Kelly Hu as X2: X-Men United‘s Lady Deathstrike
Kelly Hu as X2: X-Men United‘s Lady Deathstrike
There are plenty of notable anime properties that are packed to the gills with A-list actors. Many of Disney‘s Studio Ghibli releases are a fine example of this, using household names like Patrick Stewart and Claire Danes as a means to draw audiences to the theaters who normally otherwise wouldn’t have given the property a second glance. Amongst them, Princess Mononoke (Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith), Castle in the Sky (Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Mandy Patinkin, Cloris Leachman, Andy Dick), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Alison Lohman, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Patrick Stewart), and Kiki’s Delivery Service (Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo) are some of the most star-studded.
But there are a lot more mainstream celebrities whom you might not have realized—or just plain forgotten— also starred in anime properties.
Do you remember the 1995 cyberpunk quadrilogy Armitage III? Back in ’97, all four OVAs were compiled into one release (called Armitage III: Poly-Matrix) by now-defunct Geneon, who was then called Pioneer. Fans may have forgotten this over the years, but it turns out that Armitage III: Poly-Matrix was full of celebs, including Keifer Sutherland, Elizabeth Berkley, and Bryan Cranston.
Before Keifer Sutherland blew up as Jack Bauer in 2001 on 24 (but after the incredible 1990 Flatliners, a movie about med students who experiment with visiting the afterlife that also starred Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, and William Baldwin), he played Ross Sylibus in Armitage III: Poly-Matrix.
Co-starring with him was Elizabeth Berkley (Saved by the Bell, Showgirls), who played Naomi Armitage.
Naomi Armitage has also been played by Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), who played the character in Armitage III: Dual Matrix.
And of course, the one that fans love to pull out the most to blow everyone’s minds is Bryan Cranston who is beloved for his roles in shows like Malcolm in the Middle and most recently, Breaking Bad. He has his fair share of anime credits, though, including Matti Tohn in Wings of Honneamise, Eddie Borrows in Armitage III, and most famously, Isamu Dyson in Macross Plus.
Meanwhile, action fans might be surprised to learn that the 1986 Fist of the North Star movie showcased none other than James Avery, whom many might recognize as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Or, as Shredder in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.
But wait, there’s more.
Although these examples dip back into the Disney x Studio Ghibli pot, some of these actors and actresses hadn’t yet skyrocketed to fame when these films were released, while other roles just deserve a reminder.
For instance, only a short while after she first played Princess Mia Thermopolis in the 2001 The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway got to play another princess—this time, Haru, the bride-to-be for the Cat Prince in 2002 Studio Ghibli film The Cat Returns. Although she only had a couple roles under her belt at the time, she starred alongside a varied cast of noted film actors, amongst them Tim Curry [Rocky Horror Picture Show] (who played the Cat King), Elliot Gould [Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen] (Toto), and Cary Elwes [The Princess Bride] (Baron Humbert von Gikkingen).
Also on the cast list for The Cat Returns was Kristen Bell, who was still two years away from her breakout role as Veronica Mars. She plays Hiromi in The Cat Returns. She’s no stranger to voice acting, though; she’s also voiced a few video games, including Astro Boy: The Video Game and a handful of Assassin’s Creed games.
Spirited Away had some famous names as well, including Big Love and The Ring actress Daveigh Chase as Chihiro, and Bob Newhart Show co-star Suzanne Pleshette, but fans of Fantastic Four and The Shield might not realize that Michael Chiklis was also in the film, as Chichiro’s dad Akiichiro.
With Michael Keaton‘s long and storied career, one might forget that he also played title character Porco Rosso in Studio Ghibli‘s film of the same name. Cary Elwes was also in that film, as Donald Curtis.
IGPX: Immortal Grand Prix is less so “actors you forgot were in the series” as it might be, “series you forgot existed.” A co-production between Production I.G and Cartoon Network, it tried to get audiences to tune in by casting talents like Michelle Rodriguez [Avatar, The Fast and the Furious] and everyone’s favorite ex-child actor, Haley Joel Osment [The Sixth Sense, A.I.] (who of course is famous for also playing Sora in Kingdom Hearts, alongside a slew of celebs like Hayden Panettiere, Billy Zane, Mandy Moore, and Lance Bass, amongst others).
The IGPX dub also included Star Wars hero Mark Hamill as Yamma, who in addition to lending his voice to a billion American-animated series and video games, was also in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles as Commander Taylor, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as Mayor of Pejite, Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic as Alghiero, Castle in the Sky as Muska, and Afro Samurai: Resurrection.
Speaking of Afro Samurai, lest anyone forget, that title also made quite the effort to stuff its cast with A-listers, including Samuel L. Jackson as Afro and Ninja Ninja, Ron Perlman as Justice, Kelly Hu as Okiku, and producer RZA as DJ (and music composer). They reprised their roles for the sequel, Afro Samurai: Resurrection, which also added Lucy Liu to the cast as Sio. Jackson has since aligned himself with several live-action anime adaptations, including Kite and the probably-dead-forever Afro Samurai.
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