Different Phases of Writers

Yesterday I attended a publishing panel hosted by the college I attended. A few authors visited to discuss their experiences with self-publishing. I don’t know why, but halfway during the panel I couldn’t help but notice how different writers can be.

And I know. Like, duh. But it was one of those weird moments when you kind of step outside yourself for a minute and look at the timeline of your life. And while that feeling is fairly fresh, I wanted to touch on it a little.

So one phase of a writer is their grade school selves. It’s usually when someone is writing something for fun, like fanfiction, or when someone is trying to express themselves, like through poetry. Writers usually find somewhere online to post their stuff, like fanfiction.net or their own personal blogs. This is usually the time in their lives where they can look back and laugh at how bad their writing was because it falls under that umbrella category of making fun of your teenage self.

Then there’s the college phase of writing. You listen to your professors talk about writers and writing and you’re in awe that you’re finally among people that understand your passion. You attend readings, slams, and other literary events on campus. You talk about your life as a writer on campus with other writers. You experience what will probably be your first form of constructive criticism, most likely about a piece that’s emotionally important to you, and it hurts. A lot. But you learn from it. You learn how to write better and you learn how to take and give constructive feedback.

The immediately-after-graduation phase of a writer’s life is wonderfully ignorant. Well, at least for me and a few others I knew. College is over; the community of supportive writers you’ve come to know and love is gone. You try staying in touch with people, and for a while you do. You talk about different writing projects you’ve started since graduating. You try to meet up and recreate some kind of writing environment like college provided, but it’s hard when everyone has their own life to live and schedules to keep. In an attempt to make your job-hunting seem more productive, you tend to talk about your writing life more often to those that normally don’t care. You start looking for writing quotes and advice to help your mind and focus stay sharp. You try to ignore the inevitable feeling of missing your college workshops.

The following phase in a writer’s life sucks. You’ve come to terms with the fact that you’re pretty much on your own for writing. If you’re still looking for a job, your dreams of being a successful writer start to diminish as you focus on more immediate problems. You focus less on writing, although the desire to keep trying still lingers in the back of your brain. Any writing you do is pretty much either for you or some kind of online network you post your work to; workshopping and constructive criticism are a thing of the past. Like college life, you begin to think the writer’s side of you should remain in the past. You try to grow up and achieve “realistic” goals.

And that’s all the phases I’m familiar with. I could guess what other, future phases would be like. There’s a phase when a writer teaches other aspiring writers at a college. There’s a phase when you’re published and develop a bit of an ego when you’re trying to promote your work. There’s a phase when writing becomes your actual job, and it starts to mean less to you as an art and more as something that needs to get done if you want to eat and pay rent. There’s a phase when you’re content with writing; you’ve been doing it for a while and you can reliably produce new content and not view it as a big deal.

And then I guess there’s whatever phase I’m currently in, when I have no idea what I’m writing or what I want to write about and just type whatever’s on my mind. 🙂

Why I Fell In Love With Anime and Why I Grew to Hate It – Part 5

It’s the finale! If you haven’t read from the beginning, start with Part 1! Otherwise, let’s wrap this up!

Hating it

It’s one thing if a show is bad and isn’t worth watching. It’s one thing if a show is expensive and isn’t worth buying. It’s one thing if a show is repetitive, and you’ve seen whatever it’s doing either in said show or somewhere else.

However, it’s another thing entirely for a show to have over half its episodes, with the exception of what clothes the characters are wearing and some different scene angles, be literally the same exact thing.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was a weird show. Not weird like Excel Saga or FLCL, which was more like a cartoony and random sort of weird. I can’t really explain it; Haruhi herself was a pretty weird girl amongst a pretty average and realistic world. Weird stuff happened in the show, but I always got the impression I was supposed to wonder if any of the weird stuff was actually happening, or if it was some kind of hallucination or delusion by the main character, who craved normalcy in his life. I think the original season was broadcast in Japan out of its chronological order – stuff like that is the kind of weird this show brought to the table.

So when the second season was released in North America, I picked it up from Best Buy and couldn’t wait to watch it. It was only 14 episodes long, so I felt like I could find time for it; a new semester of college had just begun and I wasn’t too overloaded with assignments yet. I don’t remember if it was on the back of the box or an insert inside (this was one of the shows I sold, so I can’t check), but I noticed that a whopping eight of these episodes were all titled something like “Endless Eight Part 1,” “Part 2,” etc.

“Okay, cool,” I thought. “There’s going to be an ongoing arc of some kind in this season.”

I watched the first episode of this arc. “Okay,” I said.

I watched the second episode. “Oh, I get it. ‘Endless Eight.’ They’re stuck in a time loop and need to figure out how to get out of it.” This episode was more or less the same thing as the last one. I can’t remember the details exactly (which is a little weird, considering the same thing happened eight episodes in a row), but each episode of this arc consisted of the same opening, the same middle, and the same ending. By the end of each episode, they realize they’ve been reliving the same day over and over again, but then the time loop restarts and this pattern repeats in the next episode.

If there was new dialogue, if the characters didn’t have to keep realizing they were stuck in a time loop, if they made consistent effort towards finding a way to stop the time loop during these eight episodes, I feel like this would have been much more likable.

But there wasn’t. I can’t stress enough how repetitive this arc was. Like I mentioned above, the only things that really changed were what clothes the characters were wearing and having some different angles during certain scenes. Anime can be very repetitive; I’ve seen the same tropes and plot devices reused and abused a lot by now. Single events can be drawn out for episodes at a time because characters won’t stop talking about it and just let it happen.

But this… this was a new one. I had never seen something that had the balls to literally rebroadcast the same exact episode eight times in a row. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a complete waste of time. I was hoping, praying, that when each new episode in this arc started, that something – anything – new would happen to justify watching it.

But it didn’t. Over half of this new season was literally the same episode over and over again. The other episodes were good enough, but naturally, I really couldn’t enjoy them considering the whole Endless Eight thing. It was stupid. It was dumb.

And I felt really taken advantage of.

Ever since I first started collecting anime, I always paid for it. With the exception of a bonus episode of .hack//SIGN that wasn’t included in my box set and a couple of pirated DVDs friends in high school lent me, I never watched anything uploaded by fans on YouTube or read anything on one of those fan-translation sites. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I took this so much to heart, but after the second season of Haruhi, I was speechless. I always wanted to support anime, and any form of art for that matter, in as much of a realistic way as possible. If a show was available on DVD, I would buy or rent it. If it was on TV, I would watch it. If a manga was in the process of being localized, I would buy it or borrow from the library. I’d borrow from friends when I could, and I’d eventually buy my own copies if I liked something enough. I wasn’t comfortable with fan-translation sites. I knew how much work gets poured into making art. I wanted to support those creators. Even if the work wasn’t good. Even if it got lazy. I didn’t want to pirate.

But the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was different. I heard some of the people that worked on the show publicly apologized for Endless Eight. You know something’s bad when that has to happen. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but it was extremely lazy and sleazy. For the first time in my life as an anime fan, I couldn’t justify why I paid for this. It cost $50 for this second season. I’ve already been a little miffed for the past few years considering I could buy entire 26-ish episode seasons for the same price when I was in high school, and now I was being sold half seasons or shorter seasons with 13-ish episodes for the same price. But I mean okay, whatever. The definition of a season changed or they did away with individual DVDs in lieu of season x part y or whatever. Fine. Times changed, I adjusted. But to sell a season where 8 of its 14 episodes were the same thing, and then selling it to unsuspecting anime fans as an entirely new season?

No. No, anime. No. That’s a bad anime. Go in the corner, anime. Think about what you’ve done.

I don’t want to say this one particular bad experience is what drove me over the edge, but considering I was losing interest in anime for about a year now, I couldn’t help but feel this purchase is what finally made me seriously reconsider what I was spending my money on. I’ve always heard people criticize me for buying the North American releases, whether it was for the quality of the voice acting and translation, or whether it was because I could have just watched it for free online. But you know what? You learn a lot about yourself when you realize what you’re willing to pay for. It’s easy to say you’re a fan of anything when you’re consuming it at a constant rate with no cost to you, but things change when you pay for stuff yourself. I loved anime. I bought it. And for years I truly felt the payoff was worth it. But the past year I was slowly feeling like my money could have gone towards better things. And after the second season of Haruhi, I decided to stop picking up every show that mildly piqued my interest. From then on, I was only going to buy stuff I really wanted.

Well unfortunately, that never happened. A month later was Halloween 2010. The story I opened up this entire retrospective with played out. I was watching the end of Soul Eater with a friend and one of his high school friends. They were awestruck in the way I was as a kid, watching “intense” fights in shows like Pokemon and Dragonball Z. And for whatever reason, I thought it was stupid. It felt really childish. I never noticed before now, but anime has a tendency to take mature subject matter like death, violence, and sex but doesn’t usually present it in a mature way. There’s a lot of melodrama in anime. Someone’s always screaming to avenge somebody else or saying things like “You bastard!!!” or “I’ll kill you!!!” Someone’s always interrupting a scene to explain what’s happening, like I didn’t have the mental capability to process that information for myself. A serious scene can never stay serious when the animation style does a complete 180 to make some kind of silly, cartoony joke with “chibi” style characters. Contrast can be good, but the way it works in anime just seems more inconsistent than anything else. I always felt annoyed that adults would never take the shows I watched seriously, but as an adult that was finally seeing their side of things, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed as I was watching those last episodes of Soul Eater. I started thinking back on all the shows and manga I experienced in the past decade of my life, and I couldn’t help but realize the vast majority of those shows were like that obnoxious kid in middle school that acted like he knew everything but presented himself in such an immature way.

It had been a month since watching the second season of Haruhi. I hadn’t done anything anime-related since then. Maybe that step back helped me put some more perspective to things, too. I’d never been on a break that long before. Even if I wasn’t watching or reading anything, anime would be somehow involved in my life. I’d look for cool pictures online, talk to my friends about what they were watching, buy a new volume of something, etc. But this was the first time I took a much needed break. Anime is very time-consuming when you get really into it. I’ve always said it’s hard to be a casual anime fan; you usually either love it or don’t deal with it. But when you step back from it, when it stops being such a big part of your life, you start noticing how dumb it all is. Well, at least for me.

From then on, every little thing about anime just pissed me off. I don’t know why, it just really, really pissed me off. Every character trope; the same types of plots; the fights; the yelling; the way scenes get reused and faces get so many close-up shots to avoid animating; the stupid mascot sidekicks that always say some made-up word at the end of all their sentences; the over-sexualization of everyone; the merchandising of overpriced figures and other collectibles; the constant criticism for English voice acting and translations; defending English voice acting and translations; having to purchase multiple parts to a single season of a show because I was too impatient to wait for the actual full season to be released; the way characters and narrators would need to exposition the shit out of everything; how there always has to be a flashback to describe one situation or another; there’s some sick, almost sexual fascination anime has between siblings; someone’s always branding someone as a pervert even though anime is pretty perverted as a whole; characters have to stutter words in exaggerated exclamations; characters need to repeat things another character just said; the dialogue as a whole (No one ever talks like they do in anime! Everyone just recites monologues at each other!); the way a series will start with so much promise of having a fresh take on something but end up relying on plot devices and character types that have been abused to death before; the way some titles just never end; the art style –

No story ever needs to go on this long.

No story ever needs to go on this long.

Literally. Every single thing, big or small, irritated the shit out of me. I couldn’t look in anime’s general direction without feeling gross. When my friends and I went to Barnes and Noble and they checked out new manga they were collecting, I had to go somewhere else. Being in the anime section made me feel really uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe how much I used to love it, how much I believed it was the superior story-telling medium. I couldn’t believe how many positive things I felt about it.

And I couldn’t believe how quickly I came to hate it.

I know it was building up for a while, but it still feels so odd how quickly I came to hate it after that one Halloween night. I got the box sets of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai 7 for that Christmas from my friends. I don’t think they realized how much I couldn’t stand anime yet. I hadn’t seen Cowboy Bebop in years, so reliving it was nice for nostalgia’s sake, although the ending wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered. Samurai 7 was a show I’d wanted to watch since it came out when I was in high school, so I forced myself to watch it to at least complete that goal of seeing it. It was okay. I could have seen much worse after this newfound hatred for something I once loved so much. I picked up a couple of manga that I felt like I could still bear with, but that didn’t last long. By the spring of 2011 I’d taken down and packed away most of my anime stuff.

I'm embarrassed I have this much. And this isn't even counting the stuff I sold and the box of figures and other merchandise I have buried somewhere in my closet. Oh well. Get back under the bed now.

I’m embarrassed I have this much. And this isn’t even counting the stuff I sold and the box of figures and other merchandise I have buried somewhere in my closet. Oh well. Get back under the bed now.

Other things going on in my life at that time

I was debating whether or not to talk about this, because it’s only sort of related to all this anime stuff. But I figured what the hell, it might be more relevant that I thought.

I’m going to backtrack to when I transferred to my four year school. I had graduated with an A.A. in liberal arts from my community college. When I transferred, the person I spoke to at my four year school recommended choosing a more specific major. I chose literature, because even though school had discouraged me for years from reading actual books, I was getting more interested again in recent years. I thought it might be good for me, that I might find a better appreciation for it. That was fall 2009, and in the following spring semester, I switched my major’s focus from literary studies to creative writing.

I fell in love with my intro to creative writing course. I’d been writing stories since middle school and it felt very natural to me. I loved my professor, she was so supportive and taught me a lot about the workshopping process. She encouraged me to continue on towards advanced workshops, which I did. Every semester there featured some kind of workshop for either fiction, poetry, or both.

We read a lot of interesting stuff, but the most relatable writing usually came from other students. Maybe it’s because a lot of them were the same age as me, maybe it’s because we’ve been through similar experiences, but I found more I could relate to in these workshops than I ever had in anime for the past several years, possibly ever. I was learning a lot about what made good writing, as well as bad writing. I was learning how to catch clichés and find more interesting ways to deliver them if I had to. I was learning how to be an overall better writer.

And I guess in the process of all this, I started analyzing anime with a more critical approach. I was finding a lot of stuff to be pretty bad. And maybe it wasn’t fair to compare literature and anime, but since one of the reasons I loved anime so much was for its unique stories, I couldn’t help but see that a lot of the stuff I used to like was just… not great.

I guess that’s the thing about learning to write better, you start to see the quality of writing in just about everything. Movies, TV, advertisements – I started to become more conscious of it wherever I looked. I was realizing that while anime, manga, and RPGs often had interesting concepts, more often than not they didn’t do such a great job with the process of telling their stories.

And I don’t like admitting this. Part of me feels like a stuck-up, literary snob that just shits all over anime. I have to remind myself that I had clearly been a huge fan for at least eight years; I think I’ve earned the right to share some criticisms. If I’m going to be completely honest, I hated that I suddenly began hating anime. How would you feel if, seemingly overnight, you not only lost interest in something that’s been a big part of your life for years, but hated it? It’s not fun. It wasn’t fun for the friends I hung out with at the time, either; they were all about anime and video games and didn’t really understand the literary side of me. I lost a lot in common with them, and I ended up going separate ways with some of them.

The biggest time I noticed these changes was during fall 2010. I became friends with someone from school, and I spent a lot of time talking to her on campus between our classes. I reluctantly opened up about a lot of stuff I’d kept hidden for the past several years. I had only been spending time with my one friend from high school and some of his friends all throughout college. For the most part, we just played video games and talked about anime together. They weren’t exactly the kind of people in touch with their feelings. It had been so long since I had a friend I could open up to on such a personal level, so when this person entered my life, it’s like everything I’d kept bottled up came flooding out. We relied on each other to open up and confront all of the past wounds that still haunted us. She was the one that encouraged me to try therapy for the first time, and therapy would end up playing a major role in my life for the following couple of years.

Well, long story short, she ditched me after that semester. Just like one of my close friends from high school, she stopped talking to me, stopped responding to calls and texts, and generally just snubbed me like we’ve never met before. I don’t know what happened, nor will I ever know. But needless to say, after finally opening up to someone about that one particular friend that abandoned me, especially after keeping it bottled up and ignoring it for years, and then having that person ditch me in such a similar way absolutely devastated me. I was in the middle of trying to sort through all of the personal issues I’d repressed for years, and this only made dealing with everything significantly worse.

I haven’t really explained this to the other friends I had. I don’t mean any offense to them; I just don’t think they’d understand how exactly it affected me. And I’m not the kind of person to open up about something to someone I know unless I know I can trust them to deal with me properly. In fact, giving tidbits of this story is making me really uncomfortable, so I think I’m going to stop there.

The main point I wanted to make with this story is that as soon as 2011 began, I fell into a deep, deep depression. I hadn’t dealt with depression since high school; I honestly thought I was past it all. But no, I absolutely wasn’t, and it came back with a vengeance. It was like it wanted me to play catch up for all the years I went without being depressed.

But this time I didn’t have anime to help me. I hated anime. I didn’t even have RPGs anymore. I saw too much anime in them, as well. Some of the most important stuff to me no longer mattered. And it felt excruciatingly hollow.

My semester with that friend had made me realize I needed more people in my life to talk to on a deeper, more emotional level. I’d forgotten what it felt like and I needed it. And again, nothing against the friends I was hanging out with at the time, but I felt like all most of us had in common was anime and video games. I couldn’t talk to them like I talked to her. I couldn’t talk to them like I could talk to the close friends I had in high school. I didn’t want to admit it, but it seemed like since we didn’t have much in common anymore, we didn’t really have anything to talk about. We ended up playing games in silence and it felt really awkward. Most of us eventually went separate ways.

I didn’t feel like I had anything I could rely on. I shut myself away from most people. I kind of stumbled my way through the spring 2011 semester. It felt like a giant blur. I remember bits and pieces, but it felt like my life was completely empty, except for my writing. The more I thought about why anime meant so much to me in the first place, the more I realized it was those earlier years and where I was at back then. I was beginning to understand that anime provided me with characters that said relatable things, and for a time it was a nice comfort. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get the same feelings of comfort and relatability from many of the books I read.

But after a while, I stopped trying to grow as a person and solve my own problems. I kept repeating things I heard in anime because maybe I wanted to make my life seem a little more epic than it actually was. Although it introduced me to an entirely different culture and story-telling experience, as well as became a huge source of inspiration at the time, anime eventually became a band aid. It was something cushy I could fall back on to make me feel better. It stunted my growth. I stopped seeing new things in the world and withdrew deeper and deeper into the world of anime.

Part of that was teenage rebellion; so many people fought me on my interest in anime going back all the way to Evangelion in eighth grade, and I was determined to stick up for it. I was so dedicated to convincing other people and myself about how unique and cool it was, that I didn’t make the time or effort to experience much else. And it’s a shame, because I wasted a lot of valuable opportunities to experience other things over the years .

Where I’m at with it now

Anime has played virtually no role in my life since then. My one friend I still have from high school is occasionally into it, but he sold most of his shows back. He also feels like there really isn’t anything too new in the world of anime to delve into, but he’s more willing to check something out than I am. Aside from an occasional wall scroll or poster in his room, he took down most of his anime stuff as well. Although it wasn’t nearly as extreme as how I felt, I think he began thinking anime wasn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world either.

Occasionally, when I’m in Barnes and Noble, I’ll head over to the anime section to relive memories. It’s weird, but even though I grew to hate it, my fondness for certain memories as an anime fan regrew after a couple of years. Sometimes I consider finishing off a manga series that I feel I could enjoy, if just for nostalgia’s sake. I was so close to completing Evangelion and Fullmetal Alchemist, but realistically I don’t think I care enough. I could use that money to buy other books I actually want (and that I’ll probably read more than once, too).

As strange as it was, I left a couple of anime things up in my room. I took most of it down, threw a lot of stuff out, and packed a lot away. But I have this one figure of Rei from Evangelion doing some kind of trick on a bicycle. It’s not too big and it’s been on my desk for years. I don’t know why, but I always thought it was neat and never really wanted to pack it away.

I don't even remember where I got this from. I think it was from some website.

I don’t even remember where I got this from. I think it was from some website.

And then I have a collage of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto pictures on my wall. I used to have a lot of anime pictures all over one of my walls, but I took most of them down, save for the Yoshiyuki Sadamoto ones. Despite how I feel about anime, I still really love his drawings. I love them so much I even kept them and put them back up when I moved last fall. They’re mostly Evangelion and FLCL art. Part of me wants to take them down. I feel too old to have them up there, and I don’t know if I would even still like those shows, despite the overwhelming nostalgia towards them. But they’ve been up there since… forever. It’s been one of the few constants in my life, as sad as that may sound. So… ugh. It’s complicated.

They're a little tattered, but I don't know. When it came time to move I still wanted the collage up on my new wall.

They’re a little tattered, but I don’t know. When it came time to move I still wanted the collage up on my new wall.

Video games have always been a big part of my life. During my high school and community college years, JRPGs pretty much dominated whatever I chose to play. When I started to hate anime, I started hating JRPGs too. There was too much anime in them. I took a dramatically different turn and played some first person shooters with one of the friends I had for a while, but it eventually became pretty dull. I discovered let’s plays in the fall of 2011, and even though I’m only interested in watching/listening to two specific people do that now, they kind of taught me how to have fun with video games again.

The amount of time I spent playing games decreased a lot in the past few years and definitely became more of a recreational activity than something I was passionate about. I didn’t play a lot of RPGs anymore, although this past year I have. Not that I want to go into detail, but I’ve been in a pretty deep state of depression for about a year now. As a way of coping and keeping my mind off things, I replayed an RPG I used to really be into during high school, The Legend of Dragoon. And while I couldn’t take the story and characters nearly as seriously as I used to, I still found myself having fun with it. I’ve ended up revisiting a lot of RPGs this past year, and I think I can enjoy them enough. It kind of depends on how much anime is in them. Certain games like the Tales series are a little too much for me. But games like the Final Fantasy series, Suikoden II, and the original .hack games are things I can still enjoy. That doesn’t mean I won’t cringe or shake my head when plots get predictable or other tropes become too obvious, but I think the main difference between JRPGs and anime is that with a JRPG, you’re at least playing something. All I’m doing with anime is watching it, and it’s easier to get irritated by the story. I may still get irritated by stories or characters in RPGs, but as long as there’s enough gameplay that’s doing something for me personally, than I think I’ve learned to look past it, or at the very least not let it bother me too much.

I feel like after the depression in 2011, I wasn’t able to really let myself be silly or goofy anymore. Don’t let my criticisms against anime fool you; I can be a totally dorky and silly person. And I feel like after all this time, even during the depression I’ve been in for the past year, I’ve regained some of that fun side of me. I can balance seriousness and silliness much better than I used to. That being said, I feel like my hatred for anime has died down. It’s still not something I can see myself enjoying as a whole, let alone something I even want to get back into. It’s too time-consuming and addicting. I still stand by most of my criticisms, so it’s not like it’s even something I would want to try liking again. I want my time as anime fan to stay in the past. It’s such a past me thing, and I don’t want it as a present or future me thing.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to rewatch some old shows again. After all this time, I’d like to know what I would really think about the shows that held more inspiration and nostalgia for me. Evangelion, FLCL, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and .hack//SIGN are all shows I’d like to form a more recent opinion on. Part of me has always held back, though. I’d rather leave my memories of them where they are. I’m afraid they might get tainted if I end up hating these shows now. At the same time, nostalgia has a tendency to prevent a lot of potential hatred, so who knows? Maybe one day I’ll check one out again, if only for the nostalgia.

But that’s about it. My history with anime. This went on much, much longer than I expected it to, and if you’ve been reading up until this point, thanks. I really appreciate it. I really hope I didn’t offend anyone who likes anime; I know I got a little passionate with the hate in this particular part. At the end of the day though, whether anime is good or bad, thoughtful or just plain mind-numbing, I don’t really care. I don’t care whether the Japanese or English audio is better, and I don’t care about arguing the morality of how anime fans choose to experience it. Above all of those things, anime isn’t something that’s for me anymore. While I can sometimes appreciate an art style again, I think that’s about as far as I can go with anime.

I hope you enjoyed this retrospective. It was fun reliving some of the earlier memories, as well as embarrassing reliving most of the latter. Either way, I’m glad I was able to put all these thoughts about the entire experience into words somewhere, even if the writing was a bit sloppy at times.

And since I don’t know how to end this, here’s a picture I drew a couple of years ago of Asuka from Evangelion. We may as well come full circle back to the show that got me into anime in the first place. 🙂

I just used pencil, and blending tool, and marker, for anyone that's curious. :)

I just used pencil, a blending tool, and marker, for anyone that’s curious. 🙂

 

<– Part 4

Why I Fell In Love With Anime and Why I Grew to Hate It – Part 4

You’ve read from the beginning, right? Go here if you haven’t!

Community college years

College was not an easy transition for me. Like many people, I had difficulty adjusting to a new place, new schedule, new people… new. The fights and tension with my close friends towards the end of high school led to us going our separate ways by the time college began, or at least shortly after.

My first semester was pretty intense, so I didn’t have a lot of time to process all that had happened. Between the commute, the homework, and the poor scheduling I’d done, I didn’t have a lot of time for me. I’d gotten really into an anime-styled RPG called Disgaea during late high school, and I was pretty excited to play the sequel when it came out late 2006. Unfortunately, that’s when all this busy college stuff started, so I never got to sink my teeth into it as much as I wanted. I even remember getting up at 5 am each morning to play an hour’s worth of it, just to make a little progress, and to have some free time to myself.

While each semester at college varied in terms of difficulty and work, that first semester was one of the worst. My second and third semesters were considerably more comfortable. The reality of high school ending and my friends gone became more apparent once I had more time to realize it. Only one of my close friends was still around, and I started spending more time with him during college. We both attended the same college, we were usually able to grab lunch at the campus cafeteria once or twice a week when our schedules lined up, and we spent more time hanging out during our free time.

Even after obtaining our licenses, neither of us took advantage of the ability to drive until we started commuting to college. We started visiting malls, restaurants, and other places more often during college, something most high schoolers started doing as soon as they got their licenses.

In fact, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe my entire community college experience as an extension of high school, which is a little funny because I struggled with the course work and always got mad when people said my community college was like 13th grade. (It wasn’t! It was nothing like high school!) But outside of classes and coursework, we spent a lot of time trying to stay as teenagers. We played video games at each other’s houses. We hung out at malls. It was like we were trying to extend the high school versions of ourselves because we were both so frustrated with what college expected us to be. We were mad we didn’t know what we wanted to do and frustrated when others did. In our own weird way of rebelling, we just wanted to keep hanging out and doing dorky stuff when we weren’t doing homework.

Between that and frequently visiting malls, both of us picked up a lot more anime, manga, and RPGs than we ever did in high school. Since we were in stores more often, we started to notice more shows hit the shelves as well as when things dropped in price. I started following more anime that was in the process of being released as opposed to buying things that were already completely available to enjoy at my own pace. I feel like around this time I stopped rewatching or rereading a lot of the previous titles I had enjoyed so much, not because of a lack of interest, but because I was following so many new things that captured most of my attention. For a while, I even kept a Microsoft Excel file charting when the next volume of several titles would be released because I kept losing track of what was being released when.

You’d think with so many new shows, manga, and RPGs I was picking up, I’d have a lot to reflect on. But honestly, I don’t. When I was writing the last part, I couldn’t help but notice that, with the exception of .hack, I didn’t have as much to talk about as I did during the first two. Those earliest years were definitely my most influential, and when I tried getting nostalgic for some of the stuff I was into during the second half of high school, I couldn’t get into it as much as the first half. I still had fond memories, but they didn’t do as much for me. My experiences with anime during college, unfortunately, follow a similar pattern. I was all for seeing new shows and reading new manga, but I got a little caught up with trying out too many new things too quickly, and didn’t leave enough time for a lot of them to leave a serious impact.

Or maybe they just weren’t as good.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the stuff was very enjoyable at the time. But seeing as how I’d been an anime fan for years now, I couldn’t help but notice similar tropes, plots, characters, etc. as I continued to experience more. I liked a lot of the stuff I was getting into, but there was less and less of a wow factor. There weren’t a lot of titles that hit home. There was less that inspired me to draw. I was still sucked into the world of anime, but that naïve sensation of wonder and awe I’d experienced in my early teenage years was nowhere to be found. I suppose that’s to be expected, but still, more titles that felt unique would have probably helped me retain an interest in anime for a little longer.

My friend and I built up a good collection of anime and manga that we let each other borrow throughout our community college days. I honestly can’t remember all of them; I sold a good chunk of shows last year that I honestly couldn’t imagine ever watching again, and my friend no longer has most of his either. But I do remember some of them fairly well.

Hellsing Ultimate was a new Hellsing anime that followed the manga more faithfully. It had higher quality production values and was significantly more over-the-top than the original series, which at the time I felt was pretty over-the-top to start with. It was kind of weird, though; the DVDs came out in these impressive-looking tin cases, and each DVD had only one episode. Granted, the episodes of Hellsing Ultimate were longer than the standard 25 minute run time of most anime; I remember them being somewhere between 40 and 60 minutes. But still, that was like maybe 2 normal episodes tops of any other anime so… it was a little weird that it cost the same amount. But I loved Hellsing, so I was willing to pay for it. Only the first four DVDs were released in North America while I was still into the series, though. In late 2008 the fourth one was released, but then there was no news of when the next volume would come out. A couple of years later I stopped liking anime altogether, so I don’t know what happened to the rest of the series, although recently I’d heard the rest was released within the past few years. I doubt I’ll ever check the rest out, but who knows? Hellsing Ultimate is something I could see myself revisiting, if for nothing else but curiosity’s sake.

These tin cases were pretty cool, but having one 40-60 minute episode per DVD was pretty ballsy. Such an extravagant looking case that contained so little. If it wasn't Hellsing, I couldn't imagine myself buying something sold like this.

These tin cases were pretty cool, but having one 40-60 minute episode per DVD was pretty ballsy. Such an extravagant looking case that contained so little. If it wasn’t Hellsing, I couldn’t imagine myself buying something sold like this.

Eyeshield 21 was a manga about football. I’ve never been too into sports, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I got the first volume for a birthday present during my senior year in high school. The friend that gave it to me said it was good, though. And sure enough, I liked it. It was an underdog story about a group of high schoolers playing football in a sort of martial arts tournament kind of story. Throughout community college, I became more interested in the series as each volume came out. This is one of the manga series I have that took up the most room; I had 20+ volumes before I stopped collecting it. This also made it hard to reread, with it being so long and all. But I enjoyed it enough. I even started watching actual football games for a while because of it!

The first volume of Eyeshield 21. I can still imagine opening it up in my living room almost 10 years ago.

The first volume of Eyeshield 21. I can still imagine opening it up in my living room almost 10 years ago.

Despite being a sports drama, there was plenty of humor and over-the-top anime stuff.

Despite being a sports drama, there was plenty of humor and over-the-top anime stuff.

One of the other long-running manga series I began reading around this time was Bleach. I first caught it on Adult Swim shortly before I went on a family vacation in the summer of 2007. When I came back, my friend had purchased almost every manga of the series, which was around 19 or 20 volumes at the time. He let me borrow them, I got really into it, and I soon found myself collecting the manga myself, even though I didn’t want to get into another long-running series.

The first of many volumes of Bleach.

The first of many volumes of Bleach.

Bleach featured a pretty cool art style with some interesting outline choices at certain times (at least in the manga). We both read and watched Bleach for a few years, and we often talked about the latest episode or manga that came out. We tried to avoid spoilers online; as with many anime that are further ahead in Japan, searching the Internet was a guaranteed way of finding out what happens in a series. I wanted to be surprised as Bleach was being localized. I know that’s usually not a popular opinion with shonen titles like these, but that’s the way I am.

Bleach's art style was a little rough around the edges for the first 10 or so volumes, but it cleaned up really well. It used a lot of thin, symmetrical lines that I always really liked. And there were a lot of scenes like this that pulled your view back enough to get a good sense of scale.

Bleach’s art style was a little rough around the edges for the first 10 or so volumes, but it cleaned up really well. It used a lot of thin lines that I always really liked. And there were a lot of scenes like this that pulled your view back enough to get a good sense of scale.

There was a lot of merchandise with Bleach. While my friend was more into it than I was, going so far as to buying figures and wall scrolls, I never went much deeper than buying keychains and the occasional clearance item once the show was losing popularity. I’m not sure what happened in Bleach after I stopped reading and watching. I remember losing a lot of interest in the anime once the first filler arc was over. (Did something change in the animation style? I remember that bugging me a lot.) I kept up with the manga though, at least for a while. The last book I bought was Volume 34, and according to the publishing info, it came out in March 2011. A little later than when I lost interest in anime, but I think it took me extra time to shake some titles off. My friend, despite hating the direction the series took, still keeps up with some of it online. When I get curious, I ask what certain characters are doing and what the series as a whole is now about, but I never get curious enough to check it out myself. Still, I had a lot of fun memories with Bleach. From the beginning of the show through the Soul Society arc was a pretty good time back then.

Speaking of shows that aired on Adult Swim, both of us watched a lot of the new anime they had rolled forward with. Death Note was pretty fun for a while. Blood+ surprisingly held my interest for a long time; I specifically remember the intro and ending songs being really memorable. Along with some Bleach songs, my friend made me a couple of mix CDs with these songs on them. I must have been really into Blood+, because I even went out to buy the box sets for both seasons. For $100 each. Wow, that’s… overkill. Even I had to admit that. That was $200 for the entire 50 episode series! Anime was expensive, but this… I’ll be honest, that just wasn’t a fair price. But, like many times in the past, I blindly loved anime and was willing to spend the money.

$200, man. Well, at least one of them was a Christmas present. Not that I envy whoever got it for me.

$200, man. Well, at least one of them was a Christmas present. Not that I envy whoever got it for me.

Code Geass was another show me and my friend got into for a while. Him more than me; a second season came out that I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of. But he loves giant robot shows, and he was all over Code Geass. I think he even had models of some of the mechs.

Now that I think about it, both of us kind of got into building giant robot models for a while. He bought a lot, but I also purchased a few from one of the few comic stores by us. I think they were mostly Gundam models, but my friend had ones from a few different series.

If you couldn’t tell, I started picking up more anime merchandise around this time. I’d gotten soundtracks and a few other things here and there during high school, but during this time I started picking up more… toys, for lack of a better word. I think in my desire to be a teenager for a little while longer, I was trying to play catch up and buy all the things I never did or could when I was in high school. Back then I only saw stuff like this online, and it was pretty expensive, too. But as anime was slowly building up its own fan base over the years, more stores started carrying merchandise like shirts, keychains, figures, etc. All the stuff I had wanted over the years was suddenly available. How perfect for my need to distract myself from real world issues.

Madlax was another big show, too. It was made by the same team that produced Noir. Strangely enough, I bought both of this show’s soundtracks before watching a single episode. I saw it in a Suncoast one day, read that it was composed by Yuki Kajiura, and bought them right away. Another great set of music that moved me like Noir and .hack//SIGN’s soundtracks did. I got the box set for a Christmas gift one year, and… that’s about it. It’s weird, like Noir, I was super into it at the time, but now I honestly remember the music more than the show, and I’ve ranted and raved about See-Saw’s music enough as it is.

Madlax and its two soundtracks. Fun fact: put the two CDs together to form a bigger picture. :)

Madlax and its two soundtracks. Fun fact: put the two CDs together to form a bigger picture. 🙂

There was also this over-the-top show called Air Gear that my friend was really into for a time. Honestly, I almost completely forgot about it until I was recently looking through all the anime stuff I stored away. I found a cheap box set of it almost two years after he first lent me the series to watch. I don’t remember much about the plot of Air Gear, other than it had these impossible roller blades where the users could ride on walls and other crazy shit like that. It was pretty funny (if you like anime humor, anyway; now I’m sure I’d think it pretty immature) and a kickass soundtrack featuring a lot of techno/electronica music. I’ve kind of shied away from that genre of music, although I’ll occasionally be up for it when I’m in the mood for something energetic. My friend bought the soundtrack online and made me a copy back when we first got into the series. For a show I almost completely forgot about, I’ve got a lot of memories riding in his car and taking walks while listening to its soundtrack.

I think I got this really cheap because it was the older box set. My friend got the newer, rereleased thinpack one.

I think I got this really cheap because it was the older box set. My friend got the newer, rereleased thinpack one.

As well as being a really fun show for us, Air Gear also made us want to try rollerblading. I haven’t gone rollerblading since I was a kid, and it certainly showed. We practiced for a while, but I eventually stopped. Between my rollerblades being too tight, my refusal to buy another pair, never learning how to balance properly, feeling too old for it, and feeling like rollerblading should stay in the 90s, I didn’t stick with it for too long. My friend still does it sometimes. He got pretty good after a while, but I put it behind me. But yeah. An over-the-top, crazy anime inspired me to drop about $100 on rollerblades, a helmet, and pads. You know anime can be a powerful force when it’s not only tempting you to spend money on merchandise, but other stuff like sports equipment just to see if you liked it.

I was really into The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya for a while, too. I don’t remember exactly how I came to know about it; it may have been a combination of word of mouth from other anime fans I met during college and one of my anime friends from high school lending it to me. But I remember really liking the story of this crazy high school girl who tries to make her life as much like an anime as possible and the reactions and thoughts of the main character, who wished she would calm the hell down and let him live a normal life. It was pretty popular for a while, it had a lot of cute stuff attached to it, spawned a ton of merchandise, and even several manga adaptations. I didn’t get into everything – the main anime show and some of the light novels which the series was based on were about my extent.

The original Haruhi Suzumiya series and four of the light novels the show was based on. I don't know if it was the popularity of the show, all the merchandise that came out, or if it was because it was a good anime, but I was really, really into this show for a while.

The original Haruhi Suzumiya series and four of the light novels the show was based on. I don’t know if it was the popularity of the show, all the merchandise that came out, or if it was because it was a good anime, but I was really, really into this show for a while.

But perhaps the most long-running anime related interest I had during community college was .hack//G.U. Yes, once again .hack had found a way to completely entrap me. This sequel series presented a new trilogy of games, a new anime, and a ton of other manga and novel spin-offs and side stories. I collected a decent number of them, but the main PlayStation 2 games were my big focus. It was set seven years after the events of the original. “The World” has been recreated into a different game with some of the same features as before, with some new ones added in. You play as Haseo, a solo player looking for another player that put his friend/love interest into a coma while she was playing the game (yes, comas are back). The twist? When he thinks he finds this player, it turns out to be a creepy, stitched up version of the main character from the first series of games. I thought this was so cool when I saw the trailer for it back in late high school. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how excited I was when the first game was released in 2006 during my first semester of college. Too bad I didn’t get to play a lot of it until after that semester. :/

They brought .hack back with a vengeance! I had the three PS2 games, both their soundtracks, the anime .hack//Roots, both their soundtracks...

They brought .hack back with a vengeance! I had the three PS2 games, both their soundtracks, the anime .hack//Roots, both their soundtracks…

... a five volume manga series that retold the games, a two volume manga series that retold the original .hack games, two of the light novels that retold the G.U. games (again...), and this weird comic thing about .hack in general. Geez, and I thought the original .hack stuff was too expansive!

… a five volume manga series that retold the games, a two volume manga series that retold the original .hack games, two of the light novels that retold the G.U. games (again…), and this weird comic thing about .hack in general. Geez, and I thought the original .hack stuff was too expansive!

I had a lot of fun with the G.U. series for the next few years. It was different than the original, but it still worked and was still fun. Well, for a time anyway. G.U. was a lot more like your usual anime, JRPG, etc. It was still good, but… well, let’s say when I replayed the PS2 games a couple of years ago, I was kind of embarrassed of how cool I used to think they were. As a side note, I’m currently revisiting the original games right now. I haven’t played them since 2009, and I have to say I’m glad I can give a sigh of relief; I can still enjoy the originals, even after all my problems with anime surfaced over the past several years. It may be pure nostalgia, but the original wasn’t so “in your face” with its anime tropes, and I think it holds up better as a result.

These were some of the more memorable shows, manga, and RPGs I was into around this time. I was consuming new anime at a much faster rate than I previously had thanks to new availabilities and opportunities. But when I found rightstuf.com, the whole game changed. I noticed this website advertised on one of the DVDs I bought in college, but I didn’t actually visit it until I saw an ad for a couple of soundtracks I wanted. They were being sold on this website for pretty cheap. I thought it was a little suspicious, but after doing some research it seems like this was pretty much an online version of an outlet center. While some shows were still around the same price you would expect to find in stores, there were a lot of things available for a heavily discounted price, especially older titles. I found entire box sets for $30 or $40 each. Even when I gave myself a budget to work with, I still found myself ordering new shows more frequently than ever before. In addition, there were also keychains, plushies, T-shirts – this was basically a giant anime store that sold things at much more affordable prices.

Maybe it’s because I had less time for them to sink in, or maybe it’s because I was watching too much at once, but it was around this time I felt like I started to lose interest in anime. Funny, considering things were now more affordable than ever. I picked up some decent shows from rightstuf.com, but I also picked up a lot of stuff that was a lot less memorable. I’d always enjoyed most of the tropes anime presented. You know – the gags, the character types, the cultural references, the perverted sense of humor, etc. But around this time I started enjoying them less and less. When I started watching a new show, I felt like I’d seen the plot before or I’ve met these characters somewhere else. It started becoming really predictable. Maybe that’s another reason none of these shows stood out nearly as much as the other things I talked about in previous parts. Granted, you could argue the same tropes and predictability were in those shows too, but it was all new to me at the time. It was when I was first getting into anime. I felt like the more anime I experienced, the less impressed I was. Like I said in the last part, that’s something any enthusiast could probably say for anything. As long as I still enjoyed it, there was nothing wrong with that, right?

Except I felt like I wasn’t enjoying it so much as I was killing time. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, but I began feeling like I was only watching anime and reading manga because it was something I was supposed to be doing as an anime fan. I felt like I had to do it more than I might have really wanted to.

So all this was happening from around late 2006 to 2010. Most of this took place during my time in community college. I graduated at the end of 2008 and spent the first eight months of 2009 looking for a job and sorting out where I was going to transfer to (for convenience, I always considered this part of my community college years too, as nothing major happened until I started a new job). It wasn’t until I started attending my four year school during the fall of 2009 when I started noticing my outlook on anime was noticeably worse. Well, worse than it was already getting.

It’s strange I was able to experience so much anime during community college because a lot of my time was devoted to schoolwork. I screwed myself when scheduling my courses and ended up commuting five days a week. Add in the homework and most of my days were spent doing school related things. I made sure one day each week was devoted to hanging out with friends, and because many of my classes were in the early morning or afternoon, I dedicated homework time from whenever I got home to somewhere between 6 and 8 pm depending on how much I had to do. (It also helped I arrived to classes at least a half hour early and made a nice dent in any reading assignments I had to do.) After that, I was usually playing RPGs or watching anime. So I guess despite the business, I was still able to make time for me. Maybe it’s not so strange I experienced so much stuff, after all.

But all the same, this “scheduling” time for anime and RPGs made them occasionally feel like work. Sometimes I didn’t really want to make any progress in a show or game. But hey, you know anime. It’s so “deep” and “complex” that if I don’t keep up with it on a regular basis, I’m going to start losing track of the plot. So even when I wasn’t feeling it, I kept up on the stuff I used to be into.

When I started my four year school, it became more difficult to schedule free time for those things. I don’t want to bash on community college, because it really was difficult for me to adjust to my new life as a college student. Between losing good friends, feeling lost, and having more coursework than I’d ever had in my worst high school classes, community college was a big challenge for me. But my four year school took things even farther. Switching to a literature major gave me ridiculously more on my plate to complete, and even with better class schedules, I still found most of my time devoted to school work. And now I had a job to attend as well.

I was able to schedule one day per week to hang out with friends, but it was getting harder to devote time to watch an entire anime series or play an RPG. I still bought new DVDs or volumes of manga whenever the next part in something I followed came out, but my days of rewatching or rereading entire series was just about over. During spring, winter, and summer breaks I usually picked up something again, but I was just barely picking up new stuff.

I felt myself realizing that a lot of the more recent stuff I started getting into just wasn’t having as much of an impact on me. Between a combination of losing interest and not having the time to devote like I used to, anime started becoming more and more chore-like.

Then I bought the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya when it came out in the fall of 2010. Fans of the show probably know where I’m about to go with this, but for everyone else… let’s save this for the next part. I’ve been going on long enough in this one as it is.

<– Part 3     Part 5 –>

New Perler Bead Art!

Hey everyone! I know I’m in the middle of writing the anime retrospective, but I haven’t been able to work on it as much as I wanted to. I was thinking of posting it a little late this week, but seeing as it’s Thursday and I still have a lot of the next part to write, I’m going to take some extra time and post it next week instead. So this week I’ll show new Perler bead projects I’ve done over the past couple of months.

DSCN1160

Up until this point, I’ve just made Perler bead stuff with no real function other than decoration. I wanted to try making a keychain, so I made the big key from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and stuck it on a key ring. One of my coworkers is really supportive of my Perler bead projects, so I made him one, too. And then since I was on a roll, I made a regular key and a treasure chest to make one of those keychains that have multiple charms attached. It probably would have worked out better if they were smaller, but he seems to like them enough and hasn’t had any problems with it breaking. I haven’t had a problem with it either, which is good considering I’d like to make more types of keychains or maybe pins to sell one day.

DSCN1249

One of my favorite YouTubers started a let’s play of Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga and for whatever reason, I wanted to make some Perler bead art of Mario and Luigi. Kind of weird how the first Perler bead art of two of the most famous video game characters I made was from a game I’ve never even played. But look! Doesn’t it look like Mario is breakdancing? Both of them have so much energy in this game; I’ve never seen them so active.

DSCN1254

I also made Yoshi and Baby Mario from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. I’ve seen this Perler art a lot online, and I always intended it to be one of my first projects. I don’t know why I waited this long, but I’m glad I finally made it. It’s one of my favorites; the beads fused easily, it’s colorful, and the beads remained about the same size after ironing. Usually some close up more than others.

DSCN1164

I made another one of my coworkers a Princess Kenny Perler art from South Park. This one took a while; in addition to being pretty big and not having a sprite sheet to work off of, I needed to order more yellow beads from the Perler website (why were none in stores?), which takes a little while to deliver. But I finally did it, and it came out pretty good! At six standard pegboards, this is definitely one of the biggest pieces I’ve made. Since I had no sprite sheet to work off of, I found an image of Princess Kenny and used a free online program to layer a grid on top of it (sorry, I don’t remember what program it was). I made it so that each section in the grid was usually small enough for one color to fill it up, making it easy to place beads on the pegboard. Sometimes two colors shared a section, and when that happened I just used whatever color was more dominant.

Since I usually have some difficulty ironing bigger projects, I tried something new and ironed two pegboards’ worth of beads at a time instead of the whole set at once. This seemed to work pretty well. After, I ironed the bigger pieces together until they formed the entire thing. It worked fairly well, but it was a little difficult lining up the beads. They shrink a little when they’re ironed, and lining up separate pieces that have already been ironed was a little tricky. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the places where I ironed the bigger pieces together is a little more noticeable. It was a little distracting for me, but my coworker loved it, so I guess it’s not a big deal.

Photo0186

And finally, I have this behemoth of a project. Samus Aran, from Super Metroid. Using eight pegboards, this was my biggest and most ambitious project to date. I used the sprite from the ending of Super Metroid, only I recolored it to Samus’ more familiar Varia Suit (she’s wearing the Gravity Suit in the ending, which has more of a purple and pink color scheme than the Varia’s orange and yellow). It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I had three sprite sheets open: one for Samus from the ending (which is the pose in the image above), one for her gameplay sprites while wearing her Varia Suit, and one while she was wearing her Gravity Suit. I compared the two gameplay sprite sheets and “assigned” Varia suit colors to the Gravity Suit. For example, purple would be orange, pink would be yellow, etc. So when I went back to the sprite sheet for the ending, I just replaced the Gravity Suit colors with Varia suit ones until I constructed the whole project. I hope that made sense. I’m not sure how much sense it makes without some kind of drawing. :p

This project took a long time. I also had to locate more brown beads, which I was so lucky to find in a Michaels. I had ordered the yellow beads for Princess Kenny shortly before and I didn’t want to have to order beads again. The beads themselves aren’t expensive, but the shipping isn’t really worth it if you just want one color, so I usually like to wait until I’m low on several colors before ordering online. Anyway, it was definitely one of the best looking projects I’ve done.

However, I knew right away ironing was going to be a bitch. I was hoping since there were a lot of “appendages,” the ironing process might have gone a little more smoothly.

DSCN1196

It didn’t.

As you can tell, large chunks of the piece just wouldn’t stay together. I tried a few times to iron in the missing pieces, but it wasn’t working. The new beads I need to put in are bigger than the spaces I need to put them. Admittedly, this is one of the reasons I haven’t been working on Perler stuff lately. Samus was laying on my dining room table, taking up all my pegboards, for about a month. I knew this was a lost project, and I didn’t want to go back to face the facts. Ultimately, after my final attempt at salvaging it, I said fuck it. I didn’t throw it out; this piece used a lot of beads that I didn’t want to waste, and I may feel like returning to it again one day. But as of now I gave up on it. I’d like to start from scratch another time, but for now I think I’m done with big projects for a while. Ironing is just too unpredictable for big projects, at least for my level of experience.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the post. Hopefully I’ll have the rest of the anime retrospective for next week. Have a good day! 🙂

Why I Fell In Love With Anime and Why I Grew To Hate It – Part 3

This is the third part in an ongoing retrospective of my experiences with anime. Make sure you’ve read from the beginning!

.hack

One Saturday night during my sophomore year of high school, I went to play laser tag with some friends. When I got home it was around midnight, and on Cartoon Network there was a new anime being aired that I hadn’t seen before. It was a quiet show with ambient music. It was digitally animated, but retained the beautiful style of backgrounds from traditional animation, something I didn’t see as often anymore. This show must have been airing for a while, because the first episode I was watched was right in the middle of the series. I naturally didn’t understand what was going on, but I was absorbed and wanted to watch again next week.

This show was .hack//SIGN, and along with Evangelion, it would become my favorite anime.

.hack (pronounced “dot hack”) was, at the time, a new franchise consisting of a TV series, a PlayStation 2 RPG separated into four games which also included a DVD with each game featuring an episode from a miniseries, and a manga series. Sound confusing? It was. But I loved the complexity of it back then. Each of these individual titles all featured events surrounding an online game creatively titled “The World.” But aside from that and a couple recurring characters, that’s where the story-related similarities end.

.hack//SIGN (pronounced “dot hack sign) followed the events of Tsukasa, a player who, for lack of a better explanation, was trapped in “The World” and couldn’t log out. The show begins touching on many mysteries this online game and series had while setting up the events that led to the PS2 games. The PS2 games (which all have different titles, but for convenience I’ll just refer to them as the .hack games) blended RPG storytelling and what I’m assuming is a simulated experience playing an online game. You play as a character named Kite, who’s trying to find out why his friend fell into a coma as a result of playing the game. You check e-mails, message boards, and team up with other characters to explore the game that continually deteriorates, glitches out, and ultimately affects the real world. .hack//Liminality is a short miniseries about a group of people in the real world investigating how the online game is affecting it. Each episode is on a DVD bundled with a game, and I believe they were meant to be viewed while playing each game, as the miniseries is supposed to take place alongside it. Finally, .hack//Legend of the Twilight is a three-volume manga series (which was later adapted into its own anime) that takes place after the events of the PS2 games. It was about… something. I’m sorry, but I was honestly never a big fan of it. It’s more of a cute little side story compared with the rest of the initial stuff.

The original .hack series. From left to right, there's the anime .hack//SIGN, the manga .hack//Legend of the Twilight, and the four PS2 games.

The original .hack series. From left to right, there’s the anime .hack//SIGN, the manga .hack//Legend of the Twilight, and the four PS2 games.

Sound confusing? Yeah, it was. But again, I loved the complexity of it. I don’t know why, but the more convoluted and complex an anime was in telling its story, the more I believed it was deep. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling any of the .hack stuff bad, but… well, we’ll talk more about this later.

Anyway, .hack//SIGN, along with being a visual and audio delight, also had a really interesting story and characters behind it. It’s not every day I could say a show with a concept as stupid as “someone gets sucked into a video game” could have been so moving. It was really interesting to see the characters play in the online game and slowly reveal different parts and struggles in their real lives. While most of the show took place in the game, there were a few grayscale scenes that depicted their real world selves, which I thought was a very interesting insight to remind the viewer that there are different, real people behind their in-game characters. And to top it off, .hack//SIGN, like Evangelion, featured a main character with severe self-esteem and family issues, which always made a more interesting story for me.

I caught .hack//SIGN when I could on television, although I wouldn’t see the series in its chronological episode order until I received the box set as a Christmas gift during my junior year. I received the first PS2 game (along with my PS2) for Christmas when I was a sophomore. I also started buying the manga around this time, and continued to purchase the next game or volume whenever it became available or when I had the money to do so. .hack wasn’t something that came into my life all at once; it gradually kept building up over the course of high school. I think this is one of the reasons why it seemed so much bigger to me. Although I always preferred shows that began and ended within a season and manga that didn’t go on for 10+ volumes (some of them never end!), .hack felt different because each of its initial series felt like its own thing. You didn’t necessarily need to experience one title to understand and enjoy another one, but each entry added something new to understanding the overall setting and plot of the entire franchise. And at the time, there was just the anime, the PS2 games (and their bundled DVDS), and the manga. It was a bigger project collecting these than any other anime-related experience I’d had, but it was still doable. It was exciting.

And it was mine.

Since starting high school, I felt like I’d relied on the recommendations of friends to discover anime, manga, or RPGs. I don’t know if anyone else ever went through this, but when someone introduced me to something they’re into, it always felt like “their thing.” Regardless of how much I enjoyed it, it always sort of felt like I copied someone else’s interests. Evangelion was the only anime that felt like I’d discovered on my own, and it was refreshing to know I’d discovered .hack in a similar way.

I made a lot of memories with both the show and games, and the music was a big part of that. I’d been slowly getting into and appreciating video game music and anime soundtracks since starting high school. Final Fantasy VII was such a great game to me that I ended up finding the soundtrack for it online and asking for it for Christmas my freshman year. I’d bought two Zelda soundtracks from a Nintendo service when I was in middle school, but the FFVII soundtrack felt like the first proper one I’d received. It had four discs, 85 tracks, and an insert that was written almost entirely in Japanese. Along with that, a couple of friends had made me a couple of mix CDs featuring a number of songs featured in anime intros and endings (only they were full length!) as well as tracks used in shows themselves.

The FFVII soundtrack, my first official one not including two Zelda one I ordered in middle school. I loved it, but how was I supposed to know what the tracks were called?

The FFVII soundtrack, my first official one not including two Zelda ones I ordered in middle school. I loved it, but how was I supposed to know what the tracks were called?

I listened to these CDs a lot during high school, and I found myself listening to them more than actual music, which is a shame because that definitely didn’t help the whole “anime fans are weird” stereotype that had become more and more apparent as time went on. But regardless, I was interested in expanding my soundtrack collection. FLCL had a pretty kickass soundtrack featuring a lot of vocal tracks from an actual Japanese band called The Pillows, and I found myself wanting to listen to the music outside of the show the more I rewatched it. And now, there was .hack//SIGN, perhaps the most ambient and atmospheric music I’d heard in an anime to date. I began developing a genuine intrigue to listen to this kind of stuff, music I didn’t hear on the radio or music that no one really knew about except for other anime fans.

Well as luck would have it, a couple of the malls I visited had Suncoast stores that started carrying not only anime, but other anime-related merchandise like plushies, keychains, and yes, soundtracks!

I don’t remember when exactly I picked it up (I’m assuming either late sophomore year or early junior year), but I still distinctly remember holding the first soundtrack for .hack//SIGN in my hands. I hadn’t seen all of the show (it may have honestly not been a lot), but I was so intrigued by what little music I had heard that I made the decision to buy it right then and there. It became one of my favorite CDs in high school; it was extremely soothing and atmospheric, perfect for helping me deal with the drama high school brought. Two FLCL soundtracks followed shortly after (one of them may have even been that day), and from then on Suncoast became my go-to place for anime soundtracks. Some I couldn’t find, and for those I’d order online from different websites, but Suncoast was always my top preference.

These were my first official anime soundtracks. Suncoast gave us anime fans a lot of merchandise over the years.

These were my first official anime soundtracks. Suncoast gave us anime fans a lot of merchandise over the years.

The latter half of high school

Most of my anime friends graduated by my junior year. I found myself relying on my own experiences to discover and continue enjoying anime from then on. I fell out of touch with most of them; while they were fun, I never saw or talked to them very often outside of school. Most were a couple years older, and I’m sure many people remember feeling a natural barrier between under and upper classmen. I’d still see some of them occasionally. A few of us kept in touch on AIM for a while, but from then on it was just me and my closer friends, who held varying degrees of interest in anime. I was able to share some things I liked with them, so now it felt like I was the one filling other people in on the world of anime. I’d pick up more anime, manga, and RPGs as high school continued, although…

Some of the “new” was beginning to fade. After being a new anime fan for three years, my desire to see new shows, read new manga, and play new games had less to do with fascination and innocent curiosity, but felt more like a responsibility, for lack of a better word. I felt like as an anime fan, I needed to keep experiencing new stories, collecting the soundtracks and merchandise that followed, to continue building up shelves in my room with more and more stuff. Back then I was really into it, so it’s not like it felt like work. Enthusiasts of anything probably feel something similar. But that need to do it, the one that overwrote the want – that was something I felt growing for the remaining years I was an anime fan, and I didn’t understand it until much later.

A lot of people didn’t understand my enthusiasm for anime in general, which of course made it harder to like without feeling like there was something wrong with me. While I always dealt with criticism for it from people that weren’t interested, I couldn’t help but notice it build up around this time. Maybe it’s because I was mostly collecting manga, but once I started coming home with soundtracks, plushies, and other merchandise, some more heads started to turn. Maybe it’s because during the second half of high school, especially senior year, people started focusing more on where they wanted to go to college and do with their lives as opposed to me, who planned on going to community college and still spent his free time with anime and video games. Maybe it’s because anime stopped being something I was interested in and became something I was sort of obsessed with. I don’t want to say obsessed, but considering how into it I was, it was clear it was more than just a hobby.

You’d think the only people that would still understand my passion were other anime fans, but truth be told, other anime fans were becoming harder to get along with. I don’t know what exactly happened in my school after my original anime friends left, but the ones in my grade and below seemed to have differing opinions on what it meant to be a “true” anime fan. Some people insisted that you weren’t a real anime fan unless you peppered your speech with various Japanese words like “kawaii” and “chibi.” Other fans only liked the cute stuff. Another group of fans only liked uncut shonen shows like Dragonball Z and Naruto. Some fans only liked shows with a ton of blood and violence. In fact, one time during college, I was at an f.y.e. with a friend looking at anime DVDs, and this girl showed up behind us.

“Ew, what’s One Piece doing in the anime section?” she asked in a semi-valley girl tone.

My friend and I looked at each other and didn’t know what to say, so being a smartass, I said, “Uh… because it’s an anime…?”

“No it’s not,” the girl insisted. “Real anime has a ton of blood and fighting and cursing. One Piece doesn’t even look like an anime.”

I swear this conversation happened. I know it sounds like something someone would make up, but I swear it happened. Just… what!?

People always preferred different anime, of course. But around this time I started noticing a pretty big divide. Especially when I started watching .hack//SIGN. It was a show with a lot of focus on talking and not action, and anime fans either appreciated it or hated it.

To top it off, no one really seemed to be collecting anything anymore as far as shows and manga went. Everyone sort of started watching or reading stuff illegally online. They all kept saying the English dubs and subs sucked, and they weren’t accurate to the original source. As you can tell, I liked the English translations of anime. I’d been watching, reading, and collecting them for three or four years by this point. The people that got me more into anime had done the same. So it was a little unusual to hear so many people suddenly jump on this bandwagon. I know they have their opinions about the English releases, but…

Well, I’ll get to that in a future part. Oh, I certainly will.

Anyway, that’s sort of what anime life was like for me in the latter half of high school. .hack was a huge part of it, I remember getting into the Negima! manga, which was the next series Ken Akamatsu (creator of Love Hina) began as well as the Excel Saga manga, which was pretty different and honestly a lot better than the show. I picked up the anime version of Love Hina at some point, although it honestly didn’t even hold up to the manga for me. When Samurai Champloo started releasing episodes on DVD and Adult Swim, I immediately got into that (as a Cowboy Bebop fan, I was pretty excited about it). I was still drawing anime characters a lot, and it’s with mild embarrassment that I admit to even drawing myself and my friends as anime characters, too.

The box set of Samurai Champloo, and the first volumes of Excel Saga and Negima!

The box set of Samurai Champloo, and the first volumes of Excel Saga and Negima!

Out of my four close friends that weren’t as interested in anime, only one of them regularly watched or read new things I bought, which was fine for the time. It was kind of sad to know I didn’t have a group of anime friends around anymore, and the rest of the anime fans in my school were often a little much to deal with (although I did become friends with some of them). But my close friends fulfilled more of a role in my life up until this point. It didn’t really matter if they weren’t as enthusiastic about anime. They didn’t hate it, at any rate.

During my senior year, however, we ran into some problems. There were some fights, some falling outs, and a lot of awkward tension. I’m not really going to go into it; this really isn’t the time or place. But I feel like it’s worth noting because during my senior year, a handful of shows really caught my attention and focus. I think a large part of this was to keep me distracted from personal problems.

The first major anime I got into that year was Hellsing. One of my friend’s brothers was always raving about how cool it was, and my dad had just started a Netflix account. Put two and two together, and bam. Hellsing arrived in my mailbox four separate times on four separate discs. Hellsing was an action show that made me obsessed with vampires that year. It was about a gun toting vampire named Alucard who worked for the Hellsing Organization to stop vampires and other supernatural things from taking over London. It wasn’t particularly deep, but I still liked it.

This show was really all about Alucard. His character design was really cool; he had a dapper hat and sunglasses that made silhouettes of him look great. He was confident, badass, snarky, and really funny. A lot of that charm came from Crispin Freeman’s voice work. Anime fans can say what they want about English voice acting, but when I hear Crispin Freeman play a role I can’t help but think those fans haven’t really been paying attention to how far voice acting has come.

The Hellsin manga and original series box set. I first watched it through Netflix, but eventually picked the show up either senior year of high school or my first semester of college.

The Hellsing manga and original series box set. I first watched it through Netflix, but eventually picked the show up either senior year of high school or my first semester of college.

I eventually started picking up the manga one volume at a time over the course of senior year. I had just gotten my first job, and now that I had a stable income I was able to spend a little more money. I remember closing after school a couple nights a week, and sometimes I would walk over to the nearby Barnes and Noble, buy a manga, and come back during my break. The manga started out the same as the show, but took a drastically different turn about three volumes in. It turned into a war between the Hellsing Organization and Nazi vampires, and it kind of just goes crazy from there. The artwork was great, and there were a lot of cool silhouettes to draw from. Or what I called anti-silhouettes, considering they were white outlines on black backgrounds. The manga released volumes sporadically. My senior year in 2006 had seven available, and one more would be released about once every year until the final volume all the way until 2010. Geez, that was a pretty long wait for a ten volume manga!

An example of Hellsing's art style. I was coming out of my Jhonen Vasquez phase, but I still liked inking and using a lot of black, so drawing panels like these was still fun.

An example of Hellsing’s art style. I was coming out of my Jhonen Vasquez phase, but I still liked inking and using a lot of black, so drawing panels like these was still fun.

Strangely enough, watching Hellsing made me really interested in vampires. I read Dracula that year as a result, and my senior paper ended up being about the evolution of vampires throughout literature. Back then this was really cool to me, but Twilight has kind of sucked the fun out of vampires since then.

Around Christmas, two new shows I bought were Azumanga Daioh and Noir. Azumanga Daioh was cute, and I enjoyed it enough to buy the four volume manga, but it didn’t really stick with me. Noir, on the other hand, certainly did. I first learned about Noir from a Suncoast flyer, and I even drew one of the characters that was on it. I kept it in mind to look into at a later date, and as luck would have it Best Buy had the whole series for only $40. It was a good show, actually one of my favorites back then. Although to be honest I’ve forgotten a lot of the plot, so I don’t think I could give much of an accurate summary.

But the big thing I took away from Noir was the music. It was so eerily similar to .hack//SIGN’s that I bought both soundtracks once I saw them in Suncoast. And with a little compare and contrast of the composers, I found out that both shows’ music were written and performed by the same person. Yuki Kajiura and her band See-Saw composed the soundtracks, and I was so delighted to find that out. See-Saw would become my go-to answer whenever someone asked what my favorite band was. I didn’t even care if they never heard of them. For the first time since I started listening to Japanese songs and music, I finally had a band name I could answer with. You have no idea how awkward it was to say I liked Japanese stuff whenever someone talked to me about music. It’s not like it was all I listened to, but at the time it was my preferred genre.

The Noir box set and two soundtracks. I was really into this show senior year. I wonder why I remember the music more than the plot.

The Noir box set and two soundtracks. I was really into this show senior year. I wonder why I remember the music more than the plot.

Noir also inspired some art from me. Along with a Hellsing project I did for art class, I made a collage of my favorite character from the show. Ah, high school art class. My teacher was really easy-going, and always encouraged us to work on our own projects. Or maybe he didn’t care. Maybe he just wanted us to be working on something. Whatever. He was still cool. He helped me learn more about blending colors, anyway.

A couple characters from Hellsing I did for art class senior year. My teacher wanted to feature it in a display case in the hall, but couldn't because one of the character's Nazi necklace.

A couple characters from Hellsing I did for art class senior year. My teacher wanted to feature it in a display case in the hall, but couldn’t because one of the character’s Nazi necklace.

A collage of images from Noir featuring my favorite character, Chloe.

A collage of images from Noir featuring my favorite character, Chloe. Also a senior art project.

It wasn't a project for school, but I figured I would show it off anyway. Another Hellsing drawing, featuring Alucard and his "rival" Alexander fighting in the show's intro.

It wasn’t a project for school, but I figured I would show it off anyway. Another Hellsing drawing, featuring Alucard and his “rival” Alexander fighting in the show’s intro.

While I was looking through my old art for the past three photos, I found this too. I forgot I made a .hack//SIGN picture for art class during junior year. This one was even featured in the display case outside the classroom :)

While I was looking through my old art for the past three photos, I found this too. I forgot I made a .hack//SIGN picture for art class during junior year. This one was even featured in the display case outside the classroom 🙂

Finally, senior year brought me Fullmetal Alchemist. I’m not sure when it started airing, probably sometime during late junior or early senior year. But I came into the series about halfway through when I caught it on Adult Swim one night. It was probably around spring, as I remember really getting into it towards the latter part of the school year. It was the story about a couple of boys trying to get their lives back to normal after an accident involving alchemy. In this show’s world, alchemy exists as a sort-of-but-not-really magic, where alchemists have limited control over certain properties. Two young boys were going to try bringing their dead mother back to life, something forbidden in their world. One brother lost his arm, which was later replaced with a prosthetic metal one. The other lost his entire body, but due to quick thinking by the first, his soul was attached to a suit of armor as a temporary replacement.

It’s a really interesting show, and probably one of the few I would still be interested in rewatching. It’s not without its clichés, but it doesn’t have a lot of the awkward fan service so many other anime tend to throw in for the sake of throwing in. It’s an all-around appealing show, mixing elements of adventure, humor, action, and emotion. And it never goes over the top. One thing anime tends to do is dramatically shift between different tones and it gets really annoying after a while. Shows like Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Fullmetal Alchemist were good at keeping and balancing consistent tones throughout the series.

Strangely enough, my friend’s mom was into anime and she had the first half of the series on DVD. I borrowed them, caught up, and watched the rest of the series on Adult Swim throughout the rest of high school. Along with Hellsing, I also started collecting the available manga one by one with part of my paycheck. I was surprised how differently the manga was turning out from the anime, and throughout college I would be continually impressed as each new volume was released.

During the summer between high school and college, I used some of my graduation money to start buying the DVDs for Fullmetal Alchemist. Best Buy was having a great sale where each DVD was only $20 (which was pretty good in 2006), so I stocked up and bought almost the entire series that summer. It may not have been the smartest thing to do with my money, but anime’s an expensive hobby. Unless you’re watching/reading pirated stuff. But again, I’ll get to that later.

I invested a lot of myself into these new shows. There was also a manga I started reading called Chrono Crusade, which I guess I spent a lot of time with as well. It had good art, I really liked the shades of colors on the covers, it had a pretty solid story, and it was only eight volumes long. I reread it frequently that year and I guess it stood out just as much back then, but I honestly can’t remember a lot about it. It’s been a really long time, after all. But that was pretty much senior year of high school. Like I said, the changes in my personal life weren’t something I was good at dealing with, so now more than ever anime was a sort of safe haven for me. Even bigger changes were in store for me with college around the corner. But we’ll talk more about that next time.

<– Part 2                                                          Part 4 –>