12 Days of Meditations #2: Why Can’t Most People Stand Old Anime?

One of the most challenging things I must handle as an anime fan is when people ask me to recommend them anime. I take recommendations seriously, because I want others to enjoy what they watch–if they get a dud and hate it, I would hold myself liable. My knowledge as an anime fan isn’t just for myself; it’s also for the service of other anime fans. It’s challenging because anime is so vast and wide that one can’t just hope to throw out a couple of shows and expect them to be well-received.

So what I do is ask the person to narrow down their preferences. They give out a genre or two, or mention a specific show they like and would like to watch more of.

“Would you like to watch a classic?” I ask, giving a baseline, like “older than 2000”.

“Umm… I guess not. Something newer, maybe?” they answer.

This is where my heart breaks a little. But I give them what they want, and hope for the best.

What’s with this exclusion? When pressed gently for reasons, my friends say, “because it’s old”, or “they’re ugly”, or shrug. I, too, have once harbored a strong case of aversion towards old anime, but when I actually sat down and watched a few of the good ones, I realized that I’ve been closing myself off to excellent works. Though I think that I take anime more passionately than your average anime fan, which makes me more accepting of anime regardless of their age.

Giving a bit of thought for this, here are some reasons I could think of:

  1. Most people live in the present
  2. “Old” is conflated with “ugly”
  3. Old is no longer relevant

Most people live in the present

I once overheard a conversation about music. One person remarked that he liked listening to old pop music, like Michael Jackson’s Thriller era. The other said, “that can’t be pop! It’s old!” While this statement is false, because pop music is pop music regardless of how old it is, the second person’s attitude illustrates what most people think about old stuff.

The average person don’t actively seek out entertainment by himself. We are bombarded every day by music and TV and movies that we could just grab whatever we fancy, give them a spin, and go on with our lives, doing the same for the next hits that come in. Naturally, if everyone is watching and listening to the same things from the same places, it all starts to become homogenous. There’s a whole lot of stuff at hand that we tend to forget anything that’s already a month old. It’s not that they aren’t good and are therefore forgettable, it’s just that we stop thinking about them.

Also, the sheer volume of presently-available entertainment tends to make us fickle. At the first sign of an unpleasant voice, a boring stretch of time, or an uninteresting episode, we discard the work and go ahead to the next. We channel-surf. Because there’s so much at our fingertips, we grow afraid of wasting time. We rush into the next thing right away.

How many anime blogs do season previews? They answer a special need–to note up-and-coming shows, so that people would know what to follow. And yet this just shows that people live in the present–they are concerned with the soon, that will become the now in a few weeks.

I don’t blame them. After all, most people don’t want to take charge of the entertainment they consume. It’s simply something to distract them from the harshness of their daily lives. They’re content with others curating for them.

Old is conflated with ugly

Have you watched a show before 2000, before digital animation? Back then, anime was made with cels, which were painted and layered to make a single frame, many of which form animation. It used to be a problem that studios ran out of paint to color these cels, like in Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko (directed by a pre-SHAFT Shinbo!). It was far more expensive and time-consuming to animate with cels than with computers. Nowadays, digital animation allows a wider variety of colors, and CG allows backgrounds or mechanical objects to stay on-model with less work. Anime can be made faster, easier, and cheaper.

(I had put in Gunbuster as an example in the above paragraph, but it turns out that the black-and-white thing they did for the final episode wasn’t to save up, but it actually cost more!)

I make it sound like cel animation is a bad thing. That’s not true at all. Despite its limitations, some of the most gorgeous-looking anime were produced with cels. It has its own charm–some people prefer the less-saturated look (digital is often criticized to be too bright and colorful for its own good). The problem with cel, however, is that if it looks ugly, then it looks really ugly.

On the average, if you sample an old anime, it’s probably going to look unflattering. A lot of the classics haven’t aged well in terms of looks, but we still love them because they’re still good. It’s just something you have to keep in mind if you want to watch older shows. All things being equal, it’s harder to watch an older anime than a newer one, because it was made in a different eera.

But when you stumble upon an anime that looks beautiful despite its old age? It’s worth it.

Old is no longer relevant

Anime is continually evolving throughout its storied history. It is a lot more diverse now than before–anime used to be the domain of giant robots and espers and adaptations of old classics. And since anime today is a result of years’ worth of iteratively trying out things, watching something old might seem a regression.

It would make sense that someone who got into anime today had been hooked by watching recent shows. Their taste is calibrated towards such shows, and so older anime may look strange or uninviting. Entertainment is a product of its own time, and older anime was made with different mores or values than today. And when the anime belongs to the science fiction genre, it may look extremely dated with its limited knowledge of science–The Galaxy Express 999 movie amused me to no end because of all the liberties it took with space travel!

But is it really a step back? I am interested in how stories have evolved, so I want to see how the classics first approached things. Appreciating the original Mobile Suit Gundam made me more receptive to the entire franchise; I could draw a clear line of innovation and consolidation from past to present. (Some may look upon this more negatively, that Gundam has regressed since the good old days.) Even if such works are flawed, it pays well to understand what they had tried and why they didn’t work, and how succeeding works had refined these elements.

Isn’t it refreshing to see how something was done first? Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann was influenced by Getter Robo. Gurren Lagann is larger in scope; it deals with a rapidly increasing scale that by the end, the fate of the entire universe is at stake, and the titular mech reflects this with its impossible size. To watch Getter Robo, the OVAs at least, you could get a feel on how the super robot genre has grown.

Conversely, a lot of old anime fans lament the passing of their favorite genres. They dislike shows today and lament the disappearance of those that which they used to like. They are still anime fans, though they aren’t fans of anime today. It works both ways!

* * *

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface; there’s probably an entire area of study for this, which I’m interested to know. If you have your own answers, why not post them here! How do you convince people to watch an older show that they wouldn’t see on their own? It’s agonizing for me, because most of my favorites are pretty old!

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17 Responses to 12 Days of Meditations #2: Why Can’t Most People Stand Old Anime?

  1. What was that unspeakably overrated “classic”?

    Had to google it: Kino no tabi

    Fucking eye cancer.

    Speaking of QUALITY, ZZ Gundam peed directly in your eyeballs — then again SEED did worse so there’s that.

    Gundam Build Fighters is where it’s at — as far as non-death inducing mecha action animation. This show gave abominations from V Gundam better animation than they ever deserved.

  2. omo says:

    For people who love stories, Kino’s Journey is just that–lovely stories.

    I have a hard time coming up with a new reason to add to this comprehensive set of buckets. It is largely about perception of what anime is, how it looks like, and what it’s about.

    The only note is that otaku anime is iterative and the overall narrative (beyond the scope of a single show) can only be found if you watch both old and new anime. But that’s for-fans-only kind of a thing. If you get dropped into Light Novel Anime Hell of 2013 without being tempered by the sea of harem shit of last decade you probably will walk away way more jaded than someone who did.

  3. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say. The animation one finds in your average anime today is rather bland compared to those made with cels. And one modern example of a beautiful anime made the old fashioned way is Sword of the Stranger.

    Of course, I used to avoid the classics myself until the years 2009 – 2011, years which did not produce many good anime. In the belief that anime had lost its artistry, I started watching classic 90’s and 80’s anime. What most people forgot is that when people still love an anime that has been around for 20 or 30 years, one can be rather certain that the anime has enduring value. New seasons always contain flops, on which one can waste much time.

    I’ve always found Full Metal Panic Fumoffu to be my ace of trumps when it comes to recommending anime to someone unfamiliar with it. And thanks for that note about Gunbuster. I had no idea the black and white animation was more expensive!

    • Kraker2k says:

      Not sure what you meant by the Sword of the Stranger remark, it was made pretty much the same way most anime has been made for the last 10-12 years.

      • Well, I understood that Sword of the Stranger was made entirely with cel animation, but reading a little more indicates that there were some CGI elements. The point I was trying to make was that the old fashioned cel method produces more beautiful animation, but I out to have mentioned something really old without any CGI–like Arion.

        • Kraker2k says:

          I’m afraid not. Stranger was made the same way 99% of anime is made today (and has been for a decade.) Animators draw onto paper > it gets scanned on to computer > there it’s digitally inked and composed into digital film. Some have started using tablets for drawing, but they are in the minority and it’s not an industry standard. Most of the veteran animators are too used to using pencil & paper, learning to use tablets would take quite a bit of time (thus money) so it’s never really become standard. It’s only the young animators growing up in the last decade that are trying to move forward with completely digital animation.

          You can find ‘key animation’ collections for the film which show you the various pencilled animation.

          But I have a slight feeling you may be referring to the backgrounds, I can’t quite recall what they showed on the making of documentary, but I am certain the backgrounds for the film were painted onto canvases using traditional paints. Backgrounds are done depending on the company, some prefer digital art, some prefer painted backgrounds which are then scanned onto computers.

          Cel animation has not really been used for Film or TV anime for many, many years now. The last thing that was still using cel for animation was one of the long running kids TV anime shows (Makuro-chan?) and that changed a year or two ago.

        • Ah, now I understand things much better. Any new information about my favorite hobby is very welcome!

          I remember reading that the last tv show which used the old cell animation was Sazae-san, which had been running since 1969. It’s still running, but they switched to the digital style. The show has always struck my curiosity, but I have not yet got around to watching one of its 2,255 episodes. xD

  4. Andaer says:

    Only two entries out and this is already the most interesting blog series I discovered recently.

    I never paid attention two the two “sociological” arguments. Thanks for the input.

    The technical argument “Old is conflated with ugly” seemed to be the more obvious. I think you could have improved on that part. You seem to mix artstyle/designs with animation quality like a lot of “I-don’t-watch-oldies” people do (though I know you know better). I think making a clear distinction would have helped your argument. Artstyles and designs are mostly a matter of personal taste except for arguably level of details and shading. (I’d put your colour example in this category.) Fluidity of animation (read: motion) and number of moving “objects”, on the other hand, are more objective categories. Fluidity, however, does not depend on age – or cel vs. digital – but on budget. While OVAs and movies from the 80s and early 90s are very often top-notch, TV shows from that period fall short because they lacked the budget. On a sidenote, as Ghostlightning hinted at, a lot of anime from the early 2000 that is the transition period from cel to digital should be considered uglier.

    • schneider says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I am very much learning and trying out things for myself. This series is normally used as a retrospective on the year’s anime, but I feel that I would only be repeating what other people have said.

      You have a point about the early 2000s, where studios were just starting the transition from cel to digital. Gundam SEED was the first all-digital Gundam show in the franchise, and its reason for its limited animation (which involved a lot of tweening and looked like amateur Flash animation) was primarily because animators were still learning the techniques. Another Sunrise show, sCRYed, used a lot of digital effects that made it look like someone was learning Photoshop.

      • omo says:

        To be contrarian, “fludity” is also a subjective concept. You can be one of those people who thinks animation on the 2s is always better on the 3s, but that’s an option not a requirement. I would go even as far as to say that shading is often times an artistic distinction/choice in that “objective” sense. Just like “budget” here is a fluid term for time versus money.

        Art within the limits of commercial constraints, technical constraints, lack of knowhow because people are just doing digital composition for the first time… all of that is not objectively worse unless you pre-define a set of criteria, and those objectives are probably subjective in the sense of perceiving animation as art.

  5. John Samuel says:

    I still watch, and review, a lot of older anime. For example I recently reviewed the original Gall Force. I also reserve episodic reviews for shows that are at least 10 years old & have stood the test of time.

  6. sadakups says:

    Actually, I have problems with old anime when watching it for the first time. It’s weird, considering that when I revisit old anime I’ve seen before, I’m okay with it.

  7. I have been befuddled for a while now at the association of cell animation with ugly when all those early 2000s shows exist. Anime’s transition from old to new animation methods coupled with the introduction of CG produced some absolutely horrid-lookîng results. Backgrounds were particularly soulless in many cases.

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