This month, I was asked to write about “the relevance of older anime to newer anime fans.” The short answer is that older anime is always relevant, even if newer fans don’t think it is. I’ll leave the criteria for “older” up for interpretation, but no matter whether it’s one year or 30 years, looking back on the anime that came before is a way to gain perspective on this form of art and entertainment that enthralls us so.
When a fan only watches what is newer, there’s a risk of developing a very skewed sense of what anime was, is, and can be. It’s easy to assume certain ideas are entirely new and have never been explored before, when in fact there’s a whole back catalog of shows that take on those topics. For example, the surface reputation of Gundam as vaguely “giant robots do fighty army things” can often color people’s views of what the franchise is actually like, and actually taking the time to look into those older series can broaden one’s perception.
In other cases, it’s easy to think that it’s “always been this way,” when certain stylistic or narrative tendencies are in fact the product of continued development reflecting the changing times. I recall being a young anime fan in the 90s, when most of what we got were short OVAs meant to be proof-of-concept adaptations for manga that doubled as advertisements. Often, they didn’t make any sort of effort to acclimate new viewers, so many fans were under the assumption that most anime were visually beautiful but unfollowable nonsense story-wise. We often failed to understand that it was simply what we received.
The above examples aren’t necessarily about looking backwards, but the point isn’t to position “older anime” as “better.” Not only is that highly subjective, but there are strengths and faults to anime made in any era, as well as cultural assumptions that might be controversial in hindsight. Rather, the important thing is to look beyond one’s current purview.
I understand that it’s easier said than done to get into older anime and not have it feel like a “chore.” It shouldn’t be “watch this show from 20 years ago because it’ll make you appreciate newer things—to hell with your own enjoyment!” Moreover, there are so many forces at work that directly and indirectly discourage newer anime fans from looking backwards. The newer shows take up all of the mental space through advertisements and social media discussion and who knows what else. If watching anime is a social experience for someone, it can become difficult to convince friends to abandon the opportunity to keep up with current trends. And while good aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, older shows can at first look dated and thus lack relevance to a young, modern person. But for those who can overcome those hurdles, the reward is a more expansive library to potentially love and learn from.
This is actually why I’ve begun to think that remakes aren’t such a bad thing. Notably, Devilman Crybaby has re-introduced a classic manga to the wider world, and people have embraced it. The visuals might not be standard anime by any definition, but they’re fresher and more contemporary than what came beforehand, and they help fans to understand that the stories told in the past can still be relevant and powerful even if they look like they’re from a bygone era. If done well, it can encourage fans to break out of their shells and see.
See more, see wider, see further.
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