Last night, John and I finished rewatching the Gundam Zeta compilation movies. While the 50-episode show originally aired in 1985, at least half of that original footage was digitally reanimated in 2005 for the movies.
The result is unintentionally hilarious. Each scene’s animation style slides forward or backward 20 years, seemingly at random. One moment, faces and machines look smooth and polished, the next they’re scribbley and hand drawn.
For example, here’s protagonist Kamille originally drawn in 1985:
While we can credit some of this animation improvement to modern technology, a lot of it has to do with the fact that, in 2005, the Gundam franchise saw more value in spending time and money on animation than it did 20 years before. I think we can agree that the above capture was never on the cutting edge of animation, even at its time.
After all, it didn’t make economic sense to put big productions on Gundam Zeta. The creators were already taking a big risk with the show. Nobody expected Gundam Zeta — or any show like it — to be as big a hit as it was.
Since its inception, anime has changed a lot. It’s certainly gotten easier on the eyes. As it’s gotten picked up in America, it’s also gotten easier on my wallet. And even when I don’t purchase anime, I can watch it on Netflix or cable. Because whether we admit it or not, anime is mainstream now.
Let’s take a look at another show I’ve been watching lately, Tiger and Bunny.
In terms of animation style, this show is as advanced as you can get. No more of the low level production values of Zeta in the 80’s — today’s anime is no gamble; it’s good business. That goes especially for Tiger and Bunny, where you’ll be viewing advertisements whether you’re watching the show on Hulu or not.
In Tiger and Bunny, corporations sponsor heroes, like namesakes Tiger and Bunny, to fight crime. Heroes are highly evolved humans with special powers (more like X-Men than Newtype) who beat up bad guys while brandishing advertisements all over their suits. But while heroes are made up, these ads are for real companies. Bunny, for one, shills for both Amazon.co.jp and Bandai whenever he dons armor.
It doesn’t matter whether you think this is a clever product placement or a total sell-out. It’s still a complete game changer in the anime world, where companies once preferred to invent fake brands like Somy than step on any corporate toes. Until recently, anime wouldn’t have been able to give the big guns anything on their return investment. But clearly, that’s all changed.
At Otakon, I attended Anime News Network’s panel on anime journalism. One of the panelists said, “Anime has always been cheap and weird. But that’s part of why we like it.” But now that anime is lucrative and conventional, will the longtime fans stick with it?
I think we will. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been spoiled by today’s convenience. I certainly don’t miss swapping VHS tapes with my friends. And while it was fun in middle school to create my own Gundam Wing school supplies with a color printer and lots of glue, today I prefer having the option to buy official merchandise.
If you’re nostalgic for the anime of the past, try watching Gundam Zeta without the digitally remastered scenes. When you get over its vintage novelty, you too will develop an appreciation for how far anime has come.
P.S. You can still vote for my SXSW panel submission: Trekkies, geeks and furries oh my! Covering fandom. I’d really appreciate it!