Make or Break of Anime: Innovation and 'The Classics'

What show would you describe as a 'timeless classic'? Which are the series that you would recommend to everyone you meet as 'must-see's?
Perhaps the more pressing concern is whether or not these exist.

There is an apparent consensus in the anime community nowadays that the 'Golden Age', as it were, has been and gone. That the works of the past - everyone's favourites from the late 90s - aren't going to be readily surpassed by anything being produced now or in the foreseeable future. As such a certain attitude has arisen, akin to a form of cultural elitism, in which "You can't call yourself a fan of anime unless you've seen......" crops up far too often. Speaking as someone who's arrived late to the party, so it would seem, I have to tear this ridiculous viewpoint asunder.

This seemed like an apt topic for my first real post on here. As I said in my introductory post I haven't been obsessed with anime for a particularly long time, and as such it is only now that I can find the time to delve into the medium's past masterpieces to discover for myself what all the fuss is about. It came as a surprise to many who know me as an anime fan that it took me until earlier this year to watch Death Note (the series that occurs in 'Top 5 Anime' lists more than any other). Not a classic in the sense of age, I'm aware, but it's a good demonstration of the point. In fact, I've also only just started endulging in Fullmetal Alchemist and Lucky Star, along with Cowboy Bebop - what many term an undisputable and unbeatable classic. Also lined up for perusal are Trigun, Full Metal Panic, Neon Genesis Evangelion (pictured above) and many more which are deemed to be so special.

Undoubtedly these series are of high quality, or at least from what I've seen thus far they are, but this alone does not make someone a "true fan" by virtue of having watched them, nor does it mean that brilliant shows cannot be created in the future - after all our minds haven't devolved as far as I know, and the range of artstyles has expanded and improved. Aside from the naïvity contained within this stance, I think it raises a more vital question about the nature of the anime universe. This is, of course, are new productions being bogged-down by this tendancy of consumers to grade against specific past successes? Is this what has blocked further innovation in the medium and as such created a viscious cycle, spurring the industry on through a quagmire of safety and unobtrusiveness?

We see it again and again in every season preview that hits the internet. "This just looks like a clone of Lucky Star", "Ripped-off from One Piece", "same old harem" etc. etc. I don't proclaim to have seen everything out there, nor can I pass objective judgement, and so I can't say how much of this speculation is ill-founded, but the signs tend to be there. Lately all that's released seems to fit into the archetype of one genre or another. All your battle shounen harken back to the Big Three of One Piece, Naruto and Bleach much more than they should, or take their cues from another popular anime with a similar concept. All your harem anime not only take cues from, but are EXACTLY THE SAME AS To Love-Ru, which in turn comes out of Urusei Yatsura. Same goes for your identical mecha anime. The problem is a large percentage of the audience seem to want the same stuff over and over again. 

This lack of innovation is simply fueled by the money-making machines that are 'familiarity' and 'tradition'. "We're going to do it this way because this is not only how it's always been done, but because it's how it's always made us lots and lots of money". Just shove an ever-so-slightly different Gundam figure onto the shelves every couple of months and you're a guarenteed millionaire within a year. New series are even marketed by finding whatever tenuous links they can between them and some super-smash hit - "From the same background artist who brought you Ghost in the Shell", "Music by the composer of such-and-such a soundtrack" - and for some reason people accept this as an indication of quality! The same goes with seiyuu association. Don't get me wrong, I have my favourite seiyuus, but I don't automatically believe a series is going to be outstanding just because I hear Ono Daisuke is going to be cast in it (he's so dreamy...). I honestly don't understand reviews like "The next Cowboy Bebop!". Not only is that wholly uninformative, but it leaves me with a negative impression, if anything. It indicates a complete lack of anything new or exciting in an attempt to replicate the former glory of another series. In actuality, "As good as Cowboy Bebop" is both more helpful and more enticing when all is said and done, even if it lacks pizazz.

It occurs to me that my train of thought here hasn't been entirely coherent, so here's a bit of a 'tl;dr'. We can't stay rooted in the past forever. As great as our favourite classic series may be, they shouldn't hold today's creative minds back from achieving their own, original successes. The message of the day is that innovation is required within all mediums to provide something truly entertaining for the consumers. On our part, we need to stop encouraging industry bosses to approve the same old ideas every season. One of my favourites of this past season has been Steins;Gate for actually providing some new and refreshing entertainment. Support a real move for something new and gripping.

Feel free to call me a philistine and school me on what you consider to be the real classics.



  1. You haven't even watched Bleach and one piece enough to know what they're about!!! Although lots of shows do copy them (Yumeiro Patissiere to name but one) Having said that there are some very original shows coming out that you haven't mentioned. Toriko as an example had it's first show as a collab with One piece, but is so wacky and zaney that it immediately stood out to me.
    Just my 2 pence.

  2. Cowboy Bebop is great though!

    It's fair to say that most of the shows that are known to be great shows are great because they weren't like anything that went before them. You still get new(ish) shows like Death Note or Angel Beats that have that originality and have the kudos to go with it.

    I guess for certain genres the problem is that you can't not compete. Naruto is so big and so ubiquitous that anyone entering the same battle shounen market has to expect comparisons and needs to compete very heavily for the same market share.

    Never really understood mecha anime though

  3. Originality is definitely the key here. A lot of people even say it's something inherent in Japanese culture, and while it's true that comparisons can be drawn to the Japanese games industry and the like, you can't say that the potential for new and exciting ideas isn't out there. As you say, even relatively recent stuff, rare though it may be, has managed to stand-out and shine. If only we saw more original concepts like those in Death Note and Angel Beats, I definitely wouldn't have had to make this post!

    Going for the exact same market share is another problem though, in my opinion. While it's obviously sensible to have genre boundaries in terms of who you're aiming your show at, "battle shounen" shouldn't be a blanket term that implies a list of specific characteristics for your anime to adhere to. There's tons of breathing room to bring in new concepts, different characters and crazy fight scenes so that whilst you may be listed under the same category as it, you can be picked out as something unique and distinct from, say, Naruto. That way not only could the show itself be heralded as better for being new and exciting, but a whole new market, even from the same sort of audience, can be tapped from people who may enjoy other battle shounen. As such they wouldn't need or necessarily want to watch something that tries to take its cues from shows they know and love already, but would be more than willing to watch something they might be into but isn't near-on identical to something they've watched before.