Hey there! I’ve noticed we haven’t really touched upon this, which I thought it was odd because anime was perhaps one of the most accessible geekiest things of my childhood. We had cable TV in my home and through Cartoon Network, FoxKids, and eventually Buzz, the vast majority of the cartoons I used to watch, were anime!
I think one of the very first shows I followed through was Sailor Moon…My mum really liked it; she had the mangas and everything. Sailor Moon was super popular in Spain during the 1990s, probably even more than Dragon Ball, or Dragon Ball Z. They used to air on public TV: Sailor Moon at lunch time, and DB/DBZ after school. As I got slightly older, around 8/9 years old, I remember the Pokemon and Digimon mania took over. Yet, I was more fond of the less watched shows such as Medabots and Monster Rancher which I used to watch before bed. Shortly after arrived YuGiOh, and Dragon Ball GT – of which I am actually very fond of because Trunks is awesome in any way shape or form. (If the order of these series doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, please do bear in mind that TV in Spain was seriously behind the rest of Europe/the world, and sometimes we got hold of shows that were a decade old…). Then, in the early 2000s, something amazing happened.
We were watching MTV one day, and saw this anime teaser for a series called Excel Saga. It was like nothing I had seen before. So we hooked up – the entire family. Excel Saga soon became (up to this day) one of my Favourite Animes Ever. The degree of silly, the self-reference, meta language and narrative, all the internal jokes, it was a show taking the piss out of anime itself but doing it in style. I LOVED how straight up crazy Excel was, and how irremediably useless she could be at stages! And Hyatt with her supposed tuberculosis passing out every now and then, Menchi the emergency food cat, Lord Ill Palazzo being sssooo cool and detached…Just great. But probably one of my favourite parts was Pedro taken away from his beautiful wife and son, hooking up with The Great Will of the Macrocos…Nabeshin who was the incredible badass with the ridiculous afro, and the Puchu! What was going on there! It was completely bonkers. And that really changed my perception of anime, because, although it was utterly mad, there was a deep, intricate, yet finite story developed for Excel and friends, which I had never before engaged with in the genre.
A few years later Cartoon Network started showing BOBOBO-BO, BOBO-BO, another anime parody, of this fighter by the power of nasal hair. With equally ridiculous characters, the difference between Excel and BOBOBO was that Excel had a sense of sarcasm and criticism of anime/manga culture which the latter lacked (at least to a degree). I mean, BOBOBO was just a straight up comedy, where there was really no plot, just random dialogue, some epic but seriously deranged fight scenes, as well as utterly dorky but adorable characters such as DonPatch or Jelly Jiggler…literally a walking, talking big fat slice of blue jelly…What you want from me?! Another funny series that Cartoon Network used to air, that was also an all time family favourite, ( my sister being older and more aware of TV) was Sgt. Frog – a squad of alien frogs: Keroro, Giroro, Tamama, Kururu and Dororo, who had been sent to Earth and took to try conquer the planet, but for the life of them could not. So meantime they live with the Hinata family. Sgt. Frog was funny because it was actually very well written, with a coherent internal dialogue and a very good characterisation – frog or not – which incorporated familiar aspects of other anime, but with a slight different approach to Japanese pop culture. There was no weird multiverse you needed to follow to understand it. Their simple degree of familiarity was sufficient to submerge yourself in the story and bond with the characters. And the best part was that the series broke the fourth wall so often, that it was in many ways like a family/kids friendly Deadpool.
Moving on from my adolescence, as I entered the last stages of high-school and college, my timetable became pretty weird and my TV time turned from lunch time to later afternoon. I acquired control over the TV and got sucked into the world of Buzz, which provided me with access to anime some people I know have not even heard of. Apart from allowing me a serial (and coherent, which is very important) showing of One Piece – which I was more keen to out the late big anime narrative such as Naruto, Bleach – it allowed me to rediscover Inuyasha. I had actually seen bits of it years before. In fact, my mum bought a series of anime films released by MANGA, which featured amongst others Inuyasha. I don’t think I ever managed to immerse myself in the story as devoutly as with some of the other series, but what I loved was the design. I thought the cartoons were far more graceful than in any other show, with a subtlety in colours, nuance in the lines. A careful and meticulous outline sometimes lost in anime due to flashy colours and generic features. It reminded me of another anime I was very fond of when I was little that was very popular in Spain: Slayers (also known and Rina and Gaudi) despite they were nothing alike. I guess in a way, I made up in my mind that Inuyasha was a grown up version of Slayers.
Then we went down the rabbit hole and got into some strange stuff, like Tenjou Tenge – the anime only I have ever seen, or so it seems. This was another fighting school, clan like anime, but with a very dark setting. The three main characters of the story , the Natsume siblings, had some serious psychological problems: social pressures, standards, complicated relationships – the issue of potential incest – a cursed family sword… The secondary characters brought in people from the margins of society: outcasts and even black people who for an anime was unusual (and Bob is a badass btw, sorry Souichiro! ) And the fight scenes were awesome. Period. Right after Tenjou Tenge, some other cool stuff would show such as Grenadier, and Peacemaker, and then the slot for two of my all time favourites: Chobits and GITS. Any anime fan has seen GITS at some point, so no need to go in details. But Chobits was special. I cried a lot. The social commentary on the development of technology and the potential moral issues that AI could bring was performed in a very efficient way. It was not confrontational, or apocalyptic. It allowed you to realise that both good and bad could come out of this, but either way it would have some serious consequences to society, the economy and culture. Add to this the beautiful artistic design, lovable characters, and compelling story arch – I was hooked. But soon a new phenomenon would take over the anime scene, right before as I was getting for university: Death Note. Light Yagami, Ryuk, and L went viral. Everyone wanted to be like L, everyone wanted to “be friends with a Shinigami”. Everyone Wanted A Death Note – I got one. But my fascination with the franchise was from different perspective. Death Note was the most compelling detective anime I had seen since Detective Conan, which I ADORED! However, my anime world will soon come to an end.
With university going on, I found it very hard keeping up to several trillion episodes, and I actually found that most anime were becoming not very entertaining, interesting or lost all novelty. But one grabbed my attention, and marked me, to the point of becoming probably my favourite modern anime to date. Code Geass. No spoilers – although it is likely you have seen it. It just brought together everything I liked: the confined story telling (2 seasons), well fleshed, interesting characters with depth, awesome mechs! (Guren!!), the echoes of historical background and sociopolitical and cultural tensions in Japanese culture. I couldn’t predict the episodes, or the storyline. I cried with the ending. It was a gigantic chess game from the beginning, Lelouch, and I became part of the spectacle.
I have not watched an anime in full in a few years now. I don’t know if I will anytime soon. But if I do, it will be to add another gem to my personal collection of stories that marked my early and teen years, and that will be hard work for those scripting them…