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?