What Qualifies As “Classic” Anime?

Artist: Fukumaki Neco

Artist: Fukumaki Neco

The colors of the foliage changing, temperatures beginning to chill, and days getting slightly longer despite the rays of twilight being quickly swallowed by the night. Yes, it is certainly Autumn. With such a season being the harbinger of the holidays, it also means rest for many working and weary souls like myself. Of course, instead of enjoying the pleasure and bounty nature has to offer, I get to catch up on my hobbies work has been depriving me of – anime in particular. However, instead of catching up on the current lineup or revisiting past seasons, I will be going a little further back – think 1980’s up until the new millennium. It has always been a tradition of mine around this time (more like November really) every year to hit up the titles of yesteryear or classics as some would say. But what exactly defines or means for an anime to be classic?


When uttering the word “classic” a few choice descriptors come to mind. Old, enduring, time-honored, and something that defines a generation. Growing up as one of those latchkey kids from the 90’s, titles such as: Pokémon, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, and many others were keystone series and defining names for me before I even had handle on what the medium even was. Sure, most of those have definitely earned their place in time and persist to this day on a global scale, yet to be honest, they are more nostalgic to me (and maybe others of that period) than anything else and part of the reason why I would consider them being up in the pantheon of timeless series. Not to downplay or ignore the aforementioned titles impact in both the west and the homeland, however, I do believe that there is more than age or fan favor that contributes to a series longevity.

Take Akira for example: long before notable anime licensing arms like Funimation or Sentai Filmworks were a glimmer in someone’s eye, anime producers had the herculean task of pitching series here. Among the handful that gained cult status, the film Akira would be one that universally sticks out and still receives a lot of adulation. With an out-of-the world setting, animation, and most likely one of the most graphic when it came to violence (at the time), you can think of it as a trendsetter and something most (western audience anyway) haven’t seen before. I’m not one to be impressed by shock value alone, yet for titles like Akira that manage to elevate themselves far beyond style, scope, and genre – different so to speak, that is one major point I feel that embodies a classic. Then again, different doesn’t always translate into memorable – so many viewers can probably compile a list of titles that the fit category better than I.

akria-original-posterHowever, while I did list off a bunch of “aged” series, I do also believe that most titles considered classic don’t necessarily have to be ancient. Besides enduring the passage of time or leaving a mark by doing things different, I feel that most classics represent ideas and views that have been forgotten or completely discarded as well as bringing a taste of modernism to them. Take the works of Hayao Miyazaki: most of his films deal with the ebb and flow of time not only as a vehicle for story, but something we can also see on the surface. Works like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke represent concepts unique to Japanese folklore, yet also deal with progressive issues people today can relate or could relate to. Not to mention that the latter also is the first of Miyazaki’s work to use both traditional and modern animation techniques – a bridge between the old and new. Looking at those to come after like Mamoru Hosoda with Summer Wars or Makoto Shinkai with Children Who Chase Lost Voices you can certainly see a similar type of dynamic going on whether it be in the content or overall production itself.

In the end, I guess what can be considered classic pretty much rests with the individuals of each era when you think about it. Just because we don’t understand or get the works of those like Shakespeare, Frost, Kafka, or Thoreau for example – they still do hold on to something emblematic of the era and of the people who lived in it. Heck, some of those authors weren’t appreciated when they were alive, so find it humorous we are so enamored with them today. At any rate before I start rambling on about literary figures, I suppose I’m making a big deal out a word and like all words, the meaning tends to morph with the times and people who existed. What about you? Any anime, films, books, etc you consider “classics”? What does the word mean to you?

2 thoughts on “What Qualifies As “Classic” Anime?

  1. For me a classic has to be exceptional and stand the test of time. I wouldn’t class any new shows as a classic because we would have to wait and see if their legacy withstands repeated viewings or if they were a flash in the pan.

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