You’re probably looking at that title and thinking it’s hyperbole. It really isn’t. There’s also a damn good reason for me writing this particular post now. Because, as this shiny website probably indicates, I’ll be talking about anime a fair bit going forward, along with games and potentially some TV/movie content, and whatever other guff that takes my fancy. There are a whole bunch of great—and not-so-great—shows out there, and I enjoy picking stories apart.
The problem? Anime gets a bad rap. Sometimes deservedly so, I will admit. The likes of your generic, low-grade harem trash are hardly going to set the world ablaze with their literary value. But I also don’t find them particularly objectionable.
They can be amusing enough, they normally have cute girls with the most stereotypical personality types imaginable, and the main character is almost always a bland non-entity designed for the viewer to imprint themselves upon, but at least they’re not outright insulting (unlike most western TV now…). There’s some amount of value there, even if it’s just unintentional hilarity at how one-dimensional most of the cast are.
From an outsider’s point of view, though? Someone who isn’t necessarily all that into Japanese culture, or the tropes of shows like this? Yeah… you might take one look and think that’s what all anime is. Shallow, mostly pointless garbage aimed at horny teenaged boys. Well, I’m here to tell you you’d be 100% wrong.
Like any medium, there’s trash tier content, there’s god tier content, and there’s everything in between. Anime really is no different in that respect, though it’s also true that anime probably does have a higher incidence of good quality content being dragged down by utterly baffling decisions by the writers (or producers and others). That’s something I’ll be covering for various shows I enjoy… or didn’t enjoy, as the case may be.
But putting aside my interest in picking anime apart and talking about the stories, both how they did things well and how they failed, I want to talk a bit here about how I got into the medium itself, and how it quite seriously saved my life during an incredibly difficult period.
My adventure with anime began… actually in the 80s, now I think about it. I’m not generally a huge fan of Studio Ghibli, but there was one of their movies in particular that I fell in love with as a kid, and came back to in later life once I’d matured a bit and learned what anime was and where it originated: Laputa – Castle in the Sky.
(If you know of Gulliver’s Travels, yes, this movie was named for the floating island in that work. The Laputa movie also inspired Final Fantasy’s airships and Skies of Arcadia’s Sky Pirates. Also, the robots inhabiting Laputa have one small eye and one big eye, another nice little nod to Gulliver’s Travels.)
Before Disney turned into the utter garbage it is now, they used to make cartoons similar to Laputa. Adventure, fun, great animation, fantastic music, the works. Studio Ghibli is effectively the Japanese equivalent to Disney’s glory days, and they often have a similarly adventurous tone to them, but with a mature edge that I always found more appealing than Disney’s standard fare.
Back in the 80s, kids weren’t treated as idiots. We had kid-focused movies that were dark, occasionally grim, and often pretty thematically mature. The sort of thing the Brothers Grimm were well-known for; dark fairy tales with a serious message intended to teach kids an equally serious lesson about life and the world they’re growing up in.
Of course, we also had awesome movies that kids totally weren’t watching without permission and while they were way too young for them. Nope, not us. I didn’t watch Robocop at 8 years old, honest. And we certainly didn’t play cops and robbers, but replacing those things with Robocop and ED209 in the schoolyard the day after. Absolutely not.
Anyway, point is that my first ever anime experience was Laputa, which was Studio Ghibli’s debut feature film and remains one of my favourites to this day. After that, I went a couple of decades before I was really exposed to anime a second time. 2004, to be precise, when I watched two… uh, I hesitate to call them seminal works, but they both kind of are: the original Evangelion and… Love Hina.
Looking back on it, I suspect being exposed to Love Hina as my third ever anime was probably why I have a higher tolerance for harem shows than a lot of people. It’s possible that show scarred me and I never even realised. Honestly, I’m mostly being facetious. I actually really liked Love Hina, though I probably couldn’t watch it now.
For anyone reading this who doesn’t know the show in question, it was based on a really good manga, and the anime itself—as is so often the case—doesn’t even come close in overall quality. Despite this, I generally regard it as one of the defining shows of the whole medium. It was the show that pretty much popularised the harem anime formula:
- Generic-as-hell, milquetoast, wet-behind-the-ears male lead character with minimal personality beyond being a clumsy dumbass.
- Half a dozen girls of varying ages, within 1-3 years either side of the protagonist’s age, all of whom have rigidly-defined, archetypal personalities.
- Ridiculous situations arising from miscommunication or misunderstanding, resulting in the protagonist being abused by one or more of the girls, and which could easily be resolved by just fucking talking for five seconds.
- Some heartfelt and emotional moments sprinkled here there, with a liberal helping of silly (often slapstick) humour.
So yeah… Love Hina is definitely one of the most important shows in anime history, in my opinion… but whether you consider that to be a net positive or negative, I’ll leave up to you.
As for Neon Genesis Evangelion… well, even non-anime fans have heard of that show. And for good reason. It gets a reputation for being pretentious or philosophical (or pretentiously philosophical), or for its whiny little asshole protagonist (shut up, Shinji!), or for being one of the most well-known mecha shows ever made, or for its weird as hell Biblical references, or for the BL bait… or, of course, for the female equivalent to Shinji, Asuka *shudder*, a girl who very much strikes a… NERV. (I’m sorry)
That’s actually quite a lot of negatives, now I think about it. Still, for the early 20s me, working as a line leader at a factory and just starting to get into anime, Evangelion was the shit. Not it was shit, though my opinion of it has certainly dropped in the intervening 15 years, the shit.
It had huge robots, weird, messed up themes I’d never really come across before in Western media, and it still has one of the best OP songs ever written for an anime (note, Youtube copyright BS means that link might eventually die; just search Cruel Angel Thesis in that case). Damn, the 90s was a good period for this medium.
Evangelion was also one of the most heavily copied fansubs of the VHS era. Even back in the early 2000s, before I truly knew what anime was, I’d heard some of my friends talking about how they had friends who knew people who had fifteenth-hand copies of this show, and they were borrowing it over the weekend to make their own, sixteenth-hand copy. Fansubbing was hardcore back in the day. Hell, it was a literal industry for a couple of decades, until the DVD and internet revolutions happened.
So that’s how I got started with anime. And then my life took a turn for the worse. I’m not going to bore you with the details of that, it’s not something I feel inclined to discuss, and I’m not fishing for sympathy either. Suffice to say, I had a serious condition that affected both my mental and physical health and knocked me out of life for about a decade.
During that time, I really got into anime. I felt like utter crap every single day, could only sleep for maybe 6 hours out of every 48 (and sometimes as long as 72), and desperately needed something to take my mind off of… well, everything.
This was also around the advent of broadband, opening up a world of blazing fast 30kb/s download speeds. Sounds ridiculous, right? It really wasn’t, not after 56k dial-up and the 0.5-1.0kb/s speeds I’d been dealing with until then, not to mention that broadband allowed for phone use at the same time without disconnects. Then torrents came along, allowing for easier distribution of fansubs without the need for physical, bulky, expensive-to-post VHS tapes or DVDs.
Since I’d watched and enjoyed Evangelion and Love Hina, I figured getting more seriously into anime would be a great way to deal with the issues caused by my health. I used my newfound internet freedom and insane speeds to download tons of shows. All kinds, from sci-fi to fantasy to other world (isekai) to harem trash to giant robots to cute comedies (like the god-tier Azumanga Daioh) In some cases, like Tenchi Muyou, I discovered that a single show could cover multiple seemingly disparate genres.
A few years of this and I felt like I wanted people to actually talk to and discuss anime with. It had truly saved me from a dark period that might have resulted in me taking drastic—and terminal—measures to deal with it, hence the title of this post, but as I started getting over the worst of the condition I wanted to engage with likeminded people who also enjoyed anime.
Enter Animesuki, one of the biggest and most successful anime-focused sites and communities of the mid-2000s. I was still in a pretty bad way at the time (2007 or so), and could barely leave the house, so having a community of people to talk to about all the shows I’d been watching was a godsend, and helped me through the worst of it.
All in all, since the beginning of my anime adventure, I’ve watched… wait for it… somewhere between 400-500 different shows. A decade is a long time when you have nothing much to do except feel like shit every day. Now, some of those are shorter works, 1-5 episode OVAs, or 12-13 episode half-seasons, and the like. But a huge number of them were 26 or even 52 (and in some cases, like Bleach, 200+ episodes). It’s pretty crazy, when I look back and realise I’ve watched that many shows. Maybe one day I’ll go through MAL or ANN and make a list.
If you’ve ever read any of my own fiction (top menu, nudge-nudge, wink-wink), you’ll know I have a huge fondness for Japan and Japanese media such as anime, idols, magical girls, and so on, and frequently incorporate those things into my own work. Well… now you know why.
So as I said at the start, no, this isn’t hyperbole. If not for anime’s positive impact on my life during that stressful decade, I seriously might not be here now. And even if I was still here, I probably wouldn’t be writing. Because anime, specifically a wonderful idol show I got into around 2012 called Aikatsu!, is also the reason I became a writer. Without it, I probably never would’ve got started, and wouldn’t be writing my own fiction now.
I can’t thank Japan and their various crazy ideas for what constitutes good storytelling enough. Thank you, Japan, and please stay crazy.
Lily Lancaster writes mostly lesbian fiction in sci-fi and fantasy flavours, but she also spends far too much time talking about anime, games, life, and anything else she fancies. Sometimes she manages to actually write a book or two.