What is Old School Anime?

This is just a little question for my dear readers.  I once argued with someone about the definition of Old School anime.  He argued that the term covered 90’s anime, while I said that it did not apply to 90’s anime.  I’m curious what the consensus is on what qualifies as Old School anime.  So, I’m placing a poll below asking about which decades you think this term applies.


My opinion is that the 90’s counts as a transitional period from the old, hand-drawn cell method of animation to the more computerized version of animation we see in the 21st century.  I just refer to anime from that decade as “90’s anime.”  (You might say that we’ve entered another transitional period starting in around 2015, where CGI animation is becoming more used and accepted.)  I call 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s anime Old School, while anything before the 60’s is simply ancient.  (I ran a search on anime made during the 50’s on Anime-Planet, and the only thing I recognized was Hakujaden, aka The Legend of White Snake or Panda and the Magic Serpent.)  But, I imagine that some of my readers might call 60’s anime or even 70’s anime ancient.  At any rate, please satisfy my curiosity below.

Thanks for participating!

13 comments on “What is Old School Anime?

  1. Foxfier says:

    I don’t know the dates for stuff, but it seems more stylistic than anything else– the top image looks pretty clearly old-school, similar to that run of classic books made into anime (Little Women, Swiss Family Robinson, I know there were others but those are the two I remember); Slayers and Fairy Tail is more “modern,” and then CGI is CGI.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also think of the difference as mostly stylistic. There are fewer animators than mangaka. Whenever something gets animated, the mangaka’s artistry tends to become morphed by whatever style is prevalent in the anime studios. For example, Rumiko Takahashi has a pretty consistent style, but the anime of Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura, Inuyasha, and Rinne seem to have animation styles conforming more the the decade in which they were produced. D. Gray Man is an anime which comes to mind where the style changes drastically from the manga. It’s rather hard to describe the differences in style, but one knows them when one sees them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karandi says:

    I think I use the term old school for anything before the 90’s but that’s probably because I became aware of anime in the 90’s (kind of) and anything before then feels old by default. I don’t think there’s any actual reason in terms of style of technique that actually defines where I feel old school anime exists. And that’s probably how a lot of people determine when it starts, so younger watchers would think most of the 90’s stuff is old school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re probably right. Most of my first anime were 90’s shows and movies with a few from the 80’s (Vampire Hunter D and Robotech come to mind). So, that probably influences how I think of the term “old school” also. I put up the poll to see what the general consensus was.

      But, I do think that the 90’s have a peculiar style of character animation. People commented that Arpeggio of Blue Steel (2013) had a “90’s style character design.” That might also be why I consider the 90’s their own thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. MIB says:

    For kids these day, anything older than last month is “old school”… 😛

    I personally use the term “old school” for pre-millennium anime purely because that is when the artwork and character designs changed drastically from the stern, sharp featured figures to the more cutesy round faced version of today.

    The 80’s still had that cartoonish look about it (Dragonball) and the 90’s, as you rightly say, marked the transition away from that. The new millennium stuff is a combination of the two, but CGI has afforded much clearer and sharper detail whilst 90’s material still have their dusty, flat veneer that recalls cell drawn animation.

    So I think anything that is pre-digital age (analogue still existed as recently as three years ago lest we forget) and that includes much of the 90’s anime is “old school” for me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • After looking at the poll results, I’m going to concede that one should probably lump in the 90’s with the old school anime prior to that decade. But, you’re right that young fans consider everything older than a month as old school: a couple of people even voted on the “all anime prior to 2005” option!

      I should have yet another post up on this topic soon. Your comment and others have better focused my thoughts on this subject. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Luminas says:

    In my case I tend to think of anything from the 60s-80s as “old school anime,” but it may be more appropriate to say my position is “anything post mid-90s.” Sailor Moon was made in the early and mid 90s and the way it is drawn episode to episode strongly invokes the idea of old school anime. Dragonball Z is a bit ambiguous, but I’d put it (even though it was concurrent with Pokemon and Sailor Moon) as slightly younger than “old school anime.” Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop are in rather the same place as Dragonball Z.

    Utena is a really interesting case, because Utena is jaw-droppingly beautiful. That is, while it was technically *drawn* using old-school cel animation, there weren’t hundreds of episodes to this thing, and so there wasn’t as straightforward a need to quickly draw the backgrounds and characters. Compare Thundercats (not an anime) or even Sailor Moon to Utena. Those first two shows show a lot of the budget constraints of long-form shows of that period. Utena does to an extent (repeated visual sequences, anyone? :p ) but again there’s a lot less of the flat, dusty look to it.

    Then there are the movies. Look at any movie set in the future that was made in the 80s and you’ll realize that movies like that were in a class all their own. Intricate, careful technological shading by hand that can’t even be duplicated by computers all that well, particle effects, character detail, you name it. The Sailor Moon movies look so much better than the regular show that there’s almost no basis for even comparing them aside from art style.

    So while the issue may be stylistic, I think it may have to be time period and circumstance as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, after reading everyone’s comments about what makes an anime old school, I’ve come to the conclusion that the concept must include the idea of being created for a wider audience than children or at least having a strong appeal for teenagers and adults. That might be the real thing which separates old school anime from what I term ancient anime (anything before 1960). By which argument, Ashita no Joe might very well be the progenitor of old school anime.

      I really need to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena: it’s one of the few classics I have not yet made time for. But, everyone says that it’s great.


  5. When I think of “school” it’s “school of thought” or “way of doing things” in this case, so when I think “old school”, it would probably be cell-shaded, hand-drawn vs CGI. But it could also be in regards to scene layering techniques: photographed vs computer-assembled (both based on hand-drawn frames). Or we could talk about the directing techniques, camera angles, general story plots, etc – techniques shared by companies at a given time. The transitional periods for different techniques overlap each other, and one tech or technique replaces another, so there’s more than one “old school”.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s worth arguing over ambiguous semantics like this. I’m “young” to some and “old” to others. Am I “old school”? XS

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, you’re right that it’s not worth arguing about these things too much. For my part, I’m going to concede that 90’s anime is in fact old school. In return, I want other people to refer to anime before the 1960’s as ancient. 🙂 However, it might be more accurate to term everything before 1965 as ancient. I think that a combination of the animation and target audience distinguishes old school anime from ancient anime and modern anime. At any rate, a post will be up soon in which I more tightly define the term “old school anime”–at least, as tightly as I can manage.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ospreyshire says:

    That’s a fascinating post. I’ve been guilty of calling 80s anime old-school before. Instead, I force myself to say retro instead. Then again, I also like Kimba the White Lion which came out in the 60s, so that would fit the parameters of old-school anime. Hahaha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually made some changes on what I define as old school–and the 80’s definitely count: https://medievalotaku.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/further-ruminations-on-old-school-anime/. You might still dub them retro if you like. I’ve never heard anyone debate over what counts as a “retro anime,” but I’d be inclined to refer to any anime older than one decade as such.

      After taking a closer look at the 60’s, I decided to lump those, including Kimba the White Lion, with the ancient category. You’ll see why in the post I linked to above. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • ospreyshire says:

        Gotcha. I think calling something retro has more wiggle room with things made in previous decades. Also, what could be modern now could be retro in a decade or two.

        I did check out the link. Thank you! Those are some interesting parameters for separating old-school anime and ancient ones. Using Kimba under those parameters, it would be looking at it because it was the first anime TV series to be created in color, uses cels in addition to hand-drawn stuff, and the Disney influence…well, even though Tezuka was influenced by Walt, we all know which Disney movie literally wouldn’t exist without this anime and that’s all I’m going to say so no one catches feelings. Hahaha!

        In all seriousness, I can see defensible things with your argument in dating kinds of anime. It can be fun checking out anime’s history though.

        Liked by 1 person

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