9 Reasons Why ’90’s Anime Is So Incredibly Good

When someone I know starts watching anime, I usually recommend that they begin with those that are considered classics. Many of these titles come from the 1990s, and up until today, I consider them as some of the best animes I’ve ever watched.

I know I’m not alone in this because if you look up the top 10 anime round-ups, at least 30% of the list composition still comes from that time period.

’90’s anime is so good because of the distinctive animation, the employment of quality storytelling devices, and the feelings it can invoke within viewers. It contains art variations no longer seen in modern anime, and introduced the rest of the world to the wonder of Japanese art and story-telling.

However, we would be doing a disservice to 90s anime if I just leave it at that. In this article, we will look at nine specific things that make 90s anime remarkable and enduring.

1. ’90’s anime have a distinctive art style

A plethora of anime came out in the 1990s, and nearly each of them was distinguishable through their art style. For instance, an anime watcher would know when a drawing style can be attributed to Doraemon’s artists and when a character was drawn by the animators of One Piece.

Did you know that One Piece currently has over 980 episodes, and new episodes are still being released to this day? According to the Binge Report by TV Time, it was the 8th most watched TV show of 2020.

At the time, anime production companies were just beginning to integrate animation techniques previously limited to feature films. This allowed them to explore different stylistic elements.

Although it is true that modern anime also has variations in its art style, they usually stick to an animation standard that doesn’t allow for much experimentation.

Thus, when we watch different 1990’s anime, we get to enjoy an array of artistic flavors that we no longer get to encounter in modern anime.

2. ’90’s anime uses cel animation

All anime created in the 90s employed cel animation. Each frame is drawn on a transparent sheet called “cel,” then they are layered to complete a scene. There is then a distinctive use of pen shading, making the shadows and the lighting dramatic and sharp.

Anime artists most commonly used the Mitsubishi Uni-ball pencil sets to create prominent outlines. Because the pens were a vivid black, the colors set against them popped and became more prominent.

The movement of the light and shadows are then viewed as poetic, knowing that they were drawn splice by splice into the scene.

Consider the opening credits of Rurouni Kenshin:

Notice how the first panels are sequences and layered. From 0:22 – 0:24, you can also observe the movement of light and shadows and the transition between frames.

Fun fact: By 1999, most animes started transitioning to digital animation. The last anime to completely use cel animation was “Saze-san” in 2005.

3. ’90’s anime prioritizes storytelling and character development

This is not to say that modern anime does not value storylines and character growth. However, there is no denying that most popular anime in recent years seem to value action sequences over dialogues; power transformations over character development.

This is because, from the very first episode, viewers expect to catch a glimpse of mind-boggling power and ability. Otherwise, they wouldn’t stay tuned in.

Meanwhile, 1990’s anime allowed for time to do world-building and character unfolding. For example, Slam Dunk does not portray basketball scenes until the 5th episode. Further, Sakuragi does not do anything but dribble, lay-up, and attempt to dunk for the entire first season.

For 14 episodes, the main character did nothing spectacular. Instead, the anime focused on his personal growth and journey to becoming someone qualified and skilled.

Although viewers today may argue that this kind of storyline will no longer be appealing given the majority’s short attention span, there is something to be said about the fact that the series continues to be watched by millions worldwide.

It is known as the basketball anime, and modern watchers praise it for its commitment to an accurate portrayal of sports training.

This shows us that there is still an audience for well-paced, character-based anime, like the ones that were magnificently produced in the ’90s.

why does old anime look better

4. ’90’s anime has timeless plots

One amazing thing about 1990’s anime is that many of them manage to retain the relevance of their plot even though decades have passed since they first came out.

For instance, Detective Conan first came out in 1996, yet the mysteries remain entertaining and thrilling from the perspective of one who has watched the likes of Fugou Keiji: Balance.

Likewise, although Sailor Moon was first aired in 1992, it already promoted values such as female empowerment and self-confidence, both of which are still topics of discussion today.

5. The concepts of ’90’s anime were ground-breaking

One of the great things about anime, in general, is that the storylines are never quite what you expect. This is why the whole concept of magic girl can be credited to these origins.

The 1990s was the time when global audiences became significantly exposed to anime, as their unique elements began to pick up steam. Hence, the influence of anime on Western media first became evident during this time.

For example, the Pokemon anime series became so famous in America that video games, trading cards, and merchandise would constantly sell out. Topeka, a city in Kansas, was even renamed Topikachu for a day in 1998.

They air-dropped Pokemon merchandise on a wide field, and children had to go and “catch ’em all.” Truly ground-breaking.

Did you know that Topeka was once again named Topikachu on October 27, 2018 to celebrate the release of Pokemon Go? That’s the second time in 20 years!

6. A variety of character devices are employed in ’90’s anime

Cliches have always been utilized for as long as creative writing and animation have existed. Nonetheless, we may observe that the characters, themes, and plot devices used in recent anime are significantly more cookie-cutter than those in ’90’s anime.

Somehow, we know that there will be the hot guy, the nerd, the shy girl, the son of a conglomerate family, the hothead, and the tsundere in every new anime. The main character is sure to have a tragic backstory; perhaps, the tragic death of someone close to him or unstable family life.

Beyond this, there is almost a guarantee that if an anime has romance themes, the characters involved will find themselves locked in a push-pull, will-they-won’t-they relationship.

To a certain degree, one can argue that these cliches are actually rooted in the plot devices used in 1990’s anime as they were the trailblazers of their time.

However, it is important to note that ’90’s anime employed these tropes alongside a wider variety of characters and elements.

Take Yamcha from Dragon Ball, for example. He was known as a confident and skillful warrior, which is a common trope.

Yet to add to this, his biggest fear was talking to women, and because he had a deep desire to get married, he was deliberate about working through his gynophobia.

Along the way, he became popular with the ladies, and his first girlfriend even accused him of cheating on her. This would then be used as a plot device in later episodes.

This is a characteristic and storyline that is unique to Yamcha. Now, imagine an array of characters with just-as-unique traits, with just as interesting stories. This is the kind of range that most 1990’s anime lineups have.

7. ’90’s anime were a quality investment

When an anime creator pitches his work to production companies, he must convince them that investing in his anime will be worth their time and money. From a producer’s standpoint, this does not necessarily equate to a unique plot or quality work.

Given the saturation of the anime industry these days, the only way animators can get their show on the road is by creating something that will make money — no matter how common and uninspired the story and characters may be.

Although profitability was also important to producers in the 1990s, they placed a premium on quality. If they were going to invest in an anime, they had to make sure that it had substance, merited insight and life lessons, and was well-made.

Hence, anime creators had to put significant thought and care into their work. They needed to make sure that their plot was unique, that their characters would stand out, and that their animations would reflect excellence.

True enough, the production companies were able to get back their money’s worth, as these long-running titles are still known and loved to this day.

8. There is less fan service in 1990’s anime

Fan service is a mainstay for most anime. Its presence does not necessarily hamper an anime series, but it also does not add anything of value either. This is why the lack of fan service in ’90’s anime can be especially refreshing for modern watchers.

Although some 1990’s anime still contained fan service, they were subtle, if not tasteful. The highlight was not how much skin was shown; it was how well the story was told.

9. 1990’s anime invokes feelings of nostalgia

why do people love anime from the 90s

The toned-down colors, the soft lightings, the realism of movement… all of these contribute to the 90s anime aesthetic that many have come to know and love.

And so, even when first-time viewers watch these anime, they gain a sense of nostalgia, as if they are once again in elementary school, watching television in the living room while mom is making dinner.

That’s just a part of 90s anime magic, and it’s why many fans still think of them as perfection to this day.

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