Monday, February 27, 2006

How I got into anime

Telling people you like anime is a lot like telling people you're gay. If you tell people you like anime, they automatically assume things about you -- unsavory things at that. You're unkempt, you're nerdy/geeky, you do not eat well, you are lonely, you cannot get dates, you want to be Japanese, you have low expectations of quality in your entertainment sources, you have a childish mind and childish humour --- all kinds of things. And while some folks DO seem to fit into stereotypes in one way or another, you seriously can never peg a person with stereotypes.

I actually hesitate to tell people I like anime BEFORE I hesitate to say I'm gay. How sad is that? I guess at least gay people are funny (Will & Grace, Ellen, every gay supporting character in a straight film). But anime?

It is kind of strange, though, to finally GET it. Way back in highschool, my girlfriend's sister was a HUGE anime buff, I got to watch a little. It was okay. The big-eyed giggly girl thing really annoyed me as did the whiney wimpy hero stereotypes. Then I went to college and I started going to these Saturday anime club anime showings a classmate of mine. We'd watch 3 hours worth of anime, mostly stuff that hadn't been liscenced. One thing non-anime fans don't seem to get is that the stuff that gets liscenced here is stuff that is much more palatable for westerners. It's suited to the average American tastes - as much as anime can be. The stuff that DOESN'T get liscenced, or the stuff that doesn't get widely released is very different. Anyway, moving on...

So I saw a LOT of anime this way. I looked forward to seeing more episodes each week of the different series we were watching, and I did kind of get interested in trying to find some more anime, but not in any obsessive way. It wasn't until after I graduated college that I started looking for anime (and some manga) at the library. Neon Genesis Evangelion was the first anime I ever searched out on my own - it's one of those big titles you have to watch because it's classic. Like watching Citizen Kane if you're a film buff. I also read Nausicäa of the Valley of Wind -- now THAT was good reading. I also read some lesser titles, like the American "Gunsmith Cats", "Neon Genesis Evangelion", and "Ghost in the Shell". Still I didn't like those as much as western graphic novels, and I never did find any more anime on my own.

Then, right before we all moved away, my roommate finally got me to watch some Full Metal Alchemist. Ohh. That was good. Very good. Good enough that I wanted to keep watching. But then we all moved and I was cut off. The stress of moving and things put it out of my mind for the most part.

Fast forward nearly a year. A friend introduces me to Maria-Sama ga Miteru and I am finally hooked.

See, I like to collect things. I collect coins. I collect patches and interesting packing lables. I collect European goth/darkwave/synth metal music. I collect post-apocalyptic items/stories/games. And I collect lesbian stuff: books, music, stories, movies.... It's slow going in the lesbian world, particularly in serial television. But when my friend showed me MariMite -- and "Kannazuki no Miko" and "Mai-HiME" and "Noir", I was exposed to a whole new world of opportunity as far as lesbian-ish relationships go in a serial format. On top of that, I already had the hang of watching anime (listening in Japanese, reading in English; facial expressions; 'limited' animation style; pacing of story/action...). And it just CLICKED. Suddenly it all came into focus. Not ALL the anime I watch has to be queer in content ("Wolf's Rain", "Full Metal Alchemist"). I just finally saw something so artful that it actually surpassed every other genre of film or television I'd ever seen -- in this instance, it's MariMite's depth of character.

In the end, I like the creative plots, worlds, characters, and stories that can be found in anime. Anime isn't just for kids -- most of it isn't. There's violence, strong language, sex, crime, drugs - anything that can be found in regular film or tv, if you want it. It also has this style to it, a sense of humor sometimes that is just really endearing. It just feels fresh because it isn't deepfried American-on-Wonder Bread. I'm so sick of most American films as it is - even a lot of our television is just so ... gross. Maybe that's why I'm so drawn to shows like "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" -- they're some of the only series out there that aren't episodic in terms of plot. It's one gigantic story, each episode a chapter -- its all linked together.

That's another thing people don't get about anime. It's usually finite, an end has been planned. The first few episodes are almost ALWAYS dull and slow in comparison with how they end up. You cannot sum up an anime by a couple of episodes -- often you may not appreciate a series til you've seen it in its ENTIRETY, when it finally clicks and comes to an end -- an end that is usually not clean and perfect, an end that is more like real life. I was never a fan of short stories; I always liked big novels with awesome plots that beg you to read "just one more chapter" before going to bed way past your bedtime. That's what anime is like for me.

A lot of my frustration is probably due to being surrounded by people who prefer teeny-bopper movies and predictable books/music/tv (small town). But I'd like to hear what your thoughts are on your process of becoming an 'otaku' if you're up to sharing. :)

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