Let’s Talk Neon Genesis Evangelion

Warning: Spoilers

I finally finished writing that big post I’ve been alluding to! And it’s about… anime? Huh? I don’t even like anime!

And head’s up: it’s gonna be a long post, too.

For those that missed it, I did a retrospective series of posts about my history with anime last year. You can read it here if you have absolutely nothing better to do, but the short version is I loved it, I grew to hate it, and now it’s just something else I’ve put behind me.

And even though I still hold my stance of not wanting to get back into that world again, I have fond memories of a few select shows that are still strong enough to warrant a revisit. I’ve been putting it off for a while because, like I’ve said in my retrospective, I really grew to hate too much about anime over the years and didn’t want to spoil my memories with a modern, fresh view that I may have ended up hating.

And so, here we are.

 

Neon Genesis Evangelion wasn’t the first anime I watched, but it was the first show that really drew me into that world and influenced my tastes for many years. I’ve wanted to rewatch it for years, and I finally did about a month ago. Considering the series takes place in 2015, I felt it was only appropriate to watch it before the year was up. 😡 And thankfully, yes, I still enjoyed it. So much so, that I’m actually talking about anime again on this blog.

Evangelion is about a teenager named Shinji who doesn’t have the world’s greatest self-worth. And before I go on, I’d like to point out that despite being a giant mech show, Evangelion‘s characters suffer from a lot of emotional and psychological issues that become a major focus of the series. In fact, I’d even argue this is a show about those issues with the giant mech stuff being a secondary element. So if you like anime, and you find yourself wanting to skip past the talking in other shows and get straight to the action, then this series probably won’t be your cup of tea.

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Anyway, Shinji’s supposed to meet a woman named Misato, who’s going to take him to meet his father Gendo. Shinji and his father don’t have a great relationship. In fact, they don’t even have one. His father abandoned him, leaving an unnamed teacher to take care of Shinji, and the two have had minimal contact since. Gendo wants Shinji to work for his organization, Nerv, by piloting a giant, biomechanical mech called an Evangelion, or Eva for short. Shinji is naturally furious with his father for only calling him when he needed him for something, and Shinji refuses to pilot.

I’m not sure if Shinji was hoping that he and his father would have a warmer conversation that eventually led into Gendo’s invitation, but I always found it a little odd Shinji came at his father’s request to pilot the Eva and he was mad that that’s all he wanted him for. Like, why did he come then? Maybe he wanted an opportunity to yell at his dad. I don’t blame him. His dad will prove time and time again that he’s a cold, cold man.

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Eventually Gendo calls in a girl named Rei to pilot the Eva instead. Rei, an extremely quite, pale girl around Shinji’s age, is wheeled past while dressed in several bandages. Apparently she’s had problems piloting this particular Eva, Unit-01 . Conveniently, a giant monster referred to as an Angel is attacking the city. The building rumbles in its wake and Rei falls off her stretcher, clearly exhibiting that she’s already in a lot of pain. Shinji rushes to see if she’s okay, only to find that her wounds have opened up. Shinji repeatedly tells himself that he mustn’t run away from his problems, an issue that we’ll soon see he’s struggled with for some time. He eventually decides to pilot Eva Unit-01 and is prepared for his first fight against an Angel.

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Evangelions don’t operate like giant robots from other series. The pilots’ minds are synced up to their Evas and they more or less pilot through thought and nerves. This doesn’t mean they can jump in and do whatever they think of, though. There’s a sync ratio constantly mentioned throughout the series that seems to determine how well a pilot is able to perform, as well as tests to monitor their  progress.

This was something I always liked about Evangelion. Even though the characters are fighting giant monsters in giant robots, there are a lot of downtime moments where the pilots run sync and activation tests at Nerv and perform maintenance and repairs on the Evas. Despite its clearly fictional world, Nerv, the Evas, and the characters aren’t these invincible forces to be reckoned with. They all have limits. Sometimes resources will be so limited that they’ll have in improvise, like in a future episode where they use part of an old space shuttle as a heat resistant shield. Despite some of the ridiculous stuff that happens throughout the series, it always felt grounded enough in reality to make it stand out from other giant robot shows.

Anyway, Shinji naturally has no idea how the hell to pilot Eva Unit-01 and ends up awkwardly standing there. The Angel isn’t as sympathetic as Misato, however, and immediately proceeds to fuck up Unit-01. After getting pierced through the skull and having an excessive amount of blood spray from the wound, Unit-01 goes silent before mysteriously reactivating on its own. There’s clearly something more at work here, because Unit-01 is suddenly acting on its own and proceeds to beat the shit out of the Angel. Sensing that it has no chance to win this one-sided fight, the Angel wraps itself around Unit-01 and self-destructs. Unit-01 is damaged, but is able to walk out more or less okay.

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Shinji’s more or less the same after the fight as well. Misato invites him to live with her, fulfilling a parent role for Shinji and a means not to live alone for Misato,which is explored more as the series goes on. She enrolls him at a new school, which doesn’t have many students due to the evacuation during the last Angel attack. Among those that are left are Rei, who barely talks to Shinji at all even though they’re now working together; Kensuke, a nerdy guy that’s really into tanks and war stuff; and Toji, who beats Shinji up because his sister was critically injured while Shinji was piloting Unit-01. Toji and Kensuke seems to have been friends for a while, and Kensuke tells Toji that he was being too hard on Shinji because if it wasn’t for him, his sister probably would have died during the Angel attack.

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After several weeks of training, Shinji becomes more capable of piloting an Eva just in time for another Angel attack. During the skirmish, Toji and Kensuke sneak out of their evacuation shelter and end up almost being crushed by Unit-01 as it holds off the Angel. Nerv allows the two boys to enter Unit-01 so they won’t get crushed, and it’s here that they see how mentally exhausted and uncomfortable Shinji is while piloting the Eva. Toji feels guilty and makes up with Shinji by letting him punch his face back for before, and the three boys become friends.

Shinji becomes more acquainted with Rei shortly after. He’s asked to deliver her new Nerv I.D. card to her apartment, which is definitely one of the more awkward scenes in the series. When no one answers the door, Shinji lets himself in to find a poorly kept, cold, dark apartment that honestly feels more like a storage unit with a crappy kitchen and bathroom. Rei walks out from the shower, drying herself off with a towel, and after some zany shenanigans they both fall on the floor, with Shinji on top of Rei. They both stare at each other for a while before Rei abruptly asks him to get off. Shinji awkwardly stammers and fumbles with his words explaining how he came to give Rei her new I.D. card while she gets dressed, only to have her leave in the middle of his apology.

This scene was always awkward to watch with other people around when I was a teenager. No one really expected nudity in an animated show and a few people questioned what the hell I was watching. Even among my friends that were into anime, a couple said that this scene was only for fan service (something the “next episode” segments kept promising for the first half of the series, for whatever reason).

But honestly, and I know this might contradict a lot of things I’ve said anime gets me pissed off about, I don’t think this scene is that tactless. I’ve seen a lot of anime during the ten or so years that followed my first viewing of Evangelion. If this were practically any other anime, Rei’s boobs would have been much bigger and much jigglier. She would have crossed her arms over her chest as soon as Shinji saw her, her face would have gone red, and she’d scream something like, “Ahhhhhhh you pervert!” while shaking her head and body back and forth. Zany music would start playing as Shinji’s nose would start bleeding. Shinji would still probably end up touching Rei’s boobs after wacky mishaps ensue, and then she’d probably punch him in the face and send him comedically sailing across the room. Then the scene would awkwardly cut to a shot of them, along with a bunch of other people, all laughing around some food as they ate, with Rei saying something like, “Oh, I see. You just wanted to give me my new I.D.”

This scene was quiet. It did a good job at conveying how awkward the tension between Shinji and Rei was. The only sounds you could hear were the clangs of construction in the background; there was no music. This scene, like many others, also does a good job at showing how difficult Shinji finds talking to other people, especially those he’s had limited contact with. It also does a good job at showing how little Rei cares about herself. In addition to the abysmal living conditions we’re shown, she shows so little concern that someone just entered her home without permission, caught her naked, fell on top of her, and stayed that way while grabbing her breast for a decent amount of time. She only shows minor annoyance just before the incident, when Shinji found his father’s glasses on her table and put them on, and even then, that’s just because he was messing with Gendo’s glasses (Gendo is the only person Rei has any kind of relationship with, but we’ll talk about that later).

I mean at the end of the day you can still view this kind of scene as fan service. Do I think there were other ways this scene could have been shown without a naked 14 year old girl? Yes, definitely. But compared to all the other stupid shit I’ve seen anime pull throughout the years with zero tact and no shame at fetishizing underage schoolgirls, I honestly think this scene was handled pretty well. There was a definite focus on showcasing these two characters’ awkward personalities, and I think that’s why this was one of the more memorable scenes in the show.

All right, enough ranting. A new Angel appears, and it’s one of the more problematic ones throughout the series. It’s basically a giant diamond that floats — yeah, I guess one of Evangelion’s flaws is that some of the Angel designs can come off as a little lazy, but considering the surreal nature the show ends up taking, I don’t think it’s too out of place (although that can be the nostalgia talking). But although it may be simple, it’s A.T. Field (more or less a barrier that Angels and Evas can produce) is extremely resilient, and it has a powerful projectile attack that can be fired from a great distance. Ultimately, nothing can get close enough to damage it while it’s stationed directly above Nerv, drilling a hole to attack it directly (I have no idea what’s supposed to happen when it reaches Terminal Dogma, the part of Nerv the Angels are supposedly trying to reach; it’s just a drill after all).

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Shinji and Rei must launch NERV’s first cooperative attack to defeat the Angel. Using a heat-resistant shield salvaged from a space shuttle, Rei must protect Shinji as he charges and aims an experimental weapon to snipe the Angel with. While preparing for this mission, Shinji and Rei converse more than they probably do throughout the entire series. I still wouldn’t call Rei particularly talkative, but these interactions feel more like conversations than their other encounters. When Shinji considers running away again, Rei tells him she can do the mission herself and doesn’t care whether she dies in the process. She eventually reveals to Shinji that the reason she pilots her Eva is because it connects her with all other people. She doesn’t exactly go out of her way to interact with others, but she does slowly talk to more and more people throughout the series (although still limiting how much she says).

When they defeat the Angel, Shinji rushes to Rei’s Eva, desperate to see if she’s okay. His actions mimic Gendo trying to pry a jammed entry plug from a previous scene, and Rei begins to form a connection with Shinji. She even smiles at him —  one of the few times we actually see Rei happy. Although they still don’t interact very often throughout the series, when they do we can see this incident has formed some kind of unusual bond between the two.

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Shortly after, the final “main” Eva pilot is introduced. Her name is Asuka, and she’s a prodigy from Germany. I don’t exactly know what was going on in Germany in regards to Evangelion production, pilot training, or anything Nerv related, but Asuka can kick some serious ass. When an Angel attacks the naval fleet escorting Asuka and her Eva back to NERV headquarters, she drags Shinji into her Eva and shows off her amazing skills. She leaps from ship to ship as the Angel chases them, and though the Angel eventually drags her underwater, she’s able to force its mouth open as the remaining battleships fire their cannons into its mouth, destroying it in the process.

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This introduction to Asuka also shows how different she is from Rei and Shinji. Where Rei is withdrawn, Asuka is outspoken. Where Shinji hesitates, Asuka acts. Where both Rei and Shinji have low self worth, Asuka has pride. In fact, Asuka can be obnoxiously proud. She’s the total opposite from the other pilots, and although she can be annoying, she serves as a refreshing character after the series’ focus on anxiety-ridden teens. That’s not to say Asuka doesn’t have her share of emotional baggage, however. In fact, as the series progresses, we see Asuka isn’t as in control as she makes herself out to be. But for now she brings a lighter tone to the series.

Among Asuka’s escorts is a man named Kaji, who’s bringing his own special package back to Nerv for Gendo himself: the embryo of the first Angel, Adam, who triggered the Second Impact fifteen years ago, essentially wiping half of the earth’s population from the Earth. Kaji also used to date Misato when they were in college, and it turns out they and Ritsuko, Nerv’s top scientist, were all good friends back in the day. Kaji’s actually a double agent that works for Nerv, Nerv’s backing organization Selee, and the Japanese government. Kaji’s real objective is to find the truth about what really happened during the Second Impact, and he leads Misato down this road throughout the series as well. As the series progresses, it’s obvious that destroying the Angels aren’t the only objectives of Nerv and Seele. There’s also something called the Human Instrumentality Project they frequently reference, and the two organizations often butt heads about how to proceed with it.

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Things proceed fairly smoothly for a few episodes. The pilots fight a couple of Angels that go down fairly easily. Asuka begins living with Misato and Shinji and form a sort of mock family each of them needs. Asuka and Shinji butt heads, compete with each other, and criticize each other as they become better acquainted. One thing that always seemed off to me was that it seemed like Shinji and Rei were at least on the road to becoming better friends, but she’s kind of pushed to the side when Asuka is introduced. That’s not to say Rei doesn’t interact with the other two pilots, because she does, but there’s more of a focus on Asuka and Shinji than on Rei, at least until later in the series.

Things don’t start heating up again until one of the more bizarre Angels shows up just past the halfway mark in the series. It’s a big, black and white sphere that floats through the city, but when the Evas attack, the Angel disappears and a giant black shadow appears on the ground to swallow anything in its range.

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Shinji eventually gets swallowed by the shadow, and one of the first of many psychoanalytical scenes takes place while he’s inside. Honestly, I feel it’s kind of pointless to describe these scenes. They’re abstract and mostly consist of analyzing the character’s thoughts, feelings, and struggles through conversations with themselves and other characters, which I suppose act as people the characters see through their own eyes rather than the people themselves, if that makes any sense. These scenes are something you’re probably better off seeing yourselves, although they may still confuse the first time viewer and if you aren’t into this psychology stuff, you’ll probably end up getting frustrated with the series shortly after.

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This is also about the time in the series where things start to get darker. Ritsuko and Misato start disagreeing and placing value on different things; Ritsuko wants to drop a ton of bombs into the Angel to destroy it without rescuing Shinji, for example. Although Rei and Asuka never got along well, Asuka begins to openly criticize Rei for being an emotionless doll favorited by Gendo. Asuka also becomes more temperamental as Kaji and Misato start hooking up again, as Asuka has a huge crush on Kaji.

Anyway, eventually Eva Unit-01 goes berserk again and breaks out of the black and white sphere floating in the sky. It’s a pretty bloody scene, and the Angel is destroyed.

There’s been talk of other Evas being built around the world, and the next pilot is chosen. It turns out to be Shinji’s friend Toji, which everyone but Shinji seems to find out about. Toji is supposed to pilot Eva Unit-03, which was being flown in after an accident involving Eva Unit-04 in the United States.

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During the activation test, however, Unit-03 goes berserk. It turns out the next Angel is a type of parasite that’s taken over Unit-03, trapping Toji inside. The other Evangelions are deployed to defeat it, but Unit-00 and 02 are quickly taken out, leaving only Shinji to deal with the Angel. Shinji refuses to fight it because the pilot, who he still doesn’t know the identity of, is trapped inside. Unit-03 begins choking Unit-01, putting Shinji’s life in critical danger.

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Gendo tries to convince Shinji (albeit coldly) that if he doesn’t fight, he’ll die. When Shinji still refuses, Gendo initiates the unfinished Dummy Plug System within Unit-01, which lets an Eva operate without a pilot. Unit-01 begins fighting back, and… ehem.

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I’ll be the first to admit I’m probably fucked up for thinking so, but this is one of my favorite scenes in the series. Between the still shots of the town covered in blood, Shinji freaking out, Gendo coldly watching while Unit-01 dismembers Unit-03, and the blood running down the river, this is easily one of the strongest and most memorable scenes in the whole show.

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After finding out the identity of Unit-03’s pilot, Shinji’s had enough and refuses to come out of his Eva. He threatens to destroy Nerv if anyone pushes him anymore. He’s arrested and brought to Gendo’s office, where he tells his father he doesn’t want to pilot an Eva anymore. He returns to life as a regular civilian with no regrets at all, showing the most determination he’s felt in the whole series.

It’s too bad that another Angel attacks so soon after the last one. Shinji goes to an evacuation shelter with the rest of the civilians and watches as the Angel approaches Nerv. Asuka, whose pride has been damaged from her past several failures at defeating Angels, unleashes a barrage of fire from various weapons as the Angel approaches, but it does little to stop it. The Angel cuts Unit-02’s arms off with little effort. Then it decapitates Unit-02, but luckily Asuka’s nerve connections to her Eva were cut off before she felt the effects of losing her head.

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Shinji runs into Kaji, who provides Shinji with some information about the Angels and the inevitable Third Impact if they manage to reunite with Adam deep inside Nerv. He also convinces Shinji not to run away from his problems while Rei appears in Unit-00, with only one arm holding an explosive. She charges towards the Angel and pushes the mine through its A.T. Field, but the Angel guards its core and is undamaged when the mine explodes.

Shinji runs back to Nerv and demands to pilot Unit-01 again just as the Angel breaks into the building. Shinji stops the Angel from attacking Misato and the other Nerv personnel and brings the fight back outside. He surprisingly does pretty well against it, until Unit-01 runs out of power. Then the Angel retaliates and destroys Unit-01’s chest plate, exposing its core. The Angel repeatedly attacks the core until Unit-01 reactivates in another berserk mode.

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Unit-01 rips off one of the Angel’s arms and uses it to synthetically repair one of its own. Unit-01’s new arm is much more human-looking now, complete with fingernails and everything. Unit-01 then savagely attacks the Angel and, er… eats it. Part of it, anyway. It absorbs its S2 engine, an organ that now provides Unit-01 with unlimited power. Ritsuko explains that there’s a human soul within each Eva, and it’s become too wild to control.

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Which is funny, because the next episode starts with Unit-01 being constrained. I always thought it was kind of weird how one episode ends with Unit-01 looking like it’s finally become a fully sentient being, only for the next episode to begin by showing it fully contained, back in its cage.

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Oh, and Shinji’s been absorbed by Unit-01.

This is what happens when someone’s sync ratio exceeds 400%, or at least that’s what Ritsuko says. I’d sarcastically remark she says that as if it’s happened before, but I’m pretty sure the same thing happened with Shinji’s mother, which will be explained (or at least alluded to) in a future episode. There’s a lot of psychoanalytical stuff about Shinji’s self worth during his time in the Eva, but other than that not much happens until the Eva spits him back out.

Misato and Kaji have been working together to discover Nerv and Selee’s secrets. Kaji shows Misato what’s hidden inside Terminal Dogma, a section of Nerv that’s highly restricted. Inside is a giant Angel nailed to a cross, sitting above a pool of the LCL liquid used in the Evas’ entry plugs. Kaji and Misato assume that this is Adam, the first Angel and the one that caused Second Impact fifteen years previously.

However, Kaji’s time is limited. Nerv personnel ask Misato for assistance in tracking him down, as he’s disappeared to rescue Gendo’s right hand man, Kozo Fuyutsuki. Fuyutsuki has been abducted by Seele for questioning because Gendo has drifted from Seele’s scheduled plans too often and no longer trust him. There’s a lot of interesting flashbacks to before Nerv was formed. We learn that Fuyutsuki was a college professor and Shinji’s mother, Yui, was one of his favorite students. We see Fuyutsuki bail Gendo out of a jam and see how much he doesn’t trust or like Gendo. We see Fuyutsuki join Gehirn, which is essentially Nerv before Nerv existed. We’re also introduced to Ritsuko’s mother, Naoko Akagi, who programmed the Magi supercomputers Nerv uses for its operations. We also learn that Yui died during an activation test with Unit-01 (in front of Shinji, no less) and that her soul resides in Unit-01.

I’m still unsure whether or not Gendo and Yui knew this was going to happen. Yui is presented as a pretty kind person, but if she knew she was going to die during the test and basically sacrifice herself so Shinji would grow up without a mother, then she’s almost as cold as Gendo in my book. Seriously, what the fuck?

We also see little Rei! Aww, she’s co cute in her little dress!

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Some time after Yui died, Gendo started caring for “an acquaintance’s child.” Which is a preposterous lie considering anyone that’s been around Gendo for three seconds can see what a terrible father he is to his own kid, so who would let him take care of someone else’s? Naoko thinks she resembles someone, and like anyone that sees Yui for the first time, she realizes Rei closely resembles Gendo’s dead wife.

No, Gendo. That’s not creepy.

Naoko and Rei have an awkward talk about how Gendo refers to Naoko as an old hag who doesn’t have a use anymore after she’s just completed the Magi. Naoko and Gendo have apparently been having an affair (or relationship — I’m not sure how accurate it is to call whatever they have an affair considering Gendo’s wife is dead and Naoko’s husband is… non-existant?), so she takes this news pretty poorly.

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Okay. A lot poorly. Naoko chokes out lil’ Rei (I’ve never noticed before, but there’s a lot of choking in this series), and afterwards she kills herself. Nerv is formed shortly after, but geez. It didn’t have the cleanest start, did it? Three people died, and… wait, Rei died? But she’s alive now? Did she need even more mysteries added to her resume?

Anyway, Kaji rescues Fuyutsuki, and Misato’s told the situation has been taken care of. We see Kaji hanging out in some kind of air duct or something before speaking to an unknown person, then the screen cuts to black and we hear him getting shot.

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Misato comes home, knowing that her lover is dead and she’s alone on her quest for the truth now. However, there’s one last message from him on the answering machine. He basically says to stay strong and if he sees her again, he’ll tell her he’ll love her, which I guess he couldn’t do before for whatever reason. She breaks down and cries while listening to it as Shinji laments that he can do nothing for her.

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Asuka’s pride has been badly damaged. She started off so strong and confident, but the past few defeats to the Angels have started to wear her self worth down. We’ve started to see how self destructive her anger can be and how she isn’t as confident as she wants others to perceive her, and she’s gotten to a point where Nerv is making preparations to replace her.

A new Angel appears from… space? It’s kind of just hanging around outside Earth’s atmosphere, conveniently out of range from any kind of attack. Rei is ordered to go out in Unit-00 to use a long range sniper to attempt fighting it, but Asuka’s temper gets the better of her and she orders her Eva to be launched instead. It takes a while before she can get a decent shot at the Angel, but when she’s about to fire it attacks in one of the strangest ways an Angel has assaulted someone yet.

Light shines down from the sky as Asuka’s mind is assaulted with traumatic images from her past, involving her mother’s suicide. Her self worth is broken down even further as the Angel probes her mind, bringing forth every negative feeling Asuka’s felt her entire life to the surface. People often refer to this attack as mind-rape, and while I’m still not sure how appropriate I feel that phrasing is, it’s plain to see how traumatized Asuka is from the attack for the remainder of the series so maybe it fits after all.

Rei is sent to Terminal Dogma in Unit-00 to receive a weapon called the Lance of Longinus, which has been pierced into the giant Angel kept within. Its legs, which were previously missing, or more accurately stunted, suddenly grow back, implying the lance was kept there for a specific purpose that it can no longer serve.

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Rei prepares for a rather impressive counterattack and throws the lance all the way into the atmosphere, piercing the Angel’s A.T. Field and destroying it. However, the lance is gone for good, floating in space, without a means to retrieve it.

The next Angel is… a floating halo that looks like a double helix? Man, some of the designs for these things are really… abstract.

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Anyway, Asuka can no longer sync with her Eva so Rei is deployed to fight it instead. When it approaches, the Angel becomes a solid snake-like entity and begins to merge with Unit-00. There’s another psychoanalytical scene, with the Angel taking on the form of another Rei. Rei herself realizes how fragile and lonely she is and comes out of the experience crying.

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Knowing that she’s not the original Rei and that she can be replaced, she holds onto the Angel as it tries to go after Shinji in Unit-01. She self-destructs her Eva, killing herself and the Angel in the process. So now Nerv is down two pilots and an entire Eva. One thing I really liked about the second half of the series was that even though Nerv wins against the Angels, each victory is spoiled by a pretty heavy loss. It kind of makes the threat of the Angels more real this way than if the Evas just fought, looked like they were going to lose, and then bounced back with a win like in so many other anime fights.

But lo and behold, Shinji finds Rei alive and bandaged up in the hospital! He’s very happy and thanks Rei for saving his life, but Rei doesn’t remember doing so. Rei then tells Shinji that she thinks she’s “the third.”

Ritsuko calls Shinji back to Nerv later on to show him something. Misato apprehends her and tells Ritsuko to show her everything she’s been kept in the dark about as well. Ristuko shows them a graveyard of prototype Evas, which resemble Unit-00. She also shows them the room where Rei was born, which looks exactly like the poor apartment she lives in. But the main attraction is the room of Reis floating in LCL.

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Ritsuko explains that Rei isn’t human, just something with a human form. These Reis are supposedly used to power the Dummy Plug System, although I’m not sure what this means exactly. Does one of these Reis sit in an entry plug with her creepy smile while she does things like completely dismember Unit-03? Or is it her personality data? At any rate, Ritsuko destroys the spare Reis as Shinji and Misato watch as they disintegrate.

You know, Shinji’s a pretty fucked up teen. His mother died when he was a child and his father abandoned him. He was forced to reunite with his cold dad and work for him by piloting these horrific biomechanical robots, and during that time he’s been hurt, psychoanalyzed, forced to almost kill his friend, got absorbed by his Eva, and deal with his fucked up relationships with the other characters in the show. Kaji’s death has left Misato distant, Asuka is more or less catatonic and hospitalized in a psych ward, and Rei is now a stranger. With Toji in the hospital and Kensuke moving to another district, Shinji doesn’t have anyone else he can call a friend.

Until this guy shows up humming the Ode to Joy.

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His name is Kaworu, and boundaries aren’t his strong suit. To anyone else but Shinji in his current state, Kaworu acts way too invasively, asking personal and philosophical questions about human existence and loneliness. For Shinji, however, this is the perfect person to show him the compassion and empathy he’s needed, and the two become friends.

For like ten minutes.

Because it turns out Kaworu is the final Angel. Originally sent to Nerv by Seele as Asuka’s replacement, Kaworu telepathically hijacks Unit-02 and descends towards Terminal Dogma. Shinji, initially unable to believe his new friend is the enemy, becomes furious that he’s been used again and begins grappling with Unit-02. During the fight, Kaworu explains that Angels and Evas are composed of the same matter, further proving the implication that Evas were made from the first Angel, Adam. Kaworu also has his own A.T. Field, which protects him from Unit-01’s deflected progressive knife. He explains how A.T. Fields are what enclose every mind that exists, something that won’t be explored further until the movie. (Yes, there’s a movie. And… ugh. We’ll get there.)

Kaworu reaches Terminal Dogma and questions if he must really return to Adam to evolve mankind, but he’s thrown off when he realizes that the Angel on the cross isn’t Adam, but another called Lilith.

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Shinji catches up to Kaworu and grabs him. Kaworu thanks Shinji for sharing the human experience with him, and asks Shinji to destroy him so Shinji can continue living. Shinji, feeling betrayed, sad, and confused, contemplates his next action for like a full minute with a single frame of Unit-01 holding the last Angel while Ode to Joy plays.

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This is one of the more criticized scenes in the series. Not necessarily because Shinji has to think about what to do, more that it’s just this single screenshot for a full minute with no animation. There are actually a few scenes that do the same thing throughout the series, but I think because this is so close to the end people often start bringing up Evangelion‘s limited budget and how it starts to show towards the end.

Shinji crushes Kaworu. We see his head fall into the pool of LCL, and after we see Shinji discussing what just happened with Misato. Shinji says Kaworu was the one that should have survived, but Misato says he shouldn’t have because he didn’t have the will to. Shinji tells Misato that she’s cruel, and the episode ends.

The final two episodes are a little difficult to discuss. The entirety of these are dedicated to psychoanalytical scenes. And if you thought they were confusing before as segments lasting a few minutes, then the ending to the series is going to be pretty difficult to understand.

The most I can say is that Shinji, Rei, Asuka, and Misato all have those inner conversations with themselves regarding each of their emotional issues, as well as with other characters from the show in the image that each character sees them in. I really liked how the show described the latter: there’s yourself, the you that one person perceives you as, the you another person perceives you as, and so on and so forth. It really drives home a single, critical issue that all characters have found themselves dealing with — how other people think of them.

Almost the entirety of this is played out through still images, abstract scenes, and recycled parts of previous episodes with new dialogue. The only real new segments of animation we get are during the last ten minutes, where Shinji plays out a possible new reality where Asuka and he are childhood friends, his mother is still alive, his father isn’t the coldest person on the planet, Misato is their teacher, and Rei is a new transfer student complete with the ability to properly interact with other people. It’s a very cheesy scene and reeks of anime cliches, but honestly I always liked it. It was so sweet to see that after everything Shinji has been through, this could be an example of how to change his reality into something better for himself. I even remember back when I first started getting into Evangelion, there were some theories that said this was actually reality and everything that happened in the show was made up in Shinji’s head.

Shinji has one final psychoanalytical scene where he learns to love himself and realizes he can change both his mindset and reality to make his life better. The whole cast appears applauding him, all saying congratulations one at a time. And while I also thought that was a sweet moment when I was younger, I can’t help but find it kind of annoying to hear each person say the same word one at a time.

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It’s kind of hard for me to describe an opinion of the ending after this most recent viewing. On the one hand, despite not bringing as much attention to it in this post as the show did, Evangelion focused a lot on character exploration and development. After everything that’s happened, I’ll still go on record saying that I personally think exploring issues with self doubt, depression, anxiety, and recovering from personal traumas are the most important themes in the show. The final two episodes dealt specifically with this, and Shinji is finally able to show signs that he can move past his personal demons and start living a healthier life. I like the message the show was trying to go for, and as a teenager dealing with many of the insecurities explored within the show, Evangelion was a vital source of inspiration for me in trying to improve my own life.

However, after becoming an adult, moving past the world of anime, and learning how to form an opinion on things at a more critical level, I can’t say I enjoyed the ending as much as I did when I was younger. I still like it — like it enough, anyway. I feel for Shinji and wanted him to improve his mental state. I enjoyed the philosophy explored in the final two episodes and the other psychoanalytical scenes throughout the series to an extent. But I don’t think the way they wrapped the show up was the most effective way to get their point across.

For one thing, ending one episode with the defeat of the final Angel and the last two not taking place in reality was a pretty abrupt transition. Yes, I think the major themes of the show should have been focused on during the finale. But too much of the show was about other characters, the mysteries behind the Evas and Angels, the fate of humanity, Nerv and Seele’s ultimate goals, etc. Having virtually no closure or answers about these other important factors was pretty disappointing.

It’s pretty common knowledge that the production team faced budget problems towards the end of the series, and from what I heard it was a pretty abrupt decision. Perhaps Evangelion was meant to go on longer than it did, and these unexplained mysteries were supposed to be dealt with later on. It would certainly explain why the final two episodes seemed like an abrupt cut to something so different. The lack of animation during these two episodes also seems to support the lack of funds the series had, although I’d still believe it if someone told me at least some of these decisions had been intentional.

Fans were pretty outraged. They expressed their anger over the ending and even sent death threats to the series’ creator, Hideaki Anno. So in response to the overwhelming negative reaction to the series’ finale, a film was made to replace the final two episodes. Well actually, two films were made. The first was Death and Rebirth, which contained an hour long recap of the series followed by the first part of the actual movie, The End of Evangelion. Which if you asked me, seemed like a pretty ballsy move. If I were so upset about the ending to a TV show that I threatened to kill the creator, and then the creator said he was going to make a movie to replace the ending, and then showed me a movie that was basically a recap, I’d be in an even worse mood. I’m not even going to bother talking about Death and Rebirth. It’s a recap. I’ve basically done the same thing with this post. Let’s just get onto The End of Evangelion.

The movie begins with Shinji masturbating to an unconscious Asuka, whose breasts have been exposed after Shinji tries shaking her to wake her up.

… No, I’m serious. I’m not exaggerating or being crass. That’s what happens. When he finishes he looks at his cum-soaked hand and says he’s so fucked up.

In fact, this is a pretty good scene to set the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s pretty fucked up. It’s going to take uncomfortable to a level the show didn’t. And while the events in the film aren’t un-Evangelion, it seems pretty mean-spirited compared to the show.

The movie’s kind of all over the place at times, so forgive me if this summary seems the same. Rei wakes up and leaves her apartment, finally set to fulfill her purpose in life. She goes to Central Dogma where Gendo meets her, saying that her time has come.

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I love that cold stare she gives at Gendo. The second Rei may have shown adoration for him, but this Rei isn’t having it. She’s going to use him like he used her.

While they go to Terminal Dogma, Seele orders the Japanese government to kill everyone inside Nerv. Wow, that’s… excessive. Despite all the violence in the show, it’s always been against the Angels or Evas. Seeing people kill other people in Evangelion is… unsettling.

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While this is going on, Misato is trying to save Shinji and Asuka. Asuka’s still in the hospital, so she’s put into Unit-02 and launched to the bottom of the lake outside Nerv headquarters. She finds Shinji and explains to him that humans are the real last Angel, and that the Angels they’ve fought were other forms humans could have taken. I’ve read that something about her explanation is a critical translation error, though, so take that as you will.

Shinji’s basically a stump. He’s too fucked up to move on his own and just wants to die. Misato literally has to drag him around until they find Unit-01.

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Misato eventually gets shot, which sort of snaps Shinji back into reality. Misato yells at Shinji a lot and basically tells him to keep moving forward, and then she kisses him pretty hard for a 29-year-old woman kissing a 14-year-old boy.

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When she’s done she basically tells Shinji she’ll fuck him when all this is over, then she pushes him into the elevator that takes him to the cage and dies shortly after.

Meanwhile, Gendo and Rei arrive in Terminal Dogma. Rei is going to fuse with Lilith, because apparently she’s part Angel and that’s a thing that can happen. We’re never flat out told what Rei is, but this is as close to closure you’re going to get.

However, before this happens, Ritsuko shows up with a gun and threatens to blow the whole place up before Gendo can let Rei initiate the Human Instrumentality Project. She presses a button on some remote, it doesn’t work, then Gendo whips out a gun on Ritsuko. He tells her something which is obnoxiously inaudible to the audience, with Ritsuko responding “You liar!” before Gendo kills her in cold blood.

Gendo removes his glove to reveal that the embryo of Adam was implanted into his hand. He touches Rei’s breast, which is totally not creepy at all, and it enters her…? And then he moves his hand down to her stomach — while the hand is still inside her — until it snaps off.

Gendo is shocked that Rei’s betraying him, and Rei says that Shinji needs her. She fuses with Lilith and now we have a giant naked Rei.

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While all this is happening, the Japanese army knows where Asuka is and starts throwing explosives into the lake. She’s curled in a ball and keeps saying she doesn’t want to die, which as repetitive as it sounds, is one of the strongest moments in the movie. She starts at a barely audible whisper and raises her voice until she screams it, finally able to sync with Unit-02 again.

Asuka then proceeds to make up for lost time and totally kick ass in her Eva again. She destroys the vehicles and ships the Japanese army fight her with and for a brief moment, things start to look hopeful again.

Then the Mass Produced Evas fly in. Yeah, remember the talk of those being built? Well they’re ready, completely equipped with Dummy Plug systems and artificial Lances of Longinus.

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To top it off, Unit-02’s power cable was severed during the fight with the Japanese army, and now Asuka has to defeat nine Evangelions within three and a half minutes.

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Asuka violently destroys these things one by one as well. There’s a lot of blood and dismembered limbs, and it looks like Asuka’s going to win. However, as she’s about to finish off the Mass Production Evas, one of them gets her in the skull with its lance, pinning Unit-02 to the ground. The Mass Production Evas then regenerate (because if having their own Lances of Longinus, Dummy Plugs, and ability to fly weren’t enough, they also have S2 engines which apparently let them regrow limbs and organs), and like vultures, descend upon Unit-02 and begin devouring it alive.

And yes, Asuka’s feeling the whole thing. Her body is like a contorted mess before being killed. Honestly, if you thought Unit-01 destroying Unit-03 was disturbing, that doesn’t even hold a candle to how disgusting Unit-02’s fate is.

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Shinji reaches the cage with Unit-01, but it’s been contained in bakelite. However, Unit-01 conveniently activates, breaks free of it, and lets Shinji board it. He’s launched outside, just in time to see the Mass Production Evas flying around while holding the carrion of Unit-02.

Shinji then proceeds to freak the fuck out.

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For the remaining half of the movie… well, it’s a mindfuck. If the final two episodes were a confusing watch, the rest of this movie will not do a better job tying up the series for you. It’s basically the end of the world, and the fate of it is put into Shinji’s hands.

On Earth, everyone’s A.T. Fields fail. Yeah, apparently humans have A.T. Fields as well. But in their case it’s not a manifested barrier, but what allows them to keep their individual identities, including the ability to hold their physical forms. They all disintegrate into LCL and merge together into some kind of egg-thing the giant naked Rei is forming as she towers over the Earth.

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Except Gendo. He gets eaten. Not sure if it’s a real thing that’s happening or part of the never-ending imagery this movie shows you during the mindfuck. But after being the world’s coldest father for the entire series, I’m sure many fans can agree he gets what he deserves.

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This is basically the Human Instrumentality Project Gendo and Seele were trying to achieve throughout the series. Everyone fuses into one entity, where they share their minds, thoughts, and feelings without the personal barriers of the A.T. Fields. I think this is some kind of metaphor for people pulling down their personal walls and learning to connect with one another on a personal level, which makes sense considering all of the personal growth the main characters need to go through to overcome their own self-destructive habits.

And fine. It’s fine. I get it. Like I’ve stated, the psychoanalytical, metaphorical, personal growth as people stuff was more important to me than the literal things happening in the show. I think this is why I was so fine with the ending for all these years. I didn’t need all these answers about what happened to everyone because the main problem (Shinji’s extremely poor self respect, his depression and anxiety, and his inability to love himself) was overcome at the end of the TV series.

But after so many years and looking at other stories in different media, I have to admit that ambiguity in the literal stuff that’s happening in Evangelion does start to overshadow the original messages and themes of self-worth that used to be most important for me. And the Human Instrumentality Project is one of the biggest problems I have with the movie:

Why were Gendo and Seele so at odds with each other if they both desired the same thing?

I’ve read a bunch of theories about this, and the most basic understanding I have is that Gendo and Seele wanted to achieve Human Instrumentality through different methods. I’m still not entirely sure what those methods are, to be perfectly honest. And if the end result is everyone on Earth “dying” and becoming one being, then does it really even matter how it’s achieved?

My best understanding is that Seele wanted Human Instrumentality to be permanent, while Gendo wanted it to be temporary. Gendo’s ultimate goal was to reunite with his dead wife. And while normally that’s a pretty sweet sentiment, I find it incredibly difficult to believe Gendo even has the ability to love in the first place. Some people were saying Unit-01 was to be a sort of Noah’s Ark to house everyone’s soul until this rapture of sorts was over, and then life on Earth would continue. Would Yui come back to life and reunite with Gendo, or would Gendo just reunite with her for a brief time in the communal afterlife that is the Human Instrumentality Project?

More to the point, are dead people included in this Human Instrumentality thing? I’ve been kind of under the impression that the people on Earth who turned into LCL make up this communal entity. Not dead people. Yet Yui, Misato, and Asuka show up in the mindfuck scenes during the second half of the movie, so maybe they are? But then again, if we think back to the series, these could also be versions of these characters that Shinji sees through his perspective, so…

JESUS THIS MOVIE.

It’s confusing. Like really, really confusing. It’s a mindfuck, pure and simple, where nothing makes sense and everything’s so ambiguous people are still debating about what actually happened almost 20 years after the movie was released.

But whatever. The rest of the movie is something of a visual experience showing the end of the world. There’s some weird, out of place scenes as well, like a little Shinji building a sand castle with two dolls , but then an adult comes and takes the dolls away, so Shinji destroys the sand castle (which I guess is supposed to represent Asuka and Rei coming into his life and then being taken away, and now he wants to destroy the world).

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There’s also some real-life shots of Japan and some of the death threats Anno received. And there’s some pretty violent conversations between Shinji and Asuka involving their fucked up relationship, including one where Shinji chokes Asuka for refusing to love him.

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Ultimately, Shinji chooses for everyone to remain as one, but it’s not what he thought it would be like. So then he chooses to let people decide for themselves whether or not they want to exist as individuals. Shinji then returns to Earth, which is in ruin. The Mass Produced Evas, who were part of some self-sacrificial ritual during all the mindfuckery, are left posing like Jesus nailed to the cross in the lake while a beautiful rainbow of blood from the headless, giant naked Rei decorates the sky.

Oh, and there’s a giant Rei head with a creepy smile in the lake. And the lake looks like it’s composed entirely of blood.

Are we sure this is the Earth Shinji chose to return to and not, like… Hell? Like, is this actually just the world as Shinji sees it considering how his life circumstances, anxiety, and depression all mixed together?

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Shinji’s supposedly alone for a while before Asuka washes ashore. Apparently, she’s the second person to decide to come out of the Human Instrumentality Project. The fact that she’s here at all bothers the hell out of me, considering my confusion I mentioned earlier regarding Instrumentality. Don’t get me wrong — she’s my favorite character, and it was pretty painful to see her die in such a violent way, and I’m glad she’s alive again. But these ambiguous terms of Instrumentality really bother me, and Asuka coming out of it when I’m not sure if she was even part of it to begin with makes my head hurt even more.

Continuing the mindfuck scene where Shinji chokes out Asuka, he decides to choke her again. Asuka’s pretty unresponsive at first — you might initially wonder whether or not she’s alive — until she raises her hand and caresses Shinji’s cheek. He releases his grip and starts crying. The movie ends with the two of them like that, with Asuka saying “How disgusting” before the scene abruptly cuts out and the credits begin to roll.

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The ending alone and the theories about what it means could probably be a post itself, but I don’t feel qualified enough to write such a thing. I first saw this movie in the early 2000s, maybe a year or two after watching the series. Back then a popular opinion was that this wasn’t Asuka at all, but a combined version of Asuka, Rei, and Misato. Considering Shinji has shown some form of feelings for each of these girls throughout the TV show (and especially considering one of the psychoanalytical scenes from the series that shows each of them naked asking Shinji to become one with them), I thought this made a lot of sense. I thought the ending was something like Shinji made his own reality (like the end of the TV series was encouraging him to do) and he made this “perfect woman” to accompany him, but when she wasn’t like what he thought she would be, he tries to kill her, and that’s why she says “How disgusting” — because even something created from his fantasies wasn’t enough to satisfy him.

However, my recent viewing of the movie has me thinking otherwise. In fact, according to a lot of theories out there, this one doesn’t seem to hold up very well nowadays. I’m personally a fan of the theory that goes into Shinji and Asuka’s confusing relationship, and how the ending to reflects that. You can read about it here if you’re interested.

This movie’s something else, all right. For the longest time, I really hated it. I hated how it shit all over anyone gaining any kind of self improvement in the show. I hated Asuka dying. I hated how little it made sense. I hated how gross it was at times. But after watching it as an adult after so many years of not watching the show (or anime in general)… I kind of appreciate it.

I can’t say I like it. I don’t hate it anymore, but I can’t fully admit to liking it. But I can appreciate it. After becoming more and more aware of the loose ends the TV show never tied together and feeling that the ending to the series could have said the same kind of message but done better, I can appreciate how The End of Evangelion at least presented more or less “closure” for a lot of things, even if that closure wasn’t exactly satisfying. And from a purely visual standpoint, it was really interesting to watch the end of the world, even if it was baffling to every extent possible.

But did it do a good job to end the series? In my opinion… no.

Don’t get me wrong, the final two episodes needed fleshing out, as well. But like I said, the exploration into philosophy, emotional problems, and personal growth was always the most important part of Evangelion for me. Even though a lot of the cool stuff that happened with the Evas and Angels were strangely dropped for the final two, entirely psychoanalytical episodes, Shinji still made amazing progress with himself and I was elated to see him end the series as a better person.

The End of Evangelion, on the other hand, seems to do the exact opposite. Granted, I suppose you could argue this could represent the other side of the spectrum, when someone doesn’t make progress but instead spirals further into despair. But I don’t know. The show seemed to be building up to Shinji making progress. His state of mind dropping to the lowest point ever, especially so quickly, seemed a little forced. Like maybe there were supposed to be a few more episodes in between the defeat of the last Angel and the movie where we see him fall at a more natural rate. If that was the point to begin with.

Up until now, I’ve always been under the assumption that the final two episodes of the TV series were supposed to be what took place inside the characters’ minds, while The End of Evangelion took place in the real world. And that never seemed to make much sense to me. I found it extremely difficult to even begin believing that Shinji thinks  he can learn to love himself and can change his reality into something better while choking Asuka in the aftermath of the end of the world. After reading other people’s opinions, many seem to now question if the two finales are supposed to take place side by side at all. Was the movie supposed to replace the the finale altogether, as if it never happened? Are they just two possible endings to the series, left up to the viewers to decide which one they prefer? Is one real and one an alternate possibility? Is one the good ending and one the bad ending?

I guess that’s up to the viewer to decide. I honestly couldn’t give you an answer. It’s been left intentionally ambiguous. All I can do is summarize the series in a really long post.

So what are my final thoughts then?

I’m relieved to admit that I enjoyed Neon Genesis Evangelion again after so long. I’ve put off rewatching it for years — even before I lost interest in anime. But after writing that retrospective last year I’ve kept growing more and more curious if I would still enjoy particular titles that meant something significant to me while growing up, even if it is anime. I probably won’t watch it again for a long time — probably not until I feel nostalgic for it again. But at least I know I still loved it after all this time.

I’ll admit that there were several moments in the beginning that I laughed at. This show wasn’t without tropes that normally would have bothered me in other anime. But I still honestly feel Evangelion is a unique experience that tried really hard to be something great. And for the most part, I think it worked.

I enjoy the philosophy and therapeutic themes the show explores during the psychoanalytical scenes, but I think they were more effective when they were taking place between people in the real world. Despite the giant robots and monsters, Evangelion is grounded in reality. Everyone’s actions have consequences that last through the whole show, and everyone’s emotional baggage plays a huge role in characterization. Working through their shit with each other probably would have been more mature than seeing it done through abstract imagery and conversations.

I still enjoy the ending, but the abrupt switch between the last Angel and the final two episodes is too glaring not to bother me anymore. I’m still satisfied enough with the TV ending, but if budget and time concerns really were the issue for why it was the way it was, then that would explain a lot. It needed a better transition.

Appreciating the movie was something I didn’t expect. Honestly, I wasn’t even going to watch it. But I got so nostalgic while watching the show and so into forming more current opinions of it, that I felt like I may as well do so with the film. I’ve already gone into all of my thoughts with it, so I won’t repeat them here. But I do think it’s worth watching at least once if you’re going to watch the series.

Visually, everything’s got that 90s hand-drawn animation that I love so much. Backgrounds look nice and detailed, and I really get a good impression of the world and time Evangelion takes place in. The number of quiet scenes, while arguably overdone to fill time or save on animation costs, ultimately added some really strong moments to the show.

Could I recommend Evangelion to a non-anime fan, though? Eh, that’s kind of hard to say. I think you’d have to be a fan of animation in general to appreciate a lot of it. And while there’s definitely enough in the show to dissect, debate, and discuss, it might take a while to get there. And since anime fans themselves either love or hate the show, a casual viewer might not be interested enough to get to that point.

However, if you are able to give Evangelion a shot in some way, I’d say go for it. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. And the ending — either of them — may taint the entire experience for you even if you liked the series. But it’s an interesting experience that’s at least worth checking out.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end! This was definitely my most in-depth review yet. And it was about anime of all things. Something about that feels… wrong. But god, could you imagine if I was this in depth for every book I looked at on this blog? I’d never have a post.

Thank you for taking the time to read this ridiculously long review of a TV show that’s 20 years old. I really wanted to put my thoughts out there. And apparently I had a lot of them. 🙂 Special thanks goes to evageeks.org. I got most of the screenshots for this post from there, as well as a lot of cool theories and information about the show I referenced while writing this. Check it out if you want to learn more about Evangelion.

Thanks again for reading something a little different than what I normally write about! Next week I should have a new Let’s Talk Books post. Until then, have a great week! 🙂

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New Perler Bead Art!

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I originally had a different post planned for this week, but I wasn’t really liking what I had written. So here’s some more Perler bead art instead! 🙂

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First up is Storm Eagle from Megaman X. He’s the boss of my favorite stage (a lot of people’s favorite stage, actually), and it’s my favorite because of the music. Anyone who appreciates retro game music who hasn’t heard it before should probably go look it up after reading this post. 🙂

Anyway, this is definitely one of my better ones. I’m learning how to iron together bigger projects more effectively, and I think this one didn’t have any issues whatsoever. Finding the right shades of purple wasn’t easy, though; Perler doesn’t seem to offer a great range of purple shades, so I had to improvise. If you look really closely, you can even see I used some striped beads to give the illusion of another shade of purple. It actually worked out pretty well! I have a bunch of spare striped beads, and while I don’t want to get into the habit of relying on them, it’s good to know they can get the job done if needed.

DSCN1320Next up is Cloud from Final Fantasy Tactics. Although I haven’t been pursuing it very well, I’d like to make each character from Final Fantasy Tactics out of Perler beads. I chose Cloud next because… well, it’s Cloud! Final Fantasy VII was a big part of my high school experience, and seeing the main character show up as a secret one in Final Fantasy Tactics blew my mind back then. These days I can’t help but wonder if his inclusion was shameless promotion for Final Fantasy VII, but…

… I don’t care. :X

Cloud was pretty easy to make. He’s not particularly big, so ironing went well too. It was kind of weird using so many browns and golds in the hair, considering he’s blonde, but in the end I think it turned out well. 🙂

DSCN1326The next few are all from Pokemon Sapphire, a game that also played a large role for me during high school. As anyone that’s read this blog for a while could tell you, Pokemon was a huge interest for me when I was a kid, as it was for virtually everyone else. When Red and Blue were released, every kid in school was super into it. But by the time Gold and Silver came out, the kids’ interest was fading. Eventually it came to a point where if you liked Pokemon, you were a loser. I still played Silver and my best friend next door played Gold, but a big part of the charm of Pokemon — the communal interest — had been lost. We had to like it in secret for a while.

Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire came out when I was a freshman in high school. To my surprise, one of my friends got it and really loved it. I actually saw a handful of people really interested in it. It wasn’t a popular thing to like, especially as a high schooler, but there was enough of a following that bounced back to make my interest peak again. I got Sapphire for my birthday that year and ended up putting close to 200 hours on the game by the end of high school. :X

Between learning the game’s new mechanics, training up level 100 Pokemon to battle against my friends, keeping an unnaturally close eye on growing berries, challenging the Battle Tower, attempting to fill up the Pokedex, and faffing around with secret bases, it’s no wonder Pokemon Sapphire took up so much of my time back then.

Like Cloud, the Pokemon trainer you play as (his name is Brendan, apparently) didn’t take long to make. He’s really small. So small, I’m thinking about turning him into a keychain. It’s the pose from when the trainer uses an HM move; back then, I thought it was the coolest thing.

Besides from Ralts, of course.

DSCN1329Early in the game, you take a new trainer named Wally out to catch his first Pokemon. Out pops this thing. I don’t know why, but I thought this was the coolest, most adorable little thing in the entire game so far (all 20 minutes of playing it). I searched for an hour in the tall grass before I found one of my own. Later that day, my friend told me it evolves into one of the best Pokemon in the game.

I’m not sure how this one came out, though. Something I’ve noticed about Game Boy Advance Sprites is that they’re more complex than Super Nintendo and surprisingly PlayStation sprites. There’s a lot of smaller differences in color shades that you probably wouldn’t even notice until you saw a sprite of one zoomed in. As a result, sometimes some of the Perler art I make from medium-sized Game Boy Advance sprites looks a little weird unless you’re looking at them from far away.

DSCN1331Ralts’ fully evolved form, Gardevoir, became an instant favorite of mine. Ralts took a while before he could hold his own in battle, but by the time it became a Gardevoir it was one of my best Pokemon. Not to mention this Pokemon looks classy. It’s so elegant, it almost looks like it’s wearing some kind of gown. It was usually my go-to Pokemon.

Maybe because it’s bigger, so more shades can spread out a little more, but I think Gardevoir came out much better than Ralts. It’s definitely one of my favorite Perler pieces so far, nostalgia aside.

Hope everyone’s having a good week. 🙂

New Perler Bead Art!

So, I wasn’t planning on showing off more Perler bead projects this week. I wanted to write a new Let’s Talk Books post about the Harry Potter series, but I don’t think I would have been able to make it as good as I could have unless I gave myself another week. Then I was going to write something else, but I began wondering if it would have worked better as a blog post or a very experimental short story, so that may or may not be posted at some point in the future.

Blah blah blah who cares, let’s get dorky with Perler bead art!

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Tellah from Final Fantasy IV.

First up is a Final Fantasy character, Tellah, from Final Fantasy IV. I never grew up with the Nintendo or Super Nintendo Final Fantasy games; my first experience with the series was Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation in 2002, almost five years after the game was released. However, I’ve played many of the other games since then, including FFIV. Actually, my interest in playing this particular game came from one of the first Let’s Plays I ever watched. It sounds weird, but I have more memories with that Let’s Play than from playing the game itself.

Anyway, one of my coworkers really likes FFIV, especially Tellah. This was a very spur of the moment project, and I ended up giving it to him. It wasn’t very big; it easily fit on a single pegboard, and it probably took less than an hour to make, too.

Setzer from FFVI.

Setzer from FFVI.

Next is another Final Fantasy character, Setzer from Final Fantasy VI. I played this game for the first time last year, and while I don’t agree it’s the best Final Fantasy game, I really liked it and can see why it’s so many people’s favorite. Setzer was one of my favorite characters to use, and I always loved this pose of his. When I finished Tellah, I went straight to making Setzer. They’re both about the same size and took about the same amount of time to make.

Kirby from Kirby Super Star.

Kirby from Kirby Super Star.

I’ve always enjoyed Kirby games since I was a kid. They’re very casual, which suits me perfectly. They’re great for when I’m in the mood to play something, but only for a couple of days. Sometime last month, that exact situation popped up and I played through two games. And sure enough, I got the urge to make Perler bead art from the series.

I chose a sprite from the Super Nintendo game Kirby Super Star. This was also another game I didn’t grow up with; I had the Nintendo DS remake Kirby Super Star Ultra. I’m not sure why I picked a sprite from the Super Nintendo version, but what’s done is done. I’m not exactly thrilled with the way it came out, and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to be when I started. I didn’t seem to have any of the exact colors used in the sprite sheet I referenced. This isn’t the first time something like that happened, though, so I tried it out anyway.

Eh.

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Morty from Pokemon Gold and Silver.

I’ve already talked about the influence Pokemon had on me as a kid in the first part of my anime retrospective, as well as many other posts, so I won’t talk about it too much here. Since making the protagonist, rival, and Prof. Oak from Pokemon Red and Blue last year, I wanted to eventually make all of the main characters and gym leaders from the series that had 2-D sprites. I used a random number generator to decide who to make next, and I got Morty from Pokemon Gold and Silver.

It came out okay, I guess. But I don’t know, something about it didn’t wow me like the monochrome Game Boy sprites.

Sonic from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Sonic from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Tails from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Tails from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Knuckles from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Knuckles from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Dr. Robotnik from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Dr. Robotnik from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

And finally, we have the main cast from the Sega Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog series: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Dr. Robotnik as seen in Sonic 3 and Knuckles. This (or Sonic 3 or Sonic and Knuckles on their own) were my go-to video game when I was a kid. Whether by myself or when playing with my best friend next door, we spent a lot of time with the Sonic series on the Genesis. When I first started making Perler bead art, I couldn’t wait to try making Sonic characters. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good range of colors until recently. But at least I finally made them!

Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles came out all right (the lighting in the Sonic picture makes the beads look a lot brighter than they are, unfortunately). They aren’t very big; I think each one fit on a single pegboard. Dr. Robotnik, however, was a much bigger project. I believe he took up four pegboards and a teeny bit of two more for the flames coming from his vehicle’s exhaust pipe, so I had to use six in total. This was one of those situations where I had a strong hunch the beads were going to give me a lot of trouble fusing, so I split the ironing between the top and bottom half, and then ironed both sides together. Thankfully, this pulled the project together fairly well, and Dr. Robotnik is now one of my best pieces yet!

The eternal chase.

The eternal chase.

Hope everyone’s having a good week! Next time I’ll (hopefully) have something to say about the Harry Potter series! 🙂

Why I Like Nostalgic Things (And Why That Can Be Dangerous)

I don’t know if you can tell by a lot of my posts, but I’m drawn to nostalgia. As someone that thinks about the past a lot, I guess that’s to be expected. I try not to talk about it too much with other people; nostalgia’s typically something I relive on my own. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an important part of my everyday life.

But ever since I was a teenager, people have always been sort of critical of that. People often develop the misunderstanding that I get so nostalgic because I believe the past to be some kind of golden age I’d like to return to. And while it’s true that I think about better times when I get nostalgic, I wish there was an easy way I can explain to people that I typically don’t want to go back in time. I want to keep growing as a person, I want to make new memories, and I want to experience new things.

However, I’m not perfect. I hit roadblocks. I get depressed. I get frustrated. I get lost. Nostalgia helps me deal with that. I never grew up moving every year, or had divorced parents, or anything like that. But I diddo — seem to have a recurring pattern of getting attached to people who will suddenly disappear from my life. And as someone that’s particularly sensitive to change, I don’t think I need to explain how difficult that can be to deal with.

Nostalgia acts as a kind of anchor for me. It helps me keep something familiar around when everything else in the world seems too different. You know the Perler bead art of old video games I sometimes post? Nostalgia. Making Perler bead art has been such an important aspect to helping me deal with depression this past year. It reminds me of a time when I had a better understanding about life, when I knew what made me happy and who I was, when what I had to deal with was clearly laid out in front of me and I didn’t have to second guess every action I took.

Some might argue that’s just a natural part of growing up; life is less black and white as an adult than it is as a kid. And yeah, I agree. But letting the unknown have such a strong hold on me doesn’t exactly sound like a natural part of being an adult. I mean at some point it is, and I imagine it’s something that will pop up throughout life. But constantly feeling it for years? No — that’s a sign something else is going on.

However, I won’t deny that too much nostalgia can be dangerous. That episode of Futurama where Fry starts collecting all the things from his time period and sits in his apartment all day in the dark watching reruns of old TV shows is a perfect example of how dangerous it can be. Deep down, I really do want to grow as a person, make new memories, and experience new things. But as anyone that deals with depression can tell you, there are times when it honestly feels like living in the past is the better option. You want to listen to music you used to listen to. You want to watch TV shows and movies you watched when you were younger. You want to play old video games. You want to revisit places you used to go to. It’s a natural feeling when you’re feeling depressed and nostalgic all at the same time.

And for a while, it’s comforting. It helps distract you enough so your mind doesn’t clock into overdrive and completely overwhelm you. But after a certain point it stops becoming a distraction and acts as more of an excuse to avoid moving on in life. For example, when I got depressed last year I started playing a lot of older RPGs I have strong memories attached to. I revisited a lot of them during the past year, and for a while it helped me stop thinking about my depression. But at some point I felt like I needed to keep revisiting old RPGs because without them, my mind would focus too much on negative things. I came to rely on them, and I know from previous experiences I didn’t want that. When I was ready, I put more focus into other areas of my life. And while things haven’t progressed much with me personally, I at least feel like I’m more capable at looking at my problems and not having an overwhelming desire to run away.

You’ve got to find a balance with nostalgia. Yeah, that’s a little cliche, but it’s true. Reliving old memories is great, but doing it too much can hold you back from moving forward more than you think. It’s especially dangerous for people who are prone to depression. Since both nostalgia and depression draw you back to a previous time, it’s very easy to get lost in there. It’s a necessary evil, though — at least to an extent. I think it’s very important to contemplate the past. It helps you see repeatable patterns of negative behavior you want to change. It helps you feel comfortable when the rest of the world makes you uneasy. But it’s so hard not to slip and tumble into a giant mess unless you know how to tread properly.

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 –>

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 –>