Pointless Debate #32: Remembering the Malaise Era

This just about captures my feelings for the time.

It’s certainly been a long time since I used the term “Malaise Era” to refer to anime. Actually it goes back to that terrible idea of writing 40 posts in 40 days about the anime of the 00s. I can’t help but do a lot of revisiting that time period since much of the terribad anime actually predates the period I’m talking about. I’m referring specifically to the period from roughly 1997 through 2005.This was an era of change leading to a combination of factors that ended up shaping this opinion of anime from that time period. Japan’s recession continued to drag on and the Asian Financial Crisis only worsened that. At the same time, technology made it possible to create new animation in ever cheaper ways. Yet, it would be foolish of me to argue that there were no works of value during this period. As Mythbusters proved, it is possible to make feces shine brightly.

The character design budget had already run out by episode 3.

One of the first things that always strikes me about anime from this period is how a lot of it looks horribly dated. That’s compared to the years before it as well. I understand that that budgets were heading south at a tremendous clip, but that really shouldn’t mean that the 2nd season of To Heart should look like vomit compared to the first season. Especially when the studio for the first season would go on to make well animated classics like Kabuto, Prayers and Naruto: Shippuden.

I’ll admit, the CG dragons in this movie propaganda piece looked like shit

When given money in making a movie, End of Evangelion and the Ghibli movies of the period look good. But even lesser movies like the Nadesico movie or hell the Happy Science effort The Golden Laws can’t be tossed aside just on appearance. There are even two Legend of the Galactic Heroes OVAs that were made during this period. One heavily used CG, and guess which one looked worse.

There’s just so much to dislike about this period. Millions of dollars pissed down the toilet on a purely computer animated film, while a single person is able to make something better for hundredths of a percent of the same budget. Those character designs that ended up in Scryed and Gundam SEED (I’d use the trademark pink Comic Sans if I could be arsed). The comically offensive shorts that ended up in terribad, yet launched numerous voice actor careers. That almost ten years ago I was watching Mahoromatic‘s absolutely farcical ending.

Misato Suguru stares up at Jupiter
For those who have fortunately forgotten. The last episode of a typical school harem show ends with the harem lead as an assassin on one of Jupiter’s moons.

Then it hits me. This period that I give such a terrible name to was actually the formative years of entering the hobby of watching it. Am I rebelling against my own past taste, or is it just a case that on reflection I can see that the shows of the past have grown dated and stale? Maybe it’s just that I don’t really recall that portion of my life particularly fondly. Like I said earlier, there was still good stuff being made during this period. I’ll talk about 15 of them in the 500th post that’s coming up after all. However, I still can’t help but feel this was just a long transition period.

Oh boy were there lots of ugly character designs

Please feel free to tell me your memories of this time period. Or you can talk about other bad years as well like The Year of Terribad (1996) if you want as well. I’m interested in what you have to say.

10 thoughts on “Pointless Debate #32: Remembering the Malaise Era”

  1. I wasn’t watching anime at the time so I can confirm that you aren’t just rebelling against your past preferences. I haven’t found very many good series from that period (not to say there aren’t any).

    With all the technological and social changes, those years were certainly a transition period for a lot of industries, including anime. Besides budget issues, a lot of new ideas sprouted up. The bad ones were weeded out while the good ones were left to bloom into what we see today. Change is always going to be a risky affair, but I’d like to think that anime today is better because of it.

    1. About bad ideas being sprouted out, this was still a time before the huge national satellite channels took off in Japan. So there were limited places to air something in large cities, so there’s definitely experimentation in formats here as well late on. That filter itself is gone, but there are way more sources of adaptations now as well as original ideas.

      1. Like everything, we’ll keep going through the same cycle over and over again. We won’t ever attain the level of quality we seek, but we’ll keep striving for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the future people criticize this period in the same way. Some select series will be remembered, but I bet they’ll find some major faults too.

  2. There was the time of weirdly washed out colours too. For example Masou Kishin Cybuster, Brain Powered and so on. Turn A also counts but its a competent series in its own right and the style suits it.

    1. In Turn A’s case, yes it’s obvious that they were trying to make it feel older since it was the 20 year anniversary. But in general, I don’t understand why everything had to look as though it was already dated off of the production line.

      1. “Tutti gusti son gusti”. I would never have thought people would spend money on pants that fall down past their ass, either. In short, never underestimate the power of fashion (or bad taste).

  3. There are couple of reasons for early 00s nadir especially in visual department. Perhaps most important past the obvious damage done by finance crisis (think of all those 10 minute shows during this period) is that tv anime was undergoing rather painful process of shifting over to digital production and it took more than few years for people to master digital coloration. This is why so many of these shows look so drab in comparison to physical coloured era before and the modern reneissance in background art etc. provided by high quality digital techniques.

    Another thing that didn’t help at all is that the great “reviver” of anime industry, Neon Genesis Evangelion, also nearly brought it to ruin as the anime market overheated with way too much money thrown into it in late 90s with everyone hoping for next Eva (which funnily enough we still haven’t got though I gather Madoka gave the best shot at it). The shockwaves of crash in 1998 (IIRC) nearly brought down the whole industry with them.

    1. It did seem like there were a lot of Eva clones in the immediate aftermath, but many of them looked like they were done on the cheap. I’ve also thought about the boom in money in the late 80s/early 90s that led up to this, but I think it was all outside factors rather than the anything in the industry itself. It could be that Eva only made things worse by dragging the process out for a couple more years.

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