Dealing with Depression — Revisiting Community College

I don’t really want to talk about my depression, but against my better judgment I’m thinking of starting a new series of posts discussing ways I’m dealing with it and how effective they are. Like I said, I’m thinking of it — this may or may not be a thing, and I have no idea if it would even be a regular topic if it became one. But I know a lot of you also have issues with depression, stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this out in case it somehow helped someone, or at the very least made someone feel less alone.

A lot of my depression comes from the fact that most of my friends have either moved or started a new phase of their lives that I can’t be a regular part of. That departure also makes the fact that I no longer have the closer community of literature majors and writers from my four-year school that I’d grown to appreciate and need a lot more apparent. I feel like I’ve lost a lot, and it really hurts.

I’ve been trying not to think about it, which of course varies in success depending on how well I’m feeling at the time. I changed a lot when I transferred to my four-year school, and I still stand by the fact that I changed for the better. However, as much as those years and people have influenced me and helped me grow into the person I am today, I’m beginning to wonder if placing so much into those things is making my fight against depression more difficult. I feel like I’ve lost too much, and that makes it harder to feel like there’s anything more to my life.

However, I’ve been trying to think of a time before my four-year school and the people I met there. Because whether I want to admit it or not, there was a before. True, I was less mature then. I honestly don’t have any sort of desire to return to that time. But there was a time before then, and I’ve been trying to do the things that made me happy then.

Before I transferred to my four-year school, I went to community college for two and a half years. It was a really big transitional time in my life between high school and college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent each semester cycling between art, business, teaching, psychology, and language classes, trying to see where my proper fit in life lay while making sure these classes satisfied my requirements for the A.A. in liberal arts I chose to pursue.

Honestly, community college wasn’t a particularly happy time in my life. College was a huge adjustment to me in terms of workload. I had a new 45 minute commute to do. I felt a lot of pressure to know what I was doing in life when I clearly didn’t. My friends from high school were dropping one by one. Now that I’m writing it, I see some similarities between then and now. 🙂 But a big difference was I wasn’t depressed back then. I was just mad a lot.

That being said, a lot about that time doesn’t really stand out to me. I don’t remember most of my classes very well, and I don’t remember a single professor’s name. I never made any long-term friends there, just a few people to talk with before class started.

Honestly, despite the workload, what I remember most of community college was spending time with the one friend I had left. I went to high school with him, and he wasn’t having much more luck in college than I did. We ending up hanging out a lot, and those times are what I end up thinking about whenever I recall my memories of community college.

We’d usually have one day a week where our classes would line up in such a way that we could meet for lunch. We’d spend an hour eating and talking, very similarly to lunch period in high school. If we were both free afterwards, we’d usually go back to his house and hang out for the rest of the day. We’d take trips to the mall, buy new anime and manga, go out to eat, play video games — a lot of stuff what you would expect teenagers to do. But at the time it was fine, because we were still teenagers. It took us a while to grow up.

And like I said, I don’t have any particular desire to go back to those times and do all the things we used to. But I do miss something about those times. I miss feeling like someone else was in the same boat as me. I miss knowing what I liked and what made me happy. I miss feeling like even though I just started college and had no idea where I was going, I still had a lot of time before I finished school and entered the “adult” world. And I guess that’s what I would want to return to — those feelings.

Anyway, I hate building this up like it’s some grand story when it really isn’t. I’ve been wanting to revisit my community college and take a little walk around campus. Sometimes things become much clearer to me if I’m physically there, so I was hoping I might find a way to remind myself that I had a life before my four year school. You know, that I existed before it and I could exist after it, too. So yesterday after work, I finally took a ride up there.

I’m never really up in the area where my community college is. Of the 45 minutes worth of a trip it was from where I used to live, I only ever went 20 minutes of it for unrelated needs. So a portion of the ride there was full of “Oh, I remember this!” moments. I was a little concerned I would forget the way; I didn’t remember any of the road names I needed to take. But things started clicking into place fast. I smiled as I remembered some of the littler things on the way there, like this one roadside stop that sold garden decor and the large expanse of farmland. There was even a bridge that went over a really beautiful lake! How the hell could I forget about that?

I brought the messenger bag I wore during college with me — partially for storing some casual clothes to change into after work, and partially to look like a college student in case someone thought I wasn’t supposed to be there (I’m a paranoid mess, cut me some slack). I also brought my camera with me. I used to bring my camera everywhere when I used to walk a lot. There was usually a lot of beautiful scenery that I wanted pictures of, and eventually I started taking pictures of important places so I wouldn’t forget them. And although I must have gotten a few weird looks from passing students and maintenance workers for taking pictures of seemingly random things, I’m glad I finally had some photos of the places I used to spend time at on campus.

One of the first things I started thinking about was how it’s been almost 10 years since I started at community college. Those milestone thoughts are usually common ones for me. I started thinking about who I was still talking to, the car I was driving, the job I was working at, the classes I started out with (oh god, the art class) — my mind was all over the place.

And of course, these milestone thoughts make me compare myself to me 9 years ago. It’s a mixed bag; I’m still struggling with many of the same problems, albeit in different ways, but I can also see how much I’ve grown up since then.

As much as I don’t remember my classes and professors, I somehow retained a pretty vivid image of most of the buildings on campus, and this was really obvious as I walked about and toured the school again. With the exception of the cafeteria, everything at the school stayed the same. I recognized everything. And I guess that’s to be expected — after all I did spend two and a half years studying there. But like I said in the beginning, this was a very transitional time for me. When I think of community college, I don’t think of what I did at the college itself, but rather my time hanging out with my friend.

I looked through all the buildings again, trying to remember which classrooms I had courses in. I recognized some of them, even the dreaded art room that demoralized me from pursuing anything creative for over a year as well as the “psych dungeon,” which is what I called the basement level classroom I took my second psych class in with an awful and rude professor.

Maybe it was just the heat (90+ degrees and high humidity are perfect parameters for hiking around a campus with your messenger bag full of crap you never emptied from the last semester, btw), but the longer I spent exploring campus and trying to relive memories, the less I really cared. It was nice seeing the place again, considering it played an important part in my life that wasn’t all bad, but… I don’t know.

I don’t want to say it didn’t matter. In a way, I came back and confronted a place that gave me a lot of stress and frustration. So that felt empowering. I set foot in a place that had remained in my memories for years, so that helped me feel like I can always come back and revisit people and places. They don’t need to stay locked away in memories forever. Well, sometimes. And at the very least, I took a drive to somewhere besides work, and I enjoyed it. It’s nice to be going somewhere other than work. In clothes that aren’t work clothes.

But the trip didn’t make me feel much better in terms of believing that a life existed before I was depressed and could therefore exist afterwards. I’m still trying to maintain the outlook, but the trip itself didn’t do anything to really reinforce it. Maybe it was never going to. Maybe it was just a weird line of thought in my head and something got mixed up. I got up this morning, started working on this, got called into work, had an awful day, and came back to finish this post. The negative thoughts and me missing so much ran pretty strongly today. I was hoping this trip back to another time would have helped, and even though it did in some ways, in the ways I wanted it to, it didn’t.

Maybe it was because it wasn’t significant enough in the grand scheme of things. Maybe there are more important things to make me feel there’s more to me than what I lost. Maybe it was just a bad day. Who knows.

I’m glad I went back there, though. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and it was nice to physically see something that only existed in memories. Maybe in some unknown way I needed closure and this will help. At any rate, taking a drive to somewhere unexpected and having it go smoothly was a nice change of pace. Maybe I should make a point to go venture out to interesting areas more often.

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Let’s Talk Games – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

YUP. Deal with it.

I feel like every Zelda fan has their own personal story about how one of the games affected their life or influenced them in some way. Like too many others, I have one about Ocarina of Time. I don’t know why I feel the need to talk about this out of nowhere, but I’m replaying it right now and I guess it’s just something on my mind. But first, a little backstory:

Ocarina of Time wasn’t my first Zelda game. My introduction to the Zelda series began sometime in elementary school during the late 90s. My best friend at the time had a Super Nintendo, and one of the games we played was A Link to the Past. We really liked it, but we were kids and didn’t know what we were doing. We were more into games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong Country — games where you made your way through levels from start to finish. Zelda was one of our first experiences within the adventuring genre, especially before we received Nintendo 64s and the many games that gave you 3D worlds to actually explore.

Like I said, we really liked it but we got stuck a lot. I don’t think we put as much effort into it like we did with platformers. I received Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy at one point around the same time, and I played all the way through it but unfortunately I really don’t remember anything particular about it. Although to be fair, when you’re talking about a kid in the late 90s playing Game Boy, I’m sure most of their memories with it will have something to do with Pokemon. 🙂

It wasn’t until I received the first Super Smash Bros. on the N64 that I started to be able to identify Link as an actual character. Link doesn’t talk in the Zelda games, and I don’t think I knew his name was even Link until I saw it on the Super Smash Bros. character select screen. Which in hindsight, is pretty stupid considering his name is in both Zelda titles I’d played at that point in time.

I guess his appearance in Super Smash Bros., combined with seeing advertisements for the next Zelda game, Majora’s Mask, made me much more curious to play another Zelda game. In the fall of 2000, Majora’s Mask was released and I rented it from the video store. I have my own separate story for my first experiences with that game, so I’ll cut to my point before I hit 500 words without talking about the thing I was supposed to be talking about — I loved it, and asked for it for Christmas. I got it, and I also got Ocarina of Time. I don’t remember if I asked for that one too; I knew of its existence but I can’t remember how much I wanted to try that particular game out. Either way, I got both N64 Zelda games that year. Definitely one of my favorite Christmases.

I didn’t start playing Ocarina of Time right away, though. I got a lot of other games that year that I was more excited about, like Pokemon Silver and Rayman 2. I played through some of Majora’s Mask; I had the guide, and I wouldn’t rest until I figured out how to get the Pikachu mask that teased me the entire time I rented the game. “Oh, it’s called the Keaton mask? Huh.” 7th grade me was sure surprised.

Sometime soon after Christmas break, a big snow storm started moving in while I was at school. They sent us home early, and it was a Friday to boot, so I suddenly found myself with a three day weekend. I don’t remember why I wasn’t hanging out with my best friend next door, or why I wasn’t playing in the snow at all. Maybe it was so bad that our parents just wanted us to be home? Who knows. Whatever the case, I decided this was a good time to try out Ocarina of Time, to actually give it my full attention instead of just messing around like in Majora’s Mask.

And wow.

Most of my gaming experiences up until that point in my life had been very cartoony; I mentioned a few, but other games that stood out from my childhood were Mario, Pokemon, Darkwing Duck, Banjo-Kazooie, and Earthworm Jim — very kid friendly. And not that Zelda is a shining example of a “mature” game, but it was definitely more serious than what I was used to. And my first day playing Ocarina of Time really showed me that.

I still remember feeling awe-struck at the opening. No music, just introductory text that started off a large journey. Then followed a dream where Link is standing in front of Hyrule Castle Town as the drawbridge lowers, and you can hear the clank clank of the chains and the thunder in the background. And then the scene cuts to the Great Deku Tree talking to Navi using very poetic language that sets up a sense of impending doom in this world I’d never experienced before. The game was certainly more cinematic than anything I’d seen before, and combined with great N64 graphics and music, I had a feeling this was going to be a very different sort of game.

The snow was building up fast outside; I kept trying to break away from the screen to catch glimpses outside the window. It looked like our neighborhood was already buried, so I guess it was good that I was safe inside instead of being lost out there. All the white outside seemed to pour into my bedroom. You know when a lot of freshly fallen snow can sometimes give the illusion that the inside of your house is softly glowing when you’re looking at it from inside? That’s how that day felt to me. I was in 7th grade, bordering that weird line between kid and teenager, playing this new game that drew me into it in a way nothing had before, while outside time seemed to have temporarily stopped — it was an extremely surreal kind of day.

And after I finished getting used to all of the controls and how Link handled (which took me a lot longer than you might imagine), I entered the first dungeon and… God, it’s not really music per se, but whatever played inside it just added to that surreal feeling of the day. It was very atmospheric. This whole game was very atmospheric. Like I said, I hadn’t really played a lot of games that set up a world like this. It was wonderful experiencing it.

I don’t know how many hours I played that day. With no parents home, it could have been all day. But I remember stopping when it was dark outside. I got all the way to the Graveyard, which isn’t actually very far from the beginning of the game. But between getting used to everything, getting stuck inside one room of the first dungeon for an hour (the one you have to light a torch in; I didn’t know how to or that you even could 🙂 ), and just wandering around the game’s world, it felt like I made a ton of progress.

The rest of my experience with my first playthrough of Ocarina of Time doesn’t stand out as much, though. In middle school, there was a time when I had a lot of trouble falling asleep and I felt like playing video games (console games, anyway) stimulated me too much. So I usually just waited until the weekend to play console games, and unfortunately Ocarina of Time was introduced into my life during this time. It took me a few months, even with a guide, to completely finish the game, and when you’re only playing on Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday, it’s hard to remember specific “wow” moments, especially after I’d been so impressed with my first day playing it.

That doesn’t mean any subsequent playthroughs didn’t stand out to me, though. Ocarina of Time is one of those games that mix and meld with the rest of my childhood memories. I may not remember specific memories to attach to the game (besides the first one), but I still remember feeling awestruck and inspired whenever I played it. I carried the guide with me to school and when I went on errands with my mom and read as much as I could. Like many other games, I would open up the guide and draw from the official artwork scattered throughout with my best friend next door. When I was in class, I would constantly practice drawing Triforces, Master Swords, and even Link himself. Between him and Trunks from Dragonball Z, my middle school self kind of became a little obsessed with swordsmen and drawing them.

Our family also got Internet service around this time (and now suddenly I feel 10 years older than I really am). One of the websites I would frequent a lot was a Zelda fan site called The Odyssey of Hyrule. I don’t think it exists anymore, unfortunately, but I would spend many afternoons after school reading the content on the site. It would list a lot of cool glitches you could do, like Swordless Link and getting under Zora’s Domain when it was frozen over. I didn’t try a lot of them out, mostly because many of them only worked on the gold cartridge copies of Ocarina of Time and I had the standard one, or because many of them warned it could corrupt your game file.

But the one I thought was so cool and I would pull off a lot was getting underneath Hyrule Castle. When you get to the Great Fairy’s Fountain on the path to the castle, if you’re very careful, walk slowly, and constantly adjust your direction by going into first person and lining up the corner of the hillside with the center of the screen, you can actually get onto the hills surrounding the area. You’re not supposed to go up here; it’s sort of an out-of-bounds area, and you can see where the programmers stopped adding textures by the giant void over the hills. You can walk on those hills and approach the castle, and at one point you can jump “through” the castle and land inside. It’s nothing spectacular, just invisible water you can swim through (probably from the moat surrounding the castle), but stuff like this really impressed me back then. The only glitch I really knew about or exploited was the Missingno. glitch from the original Pokemon games, so this one really stood out.

There was also this fanfiction someone wrote that really stood out to me at the time. I printed it out and read it many times, and I credit it for providing me with at least some of the inspiration to start writing my own fanfiction, and eventually my own stories in general, which of course led to the path of whatever kind of writer I am today.

But the biggest thrill I got from the site was from all the Triforce rumors. Many people were convinced you could obtain it in some way (possibly because you could in A Link to the Past), and there were fans dedicated to finding out if it was obtainable. A lot of beta game screenshots showed things that were no longer in the game, and people (myself included) were desperate to see if anything was left in by accident. I remember a special fairy’s fountain people thought might still exist, and they thought it might have something to do with the Triforce.

Then there was the Running Man’s challenge, one of the stupidest and most pointless things in a Zelda game — you can race him to the bridge in the Lost Woods, but he always beats you by exactly one second. You don’t get anything from him and it’s impossible to win, so the whole point of the race seems completely meaningless. But your record for the race, along with other minigames, is on the wall in your house, and there’s a seemingly random, grand design of the Triforce in the tent where you meet him, so many people thought somehow beating him might be the key to obtaining it.

I don’t remember if it was a rumor or something I thought to do, but I thought maybe in the center of the castle courtyard where you meet Zelda held some secret grotto. I thought if you bombed there something might happen, but I don’t think the game would allow you to use bombs in that area. Then I thought, “Hey! A guard throws a bomb at you if you hit one of the windows with your slingshot! I can pick up that bomb before it explodes and use that!” Well either I could and it didn’t work, or I couldn’t and it didn’t work; the point is, it didn’t work. 😦

There was the theory that if you could throw a bomb into the center of the lava lake beneath Ganon’s Castle, something would happen; a secret path selection in the Lost Woods might lead you somewhere; a mysterious supposed pyramid you can see in the Haunted Wasteland might have something to do with it — trust me. There were a lot of theories. But a big one involved a lot of screenshots of a hidden dungeon, the Light Temple. It made sense, considering the only Medallion you received that doesn’t have a corresponding dungeon is Light. Someone had claimed they found it and provided a bunch of screenshots showing a bunch of areas on their TV, but they left a crucial step out so it would remain a mystery until… I can’t remember, honestly. It ended up being fake, but it seemed so real back then that many of us thought (or wanted) it to be true.

It wasn’t just playing Ocarina of Time, it was all of the stuff related to it that I did outside of actually playing the game. It really stuck with me for a long time. I even special ordered some Zelda merchandise through Nintendo. I got three small figures of Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf (the bigger ones I wanted were sold out 😦 ), the soundtrack to both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and a “bendable” Link keychain.

Yes. I WAS the cool kid in middle school :3

Yes. I WAS the cool kid in middle school :3

Despite all this gushing over my earliest experiences with Ocarina of Time, it’s still something I enjoy today. It’s not like I played it in my childhood and that’s it. Honestly, I make a point to revisit Ocarina of Time every year or so. I’ve played it a lot. People often criticize or praise the shit out of Ocarina of Time now. Some think it’s the greatest game ever. Some think it’s the most overrated Zelda game.

As much as I loved the game when I was younger, and even though I still enjoy it whenever I go back to it, I can’t help but feel some of the magic disappear a little more after each playthrough. Although I wouldn’t really contribute this to any faults the game has; it’s just honestly come to a point where I’ve replayed it too many times and it feels like I just play it when I feel like going through the motions.

People often hate that Ocarina of Time doesn’t allow you the freedom to explore dungeons in any order like the original Zelda or, to an extent, A Link to the Past. I don’t particularly mind, because while I don’t have much freedom to pursue the dungeons in any order, I can still choose which heart pieces, upgrades, gold skulltulas, and other sidequests to pursue and when. Do I use a new item to obtain an optional upgrade as early as possible? Do I wait until I pass an area before doing it? Do I wait until the end of the game, when I have all my items, and just comb the world at once and get all the optional stuff one area at a time? You can do this in any Zelda game, sure, but I think that’s enough to still make each playthrough feel fairly fresh. Not as fresh as Majora’s Mask, but still pretty fresh. Besides, I get a real thrill from trying to remember where everything is without using outside help. I just finished the game again this morning, and the only thing I couldn’t find without help was one of the gold skulltulas. One out of the hundred in the game. Not bad. 🙂

People say Hyrule field is too big and empty. And yeah, I agree. Although it doesn’t really bother me too much. Like I mentioned before, I find this game incredibly atmospheric. Seeing the big, open, green fields with the occasional trees, signposts, rivers, and fences scattered about it is just fine for me. I feel very content traveling through Hyrule Field. In this particular game, the openness of it is very comforting to me. I will say there’s a couple of places where even I think something could have been put there. Hunting for the Big Poes really makes you wonder if certain areas in Hyrule Field were originally supposed to have something there, like in the southeast and northwest corners. Maybe a random potion shop or mini game hut? Just a nitpick for me, though.

Some of the controls aren’t always user-friendly; there’s a lot of experimentation before some things become more clear to the player. For example, the Hookshot has a red dot that symbolizes that it can reach the spot you’re pointing at, but sometimes you can still reach something even if the dot isn’t there. The boomerang has an arc when Link throws it, and you might find yourself hitting the wall with it in tight places, even if you’re locked onto an enemy. Sometimes when you’re locked onto an enemy and continually using your sword, you’ll stay facing the same direction swiping at nothing if the enemy moved. But maybe since I practiced all this when I was a kid, I got used to it. These kinds of things don’t bug me like they do other people.

If you really want something I genuinely don’t care for in the game, it’s Rupees. You start off with a wallet that can carry a maximum of 99. Then you can upgrade to 200, and finally 500. The problem is this game practically hands money out to you. No matter what size wallet, I’m constantly finding it full. It takes the fun out of collecting and discovering Rupees. I think the game shouldn’t have given you so many, or should have increased the amount you could carry. I really hate opening a chest and getting 50 or even 200 Rupees when my wallet is full. This past playthrough, I actually used shops to buy as much stuff as I could just to make some space in my wallet. Yes, even recovery hearts. I bought recovery hearts to make space in my wallet to make collecting Rupees seem like it has a purpose.

But yeah. That was Ocarina of Time for me. A lot of memories, and part of the reason for revisiting it every year is to sort of relive those initial feelings. And even though it gets harder and harder to relive those feelings, I still have a lot of fun playing it. It’s not my favorite Zelda game, and I’ll even admit the game is a pretty standard Zelda experience that doesn’t have anything in particular that separates it enough from other games, but it’s still one of my favorites, both as a Zelda game and a game in general. Thank you for listening to me relive some of these memories, and I hope everyone’s having a great week! 🙂

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 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m too old for this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evangelion… where do I even start.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Part 2 –>

For Ex-Christmas Fans

It’s here again.

I don’t want to be a Grinch and spoil the holiday for those that enjoy it, so if you’re someone that feels the need to spread Christmas cheer, this post probably isn’t going to be too appealing. This is more for those that are looking forward to the holiday season ending.

Sigh. What happened, Christmas? We loved each other once.

It used to be my favorite holiday. And I mean, come on: compared to dressing up and getting candy on Halloween, or shoving my mouth with Peeps and more candy on Easter, Christmas had presents. Like, non-consumable, things-I-actually-wanted-but-couldn’t-get-because-I-was-a-kid presents. Action figures. VHS tapes. Books. Video games. Things I saw in stores, during commercials, advertised in magazines, things I’d seen all year, things I’d developed a hope of receiving at the end of the year. I don’t want to say I was deprived of fun things as a kid, but unless it was a Happy Meal toy, the only time I was going to get anything a kid would actually want was on my birthday or Christmas.

So yeah. Christmas. Kind of a big deal when I was a kid.

And I don’t want to sound cheesy, but family was a pretty big part of Christmas, too. We invited my grandparents and cousins over every Christmas Eve. There was always a genuine rush of excitement upon seeing them, and the bags of presents they brought was a pretty nice touch, too. Christmas music played all day and night, and my dad would make a fantastic dinner. And as soon as it was over, either he or my grandfather would say “Who wants to open presents!?” We would all rush over to the tree and start opening the gifts from our grandparents, uncles, and aunts (gifts from parents would be spared until Christmas Day). And afterward, we would watch A Christmas Story, a favorite of my dad’s and just as much an annual tradition as everything else.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, my parents and grandparents would hype all of us up over Santa coming that night. And it was like, “Whoa. You’re telling me, that mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa bought all of these presents for us kids, and now tomorrow there’s going to be another person with even more presents?”

We were kings, really. And the adults were bringing their yearly offerings.

On Christmas day, my sister and I would sneak downstairs and dig into our stockings before our parents were up. And when they finally got up, after like, a million hours, we tore into the rest of our gifts. The floor would literally form a whole new layer over the carpet as we sorted through our new stuff. I always felt some strange sense of bonding with her as we compared what we received. We would play with them all day, and sometimes my best friend from next door would come by and show what he got for Christmas, too.

When I became a teenager, things started to become a little different, although Christmas still remained my favorite holiday. I was really into anime during high school, so now when my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas, it was always awkward because I had to write out the names of TV shows or soundtracks because how the hell was an adult supposed to remember some obscure Japanese title they’ve never heard of?

At the time, I really didn’t think I minded; I was a teenager, I didn’t want my parents all up in my business about what I liked, I wanted my own space to explore interests on my own. But thinking back on it now, I think part of the magic Christmas had during childhood was that my parents did know everything I was into. They knew what I liked, and they knew how excited I would be to get my gifts.

But you know what? That was okay. I had friends that knew how much I would appreciate what I got. Friends that would be excited for me and who I would be excited for as well. Where in childhood Christmas was all about receiving, my adolescent years presented me with the fulfilling sensation of searching for presents to buy for other people. I don’t really know what changed, but I found myself looking forward to seriously thinking about what I was going to buy for people. Exchanging presents with friends was always so… great, to be blunt. I can’t really explain why. Maybe it was because my friends didn’t all live in town, and the fact that they were thinking about me made me feel like I was special or something.

And god, I’m so embarrassed to admit this now, but back then, I loved the Christmas hype most of all. I loved seeing everything decorated. I even started hanging Christmas lights around my room the day after Thanksgiving. I loved hearing Christmas music on the radio and in stores. I loved the Christmas specials.

The Christmas specials! Look, the Grinch, Peanuts, Rudolph and all them… yeah, okay. Classics or whatever. But for me, a big Nickeloden fan, Christmas specials stepped up their game my freshman year of high school. Nickelodeon was doing this series of commercials that had stop motion clay figures of all their Nicktoons singing Christmas songs, and it seemed like every show got its own holiday special that year. The Fairly Oddparents had a surprisingly good Christmas episode that was honestly a little heart warming. Invader Zim did its own twisted take on Christmas, and considering what a huge fan me and another friend of mine were of the show, our excitement easily showed as the premiere grew closer.

But I think all fans of Nicktoons from that era can agree on the Christmas special that stood out most: the Spongebob Squarepants one. The way Spongebob kept saying “Christmas,” Mr. Krabs’ high-pitched lines when they sang the Christmas song, the super sad picture Squidward took of Spongebob when Santa didn’t show up, how they put the donkey over his face as he was mocking Spongebob for believing in Santa, and the ridiculous gestures Santa made when he eventually made an appearance – I think most people can agree the Spongebob Squarepants Christmas episode is one of the most nostalgic, memorable, and loved Christmas specials from the generation us 20-somethings grew up in. To this day, it’s probably the only Christmas special I’ll try going out of my way to see.

And judge me all you want, but when Squiward feels bad, dresses up as Santa, and says “I didn’t bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, Spongebob. You did,” I’m sorry, but… tears. Tears all around.

But yeah, during my teenage years, and even my early college ones, I loved how hyped the world seemed about Christmas. It was really embarrassing how much I loved it. I even remember when I was 16, I was talking to a friend during art class about it. She hated how commercialized Christmas was, and I argued I loved it because it hypes the world up and actually seems to make people nicer to each other (oh, 16-year-old me… enjoy that naivety).

Sometime during college, though… I don’t know, Christmas. You just started becoming something else.

Like clockwork, the end of every fall semester put an enormous strain on me because of final exams, papers, and projects. I didn’t even have time to think about Christmas until the semester was over. And even then, I began feeling more and more worn out and unable to get excited about the holiday as each year passed. It started becoming something that came and went, rather than a day I couldn’t wait to count down to. I still liked it, but the magic started to run out around this time for me.

It also didn’t help that unfortunate circumstances seemed to start gathering around this time, either. I lost a couple of good friends rather suddenly pretty close to Christmas. One of my friends lost her husband in the middle of Christmas night. My grandmother died the week before Christmas. Things like started happening, and it’s hard to get back into the Christmas spirit when you have memories like these taking up residence in your head.

And it’s not like I’m the only one that feels like this. In fact, I’d say a good third of the people I know have some kind of nasty memory that gets in the way to enjoy Christmas. Depression becomes pretty common around this time of year, especially when the rest of the world seems so happy. And like other times of depression, it’s easy to feel like no one wants a party pooper around.

I think one of the reasons why Christmas became such a hated time of year for people with this problem is because they have this idea that Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. It’s supposed to be an end-of-the-year celebration, “the most wonderful time of the year,” as so many radios and store speakers insist on persuading us. And we feel awful for our own personal reasons, and the world becomes forced positivity being shoved down our throats. It’s incredibly suffocating, especially when we’re busy dealing with our own shit inside our heads. And we can’t be honest about how we don’t want any of this, because it ruins Christmas for those that like it.

It’s even harder when you used to like Christmas, too. You’re very aware of how much things have changed. And you’re very aware that things aren’t going to go back to being the same. You may want to really like Christmas, but… well, you just can’t. You can try, and you may even stop hating it for a while. Who knows? Maybe you can reach a decent ground with Christmas again. But until that time comes, it’s just so… awkward. And with the season being hyped the way it is, complete with its own obnoxious soundtrack everywhere you go, and beginning as early as September (no one’s thinking about Christmas in September, stores!), the entire last quarter of this year can be so difficult for a lot of people. And when no one else can understand that, Christmas becomes an extremely lonely time of year.

Loneliness is often difficult to talk about. Loneliness can make you feel vulnerable. You feel isolated. You feel empty. And again, when the whole world seems to be talking about how wonderful this time of year is, it makes you feel even worse. Even if there’s other people around, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not lonely. Loneliness is very much a state of mind. If you’re surrounded by other people that you don’t get along with or understand you, it’s easy to feel alone. And because Christmas promotes togetherness, it’s easy to feel even more lonesome during the holidays.

And then, of course, there’s family. I feel like many people who enjoy Christmas either still have a great support network of friends and family. I can see why they’d still enjoy the holidays. But for others, friends have come and gone. Family isn’t quite what it used to be. Drama develops and Christmas becomes more about accommodating your relatives’ issues while still trying to remain positive. And as we get older, it becomes more difficult to meet new people to include in our private lives. If there’s not a lot of people around to start with, looking forward to meeting with the ones who are still here, but aren’t on your good side, is very difficult.

Christmas. My friend. What happened? Surely all these dumb, grown-up emotions and problems can take a backseat, right? Wasn’t Christmas about the presents?

It’s weird, but all those memories of presents involved other people. My parents and grandparents giving them to us. Opening and comparing them with my sister and cousins. Shopping for the perfect gifts for friends. It’s easy to look forward to the presents most of all when you’re a kid, but whether you like it or not, you become more selfless as you grow up. The presents involve other people. Christmas involves other people. And if you don’t have the right people, Christmas becomes a chore. A state of mental health you deal with and try to move on from. A distant memory whose magic is long gone.

I don’t want to be a downer. I really don’t. I still make efforts to enjoy Christmas. I just made a Perler bead ornament of Link from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That’s something. Right?

But I can’t deny it. I’m one of the people – one of the many, many people – who find Christmas depressing. This post is for those people, who get scrutinized for hating “the most wonderful time of the year.” I wanted to trying exploring the reasons why Christmas has lost much of its magic for me over the years, and I hope in the process some of you were able to understand why Christmas isn’t great for you, either.

But let’s not end on such a bum note. I still want to enjoy Christmas. Somewhere inside of you, I think you do, too. So just remember that much like depression, you don’t have to let the negative aspects of Christmas own you. You can try making new traditions. Try focusing on doing happy things for you, even if it’s not Christmas related. Try making this time of year something to look forward to, even if there’s been a lot to make that seem impossible.

Just keep trying. Christmas still wants to be your friend. It has flaws and doesn’t understand what happened between you either, so try making it understand. Teach it and yourself why things have gotten so distant, and then see if there’s any way you can make something work out.

Keep trying. Stay healthy. And good luck with the holidays. 🙂

 

Missing Places

You ever miss something that no one else does?

Back in October(?), shortly before I moved, I was taking my dog for a walk around a reservoir close to my house. I ran into my neighbor there, which usually happened anyway whenever I went there (I think he jogged there a lot). He was the father of my best friend from when we were kids. He lived next door and I used to be at his house every day, playing with my best friend. Honestly, as far as childhood memories go, I think I have more memories of his house than mine.

My best friend moved into that house a year after I moved into mine. I was 8 and he was 7. I don’t exactly remember how we met; we probably just saw each other playing in our yards and started playing together (we didn’t have fences at the time). I do remember him inviting me over to play Super Nintendo, though.

As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, playing video games was a big thing for me and him while growing up. Naturally, I have a lot of memories of playing them, especially in his room and basement. Occasionally his dad would move the games into this larger spare room. He had a lot of cousins (I think his father alone had something like 7 or 8 siblings), so having the extra space was nice when everything wasn’t hooked up in the basement.

At one point, I started going to his house each morning before school. I don’t remember why; part of me thinks it was to avoid dealing with bullies at the bus stop, but I’m not sure. All I remember is eating cereal and watching cartoons with him, mostly Pokemon, when each morning was a new episode.

We drew a lot, too. Cartoon characters, video game characters, our own made up characters and comics, a lot of stuff, really. I don’t think we limited ourselves to any one room, but there was a guest room across the hall from his room that I remember spending the most time in. There was a set of double windows that let so much natural light in, and the room didn’t have a lot of stuff in it to start with, so there was plenty of space to stretch out on the floor and draw.

That same room had a computer in it. His family had the Internet before mine did, so I remember going online with him to look up stuff about Pokemon cards or pictures of things to print so we could draw from them. I think his house was the only place I listened to the magic that was dial-up.

I’ve been wondering if it’s strange to be thinking of his house so often lately. A lot of the memories I’ve been thinking about involve that house, and since I just moved, maybe it’s not too weird.

Anyway, so I ran into his dad at the reservoir. Turns out, he hasn’t been living there lately. He’s been trying to sell it and only came back once or twice a week to tidy up. It’s kind of weird how we moved into our houses around the same time and moved out of them around the same time, too.

But where I was sad, nostalgic, and almost even mourning moving out of the house and neighborhood I’d grown up in, my neighbor was telling me how he couldn’t wait to get rid of that house. And I don’t know why, but hearing him say that really depressed me. I wanted to tell him how much fun I had in that house, how important it was to my childhood, but I didn’t. Me and his son went our separate ways when I entered high school, and although we’re all on okay terms now, I thought it would have been inappropriate to share those thoughts.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what happened with that house after I stopped seeing his family on a regular basis. I don’t remember anyone in that house wanting to get out of it; I always assumed they were pretty content living there. But my childhood eyes could only see so much, I guess. Maybe my neighbor always hated it, maybe he didn’t. But it was just so depressing to know I wanted to walk around it one last time before I left, and he just wanted it off his hands.

And it’s not like the fact that someone else having completely different feelings towards a place than you do is a news flash to me or anything. It’s just… I don’t know. I don’t really know what my point here is. Just seeing him there at the reservoir, telling me how he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there, knowing it was the last time I was going to see him, learning his son, my old best friend, moved shortly before and I would probably never see any of them ever again… I don’t know, it just made me miss his house even more. Because people will come and go, and I suppose places can do the same thing, too, but the house just seemed more permanent in that regard. Like, I know things will never ever go back the way they were, but at least I could always look at the house and be reminded of all the memories attached to it.

But his attitude towards it… I don’t know. It just really bummed me out, I guess. Maybe I was hoping those memories were important to another person, too.