Merujo sent me five interview questions. Here are my responses:
1. What do you love about anime? What recommendations would you make for an anime newbie as the best of the genre?
I originally got into anime because it, like other products of Japan, could tell me something about the culture. It was actually my brother AJ who was first interested in anime; I remember being kind of “meh” about it. I had seen and enjoyed Akira on the Sci-Fi Channel, but I didn’t pursue an interest in anime, didn’t go to Blockbuster and rent various titles like AJ did.
But I randomly took a Japanese culture class in college, and that really piqued my interest in Japanese history and society. There was a girl in my class who brought in a huge book of manga and explained the anime/manga phenomenon, and I remember feeling a little snobby towards her, like there was something wrong with her because she was interested in that.
But as time went on and I took more classes, both language and culture, and my professors actually used manga and anime to help them get their ideas across and to share the culture with me, I started to have a greater appreciation for it. I joined AMUK–Anime/Manga of the University of Kentucky. It was there that I first saw shows like Please Save My Earth and Yawara.
After awhile I stopped going to the meetings, but I was always grateful for the windows into Japanese culture that the club offered me.
(AMUK is now defunct. After some drama, the newer members took over, kicked the old-school members off the listserv, and renamed the club “UK Anime”. As an observer, I don’t know the whole story, but it seemed like a good move to me. People who weren’t even at UK anymore were trying to have a say in the club, which seemed a little backwards, in my opinion.)
I continued my research into the anime/manga phenomenon online. It was then that I discovered the world of fansubbing, which opened up a million opportunities for me to see anime. By this time I was pursuing a Japan Studies minor and had been to Japan on a six week trip (and AJ’s own interest in anime had flagged). Anime was the most convenient–and, I’ll admit, the easiest–way for me to keep a flood of Japanese culture coming into my life. After I graduated, this became even more important, because I had moved to another city and was no longer surrounded by Japan resources. (I never realized how many Japanese people lived in and around Lexington, Kentucky until I moved.)
So in a way, asking me what I like about anime is like asking me what I like about Japanese culture. And it’s hard to describe. I think part of it, honestly, is an interest in seeing US culture refracted in the lens of a culture that existed long before the US. Here is a land with so much history, so many things that are incomprehensible without detailed study, and yet English (in derivative forms) is everywhere, US music and movies abound, and certain ways of doing things are obvious imports.
But as you keep going, you realize it’s not just the US. Japan imports, and often improves, facets of every culture it comes in contact with. It is just fascinating to see. As a linguistics major, I studied how languages interact and change one another and evolve over time. Linguistics is just one branch of anthropology, which is the main lens through which I like to observe the world. I’m always wondering where certain traditions came from, why people dress a certain way, where a certain way of thinking came from.
In a way, Japan is an extreme cultural melting pot, and that is fascinating to me.
But there are inaccessible things about Japan, things that have been a part of the culture for so long that it’s not easy to trace their roots. Things that, as an outsider, mean there are always surprises, no matter how much you think you understand.
Japan is inaccessible in many ways, and I think that makes it attractive as well. Even as you are invited in with open arms, there are so many closed doors.
So I enjoy watching anime partly because it was not made for me. I like trying to understand why it was made the way it was, and what it says about the people who wrote it. I use it as a means of better understanding the culture and practicing my comprehension of the language.
I especially enjoy high school comedies and dramas because they are abundant…because this idea of “seishun”, youth, is such a driving force. High school is so important that people around the country watch the national high school baseball tournament, which takes place at the largest and most famous stadium in Japan, Koushien Stadium
in Osaka [Koushien is not actually in Osaka]. One of my all-time favorite anime, Touch, centers around three high schoolers as their baseball team tries to make it to Koushien.
What’s intriguing is that Japan is not unaware of how it idealizes the high school experience. There was one short series whose name escapes me that dealt with life for a group of friends after high school. There was a love triangle, of course: two girls loved the same guy. One of the girls had been a brilliant swimmer in high school and looked to be on her way to being a professional swimmer. She loved the guy, but was best friends with the other, quieter girl who loved him, and so she cheered the two of them on and kept her feelings to herself. One day the quiet girl was waiting for the guy to show up for their date and she was hit by a car. This left her in a coma.
The story starts with everyone around 20. The guy is in college and working part time, and the swimmer girl has become an office worker. They have ended up dating each other, but aren’t happy about it because the other girl is still alive, albeit in the coma. A feeling of unfinished business permeates the story, until finally the girl comes out of the coma and everyone’s feelings are resolved.
What struck me most about this, beyond the thoughtful exploration of how people would respond to such horrible circumstances, was how small life seemed to be after high school for all of them. All they had to look forward to was work, and perhaps the comfort of each other. It wasn’t like school where their opportunities seemed limitless. It was interesting to see this actually shown, and striking to me that I haven’t seen it very often.
This gets to why I started enjoying anime beyond a tool to help me learn about Japanese culture. The stories are so rich. There are series that are nothing but fluff, obviously, and those have their place, and can be really fun. What I realized, though, was that anime was simply another medium for storytelling, and there were plenty of really good stories being told.
The reason I love Touch, for example, is not because it is so revealing about Japan’s love of high school and/or baseball, but because it has enduring, believable characters who all grow and change as they deal with both normal and extreme events in their lives. Something happens in this show that you will rarely see in a US series, but I won’t tell you what it is because I want you to watch it!
As far as recommendations…
There are just as many genres of anime as you would find in any other storytelling medium. Maybe more, since Japan likes to categorize things to the extreme. I have found myself drawn to the “sports” genre, which is essentially a story where the main character works and gets better at something, competing with a broad cast of various personalities and going through tests of skill. As you can guess, an actual sport is typically involved, but this can also cover things like board games, or fighting, or magic.
I also love the “high school comedy/romance” genre. The “mecha” genre, which involves giant robots that are piloted by people, can be good if done well. But as you’ll see below, I don’t trap myself within any genre. If the characters are real and the story is compelling, I’ll even watch an anime about, say, baking bread!
I can’t expect that everyone in the world is as obsessed with learning about Japanese culture as I am, so there are some series that are brilliant but might not quite work as “gateway” anime. Too many jokes that don’t make sense, etc. So with that in mind, here’s what I would recommend:
1) Cowboy Bebop
This show takes place in the future and spans the solar system. There are interesting projections of various cultures into a radically different world from the one we live in. I think this makes it pretty accessible, because it’s familiar and foreign at the same time, but you don’t have to know anything about the universe before you start.
The story centers around a group of people who are forced through various circumstances to come together and become bounty hunters. Each has his or her own issues to deal with that affect the lives of the others.
Plus there’s music by one of the greatest, most versatile composers in the world, Yoko Kanno, and the art and animation are stunning.
It’s just 26 episodes long–that’s a standard series length, though variations include 13, 12, and 24. There are other series that run far longer.
This series is licensed in the US, so you can Netflix it or buy it at the store or online.
If you’re not into reading subtitles, the dub isn’t bad.
2) Detective Conan (Case Closed)
If you like detective stories, including murder mysteries, and can handle the weirdness of having a group of elementary school kids who occasionally solve them, then that’s all you need to enjoy this show. Heartwarming and hilarious, it’s got a main character who might need to be taken down a peg or two–and boy, is he ever!
The main plot of the series is that high school detective Kudou Shin’ichi (Jimmy Kudo in the dub) is force-fed a pill that shrinks his body so it looks like that of a child. He spends his time solving mysteries as Edogawa Conan (this is a Sherlock Holmes in-joke name) and trying to find the crime syndicate that did it to him.
At first the plot centers around Conan, his love interest Ran, her father Mouri Kogoro, and the aforementioned group of junior detectives. As the show continues, more characters are introduced, each with their own issues that may or may not have anything to do with Conan’s.
The characters end up visiting many cultural spots in Japan throughout the series. Some episodes are hour-long or two-hour-long specials that often involve a discussion of Japanese history/legend. So in this way the series is good for learning more about Japan. But someone uninterested in this might find these episodes rather dull.
Another thing is that while it is possible to guess who the criminal is, most of the murders are absolutely ridiculous. For me that’s part of the fun, but someone who is an avid mystery fan might find that annoying.
The show’s been running in Japan since 1996! But the episodes are slowly coming out on DVD here in the US, under the name Case Closed, and you can get them at Amazon.
As I mentioned previously, the dub for this show is amazing. It’s not a literal translation, and they did add some jokes of their own, but the general feeling of the show and who the characters are absolutely comes through, which is what I want from any translation.
You’ll want to keep in mind that names are changed, both character names and place names. So Mt. Fuji is called Mt. Fincher, or something.
The previous two series I’ve recommended are both licensed in the US and pretty much universally appealing. Touch is neither.
It isn’t licensed, so you won’t be able to rent or buy it anywhere. And it’s a story about Japanese high schoolers and baseball…so it might not engage you if you’re not interested in those things.
But it has some of the best character development I have ever seen in any series, anime or not. This show made me want to learn about baseball! If good storytelling floats your boat, do not pass this series up.
The tale centers around Uesugi Tatsuya, his twin brother Kazuya, and their next-door neighbor and childhood friend, Asakura Minami. Tatsuya is naturally gifted at many things, but doesn’t try hard at anything. Kazuya has some talent, but has had to work very hard to become the brilliant pitcher that he is.
The main conflicts/crises are how the brothers feel about each other, how they feel about Minami, and what all three of them are going to do with their lives.
There are 101 episodes in this series. There are also some movies, but I haven’t seen them and don’t plan to. The series stands on its own; the movies are, as far as I can tell, rehashes. (Even the one that takes place after the series just seems to cover old ground instead of doing anything new.)
This is another one in the amazing character development department. It’s ongoing and just started last year. It hasn’t been licensed, so there’s nowhere to buy it with subtitles/dubbing. (You can buy the movie, which only covers part of the story, and the manga, which is where the story originated.)
This is the story of two girls with the same name. They meet coincidentally on a train and become friends. At first their lives are completely different, but then they grow together. And then complications arise…
It’s a brilliant exploration of the relationships between women and other women and women and men and what people expect out of life versus what they actually get. I can’t say enough about this series. I eagerly await each episode.
5) Rose of Versailles
As you might guess, this is historical fiction based in France. It begins a bit before the French Revolution. The main character is a fictional Royal Guard named Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes…who is a woman who was raised as a man.
I love that.
You might also guess that this story ends tragically, and you’d be right. But it is brilliantly done. It presents Marie Antoinette from a more sympathetic perspective, but still manages to show how how she fell from glory and ultimately ruined her country.
This 41-episode series is not licensed. It was made in the 70s, and that leads me to wonder if it ever will be. Manly women don’t seem to sell in the US anime market. (We love us some girly men, though; see below!)
6) Kyou Kara Maou!
Once you’ve gotten through the anime above, you might want to try this one, which happens to be my all-time favorite. It’s often quirky and silly, yet it also deals with themes of prejudice and war. I think the real reason it appeals to me is that the main character has such strength and such a sense of honor and justice. He seems naive, but the truth is he makes an active choice to believe in people. And in this series, that approach to life has some amazing results.
So this show speaks to my eternal optimism :)
The basic premise is a Japanese high schooler named Yuuri (who happens to love baseball) gets flushed down a toilet (I told you it was silly) and into another dimension, where he is told that he’s the king of the demons.
There are some funny cultural things, like how they eat with sporks in the Demon Kingdom, and how hardly anyone has black eyes and black hair (this is cute because the opposite is true in Japan), and how when Yuuri first arrives one of the demons calls him a “foreigner”. What a role-reversal for a Japanese person!
By the way, demons in this series look like humans, only they are typically flashier, with more varied hair colors. There are other things about them that get revealed as the series goes on. But basically, the main difference between them and regular people is that they have natural magic from making a pact with the elements, while humans have to pray (to something undefined in the series) whenever they want to do magic. Human magic is weaker and contrived, which has caused resentment and fear between the two groups. Now the demons all live in their own country, and many of them despise humans as stupid, lesser beings.
The characters are great. My favorite after Yuuri is Adelbert–I can’t explain why without discussing his plot in detail, but suffice it to say he gets a lot of character development. Then there’s Conrad, who is simply fabulous.
One thing you have to understand is that this series is made to appeal to people who like looking at handsome/pretty men. There are many homosexual overtones. There also aren’t a whole lot of female characters, and most of the ones who do exist have really weird personalities. I think this is a lot of fun, but it might be off-putting to others.
Other than those, I definitely recommend Hikaru no Go (“sports” anime about playing the board game go), Initial D (“sports” anime about illegally street racing cars on twisting mountain roads), Vision of Escaflowne (fantasy in which a girl with prophetic powers is transported to a dimension where people fight inside giant robots), and The Prince of Tennis (an absolutely ridiculous “sports” genre anime about playing tennis, with extreme special effects. The characters are fabulous).
2. Let’s say you just won a tidy sum on a scratch-off ticket and you have two weeks of vacation time to burn. Where are you headed and what will you do/buy?
My answers to questions about what I would do with a million dollars always involve traveling around the world, experiencing as many different places as possible. (My way of experiencing places is usually going to restaurants, wandering the streets, going to performances like plays, operas, or classical music concerts, and visiting museums, by the way…I’m not much of a partier.)
If I only had two weeks and a few thou, though, there are a few places I’d consider.
First, Japan. I’ve been there twice already, but there is so much I have yet to see, and so many bloggers over there I want to meet. My next (non-theoretical) vacation will hopefully involve both.
Then there’s Wales. My dad’s side of the family, the Aubreys, descended from Wales, and I’ve always wanted to see it.
England, of course, because Brooke’s there. I considered visiting back when it was just David there, too, but I’m not an Anglophile or anything.
One thing I have really always wanted to do is take a road trip around the United States, and stop at all those weird tourist attractions along the interstates.
I’d also like to visit all my far-flung friends and family, but that would probably take longer than two weeks.
All of the above assume I have time to plan. If I don’t have time, I might very well chuck the majority of the money in savings, spend some nice time off at home (or perhaps in Kentucky visiting the immediate fam), and then run off to the beach. I’m not the type to “lay out”, but I love playing in the waves, and beach culture fascinates me. Plus seafood is damn good! So I could definitely see myself slipping away to Myrtle Beach or Savannah for a few days.
3. What is your dream profession? Is it really “a dream” or something you are aiming for as a life goal?
I like to joke that my dream profession is “rich man’s wife” ;) Basically, I want to be free to pursue my interests, so my dream job would involve doing that.
The closest thing I’ve found is the job I hold currently: web content manager. I get to find cool things to put on the web or link to, and design things. It’s diverse enough to keep my interest and it involves stuff I do in my free time anyway! Hell, I even take photos for the site sometimes.
But I’m always thinking about what I want to be doing. Part of me still dreams of living in Japan for a few years, so I keep my mind open to possibilities there.
I like the idea of owning my own business, but as my parents own their own and I know a few small business owners, I’m quite aware of the sheer amount of dedication it takes to get anywhere, and the costs involved. I don’t have any product or service that I feel excited enough about to give up my free time and financial security for.
I also like the idea of living off investments. I want to do more research into how I could achieve that, because then I would have plenty of time for travel and learning new things. But so far I haven’t done anything. ;P
4. You have come through a genuine life/health crisis victorious. What advice would you give to anyone facing real adversity like you have?
Be cheerful to everyone around you. Don’t be demanding. Focus on good things in your life. Be appreciative of people’s efforts on your behalf.
There may not be anyone around you who understands what you’re going through. But they’re trying. And this situation is not their fault.
If you’re negative all the time, they won’t want to be around you and will stop helping you, and loneliness is one of the hardest things when you’re already dealing with so much. Having people near you will help you stay positive.
That said, let yourself be angry. Cry. Express yourself when you need to. Let the emotions roll through you until you’re exhausted…and then move past them.
Dedicate yourself to something tangible. Work hard. I spent my time in the hospital learning web design. You never know how what you focus your attention on in the hard times might affect your future–now my career is all about the web.
That’s really it. All you can do is decide to beat it, whatever it is, and then do it. You have to somehow accept that you can’t control what’s happening. You can only endure. You can control your own reactions. You can decide to drive people away or draw them to you. You can keep moving forward in your life, or you can stop everything and feel sorry for yourself and accomplish nothing. No one can take those decisions away from you.
Merujo, the face you show to us on your blog is the face I tried to show. You are suffering, and you share that pain when it gets to the breaking point, but you come back later with a joke, and you keep moving forward. You’re not letting it beat you. It’s hard, especially with no end in sight…but you have to keep it up. You can win. And you will.
5. Chocolate: evil device of Satan or one of the best things in the world?
Whoa, okay, that’s a total 180 question :)
I would have to say: both. ;)
Seriously, at this point, I don’t find chocolate anywhere near as much of a threat to my health as I do the fast food I eat regularly for lunch and dinner. There was a time when I ate a candy bar every day, but I haven’t done that in a long time. I think chocolate is just like anything else in this world: good in moderation, bad if you let it control you.
Would you like to be interviewed? If you want me to send you a set of five questions to ponder and answer, follow the directions below:
1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.” (And make sure I have your e-mail addy so I can zap you the questions!)
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions. I get to pick them, and you have to answer them all.
3. You will update your blog (or comment here if you don’t have a blog) with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
If anybody else wants to interview me, use the comment form here to send me questions :) I’m all about stuff like this (as you well know).