Why Don't Characters Have Cameo Appearances In Other Anime Anymore?

by Justin Sevakis,

Phoenix asks:

Whatever happened to anime cameos? I feel like in the 80s and 90s they were relatively abundant. The Dirty Pair and Crusher Joe seemed to make it into every other 80s anime. Why, I was just watching Macross and wouldn't you know it, there's Lupin III playing a futuristic Lupin III arcade game. I feel like I don't see cameos at all or at least anywhere near as much anymore. Why do you think that is?

Back in the day, comedy anime often did feature unexpected cameos of other characters. From Yawara and her grandfather getting fast food in Project A-ko 3, to a computer nerd with a Lum poster in AD Police Files, anime was peppererd with a surprising amount of homages to other shows that had nothing to do with anything. It was sort of like how newspaper comics like Bloom County would play with images of Mickey Mouse or Hobbes (from Calvin & Hobbes). It was satire.

This doesn't happen at all very often anymore, and hasn't in decades -- it stopped entirely around the late 90s. So what happened? Basically, the industry grew up. Japanese copyright law does not have a "fair use" clause that allows for parody, and adding characters from other storied, monied franchises was a legal risk. Anime producers have put a stop to the practice.

EDIT: I was unaware of a few recent examples of cameos in some recent shows like Mr. Osomatsu. However, nearly all of these appearances were heavily obscured in some way, and some even got an episode pulled from circulation.

In the 80s and early 90s (and earlier), anime was a pretty ramshackle business. Production was carried out by a bunch of unkempt guys who chain-smoked at their desks, worked late, got up late, and went out drinking together, and passed out at the office. Depending on how disciplined a production was, they could often sneak in all manner of inside jokes, "easter eggs" and silliness. The 80s saw the recruitment of a ton of extremely talented young people who, thanks to the boom in OVA production, didn't have much adult supervision. Many of them got to get involved creatively, without knowing many of the rules of the business side of things. And since OVAs didn't really have sponsors like TV shows did, they kind of went wild.

In an interview conducted in 2001, animation director Yuji Moriyama (who directed the Project A-ko series) lamented that outright parody works were simply no longer possible. "The business section of the organizations have gotten far too strict," he said. "There's now very much a wall between creators." Nowadays you might see something resembling a parody in a show like Gintama, but its target would be obscured or censored in some way.

The anime business has changed a lot. The overall staff is older. The business side of things is very structured, and there are many, many rules in place that were simply not there back in the day. It's a mature industry now.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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