Inquiring Minds Want To Know #38: Comparing Modern Anime With Classic Hits

This week the question really threw me because I kind of disagree with the basic premise of it, but here we go and I’m a trying to take in on anyway. I’d love to know your answer to the question and remember that if you have something you would like for me to answer, please fill in the survey below.

Question: When compared to the anime in the past, these days it is really hard to find a good anime that can stand neck to neck with all the classic hits. Is it because the studios now-a-days are concentrating in releasing more no. of anime each season rather than 1 or 2 good, quality anime? From anon

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Okay, there’s a lot to think about in that question but underlying it is an assumption that modern anime is not as good as the classics. Which is an argument I’ve seen a lot of but  don’t necessarily agree with, no disrespect to whoever asked the question. While there are certainly some amazing titles that have left a legacy and influenced a large number of modern anime, to assume that the titles coming out today aren’t that good or won’t have a lasting impact is something that seems a little overly pessimistic.

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More importantly, are modern audiences really after something enduring or do they simply want something that moves them in the moment? With the plethora of media available to be streamed instantly, it really does seem like most people are moving away from the idea that something needs to be watched over and over and be enduring and more that something needs to start a conversation in the now and then we’ll find something new to discuss. What qualities are we looking for in a ‘classic’ or a hit and are these actually things that can be compared over time given changes in technology, society, and the way we consume media?

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The other issue is that people remember the stories that worked in the past, but conveniently forget all the duds of anime history. And there are a lot of them. Some have hung around and can still be viewed for the amusement of the interested but most have simply disappeared into the nebulous past and won’t be mentioned again as they have no reason to be. So while there are certainly a large number of anime coming out each season, and a lot of them won’t be consider enduring classics or modern masterpieces, this isn’t overly new. The only thing different now is a general larger volume and while that means there are certainly a large number of titles we can point to if we wished to make a case about the declining quality of anime, that overlooks some of the truly extraordinary stories that anime has brought us in the last decade.

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Ultimately, each viewer is going to decide for themselves whether they prefer the older and more stately classics, or whether it is something newer and shinier that will push their buttons, or some combination of the two, but there are strengths to older and newer anime as well as weaknesses. So while that doesn’t really answer the question I think it explains why the question itself isn’t necessarily something that can be answered if the underlying assumption that modern anime aren’t as good as older ones is disagreed with in the first place.

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Right, would you like to make me think? Have a question you’d like discussed? Be sure to fill in the survey below. In the meantime though, I’d love to know your thoughts on the question this week so drop me a comment.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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27 thoughts on “Inquiring Minds Want To Know #38: Comparing Modern Anime With Classic Hits

  1. Well…You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head.

    I agree, comparing “classics” with modern anime and saying it’s hard to find new, good titles completely misses the point of what it takes for a series to be a classic — if one can even define such a thing.

    From 2018 alone I can think of a few shows that were incredible, and the only thing left they have left to do is survive the test of time.

    Plus, I’ve always wondered what others consider to be classics. I have my own ideas, and let me tell you, perfect shows they were not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It will be interesting to see if any titles survive the test of time given modern audiences seem very much more into the right now. That said, a good story is a good story so hopefully the better ones survive.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In all my years (and there’s quite a few of them) I’ve only ever seen one fandom/audience that wasn’t “all about the right now”… And that was 1970’s era Star Trek fandom and that was only because there wasn’t any “right now” to be into. All we had were re runs and the movies were still in the future.

        I have no reason to believe anime is any different.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you, I do think people just remember the good classics and forget there were duds then too, I think anime is only getting better quality wise as a larger following that keeps growing and we should expect more amazing anime

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is very easy to forget the duds because they aren’t sitting on your shelf, you probably never watched them again, so unless they were particularly hideous the most likely thing you will have done is forgotten them.

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  3. When someone compares “classics” to modern anime, it’s like they’re comparing this year’s movie releases to, say, the Oscar nominated films of the ’60’s and ’70’s. The two groups aren’t really fairly comparable. This year’s group includes this year’s dogs; the classics are the top of the mountain in one way or another.

    As an animator I like a lot of the work done today. The direct to digital techniques create cleaner work with a lot less of the visual vibration we used to call “judder,” no camera artifacts (like shadows or lens flares), and more consistent coloration. And direct to digital is also direct to high-def. Today’s anime looks better, top to bottom.

    But story and character are timeless qualities. I’m willing to bet people will be watching The Ancient Magus’ Bride in twenty years, just like audiences today watch Cowboy Bebop. People still watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because Walt Disney was a storytelling genius; people still watch, say, Spirited Away because Miyazaki is a storytelling genius; people will be watching Your Name. because Shinkai is a storytelling genius.

    Sturgeon’s law: 90% of everything is crap. The good thing about looking at the classics is that they’ve had the crap weeded out of them. The good thing about looking at modern stuff is that we get to be the gardeners.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a fairly apt way of looking at it. Thanks for sharing your view on this question.
      It will definitely be interesting to see what from this current era manages to stick around.

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  4. I started out with bubble-economy long-form OVAs from the late 80s, so I can always go back to those even if their flaws are a lot more visible now, and I like a lot of recent shows as well. The only era I really have trouble with is the late 90s/early 00s export gold rush era, where US DVD sales were making so much money for anime studios that a) we got a ton of shows that probably wouldn’t have been made if the studios had been focused on their domestic market and b) the US importing companies had heavy input on the content of the shows.

    Oh, and so many “We want to be Evangelion” shows during this same time, for a double whammy.

    So there’s probably 6 to 8 years where a lot of the anime that was coming out was… not great, or at least not to my taste, and then I find a lot more shows that I like after the crash of the US DVD market and the resultant contraction in Japan.

    Conversely, people whose formative years came during the gold rush ARE probably under-served right now, so I can’t fault them too much for being annoyed. Anime studios follow the money, and right now that money is in selling toys to domestic fans instead of selling DVDs to foreigners.

    I’m probably overthinking this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a fair point that what people outside of Japan are interested in or following isn’t the primary concern for anime studios. They are definitely primarily catering for a domestic market and if their interests align with an international one that’s more of a bonus than a plan (or at least that’s how it feels sometimes).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is interesting because I always do a year end Top 10 on my site of films, UK anime release and Japanese aired anime shows, and for the first time I don’t have 10 worthy contenders for the UK list, maybe four or five at best. 😮

    Where this is relevant to your article is that my current leading choice for the top spot is “When They Cry” which is 12 years old! Is this an indictment that modern anime is lacking or is it simply that the titles released in the UK this year haven’t been the best of the bunch – and that includes AOT season 2?

    Actually this happened once before back it 2009 whe my top pick was The Slayers franchise which was already 15 years old at that point, but the competition from newer titles was much stiffer then. :-/

    But to answer the question directly, you won’t know if something is a “classic” until it is a few years old and can be rewatched again and still feel fresh, relevant and retain its appeal. It might be good now but there are a lot of “classics” that don’t hold up and that will be the same for many of today’s best loved titles too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It could be an indicator of the UK releases this year (though I don’t really know what has and hasn’t had a release there). And I agree, it is impossible to know whether something will still be fun and watchable in a few years time until we get a few years down the track so I guess we’ll see which anime from the last few years are still remembered as we move forward.

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  6. You can go through MAL’s seasonal lists year-by-year, and most years you’ll find roughly 3-7 new TV anime that really stand out from the rest in terms of enduring broad popularity, continued longevity (i.e. that it’s still attracting new fans even today), and timelessness (i.e. how well the animation style and story still hold up). That seems to hold true no matter if you’re looking at anime that came out in the 90s when they were producing 50-60 TV shows a year, or the late 00s when they were producing over 150 TV shows a year. You have those 3-7 all-time classics, a handful of fondly remembered “cult” favorites with much smaller fanbases, and a whole lot of forgettable and largely forgotten junk.

    I also think part of the equation for someone arguing whether this era or that era of anime is better is simply what kind of anime they like, since popular tastes and genre preferences have shifted so much through the decades. If you’re a big fan of mecha and/or cyberpunk anime (as I know Scott is), then it’s only natural to have a bias towards older shows, especially 90s/early 2000s anime, since that was the golden age for sci-fi anime. The mid-00s was a good time to be a fan of VN adaptations and ecchi fanservice shows. For fans of isekai, idol anime, and cute girl slice of life, the golden age is right now. Those are the folks who’ll be sending you questions in 20 years – when Japan’s latest trend is yaoi robot boy space westerns and we’re getting four of those every season – complaining that anime ain’t what it used to be and what happened to all the classic isekai we used to get?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I defy anyone who thinks classics aren’t being made anymore to watch Yorimoi, Girl’s Last Tour, and Made in Abyss – and then look me in the eye and tell me that.

    (*Idiot*)

    Probably the same person who complains all the time on the ANN forums that there’s “nothing made today except for moe[censored]” and CGDCT”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get that some people do prefer older anime and they are welcome to that preference. That said, as you’ve pointed out, there are many fairly high quality anime that have come out just this year (or last year) so plenty of modern day anime that may in the future be considered classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think the elephant in the room, aside from what’s already been discussed, is “what is a ‘classic hit’ to this anon?” “Classic”, “quality”, “old” and “good” are subjective and there will be no end of arguments as to what anime count in those categories and what don’t.

    Otherwise, even though I’m biased to anime from the 1990s+, if I deem it “good” now, then I’ll support it now, regardless of its age and whether I support it later/supported it in the past.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Well…as I once mentioned to you, I really do love classic anime. It has a certain charm, and there are plenty of older/classic shows that I just really enjoy watching even in this modern age. But…that doesn’t mean in any way that I don’t like newer anime. There are enough very good examples of modern anime that are all incredible (And I don’t even think that I have to name titles for this 😊😊). I think it’s precisely what Scott says…I just like to watch different kinds of things, and whether they are old or new…that I really don’t care much about 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, this question certainly comes from a very biased individual. As a person that watches old and new anime, I don’t really think there is that much of a difference in quality to be honest. There are plenty of newer shows that are fantastic that came out this year that are completely fantastic. There are only more of them, that’s all. At the same time, there have been great shows from the past that barely getting any notice, so there is definitely an interesting balance between the two.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I will admit, I’m biased toward newer anime unless I happened to watch the older one when I was younger. Visually, anime just keeps getting better. That said, there are many great titles from the past just as I feel there are many modern shows that are amazing. So yeah, couldn’t really answer this question mostly because I don’t think that new shows are lacking comparatively.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I do have clear biases toward older series, but I’ve never been the type to watch the same things all the time. I always want to watch something I’ve never heard of and new as well because who knows what else is out there?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. That’s true. There is so much to see that it is hard sometimes to decide between watching something I’ve seen and know I love and something I am just curious about that I might end up loving.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I think a lot of the ‘classic’ anime survives on the nostalgia. In my podcast we rewatch classic anime from the 1980s and analyze them. There have been some that hold up to the memories, but there have also been some that we all remember fondly, that when watched again now really aren’t very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And that’s very much the case with modern anime that people like. Some of them will be forgotten or when watched in a few years just won’t hold up. But others will actually be quite good regardless of when they are watched and only time and distance will help us know which is which.

      Liked by 1 person

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