Are We Experiencing a Retro Anime Gold Rush? – This Week in Anime

With shows like the original Urusei Yatsura and GTO coming to Netflix, Chris and Lucas take a deep dive into the retro anime world to answer the question: “Are we getting more releases and re-releases of older anime than ever before?”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Spoiler Warning for discussion of the following series: Urusei Yatsura (1981), Minky Momo (mentioned), GTO, Golden Boy, Spice and Wolf (2007), Blood Blockade Battlefront, Brave Bang Bravern!, Attack on Titan, Dirty Pair, and Gunbuster are currently streaming on Crunchyroll, while GTO, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean are streaming on Netflix.

Berserk (1997), Lovely Complex, and Gunbuster are available on Blu-ray from Discotek, while Baccano! is available via Aniplex.


Chris

Lucas, the new anime season is upon us, and the streaming services have already started rolling out some new freshness. Look, Crunchyroll just released a bunch of new episodes of that 2022 hit, Urusei Yatsura!



Meanwhile, Netflix just started simulcasting something called…GTO?



Huh, an eclectic selection so far, to be sure, but at least they’ve got a lot of episodes out already.
Lucas

Yeah know what, I appreciate the effort but I’m a firm believer in the “you never have to give it to ’em” mentality. I won’t be happy until the best version of Urusei Yatsura, the British dub, is on Blu-Ray shelves across the world!
At least the subtitlers have your back on that one.

Ah, dehydrated piss yellow. The color of all anime subtitles until like 2012 for some reason.

But we are seeing a renaissance of older anime with IP rights that are probably wonky cropping up in surprising places and that’s fun! Reminds me of that stretch in the 2010s when the streaming landscape was still a battleground and some cult-hit anime would end up in WEIRD places.

That does still happen to some degree today if your definition of “weird” is “free streaming services that most people forget are official and legal,” but I digress. The past month or so has seen some high-profile drops. Crunchyroll picked up formative magical girl classic Fairy Princess Minky Momo not long after we invoked it here on TWIA (yes I am taking credit), as well as the entire 1981 TV adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi‘s seminal sitcom, the aforementioned Urusei Yatsura.



Actually, huh, that was another one we mentioned in the column a little bit back. I’m not saying we have superpowers or anything, but dang, it sure does suck that no one is streaming Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~ anywhere!

Damn, I’ve been a part of TWIA for like a month now, when do those psychic powers kick in???

Take it from me, sometimes they’re more akin to the curse of Cassandra.

This might be my journo brain spinning but, for as cool as it is that these older and quietly seminal series are now more widely and legally available, I’m WAY more interested in the business negotiations that led to this licensing.

Who approached whom? What’s the monetary dimension of these kinds of releases? How the hell did HIDIVE NOT pick up the streaming rights to the original Urusei Yatsura when they became the home of the remake?

These are the questions that keep me up at night…(beyond the usual existential dread, of course).

For what it’s worth, Urusei Yatsura‘s just repeating the tradition of previous rebooted classics like Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Kino’s Journey, which also saw their versions split between Crunchy and HIDIVE. Licensing agreements work in mysterious ways.



I’ll note that exclusivity isn’t always a part of this equation, either. GTO‘s arrival on Netflix is underscored by the fact that it’s been on Crunchyroll for years now. Rather, it’s that it’s spread to another platform, along with these other recent uploads of older series, that piques my curiosity about how much value these streaming services see in “old” anime.

Or, how much value any company in the anime industry sees in series that aren’t at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist or a part of a seasonal release push?

Look, I was trying to go with a definition of “old” that wouldn’t make me feel too old.

Like, back in college, I stumbled onto all of the 1997 Berserk anime on YouTube. And, even as the series has only gotten more popular and even had a proper Blu-Ray release thanks to Discotek. By the way, all of those episodes are still up on YouTube!



Lol, come to think of it, I don’t think I know how old you are, Chris. Is 1997 old to you???
I’m at least old enough that I can remember when watching unauthorized anime uploads on YouTube was the only way we had to stream it. And we had to watch it in three parts, uphill both ways, in the snow!



My aching joints aside, Discotek‘s a solid enough sidebar to take in this conversation, given I suspect their licensing and release of the Urusei Yatsura TV series is likely a factor in it getting the Crunchyroll-out. The boutique disc company made a fan-favorite career out of licensing old Intergalactic Defender Linguini-core anime. Several of those have popped up on streaming services before as well, though they often trended towards the appropriately named RetroCrush.
Hmmm, yes…so you’re telling me the inexplicably controversial dub of Lovely Complex will be hitting streaming platforms soon? Likely, reigniting already hashed out conversations because it’s 2024 and online discourse can never die???



But you are touching on a larger truth that I’ve struggled with for a while. A lot of folks in the anime community are rightfully upset that physical media releases are becoming rarer and that a lot of licensors don’t seem to care much for the history of this community and art form.

But on the other hand, we’re getting more releases and re-releases of older anime than ever before! Also, as far as I can tell, anime preservation is may be in the best state it’s ever been.

I know things aren’t perfect and, once again, I know you never have to give it to ’em; but I don’t think you can expect corporations to go beyond the market demand for providing a product or service. Right now it seems like exactly enough older anime are being re-released or re-homed to match what the broader community is willing to shell out for them.

Hmm, I don’t know that I’d say preservation is the “best” it’s ever been, especially recording this as we are right around the time the Funimation streaming service has been officially sunset, with no alternative home in sight for dozens upon dozens of shows.

You can now no longer watch Samurai Flamenco officially in English here unless you’ve got that UK BD box set and a region-free player. Hardly ideal.

Still, I won’t deny that the appearance of series like Minky Momo and Urusei Yatsura showing up on the biggest name in town—anime-streaming-wise—does underscore some appreciable convenience in the current situation. It’s pretty cool that I was able to rock up with little effort and check out classics like Ruin Explorers and Golden Boy, which had always been talked up to me by other anime fans.

You’re right to push back on me for that take. Everyone who’s been in the anime community for long enough can think of an anime that’s quietly amazing and deserves to be much more widely available. cough Baccano! cough



Although—and maybe this is the thought that finally cements me as an Anime Elder—it feels like folks in this space today have less of an interest in its history and a shorter memory than ever before.
Part of that’s definitely not helped by the seemingly short attention spans of the studios putting the shows out. Surely the viewers of today just don’t have the interest in a whole two seasons of Spice and Wolf readily available for streaming and would rather watch that same material, newly reanimated, weekly instead!



This gets back to the question of the perceived value of putting these old shows on these services. Sure, Discotek knows there’s a dedicated audience out there to collect its meticulously manufactured discs. But are they fighting a losing battle trying to get the 1981 Urusei Yatsura in front of streaming eyeballs when a huge contingent of the current Crunchyroll crowd considers anime from 2015 to be ancient tomes that only the old gods remember?

Man, idk if this is the best place to do it, but I’d like to formally pitch a “Do You Remember This Anime” recurring column for ANN. Because people don’t! People don’t remember anime that isn’t immediately in front of them and are actively hyped up on social media!

Blood Blockade Battlefront has 2 SEASONS! And there was a ton of discourse around the first one because it almost completely diverged from the events of the manga! Sure, I thought it felt like an anime that was riffing on Ryōgo Narita’s writing style, but replaced compelling relationships with spectacle fights, but it was a solid 7/10 show!



Okay, rant over, because as I was typing this I realized there was a reasonable chance that the person who first posted that take easily could have been a child when the BBB came out (and could even still be one!) But that post really exemplifies how the rapid growth of anime and the number of anime fans has come at the expense of members of this community having fewer shared experiences or touchstone series.

Time was monolithic megahits like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya or Gurren Lagann could dominate the anime fan discourse for years on end. Nowadays, it feels like we’ll be lucky if anyone but the editorial department is still talking about Bang Brave Bravern by the end of 2024.




I guess the good news is, barring any further Funimation-level shuttering, Bravern will remain easily available streaming for potential new viewers to find, just as Urusei Yatsura now is.
Oh, and that’s a good point. With anime broadly becoming more well known, is the era of mega-hits dominating the space and even reaching folks completely outside of it over?

Will Attack on Titan be the last anime that people my parent’s age will learn about? I’m not sure if that’s necessarily great, but I haven’t thought it over enough yet to know if I’m just meeting change with dread or if this is going to have broader impacts that are genuinely concerning…

Hey, my parents know Demon Slayer, so there’s still some spread there. And the irony of streaming services having this much conversation-suffocating breadth in the first place is that it’s on account of anime being bigger everywhere than it’s ever been. If my co-workers hop on Netflix to watch that cool cartoon tie-in to that Cyberpunk game and get served a recommendation for GTO afterward, that might make an argument that this exercise is worth it.



It’s why I see services like Crunchyroll making space for older series as a more encouraging sign of the march of time than them just pumping and dumping seasonals, anyway.
Damn, your parents are cool! And that’s definitely an optimistic way to think about it (which I try to do when I can!) The more anime that’s broadly available, the better and more interesting this space is.

But also don’t get me started on Cyberpunk: Edgerunners! I know it’s super well animated and rightfully a lot of people’s favorite anime of 2022… but also it’s functionally a commercial for a video game that was a ripoff at launch and that’s just about the least “punk” thing I can think of!

It’s also a Studio Trigger show locked to Netflix, meaning it’s probably not getting a Blu-ray release over here anytime soon. Pour one out for it, Brand New Animal, Little Witch Academia, and probably Delicious in Dungeon before all’s said and done.



That lack of physical media is the frustrating dark side of so many streaming releases. It’s why I’m glad many of these recent launches of older shows are precluded by new licensed-rescued disc releases, as again was the case with Discotek and Urusei Yatsura. This was also the motivation behind Nozomi, at last, putting the terrific Dirty Pair TV series up for streaming a few years ago, to tie into that Kickstarted Blu-ray set we’re getting soon. Eventually. Any day now.



It is pretty cool that after so many years of trumpeting Dirty Pair, now when people ask me where they can watch it, I can just point to the big orange monolith.

And I guess it’s the same as it ever was with consumption under late-stage capitalism. There isn’t always a great, totally ethical, way to watch a lot of anime, but at the end of the day, any kind of physical or digital release where the creators actually make some amount of money is better than piracy.

Seeing these old series surface this way also helps assuage the worry that something might never be officially available. Just about a week ago, we got the announcement that Megaton Musashi, a 2022 mecha anime that was one of the vanishingly rare non-simulcasted series would, at last, be making its way onto Crunchyroll.

That’s a pleasant surprise, given the seasonal grind has also instilled the perhaps unjustified notion that if a series doesn’t go straight to simulcasting these days, it’ll never see the light of English-language streaming, period.

Just like how licensing agreements can lapse with little notice, distributors can just easily pick something up! Anything can happen and it seems like any anime is fair game for a wider release these days.

Though, as we’ve been talking about this, I just realized that the same unfortunately can’t be said for manga. Perhaps because of the more involved translation process for a print instead of video format, there are a lot of even popular manga that don’t have an official US release yet.

Heck, JoJo Lands has been releasing regularly for more than a year now and is arguably the strongest JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has ever been…and Viz is still translating Stone Ocean chapters week to week.

I’d say the success of the simulcasted streaming releases of the JoJo anime should have clued the publisher into the power of a simultaneously available new JoJo…but then this is the same franchise that kneecapped its latest anime part by releasing on the binge model instead.



Occasionally you get a seriously storied digital manga drop, like that time last year Viz launched its app and brought a ton of old and modern classics with it (including many of the works of the inimitable Inio Asano). But it feels fewer and further between than even the scattered surprise releases of retro anime on streaming sites.
That Viz Manga App launch was a HUGE windfall for folks who want to read more kinds of manga, but have space and budget considerations. Outside of that, though…we’re pretty out of luck if we want to read a more niche series legally. Sometimes publishers will drop volumes of less well-known manga, but there isn’t much in the way of keeping up with weekly/monthly chapter drops for anything that isn’t fairly mainstream.

However, as I type that, it occurs to me that I don’t think there’s a legal way to read Berserk chapters as they release, instead of in expensive (though admittedly cool looking) hardcover volumes.

From watching Berserk on YouTube to reading fancy official manga releases, we’ve come full circle or something. Given that Discotek‘s release and the subsequent streaming of Urusei Yatsura is how we got to this discussion in the first place, it’s not too much to hope that Berserk 1997 might get the Crunchyroll treatment itself eventually. Hell, they netted us an official streaming release of Gunbuster, something I never would have dared to dream of before.



So long as they can live in the same space as the eternally interchanging seasonals, maybe the classics really are forever.