A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on the games that changed my life. Not the best games, or the most popular ones, just the games that held specific meaning for me as a person and a gamer, and how they shaped my gaming life. Today, I wanted to write a second installment to that, a sort of follow-up piece for another major force in my fandom participation. Because gaming, while it is a big part of my life, is not the only part of my life. I take part in a lot of activities and interests, all of which shape and form who I am, and influence where I go.
So, for today, I am once more listing influential things in my life. This time around, I’m focusing on the anime that made me who I am.
I got into anime way back in 1997, when a friend of mine lent me a copy of “Dragonball Z: The Dead Zone.” Prior to this, I had an inkling of what anime was, but aside from unintentionally watching shows like Voltron back in the 80s, I hadn’t given it much thought. Dragonball Z changed that. I can’t say how many times I watched “Dead Zone” over the next few months, but it was enough to wear out to VHS I had copied it to. I spent a good 3 years waking up extra early to watch the Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon dubs in syndication. I remember actually paying attention in Spanish class so I could stumble through the Telemundo broadcast of “Duragonball Zeto.” And for maybe 2 years, this was all the anime I knew. And I fell into it hard.
Dragonball Z was the first, the gateway into the wide world of anime. And that is the last time I will mention it in this list, because while it was my first, I also outgrew it very fast. The repetitive nature of the episodes, the constant theme of “get stronger, defeat opponent, find stronger one” got old fast, especially as I entered college and found other fans like me. Dragonball opened the door, and after I ran through, I left it behind. There was so much more to discover out there, and I had all the time in the world (at least theoretically) to find it.
Some of the entries on this list are new. Some are movies. Some contain multiple titles. There is a reason for this: sometimes its not the individual series that impacted me, but how it related to others I was watching at the time. Sometimes it’s the animation studio or director that holds the power. So there are definitely more than 10 anime listed on here, but in the end, all of them managed to do the same thing- they shaped who I am today. And, as always, ignore the numbering system. I didn’t rank them in any particular order.
1: Rurouni Kenshin- This was the first show I discovered after Dragonball. Much like its predecessor, this was loaned to me in subtitled VHS format. But the similarities end there. Whereas DBZ is a beat-em-up shounen fight show, Kenshin was so much more. An introduction to the tumultuous Meiji era, when Japan modernized itself rapidly. A study in psychology and the creation of heroes and villains. A moral drama about penitence and forgiveness. It contained a lot of elements DBZ lacked, but which make anime so unique, and enjoyable. And that made me want to watch it more. I recall marathoning the entire Kyoto arc in a weekend. I remember quite vividly discussing the historical accuracy of one Hajime Saito. I also know I spent a lot of money buying a few volumes of this on DVD at the end of Freshman year in college.
These days, I tend to avoid the show. Kenshin the anime lacks a lot of what Kenshin the manga contained. Indeed, the manga had the same impact on my written consumption as the anime did on my viewing. I don’t own any volumes or DVDs anymore, long traded away to make room for new series. But the mark left by Rurouni Kenshin on my anime viewing remains. Had I not started watching this show, Dragonball might have been both the first, and last, anime I ever watched.
2: Fullmetal Alchemist- This is without a doubt the biggest anime of the past decade. It has one of the largest, most devoted fandoms attached to it. Two series and an amazing manga title later and people still talk about the misadventures of Edward Elric and Roy Mustang. It made Vic Mignogna famous. And Travis Willingham too. FMA’s impact stretches past that of any others, crossing boundaries and pulling more fans in all the time.
None of this mattered to me in 2007, when I bought the DVDs after Anime Boston. It was an Anime Music Video that introduced me, and while I was aware that the show had nothing to do with the trailer it was attached to, I wanted to see what this interesting show was about. So, on my way home from work, I stopped by the anime shop and grabbed the entire series. I think it lasted me a week.
Fullmetal Alchemist taught me to have fun. Unlike the Gundam series I was used to watching at the time, I didn’t need to deconstruct it. Watching 4-5 episodes before going to sleep every night wasn’t a drain on my brain, as they moved fast, were paced perfectly, and practically begged for advancement. FMA was easily the most accessible show I had seen at the time, and was deep enough to hold my interest, but open enough not to linger past my watching time. It was the first show in a long time I could pick up and put down easily, but still enjoyed enough to re-watch later on. It embodied the notion that anime, first and foremost, has to be fun, or its not worth watching.
And, like Kenshin, the manga is better.
3: Usagi Drop- This show ended maybe a month ago. It’s the most recent one on this list. But why is it on here? Simple- it showed me that anime is more than just “kid’s stuff.”
Now I am not saying that anime as a medium is childish, because it’s not. Unlike Western animation, anime crosses boundaries and appeals to a wide range of people, from children to teens to professional adults. But out of all the series I have watched, Usagi Drop might be the most mature. Not in terms of subject matter or content, but in terms of story, and how that story related to me.
I just turned 30 this year. And with that came a lot of new conflicts and questions about where I’m going in my life. Like a flipped switch, suddenly the things that never bothered me before suddenly seem more important. Things like family, work, moving on and being an adult- I spent my 20s ignoring them, and now I feel like I can’t afford to.
Which is exactly where Usagi Drop comes in. The same issues I ponder over are the ones 30 year old protagonist Daikichi does. Only he has a “daughter” thrown into the mix. Growing up and becoming a real family man are major issues for him. Responsibility to more than just himself is a major theme, revisited every time he encounters a new conflict with little Rin. This show gave me the chance to look at myself, both from inside and outside, and see that life might be complicated, but not overwhelmingly so. And when one needs to finally put away childish things and be an adult, it’s not so bad.
It also makes me want to have a daughter, but that’s a whole other story…
4: BECK Mongolian Chop Squad- Not a lot of people know this, but for a good chunk of my 20s, I worked in the music industry, as a DJ, promoter and eventually a talent scout for a small independent record label in New York. And during that time, music was the be all and end all of my life. I bought 2-3 albums a week, went to at least one live show every Friday night and spoke at a lot of music conferences. Also during that time my love of music, and my influences and tastes changed wildly.
The reason I mention this is because when I started watching BECK earlier this year, a lot of those memories and emotions came back in droves. Watching Koyuki grow from awkward teen into musician was something I was privy to many times, and I recognized a lot of the pitfalls he and the band were going through trying to break in an increasingly more competitive business. While I did not see myself in Koyuki, Chiba, Ryusuke and the others, I understood what they were going through, and it made the series all the more real to me. The inspirations for their songs, and the chosen songs themselves, added to the experience, and made BECK a show I watched through three times in quick succession.
While this series did not alter my life in any way, it did remind me of a time when my life was changing and growing by leaps and bounds, and made the lessons I learned then even more potent and memorable.
5: Monster- Whenever I get the chance, I tell people about this series. In an age when half the scripted shows on television are crime procedurals, Monster stands both with them, and above them, telling a story full of suspense, intrigue, philosophy and the nature of righteousness. And it tells itself better than any live-action American show can.
Monster redefined what anime meant to me. I was used to these shows being fantastical, set in implausible locations and full of unlikely creatures. Monster is none of these. It is a story with believable characters, perfect pacing and enough meat to keep it going for 74 episodes without a “clip show” or bit of “filler” at all. It showed me that anime itself is a medium, but one just as varied and capable as any other. The fact that this show could have been scripted and been just as good shows through repeated veiwings. It is a drama on par with anything “real,” and perhaps far better.