I’ll be upfront about this. When I was 17, I turned my back on all things anime like some mad reimagining of that classic Frank Sinatra track. It was a cold turkey kick, from cutting my ties with beloved shows, to ditching my manga and tossing out my figures. The reason? Well, self-loathing was setting in and I fancied trying to be somebody else. Instead I turned to poetry, art house movies and jazz music, and was every bit as pretentious as that list makes me out to be. I’ve since learned the error of my ways – I did start this blog after all – which brings me in a roundabout way to the point I wanted to make.
I was born in England in the early nineties, when it could be said that anime was really getting a foothold in the west. Sure Akira had sparked some interest, but it was still a scuzzy foreign import viewed with suspicion by the mainstream media. Okay, so that last point is still largely correct. But by the very early noughties, Japanese toons were filling up our TV screens, and it was wonderful. It was here I was introduced to some of their complexities and whimsy, from Pokemon and Shaman King, to Dragon Ball Z and, most formatively of all, Sailor Moon. Watching Sailor Moon filled me with all sorts of abstract emotions that even now I struggle to define. All I could say with any real certainty was that this was different to everything else, and I wanted more.
It could very well be said that, as a millennial, exposure to anime was expected in one form or another. That’s true to some degree, but after the Pokemania died down, it was a more concerted effort. It meant parting with your pocket money or using questionable streaming sites and risking myriad malware. This was before sites like Funimation and Crunchyroll existed in their current incarnations, of course. Like many other anime fans with little to no money, I did indulge in these illegal streaming sites, the concession being that I got to experience the wonders of Naruto and Bleach and many, many others.
But after some three or four years out of the loop, getting into anime was an altogether different experience. To think Toonami was once a part of British television – it seems but a fable, whispered on nostalgic breaths. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to find much anime at all on British screens, besides the odd Miyazaki movie. So I know how it feels being a modern Brit looking to that esoteric artform and wondering how the hell to integrate.
My reintroduction to anime was helped in no small part by writing about it. The same obviously won’t be true of everyone, but it wasn’t until acclimatising to some of the more familiar themes and touchstones that I began to feel the same sense of wonder and the profound effect that only animated images can instil. Social media has also played its part, as otaku are only ever a tweet or fan post away. There were next to no hardened anime fans when I were a lad, so striking that commonality was a tall order. This is one of the key differences in joining the anime fandom now; the sense of community is so much easier to access, and within that are plenty of blogs, fan art, merch stores and, most cherished of all, friends to share old favourites and recommend new ones.
Getting into anime, or manga for that matter, and being an otaku is easier now than it’s ever been, certainly where the UK is concerned. Scotland has its own anime festival, for heaven’s sake, and my neck of the woods isn’t without its otaku massive. So as far as I’m concerned, kids today don’t know how good they’ve got it, and that can only be a good thing.