It has come to my attention how readily the word classic has been thrown about with regard to anime and manga. The contention here usually revolves around the definition of a true classic anime. Well sufficing to say, most times I disagree with the definition of classic that has been presented on most sites, and specifically the anime that have been presented as possessing the qualities of a classic anime.
I have my own personal understanding of what it means to watch a classic anime, and though biased it maybe, I also think that it is accurate. And what I have come to realize is classic has nothing to do with uniqueness or flash. What I think constitutes a truly classic anime is this.
First and foremost come the visuals. Now I know most of you just read that and contemplated closing this page, most likely having determined me to be a completely rustic anime otaku, with little to no idea of what truly good anime is.
After all every year we see dozens of new anime pouring out of the media machines in japan, wrapped in most beautiful animation, but proving to be little to nothing more than garbage. I am aware of that fact and I am not so blind as to not realize that the animation forms only the smallest part of a truly great show. After all, even if we were to take that argument that would eliminate most anime before 2005, before the advent of computer animation. It simply wouldn’t be fair.
Actually it would be, more than fair in fact. Rourini Kenshin: trust and betrayal, the six episode OVA was released in 1999, that was around the time that the samurai x TV series was airing. Let me state that trust and betrayal has some of the very best visuals I have ever seen in an anime; and I make that statement after watching anime as recent as 2012. So the argument of time and lacking technology doesn’t play here.
But if you aren’t following the visuals argument, let me explain it this way. When I speak of good visuals I am referring to quite a number of elements. I am talking about the fluidity of a scene; when a samurai is arcing his blade at an opponent, does it seem as smooth as it would be natural in a real life setting? I am talking about scenes where a man is having a smoke outside on a windy day, and his cloak and hair don’t even have the courtesy to even try to at the very least tremble in the breeze.
These classic anime are well crafted, not only to create a realistic image, but to add precise detail. I don’t need to know that character A is angry just because he is shouting. I need to see it on the lines of his face, the way his lip curls; expression, feeling, emotion must all be ostensibly visible within the eyes of any given character.
That is what I appreciated in that old anime movie that won an award years back (can’t remember the name but it was about a girl that goes to the circus and meets some ghosts or something.) These anime are old but they all manage to create an atmosphere, a unique setting that allows us to better understand and ‘feel’ the mood of a scene.
This doesn’t always have to be in form of choosing the perfect sound track, attractive colors or even the use of flashy visuals. True classic anime are artistic, in that their visuals will contain a unique factor in presenting an idea. Basically if an anime was done right, you could hate it to hell, but watch it’s entire run just because you were attracted to the look. Again I return to trust and betrayal. Most of you will have watched your epic showdowns were the combatants clash to fiery fires and sound tracks along the lines of ‘Oh Fortuna’ (I am talking about those sound tracks with powerful choirs belting out choruses better designed for the apocalypse).
This OVA had one scene showing kenshin face of against his opponents in complete silence, other than the simple patter of the rain, clashing blades and dying cries. I would like to say it was beautiful, but that would be melodramatic of me.
In conclusion, you can call death note a classic all you want, none of you would have watched it if the characters were all acted out by stick figures. Without proper presentation-music, lighting, tone, colors- Light Yagami sitting back in his room and killing thousands by simply writing in a book would have been the most boring thing to feature in an anime.
Visuals matter whether you agree with their importance or not. IN 2012, I watched a 2001 anime called Noir. That is old and most anime fans I knew couldn’t get past the first episode. I loved it because I actually liked how it was presented, like an old 80s action movie. Think about it. We otaku wouldn’t get away with calling anime art if it wasn’t for the visuals. Anyway that’s that. To my next point.
The story. Let no one deceive you that the secret to an awesome anime is a unique story and plots. That is absolutely not true. it is all about execution. How you tell the story matters much more that creating the best ideas. How many series do we have out there with secret organizations fighting supernatural threats to humanity, or high school kids that can summon magical creatures to battle existential threats to earth, or ordinary brats that are randomly chosen to pilot powerful machines to save the world from alien life forms?
Right there I just described most of the most popular anime and manga on sale, and the funny thing is they all have fans and most of them are really good. Now the question is, do they succeed due to pitching some never before seen theme or idea? No, they simply tell a good story.And that’s what we want, a good story that allows use to enter and interact, at least mentally, with the plot in a completely immersive and unburden some manner.
Now don’t misunderstand that statement about uniqueness. Does it not really matter that an anime have a unique premise? No, it doesn’t matter, so long as you consider freshness. An anime can recycle the most trite premises and themes in anime history so long as it can keep it new. And yes, you can use an old idea and actually do something new with it.
I am confident enough in my creative abilities to pitch an idea about powerful ninja in a hidden world that fight threats against their respective countries using jutsus and chakra and still manage to make it feel fresh and new while avoiding any irritating comparisons to naruto. Any writers out their that were thinking that there is one otaku in the world that is giving us permission to be lazy and to repeat the same thing over and over again, think again.
Here’s the thing, I am allergic to watching an anime and the whole time all I am doing is wondering when the damn thing will end or better yet, wondering when it will deliver on that tantalizing first episode, or potential filled premise.
However what I sometimes find even less inspiring are the fluffy ephemeral stuff that has you sitting on the edge of your seat, heart racing as you tear through episode after episode of ball busting fun, and before the credits on the final episode end, you are either thinking about food, or what else you could watch.
What I like is watching series whose presence lingers in my mind for the next several hours, at the very least. I know I enjoyed something if I can’t stop talking about it a week later, and as I barrel through a new anime a month later, I can’t help but compare everything against that one show I watched four or more weeks ago.
That’s a good story. In fact, that is good story telling. If most creators focused less on creating new cooler never before seen mutant powers and magical weapons (bankai!) and instead focused on telling a good story, even the action sequences, poor or mind blowing would become a secondary issue.
Great anime lingers around the conscious for a long while to come. Classic anime lasts an age. I only hope you do not confuse ‘long lasting’ with the memory of meretricious events that usually litter any modern anime. A year from now I will remember that awesome battle between saber and berserker in fate/zero. chances are however that it will not have the same impact as it did when I first watched it. But what will remain impactful years from now is watching the relationship between rider and his master blossom over the course of 24 episodes.
There is little I can add to the importance of storylines in classic anime, and I expect you will all agree that classic anime set a precedence in the element of story telling.
Finally I come to what seems to me to be the most important element of a classic anime, and that is characters. Let’s face it, if you closed your eyes now and I asked you to think of your all time favorite anime, the first think you would think of is characters, then you would connect those faces to their respective shows.
There is no denying the fact that characters don’t simply play an important role in anime, they are the anime, the very core of it; and they determine the level of enjoyment an otaku will experience with an anime.
So it isn’t much of a leap to claim that classic anime have classic characters. That is a simple undeniable fact. How an anime tackles its character development determines how far up the scale it will rise. Basically the reason I will state that fate/stay night couldn’t even begin compete with fate/zero comes down to the characters. Zero created a myriad of well developed and intertwined characters that were fun to watch. It didn’t matter who was fighting who or why; so long as any of these characters were on screen, you were in for a good 24 minutes.
Think back to all those shows that achieved the status of great or legendary. What enabled them to reach the pinnacle of anime success in the eyes of us viewers?
Think back to code geass; this sci-fi series would nothing without the madman Zero. And you can’t even begin to talk about Death note without mentioning Light and L. They were basically the show death note.
I find myself thinking of one piece, specifically the straw hat pirates and what we can learn from the kind of character development that has taken place. I would be more than content to just sit back and watch these fools hang out, because it is just that much fun to watch them. Basically Oda has created the semblance of real humanity within his one piece characters, and as such allows the viewers to consider them as they would their own close neighbor, who you aren’t merely interested in for the crazy action he can deliver. You want to watch them live life, and enjoy it to the fullest.
As much fun as the impel down arc was, I have to say that I hated large chunks of it where all we saw for entire episodes was someone running about and never arriving to their destination.
But I didn’t skip a single episode of it. Why? Because I loved nothing more than to watch Baggy and Mr. three interact. They are funny as hell, and if anyone suggested a spin off of one piece, it would be these two characters that I would choose to watch for a hundred or more episodes. And that’s because in my eyes, they are great characters.
Classic anime will create classic characters, characters that will impact the viewer for ages to come. Either you will love watching them in their element (these kind of characters that are just fun to watch are quite hard to create and thus quite rare) or you will love watching them do something. Which is why I could argue that a lot of my interest in Gurren Luggan waned when Kanami died. And that is because he was such a great character.
The way I see it, any anime that will claim the title of classic will have to possess all three of these elements in some good measure, and at the end of the day it will have to bring something good to the table. Everything else, good music,voice acting and so on falls somewhere in between all these things.
If I looked at this objectively, I would say that defining the term classic as far as anime is concerned is quite tricky. What older generations call classic, the younger generation will call old and dated. What younger generations will call classic, the older generation will call tasteless and repetitive. chances are what you term as classic will be determined by what influenced you as a child.
Personally I wouldn’t call bleach or one piece classic, even though I would call DBZ a classic (though I only watched about 80 episodes of DBZ and 20 of Dragon ball).I will say nothing about naruto because I am biased towards it. I would also exclude Dgrayman, pokemon (yes, I have heard that suggestion before), fate/stay night and…I can’t think of anything else.
What I would call a classic is: Noir, Rourini Kenshin: Trust and betrayal, Fullmetal Brotherhood, Gurren lagan, code geass, monster and…that’s it. If you disagree with me, welll, too bad.