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Best Science Fiction Anime

Welcome to the top Science Fiction Anime

Japan was not far behind the US or Europe when it came to animation. Even in the earliest days of animation, in the second decade of the twentieth century, there were Japanese animators such as Seitaro Kitayama making animations. The production of animation in Japan ran parallel to that elsewhere, and wasn't happening in a bubble, as you could often find Japanese takes on American and European characters in shorts. As the Japanese film industry grew, so did the number and complexity of the animations made in Japan. Costs were always an issue, and producers depended on sponsorship, thus making animations for education was a big market, followed by governmental production. The Second World War spurred innovation and film production, leading to the production of propaganda films, one of which, Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei, was the first feature-length Japanese animation.

After the war, several things helped to re-establish the Japanese film industry. A wave of filmmakers quickly came to create films, and Western film festivals began to discover the films and filmmakers from Japan. Perhaps the most important part of the post-war development of animation in Japan was the founding of Toei, which would become one of the most important of all production houses.  The animated films began to make waves, and a lot of money, but it wasn't until the large-scale adoption of television in Japan, especially in the early 1960s, that animation began to explode, with series like AstroBoy, Speed Racer, Sally the Witch, and Kimba the Lion. These series were essential in developing the styles that we see through to today. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, series would launch, sometimes moving beyond Japan to the international market, with titles such as Star Blazers, Speed Racer, and Tiger mask all finding viewers outside of Japan.

The 1980s were incredibly important to the acceptance of anime around the world, and especially in the US. At the beginning of the decade, and used through the 1990s at times, Japanimation was the most widely-used term for series like Robotech or Starblazers. Oddly, the term 'anime' wasn't in regular use until the 1980s, and actually came as a shortened version of the Japanese version of the English word Animation (though often misidentified as a French term). The films of the late 1980s and early 1990s made their way around the run, with Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Vampire Hunter D, all becoming incredibly important, but at the same time, Japanese television series, and original video animation (OVAs) becoming massively popular around the world, leading to the founding of massive fan conventions, hundreds of websites, and even fan edits of existing series.

This list looks at series that were intended for home enjoyment, including television series, OVAs, and web-series. We've also not included Adults-only titles.

One of the most iconic of all anime series outside of Japan, and one of the most influential on anime production within the country.  The story is just about the most iconic anime science fiction you can think of – A love triangle that plays out against the backdrop of a war against the villainous Zentradi. The story, a harrowing space opera, take elements of classic anime series like Starblazers, mixes them with elements from classic space opera films like Star Wars, and even the story of legendary World War II figure Vera Lynn. It thrilled viewers with its intricate storytelling, slick design, and romantic format. It also created the idea of the anime idol – Lynn Minmay.Voiced by Mari Iijima, Lynn Minmay might be the single most recogniseable anime character of all-time. In the series, she explodes on the scene and becomes the best-known performer in the world, beloved for generations in the way that Elvis or Madonna could only dream of. In the real world, Iijima was launched to international stardom by performing the role, and she's still beloved for it through to today!Why it tops the list: No other anime series had broken through to the English speaking world as thoroughly as Robotech, and few are as widely loved. The rise of US anime fandom from a tiny entity of a few dozen people on the West Coast to a thriving scene of cons with hundreds of thousands attending every year can be traced to the popularity of Robotech.
Hideki is a broke prep school student, dreaming of going to college. He's also a lonely virgin who has one wish – to acquire a Persocom, a PERSOnal COMputer in the form of a human being, to surf the internet for porn with. And lo and behold, he finds one – a seemingly malfunctioning one he names Chi. This leads to an incredible series of adventures to discover the truth behind Chi's past, and exactly what kind of persocom Chi is. The story, an adult screwball comedy and mystery, is at once sweet, sexually charged, and incredibly engaging. Chobits, based on a long-running manga series, shows the best of what anime can do when it's given room to take on decidedly adult topics without falling headlong into the morass that is hentei. There's so much beauty to Chobits, from the gorgeous animation style to the lovely sound design, and it instantly brings about some of the central questions of the 21st century – what is technology, does love still exist, and what is our relationship with our devices? Why it's on the list: A powerful, and incredibly thoughtful series that brings the best elements of manga flawlessly to the screen.
If Robotech was the first International megahit for anime, it was Space Battleship Yamato that set the table for its success. Best known world wide as Star Blazers, it's a story that took the fear of radioactive poisoning and combined it with a space-faring concept in a race against time. The villainous Gamilas have unleashed a barrage of radioactive meteorites onto Earth, sending the survivors underground, where they are being slowly poisoned. A set of plans, and the salvaged World War II battleship Yamato, allow Earth to fight back! The series looks at how we fight our great enemies, and works with the concepts of World War II as well. The Gamilas are a blue-skinned race of conquerors who view humanity as barbarians who need to be wiped out. The parallels to the Japanese view of World War II are well figured, and most importantly, done with powerful consideration for the way the world has changed. For the mid-1970s, when disaster films were huge, this is incredibly powerful work that spoke within the mainstream of science fiction! Why it's on the list: The beginning of a long-running franchise that helped introduce anime to the non-Japanese audience.
There was an explosion in the late 1990s that led to many top-notch anime series debuting. It's the late 21st century and Earth is pretty much uninhabitable. That leads Earth to colonize the planets and moons of the solar system, and there's a massive up-tick in crime, leading to bounty hunters assisting in the capture of criminals. A crew of ex-criminals, former cops, and of course, a talking dog, get together for a series of adventures into organized crime. Perhaps no other piece of science fiction media (OK, maybe Blade Runner…) has managed to accomplish such a perfect blending of scifi with Film Noir. The space-faring elements and the crime storytelling leave a viewing guessing which direction the story is going to take, and how, and if, anything will work out. The characters are rich, and deeply flawed, while the stories themselves are both hard boiled and humor. The artwork in particular is astounding, and takes inspiration from 1980s anime, classic pulp cover art, and movie posters. Why it's on the list: This was the peak of 1990s anime science fiction, and one of the most brilliantly conceived series of all time.
The idea for Space Dandy is one of the silliest, and most impressive, of any recent anime series. An affable alien hunter, Dandy, and the crew of his ship, the Aloha Oe, are out having cosmic adventures. Dandy finds himself in weird locations, like the Hooters-analogue BooBies, or surfing on time, or just hopping between planes in the Multi-verse. The Aloha Oe crew, QT, a robot, and Meow, a cat-like thingee from Betelguese,are excellent assets, including managing things like keeping peace and order, or monitoring social media. Space Dandy is one of the funniest anime series ever made. Diving deep into the rich history of science fiction media, from classic 1960s live-action Japanese series to contemporary American popular culture, Space Dandy kinda feels like Elvis' Day Out in the Multi-verse, but it's so much more, playing on tropes of timeline-hoping and weird romances between inanimate objects. It's one of the smartest, post-modernist works of anime ever, and Dandy might be the most likeable superhero of all time! Why it's on the list: The series rewards multiple viewings with nuanced gags and background bits where if you blink, you miss it!
The first few years of the 21st century were full of amazing anime series that made it to the US as a of the Adult Swim cartoon block. One of the most popular was Fullmetal Alchemist, based on the manga of the same name. It's the kind of story you want to watch again and again, featuring magic, high heroics, multiple dimensions, adventure, rocket science, and body jumping. The story of Edward and Alphonse Elric attempting to regain the bodies they lost when attempting to revive their dead mother is laced with classic European high fantasy as well as Japanese conceptual delivery that makes it feel incredibly fresh. The combination of fantasy and science fiction here is essential to the story, and it may even come down a fair bit more on the fantasy tip than scifi, maybe even shouldering up to Steampunk. The animation and character design has become iconic, and a major influence for the recent generation of both professional and fan artists. The music is a particular stand-out, and has even toured with orchestras playing it! Why it's on the list: It's already one of the most influential anime series ever made, and it's only going to get most important.
This has to be one of the darkest, most impressively nihilistic visions of the future in recent years. An anomaly, Heaven's Gate, opens in South America, and it's counterpoint, Hell's Gate, opens directly over Tokyo. Hell's Gate is really the problem, as it blocks out all the natural stars, which are then replaced with artificial stars, which just aren't the same. Contractors, super-powered humans, arise, and there is a war that sees the Syndicate take charge. Hei is the Contractor spy we follow in this impressive series. So many elements combine here. From the post-apocalyptic science fiction stories of the 1960s and 70s, to the grimy under-world spy novels of Ian Fleming, to the X-Men, Darker than Black is am impressive work of synthesis within character and storytelling. The music of Yoko Kanno might be the best anime score of the last decade, and throughout the 25 episodes, we are dragged deeper and deeper into a storyline that makes you question how we treat those who have great powers, and in essence, ourselves. The way they went about bringing it all together, and never losing sight of the most adult themes, makes this an impressive series. Why it's on the list: Powerful work within several different genres adds up to a near-masterpiece.
Angelic Layer takes places in the Chobits universe (or, more accurately, Chobits takes place in the Angelic Layer universe, as AL came first) and uses many of the same themes of artificiality, devotion, and technology. Angels are mentally-controlled dolls that do combat in The Layer, the battleground for their dolls. Misaki is encouraged to create her own Angel to compete, even though she knows nothing of the game. What follows is an impressive series of episodes that take mysterious instigators along with longing and loss and give us an incredible ride along the way. The history of science fictional games runs all the way from Ender's Game to The Glass-Bead Game (which won Hermann Hesse the Nobel Prize!) and Angelic Layer plays well in that stratosphere. The Manga it's based on is also worth finding, but the way that this works as a series, and especially the incredibly catchy theme, Be My Angel by Goro Matsui, makes this an incredible view! Why it's on the list: The kind of science fiction anime that stands up incredibly well no matter what you've experienced before. This is the one you might wanna try for adults who have never experienced anime and are curious to see 'The Good Stuff!"
Even though it's still running as of the writing of these words, there's little better than a good Superhero gifted youngster at an academy series. Be it X-Men's Xavier's School for Gifted Youngster or Gail Carriger's Finishing School novels, watching young folks move through the rigorous machinations of schooling, coupled with extraneous adventures, is always fun. In My Hero Academia, we follow Izuku through a world where everybody else has powers EXCEPT our hero. After proving extreme bravery and compassion, he's gifted with powers and goes into training. There's a wonderful joy to this series (and to the marvelous manga that it is based on) and the first season alone is worth a place on this list. Funny, charming, brave, and most of all, approachable, My Hero Academia is that rare intersection of superheroism and human frailty that doesn't make you worry about what it means to be the outsider. Ikuru is an incredible protagonist, one of the finest in recent years, and makes the series feel in line with the best of all anime series. Why it's on the list: The most recent work that feels as if it's a part of the long-tradition of exceptional science fiction anime.
There is no greater hive of scum and villainy than the recording industry, which makes the wonderful scifi/horror/fantasy series Show by Rock all the more impressive. Coming from the good people at Sanrio (who brought you Hello Kitty, among others) it's a delightful story of a young girl called Cyan, who is absorbed by her phone while playing a rhythm game. No, not just not paying attention, but actually sucked into a new world called Midi City. She finds herself as a Gothic Lolita cat girl, and then the dark monsters start. By second season, we're faced with an attack from the Queen of Darkness and Cyan must save the universe. One of the finest pop music animes ever, and based off an excellent rhythm game, Show BY Rock! is a ton of fun, and fits in with classic rock-themed science fiction from the likes of Mick Farrin.  The visuals are incredibly well-created, especially in regards to character design and sound, both of which are critical in establishing mood. The fact that Sanrio excels at providing just that should be absolutely no surprise. Why it's on the list: An incredibly fun series and one that will likely have long-lasting impact.
The first Original Net Anime (ONA) on the list, it's also one that made many take notice of the genre. This is another excellent series dealing with the availability of androids, and what they mean to the world of humans. The story centers around the goings-on at the Time of Eve, a café where robots and humans are on equal footing. The reason for the existence of the café, and how it is managed and maintained, and how it relates to people's views on the robots among them, is the central theme for the series, and one that makes the entire excersize seem valuable. Watching Time of Eve, you'll find it pays off in many unexpected ways. The liberal use of Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics, the way that it brings ideas from films like Casablanca and anime such as Chobits, makes this one of the best uses of existing themes within a series that presents them with an economy of visuals. The entire package, perfectly delivered as an ONA, is as powerful as any regular television anime series, and it has led to a more traditional set of follow-ons, including an excellent film and a 'light novel' a style of manga. Why it's on the list: It's just a wonderful and compact story.
Welcome to the 1960s! The first popular series that today's viewers might recognize as anime was Astro Boy from 1963, which was the first to find purchase outside Japan, airing in Australia, Brazil, The UK, and in syndication in the United States. The series focused on a young robot who was created as a replacement for a lost child and whose creator is unsatisfied with him. Astro Boy is sent to the circus, and there becomes something of a savior to the other robots in the circus. The historical importance of Astro Boy is impossible to deny. Millions were first exposed to the style that Osamu Tezuka developed first in the manga , and then in the series. Drawing influences from around the world, including Walt Disney, Tezuka had already defined what manga would become to the point where many referred to him as the God of Manga. Astro Boy shows the start of what would become more than fifty years of anime evolution, and began the process of introducing it to the world. Why it's on the list: While not as successful outside Japan, it was the series that truly started the ball rolling on anime television series.
Crest of Stars is the first part of a science fiction series that looks at a war between intergalactic empires. If that sounds a little like Star Wars, it does feel a bit like that, but the plots are more intricate, with a pacing that allows every character detail and political and military action to have a much greater impact.  As a part of the wave of anime that arrived in the US in the early 2000s, it helped to establish the space opera as a leading form of 21st century animation. Based on a wonderful novel series (and it was also adapted into an exceptional manga) Crest of Stars is great, and Banner of Stars, the follow-up, might have managed to improve on it with more impressive visuals, and even better sound design and music. Listening to the series, you realize the power of soundtrack, no only in music, but in effects and dialogue. Not every anime puts emphasis on those elements, but in Banner of Stars, it's all right here, and it's incredible. Why it's n the list: One of the best anime series of this century, and a long-lasting influence on the genre.
How much fun are you looking to have this week? A lot? Good, then you need to watch One Punch Man! An adaptation of a hugely popular web-comic, One Punch Man takes a classic British science fiction concept, the Bored Immortal, and applies it to super heroes with brilliant results. What's One Punch Man's power? He can defeat villains with a single punch!  Only thing is, he doesn't want to hero any more unless the villain is worth him using the power of ONE PUNCH! The series is so solid, just like the comic it's based on, and what keeps you watching is the way it slides between obtuse parody just plan ol' fashioned kickassedness! The stories are funny, and at the same time, super-serious. Few anime series, and really few works of art, manage to walk the line as perfectly as One Punch Man, and none manage the connection with the story.  Why it's on the list: The characters are memorable, the animation fluid and fun, and most importantly, it's the kind of thing you can watch again and again and never feel like you've seen it all!
How could any anime using the Dead Sea Scrolls as a major plot point not be on this list? The story behind Neon Genesis Evangelion isn't simple, it's a twisted, complex, and at times nutty, mix of post-apocalyptic mecha space opera with metaphysical science fantasy, religious  concepts. The entire thing is a mash-up of styles, genres, and a hundred years of science fiction evolution in the form of a series that is nearly impossible to look away from! What separates Neon Genesis Evangelion from other anime series is the depth they go with symbology, reference, and psychology. On one level, it's a re-imagining of the Book of Genesis, only within the context of a world with mecha suits! There's hard core philosophical aspects, including references to Kierkegaard, Hegel, and Schopenhauer. On top of that, the entire thing can be read as a full-scale examination of the role of the absented mother in society! There's a lot that can be read into the series, but more important than any of that is the fact that the series is addictive, and rewarding. Why it's on the list: A massively successful hit when first released, it's influenced a generation of follow-ons and remains as fresh as it was the day it was released.
In many ways, mecha are the bread and butter of anime. They define a lot of the best, most popular anime from the 1980s on. The initial series of Full Metal Panic was built on the back of mecha, as well as political intrigue, though much of that was lost in the follow-on series. The series deals with everything from romance to schooling to terrorism, and all of it manages to feel as if it weighs perfectly with everything else. The fish out of water aspects of a soldier in a school environment, as well as the beautifully realized character and background designs. What may be the most interesting aspect of it is the fact that this feels as if it's a post-9-11 series, though it was based on a series of novels from the late 1990s, and the series debut itself was delayed due to 9-11! Very much a look at the world of anti-terror movements, and the intersection of personal lives and security of the state within the world that might have gotten a little paranoid. Why it's on the list: One of the most impressive views of the world of today, only made fifteen years ago, and with a powerful eye towards the humans within the equation of security v. humanity.
The late 1980s were great for several things, and in the case of Bubblegum Crisis, it was a time of Cyberpunk and direct-to-video, or OVA, Original Video Animation, in Anime parlance. Bubblegum Crisis was released in 1987 and ran for four years. The Knight Sabers are an all-woman mercenary team who deal with the problems that megacorporations pose in the world of tomorrow.  The Knight Sabers are battling the influential Genom corporation, in the proud tradition of so many dystopian future novels. The real highlight of Bubblegum Crisis is the setting. It's a version of Tokyo following a massive earthquake that has redefined the city. The way the divided city is presented, with incredible disparity in wealth, and with a very different culture in each area. The richness of the setting helps to tell the story and make the action feel more life and death, and the plight of those being served more dire. Why it's on the list: The first OVA to really make a splash in the US, it's an incredible fun watch with a setting that rivals even Akira.
Another OVA that really turned heads, partly due to the sexiness imbuing it, and partly due to the heavy fandom that has grown up around it. The story is that of Aika, an expert salvage agent who retrieves the artifacts lost when half of Japan sunk into the sea after a massive earthquake. She's a rough and tumble agent, and she's also super-sexy, with a super-power bustier that transforms into a Power Bikini that makes her into a powerful fighter. Aika battles the evil Rudolf Hagen, before being turned on by the diabolical Delmo Corporation In case it's not clear, Agent Aika is largely a combination of parody and over-the-top silly sexualized action. In a way, it takes Bubblegum Crisis and works with a near perfect copy and creates situations that make less sense while still playing in the same garden. The scenarios are, of course, secondary to the sheer massive views of young ladies' undergarments that are peppered throughout the series, and which fans have latched on to as a source for fanservice. Why it's on the list: A bizarre combination of whacky situations and traditional straight-ahead anime that is designed for young men, but pays off for those who most deeply get what anime sexualization has meant over the last fifty years.
Appleseed dwells in that arena of anime you can call Noir Cyberpunk. It's another OVA and one that is powerful in the use of nihilism. The story of the experimental utopian city of Olymmpus, where Humans, the Bioroids that were built as their servants, and cyborgs, all hold sway. Like many, if not most, utopian experiments, it's not at all what it seems. Calon, a cop, is working with a rogue element to take down the control computer Gaia, and the team that attempting to defeat Calon and his terrorist aides. Appleseed, released in 1988, is a beautiful accompaniment to the other 1980s cyberpunk classics like Blade Runner, as well as themes as diverse as Jean Luc Goddard's Alphaville, and even Kirasawa's Stray Dog. The way Olympus is presented certainly draws from the rich history of utopian scifi, but adds a layer of 1980s paranoia that amps up the stakes at every turn. The characters are all flawed, and the concept of bioroids is troubling, bringing up many issues ranging from slavery to human technological depenendance. Why it's on the list: One of the best OVAs of the 1980s, and one that has had long lasting effects on anime in general.
Aoba returns for another year of school. On his first day, he's attacked by a mecha, saved by a classmate, and taken from 2014 and placed firmly in the loving grasp of 2088. That's the start of a wonderful anime series that explores similar themes to Star Wars and The Matrix, while giving a rip-roaring good time with some of the finest animation of the last few years. The way that Aoba is presented, as a fish out of his own timestream, gives the entire series life, especially in the way that he is presented as something of a Harry Potter-level natural at being a coupling pilot. This is a theme in so many classic science fiction films, and here it feels so natural, and Aoba is the kind of hero you want to find in scifi – amazingly likeable, almost joyously human, and the way he interacts with the others, specifically with Hina, that we see how the characters in Buddy Complex are far better realised than in most series.   Why it's on the list: Buddy Complex can't be beat for re-watchablity, nor for discovering the depth of anime characterization and the massive combination of story, animation, and sound design.
Measured by long-term impact, 009-1 has one of the most impressive lineages. An incredibly important manga in the late 1960s, then a live-action television drama, and then in 2006, more than 40 years after the manga's debut, an anime series, followed by a feature film seven years later. Inspired by James Bond, and perhaps even slightly more by Modesty Blaise and Raquel Welch's Fathom, 009-1 is a spy thriller with Mylene Hoffman as our cyborg agent hero. Where Bond has his gadgets, Hoffman has cybernetic implants that allow her to become a perfect fighting weapon and super-agent! The manga was amazingly influential, it pioneered the 'breast gun' phenomena seen in Austin Powers for example, but also provided an excellent example of what the combination of super-spy storytelling with science fiction within a saucy narrative can provide the viewer. The series excels not only in storytelling, but maintaining that 1960s series feeling that is such an important marker of bringing out some of the more anachronistic elements of the original. It feels less like a re-tread, and more like a powerful piece of polished, contemporary anime. Why it's on the list: You can look at the history of anime all you want, but if you don't include 009-1, you're not looking closely enough.
A pair of storylines, twisted together, one in summer and one winter,  in a way that makes each of them more impressive. The first story is a personal tale of Ayumu and his visit to his father. The other takes place a year and a half later and is all about Kisa, a depressed young girl who comes across a mysterious machine. The story introduces Ayumu and follows the exploration of the metal object, a mechanical fish Kisa builds, and how the pair go about looking into a scary concept. The big issue here is the way that we are presented the ordinary side of extraordinary world. The world Ayumu and Kisa live in is amazing, but it's not entirely a magical glen of unicorns and pixies; it's a far more real place where people bike to visit family, and go to school. It's a weird little conjunction, but it's also very natural, and it makes Absolute Boy into something that is very much a work that can play for many different crowds. Why it's on the list: A great part of the early 2000s anime explosion that made major inroads into the US Mainstream.
Kio is an ordinary guy who has extraordinary friends. How extraordinary? Two are secret agents, and his newest one is sex cat girl alien from Catias. The story is one of love, interstellar political shennannigans, and the classic alien on Earth stuff we all love so much. There's a love triangle, and at times the series is a thoughtful examination of the different flavors of loving that are available to humans… and cat girls. The world building, and particularly the Catia and Dogisia worlds. They are at once kinda strange concepts, certainly developed for the teen male audience they were trying to attract, but also intricately considered and well-situated in the storyline. The conflict between the two is central to the story, and more importantly, isn't just played for cheap laughs, but provides a thorough theming for the entire series.   Why it's on the list: Adorable, and just a bit naughty, it's one of the more interesting anime series that gives us cat girls.
One of the most popular anime exports ever, in many ways the early 1990s anime series was defined by Sailor Moon. The series details the adventures of Usagi as a talking cat transforms her into Sailor Moon, allowing her to do battle with the Dark Kingdom along with the other Sailors, including Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Venus, and the most fascinating tomboy, Sailor Jupiter. The Sailors are assisted by Tuxedo Mask, and while the Sailors are fighting great evils, they also have civilian lives that are amazingly human. Perhaps the most over-looked aspect of Sailor Moon is that it is often referencing, and sometimes lampooning, the dominant themes in other anime productions. The various alter egos of the Sailors each represent a form of the prominent girl-centric anime forms. There's a lot of adorable moments, and some very real moments of outer space conflict, and because they are so broad in the approach, they managed to connect with an international audience. A massive fandom grew up around Sailor Moon, lasting long-beyond the two year run of the series, and managed to become one of the most popular figures in the history of anime. Why it's on the list: A major turning point in the acceptance of anime for non-Japanese audiences.
Another of the important steps in bringing what we know today as anime, Mach Go-Go-Go (called Speed Racer outside Japan) was one of the most iconic of all 1960s anime series. Telling the story of a racing family and the secretive Racer X, Speed Racer was somewhat simplistic compared to today's series, but also all the elements of today's frenetic adventure series are there, and the family dynamic is present as well, which some miss on the first pass at the series. What Speed Racer really represents is the longevity of characters. Speed Racer showed in the US from the mid-1960s through the 2000s, and was adapted into a comic strip and a big-budget Hollywood feature film. The design of the Mach-5 that Speed Drives, has been re-created as actual autos several times, and now stands as one of the most recogniseable symbols of 1960s design, as well as early television anime. Watching Speed Racer is like looking at the genesis of a planet; the continents aren't fully formed, but they're obviously starting to come together. Why it's on the list: one of the most important of all the 1960s anime, it influenced generations of animators around the world!