The Old Dogs Project

When was the last time you watched something older than you are?

Apologies to older bloggers such as ghostlightning =P

Recently, I’ve decided I’d like to take some time to watch more of the older anime. It began with my newest attempt to watch Nurse Angel Ririka SOS, an anime with an admittedly absurd title; as I was watching it, I remembered why I love magical girl shows so much – specifically, magical girl shows that are actually meant for little girls (in other words, none of that Nanatsuiro Drops or Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha stuff). I have to admit – it kind of feels like this kind of show has fallen by the wayside, surviving on only in the Pretty Cure franchise and in Shugo Chara. On the other hand, I’ll also allow that this might just be pure myopia on my part – perhaps it only seems as if it is falling by the wayside because I am looking at a more limited segment of time, e.g. the past two to five years, and comparing it with a potentially ‘infinite’ past (since, truly, anime only extends back a certain amount, it can’t really be infinite). Thus, of course it would seem its falling out of favor.

Of course, my recognition of myopia also brought me to another point – the amount of shrieking filling the aniblogosphere about how much this season and last season have sucked. Just take a glance around, and you’ll see right away that everyone and their uncle is declaring that anime is in the worst shape ever. This is generally followed up with some anecdote about how anime in the good old days was sooo much better, soooo much more original, etc. But is this really the case?

When one takes the time to actually go back and watch older shows, the shows they are going to watch are, by their very nature, limited. Part of this is due to the fact that no one is going to go back and watch something which no one ever talks about. People watch older shows because someone mentions them to them, for the most part, and, usually, recommends them. This also connects to the issue of availaility. The fact is, many of us require subtitles in order to watch anime at all; if a show isn’t of some vague ‘merit’, then chances are there is no fansub or official sub of them out there. While there are occasional labors of love, these are the exceptions, not the rule. So you’ve already narrowed the field significantly. And, even if there are fansubs somewhere out there, the transition from the VHS fansub model to the digital one winnowed it down even further. Poor seeding for torrents does more damage.

While it is true that there was less anime by volume being made twenty plus years ago, you’re still only going to be able to access a fraction of what was out there.

I also, quite frankly, suspect that the folks who piss and moan about anime’s quality having degraded don’t really have that much grounding in historical anime anyway. Big deal – you watched the original Gundam series. Watching one show hardly makes you an expert. Or, alternatively, you watched shows in the late 90’s and early part of this decade – wow, what an accomplishment! You have such a good record on watching the old shows! Memo to the people: something made in 1998 isn’t really that old. Come back when you’ve seen a few shows from 1978, alright?

This lack of historical grounding frustrates me. As a group, we’ve become so obsessed with being on top of the latest shows that we’ve come unmoored from any true context. The visual flourishes in Ouran High Host Club only seem fresh if you’ve never seem Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Revolutionary Girl Utena only seems completely groundbreaking if you’ve never seen Rose of Versailles [1]. You can’t really be a fan if you don’t understand the history of what you’re watching; to be a true fan is to have a love of a form that is so much that you want to understand the evolution of it, want to be able to pick out what got influenced by what, why it was, and where it went from there. Essentially, a true fan cares enough to make that investment.

Now, it would be unfair of me to say that I am some grand master of anime history. I’ve seen the original Terra e…, and I’ve watched most of the BL/yaoi OVA’s from the 1980’s and early 90’s, from Fish in the Trap (ARGH MAKE IT STOP) to Kaze to ki no uta. I’ve even watched good chunks of Oniisama e… and Rose of Versailles, and a bit of the older magical girl shows like Hime-chan no Ribbon and Magical Princess Minky Momo. But this is merely scratching the surface. So its time to go out and fix that.

Right now I’m watching the aforementioned Nurse Angel Ririka SOS, something I returned to in part because someone finally made episodes twenty-one through thirty-five available as a digital fansub. This was a show I originally pursued as a young fan, about ten years ago or so, when VHS fansubs were still fairly common. It was kind of a holy grail for me, as I planned and saved to get fansub tapes, but basically failed to because most of the VHS fansub distributors by the point I’d gotten enough money scrounged together to get all of NAR SOS had switched to a swap-only system. So when it popped up as a batch torrent on Animesuki, you can be sure I was on it in the blink of an eye.

In addition to that, though, I’ve added several titles to my queue. They are:

  • Candy Candy
  • Natsu e no Tobira
  • Hakuchou no Mizu-umi*
  • Hana no Ko LunLun*
  • Sailor Moon Sailor Stars
  • Angel’s Egg*
  • Macross: Do You Remember Love?
  • Star of Cottonland

Additionally, I’m re-downloading Rose of Versailles, which I got stuck on episode twenty-two of because my hard-drive melted down and I lost all the episodes, and going to re-attempt Oniisama e… Titles with an asterisk are pending the discovery of whether the subs I’m downloading are actually in English (they’re done by a group which is Romanian but generally subs in both Romanian and English). I’d watch the actual Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, except I don’t really like mecha and I really don’t like idols (folks, the only reason I am still inching through Idolm@ster Xenoglossia is the cute girls)… however, I still feel that I should have at least some knowledge of the franchise (/I’ll feel guilty for not being willing to give something ghostlightning lauds a chance). Sailor Moon Sailor Stars isn’t really terribly old, but the franchise launched a thousand ships, so I feel I should probably go full completist on it (although I worry that, like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the monster-of-the-week format of SMSS will prove to be simply tiring to me).

I intend this to just be a starting point, though, and am happy to hear suggestions (particularly as my list is very heavily shoujo). I’d also like to strongly encourage other people to dig into the old shows a bit, because I think it ultimately is of benefit to all of us as a whole to know where its all come from and how its all changed over the years. It also improves our own dialogue with each other as regards the medium. It should also bring us to discover some genuinely enjoyable shows. I suppose the basic reason, then, is that it makes us better fans.

*    *    *

[1] This isn’t to contend that Revolutionary Girl Utena isn’t groundbreaking; it just is a fact that it had a predecessor in Rose of Versailles in several ways, the least of which is, obviously, the presence of a few million roses.

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22 Responses to The Old Dogs Project

  1. Landon says:

    About Utena and Versailles, I remember I was talking to this girl in one of my college classes about Utena. I made a off-hand comment about how people compared Utena to Versailles. She got MAD, saying that the two series have nothing to do with each other and that anyone that thinks they’re similar doesn’t know what they’re saying.

    I thought she was being way too nitpicky about what constitutes “similarity,” but I didn’t press the issue.

    My all-time favorite “old” anime is Maison Ikkoku. I still think it’s the best romantic comedy anime out there. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Maison Ikkoku is one of those shows I’ve always meant to watch but haven’t gotten around to watching. The sheer amount of episodes is, admittedly, a bit off-putting. Hopefully I’ll get around to it some day.

  2. DYRL is pretty awesome for a film, but SDFM is where the good stuff is narrative wise. I don’t doubt that you’ll enjoy yourself with DYRL, but whether you see it as groundbreaking depends on how much you’ve seen of mecha anime, particularly the real robot branch.

    My first anime love was Nagahama Tadao’s Choudenji Machine Voltes V; we were both from 1977. I’m afraid that I haven’t watched an anime that’s older than I am for a looooong time.

    Lastly, if you want old school, read this blog: http://letsanime.blogspot.com/
    or look for some of the reviews of much older anime from here: http://animewriter.wordpress.com Chris K is at least a decade older than me LOLs.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      NO WAY NO ONE IN THE ANIBLOGOSPHERE IS OVER THE AGE OF 35 – ITS A MYTHHHHHHHHHH.

      Joking aside, thank you for pointing me in the direction of these blogs; I enjoy the perspective of older fans, if only because those opinions aren’t as common or easy to find among the blogs out there.

      I might be more willing to give SDFM a chance if it weren’t for the presence of an idol… I’m not crazy about mecha shows, but will watch them; idol shows? I couldn’t even read Strawberry Shake Sweet because of the presence of idols and the idol industry, and I’ll admit that that series is pretty solid otherwise. I just can’t stand idols.

  3. Baka-Raptor says:

    – Touch
    – Legend of the Galactic Heroes

    Warning: they’re both very long and may ruin your life given your current schedule.

  4. Aorii says:

    Heh, older shows aren’t really any better. I think today’s anime society simply tends to forgive them on most faults, whether because of (1) nostalgia (2) their age: they didn’t have anything better back then (3) we only watch the good ones that made a name anyways. Not to mention, being original was so much easier when there weren’t thousands of already completed series. Although, percentile wise, it could be said that older shows probably have an edge since anime wasn’t made in huge quantities back then and making-the-cut was harder for ideas and scripts.

    I’m not too much of an old stuffs fan so I can’t recommend much, except a few well-knowns…
    Gunbuster (1988) was my last old-classics-project, which was an interest ancestor to Evangelion and Gainax GAR.
    Space Battleship Yamato (1974) is the show that started everything that I’m still seeking to find a good copy of…
    Legend of the Galatic Heroes (1982) is on my list for all the philosophy and politics it supposedly has.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Gunbuster is yet another show which I have meant to see for a long while.

      I agree that older shows aren’t necessarily better, but I do think that even the flawed ones are worth at least checking out in terms of giving one more context for their fanhood.

  5. Shinmaru says:

    I watched Rose of Versailles a couple of months back and loved it. Dated animation aside (and it’s not as if it’s outright bad — just limited), it’s amazing how well it holds up in both visual style and pure storytelling. Shows as great as Rose of Versailles should be seen by everyone.

    Random side note: I always feel weird reacting to older anime (1970s-ish) as if they were movies made in, like, the 1930s that are also good. “Holy crap, this is awesome. When was it made?!” It’s not like it’s THAT old, haha.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Rose of Versailles does have more limited animation, but I did find it to be actually fairly well-animated overall. I’ve loved what I’ve seen so far of the show as a whole. I could’ve done without Rosalie, though… she was a little too Mary-Sue for my tastes, especially since the rest of the characters in the show possessed deep flaws.

      • Shinmaru says:

        I felt similarly about Rosalie for a while, until she descended into crazy for a time, haha. But, yeah, she’s not really one of my favorite characters either.

  6. schneider says:

    The last show I watched that was older than me was Zambot 3, a few months ago. It was a blast! My preference is late 80’s/early 90’s shows, though, which just around the period I was born in.

    I’ve never really given thought if a show is older than me–if it’s interesting, I’ll watch it.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I think many people won’t watch older shows, though – and, hell, forget shows older than they are, tons won’t even touch those half as old as they are! Its kind of absurd.

  7. Shance says:

    Not that old, but am old. And since Winter season ain’t gonna offer something good (except Hanamaru kindergarten, that one’s a borderline exception), count me in (in a way).

    Currently into Giant Robo, which is mostly ghostlightning’s fault.

  8. animewriter says:

    Nice post, you’re quite right about Utena having traits found in Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles, and if you go even farther back you can see Princess Sapphire from Princess Knight (1967) struggle with some of the very same gender role issues that both Utena and Oscar did.

    I find it quite laughable when I hear certain anime fans claim this show or that show is the greatest harem anime, love triangle anime, magic girl anime, or insert any anime genre here when they’ve only seen about 5-10 examples from that genre with none of them being older than 5-6 years old.

    I’m currently blogging Candy Candy, and finished Daddy Long Legs, I’ve also reviewed a couple of anime films from 1968 & 1969.

    I think you’ll love Star of Cottonland, and Angel’s Egg is quite the mind trip. Oh, I really don’t consider Nanoha to be a “true” magic girl show because traditionally a magic girl’s anime targeted/intended audience is young girls not guys even though many guys can, and do enjoy the genre.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I’ve never actually seen more than a few minutes of Princess Knight, sadly.

      I still maintain that no harem show beats out Tenchi, haha; its disturbing to me that a lot of the younger fans have never even seen it! But I’ll admit that’s probably more a factor of it having been one of my gateway anime and its having been so popular when I was a young fan than anything.

      I think what you say about Nanoha reveals the problems with the magical girl genre at the moment, though, even if you deny it as a magical girl show – the genre has been re-directed. Originally, this was a space for young girls, one in which they could find positive role models, and now its finding itself re-appropriated for the titillation of a group of fans who have never lacked options for entertainment within anime, e.g. the 18-30 yr. old set of male fans.

      • animewriter says:

        I think your comment about Tenchi just goes to show how young the current anime blogosphere really is. Tenchi Muyo, Tenchi Universe, and Tenchi in Tokyo were all shown on Cartoon Network during its Toonami block in the early 2000’s.

        Speaking of Tenchi, he’s one of the few male harem leads that actually deserves the attention of all the ladies. He not a wimp and could probably kick the asses of all the male harem leads from the last ten years put together.

        I think the demise of the Toonami block in the US it sort of robbed fans of a shared anime viewing experience. Back when I used to help run several college anime clubs I can’t even begin to count the number of kids that told me they were turned on to anime by watching Tenchi, Sailor Moon, DB & DBZ, Gundam, and Rurouni Kenshin on Cartoon Network. Today a popular fansub anime might get a 100,000 downloads across all groups, but during the heyday of Toonami the anime block up to 2 million viewers would tune in to watch.

        Don’t despair about the state of the magic girl genre in Japan, Pretty Cure is a billion dollar franchise and is always in the 10 ten with shows like One Piece, and shows like Sugo Chara and Yumeiro just crush most moe/fanservice anime in ratings.

        I’m not a myth, and I’m older than the Princess Knight anime.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Aww, come on – everyone knows that anime bloggers over the age of thirty-five are like unicorns – they don’t exist!

        Joking aside, even with shows like Pretty Cure doing massively well, I still find the existence of things like Nanoha, Moetan, Nanatsuiro Drops, and Magical Kanaan disturbing. I’d say “Is nothing sacred?”, except that I already know the answer to that one.

        Tenchi Muyo benefited massively from its sci-fi elements. I’m not sure it could’ve worked as simply straight-up harem.

        Toonami’s departure made me sad, and I do think what you say is probably quite true. If I’m not mistaken, some of the Saturday morning blocks of anime have likewise met their end (I think Jetix is one of them?), and I think that has also closed an avenue of approach for younger fans to have a shared experience. I enjoy the sheer variety of shows legally available now to the overseas fan, but I do mourn the passing of the sort of format which permitted the shared experience. At the same time, though, I do think there are still some shows which manage to be shared amongst the many, most obviously Naruto and Bleach – although, I daresay, I think Naruto is beginning to reach the end of its reach to the new fans. But there certainly aren’t as many as there used to be.

  9. 2DT says:

    Angel’s Egg was hard to watch. It’s beautiful, masterfully drawn, very thought-provoking after the fact… But oh goodness, I wanted to sleep about halfway through. If you want old-school Yoshitaka Amano, I think you might get more mileage out of the original Vampire Hunter D.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Part of the reason I figured I should watch Angel’s Egg is that its one of the shows consistently recommended by people who watched and enjoyed the mindfuck that was Cat Soup. Which is a show you should check out if you haven’t gotten the chance before; its only about half an hour long.

  10. Caddy C says:

    “You can’t really be a fan if you don’t understand the history of what you’re watching; to be a true fan is to have a love of a form that is so much that you want to understand the evolution of it, want to be able to pick out what got influenced by what, why it was, and where it went from there. Essentially, a true fan cares enough to make that investment.”

    THIS. SO MUCH THIS.

    I get frustrated reading “popular” anime blogs that only recap episodes of currently-running shows without doing any analysis or research. It’s like, well, if I wanted a summary with screencaps that badly, I’d just watch the episode myself! Do some original writing! Do some research! Base your opinions on something! Explain to me why something is bad or generic, or explain to me why something is awesome and the best thing since sliced bread.

    I think this is why no one likes shows like Gintama. They require you to know something about the culture and history of Japan in order to get the jokes and the setting and the references – you have to have background knowledge, and most fans just aren’t willing to go that far.

    Sorry for the mini-rant! 🙂

    I’ve been downloading Rose of Versaillles, but am frustrated by the lack of seeds – not to mention the fact that it has never been released in the States! I’m also going through RGU the manga because I found it used 🙂
    I want to watch the anime, but Netflix has very limited availability. I find that trying to watch anime legally is difficult when you are going back to older shows or more niche titles. (If you’re not willing to put down the cash on ebay or amazon, that is. And I’m not. Food and rent come first.)

    • adaywithoutme says:

      You know, if you have interest in Japanese culture, you might enjoy The Summer of the Ubume. Its a book from a series written by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, of which the second book is Mouryou no Hako, which was adapted into an anime a year or so ago. It has a lot of stuff about Japanese folklore in it, so it might be up your alley.

      Utena’s license has been lost in the United States because Central Park Media went under; as such, I would encourage you to look for the subtitled version of the re-mastered series. It’ll take a while to download, but it differs greatly from the manga and is quite a bit better than the manga (although the manga itself is certainly enjoyable enough).

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