The Best Unlicensed Anime

See what you're missing?

Anime is an eclectic business, with an amazing number and diversity of titles issued each year. But there are a few titles that remain unlicensed from Japan and unissued in English, whether due to licensing costs, perceived lack of a market, or other logistical difficulties. Here are our favorite titles that need an English release, presented in alphabetical order.

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Angel's Egg (Tenshi no Tamago)

Angel's Egg (Tenshi no Tamago). Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A short film, directed by Mamoru Oshii (the Ghost in the Shell theatrical films, Jin-roh), with a story and artwork by Yoshitaka Amano (the designer who gave us the look of Vampire Hunter D and many entries in the Final Fantasy franchise), so it's valuable just for its pedigree alone. The plot of the film is all but indecipherable -- it involves a girl tasked with protecting a giant egg, and becoming the confidante of a stranger who comes to the dying city where she lives. Describing the film in words doesn't do justice to the haunting effect it has on the viewer. A Japanese DVD edition does exist, but lacks English subtitles and is apparently out of print.

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Dennou Coil

Dennou Coil. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A group of children have access to a kind of augmented-reality cyberspace in which they keep digital pets, and where they venture to solve an increasingly menacing series of mysteries. A mixture of a Miyazaki-esque story about dapper young kids, and the high-tech underworld of shows like Ghost in the Shell:Stand Alone Complex, but the joy of the show is in how the first part of the formula, not the second, wins out. It's perplexing how a show this sprightly and compelling hasn't been picked up for distribution -- that is, unless you're lucky enough to live in Australia, where Madman Entertainment has it in their catalog.

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Every Unreleased Gundam, Ever

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Collection 1. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

The total number of properties in the Gundam franchise (which gave us the mecha genre as we know it) is enough to make one's head spin -- thirty-plus, at last count. Many of the shows have been released domestically (shown here: Gundam Seed), but the staggering and ever-increasing size of the franchise makes releasing all that material in English a dicey proposition. The basic production costs for so many shows, especially if they're being dubbed; the licensing fees (Sunrise charges top dollar for the rights to Gundam); the length of the backlog -- all those make it logistically messy to give Gundam fans their full fix. But maybe someday they'll find a way to make it happen.

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The Legend of the Galactic Heroes

The holy grail of unreleased anime. "Epic" doesn't begin to do this sprawling space saga justice; it has the scope of Tolstoi's War and Peace, and at least as many named characters or speaking roles. Attempts to license it for English-speaking audiences have thus far failed due to the sheer cost of doing so.

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Every Unreleased Macross, Ever

Macross Plus. Image courtesy Pricegrabber

The original Macross was the major source of raw material for the now-legendary Robotech, which introduced a whole generation of fans to anime (however indirectly). Many follow-up shows -- Macross II, Macross Plus (shown here) -- were also created, but many of them are currently languishing in licensing limbo no thanks to the prohibitive costs involved. There's also apparently some issues with the music licensing used in the shows -- crucially important in the case of Macross 7, since the show is about a rock band whose egomaniacal lead singer uses music to fight aliens. No, really.

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Mind Game

An astonishing theatrical film, directed by Masaaki Yuasa (who has contributed animation direction work to many franchises, including Samurai Champloo) and adapted from Robin Nishi's underground manga, where a young man gets an unexpected chance to rejuvenate his life. Another film that simply doesn't lend itself to synopsis; there's so much going on, and on so many levels, that the film demands multiple viewings for full effect. The shame of it all is that a U.S. edition could have been produced, but the idea was apparently abandoned by the American licensor (Go Fish), who picked up the film for a short theatrical run in the U.S. and were even flirting with the idea of partly reshooting it or even remaking it entirely for an English-language version.

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One of the "holy grail" titles repeatedly cited by anime aficionados, this gorgeously-designed series is set in Japan's feudal past, and deals with a wandering medicine seller who encounters various supernatural enemies. It's a quasi-cousin to , but has a flavor entirely unlike that show. Unfortunately, the very things that make it special also make it incredibly difficult to market (is it a fantasy? a drama? a horror story?), and so it hasn't yet seen release here.

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The Tatami Galaxy

Tatami Galaxy. © The Tatami Galaxy Committee

Another brilliant little show that doesn't fall into any of the easy pigeonholes for anime, and has thus eluded marketers. A college student finds himself trapped in a kind of Groundhog Day time-loop, where he tries one strategy after another for snagging the girl of his dreams -- all played out via an animation style that calls to mind Japan's early-1900s design school and a hyper-verbal screenplay with dialogue that zips by so fast you'll be grateful it's subtitled. FUNimation did simulcast the show in streaming form, but only has the first four episodes available in their library. A DVD (or better yet, BD) release would be welcome.

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Welcome to the Space Show

A children's film, but one of uncommon vision and exuberance. A group of kids of various ages rescue what they think is a dog, but is in fact an alien who crashed on Earth while pursuing a space criminal. As a reward, he takes them along with him for a quick jaunt through the universe -- which is, of course, where things begin to get really complicated. It's disappointing that this thoroughly enjoyable film has only been released in the U.K. on a region-locked disc (from Manga).