What Is Old?

What is old anime? And, more pressingly, how old must something be before we’ll pay attention to it here?

In some senses, there are no old anime. If we take 1917 as anime’s start, as the standard English-language history does, then there are still living people who were born before anime, putting the oldest anime at the very edge of living memory. That’s not very old: the work of Fujiwara no Teika, say, is about eight times older; the Great Pyramid at Giza is forty-five times older; cave paintings are something like four hundred times older.

Given that the fifties and sixties really are in living memory, you could say that only pre-war and war-era anime are old. Or you could take the coming of TV anime as your dividing line. Or you could say the real sea-change happens in a messy period either side of 1980, with the coming of videotape, the OVA, and the first uses of computers for animation and compositing. You could draw a line in the to late nineties, when the shift away from cels began in earnest and the late-night model for TV anime came of age. Or you could pick a bunch of other ways to slice old away from new.

Personally, I tend to think of a dividing line somewhere around the mid- to late-nineties. But that’s a perception conditioned by my age, my personal history as a fan, and by Anglophone fan traditions, which I wouldn’t call the most reliable historical resource.

The truth is, though, that most fans’ horizon of historical attention is remarkably close. Anecdotally, people who ought to know tell me that most English-speaking anime fans are into anime for two to four years, and that, in that time, they watch airing anime. A cursory glance at most large online anime communities bears this out.

To be clear, I think that’s fine—I’m glad people enjoy anime on whatever terms they prefer. If it brings joy into someone’s life for a few years before they go off and become a responsible adult, that’s great. And of course, it’s quite true that a fair few anime are made with this use in mind. They’re television shows, and you watch them as they air, perhaps as part of a community which discusses them together.

But this close horizon does mean that all but the most well-known titles recede into obscurity in a handful of years. Consequently, we’ve settled—for now—on a pretty arbitrary rolling cut-off point of ‘about eight years ago’, while giving ourselves latitude to ignore older titles which we feel are quite well-known. Anime from 2009 aren’t old, but they’re old enough that the less noticed ones—say, Mari & Gali, to pluck an example out of the air at random—might as well be. So if someone wants to write about those, we’ll gladly give them attention.

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