I’ve been watching a bunch of old anime. Tons available on YT now that I couldn’t get my hands on for so long. Mostly cyberpunk stuff, mostly late 80s up to mid 90s. After that Golden Age, quality goes down hard.

They’re quite corny. And sexist as hell. But they have a vibe, some good animation. I feel the ambition, trying to be as sleek and movie-like as they could be. I love the use of synthesizers’ “Orchestral Hit”, it’s probably one of the only time ever when they’re appropriate. They just work well with the color palette and the questionable edits. Same with the sound effects. Maybe it’s just early digital audio nostalgia.

But also, business! I’m fascinated by Japan’s way of doing things. How OVAs came up to exist. How animation was tied to toys (so they had to invent machines, robots and spaceships to not only populate the story, but also the stores; yes that’s why there was so many mecha stuff in 70s/80s/early 90s). How they competed to get the contract. How they would struggle to find the best quality possible within a budget. How they wanted to do better than competition. The perfect mix of experimentation, creativity and commerciality of their products. Imagine:

Big company: “hey, we need someone to make us some anime that sells toys too.”

*small companies battle*

Big company: “Ok small company 001, you won the bid.”

Small company: “Cool. Here’s the universe.”

*Big company abides*

Small company: “by the way, it’s going to be too hard to make it fit for TV. Let’s release this on video in a weird way, like 4 episodes, 2 that are 30mn long and 2 that are 50mn long. We know, it’s weird. But that should work better.”

Big company: “Go on. But don’t forget to make cool designs for our toy line!”

Of course, tons of those studios died. An amazing amount of work was poured into those anime by anonymous artists. Most of those studios didn’t make it through the 2000s. If they did, it was by pushing commerciality up a notch, and production quality down by two.

The legacy is huge though. Universes that inspired many artists. The OVA format is the first video format ever made that kind of encouraged binge-watching. The first format that fits perfectly between a TV show episode and a whole movie. Back in 1983.

Oh, Japan. What would I have become without you?

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