Anime is a medium with a fairly long history. Compared to other visual mediums it’s had a somewhat short life, but it’s older than the vast majority of its fans, and over the years a lot of it has been made. Many of anime’s best works are more than ten years old, and yet many won’t watch anything made before Code Geass. At best, some will watch Eva and Cowboy Bebop, before returning to newer shows, satisfied with having seen “the good shows from the last millenium”.
It should be obvious that I don’t agree with this perspective; there’s a ton of good anime from the 20th century and the early 2000s, and yet much of it goes unwatched. I’d like to examine the reasons why people don’t watch old anime, and offer up reasons why they should start doing so.
The most common and understandable reasoning is a simple distaste for the visual design of older anime. How this distaste manifests depends on the era, but in many cases it makes sense. The Early 2000s make the most sense to me, as a lot of shows ended up looking awkward due to a rough transition to heavier CGI usage and a switch from cels to digital coloring. A lot of shows from this era just look weird, and while I can put up with that, it’s understandable that others wouldn’t.
20th century anime on the other hand doesn’t have this issue. It’s true that anime from this era looks different from modern anime, partially because of accepted stylistic differences and partially because coloring was done on cels, but the amount of variation makes it hard for me to believe anyone could really hate every style from this period. Furthermore, most people grew up watching anime from this period, and still enjoy those anime, despite their claims of not liking art from these periods.
I suspect that the disinterest in art from these periods is due to a simple lack of exposure. Much like non-anime fans who see all anime as looking the same, those who only watch shows made in the past ten years won’t have any sense of the variation within old anime.
And that brings me to another point: animation. Old anime is frequently characterized as having bad or even awful animation. This isn’t a total lie. Old anime used a lot more lazy and looped backgrounds alongside stock footage in order to animate less each episode. But if you try and apply this idea as a rule, it quickly falls apart.
Shows like Eva and Bebop obviously had great animation, but even shows like Mobile Suit Gundam had good animation in the midst of the stock footage. Even the first TV anime in the form of Astro Boy had sakuga in places. Even shows on the low end of the animation scale had some good animation at times, and the 20th century is a time where great animation actually flourished. It was a time where OVAs had dominance over full TV production, and that allowed for plenty of good animation. TV productions suffered, but anime at the time was certainly not poorly animated in general, at least not much more than it is now.
Another very understandable reason is ease of access. Most older shows don’t show up on streaming services, and many aren’t even available in the form of physical media anymore. That leaves torrenting and illegal streaming as the only methods for watching a lot of classic shows, and those who aren’t used to doing so aren’t likely to go out of their way when there’s plenty of newer shows available to them. When you add in the fact that most community discussion focuses on airing shows, many don’t feel a need to look for older shows when they aren’t already on Crunchyroll or Netflix. That said, I think the massive amounts of valuable older anime make it worth it to find old stuff despite the annoyance of having to do so.
And that brings me to the last and most uncommon claim I hear; the idea that older anime simply has nothing to offer in terms of strong narratives or characters. This claim is practically indefensible, but I have heard it from time to time. Most often it comes in the form of someone who dislikes mecha and sci-fi anime. I could go on for days about misconceptions in regards to mecha, but the point is that those who say this rarely have seen more than Eva and Bebop.
It’s certainly true that sci-fi anime was huge in the 90s, and for someone who hates sci-fi it would be an low period for anime. That said, there are plenty of valuable shows from before 2001 that weren’t sci-fi. Utena, Sailor Moon, Anne of Green Gables, and many other shows made lasting impacts on the medium without being sci-fi. I think an antipathy to sci-fi so large you’d never watch a sci-fi show is harmful, but even if that describes you, there’s still plenty of anime from the period which is worth watching.
Of course, the most obvious reason people don’t watch old anime is that they simply don’t bother. There’s more good anime coming out every season now than there was in many years in the past, so it’s understandable how some could just not think to go look back at the classics. But I think that anyone who really calls themselves a fan of the medium has a duty to go back and watch anime’s foundational works. I’m still in the process of doing so myself, and you can start at anytime, but it’s absolutely worth doing.