Was it Voltron or Robotech that got me into Anime?
It’s a flip of the coin a little here. completely dating myself as a child of the 80s Voltron and Robotech were those cartoons that you watched on weekday afternoons getting home from school or on Saturday mornings.
If you looked back on my toy collection, you would think the answer would be Voltron. I was all about my GoLions set. One the earliest memories of my father (oh yeah this shit just got deep) was of him buying me a small cheap Voltron as a kid. It did not stop there either. I had to beg my mom to buy me this one Voltron that also came with the action figures of the kids who made up the Voltron force.
But in all honesty, I think Robotech is the one that sparked my heart. What I remember of the series in Japan known as Macross, was that it was a Saturday Morning cartoon that came on too early for most kids. Back in the day all the mainstream cartoons started at 8am on Saturday morning, but I was the type to go for the more obscure cartoons that came on before 8am. For a long time I was one of the very few kids who knew what Robotech really was
My love of Robotech would kind of reflect my feeling on anime in general. For me it was something few really knew about and it made me feel like it was mine alone. While all the kids on the block knew Voltron, I knew Robotech.
While Robotech was the beginning, a cartoon called Sabre Riders and the Star Sheriffs was the bigger influence. Never herd of it? Well, like Robotech Sabre Rider was one of those cartoons that you had to wake up real early in the morning to catch, in my case, in came on every weekday morning at 6am
Waking up to that theme song every morning to get ready for school was a pleasure. Also, the art style is quite distinct on this show, with the big eyes and the nose less face. I love to doodled these characters in my notebook.
And now I am hooked, and so begins my…Quest (pun coming up, see if you get it) to seek out cartoons that share this look, like Dragon Warrior. Based on the game, Dragon Warrior 3, Like Robotech and Sabre Rider, I had to get up early in the morning to see this show (Saturday morning at 7am to be precise), and like Sabre Rider, it has a theme song that I loved to open my eyes too.
I remember I once saw an episode of Saturday Night live in which Bill Murray did the opening monologue and mentioned how he like the cartoon Speed Racer, but noticed that it did not look like all the other cartoons that came on Saturday mornings.
This is what I felt like while seeking out these cartoons because while anime may have always been refereed to as that in japan, no one knew that here in the U.S.
Though I did not need an extra reason than the other kids to like Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles, the world famous cartoon that made them super stars started out as a miniseries which was drawn in a similar art style that reminded me of what drew me to Sabre Rider and Dragon Warrior. You can also see the elements of this style in the Transformers cartoon but it comes full steam in the theatrically released movie that happen in 86.
Though I like all cartoons, this style was appealing too me. It was not just the style but what came along with it. Ever so slightly I’d notice that the content of these cartoons was a little more adult. From characters dying on screen, to boobs bouncing plumply.
By the time I was in junior high I got a continuous fix for my needs with Channel 63. It was a local channel that seemed formatted for the Asian population of New York. You may be more familiar with Telemundo, so this was Telemundo for Asians living in New York. Every weekday from 3pm-5pm they showed cartoons from Japan. Using the original dub and Chinese subtitles (I’m guessing), I could not understand a word these characters were saying (It’s disappointing that for three years as I watched these cartoons the only word I seemed to learn was Jump), but I watched it anyway.
This is were I first saw the cartoon Dragon Ball. It does give me great pleasure that what many consider a Mecca of Anime, I knew about four years before it would be dubbed for English television. In fact, when I first saw the cartoon Dragon Ball Z, knowing absolutely no Japanese I assumed that the Z was slang and the cartoon was called Dragon balls.
Does that sound stupid to you? Maybe it is, but anime is like my Hip Hop or my punk rock. There was a time in which those musical genres had no name and as I reminisce over this and get a warm feeling inside because literally I remember a time when anime had no name and this stuff was not easy to come by, I just needed to recognize what I was looking for.
The best part of channel 63 is that I saw these cartoons uncut. the violence was darker, there was nudity (Although “Dragon balls” as I use to call it had too many shots of Son Goku’s penis for my taste), and I could only assumed they curse (but I did not speak the language to know for show)
Trying to turn the other kids in my school onto channel 63, I got schooled when one of the kids introduced me to what would be a staple of anime…Akira. The nail in the coffin. I was not only hooked to anime but as I enter high school, it would be come my obsession.
So me and this other kid, I’ll call him Jamel, cause that’s his name, by high school became old enough to go out into the world and seek out these cartoons. That statement is going to sound strange in a moment.
I’m not exactly sure how this happen but when you say adult content animation, especially when it comes to cartoons from Japan back in the day, despite being more like animation with complex story lines that may be to dark for younger viewers, It can also met porn. Which maybe why back in the mid-90s the best place to buy it was at a porn shop. No Kidding!
Back in those days porn shops had a section up for what was called japanimation. Now, everything in the japanimation section did not constitute porn, yet it was the place to find the most variety of japanimation.
And I know what you’re thinking, how did a high school kid get into a porn shop? Well this is the reason Mayor Rudy Giuliani felt the need to clean up New York.
The first japanimation I brought at the porn shop was street fighter II: movie. A must see for any kid who grew up in the early 90s and the game it was based on hit the candy store on the corner of the block and literally slap every boy in the hood with a hurricane kick. For anyone who seen Street fighter II: movie your thinking why would I need to buy that at a porn shop? Well the cool thing about the porn shop was most of their japanimation was bootleg. I believe the movement was called sub dub(but I’m not sure), which intels some guy in the back of the shop or something who knows just enough Japanese to tell another dude with a machine that can burn letters into the video (Think it’s called a cyron maker but don’t quote me), what the characters are saying so that the customers can at least read the story. I remember as the Japaneses credits role the sub tiles gave a shout out to Rolli G and called some guy name James a bitch ass!
This met I was able to get a copy of Street Fighter II: movie relatively the same time as it hit the streets of Japan, and it was worth it. A cartoon where people got violent killed, curse and the infamous shower scene by the first lady of fighting games, Chung Li. It’s very adult content but not enough to put in a porn shop, but hey, Rolli G knows Japanese and knew they could make money selling 10 dollar VHS tapes to people like me, so he made it happen.
And now I’m watching movies. Fatal Fury was another one based on a fighting game that consist of massive violence and brief nudity from a female charter. Samurai Showdown showed that their was a trend going on. My collection was getting bigger and better, and was made up of nothing by R rated japanimation as was the trend back in the day. From Violence Jack to Fist of the NorthStar. it was about sex and violence.
And Because I was buying this shit from a porn shop, there was a lot of it that leaned a lot more towards the sex than the violence, with interesting films like Adventure kid and legend of the Overfiend that show animated women getting raped by demons with no less than eight dicks (in the future, the internet will come up with a name for this type of hentai ( which means anime porn).
So now by the time Sailor Moon joined Dragon Ball Z on network television all of that was old news to me, but with the success of the Power Rangers, content from japan catered towards children was getting big and people were trying to fill it.
The Sci-fi Channel use to run marathons that showed what they were calling Japanaime (almost there). Hosted by a really hot blonde in a skin tight white jumpsuit, she was like the Elvira of anime as she gave us the low down on how this anime came to be. The only problem with the show is that The Sci-fi channel had to cut out or blurr out all the rated R parts that I already seen on Rolli G’s bootleg years prior.
I should mention that around this time, I met more japanimation freaks who traded me more mild PG-13 stuff that they actual got from small half stores that specialized in Bootleg anime and Kung Fu flicks (And some specialized in games), and considering how close one of these places was to my house, my whole explanation of needing to go to a porn shop to buy these movies is….well….Anyway, I did find out who James was.
My favorite attempt was Toonami, a weekday afternoon cartoon block that consisted of more mature cartoons made in japan and made in america. It brought the Thundercats, which was an amazing cartoon to a new generation, and now I did not have to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch Robotech It had a fresh vibe too it and I liked where the Cartoon Network was going with this.
Then came Pokemon. that does not sound positive. Not that I did not like Pokemon, I did play the games, but I was never really into the show, expect like all good shows of it’s kind, it had a kick ass theme song. However, the popularity of this show guarantee that what we now know as Anime by this point would become something you could sell to American children.
The japanimation that I loved as a horny teenager was being packaged for a PG-13 at best market. I’m not saying that shit like Gundam was not off the charts, but I noticed that a lot of the anime was now looking like Pokemon with Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh!.
But my love of Anime did not weaver. I remember when it became insultingly out of fashion to refer to it as japanimation when every geek who is a die hard fan knows it’s Anime. I must admit I was one of those jerks who shunned the name japanimation. Looking back on it, japanimation is a specific genre on it’s own the represents a place in time when anime did mean Rated R cartoons and was a very underground thing.
The best part about Mainstream Anime is that now I can see it in the movie theaters. At first it was the recently open Mid-town Comics advertisement that the New School for Fashion, that was across the street from it at the time was hosting an anime screening where I saw movies like Dominion Tank Police and wicked city on the big screen. This was my thing during college, and then like me anime graduated, with Ghost in the Shell 2.
Ghost in the shell was an amazing movie, so much so it inspired two brothers to make a movie called The Matrix (itself looks like a live action anime). Ghost in the Shell’s popularity was so staggering that when the sequel came out, it got a limited English subtitled release. Now I was going to see anime all the time at the local theater, Sprited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, all of it was great.
But I must admit, my taste in anime has dwindled. Since the Big Apple Anime Fest stop happening I’ve have become a very very causal watcher. Once in a blue moon something will spark my interest like 2007s Sword of the Stranger (So good!), but I’m not the Otaku (A word I knew about before Dr. Hal Emmerich proclaimed to be one in Metal Gear solid) I use to be.
My room is no longer filled with posters of hot anime girls, or modeled Gundams. My Dragon Ball Z Ts are too tight for my fat ass (But to be honest, I was always a big guy and the authentic imports I got from a shop in Times Square were never designed to fit me). I’m just enough in the mix that I hear young adults who grew up always knowing what Anime is talking about the shit they like and knowing what they are talking about but not really giving a fuck!
Yeah, most kids today see anime everywhere. so many cartoons like the Power puff girls, Teen Titans and The Boondocks add that style to the animation that it’s a part of our society. I wonder how the Japanese feel about anime now belong to everyone?
But my local theater is still good with releasing anime, but these days they mostly release the PG-13 Oscar contenders that everyone would love like The Wind Rises or When Marnie Was There (or basically anime thing that Studio Ghibli makes).
If I’m feeling like taking a trip back to my teenage years, I usually head to YouTube were I can find what perfectly fits into the japanimation category. It’s actually quite nice because people usually upload their bad VHS copies which only enhances the experience for me. I always hope to find something I’ve never seen before, but at best I’ll watch something that I may have only seen once or something with a better dub than what Rolli G created (that’s rare).
I pay attention when it comes my way but don’t seek it out generally, so for all I know their might be a resurgence of more rated R anime out their, that might kick my interest back up to full gear.
So that’s my history. From no name to japanimation or Japanime. From strange looking cartoons that came on super early to Bootleg copies so bad some of them had Japanese commercials on them. That was pretty much my history with Anime