By nature, I have a decent memory — I don’t have many difficulties in tracing back elements of my personality to their beginnings, or recalling how I came to acquire a certain taste. This talent or skill, however you want to consider it, isn’t always that blissful, nor does it endow me with any profitable side-effects like card-counting, for example. At most, it’s an untrained inheritance forever stuck in some sort of neurological adolescence, able to remind me in great texture and scent of an awkward instance, but unable to cope with recalling a practical set of instructions, say, balancing equations — something I pained myself with trying to memorize just recently.
In that vein, I’m unable to forget a particularly awkward year in my existence, quite a while back when I was only just starting to learn the dance moves of actual adulthood, yet while being young and stupid enough to still believe that I could make anything work, and that sheer will and perseverance would always win the day. Not to say those ideals are entirely untrue, but let’s just say that now I more successfully offset a latent pessimism with a classier, quieter endurance, I keep my head down when it’s probably wise to do so, listen to slightly more agreeable music, and definitely wear better clothing.
Looking back, the contrast [of my interests] to the masculine cool of Joey’s erstwhile time-killing activities is stark enough to warrant sunscreen
Anyhow, in this year from hell, I decided I was suddenly into anime, a genre I’d blatantly chosen to reject ever since trying Speed Racer as a kid and not liking it much. And, not content with just choosing a pastime about as socially marginalized as DND playing or painting toy soldiers (that’s a 40 Year Old Virgin reference, by the way), I decided to share this newfound entertainment revelation with all my friends, make anime music videos, and may have contributed to some Wikipedia pages while I was at it. So, let’s just say I was not very stealth in my new obsession.
To wit: I distinctly remember eating pasta at a swanky restaurant in Vancouver with friends, let’s call them Joey and Darla, and responding to the innocuous dinner table query what have you been up to lately with the loaded statement “I’m kind of into anime now,” followed by a lengthily discourse to that effect; oh the embarrassment. Looking back, the contrast to the masculine cool of Joey’s erstwhile time-killing activities is stark enough to warrant sunscreen: he, on the other hand, was rebuilding a Chevy Camaro, but only when not preoccupied with listening to Gorillaz on a vacuum-tube sound system while sampling whiskeys. Classy? Classy.
In retrospect, I kind of wish I could go back in time and give myself an Archie Slap.
Was this year all bad? Large portions, maybe, but not all of it. Perhaps it’s just that my awkward intrigue with anime morphed into things that persist as subtler (better?) echoes in my persona now. For example, I came to realize it wasn’t so much anime I adored as it was the cyberpunk genre in general; I later discovered art site Otaku Gangsta — which I highly recommend — and branched out into a whole new direction of music consumption, courtesy of Basement Jaxx’s many weird anime soundtrack collaborations of the early 2000s. Their 2009 album Scars remains a favorite I replay with a certain nostalgia, and I’m tempted to say they haven’t been able to better it some eight years later.
I take issue with the stereotypical casts … spew[ing] lines scripted by writers … unable to master the difference between epic and melodrama
So if I seemingly regard anime as a blend of weird awkwardness and genuinely creative elements, why did I lose interest in it as a medium? I don’t exactly know. I think it’s a matter of so many series all sharing a variety of ever-recurrent flaws that outweigh redeeming features, and I don’t mean the superficial stuff like poorly re-dubbed dialogue, either. In order of increasing magnification, I take issue with the stereotypical casts which seem reincarnated to populate every series; casts comprised of moping characters on the brink of existential collapse; and characters that spew lines scripted by writers that, despite forty years of contemporary anime to draw upon, still seem unable to master the difference between epic and melodrama. And that’s just one topic — I won’t even go down the rabbit’s hole of plot similarity, mech design, or just odd fixations in general.
That said, there’s a few standouts I still stock in my DVD collection at home, series that despite not seeing action on my screen much anymore, do earn my nod of approval, warts notwithstanding: Appleseed will always hold a special place in my heart, even if it does pale in comparison to both source material Blade Runner and derivative title, Ghost in the Shell. Gunslinger Girl also seems like a tribute of dubious similarity to its (ultimately-better) inspiration, Leon: the Professional, but I’ll keep it on the basis that an Italian-set anime is a standout exception to the genre’s norms — just not the wrist-slittingly intolerable second season. Jormungand, while also suffering from a meh season two, adapts a Lord of War-esque plot involving arms-dealers, and deals with a world-domination scheme the way a TLC reality-TV show might broach the topic. Black Lagoon deftly treads the line of near-fanservice, while being so slyly self-aware of tropes present in Japan and American action series, that it actually results in a pleasantly schlocky experience — akin to a Tarantino treatment of seventies cinema. Last, but not least, Mamoru Oshii’s Sky Crawlers, albeit suffering from very uneven pacing and a predictable storyline, is so depressing it’s beautiful.
So, to quote a 2006 headline from the now defunct magazine Piq, “is anime dead?” I think it is — at least to me. It’s a matter of a particular style being sandwiched between ultimately superior bookends — what came before, and what came after — kind of like an inverted Oreo where the filling isn’t so much what counts. I think (and this is my opinion only) if we could hire writers with different sensibilities, dare I say multi-ethnic, but North American sensibilities, we might actually end up with a fresh take on the genre, one I might be a little more proud of promoting.
On that tangent, it’s interesting to note that this concept has already been tried, in small measures; Black Lagoon creator Rei Hiroe supposedly penned his series in the style of Stephen King and other contemporaries (according to DYKA), and the latest Appleseed, produced by Sony, was written entirely by Marianne Krawczyk of God of War and HBO fame; it’s imperfect, but decently scripted for a change. What of Tarantino? Although as a rule, I find him somewhat flippant to dispense with future plans that don’t quite materialize, he was responsible for starting rumors he might make Kill Bill a trilogy with a belated Vol. 3 in anime form.
Now that’s something I’d watch … and probably not shut up about. For like maybe a week, tops.