Anime: A Love/Hate Story

sailor-moon-crystal The Sailor Scout Gods (which I guess are just the Roman gods right?) have finally heard my prayers — Sailor Moon is back! A new anime adaptation of the Sailor Moon manga, Sailor Moon Crystal, debuted July 5 online — available for English audiences on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Neon Alley. The return of the Queen of the Magical Girl trope — at least the most recognizable Magical Girl for American audiences — has me thinking about my on-and-off relationship with anime. For the purposes of this post, by anime, I mean anime TV series — episodic Japanese animated shows as opposed to films.

For most of my elementary days, my after school ritual was pretty much set into stone — Pokemon at 3, Card Captors at 3:30 (until it was replaced by the inferior Yu Gi Oh which I still begrudgingly watched), Sailor Moon at 4, Dragonball Z at 4:30, and homework during the commercials. I was hooked — the fantastical adventures, the cute creatures, and the heartwarming friendships were more entertaining and complex than most Western children’s television. Inuyasha-The-Final-Act-inuyasha-the-final-act-10531089-1280-720 Then I was old enough to stay up late to watch InuYasha and The Big O on the weekend. That’s when the paradigm shift occurred. I officially loved anime or at least almost all of the anime available to an eleven-year-old American girl in the early 2000s.

The older I got, the more anime I discovered. The more anime I discovered, the more I marvelled at the stories shared in those series. The more I marveled at the stories, the more perplexed I became at just what exactly those stories included. There are certain tropes I chalk up to cultural differences — demons, Japanese school systems, preoccupation on apocalyptic imagery — but some are more difficult to explain away.

What’s up with the super short skirts on practically every female student character?

If there are Caucasian and Asian characters, where are the other characters of color (that don’t look and act like racist stereotypes)?

Are unwarranted sexual advances really all that funny? Must series endings always be so ambiguous that they’re opaque? (Lookin’ at you, The Big O.) As a result of my frustrations, I stopped actively watching anime shows for several years. Every so often, I’d watch some old school Sailor Moon or even the saccharine-yet-addicting Fruits Basket. But I could never really get over my qualms with certain recurring features in the medium. Observing popular anime series from afar, I expected Fullmetal Alchemist to be a kiddie faux European Pokemon knockoff, Death Note to be an emo teen melodrama, and Hetalia to be…well, to be frank, I thought it was hentai.

The premiere of Sailor Moon Crystal — and my younger cousin’s insistence that I watch Fullmetal Alchemist — inspired me to give anime another try. I can’t condemn a broad medium from problematic genre tropes, after all.

Re-exploring the genre has opened my eyes for now I recognize how vast and diverse anime really is. Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are anything but a Pokemon knockoff — they’re both heartfelt, action-packed series that are screaming for a Game of Thrones-style live adaptation. Death Note is a taut thriller and masterclass in creating an engrossing protagonist that is by no means a “good guy.” Hetalia…I still don’t really “get” Hetalia but it makes me laugh (and it’s not porn)!

Do I still have strong criticisms and aversions for certain aspects of the anime series I watch? Absolutely. That being said, when do I not have strong criticisms and aversions for certain aspects of any series that I watch? For instance, shows like Oreimo still freak me out and not in the same way as the Titans of Attack on Titan.

Next on my Re-discovering the Anime Medium List are Cowboy Bebop (I know, I know! I still haven’t seen it. Sorry!), Spice and Wolf (the economics lesson anime), and Saint Young Men (sacrilegious comedy is my favorite comedy). Now if you’ll excuse, I’m going to binge-watch the English dub of InuYasha: The Final Act I just discovered on Hulu and squee/cry like the flip-flopping fangirl I am.

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41 thoughts on “Anime: A Love/Hate Story

  1. As a lifelong anime fan (and someone who is as excited about Sailor Moon Crystal as every other Moonie out there), I’m glad you rediscovered a love of anime. Yeah, I have problems with some of the tropes as well (especially some that seem to degrade women into sex objects), but they often deal with some really complex subjects and tell tales as complicated and emotional as the best American dramas. In fact, anime has been a huge influence on my writing style, and it shows.

    By the way, can I recommend a few anime? Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is one of the best anime I’ve ever seen, and Michiko & Hatchin features characters that are neither Asian or European without being too stereotypical. And if you really want a heart wrenching anime, check out Gunslinger Girl and its sequel, Il Treatino. Still can’t think of that anime without wanting to cry and thinking of the lessons it taught me about what it means to be human. Hope you get the chance to check out some of these and hope you like them too.

  2. It’s the endings, or lack thereof, that always ruin the experience for me. For 26 episodes (give or take) I’m fully engrossed and sitting on the edge of my seat to see how it all gets resolved, only to… to nothing, because there is no ending, there is no resolution, there is no satisfaction. Ultimately, this made me give up on anime.
    But, you will enjoy Cowboy Bebop, and as Rami Ungar suggested Gunslinger Girl and Il Treatino are definitely worth watching. I’d also recommend Witch Hunter Robin, and Noir – which are both strong series with female leads without the short skirts (for the most part) and inane banter. Trigun (if you haven’t watched it) is far and away my favorite series…. I could go on, but that seems like enough to keep you busy for awhile.
    Happy viewing!

  3. I know what you mean. I liked pokemon as an English child then I lived abroad and got into Dragon ball z for a bit, then came lots of anime as its on YouTube. I dip in and out of it all the time.

  4. The worst part is when a friend walks in and even though every seen before had some beautiful or action packed seen they choose then to flip a girls skirt up.

    You really just have to take the good, the story or characters, and blatantly ignore the rest.

  5. I love anime for the stories that only anime can tell, the depth of discussion into humanity and the human experience it portrays is often unparralleled in regular cinema or live action

  6. I also watched Bleach. I cried when the series ended, or did? There are some speculations that it hasn’t but no new episode for well over a year and then some means it’s nixed. I’m 30 and watch anime. I’m really not a fan of American TV. I practically live and breath all things Korean and Japanese.

  7. I completely agree with what you said about the endings. I must sadly admit I only watch shojo anime and therefore am not a true fan, but all the anime I have watched literally had NO endings. Kare Kano was the worst while Ouran High School was a close second. And I also agree with your criticisms. What’s with the super short skirts and boys trying to peek through them?

    Now that my rant is over, I’d like to recommend an anime. If you like magical girls, definitely check out Madoka Magica. Only anime with an ending! (albeit dark and sad…)

  8. I agree with both my love of anime and disappointment in many of the female characters. It’s not only the short skirts and ridiculous amounts of cleavage but also the way many times females are portrayed as the weaker and lesser sex.

    It seems to be a thing with the genre though as American comics do very much the same thing with their female super heroes in over sexualizing them. I understand it…sex sells and these things are usually geared towards teenage boys but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    As far as recommendations, if you liked Death Note you should watch the live action movies of it…they changed the ending and I found it to be much better. FMA is by far my favorite. Another good one is Samurai 7, which is an anime based on Akira Kurasawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai.

  9. I think in order to enjoy anime we have to turn off certain mental flags that pop up on the “that’s just wrong” level. If you can do that then you can easily enjoy all the wonderful aspects of the anime.

  10. Omg I watched the same schedule of shows, but I never really watched YuGiOh because my sister wasn’t a fan and we didn’t watch shows she didn’t like xD I am so excited to hear about the new sailor moon ;-; and here I was sitting thinking how much i didn’t like hulu because of the commercials ❤

  11. You go, girl. I’m in the exact same boat. I just recently got back to my original roots by re-watching Yu Yu Hakusho in its entirety, and it’s making me love anime all over again.

  12. My sister has a friend who will tell her what series to watch based on the amount of… more interesting content. I’ve really enjoyed Azumanga Daioh for all it’s ridiculousness and fun.

  13. I haven’t watched much anime lately, either, but there’s some awesome stuff out there. The two Ghost in the Shell films, and most of Miyazaki’s work are probably my favorites. Series-wise I liked Cowboy Bebop but I never saw much else. I remember Ninja Scroll being a fantastic movie, though not at all child-friendly. I’m not sure about Sailor Moon. I’ve heard good things from some reliable sources, but you never know if you’ll love a work of art until you’ve seen it face-to-face.

  14. Great read! I grew up with the Americanized Gatchuman, “Battle of the Planets”. Recently I’ve been watching Rama 1 1/2. Thanks for opening up some other titles

  15. Try to watch The Prince of Tennis, Tsubasa Resevoir Chronicle and Conan Mentei..try to read Alice Gakuen ( I don’t know if Alice Gakuen has its anime version or not)

  16. I am an absolutely HUGE fan of Attack on Titan. My husband is very big on anime and this was my first true addiction outside of Pokemon. You’ve mentioned a bunch of titles in here that i’m definitely about to google!

  17. Why has no one mentioned Samurai Champloo?!? It is way up on the top 5 best anime ever: Death Note, Code Geas, Cowboy Beebop, Hunter X Hunetr and Samurai Champloo. Go watch and you will never be the same 🙂

  18. I like that you created a much needed discussion about what you love and do NOT love about anime. The more conversations on this topic might gain the attention of the anime creators of their emerging female market and the guys who are also weirded out by what’s being put out there. Great article!

  19. I share some of your thoughts on Anime. Especially the “fan service.” Thanks for the read and memories of my days growing up with this pop culture phenomenon reaching the U.S. in the 90’s! You will love Cowboy Bebop! I also have to suggest FLCL if you haven’t seen it. The music is just perfect for every scene and addicting!

  20. If you have Netflix, I’d suggest watching Princess Jellyfish. It’s about a group of nerdy women (and a politician’s bastard son who cross-dresses) who band together to save their home from gentrification.

  21. I can relate so much. Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and such were the best things ever when I was a kid. Now though, I’m dipping in and out. Though I can say that ‘Attack on Titan’ is a brilliant series! 😀

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