Oyce (oyceter) wrote,

A personal history of anime and manga (the culture shock side)

I found some of my old sketchbooks a few days ago, and I've been flipping through them nostalgically. I forgot that I used to draw a great deal before... wasn't particularly good at it, but apparently it was just something that I did. Maybe I'll try and do that again, not so much serious drawing or anything, but just trying it out every so often.

It's rather funny. There's a giant chunk in there of Gundam Wing inspired drawings (aka me learning to draw anime by copying artbooks and the like), and now I'm also slightly nostalgic for the days of GWing obsession and first discovering anime.

In the Beginning...

I had watched anime and read manga prior to the discovery of Gundam Wing in junior year of high school, but most of it was Sailor Moon (the season with Sailor Uranus and Neptune, who, btw, were really cool. Esp. Sailor Uranus). I also read a good chunk of the manga while I was getting my braces done, because the dentist's office had them and I wanted to find out what happened with the Sailor Uranus/Pluto/Neptune/Saturn arc.

Of course, this was in Taiwan, so finding oft-read copies of manga in the dentist's office was par for course, as well as the (really bad) Chinese dub of the anime. I also watched a lot of Robotech, dubbed in English, which I didn't know was actually a rather cut version of Macross. Fighter pilots falling in love with the aliens sent to assassinate them is apparently one of those plotlines that will always get me. Who would have thought.

All the guys in my class seemed to be obsessed with Gundam Wing that year, and while I generally don't find giant robot shows that interesting, I asked a few people what it was about, found that they really liked all the political machinations going on and said something about "no clear good or bad side," which really caught my interest. Borrowed the first tape, and ended up being hooked when the lead male character (who is 15, the age of all mecha anime characters, I swear) responds to a birthday invitation by saying "Omae wo korosu (I will kill you)."

Incidentally, that was also the very first Japanese phrase I learned.

I was further hooked when said lead male character was insane enough to try and set his own broken leg, because apparently angsty young teenagers dedicated to being war machines also seemed to be my thing back then.

I got tons of Gundam Wing paraphernelia that year during Christmas, as I was in no way subtle about my new obsession. Of course, it did help that Gundam Wing was sweeping across Taiwan, and pictures and posters and calendars of the pilots were everywhere. Several of my classmates and I all waited desperately for the next tapes to come out, and then began anticipating the movie.

Gundam Wing led to Neon Genesis Evangelion (a very polarizing show, which I love for the whacked out philosophy and biblical allusions and Kabbalism and apocalypse and for turning all mecha show tropes on their head), Neon Genesis Evangelion somehow led to my friend siccing Rurouni Kenshin on me and starting me on my manga craze.

One of our guy friends ended up lending my friend Good Morning Call, a very typical shoujo manga, which started me on shoujo manga. I had read some other bits and pieces of shoujo manga, enough to note the rather strange sibling incest theme (Good Morning Call and Angel Sanctuary). I had also watched the wretched X movie after getting up at 5 in the morning for a badminton competition and promptly had taken a nap after the movie, which was filled with blood-soaked dreams of agony and betrayal, white feathers everywhere. I don't particularly recommend that experience. X the manga was out to vol. 10 by then, and I still somehow think of books 1-10 as a set, just because that was how far it was when I started it.

Even though I ended up buying Rurouni Kenshin because I wanted to drag it with me to college (it was up to 18 vols. by then, and let me tell you, that was a bad idea), I had started reading it with my friend, who had stolen the series from her brother. We would pass the newest volume around after one of us had fortuitously seen and bought it at 7-11 or a bookstore. My friends gave advice as to which manga rental stores had better selection than others, for the series that you might want to read but not eventually buy, and you could basically pick up the latest volume of the most popular series in convenience stores, bookstores, or little mom-and-pop stores on the street. There were manga cafes where you paid by the hour to sit and drink tea and read, manga in waiting rooms and in little restaurants.

I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, mostly because attempting to learn katakana from assorted GWing paraphernelia and learning phrases like "I will kill you" and "Death God (Shinigami)" didn't seem to be particularly applicable to every day situations. Well, at least I hope they aren't.

And that's where I was at when I went to college.

Culture Shock and Confusion

College was in America. I realize this is a bit of a silly statement to make, but while I had intellectually realized that I'd be moving to a different country, albeit one I'd lived in before, eight years is still a long time, particularly when those eight years happen during childhood.

Sorry all people reading this who are really bored by the Third Culture Kid talk by now. It does seem to be rather inseparable from pretty much everything in my life ;).

College in America meant several things, from the anime and manga perspective. The first time I entered the local comic/anime store in town, heads swivelled. It was about as stereotypically a comic book store as you can be, complete with the store owner with the ponytail and a table of Magic going on. I was the only girl there, and the only Asian, for that matter. The anime at that time was all on VHS, most of it dubbed, and all the series were things like Ninja Scroll, Tenchi Muyo, Vampire Hunter D, and many, many other things that I had never heard of. It was very much a specialty store; at this point in time, the only manga you could find in a bookstore was the translated Ghost in the Shell and Akira, and then only in the bigger chains. Note that pretty much all these were geared toward a rather male audience. Not to say that I couldn't enjoy them (though I did actually dislike most of the above), given that I started out in shounen mecha anime and started reading a samurai manga, but, well, it was that all the other things I read as well weren't available.

The most frustrating thing was that every time I mentioned I watched anime (or "Japanese animation" or "Japanimation" back then), I swear, ninety percent of the time, someone would make some stupid crack about animated porn. The other ten percent generally had a puzzled look on their face as to why anyone would ever want to watch cartoons. When I found other anime fans, most of them had a canon that included things like Akira and Ghost in the Shell; for them, I think anime was very much linked with giant apocalyptic sci-fi sagas. I'm sure things would have been much more different had I gone to a college with, say, an actual anime club (*shakes fist at own college*), especially one with a large anime club that had a fansub library and etc. But for most people I knew, it was hard getting fansubs. I mean, that year, I had just heard of Napster, to put things in perspective.

I frequently got very sick of insisting that anime was actually not all pornography and/or graphic violence, and that perhaps the prevalence of such types of anime in the States could be attributed to what was perceived as the market at the time, as opposed to actually composing the bulk of the medium.


I did a two month homestay in Kanazawa, Japan to study Japanese, and my host family was rather amused to learn I was an anime fan. They actually had all of Evangelion stashed somewhere, and my host mom let me borrow their copy of the Nausicaa manga, none of which I could read, since having taken two years of Japanese does not actually mean one can read sci-fi, to my great dismay. I never really talked with my host family that much; it was difficult to maintain anything resembling an intelligent conversation. I do remember several instances of pointing to the Evangelion videos and saying something like "I watched that and liked it."

Some of the longest conversations I had with my host mom happened when she asked me if I had ever watched anything by Miyazaki. I enthusiastically nodded and spouted off a few titles, and we bonded over adoring Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke. I later found that they pretty much had all the Studio Ghibli movies taped off their TV, since I'm guessing they would play every so often. I still remember her sitting down and trying to describe one non-Miyazaki Studio Ghibli film about a guy who wanted to learn how to make violins, and how she loved the characters and their confusion in trying to decide what to do with their lives.

I ended up having conversations like this several times. The students in the homestay program didn't much socialize with other people who weren't in the program, but a few did, and I ended up going out to dinner with several of the homestay kids and several Japanese women who wanted to practice their English. I can't remember how it happened, but in a little Italian restaurant in Kanazawa, someone mentioned that a few of us liked anime. The women's faces lit up. "Have you seen anything by Miyazaki?" one asked, and several of us nodded enthusiastically. I broke off and tried to make conversation with one.

Obviously, this is a personal history, so I can't say exactly how popular Miyazaki is in Japan, but in every toy store I was at, there were always Studio Ghibli toys, the most prevalent being Totoros (I soooo wanted a big one). Princess Mononoke was the top-grossing movie of Japan until Titanic knocked it out, but then Spirited Away beat Titanic. I'm not sure how well Howl's Moving Castle did, but I suspect enough people saw it. But he was the common ground (some of the only common ground, it seems) that I shared with people I talked to there, and those women and my host mother all had the same happy, slightly wistful look on their faces when they mentioned his movies.

Miyazaki in Three Countries

Despite announcing his retirement after Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki had a new movie coming out the summer I was in Japan -- Spirited Away. I was very, very excited, as I'm sure everyone can imagine (insert lots of loud squeeing and the mad waving of hands, and you've probably got it right). It was coming out around my birthday, and there were ads everywhere. The studio or someone had made some sort of partnership with NTT DoCoMo (the lead cell phone company at the time) and Lawson's (a popular convenience store) to provide i-Mode kiosks everywhere advertising the fact that you could buy your Spirited Away tickets with your phone. The stuffed animals were already in department stores -- I also desperately wanted a stuffie of the fat purple mouse with the buzzy bird on his head, but alas, Japan is expensive. Posters, TV ads, everything. We all pre-ordered tickets and went when it came out, to a crowded theater. I had no idea what it was going to be about, only that there was a girl with some pigs on the poster, with the caption "At the other side of the tunnel, there is a mysterious town..."

I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but I laughed hysterically everytime the purple mouse was on the screen. All the other people seemed to enjoy it though.

It came out in Taiwan the following winter, when I was on Christmas break, and I dragged my sister to go see it with me again. Both the Chinese sub and dub were showing; most animated movies there are shown with both options, though the sub has fewer screenings. I actually shouldn't call it a sub, since all movies that come out are subtitled, due to dialect differences. There were the same posters, some TV promos. I mentioned it to one of my friend's dad, and he actually knew what I was talking about, and wanted to see it as well.

The second time around, the movie made a whole lot more sense. The Chinese subtitles were very helpful to understanding things, since movies with twins are very confusing for someone who doesn't really speak the language!

I had to wait another year before the movie came out in America, and when it came out here, it was first a limited release, after playing to good reviews in several film festivals. It was only on one screen in the local AMC, without many showings, and needless to say, it was there as a dub. There weren't all that many people in the theater, probably because we went to a night showing and the kids who went probably would have gone earlier in the day. It was just so different from how it felt in Taiwan and Japan, where the movie was a major release. Here, it was an art film, not something really promoted to the general audience.

I watched with glee as it won the first Best Animated Oscar, beating Lilo and Stitch and Ice Age, instead of working on my thesis.

Things Change

When I was doing research for my thesis, I dug out some old newspaper and magazine articles on anime and manga in the US, to frame the general climate most English anime and manga scholarship was written in. The trend wasn't surprising to me -- there were many articles on the shocking nature of anime and manga, emphasizing the strangeness of using animation, generally thought of as a medium for children, to portray sex and violence. Several articles were on the manga industry in Japan, and while there were mentions of the broad array of subjects that anime and manga could cover, the author inevitably reverted to the "But it's animated sex and violence!" theme. Around 1999, things had started to change a little, with the Pokemon phenomenon reaching the general audience and with Princess Mononoke winning critical acclaim. There weren't that many other articles published; the bulk that I found were written around the Pokemon/Princess Mononoke timeframe, since that was when everyone started to sit up and notice these things.

I wish I could update my thesis now -- I still have an issue of Publisher's Weekly sitting here unread, completely dedicated to the manga phenomenon. People are taking notice because manga is selling, and even more people are taking notice because manga is luring the traditionally all-too-rare female audience into comic books. I don't know when Cartoon Network started playing anime on Adult Swim and created Toonami, but that was when I was in college as well. I still remember going to Borders my senior year to check out how many bookshelves were dedicated to manga; that year, I counted two, compared to the one shelf graphic novels occupied.

Nowadays, when I make my Borders runs, there's an entire aisle of manga. The prices have been dropping, as well -- one book of manga used to be $15 a few years ago, and the standard is now $10. I've seen a few $8 volumes, and I am personally hoping there will be another price drop soon. When manga first started coming out here, one of the few I could remember was X, and Viz didn't do a particularly good job with the transition. They changed the title to X/1999, the format was larger, the pages were flipped, and they completely changed the cover images. I was rather irked about this, since I liked the original cover images. They were all in black, with a giant colored "X" in front, each a different color. Each book was dedicated to a character, with a small image of the character on the spine, a picture of the character as a tarot card on the inside, and a large image of the character on the back. The small images on the spine would all flow together if the books were shelved together. All the older American covers of X had Kotori on them, I swear. And then for some reason, they decided to give the books strange musical subtitles. Most of the series Viz published were aimed toward the comic book audience -- teenage guys.

TokyoPop started to publish books non-flipped somewhere down the line, and I think they must have stolen a great deal of market share from Viz, because most publishers have picked it up by now. More publishers started entering the market -- CMX (DC Comics) and now Del Rey. Somewhere down the line, they started standardizing the size of the volumes, so the older books ofX look too large. And someone (I'm going to guess it was TokyoPop) started publishing shoujo manga, the manga that was largely written by women for a female audience in Japan. And then, the articles started appearing. Girls were reading comics. People were dying of shock. Ok, I exaggerate.

I am still rather amused about this. I knew the audience for American comics consisted of teenage guys, and even in Taiwan, my classmates would be a little curious when I crept up and asked the guys if I could borrow their comic books. But in my comic book store in Taiwan, there were two whole walls dedicated to shoujo manga, around the same shelf space given over to shounen manga. And people read manga, there were manga rental stores everywhere, and not just people, but women and girls. I don't know how prevalent it was, but it must have been enough economically, because of the equal amount of shelf space, because of all the Sailor Moon merchandise for little girls. And so, when I saw a girl reading the English translation of Mars on the New York subway one day, I smiled to myself, because she could have been a Japanese schoolgirl in Tokyo.

I am also selfishly pleased, because they're finally putting out the same series that I used to read back in Taiwan (took them long enough to translate Kenshin!). I still tend to do a double take when I see series here that I read back in Taiwan. It's strange seeing Kenshin still coming out here when I remember going home for vacation a few years ago and discovering that the final book had finally been published, racing to the convenience store to get it.

And now, people on my friends list are picking it up, and not only are they picking it up, they are reading and watching shoujo. I started an anime club back in college, but my friend and I were the only girls there. I always wanted to show shoujo series to the people there, just to break a little from sci-fi anime, but back then, there wasn't anything out (I couldn't show fansubs). But I have people now who can talk about shoujo manga and anime, who for once aren't watching the giant mecha shows, and it finally feels a little like home again, where I can camp out somewhere and read through the latest book.

coffeeandink also has a post on feminism, manga and anime in the form of a personal history.

Anyone else have their personal anime/manga experiences posted?

Personal history of anime/manga index
Tags: anime, anime: meta, manga, nationality: third culture kid stuff, race/ethnicity/culture: asian-ness, sequential art, sequential art: meta

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