After reading this post by psgels, I got curious to do some actual comparisons of anime then and now. Were there actually “good old days” or is it just a combination of nostalgia and filtering? It’s actually a lot more complicated than that because anime itself is totally different now than it was back in the “good old days”.
Nowadays, anime is thought of primarily in terms of broadcast TV series that generally run for one or two cours in a system of four seasons, with spring and fall being larger than winter and summer. This system, however has only really been around since about 1998, with a little bit of a transition period in the mid-90s. Prior to around 1995, TV anime consisted primarily of long-running kids shows. When I went through anidb by year, during the 80s and early 90s I often had to go a few years before I would come across something like a new Gundam series or a new Shounen Jump series (like Slam Dunk) that would even remotely interest me. Everything was just endless (50+ episode) little kid shows.
Now, there was still grown-up anime. It was just all in OVA form. 1988, for example had Patlabor, Gunbuster, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes for OVAs (and Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, Akira, and Char’s Counterattack for films!) For TV anime? Well, uh there WAS another season of City Hunter, and uh, that’s actually it unless you’d like to watch such platinum hits as Little Lord Fauntleroy or The Brother’s Grimm Masterpieces II.
So, in a sense you can’t really compare TV anime from now to anything before 1998, beacuse there was both no bad and no good shows back then because there were well, no shows period. If we compare apples to oranges and compare series now with OVAs then, things are actually pretty terrible for the old school. Generally, there are only at most one or two good OVAs each year, but there were OVA after OVA of panty and nipple shows with a few gore porn shows tossed in with them. I laughed as I started scrolling through the early 90s at anidb where OVA after OVA was tagged like “ecchi pantsu nudity huge breasts boing”.
Once you start at around 1998, then things get a little more interesting because you can compare apples to apples. First off, if you look at absolutes, both then and now are both better and worse. You’d be able to say that back then was better because it had less crap or worse because it had fewer good shows, and vice versa for nowadays. If you use a proportional look, they match up pretty evenly. Back then might be SLIGHTLY better than now simply because of the diminishing returns of having so many more TV anime nowadays than there were back then. There are sometimes more shows in a season now as there were in an entire year back around 2000.
Then, the other important consideration is how you’re defining good and bad. Is it the proportion of good shows to total shows? Good shows to bad shows? Proportion of bad shows to total shows? The absolute number of good or bad shows? While I said above that you can’t compare between seasons directly using absolutes, there is something for saying that when you look at a season and “everything crap” or that there are “so many good shows I can’t watch them all.”
So completely unscientifically comparing the first half to the second half of the 1998-2009 period, here are some conclusions:
1) It seems like most of the growth occured in the middle of the “goodness” continuum, where most of the shows were either niche shows or forgettable throwaway shows. There were diminishing returns both for quality and QUALITY In other words, if you had 33 shows, you might have 6 good shows, 3 bad shows, and 24 middling shows. If you went up to 100 shows, you’d end up with maybe 15 good shows, 5 bad shows, and 80 forgettable ones.
2) Now is better than then if you look at the absolute number of good shows, since you’d ignore mediocre shows that will be forgotten in a few months anyway.
3) Then was better in terms of the ratios of good to bad as there was most likely less bottom-scraping since it was a much smaller market.
4) Now is worse than then if you look at the absolute number of bad shows. You’ll forget the mediocre shows, but truly terrible ones will be remembered.
5) Then was worse than now if you look at the proportion of bad shows to total shows.
And if you really do want to say that “Now” means now while “then” meant 15+ years ago, now is such much better than then in every way.