In which the Josei waxes nostalgic about the five anime that impacted her the most.
Fellow blogger Foxy Lady Ayame invited me to take part in my first ever “blog carnival,” and I thought it would be a fun way to get involved with the anime blogging community and give everyone a little glimpse into my personal anime history.
The goal of this list isn’t to discuss favorites or “best” series, but to talk about the anime or manga that had the biggest impact on us. I opted to just do anime since I’m notoriously long-winded and these got a little wordy. What surprised me was how varied the impact of these shows was – some of them I listed because of how they affected my involvement with the anime community (both IRL and online), some because of how they affected my own writing, and others because they changed the way I viewed art and fiction in general.
And oh, look, I’m being long-winded again. I’ll stop preamblin’ and get to the list. Hit the jump for the shows that (in roughly chronological order) made me the nerdy, over analyzing lady writer I am today.
Baby’s first anime and baby’s first fandom! I got into Pokemon around the turn of the century (God, that makes me sound old), right as the Internet was really taking off in terms of social media and networking, and Pokemon was my gateway into not just the anime medium, but also fan communities.
And boy, was I dedicated to it. I wrote fanfiction, I joined fan forums/groups, I ran a Team Rocket website, I even discovered my first OTP (Rocketshipping 5eva, y’all). I was in love with the world and the cast, and particularly with the way the series fostered community and encouraged imagination. Pokemon fanfiction was also the first time I’d ever really tried to analyze characters in terms of psychological history and potential future development, which, for all that most of it was pretty terrible (hey, I was twelve), served as excellent writing practice and had a huge impact on the amount of attention I paid to my own characters.
I lost interest in the series about halfway through the Johto League, but I still pop onto Bulbapedia about once every six months just to check in and see what everyone (especially Brock, Gary, and the TRio) has been up to recently. There’s a very special spot in my heart for this show, and I’ll always look back on it with affection.
2. Revolutionary Girl Utena
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a millennial anime blogger who doesn’t put Utena or Evangelion (or both) on their “most influential” list. As much as the Pokemon/DBZ/Sailor Moon boom was responsible for introducing a good portion of our generation to anime, I think these two shows were responsible for introducing our generation to anime as an art form, to imagery and metaphor and thematic resonance, and to how an animated series can be epic and unique and make a statement as much as it can be a form of entertainment.
When I discovered Utena, it was in adaptation limbo – the first cour had been dubbed and released on VHS, but the rest didn’t even have a subbed U.S. release. My friend and I burned through those 13 episodes in a night and needed (seriously, needed) to see the rest, so, well… I’ll spare you the details of our epic quest, but it ended with my friend and I pulling her couch up to her computer desk so we could pop in the fansubbed CD-Rs we’d bought off eBay and stay up all night marathoning the last 26 episodes of the series. “Well’p,” I remember thinking, “This is the nerdy point of no return.” And I was pretty much right.
Every show on this list was “life-changing” to some extent, but Utena is the one I’ve watched the most often, the one I’ve discussed the most with my friends, the one that encouraged me to go online and parse through multiple analyses. I was 13 when I first watched it and didn’t completely understand it (heck, I still don’t), but I loved it for its amazing female protagonist, the depth it gave and sympathy it showed for even its most despicable characters, and its unapologetic weirdness, from cryptic choral numbers to shadow puppet interludes to its ability to shift from tragedy to absurdism in a heartbeat, allowing boxing kangaroos and sad little girls in coffins to coexist, strange and beautiful. This is an ambitious, important series, and there’s a reason it’s still getting talked about nearly 20 years later.
3. Fushigi Yuugi
I’m slightly ashamed to include this show, but I don’t really see how I can’t. It is a deeply flawed series both in terms of technical execution (still frames galore, way too many recap flashbacks) and problematic content (has a show ever used rape as a dramatic device more often than this one did?), and yet despite all of that and the fact that the main character drove me up the wall, I love this series. Always have and probably always will. Pokemon may have been my first fandom but FY has definitely been my longest, inspiring two drafts of an epic fanfic, a mess of fanart, and even a video game translation (no, seriously – I’m currently translating the freaking Suzaku Ibun visual novel, because that is how much I love this stupid franchise).
It’s the side characters that do it for me, really. Chichiri remains my favorite anime character to this day, and I absolutely adore Nuriko (probably the first openly trans* character I ever saw in fiction, actually) and Tasuki. The world too, I suppose – FY introduced me to the idea of high fantasy based on Asian cultures (rather than LotR-esque European ones), which in turn inspired an interest in Chinese history and a desire to read and create more diverse fantasy tales of my own. This was also one of the first works I ever saw/read that (mild spoiler alert) killed off a lot of its characters, which struck me as both brave and realistic, as it had always annoyed me that the good guys survived all these insane dangers simply because they were the good guys. In some ways, FY was the Game of Thrones of my teen years, now that I think about it.
Okay, so yeah, this series really did have a huge impact on me. Plus, FY was probably the first problematic work I ever acknowledged as problematic and still loved anyway. Good practice for my life as a fan, I s’pose.
4. Excel Saga
Or, “How the otaku got her groove back.” Anime had always been a social activity for me, so when my best friend lost interest during our freshman year of high school, I started watching fewer series as well. Then, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years (forever known as “The Summer of Excel”), I spent three more-or-less sleepless July days hanging out with some drama club friends and watching a bunch of anime. We started with films and later moved into the Excel Saga DVDs I’d rented from a local video store.
We fell in love with the ridiculous parodies and goofy gags and spent the rest of the summer meeting up multiple times a week, continuing Excel Saga but also just spending time with one another. It gave us a slew of inside jokes (Option C!) and cemented us into a tight group we jokingly called “The Excel Cult,” kicking off many years of hanging out as well as watching and talking about anime series. Many of us are still close a decade later, in fact. While my memories of Excel Saga itself are now limited mostly to a few running gags (The Great Will of the Macrocosm, the Saga of Pedro) and the speed with which Kotono Mitsuishi delivered her lines, this really is the series that kept me watching anime on into adulthood, and for that it certainly deserves a spot on this list.
5. Haibane Renmei
It feels odd to put this one on the list since I’ve only seen it once and remember very little of the actual plot, but what I do remember is watching this one in early high school and thinking that it was utterly different from any anime I’d seen before. It was a quiet, slow-paced meditation on life, death, and human connections, void of any romantic elements or even a true antagonist, defying my preconceived notions of what fiction was “supposed” to be. I was utterly captivated by the quiet, haunting world and the characters within it.
The tone and imagery have stuck with me, and the OST remains one of my favorites to this day. And, since Haibane Renmei was inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novels (particularly The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), it also served to introduce me to a new author and style of fiction. In some ways I think this show influenced my own writing more than any other anime, and if I ever manage to get published I’ll be pretty much obligated to thank Yoshitoshi Abe and this lovely little story for the impact they had.
Your Booth at the Carnival
As Ayame says on her blog:
‘The impact they had on us’ seeks to pinpoint the anime or even manga titles that aren’t just a mirror of us or even our favorites but to highlight these stories that changed the way we viewed the world.
List and talk about 5-10 anime/manga that have influenced your way of thinking and your actions.
If you’re an anime blogger who wants to get in on the carnival, shoot Ayame a message either through her blog or via Twitter (@FoxyLadyAyame) and let her know!