The other day, I was going through some Lofi music videos on YouTube, and I noticed this one trend that is very common among them. Many Lofi music videos use this 90s-esque anime art style to pair up with the music.
You know what I am talking about – the low-resolution image quality, grainy backgrounds, thick defined lines, huge eyes, and similar stuff. And that got me wound up in thought – what makes the 90s anime aesthetics so appealing?
In the vast and ever-evolving landscape of anime, 90s anime stands as a beacon of nostalgia, capturing the hearts of fans across generations. Let’s unravel the timeless appeal of 90s anime aesthetics, a visual and narrative tapestry that continues to weave its magic in the hearts of fans worldwide.
The Magic of the 90s
By its very nature, art is dynamic—an ever-evolving reflection of the times. The artistic palette of the 90s expanded exponentially as the anime industry embraced new technologies like computers, high-definition rendering, and sophisticated effects.
Let’s start by going into details about what makes it so distinctly unique –
Many viewers who grew up during this era have a deep emotional connection to the art style, character designs, and storytelling methods. Goes without saying that nostalgia is a potent force and it holds a special place in the hearts of fans.
The distinctive character designs and fashion of 90s anime have a timeless appeal. The retro aesthetics, characterized by bold colors, oversized accessories, and unique hairstyles, have found a resurgence in popularity. Contemporary creators often draw inspiration from this era, fueling a renewed interest in its visual style.
In essence, Nostalgia associated with 90s anime transcends mere fandom, becoming a journey back in time to an era that not only defined an art form but also left an indelible mark on the hearts of those who experienced it.
One of the most distinguishable hallmarks of the 90s anime lies in its distinctive visual language. Characters, outlined with thicker strokes and adorned with simpler coloring and shading, carry an unassuming charm in contrast to the modern era’s digitized coloring, sleek lines, and nuanced shading.
To demonstrate this, let’s take an example from the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, which aired in 1995, and compare it with the modern Evangelion Rebuild movies –
The TV and Blu-ray versions share a common lineage in analog video, characterized by thick, defined inking and outline for characters. These lines are accompanied by firm shadows and distinct highlights. The same goes for the Blu-Ray version but you can see how it has been refined to a much greater extent.
The hand-drawn colors in both versions contribute to a classic aesthetic that defined the anime landscape of the time. The face outlines are slightly wavy and encapsulate an oval face structure. The hair, with its high volume and numerous clusters, is a common feature found in the 90s design philosophy.
Enter the Rebuild movies, we see a digital leap in animation. The inking for characters becomes finer and more delicate, accompanied by softer shadows and less prominent highlights. The introduction of digital coloring is a game-changer, allowing for a more nuanced and controlled visual presentation.
The face outlines undergo a transformation in the Rebuild, evolving into straighter lines and departing from the wavy contours. The hair, while still varying widely between different anime, takes on a simpler structure in comparison to the intricate styles of the 90s.
Backgrounds play a pivotal role in shaping the atmosphere and setting of an anime, sometimes even contributing to the emotional depth of the stories being depicted on the screen. The backgrounds of 90s anime especially hold a distinct and revered place in the history of the medium.
Let’s take another example, from Spirited Away this time, to discuss some key highlights of the 90s anime backgrounds –
The first defining characteristic of the background is the distinct hand-painted nature of the frame. These backgrounds were meticulously crafted by skilled artists, employing traditional techniques of painting on cels or paper sheets.
Second, I want to talk about how attention to detail in this background is remarkable. Whether depicting serene landscapes, bustling cityscapes, or intricate interiors, each frame feels authentic and helps immerse viewers in the worlds portrayed on the screen.
One topic I want to talk about is how the 90s popularized the use of Liminal Spaces. Liminal spaces within 90s anime were characterized by a sense of emptiness or in-betweenness.
Abandoned buildings, desolate streets, or eerily quiet landscapes were frequently depicted, serving as narrative devices to evoke a myriad of emotions – from loneliness and desolation to mystery and anticipation.
Why do I focus on Liminal Spaces? That’s because it’s synonymous with the 90s anime vibe. An empty alley of houses but not a soul in sight, a dark and dingy corner illuminated by the light of a neon signboard, a city full of skyscrapers but devoid of people – these are the images that pop up into my head when I think about this era.
The design philosophy of the 90s anime backgrounds has carried well into the current age of anime. Despite being digitally painted backgrounds instead of analog video, the new-gen artists have not only tried to emulate the look and feel of the 90s but also diversified it into new genres.
To give an example, Minimalism is a take on the concept of Liminality by restricting yourself to lesser details but shaping your creative spirit to adapt to the challenge and form something that is visually distinct and expressive.
The backgrounds of 90s anime are an artistic achievement in the medium. Their beauty, craftsmanship, and ability to evoke emotion remain a testament to the lasting impact of traditional animation techniques in storytelling.
Traditional Cel Animation
At the heart of the aesthetics that define the 90s anime lies a fascinating transition. Both old and modern anime share a common origin story—they began as delicate hand drawings, strokes of creativity etched onto blank canvases. However, the devil, as they say, is in the details, and in this case, it’s in the evolution of animation techniques.
In 90s anime, the meticulous artistry unfolded on transparent celluloid paper, commonly known as cels. These cels, hand-inked and colored, were then filmed under analog cameras, which captured every frame onto a negative film roll.
Come to the late 90s, a digital wind of change swept through the anime landscape. The transition from cel to digitization wasn’t just a tool change, it was a change in the philosophy and process behind how anime was made.
Techniques previously only available to high-budget movies or short OVAs of the 80s were now widely being used for producing 90s shows.
The infusion of these advancements into the traditional cel animation process opened doors to uncharted territories. Suddenly, anime creators had a toolkit that could breathe life into their wildest imaginations.
As a result, the 90s anime aesthetics bloomed into this kaleidoscopic fusion of colors, textures, and visual intricacies that painted narratives with unprecedented richness.
Modern Animation Techniques
Compared to the traditional animation techniques, their modern counterparts are vastly different. The first huge difference is the shift in the medium, that is, from the paper canvas to the digital layers. Modern animation predominantly involves digital tools and software.
The shift to digitization has enabled the use of 3D Animation and CGI in the medium. CGI can be used to craft everything from characters and environments to special effects. This allows for depth, realism, and complex movements which are much harder to achieve using traditional animation.
Digital animation also offers a broader range of colors, shading, and effects due to advanced software capabilities. Illustrators can manipulate lighting, textures, and visual effects more dynamically.
Digital animation also streamlines the production process, making it more efficient. While traditional animation holds its nostalgic charm and artistic allure, modern techniques offer efficiency, versatility, and a wider array of creative possibilities.
Both techniques have their unique merits and continue to coexist in contemporary animation, contributing to the diverse visual styles seen in anime.
Cultural Impact of the 90s
The 90s are often hailed as the golden age of anime, a period when the medium not only soared in popularity domestically in Japan but also captured the imaginations of audiences worldwide. This impact can be dissected into several factors –
Globalization of Anime:
The 90s marked a pivotal era where anime started transcending geographical boundaries. Iconic titles like “Dragon Ball Z,” “Sailor Moon,” and “Pokémon” became global phenomena, introducing international audiences to the unique storytelling and artistic styles of Japanese animation.
As anime spread globally, it became a medium for cultural exchange. Viewers outside Japan gained insights into Japanese traditions, social structures, and storytelling nuances, fostering a cross-cultural dialogue that continues to this day.
The Otaku Subculture:
The 90s solidified the concept of “otaku” as a subculture of enthusiasts deeply immersed in anime and manga. This subculture, once niche, gained visibility and acceptance, evolving into a growing community with its conventions, slang, and shared passion for the medium.
The allure of the 90s anime aesthetics isn’t just a reflection on the Golden Era of anime, it’s an acknowledgment of its ever-present influence. As we revel in the analog charm and distinctive styles, we find ourselves not just looking backward but appreciating the creativity that spans decades.
In a world marked by rapid technological advancement and ever-evolving artistic expressions, the 90s anime aesthetic is a testament to the beauty of imperfection, the warmth of nostalgia, and the timeless resonance of captivating stories.
So, whether you’re a seasoned anime enthusiast reminiscing about the good old days or a newcomer exploring the roots of the medium, I invite you to watch the 90s anime aesthetics and ride its waves of nostalgia—a journey that, much like the timeless classics it produced, continues to unfold with each passing moment.