After experiencing a sense of community and excitement from exploring the anime blogging community (like Digibro‘s excellent Diary of an Anime Lived project), I thought it would be appropriate for me to write about my starting place. In an attempt to keep the narrative coherent, the focus of this post will be on how I became the anime fan I am today. Note the italics.
Let’s see… I’m 22, and currently, I’m in the slice-of-life anime phase.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve watched more anime this winter term than at any other point in my life. This was a fairly big surprise for me along the way because I never thought that I would become this into anime. Let me explain — I like to think that I play a fairly big part in the hip hop community at my university. I like to make beats, DJ, and just last winter was the height of my dark-Atlanta-trap music phase. I found myself asking, “What’s happening?” constantly throughout the term. Anime completely deviates from hip hop culture, down to the rhythm and feel (and yes, I’ve seen Samurai Champloo).
Having said all of this, however, I’m by no means unfamiliar with anime. I started watching anime in ’90s Korea before my family and I immigrated to Canada (I say this like I had a choice but really it’s just what you do as a kid in that time and place). I was part of the generation that grew up with Pokemon and witnessed and experienced its international phenomenon along with the rapid progress of globalization facilitated by the internet. I might even go as far as to say that anime has played a significant role in shaping my perspectives, but for the most part I would have agreed with the idea that anime is for kids.
The other thing, which I’m still in the process of understanding and navigating the landscape, is the fact that anime by definition is a Japanese medium. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. But at the same time, I grew up with my grandma lamenting about the hardships and injustice she experienced during the war by Japanese people almost on a day to day basis. I’ve also heard from my Korean friends years ago that it’s frowned upon for a Korean person to like Japanese culture. When I asked my parents about it recently, they told me that it’s completely fine, especially in my generation, but it’s nevertheless a sensitive and complicated topic. I digress, but I wish to one day be able to confidently open conversations about it. At this time, I have a much better understanding of the black struggles in America.
Going back to the narrative, let me talk about my earlier experiences in Canada. Anime, in all of its context, was quite different from the predominantly white and first nations population that I went to high school with. And in the very first days in Canada, I remember feeling weirded out when I saw Pokemon on TV. It was just so different — everyone’s voices and even the theme song. To me, the English Pokemon felt like a completely different show. I remember feeling quite upset about it for a while, and it embodied the feeling of being different and perhaps even alienated in this new country.
In the very early years of living in Canada, I remember watching Naruto (with subtitles, of course) with my siblings. So I guess it was around 2004. I remember that some scenes were quite brutal and emotional, and it would make me physically shiver throughout some of the episodes. The fact that a show could make me experience something like that seemed simply amazing. Moreover, I liked the ideals that Naruto had, which I mean, to put it simply, was about trying your best and overcoming your odds — the classic shonen genre mindset. At some point, however (I think it was around episode 190), I stopped watching it. It was either because the site bad stopped working or our parents raised the pressure to not spend time doing things other than studying English.
And I guess, for better or for worse, I started to watch the TV shows airing in Canada. Let’s see… it was mostly stuff from YTV and even some stuff from Treehouse (it’s a kids channel). This is just what was accessible via the basic cable plan. At the time, YTV had some seriously weird-vibe TV shows (ex. Jacob Two-Two & Yvon of the Yukon). As for the shows on Treehouse… well I mean they were easy enough for me to understand and it was rather pleasant to watch (I just realized that kid shows are in many ways, “slice-of-life”).
Well, that was elementary school and by the time I went into high school, I’ve started to hear people tell me, “Wow your English is really good!”. By that, they meant that I didn’t have an accent. So I guess watching only English media paid off. Throughout the first half of high school, I didn’t watch any anime. Instead, I watched shows like Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, That ’70s Show, and Community. I guess I’ve always had an affinity to sitcoms (there’s also a Korean sitcom called High Kick! that I’ve seen a few episodes of). Out of that list, Community is easily my favourite. I absolutely loved all the referencing, meta, and (seemingly) quirky and intelligent humour. I mean, Abed is the product of the TV generation.
Around grade 10 or so, I remember my younger brother occasionally bringing home the shonen jump magazines from the local library. It was in one of those pages that I discovered Rosario + Vampire… which led to a harem/ecchi anime phase (this is when I watched Zero no Tsukaima & To LOVE-Ru). I mean something was so intriguing about watching a male protagonist trying his best to be a nice guy and… having inadvertent sexually gratifying things happen to him all the time. I mean, it was like porn (mind you, sex never happens) but for your mind and ego. While this certainly has its own problems pertaining to expectations and perception (much like actual porn), but at the time it’s just what I was into. I’ll talk more about the similarities/differences and my current thoughts on fanservice later.
Funnily enough, I think it was during this time of me checking out anime again that I encountered Neon Genesis Evangelion. I mean it consistently ranked high on lists and it seemed to be one of those “you have to watch this in order to understand the culture” kind of a thing. So I watched it, and it was the first time where a show really fucked me up. I would summarize the person I was in my adolescent as: a kid harbouring a lot of angst unbeknownst to him while trying his best to obey his parents’ authority while feeling frustrated. Needless to say, I connected with Shinji almost instantly, and I could not believe that there was someone who understood my feelings so well that they could create a character like Shinji. I remember at the time, the scene (from episode 2) where Shiniji sort of goes berserk to defeat the enemy felt like the most intense experience of my life. I was almost too scared to continue watching the show.
Well I managed to finish the show in three days. I didn’t quite get it, but I thought for sure I experienced something crazy. In the end, though, I felt that this was yet another thing that I couldn’t share with anyone else from my high school. The majority of the disconnect stemmed from the natural differences in our cultural upbringing. For me, it just felt so weird trying to connect with kids who seemed to have this whatever attitude towards everything while I tried my best not to get punished from my parents (I know, sounds real healthy). How I felt at home was just so different from my surroundings.
To describe my surroundings, I would say that perhaps because of the geographical restrictions of being on an island, it seems that the decades stay a little while longer. And with a large percentage of the population being seniors, it seemed like the ’70s and the ’80s kind of stuck. That’s just what it felt like. One of my best friends introduced me to the ’80s one hit wonders while another got me into metal (Metallica, Dream Theatre, etc). In a very real sense, my high school experience felt very similar to That ’70s Show, and I was Fez.
When I had graduated from highschool, I moved to Vancouver for my university. It was during this time — upon a fairly messy breakup — that I fell into a deep depression. And it was not until this year (4 years after the break up) that I’ve been able to fully understand and accept what had happened. I’ll just say that I was both too immature and young to know how to deal with my own problems, let alone anybody else’s. This doesn’t excuse me from any of my actions, of course, but that’s what happened. I started smoking weed too, and I would genuinely feel paranoid that everyone hated me. For much of the first year, I would be trapped in that mindset and I spent a lot of time alone. Anyone’s who has spent a lot of time alone can tell that it makes you go crazy.
Well, time went by — as it does — and I got better. I mean I was still struggling and I would be struggling for years to come, but I stopped living in isolation. In the summer after first year, I watched NGE for the second time, and I understood it a whole lot better. A big realization that I got out of it was the fact that coexisting with other people will inescapably bring you pain, but there’s a lot of joy in it too. This was catharsis and it played a huge role in affirming my interested in psychology. If you also resonate with NGE, Digibro wrote a very personal post called Shinji and I – Diary of an Anime Lived: Neon Genesis Evangelion and I highly recommend reading it.
See you all on the B-side!
Image is a screenshot from Community S4E12
Soundtrack one is [Corridors of Time by Yasunori Mitsuda] performed by Super Guitar Bros
Soundtrack two is Disillusion -2006- (instrumental) by Tainaka Sachi
Soundtrack three is Snow Storm (instrumental) originally sung by Kugimiya Rie