What Even is 'Retro Anime'? Epic Anime Debates

retro anime dragon ball z nana
Credit: Akira Toriyama, Toei Animation / Ai Yazawa, Madhouse

retro anime dragon ball z nana
Credit: Akira Toriyama, Toei Animation / Ai Yazawa, Madhouse

At Epicstream, our team regularly debate the big questions around anime fandom. This week, with the release of T.P Bon on Netflix, we decided to ask what makes a retro anime so retro.

Most of us conjure a specific image when considering a loaded phrase like retro anime. However, how much is retro to do with a particular show's style and how much is it to do with our own experiences of anime growing up?

Check out what our experts had to say and join the conversation in the comments!

Cathlyn: "Retro is About Art Styles"

retro anime ranma 1/2 poster
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Credit: Rumiko Takahashi / Studio Deen
Ranma ½

When we talk about retro anime, two or three things come to mind: the anime's time of release, visual techniques, and genre tropes. After all, retro anime often reflects character archetypes and distinctive art styles prevalent during the time of their production.

From time to time, I turn to retro anime to appreciate the fluid but detailed animation work done by production studios despite the technological limitations. They bring a sense of nostalgia to viewers, feeding us the look and feel of the vintage aesthetic.

Some of my retro anime recommendations include Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play, Ranma 1/2, and Magic Knight Rayearth, all of which are celebrated for their cultural impact and importance.

Tarun: "Retro is Nostalgia for a Bygone Era"

Retro is something that evokes the style, aesthetics, and design of a bygone era. For me, retro equals nostalgia, and with anime, this feeling is no different.

I remember grabbing glass bottles of Coca-Cola and bags of Fun Flips (a local corn puff snack) before my brother and I would watch the latest episode of Dragon Ball Z in the early 2000s.

Akira Toriyama (rest in peace, sensei) was an absolute G.O.A.T. with his character designs that still stand the test of time. From incredibly powerful characters to a great storyline, Dragon Ball Z is intense and retro at its best.

Visually, Dragon Ball Z may not appear like a retro anime series, and that is because of Toriyama’s stunning character designs. The aesthetics of Dragon Ball Z are like a beautiful marriage of retro vibes and modern designs.

Kylene: "Gundam and Slam Dunk Are the Best Retro Anime"

Retro anime is an interesting topic because its meaning is so subjective. For discussion purposes, what I consider retro is any series or movie that was released until the early 2000s; that is any title that aired until 2009.

As such, the best retro works for me are Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Slam Dunk.

While these two titles may not share much in common in terms of story and genre, I consider them my favorite retro anime because they each evoke a nostalgic feeling.

Gundam SEED, in particular, featured strong female leads in Cagalli Yula Athha and Lacus Clyne, who embodied power in their own way that was not seen in other similar works at the time.

While it can be argued that the Gundam series was ahead of its time given its mecha and sci-fi genre, it was the female characters' portrayal that elevated it from other works.

On the other hand, Slam Dunk is an iconic sports anime because it has a relatively simple but easy-to-follow and well-written plot.

Even if you're not a fan of basketball or sports in general, it was easy to like and root for the main character, Hanamichi Sakuragi, and the colorful members of the Shohoku High School basketball team.

Will: "Nana is the Ultimate Retro Aesthetic"

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When I initially thought of 'retro anime', my mind went towards classic sci-fi hits like Gundam and Evangelion. However, if I were to say my favourite retro anime, I can't look beyond the mid-noughties shoujo hit Nana.

I think there's a particular aesthetic fans look for when they talk about retro anime and that's slightly different depending on the age differences.

For me, Ai Yazawa's depictions of early-noughties fashion remain some of my favourite character designs in non-fantasy anime. Her designs are particularly cool right now as the '90s aesthetic has a bit of a moment across fashion and culture, at least here in the UK.

With retro anime, there's also an element of when in your early life you arrive at a particular anime.

Nana is one of those marker-point anime for me where I can distinctly remember where I was as a teenager watching it and my memories of the show are laced with those personal feelings.

Nicolo: "There's an Analog Feel to Retro Anime"

Retro anime has seen quite a resurgence, be it from those who are nostalgic for 90s anime or for younger fans who have fallen in love with these older shows. This can be seen in how often posts about retro anime from the 80s or 90s pop up on social media.

A big part of what makes something a retro anime is how it looks. Shows from the 80s and 90s have a sort of 'analog' feel to them, not unlike film grain for older films.

It could be said that the resurgence of retro anime can be tied to how other retro media (and even older digital cameras) have become popular again.

Aside from visuals, I think the character designs of older shows also have a certain look that distinguishes them from modern shows.

Plus, many older anime move slower or have a more relaxed pace, giving fans a nice change compared to contemporary titles which often move at a blistering pace.

What does retro anime mean to you? Share your experiences and recommendations in the comments and follow us to make sure you never miss an Epic Anime Debate!

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