in 1995 by director Alfonso Cuarón.
Bizarrely enough, A Little Princess Sara does have an English release. Animax distributed the film in Southeast Asia with an English dub track. However, the series was never licensed in America, despite having a dub. Once again, this is a result of the entire World Masterpiece Theater line being almost criminally neglected by the American market.
When discussing anime classics you can't see, the horror anime Midori is a particularly odd case. This is not simply a case where you can't watch Midori in America. Midori is only available in France. The anime proved so horrific and so disturbing that even Japan banned this anime from release. Its manga source material, Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show by Suehiro Maruo, however, was translated into English by Blast Books (though this edition is long out-of-print).
Director Hiroshi Harada put his own life savings into funding this film, in part because no one was willing to license it. The film was so controversial for its depiction of violence and abuse towards children that the Japanese government banned it outright, with many copies being physically destroyed in protest of the film. For years, Midori was exclusively shown in film festivals, until a French distribution company Cine Malta released it in 2006.
The film has gained a second life thanks to social media platforms like TikTok for being profoundly disturbing. It is the film's disturbingness that makes it great, but viewers who are sensitive to images of child abuse should stay away from it.