As the Blu-ray Disc format has become established and more anime content becomes available in that format, it's now possible to single out the best shows that also have received the best treatments on Blu-ray Disc -- where both the content of the show and the quality of the visual complement each other. Here's a rundown of some of our noted favorites, in alphabetical order.
Note that feature films and OVAs will have their own lists.
Adapted from Masaki Segawa's manga -- in turn itself adapted from Fūtaro Yamada's seminal novel (Yamada was largely responsible for the pop-culture conceit of the ninja as we know it today) -- Basilisk is one of the rare adaptations that improves on its source material. Instead of being drawn out, it expands elegantly on its core idea -- two warring ninja clans tricked into fighting each other to the death, with the heads of each clan in love with the other.
Sound/vision: This violent and lush-looking period adventure deserved a BD release at some point, and it got one. Fair stretches of the story are swathed dark colors -- browns, blacks, and royal purples -- which on regular DVD tend to break up into pixilated patches. Here, though, they look as painterly as a story like this demands.
Extras: The goodies are extensive here: a dozen behind-the-scenes extras from the original Japanese pressing, cast auditions, a "History of the Ninja" feature and an "Onslaught of War" commentary. Buffs of the show and of ninja lore in general will be thrilled.
2. Black Lagoon
It was only a matter of time before the ultra-violent Black Lagoon found its way back into print -- and on Blu-ray Disc to boot. Unavailable for a time due to the restructuring of Geneon Universal, this rollicking bullet-to-the-face adventure in the Southeast Asian seas, a deliberate and loving homage to the U.S. and Hong Kong action-movie tropes of the 1980s, hasn't lost any of its impact or savage humor. The Blu-ray Disc reissue packages the first and second seasons of the show together, although the forthcoming Roberta's Blood Trail portion of the show is to be released separately.
Sound/vision: The vibrant palette of colors, the furious action, and a surprisingly fine level of image detail all get their due in this release.
Extras: The biggest attraction here is a 15-minute cobbling of talking-heads footage with the cast and crew; the rest is limited to the usual trailers and textless opening/closing material.
One of those rare shows that has a clever premise, a spectacular visual design, and food for thought -- all without any of the elements compromising the other. When a young man strapped for cash is given a chance to gamble on his future in a netherwordly gladiatorial arena, he discovers firsthand what they mean by the love of money being the root of all evil.
Sound/vision: The blazing color scheme of the show and the nuanced level of object detail (especially in the show's underworld, the "Financial District") all get major justice done to them thanks to the BD edition.
Extras: Aside from the usual mix of trailers and opening/closing material, there's two episode commentaries, and a cleverly-written "C-Conomics 101" supplement that explains many of the more advanced financial concepts in the show.
Even if you're not a fan of the show, it's hard to ignore the influence and importance of DragonBall and its descendants in the anime scheme of things. The Kai "remix" of the show trims the fat and keeps the muscle, a good introduction to the series for the impatient.
Sound/vision: FUNimation's publicity manager once described watching these discs as "like having the animation cels flipped right in front of you." He wasn't joking: the level of detail, down to brushstrokes and line thicknesses, is phenomenal. What's more, the show was put through a rigorous multi-stage restoration process to remove unwanted artifacts of the production process (dust, scratches, splice lines, etc.).
Extras: Unfortunately, the extras for the DBZ sets are minimal -- a shame, since a really grand set of bonus material about the show would be well worth the effort.
Another victim of Geneon's restructuring, Hellsing Ultimate was stuck in both distribution and production limbo for years. But what emerged afterwards was more than worth the wait: a gorgeously remastered version of everyone's favorite show about a vampire who hunts Nazis. (And yes, the show is every bit as outlandish as such a premise would demand.)
Sound/vision: There's moments when the quality of the transfer dips a bit -- a lack of object detail that makes it seem suspiciously like it was upconverted from 720p or even standard definition -- but there are many, many other moments where the detail and especially the color more than make up for it.
Extras: Among the included goodies are multi-episode commentary, lengthy interviews, and panel discussions with the English voice cast, as well as multiple U.S. and Japanese promotional trailers.
When it came time to adapt NISIOISIN's cycle of novels to an anime, the look of it mattered. Small wonder the anime version of this elegantly-plotted, psychologically-knotty adventure series has its look patterned directly after the bubbly, geometrically-precise illustrations for the story by longtime NISIOISIN collaborator take. It's something of a cliché to call the look of a show "unique," but the word really does fit the bill here.
Sound/vision: A show this funky-looking -- it's strongly reminiscent of the "superflat" art of Takashi Murakami -- deserves a good presentation, and the Blu-ray Disc edition by NIS America (packaged with a DVD copy as well) shows it all off to great effect.
Extras: The limited-edition first pressings of NIS America's anime offerings all come in a heavy chipboard box with a hardback artbook, loaded with lavishly-presented and well-researched bonus material and goodies.
One of the most shameful things about anime is how a genuinely great series -- beautifully-animated, thrilling to watch, intelligent and absorbing -- can simply slip between the cracks without making much of a splash. Moribito, adapted from an equally-excellent series of young-adult novels released in Japan (the first two of which have been translated into English as well), gave us the adventures of a wandering spearwoman-for-hire and her attempts to protect the young dauphin of an empire, whom a great many people want dead for increasingly ominous reasons. Unfortunately, the show flopped in Japan; the fact it found a Blu-ray Disc release at all (courtesy of Media Blasters) is something of a miracle.
Sound/vision: Moribito's animation team was Production I.G, they who also gave us Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The Blu-ray Disc version of the show exhibits their meticulous work in all its glory, despite this being a 1080i presentation (your player should be able to make the most of it, though).
Extras: The only really interesting stuff is a discussion panel with the director and the original author. A shame, since some fascinating bonuses could be derived from a show this well-thought-out and complex.
Every few years there comes a show in an established genre that constitutes a landmark, where things are thought of from then on in terms of before it and after it. Madoka Magica did that with the magical-girl genre, by not only making the characters in the show aware of the genre, but by pushing that awareness to its furthest and most tragic extreme.
Sound/vision: Madoka Magica deserved a BD release thanks to both its native color scheme and level of detail, but also because of some startling stretches of highly experimental animation (they're reminiscent of the works of John and Faith Hubley). The BD shows all of this off magnificently.
Extras: Depending on what version you get, the bonuses are either minor or major. The full-blown box set include the soundtrack CD (well worth it), a detailed production booklet, and even a two-sided poster -- although the on-disc bonuses are minimal.
"Hello, Navi." "Hello, Lain." This chilling excursion into cyberpunk, post-human, and generally heady science fiction territory should have dated badly, but the only things dated about it are the topical references and some of the production design. The core of the story, about a girl who learns how to project herself into "The Wired" (read: the Internet), has become only all the more relevant in the years since its release, as we live more and more of our collective lives online.
Sound/vision: Geneon undertook a stupefyingly meticulous restoration effort for Lain -- not only rescanning the original film elements in HD, but recreating digital video effects in high-definition as well. The results look spectacular, to put it mildly.
Extras: The entire restoration process is documented in the book that accompanies the set, which would be worth it by itself as a purchase.
What starts as a goofy lark -- a self-styled genius creates a time machine almost by accident -- turns into one of the best shows in recent memory, spanning an amazing amount of territory effortlessly. Here we have snappy dialogue, time travel paradoxes, nostalgia for lost youth, apprehension for the future, scientific and ethical quandaries, and a race against time to save those we love.
Sound/vision: Native 1080p HD masters are becoming commonplace for recently-produced anime, and this show features one of the better ones out there. For a show set mainly in metropolitan Tokyo and confined to a few regular locations, it shows off a startling amount of variety in its visuals.
Extras: The major goodies are confined to episode commentaries by the English voice cast, a walkthrough map of Akihabara (a key location in the story), and the usual textless material and trailers.