Where does a decade go?
This post is, admittedly, late – the year has already turned, and, with it, the decade as well. But its a post I had to bounce around for a while in my mind before I could sit down and attempt it, since the block of time I wish to address encompasses the equivalent of about half my life. Ten years is a lot of time; even more so when one is only twenty-one years old. It seemed like a pretty daunting task.
Ultimately, this post isn’t really about anime itself – you can go to almost any anime blog of even the barest merit and find a ‘decade in review’ type post, some of which are actually quite good. But its been done to death, and, quite frankly, I’m more interested in a bit of navel-gazing myself. The past decade neatly contains both my transition from childhood to adulthood (I was a 6th grader in January of 2000; I am entering the final semester of college now), and my evolution as a fan from the true beginning, in those days where I sprinted excitedly up the front walk so I could slide through the door and slam the TV on to watch the newest Pokemon episode, to myself in the current day.
I remember my early days as an anime fan. I had loved Pokemon, but then I made this startling and exciting discovery – this show, with all these little creatures I adored? It wasn’t from America! It was from JAPAN! No only that, but Sailor Moon? That show I’d loved to pieces as a 2nd grader? That was also from Japan! And there were new episodes of it I’d never seen! These were terribly exciting times. And very quickly, Pokemon and Sailor Moon just weren’t enough.
However, 6th grade was also a transition year. If it had just been me by myself, I doubt my interest could’ve spiraled nearly as much as it did. At the beginning of that school year, I’d made new friends, because, well, it was a new school – it was what one did! And my best friend had begun being homeschooled, leaving me feeling frighteningly lonely (I’ve always had a nasty habit of having one very, very close friend and failing to cultivate a few very, very close friends, something which has been much to my detriment on several occasions). But there was a girl in my class, a girl who had the most impressive collection of Pokemon cards I’d ever seen. We became friends, and somehow stumbled fully into the world of anime together. It helped that the poor girl’s mother, guilt ridden over the dissolution of her marriage, was perfectly willing to fund our burgeoning habit.
Its interesting to think on these days. DVD’s were brand new, DVD players a grand luxury. My friend and I mostly ordered our anime from mail-order companies, patiently filling out the tiny grids of their order forms so we could get tapes of shows we barely knew anything about, shows like Martian Successor Nadesico (the first tape of which never arrived, somehow having been permanently moored on backorder) and dubious titles like Don’t Leave Me Alone Daisy. I also trawled the internet, looking longingly upon the lists of fansub distributors, calculating how many tapes I could afford on my allowance and when. I can recall in particular the first time I watched a fansub, the thrilling feeling of putting a plain VHS tape into the tape player below the TV, rolling back on my heels and staring up merrily at the Lab-Rats fansub of the Sailor Moon S episode in which Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune shoot themselves in order to try to retrieve the Holy Grail.
My friend switched over to DVD’s early. However, there wasn’t a DVD player in my household, and so it was that I bought my own first commercially subbed show on tape. CardCaptor Sakura, volume one. It was also the first series I collected, faithfully buying each succeeding volume upon their release, although I switched to DVD with the third volume. I even remember the fact that volume five was delayed, and ended up being released later than others, because of concerns over the episode wherein Sakura unknowingly meets her grandfather – yet despite not knowing his identity, accepts a dress from him. Despite the fact that most of the people bothering to buy the subtitled edition, not the neutered CardCaptors version, groups raised a fuss, insisting it would cause children to accept candy from strangers everywhere. I thought the whole thing was silly, but was just happy to be getting the original version at all, having first loved CardCaptors, and then realized how seriously edited the entire thing was.
At some point, I started reading manga. However, like with anime, it took me quite a while to actually begin to build a collection myself; I did not have parents suffering from feelings of guilt, after all, so my allowance held to something far more normal for a middle schooler. When I did begin to buy manga, it was in a weird, haphazard fashion – essentially, if it was a volume I could lay my hands on, I would buy it, regardless of continuancy. So I read Sailor Moon wholly out of order, and only ultimately owned three or four volumes of No Need For Tenchi. I also had the nasty habit of reading entire volumes in-store so I wouldn’t have to buy them, and feel that it might be solely due to my actions that the local bookstore ditched its comfy chairs, forcing people to actually buy what they’re reading instead of treating the place like a library. It was never something I thought of as being at all unethical, as my funds were small and some of the manga the sort of thing I’d never be permitted to bring into the house without there first being questions (is there a really any reason something titled ‘Ghost!’ should’ve been re-titled ‘Eerie Queerie’?!).
And then, one day, I noticed something on the shelf – an unflipped manga. I picked it up, and flipped through. It was disorienting, but also kind of… well, I know I kepe using the word, but exciting is the best way to describe so much of this; as a young, budding fan, exciting was the best way to describe the first few years of my fandom experience. Exciting. I loved the initial challenge of the unflipped book, and the looks it earned one in public. It also, quite frankly, made me feel smarter in a way – you might be reading a book, but I’m reading it from right to left! In retrospect, it was a brilliant move by the industry – it required no effort to do, made a lot of fans happy, and ultimately saved the companies a few cents per volume, since they no longer had to go through each page and reverse it.
By high school, I was no longer friends with my fellow-traveler, the girl with the DVD player and seemingly boundless access to the medium. My final year of middle school had ended in a flaming wreck, as she seemed bound and determined to pull me under with her when she became the center of a scandal involving our math teacher and stalking. I was rattled and unhappy, looking forward to high school if only to get away from it all. I became a bit more reclusive, re-watching my CardCaptor Sakura DVD’s ad infinitum, and turning to the library’s spotty collection of manga when my own ran out. Admittedly, it was an acceleration of a habit that’d already begun to form in the wake of September 11th. In the weeks and months following, I drowned myself in newspapers and anime, anything to keep myself occupied whenever I wasn’t at a sport’s practice or in school. It was odd – I didn’t want to stop and think about what had happened, but I intentionally inundated myself with the news. Well, and anime.
High school brought about another advent, as my consumption of subbed anime really took off. I first watched subbed anime as a 6th grader, but the main source of my anime had remained throughout middle school the Saturday morning blocks of programming on channels such as WB and Fox, and, later, Cartoon Network. I kept watching a little bit of the Saturday morning stuff, and continued to consume Toonami religiously (and sporadically Midnight Run/Rising Sun), but I was more interested in watching my subbed DVD’s and the stuff I borrowed from other people. I made new friends, most of whom did not watch anime, and a few of whom did. My anime watching comrades tended to have one big thing in common – they were Asian-American. And so it was that we plowed through hours of absolutely wretched pirated subs from Hong Kong.
However, something happened by my sophomore year – digital fansubs started getting extremely popular, and increasingly easier to obtain. At first, I simply borrowed from others, much as I had with the crappy HK subs. But one day in my junior year, I walked into the anime club meeting, and sat down for an episode of a show I’d never heard of – Bleach.
Oh, Bleach. I can count Bleach as one of my important, formative shows, because it was Bleach that launched me into the world of torrenting. The episode on the screen was the one in which Chad protects a parakeet that actually houses the soul of a little boy whose mother was murdered. After it ended, I asked a friend where they had gotten it, and they told me about the aggregator Animesuki. I went home, and I torrented the first six episodes, watching as the download inched along at a painful rate. It took forever, but I was completely hooked. (Looking back, I am struck by how different the early episodes of Bleach are from latter ones – the parakeet episode and the fate of Ichigo’s mother are both two things in particular that would lead one to believe that Bleach was more in the horror vein than the shounen Saturday morning type thing it ultimately became within fourteen episodes or so.) And it was at this time that, really, my existence as an anime fan began in earnest.
One of the things I enjoy now about being a fan is the way I consume anime – much of it is via either digital fansub or ‘simulcast’ websites like Crunchyroll. So I, along with many others, now follow the rhythms of the industry more closely, because we follow the seasons in a way which couldn’t be done prior to the advent of digital fansubs. We can chart the ups and downs, we can compare things in-season, we can have actual arguments of merit about what is being shown, all because we have the ability to essentially watch it as it happens. In the previous delayed-action world of anime in a foreign setting, e.g. our own, it really wasn’t so easy to have such varied and nuanced discussions, because the supply to begin with was much smaller, and nearly always excluded gems like Mouryou no Hako or Aoi Bungaku, even when you were looking at fansub tapes.
Of course, the commercial world also contributes to our greater ability to regard things in the larger picture, as the industry in America has gone through a few crises and growing pains and has emerged as something more permanent and capable of bringing shows with less appeal to our attention than they could’ve in 2005. Remember how shocking it was when Air got licensed? (Granted, that happened before ADV imploded in a fiery mess, but it did, nevertheless, demonstrate the willingness of the industry to look into something new and less sure of a profit than Shounen Jump mega-hit #4.)
The anime industry is so different from what it was in 2000, both in Japan and overseas, its pretty amazing. The digital distribution methods are incredibly indicative of that, since many Japanese companies were loath to permit the licensing of digital rights by foreign companies, believing that it would ultimately undercut them at home given the high prices of DVD’s in Japan (due, in large part, to the way in which taxes are levied there). They relented, opening up a whole new plane of opportunities for companies to grow and for fans to enjoy. Its something I never could’ve expected back when I was buying dubbed tapes of Tenchi Muyo and Rayearth.
In reflecting on the decade, I wonder if my tastes have matured as I (allegedly) have. I don’t really watch Pokemon any more, or many of those other shows clearly targeted at children (anyone remember Flint the Time Detective?). However, I still drag out Outlaw Star from time to time, and pine hard for a good magical girl show (no, things actually meant for 25 year old guys like Magical Lyrical Nanoha don’t count). But was there any show I enjoyed more during the past year than Aoi Bungaku?
Have I matured while growing up and watching anime?
Yes. I still do a lot of stupid things, but, yes, I have. I have come to be able to accept things I cannot change, the things that have happened in the past and are already done, something I think is a skill one must possess in order to age gracefully and not burn madly as a recluse. I doubt I can claim this has anything to do with anime, or that much of my maturity has anything to do with anime, honestly. I have probably improved in the arena of criticism because of anime, given how much I’ve slogged through over the years, although I’m note entirely sure this can be said to be a part of becoming more mature. But, perhaps it is part of maturing, and I just don’t recognize it as such for whatever reason.
It probably is more accurate to say that anime has helped me grow up by being supportive; it gave me a place to escape to when things weren’t so fun as an adolescent. It certainly encouraged my development of writing skills, since I spent so many hours as a teenager writing fanfiction. It also gave me a community in which I could simply be myself, which meant a lot since I was generally regarded as the weirdo through middle school and high school (although by my second year of high school I’d found similarly “weird” people who enjoyed being themselves just as much as I did).
I probably consume more anime now than I ever had before, and have somehow managed to not burn out yet. Many of the people I used to pursue the medium with simply do not any longer, having ‘grown out of it’ or moved on to something else. I feel like I can say at this point that I am a lifelong fan, that I will continue to buy the cheapest groceries possible so I can buy a DVD or volume of manga at the end of a week, chewing on rice cakes to convince myself I’m actually full. And ten years from now, I could very well be writing another decade perspective, although the notion of being in my thirties is kind of alarming from where I stand now.
For those of you who have made it through the post and are now scratching your heads at the title, allow me to briefly explain – it is a take off of the movie entitled ‘Syndromes and a Century’, the somewhat inexplicable English-language title of a Thai film of which has a title bettered translated as ‘Light of the Century’. Buuut they didn’t use a strict translation for whatever reason, so… Anyway, its a brilliant film, so go watch it if you haven’t. It isn’t anime, but its still extremely good.