The Anime Conundrum

As this blog will attest, I’m pretty much the complete stereotypical nerd. I like video games, comic books, science fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. But there’s two typical nerdisms that I have always proudly be unassociated with: Anime and Live Action Role Playing. In this post, I want to talk a bit about Anime. The picture above is a poster from a Japanese cartoon called Thunderbirds 2086. This show has the honor of being the first piece of Japanese animation that I was ever exposed to…. and I hated it.

I don’t recall many of the details because I was probably around pre-school age. But I believe this series was being aired on HBO in the early 80s and for some reason, my father taped it for me. Not having anything else to watch, I watched Thunderbirds. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, and I didn’t like it any better after the 50th time I saw it. But for some reason, I watched it.

Today, I couldn’t tell you what it was even about. I won’t cheat and look it up online either. All I remember are big yellow machines, some kind of underwater expedition and a bunch of starfighters that reminded me of something out of Star Wars. Aside from this show, and a healthy dose of Speed Racer cartoons, I had no other exposure to Japanese animation for quite some time.

I next stumbled into Japanamation (that’s what we called it at the time) with the debut of Voltron on American television. Now this show was cool! Bright colors, robotic lions that could connect into one butt kicking robot! This show had it all. However, shortly after becoming interested in Voltron, the show seemed to vanish from the airwaves. So, my interests returned to more American shows like He-Man and Silverhawks.

A year or two later, I found myself living the life of an Air Force brat on the island of Okinawa in Japan. Back then, there were only three channels available to watch. One armed-forces-ran English channel and two local Japanese channels. 9 times out of 10, it was English-speaking channel that was on in my home. But occasionally, I enjoyed flipping it over to the Japanese stations. Japanese programming was quite different from anything I was used to. Crazy game shows, cheesy-looking soap operas and of course, anime cartoons. Around the time I was living there, Dragon Ball Z was just in its first run in Japan. It was actually quite popular among the American kids, even if we had no idea what it was about. We traded Dragon Ball trading cards, we had Dragon Ball pencils, it was everywhere. I thought it looked cool, but I wasn’t able to understand the storyline because I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. A few years after I returned to the states, Dragon Ball had made it’s way here and I remember being amused by everyone thinking it was something knew. No one believed me when I told them it was at least 3-4 years old.

At this point, I was very indifferent to anime. I really enjoyed the artwork visually, but I had no real love for the shows themselves. My next stint with anime is where I think I really began to disdain the genre. I was dating a girl, and she basically forced me to watch this bizarre sex/alien-based cartoon called Legend of the Overfiend. I didn’t enjoy this show at all. I remember something about giant alien penises tearing apart a city, and monsters with tentacles raping women. It was totally not my cup of tea. It burned me from anime for a very long time. Almost 10 years to be exact.

Flash forward to around 2006, I find myself being an avid player of Final Fantasy XI online. Many of the people I play with are major otakus. In fact, I realize I am slowly becoming the minority with my peers in the game. Everyone is watching anime. Everywhere I turn people are talking about things like Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion. I try watching some of these shows, but to me they still seem slow-paced and boring.

Then one day, I find myself at the book store and I look up to see a shelf of Manga (Japanese comics). I pick up a Dragon Ball book and flip through it. I find myself liking it, so I buy it. I loved the comic so much that I went back and purchased a bunch more. Man, I’m really digging this book! So maybe this is it, I think. I decide to give Dragon Ball another shot and I put it on my Netflix list. Well, the DVD comes, and I fall asleep watching it. It’s just…. too childish. I try again with another Manga that I really enjoy, Chobits. This show is not childish at all, but it still doesn’t click with me.

A few more years go by, and now it seems like everyone is into anime but me. So finally a few weeks ago, I bite the bullet and ask some of my friends in Final Fantasy XIV to recommend a few titles to me. I summarize my experiences and I get quite a few suggestions. One of these is a series called Sword Art Online. It’s a show that’s essentially about a futuristic virtual reality-based MMO. After everyone logs in on launch day, they find themselves trapped inside the game world. It turns out this trap was laid out by the game’s sadistic creator as twisted experiment of sorts. If you die in the game, the VR machine sends a shock to your system terminating you in real-life (think, Matrix). It was fantastic. Simply amazing.

After watching only one episode of this show, I was hooked. I finally found an anime cartoon that enjoy. Thanks to some Netflix suggestions, I have a few other titles on my list that I’m going to try out as well. So I’m very curious to see if this one show is an exception to my rule of “I hate anime” or if it will actually be a doorway that gets me into the genre. I’m genuinely curious. – but needless to say, I recommend this show.

If any of you have some good suggestions, please feel free to either comment or send a message. I will be sure to check it out.

Despite this new development, no matter what, I still refuse to dress up and participate in any LARPing whatsoever. So there’s always that.

  1. Damn, can’t believe your ex-girlfriend made you watch a hentai, and Legend of the Overfiend of all things.
    Anyway, did you enjoy the rest of the Sword Art Online series? A lot of anime fans seem to absolutely loathe it it but I thought it was one of the better ones to come out in recent years. Good anime is hard to find since much of it is either too slow paced, dreadfully boring,or just plain bizarre. As for recommendations I suggest watching a few episodes of the following to see if they’re to your liking:
    Gungrave- It’s a sci-fi crime drama about two best friends who attempt to go up the ranks of the criminal underworld. Be warned that most plot summaries and even the first episode spoil a major turning point in the story. It’s best to start at episode two and go in completely blind. It’s based off a PS2 game.
    Berserk (1997)- A medieval fantasy about a young swordsman who joins a mercenary group trying to make a name for itself. The setting and tone is similar to Game of Thrones so if you like that show it might appeal to you. The first episode chronologically takes place after the last episode so you can skip it if you want and start at episode two.
    Fighting Spirit- A series about and meek teen who joins a boxing gym and starts competing in tournaments. Even if you’re not a boxing fan or someone who doesn’t really like sports in general, the characters various struggles and triumphs make them easy to relate to and the fights are pretty intense.
    If you want manga recommendations I suggest Death Note or Monster. If you enjoy psychological thrillers and games of cat and mouse those two are as good as they get. If you want more anime/manga suggestions just shoot me an email.

    • retrosensei says:

      Hello, Yarp – Haha yes. Aside from 80’s Voltron as a child and the JP-tv version of DragonBall, Overfiend was technically my first anime. Turned me off for quite a while. To answer your question, yes I really enjoyed SAO. I’ve watched every episode so far. I did watch the Death Note serial drama on CrunchyRoll and enjoyed it.

      -Sensei

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