Urusei Yatsura’s reboot recently began airing in Japan. Plenty of older fans are excited to see this classic series draw in a modern audience. Others, however, are worried about how newer anime fans will react because of how old it is. As entertaining as Urusei Yatsura can be, some of its material, themes, and characters might not work with modern sensibilities.
The question of what to do about this kind of controversial and explicit content is part of the larger question of which anime can be rebooted. It’s a conflict between presenting a faithful adaption and altering material to better fit the changing times and standards. This question is especially difficult with anime as most series try to adhere as closely as possible to the source material. If too many changes need to be made, it can bring into question whether there was ever a point to an adaption.
What Are the Problems With Old Anime?
To clarify, it’s not as though Japan is against the idea of showing explicit content. If the target audience is right, then an anime is free to have all of the gore and sex that it wants. In this regard, series like Devilman Crybaby and Hellsing Ultimate are perfectly fine as they are. The audiences they were aimed at can handle it.
With that said, what can be shown to general audiences is much different from what it used to be. It’s no longer okay to show women’s nipples or excessive violence to such audiences. That former point is especially relevant with Urusei Yatsura; the original anime had no problem with Lum’s breasts being on full display, but the reboot made sure to keep them at least partially covered. It’s likely that other older series that used to show nipples like Ranma 1/2 or Fist of the North Star couldn’t get away with that as today, either.
Anime that get censored for their initial broadcast can still be shown uncensored for the home release. This means that all of the gore and smoking that was censored in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure can be seen just as Hirohiko Araki and the David Productions intended. Even series like Berserk 2016 can be shown on TV as long as all of their nipple shots and other risqué imagery are reserved for the Blu-Ray release.
The real issues, however, are with what kinds of controversial messages and imagery could resurface with a reboot. There could be all sorts of instances of racism, sexism, harassment, and other controversial topics. These things may have flown under the radar when an anime originally aired, but would likely get called out by modern audiences and critics.
How Can Reboots Avoid These Problems?
One solution is to remove such controversial content. Keeping out racist depictions of black people or the occasional nipple slip shouldn’t be too much of an issue. These kinds of changes are observable in the Dragon Ball franchise; this is technically an ongoing series, but the same principles apply. The chances of seeing a negatively stereotypical black person or Bulma’s naked breasts, even for an instant, have dropped to almost nothing. If an old anime like Dragon Ball had these kinds of minor alterations made to it, nobody would mind.
However, if something controversial were more integral to the plot, the anime may be forced to leave it in. This can be observed in Fruits Basket’s reboot, where the relationships with distant relatives and minors are kept intact. Removing those relationships might have made the series less uncomfortable, but it also would have had too many repercussions for the rest of the story.
Another solution is to tone down the questionable content. There’s a way to temper controversial material to keep it from going too far in the eyes of the viewers. For example, if there’s a perverted character, but things don’t quite go their way, then they’re harmless. Alternatively, if they receive a punishment far worse than whatever perviness they get away with, that’s okay, too. The latter is applied to Ataru a lot in Urusei Yatsura, though the reboot might have also toned down his lecherous tendencies just to be safe.
Would These Changes Fix the Problem in the Long Term?
In truth, this kind of sensitive material may always remain in one form or another. Some of the practices that were okay in the anime industry decades ago are still practiced in manga today. There, even newer series like My Hero Academia, Bleach, and Naruto are free to have all of the amputation, manji symbols, oversexualized minors, and perverts to chase said minors that they want. Some of them are even bold enough to show nipples, though they’ll likely get censored in the anime. Showing this kind of controversial content in reboots is actually just part of a much bigger problem. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s certainly still there.
The controversial aspects of anime, especially old anime, may never fully go away. There will always be manga writers and anime producers looking to invoke the tropes of their medium. This will hold true whether it’s a matter of preservation, traditionalism, comedy, subversion, or simply not believing it matters. That said, as long as a series doesn’t take anything too far, it should be safe to reboot.