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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.