October’s Final Denouement: The Lies 90′s Anime Fans Told

*I am aware that much of the anime we enjoyed in the 90’s was produced in the 80’s. But this is about what I thought anime was in 90’s, what was available in the 90’s that shaped that view, not what was produced at the time.

I started watching anime, at least what I knew to count among anime, in the summer of 1995 with the infamous Ninja Scroll. I followed that with Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Demon City Shinjuku, and more from the few local video places my friends and I frequented. If you had asked me back then, and people frequently did, just what was this anime we were gobbling up, I probably, no in fact I know, I would have said some thing about anime’s maturity, perhaps its dark or adult themes, and maybe some violence for good measure. And I probably would have thrown in some jabs at western works, too.

There is some truth in there, anime was and still is much more vast in terms of maturity looking at themes than American-made works. Heck, we throw hentai in there, though not mature in an intellectual way, obviously adult targeted and it pushes it way over. I must admit however, those titles that were, or are, so very well-known from our 90’s days weren’t representative of the whole, not even close, for better or worse depending on who you are. Though I guess you could argue that is a result of just so much anime being produced.

In some ways, I, we, kind of liked the stigma of anime in the 90’s. It was those violent porn cartoons from Japan. Okay, yeah, we wanted it to get more respect for what it was doing with animation. And probably not have people think it was all sex. But even as I saw more things that weren’t dark or mature, I figured that was the exception not even realizing I had it backwards. What was that ADV commercial, anime is totally not kid stuff, or something along those lines.

Oh but it is! And it isn’t! It makes me excited to say that anime is everything, a million different things, with genres and ideas and characters and stories that appeal to every age range. Anime is limitless and I guess that was what I truly loved about it all along.

Some of that is just personal growth, and I stopped pretending to dislike western animation a long time ago, in fact I’m a big fan. I have come to like so many genres in anime and I’ve become a fan of the medium of animation as a whole, too. I’m different. The amount of information we can get is different. Animation in the west is different, too. And yeah anime is different now, but maybe not as much as one might imagine because I was totally lying in the 90’s.

6 thoughts on “October’s Final Denouement: The Lies 90′s Anime Fans Told

  1. Wimtermuted says:

    You know? Been thinking a lot about this very thing over the year, and have come to similar conclusions. That what we as fans in those years, could only scratch the surface of what it was that attracted so many of us to Japanese cartoons, especially in an era awash in titles that featured some of the more exaggerated elements of a far more diverse, and yet restricted medium. The words we used seem to only work as more a calling card for our newfound treasures,and not so much an absolute.

    But it was also the 90s when for me, the window opened much wider, offering a much more encompassing range of possibilities. And it is this promise of possibility that keeps me coming back no matter how jading it can be at times.

  2. lothos says:

    As you know my introduction to anime was rather the same. Introduced to Ninja Scroll clips on some show on MTV called cartoon sushi. I liked what I saw. I think perhaps our perception of what anime was at the time was in part due to simply what was available to us. The local blockbuster was typically stocked with various “manime” titles, and as that’s all that was presented to us as anime it’s natural to conclude that that is what anime is.

    Likewise since then I delved deeper into the world of anime and found that it encompassed a huge range of genres, artistic styles, and themes. Though I still tend to lean towards the more serious series, I’ve also spread out and experienced a lot more of what anime has to offer.

    So it may not be so much that we were lying to ourselves back then, perhaps it was more us forming an opinion with incomplete information. Back then I recall most anime brought to the west and actually described as anime, japanimation, or what have you- something being identified as animation from Japan rather than just simply animated, tended to lean towards the types of titles you described. That was what was most accessible at the time. Slowly, but surely, the availability of different types of shows began to increase. From what I remember there were very few regular series available in most stores around here back then. OVAs and movies were the norm.

    • reversethieves says:

      I agree it was a lie founded on misinformation. But I also think that it imprinted itself so much that sometimes I found myself trying to force anime into the lie. Even after more information became available sometimes the thinking was still the “right” kind of anime was this misinformed version we had come up with.

      -Narutaki

  3. Daryl Surat says:

    Sometimes I wonder if “anime is limitless!” was the REAL lie we told in the 90s.

    The situation has changed over time. Experimental fare is limited to a progressively shrinking handful of studios/directors, and genre consolidation is happening such that the main anime genres are sub-genre classifications unique to the medium. That isn’t inherently negative–after all, we came to anime because it provided something different from anything anywhere else–but adherence to those sub-genres are now the very things “limiting” anime. Anime isn’t as limitless as I want it to be, and while innovation exists it tends to come within the confines of those existing “anime genres.”

    There are plenty of other genres well-represented in other media that anime could do too, such that doing them in the anime medium could potentially create something innovative. But how come I’m having such a hard time naming new anime properties–as in, ones that didn’t originate more than 10 years ago–that conform to say…the “heist/caper” sub-genre? How many procedural dramas (police, medical, etc) are currently airing or in the works? It doesn’t matter if other media tells such stories; if “anime is limitless” then it too should be able to tackle such material. Manga does, after all.

    We now know that the pitch of 90s anime fans was a lie because the anime titles developed for noitaminA are NOT representative of the norm. They’re not what most of the anime-viewing audience–children and otaku–want to see. But as the short-lived X-Files tagline once said, “Believe the Lie.”

    • drmchsr0 says:

      …I’ve come to the conclusion that anime is just another style. One deeply rooted in Japanese culture, situations, and whatnot.

      Anime is NOT limitless, in the sense of creativity, but in the constrictions of market forces, the global economy, and what the otaku want to see.

      Coomdofication, commercialization, and consolidation of current anime trends is the name of the game today, and there’s nothing one can do about it.

      I’d love to see more super robot shows, to be honest. But how is it going to make money if it’s not Gundam, Macross, or whatever bog-standard moe fare that studios churn out to keep themselves afloat?

      But then again, I’m a crazy guy who can’t even fight a bunch of hipsters. Who’s going to listen to what I have to say?

  4. Sub says:

    I’d argue that this mentality is alive and well today: it’s something people pick up when they’re young and impressionable and new to the thing. It’s one of the myths people would like to believe. They’re not writing excessive profanity into DBZ scripts, but “my Jump title is mature entertainment for adults” is not a perception that’s disappeared in that fanbase at all.

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