For roughly the past decade we’ve been able to watch the same anime at about the same time as fans in Japan, at first only illegally through fansubs, but in recent years, many legal options became available such as official simulcast streaming sites. Now, through legal and illegal means, we have easy access to pretty much every anime ever made, new and old. Despite this, the majority of fans I know, myself included, prefer to watch only new anime – anime that’s currently airing right now in Japan – and might pick up an old series only once in a while. But by “old” series they usually mean a series that aired within the past few years or even months, not something that aired decades ago or even just 10-15 years ago. So when does an anime become “too old” for us?…
I think there are a couple of things to consider when determining one’s limits for how old “too old” is in terms of anime – the person’s age and how old they were when they got into anime. To use myself as a starting example, I grew up in the 90s and got into anime around 1999-2001. The very first anime I watched were from the 90s and early 2000s, though I have seen a few titles from as far back as the late 80s.
Ranma 1/2, what I believe is the oldest anime TV series I’ve seen
So as far as an anime being “too old” for me, I don’t have much interest in watching anime before the 90s, and especially before the 80s (as for why this is, I’ll get to that later in the post). But now let’s look at someone else, perhaps someone older than me who grew up, let’s say, in the late 70s and early 80s. They became an anime fan early on in their life, watching stuff like Robotech, Battle of the Planets, and Urusei Yatsura on hard-to-find VHS or laser discs. So for them, anime from the 70s and 80s isn’t “too old” or even that “old,” 90s anime might seem “new” to them, and anime airing nowadays might even be “too new!” But now let’s look at the other end, a teenager/young adult who grew up in the 2000s. Their first exposure to anime was watching fansubs of Death Note, Code Geass, Lucky Star, and other popular anime from the mid-2000s and considers something like Azumanga Daioh “old.” With the prominence of the Internet during this time, they’re eager to catch up on all the latest anime everyone’s talking about and the few older titles people still praise. They’ve got their hands full with just those anime and it may never even cross their mind to go back and watch anything from a far earlier time. While I personally like a lot of 90s anime and don’t find them “too old,” this younger fan does. Even if recommended something that’s over ten years old, they might just brush it off with “I don’t know, that’s too old.”
So what do we mean by “too old”? I can’t speak for everyone of course, but for me and for what I believe is the general consensus, an anime becomes too old for us if the look and feel of it are just too different from what we’re used to in the anime that we generally know and love, that we have trouble relating to it, or the differences distract us from the actual content of the story and characters. For example, I don’t care to watch anime from the early 80s or before because most of the animation quality is just…bad (going by what I’ve seen of them in various video clips and AMVs). The anime itself might actually be good in terms of writing and direction, but I would get distracted by the old and crude animation. Nobody’s to blame for this of course, since they didn’t have computers back then to offer the advanced animation techniques they have today. I’m not totally against ever watching old anime though and I’m sure a lot of them are very good story-wise. I’ve just never done so because when I’m deciding on an older title to watch, I end up more motivated to watch a post-80s one with animation I know I won’t cringe at.
Similar to animation quality, character design might be another thing that keeps people away from anime they deem too old. If you look at characters from an 80s or 90s anime compared to ones from, say, 2008 or later, the differences are obvious, as the below picture humorously shows (but I feel they over-exaggerated the 90s look. Some characters looked like that, but most were not that…freaky!)
Just as someone used to modern animation quality and techniques of anime might find anime from the pre-digital age too old, they might find the way the characters looked just too different from what they’re used to. Compared to the soft, slick, and detailed designs of modern day bishonen and moe girls (thanks in part to new art technology of course), going back to old anime character designs might just be too much of a visual difference for them, especially if a big reason they like anime is because of its design. And I suppose the same could be possible for an old fan used to the designs of 70s and 80s characters looking at today’s moe girls.
I also mentioned how the “feel” of an anime might simply be too old for us. What I mean by this is that the anime was made so long ago compared to the time we were born and live in, that we can’t relate to a lot of things in it. It’s similar to how young people now don’t find very old horror movies or monster flicks from the 30s or 40s, like the original King Kong for example, even the least bit scary. They may even feel the opposite way and find them silly and laughable. I know I have trouble watching old American movies from the 50s or earlier because I find them too corny or I get turned off by the stereotypical gender roles men and women play in the many old Hollywood romance stories. And that sentiment can be attributed to the old anime we watch too. An 18-year old who got their start with anime in the mid-2000s might simply not be able to relate to a title as old as Tetsujin or Rose of Versailles because they were created when the world was a very different place and the things back then that scared people, made them laugh, made them cry, etc., were also different (just speaking generally of course as there are plenty of 10+ year old anime that stand the test of time).
If Sailor Moon came out during K-ON’s time…
But style and animation quality are not the only reasons I, or many other fans, don’t watch very old anime. A lot of it comes down to simple motivation. Since we’ve started having access to all the newest anime via simulcasts and other streaming sites, anime fans of recent years have grown accustomed to being “hip” with all the currently popular anime and being in the know when discussing anime online or among peers in real life. This offers a lot more motivation to watch newer titles compared to old ones since the former allows us to feel more like a part of a community. Assuming we all have limited free time in our lives and we’d want to use it for the anime that feels the most worthwhile to us, chances are we’ll watch something that’s currently a hot topic or one of the old classics we missed that are still referenced today, like Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop, rather than a random anime from decades ago before the time of the Internet that nobody seems to care about.
As always, what I said here doesn’t apply to everyone. Not every anime fan has a limit on how old an anime can be before they won’t want to watch it. I know fans younger than me who watch stuff from the 70s and 80s without issue. But in general, people tend to enjoy the works of the time they’re living in and prioritize keeping up with the latest trends over going back and experiences forgotten ones, especially in this day and age with the Internet and social networking practically making that way of life a necessity. But I think it’s good to check out something from the past now and then, anime or otherwise. For something like anime, seeing how things used to be gives you better knowledge of the medium in general and how it’s developed over the years. Even if we can’t bring ourselves to watch anime we deem “too old,” we should at least retain respect for them since they are ultimately what shaped the anime we know and love today.