Anime and me: a brief historyFebruary 15, 2018
Welcome, one and all, to what I’m hoping will be an interesting posting for you all. Today, we’re going to take a brief look at my love of anime over the years.
I was born in 1984 and like many kids of my era, I had access to a lot of anime from an early age. The thing is, none of us knew what anime was, let alone that that was what we were watching. This was a time when you could stick the TV on in the morning while you had your breakfast, and enjoy two or three cartoons before school. Shows like Ulysses 31 and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors were quirky shows that held our attention, nothing more. Not one person in my social group ever gave any indication that they knew that the shows were Japanese productions (in collaboration with other countries, of course), and the reason was simple: we didn’t care. What mattered was that we were enjoying the shows. There was no desire to be part of a fan community or anything like that. The same could be said of the Force Five project. If you aren’t familiar with it, this was a US dub of five different anime. In this series, I was personally a fan of Starvengers (originally Getter Robo G) and Spaceketeers (originally Starzinger). Again though, these were just fun shows that felt a little different to some of the other stuff out there.
It was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that things began to change. By the time that I’d started high school, I’d noticed a small section appear in my local second-hand music and video store. This was small group of VHS tapes was labelled as ‘Manga’, drawing not on the actual style of animation, but on the company that was releasing it all: Manga Entertainment. I don’t think that I actually recognised the art style on anything more than a subconscious level. If I’m being honest, what drew me to it was that these were cartoons with 15 and 18 age ratings. Now, I wasn’t fifteen at the time. And my brother was younger than I was. Vendors being a little more lapse then though, the gent behind the counter had no problem selling me a bunch of VHS tapes that I legally should not have been given. And so, I waltzed in with my pocket money, and waltzed right back out again with a bag of tapes:
- Fist of the North Star OVA
- Ghost in the Shell
- Ninja Scroll
- Project A-Ko
- Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend
I really enjoyed most of these. The sheer brutality of some of it was beyond anything that I’d seen at that point. Project A-Ko made me laugh enough to grab the sequels when I spotted them at a car boot sale, and the series became a family favourite for a short while. Akira and Ghost in the Shell introduced me to the concept of storytelling among the more violent scenes. No, the only one that was a little problematic for me was Urotsukidoji. From the moment that we see the lead – ahem – enjoying himself while the girls get changed, I knew that it wasn’t going to be one that I stuck on in front of my parents. Even with the BBFC cuts, there was still enough explicit material left in for me to feel uncomfortable. Somehow, I made it through the entire film once. I kinda felt like I had to know how it ended. I haven’t watched it again since.
Still, one flop among the pile wasn’t enough to put me off and I soon started hunting down other Manga releases. They weren’t all as fun for me; Crying Freeman was good but I never got to finish it, while Guyver never really grabbed me enough to track down anything beyond the first two or three releases. Tenchi Muyo was fun though. Oh, and New Dominion Tank Police? That was an absolute blast!
As a bonus, when I hit high school, I discovered a small group of people who were into this stuff too. That was actually when I first heard the term ‘anime’. It was also the first time that I’d met anyone who was … elitist, I guess is the word. He touted himself as a huge fan of anime, a master collector in fact, and boy was he opinionated. For example, if you preferred the FotNS OVA to the series, you were scum. I escaped this wrath by simply not having experienced the series, though a friend of mine was less fortunate. Enjoying Ninja Scroll though? That made me ‘one of those fans’ apparently. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I ignored him.
It was around this time that family friendly anime started making it to TV again too. Between the after school cartoon shows and the Saturday morning shows, we had Cardcaptor Sakura, Digimon Adventure, Pokémon and Samurai Pizza Cats. Pokémon was the by far the most popular, as the anime had come along around the time of the release of Red and Blue on the Gameboy, which was really good. So good in fact that it was one of the few games that, even as a not-going-to-buy-something-just-because-other-people-like-it sort, I pestered my parents relentlessly for the thing. For what it’s worth, I got Red and my brother got Blue. My sister eventually got Yellow too.
Anyway, this was when I started to become aware of changes made across countries too.
You see, everyone seemed to know about the banned Pokémon episode with Porygon. Of course, we all looked it up and watched the slowed down footage of the flashing screen, largely because we were stupid when it came to risk taking with potential medical issues. We knew why it had been banned, but we tried to watch anyway. Sigh. Still, nothing happened to any of us, thankfully. Later on, we found out about other banned episodes and scenes like James from Team Rocket in a bikini and the various appearances of Jynx.
By that time, I’d gotten into Digimon quite heavily too. Given my love for the franchise, it may surprise you to learn that it took a while for it to take with me. There was always something about it that made me want to keep watching, but early on certainly, it wasn’t really something that I was enjoying on any major level. Eventually though, everything picked up and, as the different series marched on, I grew to love how much it mixed things up compared to Pokémon. In these early days though, I was beginning to spend some time looking up changes across countries in terms of the context of episodes.
Digimon actually acted as a gateway to fan creations for me too. I still remember stumbling across the idea of Goth TK one rainy day. Goth TK was the Zero Two TK, but recoloured in black and purple. He ate pins, wrote poetry, and had a site where he would paint a picture of your soul (it was always a plain black screen, which made me laugh more than it really should have). Before then, I was blissfully unaware of fan fiction and fan characters. I made them myself, as did a few others I knew – mostly in the Sonic the Hedgehog and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universes – but we never knew that there was a community for it.
So, time marched on, and I got to experience Mew Mew Power and Pretty Cure too. My interest was waning though. Outside my loyalty to the shows that I already loved, I just didn’t have the desire to hunt down anything new. And so, I stopped feeling like I was an anime fan around 2001.
It’s worth noting here that there was one exception to this loss of interest: Wolf’s Rain. After seeing it covered in a magazine, I knew that I had to watch it. I mean, it had wolves in it! Wolves are a great way to get me interested in pretty much anything. So, my parents bought me the series one Christmas. It remains a favourite for me now. Looking back on it though, that was it until 2007. So, what got me back into the medium? Well, my partner gave birth to my youngest.
Yup, you read that correctly. You see, when my youngest was born, I was determined to help out with the night feeds. So, we took it in turns. That was when my partner and I discovered Anime Central. Running from 21:00 to 06:00, Anime Central aired nothing but anime. When you’re up at 03:00 with a baby in your arms, there really is little on TV, so when we stumbled across this, it was a near miracle for us.
The channel only ran from February 2007 to August 2008, but it had a small, but decent line-up. We never got to see some of it – such as Gundam SEED and Visions of Escaflowne – but there were a few regulars on there that grabbed our attention. Witch Hunter Robin sits at the bottom of this list. We only saw a few episodes, but it was enough for us to find the series on DVD. It was okay. The others though … we started watching:
- Fullmetal Alchemist
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 1st and 2nd Gig
These were magical series for us. GitS had the advantage of being a part of my childhood, and returning to that universe with adult eyes was a real pleasure. I fell in love with the 2nd Gig OP ‘Rise’ by Origa, and the animation quality was really something in my eyes. Fullmetal Alchemist meanwhile had a really great storyline and some wonderful characters, which really drew us in and got us hooked. Dot Hack ruined SAO for us. To this day, I love that show. The characters were sympathetic, the pacing felt just right to me, and I really wanted to see it through to the end. Whenever I see a ‘trapped in an MMORPG’ series now, I end up comparing the two, and thus far, none have matched .Hack//SIGN for me. And then there was Bleach. Out of all the shows, it was the one that ignited our interest the most, I think. Between the general storyline, the character designs for the Hollows, and the early monster of the week style to introduce characters and concepts, it became a firm favourite very quickly. To the point that we started reading the manga too.
And so, my love of anime returned. I started looking up shows online and in magazines again, hunting for shows that sounded like they might be enjoyable. I threw myself at cosplay. And then, in 2015, I started blogging. Yup, since those late nights towards the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, anime has been an important part of my life again. There are still frustrations for me, of course. There are plenty of shows that either don’t take my fancy at all, or lose me very quickly due to quality or content. But when it gets it right, anime as a medium is something special.
Now, how to end this … okay, how about some random recommendations of shows that I found after being reintroduced to anime a little over ten years ago? Split by genre, these have been favourites for me:
- Action: Black Lagoon
- Comedy: KonoSuba
- Cyberpunk: Psycho Pass
- Dark Fantasy: Attack on Titan
- Horror: Death Note
- Mech: Evangelion Rebuild project
- Slice of Life: Flying Witch
- Suspense: Durarara!!
And that’s about it. So, how about all of you? How did you first find anime? Has it been a constant love, or did you drop in and out like I did? Let me know below.
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