Old School

In the past year or two, there has been some discussion (and I use the term loosely) on the presence of two "cliques" in anime fandom. From an outside viewpoint, those who have been into anime for many, many years are thought to be a group of elitist snobs who constantly espouse the virtues of old, crappy, melodramatic animation. Those who have been into anime for only a year or two are thought to be brain-dead children attracted by bright shiny objects, explosions, fuzzy animals, and primary colors. Considering that, in the end, we all just like sitting around and watching cartoons, it seems unreasonable that such "cliques" should develop. It's my impression that most of the arguments and resultant flames between these two groups is the result of simple misunderstanding. Clearing that up would make us realize that we're all the same and create harmony and understanding throughout the universe. Right?

Well, no.

The problem is that there is an actual difference between these groups.

Hold off on the pitchforks for a moment.

To understand the difference, you really have to look at how the "old school" fandom was formed. Let's face it, you may have seen a few Japanese animated shows on TV as kids, but as kids we: A) Didn't know it was foreign and B) Had neither the ability nor the inclination to look further for more animation like it.

Old School individuals came from a handful of different areas, mostly independent of those few shows on US TV. A few were those who had spent time in Japan as kids and grew up with the animation, bringing it with them when they came to the US. (There's a not-insignificant portion of "old school" army brats.) Some are the old animation nuts who were fans of anything animated and thought they had reached Nirvana when they discovered that Japan was animating serious stories when the US animation was getting steadily more brain-dead (or in the grips of cheap minimalism from Hanna-Barbarra). The same goes for Media and AV nuts (and, in the case of Manga, comic fans and artists). Finally, there are the Japanophiles, who held an appreciation of Japanese history and culture, and discovered Anime through that. What do these have in common? First of all, this grouping automatically gives the old school fans points of reference and common points of interest to talk about outside of anime itself. This leads to building a closer-knit group of friends. Second of all, with the exception of the army brats, anime was very hard to come by for these individuals, and much of it was very badly cut up in it's first travels over the sea to US TV or home video release (what few titles were available). This led to a considerable amount of effort devoted to this hobby just to acquire a single n-th generation of un-translated material and the forming of extensive connections throughout the US and across the Pacific for purposes of acquisition and trading. Up sprang the free fansubbers, trading circles, and all-night VCR daisy-chaining. Since forming these groups meant everyone pretty much had to know each other on a first-name basis to even know they were into anime, you were friends with them already on different terms, and thus no one was going to charge anyone a fee for the tapes, audio casetts, etc. All of these factors led to a more and more tightly bound group of friends over the > years that stretched clear across the country to Japan. A lot of people seem to think that these "Old Schoolers" are now exclusive and cliquish, not associating with those outside of the "core group." Frankly, what did you expect? These people have known each other for a dozen years or more and have traded favors, tapes, collections, and connections more times than anyone would like to count. Any friendship they've had for a couple of years is gonna pale by comparison no matter what you do. Want to be a a "new old schooler"? Get to know your anime group on personal terms on subjects outside of anime. Find what hobbies you have in common that have nothing to do with anime, and get together with these friends outside of watching anime. In other words, be a good friend and stick around for several years. "But wait," you say, "my anime group has a myriad of hobbies...the only thing we all like doing together is watching anime..." Well, as I said, that's the main difference of the old schoolers...

"New schoolers" don't have this common history to draw from. This isn't a strike against them, it just isn't a strike for them. Now that anime is in the news, several series are on the TV networks in nearly pristine condition, movie stores have entire sections devoted to Anime, and the web has opened up options worldwide, it no longer takes a devoted, closely knit group of friends and a month or two of work to get an hour's worth of animated entertainment. It doesn't even take a few hours going through the tapes in Suncoast alphabetically hoping to come across a tape or two. Whereas for "old schoolers" a person's interests led them to discovering anime, now a person could become a fan pretty much by accident. Renting something random at Blockbuster, flipping channels, or browsing through a comic store is all that's necessicary for your first exposure. If you liked it, congratulations, you're a fan. Where this becomes a strike against the "New Schoolers" is that, as has been pointed out before, anime is a fad at the moment, and thus a victim of everything that a fad can be. It's been picked up by the "beautiful people" as the flavor of the month for a while now and will eventually be dropped just as quickly. (You can already see the signs of it if you look closely enough. The Pokemon bubble is slowly deflating.) This is especially detestable to some of the "old schoolers" not because "everything popular is bad" (as has been accused) but because many of them, being from AV/Artist/Japanophile/Army Brat backgrounds had to deal with the "beautiful people's "elitist cliques in the past. You may be a truly devoted fan who will be into anime long after it falls from the grace of the oneupsmen, but there is really no way of sorting you out from everyone else other than to wait and see.

Now for a bit of qualification on the above commentary. I am neither an "old schooler" or a "new schooler." I got into anime somewhere between the two, at the point where scouring every available (regular) rental shop turned up three tapes (Akira, Battle Angel Alita, and the first half of Vampire Princess Miyu) and Akira was a $45 dollar dubbed tape behind a glass case in a comic shop. All of my observations are based on personal experience and stories related to me by friends of mine. I have friends in both "old school" and "new school." Finally, a few quick points about some common misconceptions: 1) "Old schoolers" do NOT want a return to the days of tape trading and typwritten scripts. They may want a return to the kinds of devoted fans who did this, but EVERYONE prefers the modern convenience of renting videos or buying commercial releases rather than waiting months for a tape, only to have it lost or destroyed in the mail.

2) "Old schoolers" are not irrepressible fanboys who never let go of a childhood obsession. Ask any of them, and they will be happy to tell you that this is just a HOBBY, not a reason for living. All of the truly obsessive people in the old school left long ago, moving on to the next obsession. Those remaining grew up and got lives (something I would like to suggest to a few of my more obsessive friends). This is a major reason that they do not typically follow every series that is released in the US. They have families and careers to look after, things of little concern to those of us in college and HS.

3) The generation gap between the two schools is not unsurmountable, but it is present. Some series that may seem badly animated today were extraordinary at the time and may hold a special place in the heart of someone who saw it as a kid. In addition, many of the modern releases intentionally or unintentionally mirror these old stories, thus leading to many pointless arguments between the schools. Advice to the "old school"; don't dismiss some modern releases because of passing similarities to older series. Advice to the "new school"; recognize and respect the origins of the newer series you love. To both sides: at least watch what you are criticizing before you tear into it.

Finally, you may be just as devoted to anime as any "old schooler" but how can we sort you out from the myriad of squealing poke-girls (for example) whose main interest is looking cute/sexy when standing next to a group of the "right" people? There actually is an answer to this, but it's not an easy one. Give something back to the anime community. Write an online review, assmble an AMV or fan parody, work on your own animation or fanfic. Or, a true acid-test, help out (and really HELP, no staffing for the sake of free entry) at, or even start your own, anime convention. That's pretty much the present equivalent of the tracking down of new series and distributing them across the US in tape trading circles practiced by "old schoolers." Also, don't try to force your way into a group of "old schoolers" through favors or "influence." I've seen far too many people fall flat on their faces trying to do that. Just remember, that's not the way you make real friends.

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