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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