Why There is no Anime Golden Age: A Rebuttal

27 Apr

By: Stephanie Weirich

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Can you feel it?  Don't worry, you will.

Can you feel it? Don’t worry, you will.

Last week, the site Topless Robot posted this fairly baffling article. No, no, I’ll wait while you read it.  It’s important that you read it, otherwise my takedown of it is not going to be as beautiful.  But if you’re really against clicking over there I’ll just give you the title and let you taste (maybe) a little bit of the rage: 10 Reasons why 90’s Anime is Superior to Today’s.

Yeah….I mean…Jesus.  After suffering an otaku rage induced nosebleed, my first thought was that the author of this list—one Miss Monique Jones—must be trolling.  She makes so many blanket statements and broad generalizations my jaw may have actually dropped off my face, and that happened before she started to contradict herself.  Also, while it may seem like I’m splitting hairs here she seems to have very little understanding of the fact that anime is not in and of itself a genre and that in fact, there are genres within it (you’re really calling K-On a Shoujo show?  Really?  NO.  JUST NO).  It’s either trolling, or she’s brilliantly fishing for page views.



Not Shoujo

Not Shoujo

But let’s say that this is a serious article and that the author is presenting a serious argument, one that she genuinely believes in.  Based on that consideration, I’m going to take the article seriously and very seriously dismantle the most problematic points she makes; because while it would be oh so easy to outright attack her and her output, that’s not really going to get us anywhere.  I won’t cover all of it, just the most important points.

Cooler Character Designs:

Now, you’re not off to a good start when you begin your argument with a statement that is wholly subjective and based entirely upon personal taste.  This is just as bad as new school fans who assert that they’ll never watch a series from before the early aughts because old anime is “ugly”: both are invalid arguments, but valid opinions.  There is a distinction there that needs to be upheld.  It’s also important to point out that neither are facts.

Next, her major proof of this statement is this gentleman:


Compared with this one:

No one said the Brittanians were well fed.

No one said the Brittanians were well fed.

She dislikes Lelouch mostly because he is anatomically incorrect (and lanky as a motherfucker) while Goku has muscles and is therefore more realistic.  This is a rather unfair comparison to make, considering Goku does this:

Sometimes you just have to punch a dude in the dick.

Sometimes you just have to punch a dude in the dick.

While Lelouch does this:

He just came.  Did you?

He just came. Did you?

Their character designs exist as they do for very specific reasons, and one of those main reasons is that they signify a portion of what that character is all about.  It’s a visual cue, and that is not something limited to anime.  It’s part of human nature and can be exemplified by simply living life and paying attention to what people look like and how that makes you conceive of their character.  Of course Goku is built like a brick shithouse—he’s spent pretty much his entire life training in the middle of nowhere and then fighting ALL OF THE DUDES.  Lelouch has spent his life beating rich guys at chess, wallowing in family dramz and laughing maniacally.  He has no physical power, only mental.    Their characters are therefore designed accordingly for better or for worse—your mileage with that character’s appearance may vary, but do not claim that that proves ALL 90’s character designs are inherently better.  Also, if you haven’t watched Code Geass all the way through the end, do not even step to me with that “It’s a rip off of Gundam” shit.  We will go to war in the streets with bottles and chains.  I PROMISE YOU THAT.



Plots that Made Sense:

Her entire point here is seemingly exemplified by the batshit insanity that occurred within Inazuma Eleven and its sequal, Inazuma Eleven Go.  Which, I’m not going to disagree that things went off the rails there.  But I’m also not going to make the mistake of comparing a show made for the Japanese children of today with A list young adult to adult titles from the 90’s, such as Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing and Dragonball Z.  Of course Inazuma Eleven is ridiculous, pretty much every show in the history of the world that is made for children is an insanity inducing Technicolor nightmare.  Children have very short attention spans, and often, they need a demon to show up at least once in a while to keep it interesting.  And I can tell you from teaching Japanese children that they love that shit.  This means that regardless of what you thought of it, it succeeded with its target audience: insane children.

So insane, they rip a hole in time itself.

So insane, reality trembles.

Also, let’s not pull any punches here and pretend that 90’s anime wasn’t delightfully batshit to some degree.  It’s an integral component in the whole “Japan is sooooooooooo weird” mentality.  That strangeness—the new cultural archetypes we had never seen, the very different societal cues that were being called upon—is one of the driving forces behind a lot of anime fandom.  Even the shows she references were insane.  I cannot be the only person who remembers this from Sailor Moon:

The gentlest.

Also, let us never forget Ranma ½.  That was some crazy shit all around.  This is my main point here—even if those shows she references follow through with their stated intentions, it doesn’t make them any less insane at points.  Also, one children’s show from the present is not a glaring indictment for the sanctity of plotlines as a whole.

Different Types of Characters:

In this section, the author doesn’t even bother giving examples of characters in recent shows that fit the character stereotypes she rolls out.  Again, she references Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z as reasons why it was all so much better in the 90’s.  Here’s the main problem with the sweeping generalizations presented in this section: character archetypes evolve over time as we as human beings evolve and change according to the needs of our environment and era.  Character types such as Goku didn’t go away; they just changed into characters like Naruto and Luffy.  They evolved as the Japanese evolved.

Can you imagine the fanfiction?

Can you imagine the fanfiction?

Which, to reach towards a larger point, this is a huge problem with viewing any art form as though it is culturally divorced from the place that made it.  You ignore the context that informed it, and thus you lack crucial understanding of what’s occurring and why.  We also use character archetypes and stereotypes as short-hand in order to very quickly tell the viewer a bit about how that character is going to be.  It happens to be less glaring because it’s more easily relatable when it’s coming from media created by your own country and your own familiar stereotypes.  Being unable to grasp or even conceive of how Japanese culture and social norms inform character types points to a lack of sensitivity I cannot even fathom.

Realistic Emotions (Also, More Heart because there are 2 sections covering the same topic):

By this point in the article, I’m starting to believe that the author has very little exposure to the Otaku community, even in a tangential way.  I can tell you that while I do not post on discussion boards, I do most certainly lurk and pay attention to what the community is watching and why.  I like to hear people’s thoughts about the shows that they love and hate.  It gives me an idea of what I would want to watch and what I would want to steer clear of.

An accurate depiction of me and message boards.

An accurate depiction of me and message boards.

Apparently, Miss Jones does not feel the same way, and has thus not asked anybody, or even creeped on a board to find out what was worth watching recently.  To say that current shows don’t match the emotional realism of Cowboy Bebop is laughable.  It’s also unfair to compare Cowboy Bebop to most shows, as it’s a masterpiece and would be such no matter what era it was created in—it has nothing to do with the time period, it has everything to do with the team that worked on it.  But if you’re going to tell me that new (or newer) shows don’t have realistic emotions, then allow me to direct you towards some very specific shows, in no particular order: AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Mawaru Penguindrum, Puella Magi Madoka Magica or even Durarara.  Also, how are you going to mention Cowboy Bebop without saying a single word about Samurai Champloo or Michiko to Hachin?  These shows exist, they’re excellent, and they have ALL of the feels you could want.  If you haven’t seen them, that’s something that can be remedied.  However, it can’t be if you’ve just decided that nothing being created now is even worth your time.

Seriously, this show WRECKED MY SHIT.

Seriously, this show WRECKED MY SHIT.

90’s Anime Shows were Actual Shows:

This is where I officially lose my cool.  The Western entitlement combined with ignorance to the evolution of anime fandom in America in this section is a heady brew, let me tell you.   Which, really, those are the main problems I have with this article as a whole, and I touched briefly on the latter point very early on when I said the tone was very “GET OFF MY LAWN”ish.

My lawn.  Get off it.

My lawn. Get off it.

We need to stop with this “Everything was better in my day, all of this new stuff sucks” mentality.  It’s a condescending and curmudgeonly belief system that hurts the bearer of that mentality more than it will ever hurt the person they’re lobbing it at.  We’ve all met this person, and the thing they’re talking about varies.  I’ve met the people who say “There’s been no good music since Led Zepplin” or the person who says “There hasn’t been a single good book written since Catcher in the Rye.”  These assertions, along with assertions about anime that this article is making don’t make the author look clever or more intelligent; they instead mark the person proclaiming this fact as someone who hasn’t explored their world or fandom enough.  If you can’t look at the huge array of anime that comes out every season and find at least one good to excellent show, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough.  You’ve made the decision to hate on something without doing the legwork to prove yourself wrong, and you’ve made this decision to your own detriment.

It’s also a viewpoint built upon ignoring or turning a blind eye to some simple truths about the forever onward march of modernity.  So you think that characters now all fit a certain archetype or look a certain way, or that plots follow a certain set of rules and shows in the past—shows that you watched when you first became a fan—were different and therefore better?  Well, that’s because in the 90’s, you had only a handful of shows to choose from because in order to see the anime you wanted to see, you had to trade VHS.  You had to special order the shows you wanted to see and some of them had subtitles, some didn’t.  Some were grainy copies of copies.  Many were re-watched until the tape broke because it was all there was.  When licensing companies started up, they began in earnest.  Anime fans were an untested and highly niche fanbase and therefore, companies that would license anime had to be highly selective.  They were only going to get the cream of the crop.  Now, that’s not the case.  We live in an age where you have access to every single show airing in Japan RIGHT NOW.  I can go to the internet and download everything from an A list adult themed anime series to a D level series aimed strictly at children.  The market has been flooded.  And guess what?  It turns out that in Japan, anime is sort of a huge and commercially viable deal.  A metric fuckton of it is made every year, and there are so many different genres and styles that it would take you years to examine all of them.  So now, unlike in the 90’s, you aren’t just being exposed to the masterpieces of the art form such as Cowboy Bebop or Trigun.  You’re being exposed to EVERYTHING.  And there are people who like those bad shows, just like there are people who love Jersey Shore or Dancing with the Stars.  It’s not a matter of any era producing better anything, it’s merely that the level of exposure changes and thus more variety—for better or for worse—is introduced.

Let us never forget that this was a hit show.

Let us never forget that this was a hit show.

I’ve spoken about Western entitlement as it pertains to anime fandom a bit before, but brace yourselves, because I’m about to go DEEP. I understand that as a niche area of fanaticism we feel particularly attached to anime.  We love our bishies and our boy’s love and our straight up shounen action shows.  We are protective of what we love.  We feel that it is somehow ours.  Thus we feel betrayed when that thing that we think belongs to us ends up not being what we wanted.  But you have to remember that it isn’t ours.  It may exist in the world at large and be loved by people all around the world, but it primarily belongs to the Japanese.  This is a form of their entertainment, much like how we have a wide variety of shows to choose from when we flip on the TV.  And while you can criticize anime according to your tastes, you can’t have any expectations of it pleasing you and your desires outright because in the grand scheme of its creation, you don’t matter.  The Japanese don’t care if you’re tired of fanservice.  Or harem shows.  Or mecha anime.  Or loli.  And do you know why?  Because the Japanese fans aren’t tired of it, and they’re willing to pay top dollar for it.

Well somebody did.

Well somebody did.

I touched on this briefly earlier when I mentioned that it’s problematic to view anime as though it’s culturally divorced from the Japanese as a people.  To do that makes any argument, like the one Monique Jones is attempting to make here, smack of cultural insensitivity or flat out orientalism.  It signifies that you want the style and flash of the medium, but you don’t want the sometimes messy connotations or cultural circumstances that created it.  Or, at the very least, it shows that you aren’t interested in learning anything about the context of it all and instead you prefer to ignorantly complain about your needs not being met while caring not at all about the needs of the Japanese in regards to the evolution of their own art.  That, to me, is a wholly unacceptable position to take and is part of why I created this blog.  Cultural and societal context is ALWAYS important.  It is why we have this art form that we love so much.  The least we could all do is respect the people that gave it to us.  Remember that the next time you encounter a trend you dislike within anime—and then go out and learn about why it’s there.  I promise you’ll be all the better for it.

If you disagree with me (or agree) sound off in the comments!

8 Responses to “Why There is no Anime Golden Age: A Rebuttal”

  1. Artemis April 27, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    I feel like it’s natural for people to want to look back at something (anything at all really, it doesn’t have to be anime) and feel nostalgic. I know I have plenty of “ahh, those were the days!” moments when thinking about anime, particularly because, like so many others, the 90s was when I first started getting into the medium – it’s really easy to think back to masterpieces like Cowboy Bebop and yearn for the ‘golden years’. On the whole though, I actually think it’s impossible to objectively state that one decade was definitely better than any other. There are just too many anime and too much that rides on subjective opinion. Also, dividing things so cleanly by decade in the first place just doesn’t make all that much sense. It’s easy to do so and there are certainly trends in anime that come and go every few years, but it’s not as though those trends are confined by decade for our convenience. In reality, things tend to be a lot messier than that.

    • entropypieplate April 27, 2013 at 3:07 am #

      Oh, most definitely. I’ve had those moments as well, especially when anime seasons have had pretty slim pickings in regards to quality output. For some reason, I think that article just set off a feeling that had been simmering for a while. I’ve heard that complaint far too many times, and I felt compelled to add a counterpoint to the discussion. I especially wanted to point out how different our anime watching lives are now in comparison to when many of us first became fans, as I think that’s the biggest issue. Moving from a time when we pretty much only got the really high quality series to a time when we’re just wading through every title that’s being created leads to a remarkable lack in quality control amongst fans, I think. So it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by shows that aren’t nearly as good as the ones that got us into anime in the first place. It’s just a matter of searching, and always taking into consideration that it’s a lot more complicated than “Things were better in my day”. It is, like you said, so much messier than that.

      • Artemis April 27, 2013 at 3:14 am #

        That’s a really good point about the anime viewing experience being very different now for a lot of people than it was when they first started watching. It’s a bit of a catch-22 I think. On the one hand, I think it’s fantastic that anime is progressively getting more and more worldwide exposure – it results in a greater amount of anime being shown on TV overseas and also a greater variety of anime in terms of genre. On the other hand, this also means that by default, there’s indeed more anime to wade through and people have no choice but to be more discriminating about what they choose to watch. Back when I was a teen I was ecstatic to see any anime on TV, be it Tenchi Muyo or Evangelion. Nowadays I’m a lot fussier about the anime I follow because I literally have thousands of titles at my fingertips.

      • entropypieplate April 27, 2013 at 3:32 am #

        That’s totally gone the opposite way for me as well at times, when I’ve thought about how much I loved a show that I watched in the halcyon days of my initial fandom and then I’ve gone and watched that show and facepalmed for days. Newness has an appeal as does nostalgia. It’s a tricky set of feelings to manage and keep in context.

  2. Blubs April 27, 2013 at 5:41 am #

    I’m out of my element since I don’t watch much anime nowadays (most recent is uhh uhh…Death Note…Madoka and Princess Jellyfish?) but you had a very well articulated point. Much more than the arbitrary 10 reasons Why Something I am Fond Of Isn’t Cool Anymore. Bravo!

    • entropypieplate April 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

      Thank you very much! Those are great shows too, and some of my personal favorites! If you’re looking for another quality show, check out Mawaru Penguindrum.

      • Blubs April 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

        Adding that to my watch list. Thanks for the recommendation.

        Looking forward to upcoming posts from this blog 🙂

        I also forgot to mention the randomness of Shirokuma Cafe. I love that show. Then again I love bears, all kinds of bears. Also the opening song is kind of infectious.

      • entropypieplate April 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

        Thank you, I greatly appreciate it!

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