discotek logoDiscotek Media is one of the last great distributors of physical anime media in N. America. They set the industry standard for video and audio quality, sometimes even improving upon equivalents available in Japan. They’ve gone out of their way to preserve epochal titles that have fallen by the wayside, such as Mushi Productions’s Animerama films. But they preserve “bad” anime as well, like the truly bizarre Chargeman Ken. Recently they’ve expanded into tokusatsu (Kamen Rider, Metal Hero), live action (Uzumaki) and even American cartoons (Street Sharks!

Discotek Media also runs Discotek Day, the last purely good thing in the American anime industry. Technically it’s an advertising block in the vein of a Nintendo Direct. In truth it’s a hurricane blast of nostalgia perfectly calibrated to sweep older anime fans off their feet. One minute the company announces the recovery of Project A-ko’s lost 35mm film print. Another, it declares that all 358 episodes of comedy series Sgt. Frog have been licensed. Past anime glories come and go in a haze: SPT Layzner, Flying Phantom Ship, Bananya

The most recent Discotek Day streamed on YouTube on October 16th, and featured a representative mix of classics, historical curiosities and unrepentant trash. Here are the highlights.

nanoha and fate
© 2004 Nanoha Project

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (anime)

Years before the anime studio SHAFT blew up the magical girl genre with Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, they made Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. The series spun the tale of Nanoha Takamachi, a minor character from the visual novel series Triangle Heart, into a magical girl alternate universe. Nanoha’s story was targeted at adult anime fans rather than kids. Her magic is less Moon Tiara Action than Wave Motion Cannon

But the series featured more than just grand-scale pyrotechnics. Nanoha’s relationship with Fate, a “dark magical girl” scarred by her abusive mother, captured people’s imaginations and birthed a franchise that has long since eclipsed Triangle Heart itself. Discotek’s 2024 release includes a 1080 HD upscale (sourced from the Japanese release) and improved subtitles.

Momoko in lolita dress carrying umbrella
© 2004 Toho Company

Kamikaze Girls (live action)

Hailing from Discotek’s live-action Nihon Nights line, Kamikaze Girls is a stylistic tour de force about the relationship between a girl who loves lolita fashion and another girl who dresses like a punk. This 2004 film won Best Picture and Best Director at the 27th Yokohama Movie Awards as well as at the 14th Japan Film Professional Awards, and was previously released in N. America by VIZ Pictures, and the manga adaptation of Kamikaze Girls is also available from VIZ. It features animation by Studio 4°C and a soundtrack by anime legend Yoko Kanno. I haven’t seen this film yet, but it looks great, especially if you’re into the Japanese fashion scene.

Here’s the trailer from the original 2005 release of this film from NEW PEOPLE Entertainment, which will give you some idea of its mix of live action and animated sequences:

Discotek’s release of Kamikaze Girls includes improved subtitles, newly translated interviews with the staff and many other special features. It’s set for release in 2024.

crying eyes
© 1973 Mushi Production

Belladonna of Sadness (anime)

A dark, erotic and tragic tale of a woman accused of being a witch, Belladonna of Sadness was a critical and commercial failure on its release in 1973. Viewers at its Berlin International Film Festival premiere rejected it. Theaters in Japan were reluctant to show it. It, along with other experimental, mostly adult-focused productions by Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions led to the anime studio’s bankruptcy in the early 1970s. Artistically, the film also has real limitations. This is an animated film in which the characters barely move, and a work of feminist agit-prop in which the male gaze is prevalent throughout. 

Belladonna of Sadness is also a masterpiece. There is no other animated film quite like this one: a Satanic fairy tale that owes as much to 1960s Japanese avant garde theater as it does to Walt Disney. Directors Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena) and Naoko Yamada (Liz and the Blue Bird) count themselves as fans. The film remains striking today because of rather than in spite of its imperfections. Discotek Media’s 2024 release of this cult classic includes both a UHD version for 4K HDR televisions as well as a standard BluRay. 

Here’s a trailer from the 2016 release of this one-of-a-kind anime feature film:

chie the brat
© 1981 TMS Entertainment/Toho Company

Chie the Brat (anime)

Isao Takahata is best known for his films at Studio Ghibli, such as Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. But he’s just as revered in Japan for his television series. Chie the Brat, adapted from a 1978 manga, is a ribald comedy about a young girl in Osaka living with her deadbeat dad. Discotek affiliate Justin Sevakis is a fan of Takahata’s 1981 film version. So it’s no surprise that the company decided to license its television predecessor.

Chie the Brat is scrappier than Takahata’s World Masterpiece Theater productions, such as Anne of Green Gables and Heidi, Girl of the Alps. Still, Chie’s adventures remain charming today. Takahata and his staff render the heroine’s neighborhood in loving detail without compromising its rough and tumble appeal. Per Andrew Osmond, future Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki once asked Takahata, “How can you now do a film about a girl cooking giblets on skid row at Osaka?” Takahata, of course, was a great director because (and sometimes despite) he would insist on perfection even when it came to drawing those giblets. Discotek’s BluRay release of this classic anime series is set for 2024.

Teenage boy removes glove
© 2010 Madhouse

Rainbow (anime)

Rainbow is an animated drama about seven boys sent to a Japanese reformatory school in the years following World War II. The series aired in 2010, just a year before its studio Madhouse fell into a decade-long tailspin following the departure of producer Masao Maruyama. Funimation picked up the streaming rights, then lost them. Now Discotek is set to release the series on BluRay for the very first time in the United States in 2024.

For transparency’s sake, I haven’t seen Rainbow. I’m more familiar with Masaaki Yuasa’s wonderful Tatami Galaxy when it comes to 2010 Madhouse television series. That said, Rainbow does represent an era of anime production that arguably no longer exists. Through the early 2000s, Madhouse adapted several grim and intense comics for older audiences including Black Lagoon, Shigurui and Kaiji. I’m curious to see how Rainbow fits into that tradition.

risa and ohtani
© 2007 Shueisha

Lovely Complex (anime)

The premise of Lovely Complex is really quite simple. Risa Koizumi is tall for her age. Atsushi Otani is short for his age. They fall in love. That’s it! What Lovely Complex lacks in flash, though, it makes up for with relatability.  This isn’t a melodrama in the vein of Dear Brother or Boys Over Flowers. The audience isn’t meant to insert themselves in one character or idealize another. This is a meat and potatoes romantic comedy about ordinary teenagers that attend an ordinary high school. It’s for that reason that the series remains a sentimental favorite to this day among fans of a certain age.

The manga that inspired this romantic comedy anime series is available as a 17-volume Shojo Beat series from VIZ Media with the shortened title, Love★Com.

Discotek’s release of Lovely Complex is upscaled courtesy of AI company AstroRes. It also features a new English dub produced by Sound Cadence. While I’m a subtitle devotee myself, dubs are at the very least a crucial accessibility tool. The best of them breathe life into old favorites. Lovely Complex is just the latest Discotek release to receive this treatment; I’m glad that dubbing remains a priority for them, especially when many anime series available on streaming sites are never dubbed at all.

Don’t forget the other upcoming Discotek anime and live action DVD / BluRay releases, including: Hand Maid May. Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure. Lupin the 3rd: Sweet Lost Night. BELA: Humanoid Monster. Fatal Frame in live action. The 2016 Hurricane Polymar film. Extreme Dinosaurs. Kurokami: The Animation. Fist of the North Star: The Legend of the True Savior – The Legend of Kenshiro. Puss n’ Boots Around the World. Futakoi. IGPX. Discotek contains multitudes.

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