However, it is until just recently that I've taken the time to search around the deepest parts of the dark hole that is the Internet to find out that, while 1999 isn't the most memorable year for some of us, it certainly wasn't an uneventful year. Heck, the year 1999 gave birth to cult anime adaptations that are still present in the minds of old fans, and now to new fans of the current generation.
Ghibli takes a step forward
After the mind-blowing success of Princess Mononoke in 1997 which sky-rocketed Hayao Miyazaki's and Studio Ghibli's names to an international level, Isao Takahata decided to try out a new style of animation different from what the studios had done before and used the way of the computer to adapt My Neighbors the Yamadas which was released in national theaters on August 17th, 1999.
What differed My Neighbors the Yamadas from Studio Ghibli's past productions was the structure of the plot. While generally movies–and in this case, Ghibi's movies–have been known to follow one plot from the beginning to the end, My Neighbors the Yamadas remained faithful to its original work by adapting the comic strip manga into separate stories in the movie, each story touching a particular subject regarding the Yamada Family.
Even if the movie received an Excellence Award for animation at the Japan Media Arts Festival, its recognition however did not reflect its low results in the box office.
GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka)'s story as simple as it comes. Twenty-two year old Eikichi Onizuka is an ex-yankee (whose teenage adventures were already covered in the Shonan Jun'ai Gumi manga and OVA) who aims to become a teacher simply because he believes it would greatly rise his chances of having girls fall for him. Needless to say that once he receives his teacher's license and finds himself in charge of one of the most chaotic classes in his school, our Onizuka learns the painful gap between fantasy and reality.
Regardless of the poor budget Studio Pierrot had at the time to animate the series, the 1998-1999 period was luckily one where the GTO-mania was very present in Japanese media. Followed by the rapid popularity of the manga, the first GTO drama, movie, and anime surfed on the same waves of success as the original work to the point the oeuvre today remains as appreciated and well-known as it was fourteen years ago. (And how well was GTO appreciated? The live-action drama actually came first in 1998 and garnered a remake in 2012, while the manga resurfaced in the pages of Shonen Weekly Magazine in 2009 for a short-lived two-year sequel.)
Birth of the New Shonen Leaders
1999 can also be known as a transition year, seeing as how extremely popular shonen anime of today began popping up starting from there.
The one anime about pirates everyone loves to hate or defend, One Piece, began on the 20th of October and since then has released more than 600 episodes to this day. Whether you want to admit it or not, One Piece is currently the franchise you can find anywhere; from Japan to your home country, Luffy and his pirate crew appear in all forms of objects for you to buy. I am not sure if it is the case in other Western countries, but in France, an anime hasn't experienced a popularity boom this big since Dragonball Z. Today, One Piece movies are watchable in theaters months after their releases in Japan and also companies are fighting each other only to have the name affiliated with their own.
The possible explanation for this boom can be that One Piece compared to other anime touches a large number of different audiences, such as Dragonball once did in the past. Instead of seeing only children into One Piece, teenagers, young adults, and even parents show their interest for this anime.
Ah, Hunter X Hunter. While I will always prefer your big and more mature brother over you (Yu Yu Hakusho), let I remind you that you hold a special place in my heart. While Yu Yu Hakusho covers underworld detectives and yokai creatures, Hunter X Hunter concerns…Hunters. More precisely, the plot revolves around a twelve-year-old boy named Gon who–cue drama–has been abandoned by his Hunter of a father, Ging. Dying to know what brought his father to prefer the life of a Hunter over the life of being a father, Gon decides to enter the very challenging and perilous Hunter exam.
Unless you guys have been living under a rock for the past year, Hunter X Hunter has been given a golden chance we (perhaps) all wish would happen to our favorite productions–a remake–and of good quality, should I add. The only notable difference I have realized so far between the anime of 1999 produced by the now very quiet Nippon Animation and the new one made by Madhouse is the censure of extremely violent scenes, which are pretty current during the Hunter Exam arc.
Like countless anime today, Hunter X Hunter was inspired by the great shonen shows of the late 80's and 90's: Dragonball Z for the action, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure for the characters, and I guess you can imagine the rest of the list.
By revisiting the classics of shonen from the past and mixing it up into its own sauce, anime like GTO, Hunter X Hunter, and more recently One Piece are taking place as the big names of the shonen genre until the arrival of the next generation.
So yes, although 1999 gave us One Piece, Samurai X and other remarkable works, it was a silent year in comparison to what we've seen before. With the 21st century up ahead and promising a new beginning for the anime industry that has suffered due to the end of the Japanese economic bubble, anime was surely preparing to make a "comeback of comebacks" for the year 2000.
Next time: Welcome to the new millennium! What did the year 2000 bring us?