Recently, I published a post about “10 Tragically Obscure Anime.” There are least 20 others I’d love to bring to the attention of readers, but I picked just ten for today. Most of these anime series are, well, kind of weird, or else just hit-or-miss. Nevertheless, I couldn’t bring myself to leave any of them out, because I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Hopefully, you can find one or two you want to check out!
1. Moyashimon (Tales of Agriculture)
Aired: Fall 2007. Studios: Telekom Animation Film and Shirogumi. Genres: Seinen, School, Supernatural, Comedy.
Tadayasu Sawaki starts college at a university focused on natural sciences and agriculture. He’s not particularly interested in those subjects, but he’s stuck with them because of his special power. Sawaki can see and recognize bacteria with the naked eye, and to him, they look weirdly cute! Along with his friend Kei and the attractive researcher Haruka, Sawaki tries to make his way through classes and labs focused on microbiology. Moyashimon is a funny and very educational ride.
There are two main reasons I personally adore this series. Firstly, the school I went to for wildlife science was an agriculture-based school, too, and there were many students majoring in biology, microbiology, agricultural science, and soil science. I love any show that’s educational about science while also being entertaining. Secondly, Moyashimon contains themes of finding oneself– it’s quite “liberal” compared to traditional Japanese views, and features a transgender character who isn’t just played for laughs. I highly recommend this series to science majors, free thinkers, and members or allies of the LGBTQ community.
Aired: Spring 2008. Studio: Madhouse. Genres: Seinen, Sci-Fi, Adventure, Romance.
In the future, interplanetary travel is common for all the aliens and humans, robots and beasts, and any other creature you can think of. In addition, the advanced, intergalactic civilization has gotten rid of the need for original, flesh-and-blood bodies. The mind and all its memories can be backed up into a small cone-shaped storage device, and inserted into any body of any shape. Kaiba, however, wakes up with no memory of who or what he is. There is a large hole in his chest. He sets out to explore this strange world and slowly uncover his past, his identity, and the girl he loves.
Kaiba is highly psychological and abstract in nature. Also, some people don’t like it because it was produced on a low budget, having simple, cheap animation (though it’s also full of eye-catching, bombastic movement and colors). Yuasa Masaaki was the creator of Kaiba, and also directed Devilman: Crybaby, Ping Pong the Animation, Youjohan Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy), and Kemonozume (Beast Claws). All of these works of Masaaki are underrated, in my opinion. They are all similar in that they have simple but stimulating animation, thought-provoking themes, adult content, and unusual stories. I highly recommend all of them!
3. Kyousou Giga (Capital Craze) (TV version)
Aired: Fall 2013. Toei Animation. Genres: Fantasy, Supernatural, Action, Family.
Kyousou Giga is the dramatic, colorful, fun, and emotional story of a family whose members all have supernatural abilities. The father was Myoue, whose paintings came to life. He married a black rabbit in human form, Koto. Their oldest son, Yakushimaru, took on the name Myoue and guarded the city after his father and mother vanished. The middle child, Kurama, seeks a way to gain power through any means possible. Yase is the youngest and she can be pretty scary when she’s mad.
One day, a young girl appears, calling herself Koto, and saying she’s looking for the older Koto and her husband, the original Myoue. Who is this girl? Where did she come from? What is the true identity of the monk Myoue, and why did he leave his children? The answers to these questions and many more will be revealed during this wild tale full of adventure, magic, and mythological beings.
(Trivia: Kyousou Giga started as an original net animation released in 2012. The anime adaptation of 10 episodes aired from October to December of 2013. I am recommending the anime TV version here because it’s the only version I’ve seen. I’ve heard good things about the art and visuals in the ONA, too, so feel free to check that out if preferred!)
4. Bokurano (Ours)
Aired: Spring 2007. Studio: Madhouse. Genres: Seinen, Mecha, Drama, Psychological.
Madoka Magica meets Neon Genesis Evangelion. That’s a good description of Bokurano (Ours). 16 children are contracted to pilot a gigantic robot and fight similar robotic beings invading from other worlds. They believe it’s a video game when they sign up, but their first battle rudely awakens them to the reality of the situation. Hundreds of innocent people die in the coast town as a result of the robots fighting in the water.
To make things worse, the mascot character, appropritately named Dung Beetle, is a cruel troll who won’t tell the kids anything important when they need to know it. Perhaps most frightening of all is the fact that after each kid takes his turn piloting, he dies, having used his “life force” to move the giant robot. Things get more dire and disturbing as the plot progresses. How can mere middle school children deal with such extreme conditions? Will any of them survive and find redemption?
5. Cossette no Shouzou (Le Portrait de Petit Cossette)
Not Aired: 3 OVAs from 2004. Studio: Daume. Genres: Psychological, Horror, Supernatural, Romance.
Cossette is a ghost trapped in a world within a Venetian glass. Male main character Eiri becomes obsessed after seeing visions of her in the glass at the antique shop where he works. Because of a curse, Cossette must cause great pain and horrific, near-death experiences in the man who chooses to love her. This is the only way she can be with Eiri. Can he survive the torment? Can he keep down the demon inside him that wants to devour Cossette? Eiri doesn’t know who he really is or why he loves Cossette so much. The truth will shock him.
Do you like Gothic Lolis? Artsy visuals and animation? How about surreal and creepy anime? Check: Cossette has all those. But do you also like confusing stories that take more than one watch to fully understand? What about tone-pieces focused more on themes and atmosphere than plot? If you find those elements annoying, you probably won’t enjoy Portrait of Cossette. Like most of the series on this list, it’s very hit-or-miss. I think it succeeds as horror/suspense story, even if it’s challenging to interpret.
6. Kannazuki no Miko (Destiny of the Shrine Maidens)
Aired: Fall 2004. Studio: TNK. Genres: Mecha, Fantasy, Drama, Shoujo Ai, Romance.
The assertive and poised young woman Chikane couldn’t be more different from the passive and awkward Himeko. However, they go to school together and become friends; it helps that both of them are Shrine Maidens at the temples in the village. One day, said village comes under attack by evil forces in destructive robots. Their goal is to destroy the Shrine Maidens and all they hold dear. Himeko’s boy-crush, Souma, pilots a mecha to fight the enemies, while Himeko and Chikane fight as the magic priestesses of Sun and Moon. As she tries to get closer to Souma, Himeko is oblivious to the fact that Chikane is in love with her.
Kannazuki no Miko (meaning “Shrine Maidens in the Godless Month”) is one of those shows that you might not be sold on until you see the last couple of episodes. That’s how it was for me. I can’t say why because it’s a spoiler. Just know that there’s a surprising reason for the intertwined destinies of Himeko and Chikane, and the way they are attracted to each other.
This anime is not one with a happy ending, and the quality of animation is pretty low, even for 2004. I can kind of see why Kannazuki no Miko fell under everyone’s radars. But if nothing else, I love it because Himeko x Chikane is one of my favorite yuri pairings.
7. Ai no Kusabi (Chains of Love) (1992 version)
Not Aired: 2 OVAs, 1992. Studio: AIC. Genres: Yaoi, Sci-Fi, Drama, Romance.
GAY! Sorry, I couldn’t resist saying it once. Ai no Kusabi is much more complex than your typical yaoi. I don’t consider it a romance as much as a look at the psychology of main character Riki and his toxic but addicting relationship with Mink Iason. This is definitely a hard-core yaoi, so if you can’t take guys being explicitly sexual with each other, then don’t try this one. If you don’t mind that, though, you’ll find a lot more than yaoi. There is excellent world-building and character development considering it’s only 2 OVAs of 50 mins each. The animation is great for the early nineties. There are a few sweet action scenes, too, especially motorcycle races and chases.
The story is set in a sci-fi future, in a city where the pale-skinned, blond-haired upper class has all the power and technology. The lower classes of other ethnicities must survive a rough life on the streets. Mink Iason is an elegant but cold nobleman who enjoys the privelege of sex slaves. One day, he saves the life of Riki, a “street rat” or low-class gang member. In order to repay him, Riki offers his body to Iason. It was meant as a one-time deal, but before he knows it, Riki is forced to become one of Mink’s sex slaves. He even becomes a “pet,” the exclusive slave and favorite of an aristocrat.
On the one hand, Riki feels attached and loves the sex with Iason. On the other hand, he hates Iason for forcing him to stay a slave, and hates himself for letting a corrupt aristocrat control him. Eventually, Riki escapes and rejoins his bike gang on the streets. But what now? How can he move on? What will he do if he runs into Iason again? Gai, Riki’s best friend, decides to take matters into his own hands to protect his comrade.
(Note: There was another version of Ai no Kusabi released in 2012 in four short OVAs, but it only followed half the story of the original, and had an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. The animation is worlds better in 2012; however, the 1992 version is most definitely the superior production overall. The 2012 one had no substance– just sex.)
Aired: Spring 2004. Studio: Bee Train. Genres: Psychological, Supernatural, Military, Mystery, and Shounen depending on opinion.
“Madlax” is a 17-year-old assassin for hire in the warring country of Gazth-Sonika. Margaret is an orphan girl living with her capabale maid and guardian, Elenore, in the peaceful country of Nafrece. Vanessa is a business-woman interested in the relationship between Gazth-Sonika and Nafrece. How do these girls end up together? What is the truth about the war in Gazth-Sonika? Who exactly is “Madlax”? Why does Margaret have missing memories? Vanessa, Elenore, Madlax, and Margaret must find out.
This anime isn’t for everyone, and certainly has its faults. For one thing, fans who liked it at first were disappointed when several characters died in the last quarter of the series. For another, people who were trying to “solve” Madlax from a standard mystery perspective were shaken up when the “answers” ended up being abstract, psychological, and supernatural in nature. Others didn’t understand the reveals in the last few episodes and the hints dropped slowly through the series. Finally, the conclusion of Madlax is vague, leaving the “hows and whys” up to audience interpretation.
I admit it can be confusing to sort everything out on the first watch. Still, I love Madlax and think it’s well worth the time spent deciphering its story. There’s some rich interaction and chemistry between characters, leading to several different potential yuri pairings. (Personally, I ship Madlax x Limelda!) There are also many enjoyable action scenes and several hot gun-slinger girls. Those are big reasons to love Madlax.
9. Devilman Lady or The Devil Lady
Aired: Fall 1998. Studio: TMS Ent. Genres: Demons, Action, Psychological, Horror.
Jun Fudo is given a strange job by her long-time friend Ran Asuka: kill a psychopath Devil in the bounds of a closed room without any weapons. The result is Jun awakening to her own demonic powers, but she’s more than just any Devil. She’s what’s known as a Devilman, someone with the powers of a Devil who maintains control with their human heart. At Ran’s request, Jun reluctantly starts killing the Devils rising up in Japan. They are appearing all over the world. Will Jun be able to keep her humanity and fight these horrific battles? Meanwhile, something is off about Asuka Ran and her true goals.
Devilman was a manga in the 60s and 70s with a male main character, Akira. An anime version premiered in 1972, but it was styled after western superhero shows made for kids, and didn’t follow the “grim-dark” manga. Then, in 1998, Devilman Lady came out, providing audiences with a Devilman story a bit closer to the manga, containing adult-level sexuality, violence, and disturbing themes. The show is still quite different from the Devilman manga though, since the male Akira has been replaced by the female Jun, and the male best friend Ryou was replaced by the female Ran. The ending diverges a lot from the story in the manga, but in a way that I personally loved!
(If you want to see an anime that faithfully follows the manga, check out Devilman: Crybaby, the 2018 Neflix series. Though it’s low-budget, it’s not a bad adaptation at all. It was directed by Yuasa Masaaki, who I mentioned earlier as the creator of Kaiba.)
10. Gankutsuou (Cavern King): The Count of Monte Cristo
Aired: Fall 2004. Studio: Gonzo. Genres: Thriller, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama.
Though it’s often called the anime version of The Count of Monte Cristo, Gankustuou only very loosely follows the story and themes from the classic literature novel. It’s best enjoyed as an independent sci-fi anime. The central characters are Albert and the Count. Albert is a young man interested in exploring the planets, pursuing romance, and making friends with people he believes are good, like the Count of Monte Cristo. As for the Count, he did save Albert’s life, but was this truly an altrusitic act? What is the Count really like, and what is he planning?
I don’t know what it’s called because I’m not an artist and have never taken animation classes, but Gankutsuou uses a special style of art. As you may be able to see from the image provided, it’s done by pasting different textures on a painted or digital background, and then animating that. At first, seeing aso many textures on a single character can be jarring, especially if some of those textures move fluidly along with the characters themselves. I quickly got used to this style, though, and enjoyed it.
Other Notes: Gankutsuou is one of the more widely known anime on this list, though it still qualifies as an obscure one. The Count is voiced by Jouji Nakata, who is famous for playing Alucard van Hellsing in Hellsing Ultimate and Kotomine Kirie in Fate/Zero and the three versions of Fate/Stay Night). He’s also done a number of funny roles in various other series. If you’re Jouji Nakata fan, check out Gankutsuou!
That’s all, folks! Let me know your thoughts, please, and join me next time for a few more obscure anime recommendations.