Otaku in the 90s

Note: I’m basically talking out of my butt for this one. If there are any big mistakes, let me know.

When I watch 90s anime it’s always kind of a weird experience. Despite growing up with the stuff, each time I start on any given 90s title, I feel a little lost. This is probably because when I’m watching a 90s show, I’m watching it completely out of context.

Let me explain. If I were to watch something made in the 1960s, I’d watch it knowing that a lot of the shows made in the 60s were Astro Boy clones. If I were to watch something made in the 1970s, I’d watch it knowing the climate of fandom in the 70s, and so on. I’ve learned about various decades’ fandom through literature and anime like Genshiken and Otaku no Video, but each time I turn on some 90s show, I come to the realization that I know almost nothing about that decade’s fandom in Japan. Aside from reading the Notenki Memoirs, my knowledge of 90s fandom is very limited. As such, I’m wondering– are there any anime or manga titles that depict fandom in the 1990s?

Not knowing about the era in which any given show was made is a really off putting experience for me now, given the wealth of knowledge I’ve accumulated about anime and its fans over the years. It’s similar to being thrown into a random town I’ve never been to before, and trying my best to find my way around. Knowledge of the era in which a show was made really helps frame my experience and enhance it. My viewings of Space Adventure Cobra and Macross: Do You Remember Love were severely enhanced by my multiple viewings of Otaku no Video (and in turn, my later viewings of Otaku no Video were also enhanced) and shows like Genshiken worked as a good primer to prepare me as I was becoming a proper modern otaku. But what of the 90s? Where’s the show that talks about the impact of Evangelion on the fandom, the bursting of the bubble, and all that?

The 90s strike me as an interesting period for anime, as it seems like a very transitional time for the medium. Studios had to cope with lower budgets, and character designs were gradually getting simpler, leading us to today’s current moe aesthetic. As early as 1992, just a few years off the heals of the Crusher Joe OVAs and Akira, you already had shows like Tenchi sporting a harem of hot girls, plus one cute loli! You can see a lot of current day moe trends develop through titles like Evangelion, with its cast of 14 year old kids, to Nadesico’s deadpan Ruri, up to Card Captor Sakura’s Sakura in 1998 (but I guess technically that’s shoujo. Then agian, lots of perverts in the 80s got off to Nanako SOS and Minky Momo, but that’s another discussion all together.)

The kinds of stories you had were a little mixed up, too. Tenchi, one of the earliest harem shows, puts as much focus on the girls as it does on space battles and SF nonsense. Nadesico, while on one hand is a traditional space story also has strong comedy elements and plants a lot of seeds for future moe archetypes. Racier OVAs like Devil Hunter Yohko and Agent Aika manage to deliver tons of fanservice while still being well done action pieces.

Another thing that makes the 90s absolutely fascinating is that by that time, the people who were making these shows completely changed. Rather than having your Yoshiyuki Tominos and Leiji Matsumotos writing this stuff based on real world experiences, you had goofballs like Hideaki Anno who made silly Ultraman videos in college producing anime. Fans were making the stuff now. Because of this, works became increasingly fan-aware, which brought about fanservice and things like that.

I want to see a work depicting the climate of that era. I want to see how people were affected by the changes in their medium of choice. I want to see how eroge came to be. I want to see how people were touched and shocked by Evangelion. I want see how the word moe gradually came into widespread use.

So, guys, is there anything like that out there? I don’t care if it’s in raw Japanese– I will watch it! Or read it. Or something.

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17 Responses to Otaku in the 90s

  1. Toonleap says:

    Well, the anime I watched during the 90`s were:
    Devil Hunter Yohko, Nuku Nuku, 801 Airbats, Iria, Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo,…The 90`s were cool.

  2. Link says:

    Magic User’s Club, Utena, Slayers, and Hime-chan’s Ribbon are a few of my favorite 90s series. They really don’t make series like 90s anime anymore, which is both positive and negative at the same time.

  3. BrendantheJedi says:

    I typically measure the features of a decade in relation to Gundam (Gundam is, perhaps a good berometer to the state of the industry, since Gundam is often altered by the industry around it). The 90’s were a time where DBZ was popluar, and featured the rise of the Shonen tournament anime, and featured the return of the super robot genre (G Gundam). Older franchises often suffered painful new changes due to changes in terms of budget (F91), often choosing to recreate the wheel. The decade also saw a surgence in the female audience, due the rise of the shojo genre (Wing, Wing Endless Waltz).

  4. moonspeaker says:

    Ummm…. actually Brendan, Wing and G didn’t have so much to do with super-robot re-emergence or shojo becoming popular, those were rather aftereffects. G, Wing, and X all came out during the 90s to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Gundam, and supposedly some of the producers wanted to try creating spinoff gundam series that didn’t have to do with Universal Century. That’s about as much as I know though on that….and that G Saviour also came out of that mess…

    It’s kind of weird though…the 90s is a bit of a blur for me too in terms of Japanese fandom. Ironic that we were around during that time yet compared to even the 70s and 80s we don’t know much by comparison…

  5. bixnood says:

    gundam wing, sailor moon, cardcaptor sakura… DON’T JUDGE ME! D:<

    on second thought, i think those are all late 90’s shows that stretch into the 00’s

  6. mt-i says:

    Perhaps Okada Toshio’s Otakugaku Nyūmon? It was written in 1996, so it doesn’t cover the late 90s, but it has quite a few comments about what it was like to be an otaku in those days. It seems to have been pretty tough times for the fandom–the word “otaku” itself was off-limits on the NHK, as the dust from the Tokyo-Saitama murder case still had to settle.

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  8. Hinano says:

    When I think of 90s anime I think of a ton of shadow effects everywhere, really long pointy noses (so sharp you could cut paper with them) and ridiculous amounts of still pose scenes and recycled footage (like sailormoon’s tsukini kawatte oshiokiyo).

    I dunno I have a pretty clear image of 90s anime, then again the majority of my first 2 years of anime fandom was spend catching up on shows from 1992-1999 :P

  9. omo says:

    The 90s is when anime fandom broke out in Japan fer realz. It was no longer the stronghold of the few but when the few turned pro, the money has to come from somewhere.

    The early 90s was particularly memorable for some of the ground breaking OAV and movies personally. And to echo that TV anime was also diversifying, which was inadvertently caused by the plethora of shounen fighting/sports anime that surged around the late 80s early 90s and it gave incentive for people to make something new (crowded markets and all that). Romantic sitcoms also took off in the early 90s, which paved the way for the harem and eroge adaptations of today. Tenchi Muyo is a common example but that one was more notable for its spinoff effects, and how successful it was given it was marketed to the otaku. The ripple effects from some late 80s shows like Akira, KOR or Patlabor were pretty big in the early 90s as well. Those were the “Gundam” shows of the time and people like Oshii and Otomo are some of the more subtle forces that shaped the scene in the 90s. The late 80s and early 90s is also when Studio Ghibli really made the name for itself.

    The mid and late 90s were most notable, IMO, with the changes in the anime industry: new production methods and business methods, and a growing market. At the same time the industry was growing and there was room to innovate and experiment. Things like Gonzo, for example… There was also the general rise in video gaming and how that played a part in the anime scene as we know it; manga isn’t the only original thing we can spin into anime anymore.

    If all you can gleam from the 70-80-90s are stuff you read (which at this point is more opinion than history), then I think WAH already has a good idea of how it was.

  10. BrendantheJedi says:


    Turn A Gundam and G Saviour were the only Gundam series that were explicitly made for the 20th Aniversery. I guess you’re technically right that G Gundam was made in accordence to an aniversry, the 15th. Wing wasn’t specifically created to cater to the shoujo audience, but it was indeed hit by the after effects of the popular Sailor Moon (as much as I hate mentioning it), and Card Captor Sakura is also another anime that easily shows the rise of Shoujo era. However, G Gundam was not the first instance of the resurgence in super robots, Gunbuster was the anime that arguably started that trend. Also X was meerly created off the couttails of Wing, and failed out of a general fatigue of Gundam (and shitty timeslots).

  11. digitalboy says:

    Ah, I’ve really taken a liking to the style of things in a lot of 90s shows – it’s a very confusing sort of fealing. You can feel that they were trying to experiment with the medium as a whole, especially in shows like Eva, Utena and Nadesico, and there are some great early genre shows. I can’t claim to know too much about the 90s because I’ve only barely tapped it in my journey to view as much 90s crap as possible, but I think it definitely was a major transitional period like omo said.

  12. moonspeaker got it a bit wrong. I think he did mean 15th anniversary. But yeah, Sunrise approached 3 different creative teams and asked them to do their own take on Gundam for the 15th anniversary, those being G, W and X.

    Otakugaku Nyūmon? There’s not much English info on it, but I assume it’s a book? I guess I’ll read that when I get my JLPT 1 orz

  13. roast-beefy says:

    You should watch Utena. It’s got a strong-willed female lead who dresses like a guy and doesn’t cook meals for anyone. You’d love it.

  14. moonspeaker says:

    1979+20 = 1999
    1979+15 = 1994

    Oops…my bad…that was my dumb mistake. I knew it was an anniversary thing but apparently linear matrix based algebra killed my basic arithmetic. Well, apparently you guys understood the gist of what I was saying anyway, thanks wildarmsheero and brendan for correcting me on that…

    It’s unfortunate X failed though…it truly was a great gundam series by comparison to G, Turn A, and dare I say Wing (even though Wing was my original favorite). The main character was plausibly professional at his trade and he had all the stuff that made Duo cool in him without the questionable sexuality added in (albeit that was mostly by female fans but still).

  15. mt-i says:

    Yeah, it’s an essay, and one you can read through with much less than a JLPT 1 (which I don’t have either). You can lookup “Introduction to Otakuology”, it seems to turn up a few hits on Google. I wish some of those books would get translated into English, though. It’s not that Patrick Macias is not a good read, but it would be nice if more people could learn about the Japanese otaku from the Japanese otaku themselves.

  16. Well considering I only have 2 semesters of Japanese under my belt, I probably still wouldn’t be able to read it :(

  17. A Non-E-Moose says:

    Goddamn, the 90s were superior…