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Ask John: Why Don’t Americans Watch Vintage Anime?

I grew up in the Middle East watching a lot of classic anime on TV & VHS, stuff like Grendizer, Igano Kabamaru, Tiger Mask II, Future Boy Conan, etc. I know that I’m privileged in this regard but why can’t today’s anime fans go back & watch these classics, it’s like if a movie fan restricted himself to movies from the past two decades. I really feel bad to know how much awesome stuff they are missing out on.

For the majority of American anime viewers, anime falls strictly into one of two categories; it’s either nostalgia or trendy entertainment. Regrettably, the massive majority of vintage anime don’t fall into either of those categories. Anime series that aired on American DVD many years ago, shows that today’s fans grew up with, remain popular. Vintage anime including Macross, Go Lion, Samurai Troopers, and Sailor Moon remain popular because viewers fondly remember and favor them. Apart from those select titles, typical American viewers are interested in whatever anime is new and cool. Countless times I’ve attended anime conventions and witnessed fans clamoring for whatever titles are brand new or whichever DVDs feature the longest running time for their price. The theory that 30 minutes of unforgettable, affecting anime is worth more than 100 minutes of disposable, inferior quality anime doesn’t seem valid in the minds of many American anime consumers. Americans instinctively feel a need to justify and rationalize watching cartoons. Keeping up to date with the latest hot trends and pop culture hits, and watching the same programs that other chic, alternative folks are watching is easily justifiable. Refreshing childhood memories by being fashionably retro is also justifiable. However, just watching old cartoons is weird, creepy, or pitiful.

But keeping up with the Joneses isn’t alone responsible for why Americans disregard vintage anime. Young, contemporary American anime viewers have shorter attention spans and expect immediate, rapid-fire gratification. Typically older anime simply have a slower pacing than contemporary anime. Countless giant robot anime from the 1970s and early 1980s don’t reveal their titular robot in the first episode. Such leisurely development would be unthinkable for contemporary anime. The Ashita no Joe boxing anime is an acclaimed classic, yet it doesn’t actually depict any boxing during its early episodes. I’m fascinated to notice that it wasn’t unusual at all for golden era anime to begin with lengthy, sometimes even a minute long, prologues that establish setting without depicting any characters. Notice how many contemporary anime launch with multiple cuts that don’t include a primary character. Almost no contemporary anime begin this way anymore. Because characters have become so important to the identity and marketing of anime titles, they have to be established and revealed as quickly as possible. Furthermore, contemporary viewers have become so used to brisk pacing that even three or four scene cuts without a human character on screen now seems unusual and slow paced.

Classic anime aren’t classic just because they’re old. Most classic anime are classic specifically because they are stylish, creative, and unfurl involving, entertaining stories. However, the traditional American philosophy that spurns animation combined with the psychological character of young contemporary American anime viewers creates a significant barrier to vintage anime. Simply put, Americans largely don’t define anime as a form of Japanese art with a half-century of history; they define anime as a precise type of entertainment that looks a particular way and satisfies a particular niche interest. While American viewers may consciously, rationally recognize that older titles are still anime, these viewers unconsciously compartmentalize the anime which conforms to their own perceived characteristics of entertaining, enjoyable anime and, simply, everything else that may be technically considered anime but doesn’t fit into their own subconscious definition of anime. This strict unconscious categorization explains why so many American viewers impulsively reject vintage anime and even contemporary anime that doesn’t fall within their delineation of “anime,” including children’s anime like Doraemon, Anpanman, and Sazae-san, and anime with a non-typical Japanese look like Alexander Senki, Dead Leaves, and Red Line. The majority of America’s self-proclaimed anime fans actually don’t like, or even want to like, the totality of anime; they’re actually only interested in the select strain of shows that fit their personal criteria of anime. That limited personal criteria isn’t wrong or inappropriate. But it is, regrettably, very limited.


6 Responses to “Ask John: Why Don’t Americans Watch Vintage Anime?”

  1. St. McDuck Says:

    Some industrious fansubbing group has just started subbing Future Boy Conan. They’re up to episode 6 as of now.
    I took a chance on it and ended up loving the show. Only after I was hooked and looked into it did I find out a young Miyazaki was involved, which explains a lot about why the show is so damn great.
    On the slight chance that Future Boy Conan ever hit American shores in a box set, I would buy it, no doubt.

  2. Says:

    Well stated, John. I have to give some slack to the majority anime fans on this one, because there are a lot of vintage anime that are very wooden, underdeveloped, and very much like our animation was during that time (worse, in some cases). However, there are tons of classics that shouldn’t be ignored. Just try marketing them, though.

  3. seanny Says:

    I was about to mention that glaringly omitted point. Since I don’t have any nostalgia for (e.g.) Macross (1982) or Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), whenever someone shows me a typical production of that age, as opposed to a lavishly produced standout like Do You Remember Love and Nausicaa, all I see is the anime equivalent of Gertie the Dinosaur or Voyage to the Moon. Sure, there’s a semblance of storytelling there, but it’s all so damn primitive. It’s not immersive or engaging next to a modern spectacle like Fate Zero, or even standard fare like Code Geass.

    The state of the art has advanced leaps and bounds throughout the 80s and up to the mid-90s (Evangelion), that watching anything not-quite-modern is an academic exercise for those without nostalgia. It makes complete sense to me why Tiger Mask is as relatively niche as old Charlie Chaplin films are today. Hollywood films for instance weren’t really modern until Citizen Kane, and have advanced significantly throughout the post-studio-collapse experimentalism of the 60s. People will go back and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Graduate, but golden-era Hollywood, I imagine, is a lot more niche– for those with a particular nostalgia or interest beyond wanting to be entertained. So no, I don’t think newer fans should be blamed for not delving into old super robots crap like Grendizer, especially not when a post-modern take of the genre (Evangelion) has long since set a higher bar.

    One thing that does scare me though is the way the old Evangelion TV series is being ignored by new fans for the newer, distinctly less edgy & post-modern Evangelion movies. I mean, the old show is well in the modern age, with an ending movie that out-does any of the new ones, even in animation quality.

  4. GATS Says:

    McDuck: Conan was fansubbed ages ago. I should know.

    I blame the lack of availability, but Toei and TMS are slowly correcting that.

  5. TheLaughingMan Says:

    This just proves something is wrong with these young bucks. We older anime fans need to reach out to the young generation and educate them about what it is they are watching, so they can find a better appreciation for it. Or slap them up side the head. Whichever works fastest.

  6. TsukuyomiMagi99 Says:

    To start off, I have to say that I like anime as a whole, both old and new they each have their own charms and elements going for them. Heck I even grew up watching what would be considered now “old” anime. The problem I have with old anime isn’t the anime itself, it’s the vintage anime fans that turn me off from vintage anime. I can’t count how many times I have to listen to old anime fans say that all contemporary anime is bad just because it doesn’t suit their tastes. Their arrogance about how everything in the 80?s and early 90?s was great and flawless is annoying.

    Yes the 80?s were anime’s golden age and had countless masterpieces but that doesn’t mean that the 80?s and 90?s didn’t have their bad anime as well. But old school fans refuse to acknowledge this and their intolerance and condescending attitude towards new fans is insufferable.

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