Underrated 2000s action / adventure anime
The 2000s were a particularly interesting decade for action / adventure cartoons, D. Gray-man and Gurren lagann To Samurai Champloo and Fullmetal Alchemist, Just to name a few. However, many solid action / adventure titles have been all but forgotten over time or have been completely overlooked upon release, unable to match the flashiness or outright popularity of more famous titles.
Here are five of those underrated action / adventure animes from the 2000s that are still worth a look.
Kino’s Journey (2003)
While this title saw some revival with the release of the 2017 remake, the original animated series released in 2003 remains underrated. Directed by the late Ryūtarō Nakamura (Lain series experiments, Sakura Wars, Ghost dog), the story follows a traveler named Kino who, accompanied by a talking motorcycle named Hermès, travels through a strange world made up of many different countries, each extremely unique in their customs and social norms. Kino spends strictly three days and two nights in each location, making the anime, for the most part, a purely episodic spectacle – although much darker than viewers might suspect.
Kino’s journey is by no means a typical action / adventure story, and the art style may fool viewers into expecting a relatively innocuous story with few major surprises or mature content, but that’s the one of the most quietly sophisticated and surprisingly atmospheric anime of its time.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2007)
Released in 2007, Production IG’s Moribito was probably ignored in favor of big name titles and fan favorites that aired in the same year, such as Baccano!, Gurren Lagann, and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Moreover, when Moribito First aired on Cartoon Network the following year, it only lasted ten of its twenty-six episodes before being inexplicably removed from the lineup, and was ultimately only rebroadcast in its entirety in 2009. It’s a shame, because it means that potential viewers have missed out on an anime that features a very self-sufficient female protagonist in her 30s – a huge rarity in the anime – named Balsa, who looks, sounds, and acts for her age and is never the target of cheap fan service.
A bodyguard armed with a spear, Balsa’s adventures take place in a realistic and beautifully complex world, with its own history and culture bleeding in each episode. While not a fast-paced title, the series includes some incredibly smooth fight scenes, so viewers can expect some tense, high-quality action footage as well as to a criminally underestimated story.
The Girl with 20 Faces (2008)
Half mystery, half action / adventure, the two elements of which are wrapped in an emotionally powerful coming-of-age series, The girl with 20 faces doesn’t hesitate to portray some pretty dark and tragic material despite its slightly softer start. Set in 1950s Japan, the intelligent and resourceful 11-year-old Chiko is saved from her murderous aunt and uncle by a thief and disguise master gentleman, Twenty Faces, who invites her to join in. him and his crew in their break-ins. At the heart of the series is the thriving father-daughter-type relationship between the two, although the episodic mini-adventures only last so long before the story takes an unexpected turn.
Also published as Chiko, heiress of the phantom thief, the anime suffers from being one of the least watched Bones produced animes, especially unlike many other titles released by the studio in the same decade, such as Wolf rain, Eureka Seven, Ouran High School Host Club, Soul eater, and of course, Fullmetal Alchemist. The girl with 20 faces It might not have that kind of visual panache or type of cast that fans will love, but it’s still a surprisingly heartbreaking spectacle that deserves a watch just as much.
2009 Return de Madhouse is a somewhat flawed but extremely interesting series. Only 12 episodes despite its rather complex and involved storyline, the anime undergoes a major change in tone halfway through, and for some viewers the mix of its mecha, drama and racing genres may seem incongruous, especially since he doesn’t play the typical teenage male lead role, but instead a 24-year-old student / former professional ballet dancer named Rin.
However, these latter factors also play a major role in the originality and creativity of the show; it’s an anime mecha (sort of) about motorcycle racing (sort of) that features slightly unconventional but appealing character designs and a sci-fi / racing tale, but doesn’t depend on stereotypical designs of mecha or a team of teenage boys to tell a compelling story – one that, given Rin’s habit of driving his vehicle in a robe, contains surprisingly little panty-shot style fan service.
Tegami Bachi: Bee Letter (2009)
Tegami Bachi is a fairly unconventional shounen series that is also very effective on an emotional level. With a strong mix of fantasy-adventure and drama and an excellent cast of characters, Tegami Bachi takes place in an alternate universe; a land of perpetual night in which letter carriers, known as letter bees, make their deliveries over extremely dangerous terrain, armed with a single pistol and a bodyguard – although this pistol does not fire bullets and that the bodyguard is usually not human.
If that sounds a bit odd to you, don’t be tempted to look any further, as no additional information is needed to fully experience this unique sight – in fact, it’s one of the best to enjoy when diving straight in. Plus, despite some of its darker and more complex themes, there’s little to no objectionable material to be found here, so Tegami Bachi happens to be a fairly family title. While the anime may be a bit long for some, as the story continues in a second season (Tegami Bachi REVERSE) for a total of 50 episodes (plus two optional viewing OVAs), the prize is worth every second.
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