the “good old days” of anime aren’t comparable to today

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”.

oldschool01

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.

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Every once and a while, I'll write something about those Japanese porno Pokemans cartoons that are STRAIGHT FROM JAPAN but AREN'T KIDS' STUFF. Just not today.

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38 comments on “the “good old days” of anime aren’t comparable to today
  1. Di Gi Kazune says:

    ah ah ah… Dorae~~ mon.

  2. Yumeka says:

    I recently wrote a post about this topic too, but more focused on the shift from cel animation to digital animation. To many long-time fans, it seems that there are more bad shows now simply because there have been more shows coming out in recent years. I think that the then and the now have their share of good shows and bad shows, it just seems like there are more bad/mediocre shows now because the market is so much bigger.

  3. Seinime says:

    Doraemon rocked. Still got some of the manga. Can’t rival the classics.

  4. Ryan A says:

    So, in a sense you can’t really compare TV anime from now to anything before 1998

    This is great, imo, but “then” is somewhat vague as an implication of time from person to person; when ppl use the term “back then” and are referring to 2 days ago, it’s confusing.

    I’m guessing we would need some sort of relevant micro-era breakdown to get more specific, but splitting halfway is fair.

  5. OnyxSyaoran says:

    “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.” Queen’s Blade is an example of that :S

  6. Abi-kun says:

    B-b-but I like those panty nipple oldschool OAV’s way more that all those fog-in-the-strange-places-under-the-shower/bath/onses series of today. :(

  7. jpmeyer says:

    @Yumeka

    You know, I mentally didn’t make the connection, but I guess I do to an extent use the cel/digital divide as “now” and “then” since it does correspond pretty closely to the OVA-based/TV-based dichotomy.

    @Ryan A

    Yeah, that’s exactly why I had to define “then” in a few different ways. I might need to even talk about 2006 as “then”, because that year had a freakishly high number of anime. Over the last 5 years, we’ve had about 100 per year. In 2006, there were about 140, which is almost 50% more! At that point, the absolute number of “good” anime becomes so high it’s hard to watch them all.

    @OnyxSyaoran.

    Exactly. In a few years, people will still be like LOL Queen’s Blade LOL, but won’t be like “You know what show was completely unremarkable? Chrome Shelled Regios.”

    @Abi-kun

    I do have to say that I at least respect those ones more. They are what they are and don’t pussyfoot around. It’s why I’m less annoyed by say, a Queen’s Blade than I am by the unwatchable Rosario + Vampire S2 where the bat censors would cover almost all of the screen.

    The point still remains, of course in that yeah, you’d choose I dunno, Burn Up over remake #4 of Gegege no Kitarou, but man cannot subsist on two episodes of My My Mai alone.

  8. Janette says:

    I have to ask, what of Galaxy Express 999, Harlock, and others that were masterpieces of their time? Although Express has aged well, and Harlock, well, not really.

  9. JohnG says:

    From my point of view, all that really matters is the absolute number of good shows. Because if one year had 5 good shows and 10 bad shows, and another year had 15 good shows and 100 bad shows, year 2 would have been better for me since I ended up watching 15 good shows and no bad shows vs 5 good shows and no bad shows. Cause you see, I only watch the shows I think are good, so bad shows might as well as not exist.

  10. Dm says:

    Great post; I used to wonder why I couldn’t find a lot of shows before 2000.

    The whole endless kid shows reminds me of what the US is going through now, except it might be a couple of decades before their animation…. improves…

    • jpmeyer says:

      One other note: the whole OVA thing doesn’t even begin, of course, until VHS becomes widespread. They first start to pop up in the mid-80s as one-shots, and you don’t really start seeing ones longer than one or two episodes until around 1988.

      So basically, non-kid’s show anime consist of some scattered shows prior to around 1986 (like I said, you are lucky if you only have to go a few years between shows), OVAs for about 10 years, and then TV series for about 10 years. Movies, of course are scattered over the whole time period.

      @Dan

      And not only that, but if you look carefully, there aren’t that many periods when anime production didn’t follow obvious trends. It looked like literally EVERY show during the 80s was a super robot show. Most of the 90s OVAs were panties and nipples. Nowadays, it feels like everything is moe. I wonder if there’s a correlation between people starting to watch in “good” years (like say, 1998 or 2006) versus “bad” years.

  11. Dan says:

    I like/don’t like this specific kind of anime because that’s what I watched when I started watching, but animation studios aren’t/are popping them out during this illogically recent period of time. Now sucks.

    Or alternatively:

    I’m outgrowing my Japanophile/anime stage but I don’t really want to.

  12. Sabrina says:

    Nice read!

    The sad thing about bad anime in all it’s common glory, is that it’s still much better than American Cartoons.

    I personally can stomach “Tenshi Ni Narumon” better that I could something called “Ed! Edd! & Eddy!”

    Things always look better in the past. I used to think Naruto was the greatest thing since water. Now I lie and say I never heard of it. :(

    • jpmeyer says:

      @Sabrina

      At the same time, though, can you stomach Ed! Edd! & Eddy! better than say, Outer Space Time Policeman PsychoArmor DaiGrowLancer XV?

  13. Honoo says:

    I was born at the final edge of the 1980s and yeah, Doraemon still sticks with me till now, and the reason why I’m still watching anime and reading manga (and draw, d’uh). Now currently hoping for a new “Nobita and the Steel Troops” remake.

    However I’m very receptive towards the newer stuff because I’m just a techno-junkie. Err, not quite the correct term, but I just really love seeing anime done in a rather new way following the advancements in technology (from the transition of cel to digital is something I love to hear very much).

    I might have not been in the ages where some of the classic titles are the gem of their time but I do understand that if people really like them in the past that they mention it till now, they must have been really good; but I tend to let go things that are past. So yeah, I’m not comfortable at all with some people yapping “this 60s/70s/80s show is superior than you show blahblahblahblah” every so often and give a remark sounding like “what’s this, a new shit again?” for like, almost every new titles that comes up for a season.

    • jpmeyer says:

      @Honoo

      You know, I wonder if we’re at the point now where it really is true that the only older anime that people would be able to remember (and thus mention) would be ones that are actually genuinely good rather than just nostalgia-tinged.

  14. ToastCrust says:

    To be fair, OVA’s never had to deal with broadcasting station censorship (due to being an OVA, obviously), which is essentially the problem with the fanservice anime these days.

    Granted, the production groups are blatantly exploiting that fact to create raunchy anime and end up having to censor it due to broadcast standards, and then going, “Buy our DVD, which won’t be censored!”

    IIRC, Moetan episode 6 might be roughly where it began to get really ridiculous. Whereas before it’d just be “For the DVD version, we add nipples”.

    Though I wonder if that’s a change in the industry itself, or a tightening of the broadcast standards, actually.

    I mean, there are still plenty of OVA’s that have extremely in-your-face fanservice, though I can’t name any off hand, since I don’t watch them. Well, I think there was a pretty bad one, “Koharu Biyori”? At least judging from the OP. Regardless, fanservice OVA are hardly extinct, lol.

    • jpmeyer says:

      There’s very few fanservice OVAs nowadays like there were 15 years ago, but that’s primarily because there are much fewer OVAs nowadays (and a even larger drop in the percentage of anime output that’s in OVA form). That said, the current model of TV broadcasts with almost unwatchably grating censorship makes those shows de facto OVAs.

      As for censorship, it has definitely tightened in recent years. There was totally nudity in Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross, for example. I don’t know the Japanese S&P guidelines, though.

  15. ToastCrust says:

    Lol, that Minmay shower scene would probably have some random SD Valkyrie flying around her butt nowadays.

  16. ghostlightning says:

    While I watched anime in the ’80s, a disproportionate number of the shows that aired in the Philippines then were a decade old (Mazinger, Mechander, Grendizer, Voltes V, Daimos, Yamato), only Macross and Astroboy stood out for me as shows that aired in the same decade, and only Macross really stuck.

    In the ’90s it was all about Dragonball Z and Kenshin (in terms of series), and then there were the OVAs and films.

    While nostalgia is a very big thing for me, I never really felt that anime was sooooo much better back then, nor do I feel the need to make a statement either way.

    P.S. Little Lord Fauntleroy was a HUEG hit over here in the 80s.

  17. Kids shows still dominate. Of the top ten rated anime in Japan right now, 8 are kids shows.

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2009-07-09/japanese-anime-tv-ranking-june-15-21

    The other two are “One Piece” and “Dragon Ball Kai”.

    • jpmeyer says:

      @SDB

      Heh yeah, we just pretend those shows don’t exist. It’s a different kind of dominance nowadays, though. Back in the day, every show that premiered was a kid’s show, while nowadays there are only a few new kid’s shows each season. The one thing that is similar between now and then is that those shows freaking run forever. Pretty Cure has got to be over 250 episodes by now, and that’s one of the newer shows that’s usually in the top 10!

      @ToastCrust

      I was thinking more like a dancing tuna.

  18. omo says:

    I think there’s the digital/cel divide, which was a big change.

    But also the growth of adult animation in terms of an oav market, pardon the pun…

  19. ewok says:

    quote:and then is that those shows freaking run forever.

    Well, I’ve watched 167 episodes of Inuyasha, and was disappointed at cutting the series…
    I want more Sango X Miroku!
    rant over…

    And fanservice doesn’t usually bother me,unless its really drastic, loli or something… Just annoys me when budget dedicated to it could be used on some good action scenes, or in case of non-action anime, character development.

    What annoys me these days is that I am forced more and more to rely on net sources to identify gems in the sea of craw…

  20. maglor says:

    The problem is you are looking at this with eye of Western anime watcher who didn’t have as much access to anime compared to people in Japan or Korea. Let’s talk how different your perspective is compared to mine for just year 1980

    The following are series of importance among animes that is listed in AniDB.net to have aired in year 1980.

    1. Read Haired Anne ( Anne of Green Gable ) : If you read the novel, you know that this was for someone who is at least 12 years old. This series dealt with several issues that was more important in Asia compared to USA. It also was a series which involved future greats like Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao. This was a stuff aimed at all ages.

    2. The Adventure of Tom Sawyer : The title says it all.

    3. Ashita no Joe : This series is still regarded as one of the greatest manga/anime series ever by those who saw it. Many memes from this series still dominates Korea and Japan

    4. Galaxy Express 999 : You mentioned it.

    5. Hi no Tori 2772: Ai no CosmoZone : Definitely not a kid stuff. Producers are Tezuka Osamu, Sugiyama Taku

    6. Mori wa Ikiteiru : Remake of one of the best animated work made in Soviet Union, with music by Leningrad Symphonic Orchestra. Try to beat that quality of music even in today’s anime series.

    7. The White Whale of Mu : Very underrated series which could have gained more recognition had it not for Gundam, Yamato, lack of animating budget, and slightly inferior script writer.

    8. Towards the Terra (Terra e…) : This controversial series aired in 1980. Remember the recent remake? Although racism and other prejudice is very strong in Asian society, people rarely acknowledged its existence. Series like this challenged this omission, indirectly, making people very uncomfortable. I’m afraid Anime in USA during 1980s were more a fancy of White American males, and I often wonder if there was any slight racist bias in their views of Asian Anime.

    9. Little Women : How often do you see entertainment series based on these classic literary works these days?

    10. Densetsu Kyojin Ideon : This could be considered one of the predecessor to Guren Lagan. In a sense if you mix this anime with some other action/hero stuffs in 1980s, you have Gurren Lagan. For someone as old as I am, Gurren Lagan feels to be a very childish piece of work.

    11. Botchan : Based on Soseki Natume’s 1906 novel, which was one of Japan’s best-selling books.

    12. Ganbare Genki : I remember this boxing series making me cry.

    13. Be Forever Yamato and other Yamato series/movie : In the anime history, Yamato is more famous than Enterprise.

    14. Yami no Teio: Kyuuketsuki Dracula : Toei’s anime adaptation of Marvel Comics “Tomb of Dracula” comic book series.

    15. Tetsuwan Atom (1980) : It is still being remade.

    16. Tetsujin 28-gou (1980) : One of the legendary mecha series.

    17. Cyborg 009: Chou Ginga Densetsu : Cyborg 009 is one of the series that brings out the nostalgia is anime fans 35+ of age.

    These are some of noticeable titles in 1980s for me, and I have omitted many others I have seen. I could go on about all the 1981 series which I don’t think was for the child, or contained materials that captured adults’ attention as well as children’s attention at that time, and even now, and come up with comparable list. I do admit that for people living in USA during 1980s, the animes available to them was lacking in both quantity and quality compared to after 2000 mark; I think more important changes occurred around 2001 compared to 1998. Although I can see why jpmeyer views the history in his way, I wants to make it clear that how state of anime looked to people in Korean and Japan during 1980s was totally different, as they probably got to see more than 10 times the number of series titles compared to anime fans in USA, and that is why most Korean and Japanese Anime Fans of age 35+ still holds 1980s in a special reverence, even though they see all the good stuffs of today.

    • jpmeyer says:

      @Maglor

      Oh, I totally agree. There was almost no perception of anime as well, anime in the United States until around the mid-80s, and then only in a very small fandom centered around college clubs, and therefore no real concept of what anime was like back then. Even the anime that did make it to America was generally stripped of any kind of identifying marks as something othered, both directly (the redubbing) and indirectly (no kinds of advertising in any way stating it was Japanese). There are famous examples like Yamato and Macross, as well as shows that are basically completely forgotten. For example, I remember that Nickelodeon aired Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale anime during the day in the mid-80s, and when I was around four years old my favorite show was Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs (Seijuushi Bismarck). I only discovered that the later was an anime, for example a few years ago when I googled for it and ANN was one of the first results. Any kind of mass perception didn’t really start for another 10 years, so naturally American fans have a skewed conception of what anime is and was.

      Additionally, the whole concept of those quality television (to use the British term) NHK shows is totally foreign in the United States. We don’t have any state-run TV networks like NHK or BBC that would produce shows like those literary adaptations. Not only that, back in the 50s and 60s when TV was new and the government was interested in its utopian educational potential, they encouraged the networks to broadcast programming like that (sometimes getting it from the BBC, as in the case of Civilisation), but ultimately nobody watched it and that phase is generally forgotten. Sesame Street is the only enduring success here.

  21. [...] state of anime and long for the good old days. Then you’ll go back to the good old days, realize they weren’t so great, and return to watching crappy new stuff. You might not enjoy it, but at least watching anime in [...]

  22. omo says:

    Reading Malgor’s comments, I’m not sure if his conclusion was supported by merely “availability” as I see it more like a cultural artifact. An anime about racial diversity would not have been nearly groundbreaking in the 80s in the US as it was in Korea (I wouldn’t be so comfortable bundling Korea with Japan like malgor did, anyways), so it’s less likely to be memorable merely on that ground.

    But that is totally because of cultural differences and not because such-and-such anime existed or not.

  23. animemiz says:

    I always felt that if you’re of the Asain culture there was always an advantage that I really treasure. Even my Asian friend in real life said to me, Don’t compare self to the Western influences.

    The other day I was in the store, I saw this feature on Creamy Mami and was like awww..

    Still I commented this on Google Reader, and now comment it here as well..

    “Ahh good old VHS and OVAs.. am still swimming in VHS at my home, and yes lots of OVA’s when I was growing up.. lol.. I still wonder to this day was it a good idea for Luna Varga to end that way.. “

  24. dm says:

    Let’s see… Maison Ikkoku, Urusei Yatsura, Marmalade Boy, plus the arguably-kid-stuff Nadia, Future Boy Conan all aired before the mid-90s, with Conan airing in the 80s. And don’t forget Lupin III.

    I’ve got to admit that, watching it recently, I think a lot of Nadia‘s appeal is nostalgia.

    I think you should push your 1998 date back at least to 1995 (Evangelion, Nadesico).

    There’s more stuff of all sorts now, I suspect, because the people raised on those old, fine, shows grew into disposable income.

    Finally, comparing 2005-2009 to 1995-1999, I’m not sure which period comes off best. The period that produced Eva, Lain, Cowboy Bebop, Nadesico and a host of less well-remembered series (Kodocha, Outlaw star) or the more recent period. It could just be that I’m old and jaded (there have certainly been some fine shows produced in recent years, it just seems like the late nineties had an unusually large number of good series).

    • jpmeyer says:

      @dm

      From a history I read, the whole late-night UHF broadcast thing begins directly after Evangelion’s success. Evangelion was actually in the Saturday morning cartoon slot at first before getting moved to prime time. Since it didn’t finish airing until mid-96, and because it takes months to create a new show, the earliest you could really see this effect would be in 1997. I used 1998 as the starting point because of the much higher number of titles compared to 1997.

      As for the older shows, it’s easy to rattle off a list of titles from 1970-1995 that are considered good shows or classics. The point, though is that it’s hard to find more than one or two shows each year that are “good”, with “good” in quotes more in the sense that it’s a general audience show like Gundam or Ashita no Joe. With OVAs during 1986-1997 or so, it’s actually even worse because at least during the really old days, you’d get the occasional that Gundam or Ashita no Joe which would run for at least 50 episodes, while even if you got lucky and there were say, 5 good OVAs in a year, that provided you with only 25 or so episodes.

      Part of my issue with going way before the OVA era is that these shows aired long before most current anime fans were even born and long before anime as a concept existed in America, so I’m not really sure how to read discussions of a lot of those shows. For example, Gundam is still good, but something like Mazinger Z or Getter Robo when I tried to watch it was just the same thing over and over again. I like mecha, but I quit those after like 10 episodes (and there was still like 75 more to go.) So I take comments regarding those older shows from American fans with a large grain of salt. I wonder if some of it is just like the equivalent of those pop culture references that keep getting repeated but without any context (“The future’s so bright I need to wear shades” sort of thing)?

      (And if you don’t like robots or sci-fi, don’t even bother looking for anything before the 80’s. Your only other alternatives are the occasional sports show like Star of the Giants. Once you get to the 80s there starts to be a lot more variety)

      (Also, holy shit, Noozles was also an anime. I swear, Nickelodeon in the mid-80s was loaded with that stuff, and I’m only finding out it was anime now since it was never marketed that way.)

      (It doesn’t help too that you need time before something can be labeled a classic. I usually like 10 years. So obviously it’s hard because we can’t look at say, 2006 and see what’s a classic. It’s only those shows from the beginning of our current period like Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop or Card Captor Sakura that have that time.)

  25. dm says:

    The point, though is that it’s hard to find more than one or two shows each year that are “good”, with “good” in quotes more in the sense that it’s a general audience show like Gundam or Ashita no Joe.

    Well, yes. But that’s true today, too. I think there’s maybe one show every year that I expect to return to in ten years’ time — and sometimes that’s because two shows that appear together after a two-year drought. But that’s been true since I started watching seriously in the mid-90s. And Nadia was 1993, so that might push it back to the early 90s (though, as I said, Nadia is pushing the nostalgia button for me more than anything else). And Maison Ikkoku was a year or two before that, along with the Patlabor TV series, so now we’re talking early nineties, late eighties.

    Other than Patlabor, I’ve never been interested in the powered-suit/giant-robot genre, by the way.

    • jpmeyer says:

      Hell, for me it might even be lower than one. My comparison though was more about “watchable” good rather than “classic” good.

  26. omo says:

    I think what’s watchable good is a low standard, ultimately, that if the industry was capable of churning the quantity of titles it does today, back in the late 80s, we would have a lot of watchable good shows.

    The bigger problem, as I see it, is the difficulty of evaluating old shows with today’s perspective. It’s just hard to see how good something was when you are exposed to something that’s arguably an improvement on the same concept, years later.

  27. ItAintEazy says:

    (Also, holy shit, Noozles was also an anime. I swear, Nickelodeon in the mid-80s was loaded with that stuff, and I’m only finding out it was anime now since it was never marketed that way.)

    I blame that neocon Haim Saban and his power rangers.

  28. drmchsr0 says:

    jp, when you said 15 years ago, that’s 1998. And by 1998, there were a few good shows.

    GaoGaiGar aired in 1997, for example. Macross 7 (though that’s extremely debatable) in 1995, ALSO G GUNDAM (MY HAND GLOWS WITH AN AWESOME POWER, AND IT IS TELLING ME TO TOUCH BUTT, GET FUZZY) in 1994. And then there was that Anno show called Neon Genesis Evangelion, which was made in response to the FUCK TON OF SUPER ROBOT ANIMU then. Yes, the 1990s were pretty much LOL SUPER ROBOTS. And, uh, Nadesico.

    But if you said 25 years ago, then I’d understand. LUPIN THE THIRRRRRRRRRRRRRD (only the movies), Gundam, SDF Macross, I mean, if you threw me a few titles from the 80s, I’d be lost.

  29. Solaris says:

    Hi i am the starter of that big discussion on Star Crossed. This post and comments are very good. If you read Star Crossed you alredy know my opinion about the matter.
    It’s a pity I’ve noticed so late the discussion moved here too.

  30. [...] Mayor Jaypee wrote something about the good old days too. But I do not know what he is trying to [...]

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