The anime of the 1990s is cooler than the anime of today. There, I said it. The shows of yesteryear just feel right, unlike today’s shows, where it feels like you’re trying on a dress that’s too tight (or even worse, pants that are too tight). Why do the cartoons of the (very recent) past hit the spot in a way some of today’s offerings just can’t? I’ve got 10 ideas as to why. Join me on this road down Anime Dissection Lane, won’t you?
1. Cooler Character Design
Many of today’s anime designs are quite stick-figurey. In fact, too many of them are just plain ugly. Code Geass, anyone? I can’t even get into the storyline (which, let’s face it, is a Gundam ripoff) for the horrible skeletal-like figures gracing my computer screen. Do people really think these bishonen are “hot?” If so…then we need to talk.
Even though quite a few characters back in the day were still quite skinny, like Spike from Cowboy Bebop, most character designs from the ’90s still took anatomy into account. Spike might be lean, but he looks like he can still kick your behind without breaking a leg. Even better, he’s actually attractive. Some of you anime fangirls and fanboys out there have this guy on your fantasy “Cartoons I Would Date If They Existed” list; I’ve read them on the now-defunct Animated Lust (RIP, but use the Wayback Machine!). To further push my point, I can’t go without mentioning the character designs for Dragonball Z. Since most of the characters have muscles, there’s no way around not using some sort of anatomical shorthand. Most of those characters are attractive, too (or, in the case of Yajirobe, look like they’d at least be fun to hang out with for at least an hour).
2. Plots that Make Sense
There was a time when anime plots had a logical storyline. Modern shows like Inazuma Eleven and its sequel Inazuma Eleven Go start out with a somewhat logical beginning (for example, Inazuma was originally about a group of kids battling other kids in local soccer games). However, they dissolve into insanity, like battling with angels and demons via soccer tournaments and, in the later Go series, time travel and other sci-fi elements. How did we get demons involved in soccer? Why do they care so much about this game? Ditto that for the aliens who turn out to not really be aliens, but brainwashed kids! I thought I was just watching a show about a middle school soccer club!
It goes without saying that ’90s anime still had a little bit of insanity (for example, every Tenchi series in existence), but for the most part, they kept with their initial throughline. Sailor Moon was about a group of girls going to school by day and defending the world by night. Gundam Wing was about a group of kids soldiers defending Earth. The aforementioned Dragonball Z was about a group of superheroes saving the earth amid their own soap opera drama (yes, everyone, DBZ is really more soapy than people like to think). There would always be dramatic elements added, but overall, the plot stays roughly the same. Thank goodness, because I don’t think I could take the Gundam Wing crew suddenly having to gain angelic powers to battle demons from hell that teamed up with OZ and the Alliance for control of the space colonies.
3. Different Types of Characters
Throughout my anime-watching career, I’ve come to expect certain types of characters. I know, for example, that I’m going to get the hero or heroine that eats a ton (i.e. Goku, Serena/Usagi). Too many characters nowadays are cookie-cutter characters. You always know there’s going to be the sullen/shy girl, the nerd, the hothead, etc. But now we’re getting the same song-and-dance, and frankly, I’m tired of being invited to the same hoe-down.
There are some of these tropes are in ’90s anime, too, like the hero (or in Sailor Moon’s Usagi’s case, heroine) who eats constantly, but there seemed to be a much wider variety of characters to choose from and it was great! For instance, in Outlaw Star, Aisha Clan-Clan is a blowhard and Jim Hawking is a kid who is very mature for his age. Yamcha from Dragonball Z is a jock who was initially afraid of women until becoming a playboy later on and Master Roshi is a perverted martial arts master. Kurama from YuYu Hakusho seems like he’s one of the weakest characters when he’s actually one of the strongest characters in the group. The same goes for Genkai. Heck, most of Tenchi Muyo’s characters are individuals, chief among them being Ryoko, a character who embodies toughness and a devil-may-care attitude along with a deep love for Tenchi. A variety of characters makes a show more memorable.
It’s not like I’m asking for resolution to world peace (although that would be nice); I’m just asking for more creativity when it comes time to create characters, that’s all.
4. Realistic Emotions
I’ve been annoyed by the melodrama that pervades some of the recent anime shows. Don’t get me wrong, melodrama’s awesome, but sometimes the melodrama, coupled with convoluted plots just gets to be too much. One example of a show that’s gone too far is Bleach. What are the protagonists fighting against anymore? Why are they even fighting? Enough with the Zanpakut? stuff! Casshern Sins was just annoying. The set design alone was too melodramatic. Sure, the earth is overrun with rogue robots, but come on!
There are still some new anime shows that tell simple stories; is it too much to ask that of all new shows? Is it too much to ask of a show that has a great emotional culmination like a show like Cowboy Bebop’s finale? That finale was fantastic! It showed how all the characters react in their own personal way to Spike’s decision to go to his final fight with Vicious. The characters cry, lash out in anger, feel resigned to reality or, in the case of Edward, leave the ship. The differing emotions gave the finale tremendous depth.
5. Shows with a Sense of Humor
At the very least, extremely melodramatic shows should learn how to have some fun. Some real fun, not just an odd filler episode every once in a while. Now, I know what you’re saying-“But some shows are just meant to be dramatic! There’s no room for humor!” Well, that’s true, but there is some room when it’s a show fighting the world’s problems through sports and friendship. My extremely general rule of thumb is that if the show isn’t like Grave of Fireflies, which will leave you as bereft and as sad as if you’ve just buried your favorite pet, then we can inject a few laughs in there. I’m not talking Laugh-In-type laughs, just dramedy laughs.
Even the heavier anime shows in the ’90s knew how to have fun. Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a show with some tough themes, chief among them being war, but every so often, there will be a moment that will remind the viewer that even though we’re watching an Earth-bound chapter in a sprawling space opera, these characters still have funny interactions with each other and do experience some humor on the job. It’d be all too easy to keep the show as humorless as possible, but without the brief respite from seriousness, the audience would get desensitized.
6. Memorable characters
There are a few anime characters that are in the 21st century that have some meat to them. Characters like the casts of Durarara!, Tiger and Bunny and Princess Jellyfish, are well-rounded, deep and, well, actual characters. Characters like K-On! are just…blah. I’m sorry, whoever reading this who loves K-On! It’s just a terrible show. All they do is eat! They barely play their instruments!
We need a USA “Characters Welcome” approach to 21st century anime. Since I’m ragging on K-On! right now, let me just say that the one thing that the show has going for it is style. I’m going to talk to about style later on in this list, but style and character shorthand is no substitute for actual characterization. Even Yugi had more substance than Yui.
7. Better Shoujo
I might be a girl, but I gravitated more towards action/adventure shows than girly shows. However, I do have to say that the ’90s seemed to have much better girl-centric anime than today (with, of course, the exception of Princess Jellyfish).
I realize how basic shoujo can exist; speaking in general terms, Japan’s love of cutesiness makes it so that a show that is mostly just about uniforms, tea parties, sweets and sugary pop music can have legions of fans. But we’ve seen that shoujo can be awesome! Do I have to remind of shows like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura? The girls on these shows also had boy troubles, loved eating sweets and dressed in cool clothes, but they also saved lives. SAVED LIVES! To me, kicking butt while indulging in the feminine is what makes a great shoujo, not just mindlessly eating junk food and being a clich?.
8. Substance Over Style
Plenty of ’90s anime were stylish. In fact, style and flash is what attracted me to anime in the first place. But it seems like nowadays, production values are now gaining precedence over actual plot. This has been alluded to in this list, but the biggest annoyance about some of today’s anime is that there’s generally more of a focus on glossiness rather than a great story. I mean, we know we all eat with our eyes first, but we all know that sometimes, the ugliest dish can be the most delicious one. Ugh, now I’m turning into Yui!
Anyway, food analogies aside, let me give you a real example of a really stylish show that had nothing going for it: Immortal Grand Prix. You might think that I would love Toonami’s first and only original program and, to some extent, I do have a soft spot for it. It was a good effort and, of course, it looked spectacular. But, even though the show has really high production values, the storyline doesn’t live up to the spectacularly-produced racing scenes. Meanwhile, Trigun and some of the aforementioned shows like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star have style for days while presenting compelling and entertaining stories. Unlike some shows, which are like the pretty airheads of the group, these shows are like the women who are smart and stylish, a great combination, if I do say so myself (pats self on the back).
9. More Heart
Another thing that I’ve hinted at but not really explicitly said is that it seems like too much of today’s anime is lacking something simple – heart. There’s enough style in the world; can there just be a show that has a cool story to tell? It seems like it’s becoming rarer and rarer to find more shows like that, which is a shame. All I want is to be comfortable while watching a television show, not get irritated or bored. Just entertain me!
Back in the ’90s, it seemed like almost every anime had heart at the center of its storytelling, like Rurouni Kenshin. Even though the show had plenty of action and drama, at the core of the show, there was a story about a group of people becoming a close-knit family. Is it just because shows take themselves too seriously now? Is there an earnestness that’s been lost? Dare I bring up the idea that anime has gotten too commercialized? Even though Tiger and Bunny is awesome, it is also rife with product placement. I just need a show that makes me feel like the world is a better place full of nice people! Placate my soul!
10. ’90s Anime Shows were Actual Shows
In order for my soul to be placated, I need an earnest show. A show that’s full of laughs, real stakes, drama, you know, stuff that makes a show a hit.
I feel anime should be like a good bowl of chicken soup. It should make you feel warm and fuzzy, just like the feeling you get when you’re in bed on a rainy day. Anime shows should be trying to please the viewer, not bashing them over the head with a plot they could care less about. Nobody likes a self-important person; the same definitely goes to self-important shows, especially when those shows are really stupid. Yes, I said it!
Enough with complications and stupid sword spirits and demons and magical soccer and whatever else that makes no sense at all! Just give me a show that knows what it’s doing and what it’s trying to accomplish and I’ll be happy.