The following question has played on my mind for quite some time now: is there no longer such a thing as classic anime? Admittedly, this is a kind of broad, kind of vague question, one which I’m probably not qualified to answer, but in the following post I’ll attempt to do just that, as succinctly and as eloquently as three cups of coffee allow me to be. But before I can dig into the meat of the question, I must first unpack what I mean by the term “classic anime”.
When you think “classic anime”, what shows spring to mind? For me, it’s older shows like Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. These shows shaped their genres (space western and mecha, respectively), inspired many spiritual successors, and, despite being more than two decades old, continue to endure in popularity and generate discussion to this day. In other words, the qualities that make these three shows classic anime (at least in my opinion) are that they shaped an entire genre and endured in popularity over time. The font of knowledge that is Reddit puts it more eloquently. It defines a classic anime as: “a timeless piece of work that exemplifies the best of its genre, pushes the boundaries of the medium, and cements itself into […] otaku culture.”
What makes an anime “classic” certainly isn’t the amount of time that has passed since it was first released. Though I just used three examples from the late 90s, if you jump forward, let’s say, to 2009 (exactly 10 years ago) and take a look at the shows that came out that year, you will find many more examples of shows that most would consider to be classic anime. 2009 saw the release of Bakemonogatari, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and K-On!. That year we also received continuations of Spice and Wolf and Natsume’s Book of Friends. Bakemonogatari was groundbreaking in its presentation and use of clever dialogue, Brotherhood is widely considered to be one of the best anime in existence, K-On! popularised cute girls doing cute things, Spice and Wolf gave us Holo, one of the most popular female anime characters of all time, and Natsume continues to bewitch many of us anibloggers to this day. In light of these shows’ credentials, I don’t think it overly generous to consider any one of them a classic anime!
Though many of today’s shows are just as groundbreaking, I still can’t help but wonder what (if any) impact they’ll have on anime as a whole. Or how many of them we’ll even remember in the years to come. Below are a few of the reasons behind these worries.
The amount of anime that is released every season has crept up and up and up until, now, in the year 2019, we’re tempted with more shows than ever before. To use 2009 as an example once again… During that summer, 23 new shows were released, whereas during this summer, 38 new shows were released. And that number is only set to increase. This fall we’ve been promised 45 new shows. That’s almost a 50% increase on the number of shows that were released during the summer of 2009. Not to mention that anime has become more accessible than ever. Gone are the days of pouring through shady streaming sites looking for that one show. Or searching through YouTube for part 2 of episode 124 of Bleach (why can I only find parts 1 and 3!?). With this overabundance of anime, new and old, vying for our attention, it seems much more likely that a potential classic fall through the cracks.
The Quality of Anime
Wait, before you get your pantsu in a twist, hear me out! I don’t think it’s that the quality of anime has declined over the years. If anything, I think that anime is just as good, if not better, than it ever was. Attack on Titan’s latest season was a masterclass in storytelling, Demon Slayer shows just how far animation has come over the years, Dororo traveled 50 years through time to prove that some themes are timeless, My Hero Academia has got everybody buzzing about shounen anime again, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure continues to expertly market itself to Converse-wearing, Starbucks-drinking, meme-hungry Millennials (like myself). There is so much about today’s anime that amazes me. But that’s kind of the problem. The bar has been set so staggeringly high that it takes something truly mind-blowing, truly incredible to give me that sense of “I’m-watching-something-really-special-something-that-I’m-gonna-remember-for-years-to-come”.
The Culture of Binge-Watching
The practice of marathoning multiple episodes of a series or even watching an entire series in one sitting has become commonplace (to the extent that, in June 2018, the word binge-watching was added to the Oxford Dictionary). Binge-watching is just as prevalent within the anime fandom. These days it is implicitly encouraged, particularly if you’re an aniblogger/vlogger trying to keep your finger on the pulse of the fandom, to binge-watch as much anime as possible. So many shows are released every season that you become crippled with F-O-M-O-O-T-O-A-S or fear-of-missing-out-on-that-one-awesome-show (the one that everybody is talking about). To remedy this you end up watching as much as possible in as little time as possible. I know that mere minutes after finishing an anime I’m already moving on to the next one. Sadly, this leaves little room for cogitation, little time to consider a show’s merits. This means that good anime, even great anime, are soon forgotten as we sink our teeth into the next one. Take some of last year’s most popular shows: Banana Fish, Cells at Work, and Hinamatsuri… These were good anime, no? Moving, educational, entertaining… Arguably just as great as the classics of old. But when was the last time you heard anybody talk about them? Exactly. We’re all much too busy gorging ourselves on the latest offering to give these shows so much as a second thought…
To conclude, anime is still good, great, even, and is continually breaking new ground/upping the ante, much like the classics of old. That being said, I can’t help but wonder whether the sheer amount of anime that is now on offer as well as the change in our viewing habits have put an end to classic anime as we know it. What do you think? Do you think that I’m mistaken? Do you think that any, more recent, shows have the potential of becoming classic anime? I’d love to know… I realise that this is a potentially contentious topic, but let’s keep it friendly, okay?
I very much agree with your statements and I have a few things to add on to it. One thing I will say is many modern classics are often personals and not major.
On top of this, Alot of modern anime (and media in general) often tend to tribute the past a little too much that we sometimes don’t see something original.
Lastly, Many anime’s try making things intentionally classic. The difference between a good production and a classic is that a good film is a film people like but a classic is when a film can be remembered for being outstanding (And this can not be done intentionally). The best example comes from Goodfellas (I know it’s not an anime), where it has classic moments like the “what do you mean i’m not funny?” scene. What you see in that is just a scene that is part of the film, it was clear they never intended on making it a classic moment.
So what you’re saying is that classic anime need to be something original, something that, rather than paying tribute to past shows, breaks new ground and forges ahead on its own path? With the sheer amount of anime out there, do you think it’s possible, to be unique and entirely original?
I’d agree with your point that creators cannot force a classic anime into being. It’s like when you’re watching an Oscar-nominated movie and you can tell that it was made with the Oscars in mind (because you can always tell). It takes something (I’m not sure what exactly) away from the movie, doesn’t it?
I do agree with what you say here. After posting that comment, I did realise that there is a lot out these days and making something original is much tougher to do. I do think modern day anime can tribute the past as it’s always a nice detail.
My second point is weak, I’ll accept that.
What I should have said/was trying to say was that I think modern day anime doesn’t have to be original to be classic; rather, it should be at least memorable (which could then make it a classic).
Love or hate it, I think that Darling in the FranXX definitely holds the potential to become a modern-day classic (even if only for the discussion it generated). And I think we can all agree that there was nothing original about -that- show. It reeks of Eureka 7.
Ooh, I haven’t seen it but I might have to watch that ☺.
With all that said, this was a good post and an important topic worth discussing about. Thanks for bringing it up!
My pleasure! I’m glad that you liked it!
I think some shows will still stick with a broad audience and be remembered, but the nature of modern viewers is more one of consume and move on when it comes to all entertainment. That makes it a bit harder for something to become a classic.
Still, I can sympathise with the whole trying to find part two of a bleach episode on youtube. That was definitely a frustrating way to watch an anime but one of the only ways to access it and if I hadn’t endured that I probably wouldn’t have become the anime fan I am today.
It’s my dislike for the whole consume-and-move-on attitude that keeps me writing. Though ambitious of me, with my small sphere of influence, I want to immortalise the anime I think are worth remembering by writing about them here on my blog.
While a frustrating time to be an anime fan, I look back on it kind of fondly. Having to search for an episode or part of an episode made watching it all the more satisfying…
You bring on good points but it’s difficult to juge beyond personal experience. I recently went to a con where the overwhelming majority of Merch and Cosplay was my hero academia. It had completely shaped the landscape of modern anime fandom as far as the eye could see and cemented in many fans the expectation of complex large cast dynamics as a new standard in shonen narration. By contrast Demon Slayer with such a focus on a small main cast was considered more old school in it’s approach. A lot of fans there had been introduced yo anime through RWBY and that was a classic for them as well as one piece. I don’t think many had seen bebop. Free and Hakyuu each had some of the most significant impacts on the sports genre that I can remember at all. Free cementing it as mildly bl drama aimed at female audiences (a trend started by KnB) while Hakyuu popularized a naturalistic approach to character developpment that seems to have been mimicked by ever sport show since. No Game No Life turned pink into the new red and you can see how the colour palette has snuck into a large variety of shows ever since, most recently Fire Force.
I fo believe that there is in fact an element of time required to properly see what impact an anime has had on the industry and I’m hopeful that contempirary titles will stand tje test of time. After all, thosr classics a
I will admit that there are a couple, more recent, anime that have already had a hand in shaping the landscape of anime today. You brought up a few good examples, like Free (I, for one, am grateful for the sheer volume of homoerotic sports shows we’ve got since this show first aired) and Hero Academia. Though I still reckon the odds are stacked against anime hoping to cement themselves into the collective memory of the anime fandom. But, as you said, only time will tell…
As an aside, I wonder whether Bebop, Trigun, NGE, and all the other classics would still make it as classics, were they to have first aired in today’s ever-distracted, over-saturated world…?
I hit reply mid sentence. I’m taking it as a sign. Except to say BL is a genre in creation that has taken a huge market share and those classics ate currently being written. Fantastic post! Great conversation.
Last point I promise. I agree that oversaturation and binging have a huge effect on the impact individual animes have on audiences however those factors also apply to the classics. Anyone watching Eva or Trigun today is doing so in the highly saturated setting and can choose to binge them if they want. Once the majority of fans have seen them only on streaming, would that affect their classics status.
Also Sailor Moon is the most classic anime I can think of…promise no more comments. You wrote an inspiring post!
I remember reading some scholarly article (because I’m classy like that) about the internet age being the age of “sensory overload” and it was reprogramming our brains to focus less…or something like that, anyways. I also remember being told of a 2012 study by Microsoft that said our attention spans are less than that of goldfish! That, alongside the fragmentary nature of online fandoms (which reward specialisation and subsequent forgetting), are what I attribute to the lack of “classics”.
That makes sense. I used to read A LOT as a child (back in the days of crappy brick phones and dial up Internet), but, these days, I can’t focus long enough to read more than a chapter at a time…
I’m interested, what do you mean when you say that fandoms reward specialisation and forgetfulness?
I didn’t necessarily mean both at the same time for every fandom, but for anime seasonals at least, specialisation is rewarded when people “stay ahead of the curve” with the news and new shows, while forgetfulness is rewarded by being able to move on to new stuff without lingering too long on mediocre/disappointing shows (of course, you need to remember shows you like/massively dislike to recommend/dissuade people to watch them, but either way, it rewards selective forgetting).
I remember reading some scholarly article (because I’m classy like that) about the internet age being the age of “sensory overload” and it was reprogramming our brains to focus less…or something like that, anyways. I also remember being told of a 2012 study by Microsoft that said our attention spans are less than that of goldfish!
That, alongside the fragmentary nature of online fandoms (which reward specialisation and subsequent forgetting), are what I attribute to the lack of (or less agreement on what is) “classics”.
I don’t know but it is hard for me to be hyped about anything these days.
That’s a shame. Anime has changed a lot over the years. That being said, I still think that there’s plenty to get excited about!
I just find it hard to pay attention to an anime longer than it airs. Sure I may write about it but then that’s it. Take Haruhi Suzumiya for example. Few people remembered her after new stuff with her stopped coming out.
I think that, with all of life’s little distrations, most people struggle to focus these days…