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.


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