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Ten Old-School Anime Classics You Can Watch Streaming Right Now

by Daryl Surat,

I was a guest once again recently at AnimeNEXT, where I sacrificed seeing a convention-exclusive episode of Inferno Cop to do what I always do: run panels where I show people video clips of things. During a showcase of theatrical animated films, those in attendance repeatedly mentioned having never seen practically all of the featured movies. (Here's the full list for those curious.) Whether the film was old or new, the key contributing factor to audience awareness seemed to be “is it legally streaming on a site I already know exists?” Physical media release availability didn't seem to matter.

Fortunately, streaming has been an absolutely wonderful development for classic anime fans, enabling us access to titles with longer episode counts and less contemporary aesthetics that would otherwise never see the light of day. Best of all, if you're already watching the latest simulcasts, these old-school titles are available in the same places! Still, with so many shows to choose from, where do you even start? And what even counts as “classic” in 2016, anyway? The original Sailor Moon is from roughly a quarter century ago, and people born the year Cowboy Bebop started are now old enough to serve in the armed forces. Are we at the point where Azumanga Daioh is considered an old classic? After all, many fans who saw these anime in their childhoods now have kids of their own starting to become anime fans.

I don't quite have an answer for this, but I've picked out ten great selections to start with, based on a definition of "old classic" as starting before 1990. For this list, I'm specifically focusing on titles that are generally agreed upon as worthwhile and available for streaming in the United States, so much as I recommend Urashiman on The Anime Network, it's just not renowned enough to bring up. (Hmm, that's a bit of a Catch-22.) Streaming rights availability in other English-speaking parts of the world can be much more limited, so apologies for the potential region exclusions. What's more, as the recent purge of the majority of anime titles from Hulu recently demonstrated, titles can and do vanish from online streaming platforms at any time.

The Rose of Versailles (Crunchyroll)

After all these years, this 1979 anime adaptation of Riyoko Ikeda's manga series remains the gold standard for shojo anime. In the mid-1700s, Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes is a teenage girl raised as a boy to serve as commander of the French Royal Guard, like her father before her. She's assigned to the protection of the young Marie Antoinette, but as court intrigue and schemes unfold among the nobility, a revolution begins to take shape. For ages, American anime fans thought the likelihood of ever seeing this series, which was highly influential on other shojo titles such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, was close to zero. Now all 40 episodes are instantly available on Crunchyroll, as is Osamu Tezuka's Princess Knight, which helped inspire it!

Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (The Anime Network, Hulu)

That title and image alone should give you an idea of what mentality to be in when watching this series dating back to 1972. Science…NINJA team…but they're all dressed as birds? Long before Final Fantasy, Yoshitaka Amano cut his teeth doing designs for Tatsunoko productions such as this, and watching Gatchaman nearly 45 years later really makes you appreciate how absolutely insane everyone involved in its creation must have been. You needn't watch all 105 episodes, since they're mostly standalone. Just pick random episodes and marvel at the unfolding nonstop carnage that your parents—grandparents maybe?—couldn't see due to all the editing required for it to make US airwaves. The option for an English dub is also available, and it's brilliantly self-aware. We're long past due making “Dr. Nambu is such a jerk!” into a meme.

Sherlock Hound (Crunchyroll)

The awful truth about recommending classic anime is that the only way most people will actually go watch the stuff is if you say something like “you know, HAYAO MIYAZAKI worked on this!” So it goes with 1984's Famous Detective Holmes (aka Sherlock Hound), where the first and only thing anyone ever says is “Miyazaki directed six episodes before running afoul of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate.” Given that the cast is now talking dogs who get into a proliferation of wacky anachronistic hijinks, you may want to look elsewhere for adherence to source material. Still, if you ever wanted to see a Sherlock tale where Mrs. Hudson just kicks ass, this is one to check out during those long breaks between new episodes of that love-hate-phenomenon BBC series.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Crunchyroll, Hulu)

Many have listed Rintaro's 1978 anime adaptation of one of Leiji Matsumoto's most iconic creations among the greatest television anime series of all time. Certainly, Matsumoto works peaked creatively in the late 1970s to early 1980s. While I prefer the theatrical film appearances of Captain Harlock from that era, this 42 episode series is the definitive tale for fleshing out the remaining crew of his pirate ship, the Arcadia. It's an incredibly slow-moving tale by today's standards, and several of Harlock's early antics tend to involve flying around, shooting people, and blowing stuff up as he chugs wine and gives the figurative finger to the government before the alien plant women make their move—yeah. This cartoon is AWESOME. If only Space Battleship Yamato were streaming...

Lupin the Third (Crunchyroll, Hulu)

There has never been a better time to be a fan of anime's greatest thieves…and yes, Cat's Eye is also available streaming now, you smart-aleck! Practically every episode of every Lupin television series ever created from 1971 to the present day is now instantly available for viewing. Since no one human was ever meant to actually watch every installment of this generally episodic series, I recommend you pick and choose episodes over the ages to see just how much things have changed or stayed the same. If you don't want to, uh…oh, right: “you know, HAYAO MIYAZAKI worked on this!”

Space Adventure Cobra (Crunchyroll, Hulu, Youtube)

This 31-episode television series from 1982 about a cigar-chomping ladies' man with the ability to turn his left arm into the “Psychogun” remains a landmark entry in pulpy space opera-style science fiction. Where Harlock is stoic, Cobra flies by the seat of his skin-tight pants. The theatrical film from director Osamu Dezaki and character designer/animation director Akio Sugino—who previously worked on the Rose of Versailles!—may be more lavishly surreal and cover similar ground at first, but don't overlook this series that they also handled. It may be labeled as “manly anime” nowadays, but the original manga by Buichi Terasawa ran in Weekly Shonen Jump!

Ringing Bell (Crunchyroll)

Way back in 2006, episode 43 of my podcast (Anime World Order) was entitled “Hey Sanrio, Release Ringing Bell on DVD Already.” Not only has that happened in 2016, but it's now instantly available, along with the Unico films, through online video streaming! Yes, this 1978 anime from the makers of Hello Kitty is the unforgettable tale of a cute little lamb named Chirin and the fun adventures that ensue when—okay all of that is true, but what I'm omitting is that this is among the single most effed-up 50 minutes of scarred-for-life-tier children's animation ever made, and it is imperative that a whole new generation experience it. So please watch it and then show it to everyone you know, especially young children. Just switch it out in place of Frozen or something one day. Trust me. Do this for me. Do this for ANIME.

Patlabor: The Mobile Police (The Anime Network)

Somehow, I managed to make this many recommendations without bringing up giant robots. As one of the finest creations from Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), along with a team of other creative heavyweights collectively known as “Headgear,” Patlabor has always been a thing beloved by critics yet met with indifference among fans, and I think a big part of that is availability. But now all of it is streaming online. ALL OF IT. The original direct to video OVAs from 1988, the first theatrical movie, the “New Files” second set of OVAs along with the television series, the second theatrical movie, and the final side story theatrical movie are all there for subscribers to The Anime Network. Confused about where to start? Go ahead and use the order I listed them in, though honestly the TV series is the least consistently good of the bunch while also being the longest (50 episodes). The original OVA series by comparison is just 7 episodes long, so see if you like those. True, the episodes differ in genre and structure, but that's why Patlabor excels. Note: because I'm old, I instinctively wrote “OAV,” but the online search and retail packaging uses the more modern term “OVA.”

Fist of the North Star TV (Crunchyroll, Hulu)

Perhaps now that Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is all the rage, fans may be curious to learn about the non-Prince half of the equation that inspired Dio and the Joestars (particularly Jonathan and Jotaro). Much like Cobra above, not only did this so-called “manly” anime from 1984 actually run in Weekly Shonen Jump, but it helped form the template for shonen action/adventure battle series and their character types as we've known them ever since (along with titles like Kinnikuman). Lengthy older titles replete with filler episodes are perfect candidates to watch streaming, especially since the DVD sets are out of print! You probably want to just skip to episode 41 and watch from there, since it recaps everything up to that point and marks when the good stuff starts to happen. Then just stop at episode 108. Episodes 78-82 are all recap, so you may want to skip those too.

Dirty Pair: Project EDEN (Youtube)

I originally meant to recommend the television series, but remember my disclaimer above? Seems like only the first two episodes are streaming online. In any case, all the feature-length adventures of Kei and Yuri, the “Lovely Angels” who resolve all potential intergalactic criminal affairs with explosions, are currently streaming. Since classic Dirty Pair is all standalone, you may as well watch the best of the bunch! Incredible animation, action sequences, music (provided you like synthesizers, WHICH YOU DO), and casual implied loss of human life on a grand scale? Why, it's like a modern-day action blockbuster, only with more women in the lead roles and over in less than 90 minutes! The director, Koichi Mashimo, has since spent decades trying to successfully replicate the “girls with guns” formula he nailed so well here. He has never succeeded.

That should get you started! I feel like I should also mention Miss Machiko on Crunchyroll, because Discotek is using that as a test case to decide if it's feasible for them to acquire more esoteric titles for streaming-only in the future, but since its primary joke is getting the sexy teacher to reveal her panties and naked breasts through wacky 80s sex comedy hijinks (aka “harassment”), absolutely none of it is socially acceptable by the standards of 2016. (But watch it anyway.)

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