The year was 1973, and a young anime studio named Madhouse began work on its first big series, an adaptation of a popular tennis manga called Ace o Nerae! or Aim for the Ace! as it translates in English. Running 26 episodes, it was directed by Dezaki Osamu and had character designs by Sugino Akio, a duo that continues to work together even to this day, including Rose of Versailles, the 90s Black Jack OVAs, and Space Adventure Cobra. They also worked together on every other anime adaptation of Aim for the Ace!
With that in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to just put the openings of each of the Ace series next to each other, if only to see how time, money, and experience have affected the same series over the course of two decades.
1973’s Ace o Nerae!
1978s Shin Ace o Nerae!
1988’s Ace o Nerae 2!
It might be a little unfair to compare openings, but I feel that doing so is a good indicator for seeing how an anime series wishes to be first seen. When you look at the 1973 opening vs the 1978 opening though, you can already see a world of difference. Character designs in Shin Ace are cleaner and more consistent, perhaps at the expense of some of the wild and untamed artwork that characterizes the original. Everything is also much-better animated, with fewer visible shortcuts being taken. Fast forward to 1988 and of course you can see a huge change, brought on by overall progress in anime, an OVA-level budget and changing visual trends in anime (and in real-world fashion). Keep in mind though that unlike, say, Cutie Honey, where each incarnation is done by a different studio and different people at the helm, Ace 2 has the same core team as the first Ace, and what you’re seeing here is direct evidence of how they changed over the course of 15 years.
I think the biggest difference between the original and the later series is that by the time of Shin Ace, the anime is actively trying to portray human figures in a three-dimensional space, and Ace 2 even moreso. If you look at the original TV series, even in the opening it never wants to tell you exactly where the characters are in any given moment. It feels closer to a manga brought to life, for better or worse. In that regard, I feel that the original has a certain charm that the others lack, the kind of appeal that comes from seeing just how much people could do with so little.
Really though, I just think they should have kept the hair from the first TV series throughout each incarnation. That includes the live-action series from a few years ago.