One Saturday back in high school I was home alone flipping through the channels. Not having many friends and not much better to do, I caught the first Sci-Fi Channel festival of Japanese animation. I may or may not have heard of Japanese animation before, I can’t remember. In Elementary school I watched Voltron, Tranzor Z, and Star Blazers, but had no clue they were Japanese.
Anyway the first movie was Robot Carnival, which didn’t interest me much, (but is probably better than I remember it.) it was some anthology or series of shorts. Next was Lensman, somewhat entertaining but an obvious Star Wars rip off. With two movies in what kept me watching was the different style of animation that I had not seen before. Plus, despite the perceived mediocrity of the two films, I appreciated that this animation was not for kids, and encompassed different genres. This uniqueness held me to the next movie, which probably purposely aired at a late time slot.
The third and final movie was Vampire Hunter D. Need I say more? A dark post-apocalyptic tale of a lone cloaked mysterious figure who turns out to be the son of Dracula. At first you think he’s crazy because you think he’s talking to himself, (I thought he was talking to his sword.) but it turns out there’s a sentient being attached to his hand!!!!!! Wow. With said hand he took his sword and fought all kind of nasty monsters and protected the innocent. It was gory, violent, action packed, and it rocked my teenage mind. An anime fan was born that night, and I thought I’d love this stuff forever.
The internet was in its caveman days back then, and I didn’t get online until college. So anything I learned about anime was from the Sci-fi channel, or through the occasional magazine at the local comic shop or at the mall. From these sparse sources I learned about this wonderful culture of Japan where they make animated movies for all ages and genres. There were animated horror movies, action, sci-fi, comedy, romance, you name it.
Not only that, but everyone read comics in Japan, where they were called manga. This magical manga was even read by businessmen on the subway, and it wasn’t uncommon for comic stories to be 1000 pages plus. While my little town had a small comic store that sold baseball cards and jewelry to stay afloat, Toyko had stores that were 6 FLOORS of anime. HEAVEN!!!
During the springtime of the next two years the Sci-Fi channel repeated the festival of anime, where I got to see movies like 8 Man After, Lilly Cat, Venus Wars, Project A-ko, and a few others I can’t remember now. What I do remember is this stuff put America to shame, blowing Disney right out of the water. NOBODY was making stuff like this. To me Disney was a shit stain on the ass of global animation.
Through what little information I could find, there was one movie lurking in the background. Not quite ten years old then, it was based on the 1800 page comic by Katsuhiro Ottomo (Yes I still remember that name) and directed by the same man. That movie, was Akira.
Ahhh Akira. The current generation of anime fans, raised on Poke”Mon and Yu Gui Oh, have no idea what Akira is. To my generation it was the standard that all other anime failed to live up to. Released in Japan in 1988, it was available stateside on VHS at some specialty shops and catalogues, but it commanded the hefty price of $40. Around 94 or early 95 I’d read about some distribution deal that would allow more anime to come to the US at normal prices. Soon Vampire Hunter D and other movies I’d seen or heard about appeared in tiny sections in the back corners of video stores. Akira would be coming soon.
It was the spring of my senior year, 1995, and it was time to go on the Science Club trip to New York. (All the Science Club did was go to New York) I knew if I could find Akira anywhere, it would be in New York City. (Again pre-internet, pre Amazon.com etc.) Right at the end of the day, I went into some chain record store and got it. I still remember walking to the register with tape in hand and some black guy sitting nearby yelling at me. “If you ain’t gonna buy anything GET THE F#*K OUT MOTHERF#*$ER!!!”
My friend Chuck looked at me asking “What did he say?”
“Never mind just keep walking.”
Needless to say, wow. Best animation I’d ever seen. Intense, incredible story line, amazing. A cartoon that’s both thrilling and philosophical. It’s such a dense movie. At a solid two hours the first half of it feels like 4 hours, and the last hour feels like 2. It honestly feels like a 6 hour movie. Action packed to say the least, I mean come on there’s an explosion like every 5 minutes!
As I’m writing this I’m reminded of just how truly amazing that time was for me. I mean seeing Akira at the age of 18, in 1995, my god. It’s like when our parents saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, or when our grandparents read Action Comics 1 for the first time. Once you get past your early 20s it’s rare to have something come along in pop culture that truly blows your mind. I remember taking it to my best friend Jim’s house right before I graduated. I sat in his chair as he approached the VCR, about ready to put the tape in. He looked at me with that grimace on his face and said “Is this gonna kick my ass?” And it did, all over the place.
I went nuts. Again this was before the internet when anyone could know about everything. The end of the year I showed up to school with AKIRA RULES written on my arms. NOBODY knew what this was, only weirdos like me knew of this glorious thing called Akira. I was like a fucking prophet, spreading the gospel of Akira. AKIRA RULES on my name badge at camp. AKIRA RULES on big signs taped to the door of my first college dorm. Akira rules, Akira rules.
Yeah, college. So I went to college and met more people into anime. At the first meeting of the Role Playing Guild, the room lights up like a Christmas tree when I mention Akira. Why? Because Akira rules, and I’d found a place where people knew it.
College went on and those Anime sections in record stores expanded, and I got to see a few more movies. A few new titles came to America with some hype, like Ghost in the Shell, and after college Princess Mononoke. I saw both, bought the former, enjoyed both but neither reached the status of you know who. (Ghost in the Shell had one preview that was a collage of several animes. One of which I always wanted to see, but never saw it sold or aired anywhere. The Adventures of Tom Thumb.) Comic magazine Hero Illustrated (Which I LOVED) gave a good review for The Wings of Honneamise, which lead me to seeing one of my all time favorites. The thing is, as I got to see more anime I realized that I wasn’t actually liking a lot of it. Besides the fact that the animation was neat many of the stories just weren’t that interesting. My interest was starting to fade.
A few years out of college I went to Otakon, a huge Anime convention in Baltimore. The year I went there were over 12,000 in attendance, and that figure grows every year. Pretty good time, but I couldn’t help but notice a lot of REALLY YOUNG girls walking around in racy outfits. Couldn’t help but think, if I had kids, would I want to bring them here? Would I want my daughter going to something like this? Hmmm….
A few more years go by and one day I walked out of an anime club held at a comic shop. I had several reasons for leaving, one of which was “WE WANT TO SHOW PEOPLE THAT ANIME IS NOT JUST PORNO STUFF!!!” Okay… A year or so later I ran into one of these fellows, who informed me the club now meets at one of their homes due to the adult nature of what they now watch. Consequently, one of the nicknames of this guy around town was The Tentacle Sex guy.
In February of 08 I was in Japan. I’d been there a few times before, but this time I finally saw the legendary 6 floors of Anime. There were several stores like this in the electronics market area of Tokyo that I visited. These were the places we dreamed of when we were 18. 6 floors of Anime heaven, and I was finally there. Though at the age of 31, I had a feeling about what I was about to really see. So I go in the first floor, look around, and its nothing but girly stuff. Okay, well maybe the next floor has Robotech and Akira and cool stuff like that. So I go upstairs, girly stuff. Surely the third floor will have something interesting. Nope. 4th, floor? The same. 5th and 6th floor, you don’t even want to know. Six floors of Anime babes with ludicrously large perfectly drawn breasts, and other nastiness you can’t imagine. I walked out of there ashamed of myself. I felt like my name was about to be entered in some pervert database or something. Another store next to it was the same, and I didn’t bother looking anymore after that. Ironically I’d seen stores stateside with a more interesting selection. Maybe it’s not fair for people to think that Anime is nothing but porn, but there’s a reason they do.
I miss liking Anime. I miss thinking it’s cool. I miss watching something animated that blows me away with something I’d never seen before. I still like what I like, but just haven’t been interested in following the scene for a long time. Oh well, such is life. The thing about making something for everyone, is you’re making something for “everyone.” In the meantime, I’ll just sit back and watch Disney’s Robin Hood.
But Akira still rules.
Originally published on myspace on 8/13/08