The Nostalgia Effect on Anime: Then VS Now

I’m not one to keep up on anime industry news. Not only do I have too much general news to focus on, but anime news usually consists of the following:

1. Announcements of adaptations I’ve never heard of.

2. Financial reports that don’t interest me.

3. Remarks from big-wigs in the industry that confuse me.

That being said, every-so-often something comes up that I can’t ignore. Like Hideaki Anno’s recent remarks on the state of anime as a whole, or the implications of something he might not have said. It seems like Anno made a claim that the industry would collapse in five years, only to then clarify that that wasn’t what he said. People are confusing.

Anno’s misconstrued remark struck a nerve. It struck a nerve because I’ve heard it before in different forms. More specifically, it struck a nerve because it reminded me of a conversation I had on Twitter with someone about the state of modern anime, and how, according to him, it was dying because it lacked the spark of decades past. Being a big-mouth, I challenged his position because, simply put, I don’t agree.

But this debate is important to have for numerous reasons. It’s important because it prompts conversation, for one. Two, there’s a preconceived bias in certain circles about anime as a whole. And finally, it falls under an umbrella complaint that only exists because of the dreaded “nostalgia googles” that seem to have been worn by every big-name anyone on the internet at some point. That last one in particular is unhealthy because it ignores reality.

However, let’s feign ignorance for a bit and assume there’s weight to this claim. Why does it exist, and what’s so dangerous about it?

For starters, what IS “nostalgia”? The word comes from ancient Greek, and it’s derived from the words “nostos” and “algos”. They refer to the pain of a longing for one’s home, as found in the classic Greek tale The Odyssey. In it, Odysseus is “nostos algos”, i.e. “homesick” in modern English, and longs to return to Ithaca after his long battle in Troy. Through the evolution of English, since English is a hybrid of other languages, the words merged to form “nostalgia”. The meaning has changed somewhat since, but not enough that you can’t see its origins.

I bring this up because nostalgia has roots in one’s past, specifically something the person holds dear. For example, I have a stuffed animal from when I was 5, as I was afraid of the dark. It helped me sleep at night, and while it’s shown signs of excessive love-a floppy ear, a stitched-up nose from when I cut part of it off (don’t ask,) a chewed up tail (again, don’t ask) and a tear in its stomach-I refuse to throw it out because I have nostalgic ties. I’m sure this isn’t exclusive to me; we all have a nostalgic attachment to something physical, even if we don’t admit it.

Nostalgia isn’t inherently good or bad. In some instances, it can be healthy, like how a longing for home can keep you going strong when you’re away. But it can be dangerous, as it clouds judgement and makes people forget events as they actually happened. This includes anime, as nostalgia can blind you to its problems under the guise of “it was better when I was younger”. We all think it to some extent, but there’s a limit before it’s unhealthy and damaging.

My point is that anime isn’t as simple as saying “X was always better than Y”. Because, like all art forms, it’s cyclical, complete with highs and lows. It was never 100% great, nor was it ever 100% awful. And it came with its good and bad, even its good and bad decades in this instance. In other words, the notion is as problematic as making that claim about anything else, as it’s not true.

Here’s where I bring up the following chart:

Take a good look at the illustration. This is in context of the common “anime is all dumb Moe garbage these days” argument that gets thrown around. It uses 9 production houses, Studio Pierrot, Gainax, Studio BONES, Sunrise Entertainment, GONZO, Studio Manglobe, Satelight, Studio Madhouse and TMS Entertainment, as its base of comparison, taking one show from the past, i.e. pre-Moe era anime, and one from the last 10 or so years, i.e. post-Moe anime, and rebuts the perception that Moe “killed anime”. I can’t speak for every entry, I haven’t seen most of them, but I can say that Darker Than Black is neither Moe nor awful. And the rest don’t even look remotely Moe or awful, despite claims to the contrary.

You know what this is? It’s a sign that quality still does exist. It might be harder to find these days, but it’s there. It’s the “rule of ratios” in effect, namely that as something of quantity increases in quantity, so too does its ratio of quality-to-garbage. 25% of 100 and 25% of 1000000 is still 25%, any math expert can verify that. The 75% might seem larger, but so is the former. Ergo, the ratio of good-to-bad hasn’t changed.

You know how I know this is true? Because it’s like that with any art form. Take film, for example: back in its early days, filmmaking was difficult and expensive. Not a lot of movies were released every year, making its big hits that much bigger. Compare that to now, where films are easier and less-expensive on a relative scale thanks to advancements in technology. As a result, more films are made each year, and the big hits aren’t so big anymore.

Does this mean quality doesn’t exist? Of course not! Talent doesn’t discriminate, so high-quality entertainment can still happen. It only doesn’t seem that way because it’s easier to make garbage. Not to mention, film goes through cycles, so when one year might seem like nothing good is coming out, another year might be particularly strong in comparison. 2013, for example, was a pretty weak year for Summer blockbusters, while 2014 was a really strong one. I’ve seen over 30 movies from both years, so I’ve gotten a pretty good sense of what they were like.

This goes back to anime too. People point to the 1980’s-1990’s as the “peak” of anime, and that the industry hasn’t produced that calibre of material since, but I think that’s dishonest. Anime was more expensive to produce in those decades because it was hand-painted, so fewer shows and movies came out each year. With today’s technology making it easier, thanks to computers, anime is more abundant. Where as the good stuff seemed more frequent in the 80’s and 90’s, in truth that was because everything else wasn’t as frequent. The good still exists, but you have to look harder because the bad is also more readily available now.

If I sound like I’m going in circles, it’s only because I think this argument is an endless circle of stupidity. And it’s heavily influenced by nostalgia, hence it’s not exactly truthful or honest. Like I said, nostalgia, for all of its strengths, can be unhealthy and misleading, leading people to believe that something was better in the past than it really was.

Does this mean that Anno was “wrong”, and the industry is on the verge of collapse? Maybe, I’m no expert. I’m sure it has its share of problems that’ll one day cause it to implode, but that’s the case for any major industry. Besides, if history has taught me anything, it’s that art is cyclical. Industries are too, with a model of production hitting its peak before collapsing and being replaced by a newer model. That’s called “progress”.

Which isn’t to say old anime is bad either. I respect and value it, and sometimes even love it! But I also respect and love newer anime, and so should you; after all, what do you really have to lose?


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