Remakes and continuations of old shows are not unheard of in the anime industry.
Try mentioning Shigeru Mizuki's manga GeGeGe no Kitarou in a room full of old-school manga lovers; you'll probably get as many reactions as there are anime adaptations. Mizuki's manga from the '60s was adapted for animation in 1968, 1971, 1985, 1996, and 2007 – and that doesn't include the various films based on those different adaptations, as well as adaptations in other media.
Of course, there have been many other titles that have continually resurfaced over time, such as Cyborg 009 – which has seen remakes in addition to continuations set in the same canon as earlier adaptations. In some ways, remaking and revisiting older anime titles are two methods through which to reach new audiences via previously established works, and they're not uncommon practices in the anime industry.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that many anime titles from the 1990s are being remade or continued nowadays, but at the same time, the '90s are just...well, different.
"GeGeGe no Kitarou" Then and Now
It's hard to say exactly when the '90s returned in the anime world, likely because it happened so soon after the '90s ended.
If I had to mark a specific turning point that led to this wave of familiar faces, I would isolate the CLAMP series Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and its sister series xxxHolic as forerunners.
In their desire to connect their various titles in a crossover epic, CLAMP reintroduced fan-favorite leads from Cardcaptor Sakura and many other titles from their body of work.
Knowing that the world of Cardcaptor Sakura plays a role in the rest of CLAMP's works and seeing the return of characters like Sakura – even alternate versions of her – sparked a fire in the anime community: we were thirsty for the '90s again.
If you're only interested in full-blown series remakes of old favorites, then rest assured that the '90s are indeed coming back. Take Sailor Moon Crystal, which was announced back in 2012 and finally started airing last summer.The online series acts as the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to Fullmetal Alchemist, which basically means that it's a second anime that's closer to the original manga.
Some fans, of course, are disappointed that Sailor Moon Crystal isn't continuing from where the first anime left off.
If that's what you're looking for, then perhaps the upcoming Digimon Adventure tri. is more your style. Although we still don't know many details, the upcoming sequel to Digimon Adventure promises the return of many fan-favorite characters later this spring.
Meanwhile, the famous anime Dragon Ball Z hasn't been remade, but a new short special was announced back in 2008. A year later, Dragon Ball Kai – the revised version of Dragon Ball Z – was announced as part of the show's 20th anniversary celebration.
Now in 2015, we've had various OVAs released alongside video games in addition to a new feature film (and a new one still to come). Speaking of new feature films: the Rebuild of Evangelion series, announced in the mid-2000s, aims to retell the highly regarded Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series across four films, and we're still waiting for information on the final movie.
Even Yu-Gi-Oh! is slated to have its own anniversary feature film featuring the return of beloved characters from the first series.
Why the 1990s?
But what – if anything – makes these shows from the '90s so different?
The unfortunate answer is that there's nothing different or special about the shows themselves (though certain '90s shows like Sailor Moon and Evangelion established tropes that would define genres for years to come).
There have been excellent anime titles from both before and after the '90s, and no one can make the argument that every '90s anime was amazing. Simply put, the '90s benefited from timing. Although it was exported before then, it was during the 1990s that anime really took off in the western world – primarily in places like the United States, Canada, and Latin American countries, but the diaspora of anime also included Australia, the U.K., European countries, and other locations.
As technology grew, so did anime distribution, culminating in the simulcast world we live in today. And that world finds its roots in the '90s.
For many of us anime fans currently in our 20s, our first exposure to anime can probably be traced back to Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon.
These shows paved the way for anime-centric children's programming blocks like those found on Fox Kids and Toonami. The "monster" craze – Pokémon, Digimon, and arguably Monster Rancher – seized control of the Saturday morning runs, while shows like Gundam Wing, Tenchi Muyo!, and Cowboy Bebop aired in primetime.
Keep in mind that these examples are only a small sample of the many '90s shows that influenced an entire generation of anime fans. Eventually, thanks to the positive reception and high merchandise sales of those shows, titles including InuYasha, FLCL, and Fullmetal Alchemist started airing in the mid-2000s, and the anime craze hasn't died down since.
The craze started, however, with a select few programs in the 1990s, and it's no surprise that these influential titles are the ones that are resurfacing today for the modern anime audience.
The Role of Nostalgia
What it boils down to is nostalgia.
The 1990s have become "vintage" in the eyes of many; combine that with the modern trend of integrating nerd culture into mainstream pop culture (essentially, geek is chic) and you'll see that the vintage shows from our youth have taken on a renewed significance. Additionally, anime has become slightly cheaper to produce thanks to changes in the way anime is drawn (purely digital methods as opposed to strictly hand-drawn techniques), and coincidentally, many people who grew up watching anime in the 1990s are now young adults who are possibly willing to pay for the absurd amount of merchandise that anime usually entails.
It's possible that animation studios are merely pandering to the nostalgia of old fans for a quick buck, but I think the reason is a bit deeper.
People are nostalgic for these old shows for a reason, and it's possible that it's because anime was simply better back then. It's an old adage that people will always reminisce about the "good old days" in any context, but speaking from my own experiences, something definitely changed from the mid-to-late 1990s through the early 2000s.
Although there were many titles I enjoyed from that era – and many modern titles that I enjoy – I could detect a shift in quality, a change in storytelling and animation styles that signified a new direction. And I simply preferred what came before. It would seem, then, that many other people feel similarly.
Anime fans are fed up with the status quo, and the complaints are everywhere: everything is too moe, too shounen, too shoujo, too filled with unnecessary violence carried out by some standard pink-haired girl with an enormous gun. In many ways, we want a return to form, which includes anatomy and character design.
It's very surreal seeing '90s-style character designs rendered with all of the bells and whistles of today's animation techniques – the Rebuild of Evangelion film series is particularly good at taking familiar designs and style choices and blending them with fantastic digital imagery.
The familiar and the modern simply look amazing together on the screen.
The current wave of '90s anime being revisited in the modern era isn't slowing down. Anime fans have a number of different titles – both shows and films alike – to look forward to.
But what's next? There are rumors that Cardcaptor Sakura might be remade someday soon, and its current merchandising campaign isn't doing anything to quell that rumor, but like Revolutionary Girl Utena, I don't think that Cardcaptor Sakura needs a remake; rather, I hope we'll see a revised adaptation of The Vision of Escaflowne, but that might be a bit too much to hope for.
It will be interesting to see, ten years from now, if there will be nostalgia for anime from the early 2000s. Until then, I will enjoy every second of my childhood's ubiquitous resurrection.