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Modern television anime is produced at an aspect ratio of 16:9 - widescreen/HD. But in the past, television anime was more often produced at an aspect ratio of 4:3 - standard definition.

When did the transition from 4:3 to 16:9 for television anime happen?

Now, it's not too difficult to find isolated examples to get a sense for when the switchover was in progress. For example, Ouran High School Host Club, from spring 2006, was produced at 4:3, while Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid, from summer 2005, was produced at 16:9. Clearly, the transition was under way by 2005, but not complete by 2006. And I'm fairly confident that by 2011, all television anime were in 16:9 (Ninja Slayer notwithstanding).

But what I'm looking for is a more holistic view of how this transition happened. Who were the major players? Can we identify a clear starting date for the transition? And so forth.

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  • Keep in mind that during the transition you'd get a 4:3 version for TV while the DVD release would be in 16:9. Or you could get either version on DVD.
    – Ocean
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 21:42

1 Answer 1

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According to user Zalis on the MyAnimeList forums, one of the first instances of widescreen anime was Betterman (1999). However, because it isn't one of the better known shows, it often gets overlooked and Vandread (2000) is often accredited with the first.

The cinema is often the first place for the widescreen transition of visual media, and early animated (and non-animated) films were sometimes shown in widescsreen at the cinema, and later reshaped for broadcast/dvd. The earliest example I could find for this was Magic Boy (1960~) This was 2.40:1 rather than 16:9 though. You can see the difference between the aspect ratios below:

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I don't think there are any specific points in time that we can point to where there was a definite switch - just as the transition to digital happened, but the full transition seems to have been almost completed in 2006-2008, when 4:3 anime was rare and the larger series like One Piece, Naruto, etc. had all switched over.

References:

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    I think the information from Zalis is incorrect. From everything I've seen of this show, it looks like the DVD release is 16:9 (actually 1.85:1), but the top and bottom were cropped off in a way that a lot of important information is lost. Not sure how this aired in 1999, but I don't think it was originally widescreen just based on how each scene was shot.
    – Sawtaytoes
    Commented Feb 9 at 14:27
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    I got confirmation Betterman was 4:3 from the description on this old Best Buy product page for the DVD: bestbuy.com/site/betterman-vol-2-metamorphosis-dvd/… I'd question Vandread being the same way. Some release was 16:9 cropped, and people just assumed it was widescreen.
    – Sawtaytoes
    Commented Feb 9 at 14:49
  • Thanks @Sawtaytoes. I've updated the post. Commented Feb 9 at 17:53
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    Sorry to have to update this again. I asked some eBay sellers whom had similar looking DVD cases to that Best Buy listing, and those were all anamorphic widescreen (not 4:3). Looking through the Blu-ray release's Amazon Japan reviews, the horrible Google Translations seem to say something about it being cropped from the DVD release. I don't have enough information to know other than that Best Buy listing and the possibility of true 4:3 DVDs.
    – Sawtaytoes
    Commented Feb 15 at 14:20

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