Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship with Anime.

I grew up at a very particular and unique time in geek history. When I was young, certain classic Japanese cartoons were dubbed, dumbed down a little and pushed onto American television sets with the rest of children's TV. Like most other kids of the 1980s, I grew up knowing Voltron, Tranzor Z and Robotech without any idea that the shows were made in a place called Japan. A few years later, these shows and a few other popular ones would make their way to the US under the label "Japanimation." Thankfully, by the time I was in late high school and early college, that unwieldy and vaguely racist term had faded in favor of the word "anime," and in the dorm rooms in the mid-1990s, I watched a lot of it. At the time, I'd have called myself an anime fan. I don't really wear that label today.

When I got to see this unedited and de-sanitized as Macross,
 I  gained a whole new level of respect for these shows.

With the rise of the internet happening literally before my eyes given that I was in a University with a PC Lab when the graphical world wide web was in its infancy, exposure to subcultures became easy. You didn't have to find that one weird guy who attended anime conventions or lurked on usenet newsgroups in order to find out about the scene. I was able to head to the local video store and rent taped films and episodes of series both subtitled and dubbed into english without being at the mercy of the tastes of local fansubbers and their limited command of Japanese. I watched Vampire Hunter D, Golgo 13 (since I'd played the game on the NES, why not?,) Dominion Tank Police (my first exposure to catgirls,) Ranma 1/2 and Dirty Pair. We'd hang out late into the night smoking cigarettes and eating raw cookie dough, laughing at and generally enjoying Anime when we weren't gaming or playing spades.

As years passed, in my post-college days I continued to watch various Anime series with people from my gaming groups, though most of the faces had changed since college. As a group, we went through the entire series of Evangelion, loving every minute up until the final episode that provided nothing in the way of closure and was confusing and abstract. (I'm aware of the movies that correct this, but haven't seen them.)  As D&D players, we also watched the Record of Lodoss War series, loving the first series and confused and frustrated by the second. The plot was rebooted, character motivations and personalities changed, and instead of animating the awesome fantasy battles that made the original series so much fun to watch, the characters would freeze into a tableau as they charged into combat. The fights were implied, with the results shown afterward, and the "chibi" style comedy bits at the end of the episodes provided laughs, if not satisfaction.

If you love the original series and are tempted to watch "Chronicles of the Heroic Knight,"
heed my warning and leave it alone, watching it tarnished my memory of the series.

Meeting some of the folks who were really into anime in these years gave me my first exposure to the things I didn't care for about the genre. Stories about Magical Girls, hentai (porn) with tentacled beasts raping schoolgirls, and nonsensical soap operas or adventure stories where very little seemed to actually happen. I learned about the fascination with these characters and these sorts of stories that did nothing for me, and a new generation of imported dubbed series hit US TV sets. Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z... I gave them both an honest shot and determined that I wasn't the target audience for this sort of thing, but the average fan of anime was rapidly becoming the sort of person who craved more of the things I liked least about the form as art and entertainment.

There were some really great things in the anime world I managed to get exposed to, the primary among those being Cowboy Bebop. Now this, I could get into. Amazing music, interesting characters, the world had a distinct "feel" that I could grasp and want to see more stories told in right away. The animation was of sufficient quality that I could tell without being told that the lead character's fighting style was specifically Jeet Kun Do, as practiced by Bruce Lee. I went through every episode of the series I could get my hands on, and made a special trip to a little art house theater downtown to catch the movie when it entered into limited release here in Chicago. I still have both the opening and closing credits compositions by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts in my MP3 collection. The music throughout the entire series was great, and even the english voice dub actors were decent, though I preferred subtitles.

They just don't make 'em like this anymore.

I'd have still called myself a fan, until I turned up at a few anime conventions, and added anime as one of my interests on StumbleUpon. I swiftly realized that the default perspective of the typical fan of the genre had left me behind, and was mired in stuff that I couldn't get into. Inu Yasha, Naruto, Yu Gi Oh!, and the terrible hack jobs of content editing and poor translation inflicted on shows that might have been good before they were sanitized for US audiences sickened me. I gave every one of these shows a legitimate shot, and ended up hating them. Giving credit where it is due, I did quite enjoy Fullmetal Alchemist, or what little I saw of it, and I've seen even less of Death Note, but it intrigues me a little. I've come around to looking at what anime has evolved into, and I realize that I'm annoyed by the vast majority of it.

I don't turn up at anime conventions anymore, and I watch first episodes of a series suggested to me with more than a little suspicion now. I removed "anime" as an interest on Stumble and other social media, because I found myself ignoring or even blocking 90% of what was turning up for me. I'm finished with great shows, like Samurai Champloo, Hellsing and Initial D, and I gave Bleach a shot and hated it, and I'm not sure at all what to make of Trigun or One Piece. One series that I had a lot of contempt for, but in recent years have warmed up to somewhat is Pokemon, and I catch myself humming the theme song or making jokes about "It's Super Effective!" without a hint of shame. I guess I'd just like to see a little less crude slapstick and chibi faces, and a little more thoughtfulness like the kind found in Perfect Blue, Grave of the Fireflies or Princess Mononoke. Is that kind of anime even made anymore, and I'm just missing it?
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Timothy said...

The last anime I enjoyed (it was only 6 episodes, and I could have done without two of them) was Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne .

I will argue, however, that Carl Macek's assemblege of Robotech was superior to the source materials used. And seeing as how Macross, like many anime projects, keeps getting revisited (as though the same premise can be used again and again but different things will happen makes sense) and being diminshed, maybe there is something to be said for the repeated failures of Robotech to find a suitable re-launch. No, I don't consider the Shadow Chronicles suitable.

DocStout said...

My biggest issue with the Americanized Macross/Robotech is that a few characters had large portions of their character development chopped, especially Minmay. I also think that some of the time jumps were a bit much, even if what came between them in the original wasn't all that great.

Jay said...

i only read this for "tentacled beasts raping schoolgirls".

Alpha said...

Jin-Roh was pretty good.

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