What Makes a Retro Anime?

There’s old school and there’s retro; so, what makes retro distinguishing? As Ralph from Wreck-It-Ralph would say, it means old but also becoming cool again, and we thought it would be nice to explore how retro fits as it pertains to anime. Old school pretty much stays in the past but is still there for original fans enjoy though it may not exactly appeal to younger audiences.

Fruits Basket 2019

One notable recent example that we can (probably) label as retro is the 2019 Fruits Basket anime series, which is a remake of the 2001 series. While the original series was met with modest reception, some fans who were familiar with the manga to even the original manga author herself were critical of it. The 2001 anime ran its course with its own respective conclusion, while the manga continued its serialization until 2003. Here we are nearly 20 years later, and the series in anime form not only has made a comeback, but has been met with more positive reception for newer and older audiences alike. Though the original manga ended in 2003, the 2019 anime manages to include elements of modern technology such as smartphones and flatscreen TVs to retrofit it for its present broadcast and by no means does it affect the story.

Dragon Ball Super

We have to admit that the inclusion of Dragon Ball can be considered controversial since the series never exactly “went out of style.” Thanks to the series finding its prime with American audiences in the 2000s, it helped extend its longevity in an incidental sense even when it officially ended in its native Japan in 1995. However, the international demand for more Dragon Ball never ended and by 2015, after 20 years of waiting, fans finally got what they wanted, Dragon Ball Super. What makes it distinguishing compared to most other older anime that gets a new adaptation, Super is a legit continuation of the series (legit as in Toriyama is involved) and not a remake. Still, its newer elements that are introduced in Super give it that “cool comeback.”


Of course, retro isn’t about remakes and/or sequels, but how the original can hold up beyond its initial release. Akira manages to get re-releases every so often to help keep its life last for new generations of audiences. What makes Akira uniquely retro is not just how the quality of its animation still manages to hold up but how its themes manages to stay relevant! For starters, the film incidentally predicted that the 2020 Olympics will take place in Tokyo! However, Akira’s modern relevance in how it makes it retro goes beyond being on the mark about the Olympics.

As we shared before in other articles, many of Akira’s themes as how it relates to a militarized Japan are still relevant in regards to how present Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters wish to do away with Article 9. So, what does that mean? It means that Japan can officially militarize. Yes, they have the JSDF but their presence is another subject for another article. Another theme from the original movie that keeps it relevant is the state of Japan’s urban youth and how urbanization and modern corporatism has affected child upbringings.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

For our final example, we think JoJo would be the most unique choice to define what a retro anime is. Not only is it retro in an external sense, but in an internal definition as well. Yes, there were OVAs that came out but apparently, Araki doesn’t count them. Beyond that, though the anime premiered in 2012, the manga debuted back in 1986 and is still in publication to this very day! It’s not the notion that it’s based on a long-running manga that makes it retro, but with its pop culture references in relation to many bands and singers such as Aerosmith, the Notorious BIG, Queen, and other legends that date between the 70s and 90s.

In an external definition, its distinguishing and unpredictable choice of ending themes further compliment not only the musical influences of the franchise, but how it brings a retro atmosphere by using famous songs from popular culture. Thanks to its uses of Roundabout by Yes, Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles, Want You by Savage Garden and Freek’n You by Jodecci, it has helped spark a new sense of popularity with those songs with its fans, and this contributes to JoJo’s distinct retro identity.

Final Thoughts

As we stated, if there’s a way of distinguishing retro and old school. Old school is what some older audiences go back to, but retro is something that goes back to the audience, and finds a way to be appealing to younger audiences. There will always be quality old school anime for audiences to enjoy such as Space Runaway Ideon and Windaria. However, some anime is meant to breathe new life for not only its original audience, but for new generations of audiences as well. Captain Tsubasa is an anime that can always be retrofitted for new generations, which is why it continues to be remade over and over. In some instances, society, values, and technology tend to change and when bringing an older title for modern audiences, they do what’s possible to implement those changes and yet still be faithful to the original.

One great example is the 2019 City Hunter movie. While the original TV series was pretty 80s for what it was stylistically, the 2019 movie does an excellent job of retrofitting the franchise by implementing present day technology such as smartphones and drones, and yet still stays faithful to what City Hunter was without out-dating it or aging the characters. If a remake or a new installment of a prior existing franchise can achieve that, then that’s what ultimately makes it retro.

Fruits-Basket-Wallpaper What Makes a Retro Anime?


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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