I’ve always been really picky when comes to anime. There’s so many things about it, broadly, that I dislike. They’re often filled with crude fan service, bad jokes and an overwhelming amount of “cutesy” humor that has always put me off, and sometimes even made me feel a little icky, if you know what I’m saying. Listen, social mores are different in Japan, which is completely fine, but I just can’t get into pantie jokes concerning 12 year old kids. Call me old fashioned, I guess. But every once in awhile I come across things that work with my sensibilities. I don’t need a piece of media to comply with my western notions of taste, but I need at least a way in, a foot in the door, and then maybe I’ll have my preconceived notions challenged. Maybe. Probably not if has to do with pantie shots though.
My first memories of watching anime was on the Sci-Fi Channel(Back before the dark times known as SYFY…). Although, back then it was referred to as “Japanimation” rather than anime, which I suppose was a way of making it seem cool and exotic, or just a weird piece of western marketing. It was almost as if they weren’t sure we’d understand what the deal was. “Yeah, they’re cartoons, for sure, but they’re, like, from Japan and for grown-ups! Honest! It’s… It’s… ‘JAPANIMATION!'” You know, I bet that dude/dudette got a raise.
In all honesty, those descriptors are the very things that attracted me to the genre. I was super young and anything that even had the slightest inkling of being “subversive” I was into. They were cartoons, but they had violence, giant robots, and sometimes boobs. It all kind of blew my little kid brain, a fact that was exacerbated because I didn’t see it coming. I was probably channel surfing on a Saturday morning when I stumbled across anime, I was most likely looking for some Six Million Dollar Man reruns when I stumbled across my first taste, Vampire Hunter D, the original, none of that Bloodlust malarchy. I was a pretty hooked for awhile, and I was tuning in every Saturday morning that I could to see more. But I wasn’t”really” watching anime. I was watching edited for TV anime movies.
The reason I’m noting the distinction is because most anime that was on western cable at the time had been pretty well sanitized. From Dragonball Z(DBZ to it’s friends) to Ghost in the Shell, if it was on regular cable it was going to be heavily edited and, in some cases, even full-on censored. DBZ had entire sub-plots and character arcs excised, like the character Grandpa’s predilection for scoring a peek at young girls panties. So, yeah…
It’s something I wasn’t ever aware of until I was a lot older. My primary source of anime was relegated to basic cable channels, the SCI-FI channel and Cartoon Network’s Toonami, until I was an early teenager, and I just assumed that’s what it was all like. But the reality is much different, much broader, actually, and because of my limited experiences with anime I just assumed that I liked all anime. Well, that was until I actually met people that actually liked anime, and they started making recommendations. You see, for a long time I kind of thought of anime as a type of genre rather than just a medium or style. To me it was all sci-fi or fantasy type stuff. Until then I hadn’t even considered that the medium would be used to tell more “domestic” stories. Oh, boy, was I in for a surprise!
There’s a lot of weird stuff to be seen in the wild world of anime, and I’m not even talking about the tentacle porn. To be fair, “weird” is kind of a harsh term but, all things considered, it was my first real brush with another culture, in a way. A lot of anime is very much steeped in the time that it’s produced, it reflects the current culture. Just like it does in our country! Crazy, right?! So, with that, there comes a lot, and I mean a lot, of garbage, and when I would meet people that were into anime and I told them I like it too, they would assume I was game for everything the format had to offer. So I’d get recommendation to check shows out, I’d check out said show only to discover it was about a 15 year old girl, who was trying to get into a beauty pageant while staving off the boys and stopping them from sneaking a peek at her panties… Yes, the pantie thing again. If you’re unfamiliar with mainstream Japancentric anime from the 80’s and 90’s, they were filled with pantie shots. The weren’t even always sexualized, sometimes just kind of awkwardly existing for no discernible reason. It was almost as if some of the creators felt like it was just part of the aesthetic, and they were including it just to fulfill some unwritten rule. No matter the genre, these things show up, and while I’m not one to be offended by this kind of thing, the frequency in which it happens is annoying, I guess. Yeah, more annoying than anything.
The incredibly infantile humor, and I’m putting pantie jokes aside at this point, of a lot of anime shows put me off from a lot of things I might have otherwise really enjoyed. I love the concepts and the ideas behind a lot of the shows and movies, mostly the stuff with a science fiction bent to it, but even the stuff that I actually “like” has components of of the shit I dislike. Well, at least upfront they always do. For example shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Cowboy Bebop have some really, really terrible “comedy” bits that permeate the first half of the series. I don’t know if it’s used as a tool to lull us into a false sense of security before the series eventually throws the hammer down and decides it’s going to be super serious or something, but bad sitcom style antics always seem to rear their ugly head into the proceedings. I mean, I would understand if it was present in shows that called for it but, man, not almost every single one. Well, that I’ve seen anyways. The only show where that style works, in my opinion. is Trigun. It’s an action adventure comedy, for all intents and purposes, so those trapping don’t conflict with the tone that the series sets for itself. It’s fast paced and fun from the get-go, and the writing tends to be better than most shows, even ones like it.
For a long time I pretty much stuck to what I knew when it came to shows (I still would regularly watch a decent amount of anime films, but they’re usually their own thing.). Like I said at the beginning of this rambling mess, I just figured I was picky and, maybe, most of it just wasn’t for me. So I have been watching and re-watching the same handful of things for the past 15 years. Seriously, it wasn’t until recently that I’d watched anything newer, excluding known quantities like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Trigun: Badlands, the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, and the reboot films of Berserk. I pretty much knew what I was getting into with those.
Well, now that I’m thinking about it, I did dabble one time that I can recall. Elfen Lied. A show with an amazing premise, that spends most of it’s 13 episode run not dealing with the interesting premise. It spends the vast majority of it’s episodes playing as a domestic dramedy, wherein young kids learn about “romantic feelings.” Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the promise that the pilot had, and the road it looked to be going down, lead me to feeling incredibly disappointed, if only for the fact that it was so much like all the rest of the anime that I didn’t care for that I found it boring. Listen, I can get down with some well written love stories. It’s not all giant robots and sword and sorcery for me. I mean, one of my favorite game series is the Persona series, and that’s pretty much an anime. Actually, they did turn it into an anime, so there! Seriously, though, if you look into what Elfen Lied is about you’ll be super stoked about it, and then you’ll watch it and probably feel the same way I did. Or, you could like it and be wrong. It’s a free country.
Over this past summer I decided to give the old anime another shot. I went ahead and went to my Netflix account and clicked on the anime tab. It’s mostly filled teenage school dramas, like Fruit Baskets or something. But still I persisted on, and I stumbled upon a few series that I can say, without caveat, that I think are pretty good. In fact, I’d say they were just good shows, and not just good relative to anime, which is often the case. Attack on Titan, and Sword Art Online.
Attack on Titan though, god damn. It is seriously one of the best things I’ve watched in years. Especially in the realm of fantasy/science fiction. If you’re familiar with the 90’s anime Berserk, then you’ll have a good idea of the tone of this show. It feels a little more western in it’s approach, and it made me wonder if maybe anime has kind of been westernized a little more across the board, because if that is the case I bet there is a bunch of things that I’m missing out on! If being into otaku culture is no longer a barrier to entry, then I’d most likely be on board. I really like many of the ideas presented in a lot of anime shows, so if there is a clearer path to get at those elements then I’m in.
Over the next few months I’m going to go deep. I’m going to get a subscription to Crunchy Roll and see what’s out there. Hell, I’ll even check out some modern comedy series and teen dramas, you know, see if I can stomach it. Maybe I’ll even learn something from the experience. Probably not, but I’m going to go into it with a positive attitude and an open mind, broaden my horizons and cultural understandings. Maybe I’ll gain a better understanding of my teenage sister. She watches all that stuff! Anyways, I’ll report back in a month or so!