My relationship with anime has been pretty fraught. I was nuts for the stuff from ages ten through, oh, thirteen and a half, but then my fervor cooled. I more or less turned against it when the combined effort of the 2000s and the DVD medium overturned the log of anime fandom and revealed all the squirmy, icky subcultures thriving beneath. In middle school, I longed for the company of other anime fans; by the end of high school, I wanted little more out of my social life than to put as much distance between me and “those hoodie-clad mouth-breathers” as possible.
Older and marginally wiser, I’ve attained enough psychological stability to understand that (a) watching anime won’t necessarily taint me by association, and (b) Sturgeon’s Second Law, which dictated that 90 percent of everything is “crud,” applies just as well for anime as for anything else — one needs to filter, and filter aggressively, to enjoy. I think I’m going to handle anime-with a simple time-based filter: as long as it’s at least, oh, 25 years old, I’ll watch it.
Such a rule has the advantage of sifting out the present’s flash-in-the-pan chaff so I won’t have to, sure, but a 25-year anime statute of limitations also keeps my viewing centered on a time when the form was... different. I’m not a things-were-better-before kind of guy, and I won’t even claim that anime as a whole was somehow a “higher” art back then. There’s just something special about the pure aesthetics of the anime of the late 1970s and early 1980s that seems to have since been extinguished. Maybe a real otaku could tell me what’s changed; I can’t pin it down, but something has.
I first suspected this when I realized that 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is my favorite movie by anime directer Hayao Miyazaki, probably the best-known guy in the industry. He’s since cranked out picture after picture, each of which gets wilder acclaim for its visuals than the last. Yet I don’t think he ever surpassed the look of Nausicaä. This clarified in my mind when my friend Kyle introduced me to his favorite anime film of all time, 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, just one chapter in the ongoing saga of beloved thief Lupin III. He followed that up with 1981’s The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, one part of a trilogy in which a wee unicorn goes around making various creatures happy at first against their will, but then not.
What is it about late seventies/early eighties anime? Is it in the character designs? Is it in some sort of visual purity? But I like their music better, too; is it thus in some broader audiovisual aesthetic, an overall philosophy of anime art that somehow shifted in, like, 1987? All I know for sure is that I’m jonesing to watch Gisaburo Sugii’s Night on the Galactic Railroad, a 1985 film scored by one of the Yellow Magic Orchestra that appears to be mainly about early CGI, Esperanto, and space cats:
But where to find a (non-YouTube-y) copy?