About an anime fan

I’ve been an anime fan for no more than 5 years and already I’m starting to feel like I’ve been around forever, yet the truth is that my mere half-decade of devotion barely even scratches the surface, after all, some hardy souls have been following this foreign Japanese stuff for more than 30 years; a concept so baffling I can’t even begin to imagine how they managed it.

I’m fascinated by the biographies and anecdotes of anime fans. Young or old, everyone has a story that recalls their moment of excited discovery and the subsequent realization of what anime has to offer. It’s comforting, almost reassuring to read fellow fans trying to convey those memories in the context of their lives, each person coming from different, interesting circumstances. My own story is something of a modern cliche, but that’s really the point of this article, the chronology of an anime fan.

I suspect we can look at the recent history of anime fandom as containing three distinct and converging ages of “gateway” anime. They are Video Nasties (1990 – 1997), Childrens TV (1995 – 2002) and the Digital Revolution (2002 – present day). All three have impacted on my life.

During the mid-nineties, I was a bored teenager looking for some edgy entertainment, so it’s rather predictable that my first glimpses of anime would be snared during the Video Nasties era, courtesy of bloody, gore-filled flicks like Ninja Scroll and Fist of the North Star. I remember how I would often figure out what to buy next based on which badly-dubbed trailer had condensed the most violence and profanity into its 2 minute preview. I spent a lot of money on bad anime, even going so far as to mail order chunky VHS releases of such politically-(in)correct “manga” as Angel Cop, but it remained a rather superficial phase and died out after a year or two.

Some time later and the Childrens TV era inspired my then lazy-university-student self to rise at 6AM for day long marathons of Dragonball Z. This was just another phase that had nothing to do with ‘anime’, instead I was hopelessly carried away by Goku and his (literally) death-defying adventures. Amusingly, I still own the home recorded VHS tapes (with their carefully organized labels) of some 250+ episodes of Dragonball Z, but for all that effort, I doubt I’ll ever play them again. I still keep them around, anyway.

Everything changed when the Naruto anime premiered in Japan during 2002 and, on a reluctant whim, I started watching its fansubs during 2003. This was around the beginning of the Digital Revolution as fansubs proliferated via Bit Torrent. It was the first time I’d willingly sat through any media in a foreign language, yet, as if over-night, I’d suddenly developed this interest in Japanese culture and completely reevaluated my opinion of foreign cinema. In fact, I’d been so impressed by those opening 50 episodes of Naruto that I started looking into other anime, and the discovery of other series, many of them classics, were soon to follow, from Cowboy Bebop to Berserk. Everything, all of this, was sparked from that point, a reluctant whim.

Aside from the cliche jibes about ‘bad English dubs’, I think it’s important to note the pivotal role played by watching Naruto in a foreign language. Watching anime in Japanese presented the unavoidable truth that I was seeing a unique product of an exciting foreign culture. The very moment I started following Naruto was also the moment I realized I had been missing out on something so infinitely special. That was that, and I’d become an anime fan.

My little story ends there, but alluding to everything I’ve said above, this is the part where I ask you the same questions.

How did you become an anime fan?

Bitter sweet school days; All About Lily Chou-Chou

Back in June, I reviewed a Japanese live action film called Linda Linda Linda. It was a great movie, so great, in fact, that it encouraged me to dig deeply into the depths of Japanese cinema. Since then, I’ve been working my way through the recommendations in the comments of that post. It has been a joy to explore an area of film that, until a few months ago, I’d barely even scratched the surface of. It’s all so new and exciting, and confirms something about me that I’ve always suspected anyway, that, rather than being a fan of just anime, I’m a fan of Japanese cinema full stop. Be it the vivid style of filming, the use of music to accentuate emotion or the emphasis on character over plot, whatever it is, it’s an abstract, bitter sweet quality that really helps me escape into the “ether” of imagination.

On Tuesday night I watched a film called All About Lily Chou-Chou. Sometimes, if I can catch a good movie late at night, I’ll go to bed right after it finishes and find that even my dreams are trapped by its influence. On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling groggy and restless, precisely because I couldn’t shake my thoughts from this film, so, I had to write about it, no choice, really.

Just going back to how I felt about Linda Linda Linda, it was a bright and romantic ode to youth, more akin to a dream than reality, in love with (the memory of) being young. Similarly, All About Lily Chou-Chou is about Japanese school life, but this isn’t a happy film, the kids are cruel, hopeless and sad, yet presented in such a way that is beautiful; lush green fields and bumpy concrete roads are fine company for despair.

At school and after, Hoshino and his gang pick on the shy Yuichi. They beat him up, take his money and embarrass him in public. During one particularly harrowing attack, they trash Yuichi’s bike and force him to strip naked and masturbate in-front of them as they throw stones and jeer. That is their reality, Hoshino the bully has lost faith in life and Yuichi the victim has no courage. Yet they both passionately admire a singer/song-writer called Lily Chou-Chou and hang-out on the same Lily Chou-Chou internet forum, often chatting online with each other anonymously, sharing their mutual passion for her music and explaining how it inspires them with such vivid and strong feeling. They become friends online. Spiritually, Hoshino and Yuichi are good friends, but when they meet in reality, with their true feelings concealed from one-another, they hate each other. It’s a contradiction of truth and a very sad, very human tragedy.

Another of Hoshino’s victims is a girl called Tsuda, he blackmails her into becoming a prostitute. We follow her on one of her ‘jobs’; a date with a middle-aged salary man. In the immediate aftermath, she doesn’t seem to be particularly effected, it’s only when she is almost home that she breaks down and loses control, literally stamping her pay into ground and soaking herself in a river near-by. That’s the kind of person that Tsuda is, she might portray herself as strong and streetwise, but it’s all just a mask. Deep down, she loathes herself for being so weak as to go along with Hoshino’s blackmail, yet pride prevents her from crying for help. She yearns to be free, desperately so, and in the most bitter sweet scene of the film, stumbles into a kite flying club, almost overcome with the euphoria of just watching them glide in the wind, so carefree and simple. “I wanna fly in the sky”, she said.

At two and a half hours, it’s a long movie, packed with intimate character vignettes and filmed in this very personal, modern style that is a feature of Japanese cinema, it’s very cool looking. It’s also slow building, sparse in dialogue and, at times, hard to follow, as the narrative jumps back and forth in time and names and faces come and go. Even still, it has an ethereal quality, an atmosphere that quietly fades in and envelopes us into this world of bitter sweet reality, I could almost describe it as an out of body experience. Anyway, All About Lily Chou-Chou isn’t a nasty film; it doesn’t delight in the suffering of its characters. It knows that life can be harsh, yet has moments of beauty too.

Turn off your mind, unwind and see how high the cloudy sky. Xam’d, naturally.

Should I say Xam’d: Lost Memories is good? It’s better than good, and I know it’s not enough to say just that, but I have to be careful. Because I’m about ready to explode. Yes, there’s too much to say. This is what anime is capable of; it’s why I’m writing an anime blog. Ironically, I’m on the brink of incoherence, but I need order, I need someone to understand something; that Xam’d: Lost Memories is good and that I think you might like it too. But that’s still not enough.

Where to begin? How about the trailer. I’ve been admiring this series since reading the trailer’s subtitle of “A nostalgic SF by Studio Bones”. Of course, a lot of anime is nostalgic, but it’s typically nostalgia for youth, for young love. Xam’d is nostalgic for science fiction. Our heroine Nakiami recalls both the rural appearance of Nausicaä (of Nausicaä and the Valley of Wind) and the emotional ambivalence of Eureka (of Eureka Seven). So, right off the bat, those are two of my favourite anime. It seems I was fated to adore this show.

The direction has an air of confidence, the narrative flows naturally, the plot is slow-building and consistent, the characters are light hearted and funny, some concealing their insecurity with a spunky attitude, others with sarcasm, none of it feeling artificial or calculated, just natural, normal. By the time the action kicks in, about three quarters of the way through the first episode, I was immersed, lost in the fantasy, in the characters, their lives about to be torn apart.

The school bus explodes, it’s a suicide bombing. Terrorism. Fear spreads. The twisted wreckage of what’s left behind is more like an open ribcage, bloodied, facing skyward. The seats have a bubbling, organic texture. Strange flying machines float high over-head, launching their organ-like pods of insectiod attackers into the city below. Akiyuki’s arm swells and twists with a strange, alien infection, his trembling body is no longer his own.
It’s a shock to transition so violently from this sleepy, easy-going slice of life into a terrible, chaotic war, a situation that reflects our own fears of terrorism and paranoia of aggression that is indiscriminate and seemingly aimless.

Akiyuki’s mum is a part of an ensemble of likable and interesting personalities. Her marriage is falling apart, but she maintains a strength of character, humour and dignity that’s really quite admirable. Akiyuki’s dad is a workaholic; a popular doctor with time for his patients but none for those most important to him, his family. They both care deeply for their son, but show it in different ways. When he goes missing, they both go looking for him, but at different times. They understand each other, but pretend not to, neither willing to compromise with the other. Little do they know, Akiyuki has embarked on a nostalgic adventure.

Flying high in purple skies, I’m happy just watching this story unfold, like some long lost fable, it’s beautifully drawn, sometimes poetically so, dream-like and awe-inspiring, a world worth exploring, with its many strange cultures, creatures and technologies. It is a fantasy in the truest sense of the word, a world of fantastic imagination, dark and light, nostalgic and exciting, would be perfect if there wasn’t so much rust in the water.

You call yourself human?

I’m not dead, just low on inspiration. That’s all I wanted to say, really, and while I’m trying to come up with some more legitimate ideas for anime blogging, I figured I may as well link a Supercar music video, by far and away my favourite Japanese rock band. Having been procrastinating for a few hours now, this obviously wasn’t an easy decision, first I was going to use “Wonderword“, then “Last Scene“, then “STROBOLIGHTS“, but, for obvious reasons that will soon become apparent, settled on “Be“…

[Warning: the above video contains a lot of violence and most definitely isn’t safe for work]

…”Be” is hardly Supercar‘s best song (for some better music, please do check out the other songs I’ve linked above), but after watching this music video for the first time earlier this evening, I just knew I had to use it. It’s very provocative, disturbing and, regardless of any deeper meaning, very, very cool looking (by the way, I wonder if any of you guys have seen any (live action) movies directed by Toshiaki Toyoda? Like ‘Blue Spring‘ or ‘9 Souls‘?). Thinking about it, I’m not sure a music video like this could be made in any country but Japan, it’s so morally ambivalent and uncompromising that the sensationalist press over here (in the UK) would probably tear it to pieces. Enjoy!