Why I Fell In Love With Anime and Why I Grew To Hate It – Part 2

Did you read Part 1? You should probably do that first here.

High school years: Introduction to JRPGs and more anime

Video games were an important part of growing up, but in 8th grade I played my first RPG (not including Pokemon, which I always thought of as its own thing): Lufia: The Legend Returns for the Game Boy Color. It was the first game I ever played to see a diverse group of characters that were more developed than what I’d normally experienced. The plot really interested me, and I couldn’t get over the fact a video game was delivering a much more interesting story than many of the recent books I read. Golden Sun for the Game Boy Advance shortly followed suit, and I was as easily impressed. And both of these games had artwork that was clearly anime-influenced. It seemed like such perfect timing that I was discovering the world of anime in comics, television shows, and now video games. The fact that so many of these characters were around the same age as me was also pretty nice, as it made everything seem more relatable.

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Although I don’t play video games, let alone RPGs, nearly as much as I used to, these are two games that I’ll still revisit every year or two when I’m feeling nostalgic enough.

 

When I began high school, I had some money saved up. I was going to buy a PSone, the smaller, cheaper version of the original PlayStation. Now that I was more interested in RPGs, I wanted to play the one that I’d been interested in ever since I saw a friend play it a couple of years prior: Final Fantasy VII. I thought the art style was wonderful, and I’d been searching the Internet for pictures to try drawing from shortly before seriously looking into it. The characters had those familiar anime eyes, and something about the art style really stuck out to me. (For the record, I’m talking about the artwork featured in strategy guides and in-game. Sorry Amano fans, but I just couldn’t really appreciate his work at the time.)

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Buying my own console and game was a pretty big deal when I was 14. I had to save up for a long time.

 

An example of the official artwork for Final Fantasy VII.

An example of the official artwork for Final Fantasy VII.

Artwork of FFVII by Yoshitaka Amano. I believe FFVII was the first Final Fantasy game not to feature his art style (although I'm not positive, so feel free to correct me on that). I wasn't able to really appreciate his art style until my 20s, despite being very popular with most Final Fantasy fans I knew.

Artwork of FFVII by Yoshitaka Amano. I believe FFVII was the first Final Fantasy game not to feature his art style (although I’m not positive, so feel free to correct me on that). I wasn’t able to really appreciate his art style until my 20s, despite being very popular with most Final Fantasy fans I knew.

I was blown away by the story and narration of FFVII. Lufia and Golden Sun were one thing, but this… this was something else entirely. I don’t really want to go through a lengthy examination of my experience with it like I did with Evangelion in the last part, so sorry for any of you not familiar with the game. But let’s just say it was yet another thing that was blowing my teenage mind, another story that had connected with me during this emerging passion of anime.

Luckily, FFVII was not quite so old as to be irrelevant. I bought it in 2002, only five years after it was released. I’m guessing since a lot of people my age who played RPGs didn’t start until they were closer to being a teenager, many of them must have played it within a couple of years as well. The friends I began to make all had some experience with the game at one point, and I found a lot of common ground between them as we got to know each other. I had friends introduce me to other anime-styled video games, like Xenosaga and other Final Fantasy games, and others who simply knew a lot more about anime than I did.

I made friends with a clique of people who all had different shows and manga to introduce me to. One, if not the first of them, was The Visions of Escaflowne. Strangely enough, this was apparently a show on Fox when I was a kid, although I have no recollection of it even so much as being advertised. It was very much a fantasy story, and I remember really wanting to finish the rest of the show after borrowing the first three DVDs from one of my new friends. Unfortunately, he only had the first three, and I wouldn’t get to finish the show until I purchased a box set of it a year or two afterwards. I’ll always remember the intro for Escaflowne; it had a very sweet sounding, albeit cheesy, J-pop song that often got stuck in my head. But beyond that, the intro had some of the most beautiful background art I’ve ever seen in animation, anime or otherwise. Besides very stylized characters, anime also tended to have some amazing backgrounds that were extremely detailed and often very beautiful. That was something I’d start to notice as the years went on, at least for shows drawn with traditional animation. If you can stand the song, go look up Escaflowne’s intro sometime on YouTube and check out those backgrounds.

While some friends let me borrow shows, I saw others on Adult Swim. But I actually didn’t start collecting many anime DVDs myself until the latter half of high school, when I got my first job. Anime was pretty expensive; I’d have to use whatever money I received for Christmas or my birthday to pursue this growing hobby of mine. I was only able to buy a few whole shows before I had a stable income. One was Excel Saga, a parody of anime in general. It was a pretty crazy show, with a main character that spouted words and dialogue at about 200% normal speaking speed. Me and a bunch of friends thought it was really funny back then, but thinking about it now sort of makes me cringe. I remember not really having a great experience watching it again the last time I sat through it – and that was when I was still an anime fan. I think this would be an example of one of those shows that makes anime seem to have dialogue that’s sort of juvenile, but I’ll talk more about what I mean by that later on.

Escaflowne and Excel Saga were two of the first shows I ever bought. Both were introduced to me by friends first.

Escaflowne and Excel Saga were two of the first shows I ever bought. Both were introduced to me by friends.

The other show was FLCL, or Fooly Cooly. It was a show that premiered on Adult Swim one week and… well, it was something all right. It was made by the same studio that created Evangelion, and both of them were mind fucks (and the character designer for FLCL happened to be Yoshiyuki Sadamoto as well, so that’s already a plus in my book). While Evangelion had a serious plot that at least flowed together, FLCL was just… nonsensical and cartoony. There was this boy who got hit by a girl riding a Vespa; robots started popping out of his head and he needed to fuse (?) with his own that kind of just appeared out of nowhere; he’s got this weird relationship between his older brother’s ex-girlfriend and the Vespa girl; some weird FBI-like agent with weird eyebrows starts getting up in the main character’s business… it’s a weird show. Admittedly, I read the manga first (which had some great art, by the way), and that was just as weird, if not more so. But if anime was teaching me anything, it was that weird and different stuff follows it, and I wanted to experience more if it. I found it available on DVD in 2003 (my sophomore year of high school). The thing was, it was only available on three separate DVDs at $30 each. (Guess where all my Christmas money that year went?) It was kind of absurd, considering it was only six episodes long with two episodes on each disc. But whatever. I bought it anyway. Because that’s what I did. I was so enamored with the world of anime that I would be willing to spend $90 on what was essentially a miniseries that was three hours long. But at least it would be a show I’d end up rewatching a lot, both because of my interest and because it was so short.

Three DVDs for close to $100. Hello, 2003.

Three DVDs for close to $100. Hello, 2003.

And strangely enough, the more I watched the show, the less random it seemed. Beneath all the silliness and randomness seemed to be a show comprised almost entirely out of metaphors. For example, at the core of the show, it’s about a kid growing up. There’s all this talk about baseball and comparing himself to his older brother who went off to play baseball in the US, and how the main kid never swings a bat but always carries one around. A lot of that translates to becoming your own person and taking your own actions. Stuff like this is sprinkled throughout the entire show, and back then it reinforced the idea of what a powerful storytelling medium I thought anime was. I’m not sure how much I’d like it now; it’s probably been at least six years since I’ve seen it. Maybe a revisit should be in order to see if it has too much “anime” in it to really appeal to me anymore.

While affording anime was an issue, it was much easier and accessible to purchase manga. At $10 per book and a generous temporary job of babysitting a friend’s younger brothers for $20-50 a week, I usually got to visit the mall once or twice a month and take a couple books back with me. Like DVDs, other friends let me borrow manga, too. A couple of the earliest ones I can remember borrowing were the above mentioned FLCL and Onegai Teacher. Both were very strange, but again, I was blindly worshipping anime at this point and was interested in whatever I could get my hands on. These would eventually be some of the first series I began purchasing, as well as the manga adaptation of Escaflowne, which had a dramatically different story and art style. Nothing like encouraging someone to buy more stuff by making two different mediums of the same story so completely different.

I originally borrowed the two FLCL manga volumes from one of my friends. When I started buying manga on my own, these were two of the first I bought. They were quick reads, too, so they were perfect for talking to school :)

I originally borrowed the two FLCL manga volumes from one of my friends. When I started buying manga on my own, these were two of the first I bought. They were quick reads, too, so they were perfect for talking to school 🙂

An example featuring some of the unique art the FLCL manga offered.

An example featuring some of the unique art the FLCL manga offered.

The art in this manga often changed styles. Thick outlines were often used, which was especially appealing to me at the time because I was also going through a Jhonen Vasquez phase. Fun fact: I drew this panel for a friend in high school :)

The art in this manga often changed styles. Thick outlines were often used, which was especially appealing to me at the time because I was also going through a Jhonen Vasquez phase. Fun fact: I drew this panel for a friend in high school 🙂

However, when it came down to manga, Love Hina was the series I’d gotten the most into and reread more than any other series. Unfortunately, Love Hina is the type of thing that I would be embarrassed to admit to liking in when I was an anime fan. It was a harem show, where there was a main guy surrounded by a group of girls that all fell in love with him. But just like when I watched the Tenchi Muyo series on Toonami when I was in middle school, I didn’t understand or even know what a harem show was at this point.

Love Hina, strangely enough, was one of the most recommended shows by the girls in my circle of anime fans. There was a nerdy, pathetic, yet adorable-ish main guy character, so I guess I could see how his clumsy shenanigans were appealing to girls.

But man… this manga had fan service. Lots of fan service.

It was a romantic comedy, and the inner romantic in me got all sorts of feels as I kept reading the story of a dumb guy desperately trying to get into Tokyo University because of a promise he made to a girl he liked as a little kid (and while I thought that was soooo romantic as a teenager, as an adult I can’t even begin to describe how obsessive and toxic this is, especially considering he doesn’t even remember who the girl is).

But when I try thinking of it as a good manga with a solid story now, all of the fan service kind of gets in the way of that. I mean don’t get me wrong, I was 15 when I started reading this and enjoyed the fan service back then. I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t. There was a hopeless romantic in me that loved the story and also a teenager with raging hormones that enjoyed the many panels of exposed cleavages and towels barely covering girls as they took baths in hot springs. It didn’t seem like an issue back then; this type of thing appealed to anime fans who liked girls, while the ones that liked boys had their own set of manga with handsome dudes wearing half buttoned-up shirts while caressing each other’s chests (I believe Gravitation was one of these that I saw a lot of girls reading frequently). I was learning how much more open Japan is with nudity (at least that’s what everyone told me), so it never seemed that weird to me. It seemed more like an aspect of the show back then, rather than the main focus. It was just, you know… another part of the world of anime.

As you can see, Love Hina blends cuteness, goofiness, and sex appeal. Buying manga with sexy covers was always awkward. If I wanted to pick up the next volume and it had a promiscuous cover, I would try to pick up at least one or two other books that had less intense covers in the hopes of not being judged by the Walden Books clerk :/

As you can see, Love Hina blends cuteness, goofiness, and sex appeal. Buying manga with sexy covers was always awkward. If I wanted to pick up the next volume and it had a promiscuous cover, I would try to pick up at least one or two other books that had less intense covers in the hopes of not being judged by the Walden Books clerk :/

But as the years would go on, fan service stuff like this felt more and more… awkward. I guess when I was in high school and all the other characters in anime and manga I was experiencing were around the same age, it was more appealing. But after high school, going into my 20s, watching shows or reading manga with a lot of fan service made me feel… creepy. When certain anime shows or manga put so much focus on sexualizing high school girls, you can’t help but feel like something’s wrong here.

It’s strange, because I legitimately had a lot of fun reading Love Hina as a teenager. But now I don’t think I could go through it again without cringing or feeling really awkward. Maybe, if I was extremely nostalgic, in the mood to get sappy, and could look past all the fan service, I would enjoy rereading a couple of volumes again. But honestly, even if I did feel like revisiting an anime I used to like, Love Hina probably wouldn’t be my top choice. I think I’d rather stick with something like Evangelion or FLCL.

But I can at least say, despite what it is, it’s pretty tame compared to other shows that came out in later years. (This isn’t an excuse for the series, btw. This much fan service of high school girls is still pretty messed up.) I think the most detailed bit of fan service was showing butts. Privates were always either conveniently covered or just not drawn (unless they censored it; who knows?). It may have been a little perverted at times, but all in all I remember it being cute and goofy enough to realize why all those anime girls recommended it to me in the first place. It was harmless enough. Somewhat harmless, anyway. When more and more anime started hitting store shelves around 2007, I began seeing more anime that seemed a lot worse. Like, a lot worse. One show even had a pair of panties included in the box set. (Just… why? Don’t answer that.) I at least used to love the story and humor in Love Hina enough. It seemed like it was more than just a harem series, it was a genuinely sweet, cheesy story with some fanservice. And geez, it even won some award for best US released manga in 2002 or 2003. Hell, it was even advertised in a Suncoast commercial, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? … Right?

Sigh. Does anyone else miss movie stores? I do.

Love Hina's very much a romantic comedy. Here the main guy and girl are hanging out, but totally not on a date. And then their friends see them and the girl freaks out that they might get the wrong idea. Love Hina's art style is often either goofy or cartoony, and it's perfect for this type of story.

Love Hina’s very much a romantic comedy. Here the main guy and girl are hanging out, but totally not on a date. And then their friends see them and the girl freaks out that they might get the wrong idea. Love Hina’s art style is often either goofy or cartoony, and it’s perfect for this type of story.

One of the many examples of fan service found in Love Hina. Some friends are bowling, one of them trips, and then OOPS. Appealing when I was a teen, but after years of seeing it reused, this kind of humor stopped being funny for me, and left me feeling a little awkward whenever it happened.

One of the many examples of fan service found in Love Hina. Some friends are bowling, one of them trips, and then OOPS. Appealing when I was a teen, but after years of seeing it reused, this kind of humor stopped being funny for me, and left me feeling a little awkward whenever it happened.

Sorry, didn’t mean to go so off topic with Love Hina. But I kind of wanted to use that as a bridge to cross into an area of discomfort for being an anime fan. Whether it was something like Love Hina that had a lot of fan service or another show like Evangelion that barely had any fan service at all, non-anime fans found us pretty creepy when even the slightest mention of a sexual innuendo was heard or a naked body was seen.

I remember bringing manga to school every day to read in between classes or during downtime. There were a lot of instances of a classmate looking over my shoulder to see what I was reading, only to ask me if I was reading porn if the page happened to have something like an obviously exposed cleavage. It hurt when people kept pressing on that and making me feel bad. These books all had a T rating (for teens), none of it was actually porn. It’s not like I had a Playboy open. It’s not like there were all these anime girls completely naked with their legs spread open. It’s not like anyone was having sex. I mean, movies had fan service all the time! My dad is a big movie nut, and I don’t know how many times I walked into the room and there was some random nude shot of someone or an intense make out scene that led to two characters stripping and having fake movie sex. That wasn’t porn, so why the hell were us anime fans getting so much shit? It bothered the hell out of me.

No one wanted to know why we liked this stuff so much. It wasn’t about the sexy stuff. I mean, a lot of us enjoyed it back then, sure 😉 What teenager wouldn’t? But there was something so much more that brought us into this world. We loved getting into another nation’s culture through anime and manga, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I was really pissed all anyone could do was accuse us of reading a bunch of perverted comics.

Unfortunately, blindly defending flaws like this was something I would end up doing right until I realized I no longer liked anime. I was so mad that the adults in my life and non-anime fans in school would always either tease me or make fun of me for it, that I never really took their criticisms about anime seriously. They didn’t want to understand what I saw in it, so why should I listen to them? It’s strange, though, how I came to have the same critical thoughts about anime years later, and how I wished I considered them more when I was a teenager.

The first half of high school, despite being confusing as hell with the new experiences of being a teenager and finding my place, were made easier because I had something in the world of anime to connect to. Whether it was the art style, the stories, or the obscure humor, anime made me feel a little more at home. And while anime wasn’t particularly liked by a lot of people, I was lucky enough to find a group of friends that also welcomed it into their lives. They taught me more about the world of anime and introduced me to new shows, manga, and even RPGs. While many of these new things didn’t share the complexity Evangelion had, I enjoyed the different types of genres anime offered. Most of these friends would graduate as I entered the second half of high school, so I didn’t really have them around to talk anime with. However, I showed my closer friends some of the things I got into, and while they never got into it quite like I did, they enjoyed it enough, so I wasn’t exactly alone. I made a lot of good memories learning about the world of anime when it was still new to me. But the second half of high school showed I was perfectly capable of finding new shows, manga, and RPGs without the recommendations of other people, and it was at this point I felt like I was finding more of my own identity without the help of other people.

<– Part 1    Part 3 –>

Why I Fell In Love With Anime and Why I Grew to Hate It – Part 1

I’m going to try talking about something a little different for the next few weeks. It’s something I’ve kind of wanted to talk about for a while, not just on the blog, but in general. I’ve always put it off because I was never quite sure how to explain myself without sounding offensive in some way, but I feel like no matter what I say, it’s not going to come off perfect, so I may as well try just say it. To all of you anime fans reading this, take it with a grain of salt.

When I was in my teens and as late as my early 20s, I loved anime. There was something about it that really connected with me, whether it was the art styles, the stories, the characters, or the merchandise. It was something that I thought I would always love, and it was something I found incredibly difficult to discuss with people that either didn’t get it or didn’t like it.

And then, sometime when I was… 21? 22? At around that time I sort of just stopped liking it. I don’t want to say it happened out of nowhere, as I saw myself losing interest in it for about a year. But I remember the exact moment when I realized I no longer liked anime.

It was Halloween 2010. One of my friends invited me over to hang out with a couple of other people. When I got there, it was just my friend and another one of his friends. Me and my friend were 21 or 22, but his friend was still in high school. We put on an anime to watch until everyone else got there. It was Soul Eater, a 51-episode series about something I honestly can’t remember. I’d watched it earlier in the year and enjoyed it enough. I thought, yeah, okay. I wouldn’t mind watching some of Soul Eater again.

I guess it was my friend’s first time watching through the series though, because he started on the last DVD. We were watching the final few episodes, which consisted of the final fights with the bad guys or something. There were over-the-top, acrobatic fights, a lot of commentary by onlookers, etc. etc. It was the kind of final fight in anime that I’d seen plenty of times before.

My friend’s friend, the high schooler, was awestruck. It’s like he’d never seen anything like it before (and if memory serves correctly, he was still kind of new to anime, so maybe he really hadn’t). He just kept saying “cool” and “epic” every few minutes as we watched this final fight.

But the whole time, I thought it was really stupid. Like, really really stupid. And I remember in the middle of one episode, listening to my friend’s young friend rant and rave about how cool this show was, looking around my friend’s room at all of his anime figures and wall scrolls (half of which were barely clothed women), I had some kind of epiphany.

I’m too old for this.

I don’t know why watching that scene struck such a dramatically different chord with me than it had earlier in the year. I don’t know why everything about anime just seemed to be a turn off for me. But from that day on, I just officially stopped liking anime. And not just stopped liking it; I started to hate it. All I could think of whenever I looked at something anime related was how dumb it was and how many years I’d wasted consuming anime and manga, not to mention how much money I’d dropped on all of it. I took most of my anime pictures and posters off the walls in my room. I packed up my figures in a box and stuffed it in the bottom of my closet. It was like I was embarrassed of that side of me, and I wanted to hide it away where no one could see it.

It’s almost been 5 years since then. I still don’t like anime, although I started developing a fondness for my memories of some of the better ones. I wouldn’t say I hate it anymore; it’s been out of my life for too long to really justify hating it. I’ve even started to reappreciate some of the art styles.

But what exactly happened? Why was it so appealing to me when I was in my teens, and why did it disgust me so much as an adult?

Why I Used to Love It: Elementary and Middle School Years

Cartoons were a big part of my life as a kid. Even as I was entering middle school, when other kids starting watching MTV or prime time shows, my first (and pretty much only) television watching had been Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Maybe I was just immature for my age, but I felt more at home with cartoons going into my teens (and even early college, if I’m going to be completely honest) than with other programming. Maybe it was the cartoonist in me that subconsciously appreciated what those channels had to offer over other shows. I don’t know.

But in 1998, when I was in 5th grade, Pokemon spread like wildfire. I remember the first advertisement I ever saw of it was on the back of a Disney Adventures magazine, and I was in front of the TV day one when the cartoon premiered. I’ll always think of Pokemon as just Pokemon, not an anime. I don’t even think I knew the term back then. But that was my first “official” experience with it.

The rest is a little fuzzy. Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon aired before the bus came on the WB, and I eventually got interested in those shows, too. I could tell they were different, like Pokemon, but I didn’t know in what way. They were more addicting than other cartoons, though, and I wanted to know more. During the next few years of collecting Pokemon merchandise, I eventually started discovering more things drawn in similar styles. The first was one of the Pokemon comics, The Electric Tale of Pikachu. This was much more Japanese-stylized than the cartoon, and it was even more fun to draw from. And on the back cover of one of the issues was an advertisement for another Japanese comic, Neon Genesis Evangelion. I thought it was cool and the art was really good, but I never ended up looking for it in comic book stores. I just stuck looking for Pokemon stuff . (And the occasional issue of Bone; it wasn’t anime-related, but I liked other comics too. Sort of.) Little did I know Evangelion was going to be the thing that completely sucked me into the world of anime a couple years later.

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Yup, I still have them. It may not be all of them, but I was a big fan of these comics around 2000. Most of them were gifts from my grandfather, but I think I bought a couple of them with allowance money.

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The advertisement for Evangelion on the back cover of one of the Pokemon comics.

 

But until that time, Pokemon was good. My grandfather was very into comics and drawing from them, and when he went out to comic book stores he often bought me magazines that featured Pokemon articles. A lot of these magazines were about anime in general, and I think this is where I first learned what it was that I was finding such an attraction to.

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One of the magazines about anime I’d gotten from my grandfather. I spent more time looking through all the pictures, wondering what all this was, than actually reading it.

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An advertisement for the Evangelion movie featured in the above magazine. Ha, $30 for a DVD. Oh, early 2000s… 🙂

 

When I was in middle school I started watching the Toonami block each afternoon on Cartoon Network. I was mostly in it for Dragonball Z, which became my new favorite thing once Pokemon was universally decided by my school to be unpopular after its initial 2-year craze. I still liked it, but I had to like it in secret. But Dragonball Z was fine for me. (It had fights! With people! Yeah!) Dragonball Z characters quickly became my new thing to draw from. I remember hanging my drawings up on my wall and making a collage out of them. It was more complicated than Pokemon, yet retained simple enough faces and bodies for my middle school hands to copy down on paper easily enough. This was something I began to like about anime as I was growing out of being a child and into a teen: anime was still like a cartoon, but it had more mature themes and art styles to them. It felt a lot cooler than cartoons, even though I was still watching them. It felt like a totally different world for me to discover.

The Toonami block kept my attention for mostly Dragonball Z, but I eventually started watching other anime they had to offer. The Tenchi Muyo shows were probably the first animes I saw to feature a lot of Japanese settings and mannerisms. It was essentially a harem show, where the main character was a guy surrounded by a bunch of beautiful women who fell in love with him, although it seemed a lot more innocent than some of the other harem shows that eventually came over to the US. Maybe they censored a lot of it, maybe it really was a lot more innocent; who knows. I didn’t even know what a harem show was back then. To me, I was just experiencing more anime, more new art styles, more foreign characters.

As I was entering high school, other shows like Rurouni Kenshin, Zoids, and G Gundam caught my attention for a while as well, all three adding something new to the table. Rurouni Kenshin introduced me to what samurai stories could be like in anime, while Zoids and G Gundam helped familiarize me with the giant robot genre a little better (although I didn’t find drawing mechs nearly as fun as drawing people). I always felt like I was one of the few people in my school (who watched Toonami, anyway) that actually liked G Gundam. Everyone thought it wasn’t as good as Gundam Wing. Unfortunately, I never watched Gundam Wing when it was on Toonami. For whatever reason, it never appealed to me at the time. I guess I was too into Pokemon and Digimon to really care. And of course, I was super excited when Dragonball, the original series before Dragonball Z, started airing. (Finally, I got to see how everything started! No more hearing vague and inaccurate summaries from classmates!)

Toonami was great for my middle school years and even my freshman year of high school. I guess by today’s standards, it wasn’t a huge selection of anime, but I thought for a kid just getting into it, Toonami provided a pretty good lineup of shows that I could easily see most afternoons. Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late night block, also started offering some more shows like Yu Yu Hakusho and Cowboy Bebop, both of which I really liked. They probably would have been more influential at the time if they were on TV for more than one night a week.

However, it wasn’t until a trip to my library one fateful day that new doors suddenly opened. I’m not sure how I stumbled across it, I’m not sure if it was always there and I just didn’t know it, I don’t know if it was new: but there, in a small shelf in the teen section, was manga. Not just the individual issues of anime I’d occasionally see in comic stores, but smaller, book-sized volumes consisting of multiple issues. I looked through a few and took a couple of books from 2 series with me. One was Inuyasha, which strangely enough started premiering on Adult Swim shortly after I started reading some of the library’s manga. I can’t say it was something I followed as well as other shows, both because it was a little harder to catch on Adult Swim (I think it was only on Saturday nights for a while, and then after 12 or 1 am on weekdays) and because I started losing interest. But it was really popular with other anime fans in my school for a couple of years during this time, and I was still discovering a lot about the world of anime, so I still have a few fond memories with the early stuff.

The other was Neon Genesis Evangelion, the one advertised on the back of the Pokemon comic I mentioned earlier.

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The manga adaptations of Evangelion my library offered when I was around 14. I had such fond, nostalgic memories of borrowing these and drawing from them, that I eventually went and found used copies in bookstores and comic shops when I studied in community college.

 

Evangelion… where do I even start.

Evangelion, to put it extremely bluntly, was a show about a 14-year-old boy named Shinji who piloted a bio-mechanical robot (an Evangelion, or Eva for short) to fight strange, otherworldly monsters codenamed “Angels,” who begin appearing and attacking Shinji’s home of Tokyo-3. And yes, that’s the third Tokyo Japan has in this series. It’s set in the not-so-distant future of 2015. Or, it was. When the show was created in 1995. I can’t even begin to explain how strange and almost surreal it is to know I’m currently residing in the year 2015, knowing that an anime that had an incredible influence on me as a teenager was set in the same year.

So it sounds like a semi-futuristic, giant robot anime, but that blunt description doesn’t do it justice. While that’s the main concept of the show, Evangelion goes in a completely different direction and puts so much focus on the mental health of several main characters. Shinji suffers from depression, poor self-esteem, and father issues (The organization Shinji fights for? His dad runs that, by the way.), another pilot is emotionally withdrawn from the world around her, another one has a massive inferiority complex, etc.

The show’s plot regarding the Evas and Angels takes a backseat halfway through the series. It’s still there, but it becomes clear that the focus of the show turns towards these characters’ deteriorating mental health. The show begins to go through a lot of surreal, self-analyzing scenes, and the final two episodes focus solely on that. As someone that didn’t have great self-esteem growing up, and as someone entering his teenage years while developing problems with depression, this show really spoke out to me. It wasn’t just me loving the characters or the plot or how different this anime was compared to everything else I’d experienced. It made me think in a way nothing else had. It featured a protagonist I could relate to, and the fact that we were the same age definitely helped. And to top it off, the character designer, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, made amazing art for the show and even drew the manga himself. Even after all these years and my love for anime has long since burned out, I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t one of my favorite artists. There’s something about the way he draws faces and uses colors. I wish I knew more about art to accurately describe just what it is he does that appeals to me so much.

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“Der Mond,” the art book for Evangelion. It features art and concept sketches by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. I saw it advertised in one of the Evangelion mangas when I was in middle school, but I never found a copy until years later.

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An example of Evangelion’s art. The page on the left features the main character Shinji in the front, his commanding officer, Misato, behind him, and Shinji’s Eva behind her. On the right (sorry for the light!) is another picture of Shinji and his Eva.

 

Evangelion was the first show to really draw me into the world of anime. I borrowed random volumes of manga and the TV series from my library in 8th grade, and when I graduated middle school my parents got me the box set of the show as a gift. (An extremely generous gift, too. The thing was $180, which I guess in 2002 would have made some sense, considering the cost of DVDs and the limited availability of anime.)

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It’s still here, after all this time. Hello, old friend.

I would show each of my friends the show and try to get them to love it as much as me. Some of them liked it, others were turned off when the philosophical stuff started taking over the show. I can’t exactly blame them. Evangelion isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, even in anime circles. I remember it being a big hit or miss show with many anime fans for years to come. But for me, it was what finally sucked me in for good. It became a source of inspiration for both writing and drawing, at least for a while. And it set the bar for what I had expected from future anime shows I would get into.

Part 2 –>

Let’s Talk Books (Sort of) – A Dirty Job

Warning: Spoilers

For those of us uncomfortable or fearful of change – especially if change happens frequently and provides little to better our lives – it helps to know there’s always something you can rely on. A constant, if I may borrow something from Lost. Like maybe there’s always been a restaurant you could go to that you’ve been visiting for years. Maybe there’s an album that always lifts your spirits. Maybe there’s a movie that you watch whenever you’re sad and you can share some of your sadness with it.

Unfortunately, these things aren’t resilient to change. They may hold up better than other things when change happens, but eventually you may find yourself not being able to count on the “rocks” in your life that you thought would always hold you together. (And for the purpose of this post, I’m talking about physical things like the examples above. People that play a similar role in our lives is something I’ll talk about another time.)

Recently I’ve had the misfortune of discovering that I no longer liked my favorite book as much as I used to. It seems so stupid to write a post about, but it’s been bugging me ever since I started rereading last month and I kind of want to get it off my chest. The book is A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore. He’s one of my favorite authors, and starting with this book, I’ve been reading his work for almost 10 years now.

I first found it in Barnes and Noble in 2006 during my senior year of high school. I’d lost my childhood love of reading after years of being subjugated to books I held no interest in throughout middle and high school, not being able to understand the themes and concepts the schools tried to teach me, and dealing with snobbish attitudes by other students that actually liked to read. I fell into the anime and video game crowd, and at the time it seemed more of a proper fit for me so I never really missed my love of reading all too much. Sure, I’d stray away from reading manga every now and then for an actual book – I read the fifth and sixth Harry Potter books when they were released, I got really in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series when the movie was released, and I spent at least a month trying to make my way through Dracula after developing a fascination with vampires by watching an anime called Hellsing (this fascination was so great that I ended up writing my senior paper about vampires throughout literature, something that seemed a lot more interesting and badass before Twilight swept the nation).

But it wasn’t until I read A Dirty Job that I felt like I really connected with a book again. Christopher Moore wrote like I’d never seen anyone write before. The writing and dialogue was extremely humorous and felt very modern. The way his characters went back and forth with quips made me feel like I was listening to an episode of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family (if I had been watching those shows at the time, or if they’d been created at all). The story was about a guy that lost his wife immediately after his child was born. In addition to adjusting to this new life, he was also given the task of becoming what the book coins a “Death Merchant,” who needs to obtain souls of those about to pass away and help guide them to their next destination. And yes, these last two sentences feel very dark and serious, but it’s mostly written in a light, humorous way. While the book had it’s fair share of more serious moments, it’s safe to say that it’s a comedy and everything in it should be taken as such.

And it was really interesting, too. If the protagonist doesn’t find souls in time, they fall into the hands of The Morrigan, who live underground and are trying to gain enough power back to emerge into the world and take over. There are a lot of little nods towards mythology regarding death and the afterlife throughout the book, and anyone interested in stuff like that would find a lot in the book to enjoy. The fact that it has fun with these elements makes for an even more enjoyable read.

Maybe it was because it’s not quite the same type of fiction I was forced to read in school for so long. After years of dealing with stories in anime and video games, where realism is definitely not a prominent trait, this was a really good book to help me get back into the world of fiction. There was enough supernatural stuff going on that it felt like an adventure, yet there was enough human nature and commentary in it to make it realistic enough to speak out to me, at least a little. I can’t say my love for reading came back immediately after, but over the next few years I started reading more book books. Granted, a lot of them were cheesy YA novels (which I had a total thing for in my early college days), but still. I was starting to enjoy reading again outside of manga. And it was all because of this book.

I reread this book every year, year and half tops. It’s my favorite for not just how funny and interesting I thought it was, but because it set me back on the path of appreciating fiction. It influenced my own writing style for many years, and eventually put me on the path to wanting to become a writer. If I’m ever depressed or in the need of a good laugh, I could always count on A Dirty Job.

This most recent reread, though, didn’t leave me feeling nearly as satisfied as I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book or anything. I still laughed at enough parts, so I was enjoying it. But I don’t know, it just didn’t hold up as well. In fact, there were certain parts of the book that left me really annoyed.

For one, remember the quips I mentioned earlier? There’s a lot of back and forth conversation involving quips like these, and they’re still great, but it became more and more jarring to feel that natural flow be interrupted by stating who just said a line or sprinkling little descriptions between every few lines. I remember trying these types of conversations all the time in my college fiction workshops, and I always messed it up because I didn’t always say who said what or added additional descriptions. I wanted to capture that feel of quickly going back and forth in a conversation the way Moore had, even if he did break it up a lot with these methods. And I always felt like you could do all this in fiction, it’s just a matter of doing it well. (Do we really need so many “person a said” and “person b said” when there are only two people in the conversation?)

But the more I read A Dirty Job, the more I felt like this kind of dialogue would work better on film than in literature, and I started coming to the realization that one of my favorite things about my favorite author was becoming a source of annoyance.

Another thing: Christopher Moore is very much a guy’s author. Meaning there’s a lot of jokes in here that are more for men than women, and a lot of it’s content is aimed more for men then women. I’ve read a lot of comments about his work on Goodreads, and a lot of women enjoy his books just as much as men. And when I went to see him on tour last year, there were just as many women there as men. So I don’t know, I guess it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s only for guys.

But some of the things he says reminds me of stuff like The Man Show. Depending on context, he’d often make a lot of dick and boob jokes, and while I’m not above that, the way he did it made it feel a little juvenile. Like he wouldn’t just limit himself to saying dick, but go through the whole cycle of cliche alterations, like wang, schlong, etc. And while I can appreciate that he mixed up the vocabulary a little bit, some of these words just sound so… stupid. Like, who says “fun bags” when talking about breasts? Realistically, who? No one. It’s one of those phrases that only exists in places like… well, The Man Show, I guess. I know these sound like really petty complaints, and to some extent I agree. These were always little issues I’ve had with Moore ever since I first started reading him, but something about this latest reread just really irked the hell out of me with those little things.

Then there’s the last third of the book. It always struck me as a little off, and over the years I’ve been slowly realizing why. Again, it wasn’t until this latest reread that it actually bothered me, though. So after years of trying to get over the death of his wife, the protagonist finally finds someone. They get together, he falls in love all over again, and… ugh. The way it’s handled is very, very much like you would expect in a movie. The woman, despite having an extremely lengthy explanation of her past, is a pretty flat character. She’s one of those I-only-exist-as-a-love-interest-for-the-main-character kind of character.

It also doesn’t help that she’s written as a poor female character. She’s sweet, kind, a little naive, too supportive, etc. You’ve seen this character before and she feels very much like a plot device. I can’t say I hate her or that I hate that she and the main character find love in each other after spending so much time alone (in fact I’m happy for them, if still put off at the “new romance” phase they both go through that’s always so annoying), but the way it’s handled feels extremely rushed.

There’s also this scene towards the end of the book that makes me cringe in general. Before he goes off to fight The Morrigan in “the final battle,” he calls almost every single character from the book to his living room in this awkward, “I know I’ve been very secretive about what I’ve been doing throughout the whole book, but I just wanted to call you together to say I’m going off to do another secret thing and I may not come back” kind of thing, and god it just… UGH!

I don’t know why this kind of scene annoys me so much. Maybe it’s because, like I said, he had to keep the whole Death Merchant thing a secret from almost everyone during the entire book, so calling them all together to announce he has to go off and do more secret things seems kind of stupid. Like it’s supposed to glamorize him as a hero and everyone’s supposed to just go along with it and support him.

The fact that everyone does basically go along with it doesn’t help. To be fair, there are a lot of times in the book where people address this and try to get him to reveal what’s been going on. But they never push enough. It reminds me of Spiderman (the 2002 movie) a little too much. In fact, I don’t think it would be terribly inaccurate to compare some scenes (especially this one) to any superhero movie where a bunch of people unrealistically rally to support someone that’s been distant and secretive. And it’s like I’m just supposed to buy that because the guy is off being a good guy.

This whole scene, and the whole end of the book, really, seems very cliched and cheesy. It always rubbed me the wrong way, but again, this latest reread left me cringing.

Writing this was depressing. I feel like all I’ve done was bashed Moore and this book. Please don’t get me wrong, Christopher Moore is still one of my favorite authors, and I’d like to believe that in some form this book is still one of my favorites, if for no other reason than the role it played in my life. But this was one of those cases where I was extremely aware how something I could always count on had failed me. I originally thought it was because I just haven’t been in a reading mood lately. Like maybe I just didn’t feel like reading and that’s why I never really wanted to pick it up, forcing myself to finish it. And I guess part of that could be true, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I haven’t been in a reading mood for a little while now, but I still found myself enjoying other books way more. Just like with my love for anime, I’m beginning to think I’ve simply outgrown this.

And that’s hard, so, so hard to admit after it’s been one of my constants for almost 10 years now. But I suppose in some ways it’s good. I guess it shows some signs of growing up. My tastes have definitely changed over the past few years, and I’m glad they have. What I look for in fiction is very different than when I first got back into reading it all those years ago, so I guess it’s a little natural to be put off by this book. But even during those times of change, this book always did something for me, whether it suited my tastes or not. I guess that’s what this all comes back to and why it irks me so much – the book couldn’t do for me what it always could. And I needed it to.

“Mature” isn’t something I’d say to describe myself, but I don’t think I’m completely immature, either. I’m not above liking stupid things and enjoying the immature. I mean geez, the other day at work I picked up this decorative Easter chick, held it out to my coworker, and said “Here, I got you this because you’re a – hot chick -” and then proceeded to laugh and grin at my oh-so-clever pun. I’m not above stuff like this. But I think there’s a line between immaturity and being juvenile, and unfortunately, a lot of stuff in this book came off juvenile this time around. And that really scares me.

Some things should always be counted on. And when they can’t, it can be really unsettling.

Cycles of Dieting

I don’t like my body.

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I’ve always been overweight, and I don’t expect myself to ever reach the hot, buff levels society expects me to be at if I’m to be considered an “attractive” person, but I would like to lose my gut. Over the past year or two, I can really start to feel it weighing me down. It’s getting harder for me to bend over. It’s getting harder for me to move around at work. Hell, it’s getting harder for me to just breathe. I already have enough weighing me down in my own head; the added weight of my stomach isn’t needed.

Dieting is something I feel like I’m continuously on and off with. I always start off the same way. I make a conscious decision that I’m going to start exercising more, eat less, and eat healthy.

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I start using the elliptical machine every day or two.

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I start shopping for healthy foods.

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I avoid junk food.

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And I can feel myself losing a little weight. I don’t know if it’s some kind of placebo effect, but just a few days of doing this and I feel less tired. I can do more at work. I can concentrate better at home. I can sleep better. I breathe better. I start gaining more confidence. I feel happier. My life starts to feel like it’s improving when I diet.

Then one of two things happen. First, I’ll get sick.

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People say I get sick a lot. I don’t know if I agree with that. I’d say I get sick after I make a solid attempt at losing weight a lot. Maybe I push myself too hard too early. Maybe the sudden change in diet does something to my body. Maybe it’s shitty luck. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. But I get sick.

And then I get lazy.

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I tell myself to rest as much as possible so I can get better, and then I’ll be back on my new exercise routine. It’s okay. I can take a break from working out. I’m sick. I shouldn’t even be exercising when I’m sick. Besides, I can still eat healthy.

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Right?

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RIGHT?

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It always starts with the fucking ice cream, too. I swear, if I really, really put my mind to it, I could resist a lot of junk food. Half the time I don’t even want it. But ice cream is my one food weakness. I will always, always be up for ice cream. And no amount of dieting will ever change that.

When I’m sick, I reason that I have a sore throat, and ice cream is good for that, and that having ice cream for breakfast is not only okay, but the right thing to do. I don’t even know if ice cream is good for sore throats. I’m sure I saw some cartoon as a kid, probably Hey Arnold!, and some kid (it was Gerald; don’t even pretend you’ve forgotten anyone from that show) got his tonsils taken out and was told he could have all the ice cream he could eat, and I made some connection that ice cream cured sore throats. I truly am from a generation raised on television.

It all goes downhill from there. I start reaching for Cheez-Its instead of apples. I convince myself to avoid the bananas I bought if they show even the slightest sign of spotting. Grapes start growing fuzz as I put my hand in the cookie jar for the third time in a half hour.

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I’ll eventually get better, but now my stomach feels like shit. My gut is literally weighing me down, and sometimes it feels like it’s preventing me from exercising.

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The second thing that might happen is I’ll become depressed. Depression is something I deal with on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes it’s about something. Other times there is no reason. It doesn’t really matter; it gets in the way of dieting.

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I stay in bed longer, dwelling in negative thoughts. I’ll openly criticize my weight in between attacks on other parts of my life.

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Dealing with depression is like an exercise routine in and of itself. To be blunt, I’m too worn out dealing with my thoughts to even begin gathering strength to exercise.

I’ll get over being sick, or I’ll move past the depression, and then I’ll be in a sort of limbo. I might try exercising one or two random days a week. I might go out to eat and spontaneously decide to order something healthier. I’ll try out a new snack, like raisins, in lieu of chips. I’ll stop being a lazy glutton, but I won’t do anything that will realistically help me lose weight.

And then one day I’ll have a revelation, one that’s I’ve had many times before and will probably continue having. I’ll become aware of how tired I am after a single shift at work. I’ll become aware of how it’s getting harder to breathe. I’ll become aware that I’m 26 and I shouldn’t be so tired all the time, and while I may struggle with depression all my life, I can at least do something about my weight.

And the cycle begins anew.

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