On the Sub vs. Dub Debate

I am passionate about voice acting. I have always admired the work of voice actors both Japanese and Western. And in all of anime fandom there is one battle that is the most contentious and that is the sub vs. dub debate. Now, for those unaware the sub and dub debate is rooted in a simple yet vitally important aspect of watching anime: these shows are a Japanese import and thus have to be translated. Which brings us to how you process that translation from Japanese to English: do you sub it (translate the work and show it with the original Japanese voice acting and subtitle it) or do you dub it (translate the work and dub it over with English voice actors). 

This sounds simple and back in my day, it was fairly easy. Either you had a friend in Japan who was sending you DVDs from Japan or you waited for a company to dub and/or translate the work (manga and/or anime). Companies like Viz, Funimation, Geneon, Sunrise and far too many others have made their entire business by bringing anime and manga to American fans legally (yes, legally). Now, a fun aspect of ye olden days was the glory of the fansub and the fandub. That’s when fans took the act of translation into their own hands and even the voice acting lending their own voices and skills and talents to “expedite” the sometimes long process of bringing a series over from Japan. These translations weren’t always the best and the voice acting wasn’t always the best but hey, we did our best with what we had.

Now, why is there a debate on what really should just be a matter of choice? Well, this is the internet and this is fandom. There must be battle. For purists, sub is the only way to go. There is a group of fans who rather like English dubbing and we are a mostly defensive group because of the honestly, elitism, that comes from a lot of the pro sub community. Now, as far as sub fans go, the series that are translated from Japanese more directly face less censorship which is true and not true. If the property comes in legally from a company like Viz or Funimation even if it is subbed, the series often still faces censorship. Funimation has hilariously edited out parts of Axis Powers Hetalia and far too many other series to list. For many, subbing is the purest essence of anime and honestly, yeah, that’s true in lots of cases. Japanese is a tricky language and so many puns and words and clever uses of language just don’t translate. Devilman Crybaby and Sarazanmai are recent examples that I can think of but my classic example is YuYu Hakusho which was just doing its best with all the Japanese humor and puns. And I get it, there are plenty of bad dubs out there. One of my favorite anime of all time, Gravitation, has one of the worst dubs in human history (it’s my trash pile and I will die here) because this was just not a cast that could handle the complexity of Japanese names or emoting at all. Censorship is a particularly big sticking point because many anime fans grew up during the great 4Kids nonsense of the 90s and early 2000s. For those that do not know, 4Kids was a company that strived to bring anime to the U.S. but make it…well, for kids. A lot of anime is not geared at children or at least not the stuff we wanted to see like Naruto and One Piece were not suitable for delicate American children so 4Kids censored stuff but not with any nuance or delicacy but with a blunt force that practically removed the point for the censorship at all. Remember in Ruroni Kenshin when after a blade slash the whole frame would cut to black? Remember all the bloodless attacks in InuYasha and oh Sanji’s lollipops in One Piece because smoking is the true evil, not his womanizing. Sailor Moon was also famously neutered by 4Kids ruining several lesbian romances and labeling them as cousins or just as friends (a continued issue for CLAMP series like CardCaptors and remaining Sailor Moon seasons). 4Kids, in my opinion, did have a noble mission. As I stated earlier, most of the anime that we wanted to see in the U.S. was not meant for young children and we do not/ did not have the same cultural background or even social contracts that allowed for kids to watch fast kicking blonde men smoke or gallons of blood leave a dead demon. But how it was done was so bad and left such a bad taste in fan’s mouths after we learned what the real show was meant to be (fun fact, I was SHOCKED by how violent InuYasha was when I picked up a DVD copy). But to be fair, without 4Kids, I likely would never have had anime in my bubble. I’m a suburban black kid, Sailor Moon was absolutely something that was important to be and DragonBall was what got me into anime to start. 

But back to sub and dub as really, the politics of bringing anime over from Japan could be a whole other blog post. I fell in love with anime due to the fact that several series at the time were being dubbed into English and I cannot credit that accessibility enough. And even though the 90s had some trash dubs (even though I do have a soft spot for Sanji’s horrible Jersey accent) when I was really coming into anime, we had some of the best and brightest American voice actors and some of the best and most dedicated translation staff imaginable. 

I want to keep this particular part of the post that focuses on the good set during the Golden Age of Anime (2002-2010). This Golden Age was when I came into anime, when I solidified my fandom and had the more reverence for voice acting and dub work. 

It was this Golden Age that made me realize that dubbing and American voice acting was amazing. Fullmetal Alchemist was one of the earliest ones that made me realize the true talent of American voice actors and when a cast is good, it’s damn good (I’m not here to talk about what happened with Dirty Uncle Vic and honestly, yes it does sour some of the show but not enough to make me hate this dub as the true art form that it is) but it really took seeing a sub to appreciate how good dubbing could be. The two examples I have for that are Trigun and Cowboy Bebop, now folks have gushed enough about Bebop and while Steve Blum is amazing and deserves all of the credit he gets for bringing Spike to life I want to focus on Trigun a little more since I don’t see this one talked about as much. Now, Masaya Onasaka does an amazing job as Vash and he goes on to voice one of my favorite anime characters of all time, France in Axis Powers Hetalia, so I’m not dinging his talent but Johnny Yong Bosch does something in this role that’s just amazing. Bosch brings a frantic energy to Vash that just fits this goofy, larger than life character and it made me appreciate his hard work so much more. 

During the height of the Golden Age of Anime, I could list voice actors like some could list athletes: Travis Willingham, Spike Spencer, Yuri Lowenthal, Tara Strong, Steve Blum, Kyle Hebert, Sonny Strait, Kirby Morrow, Monica Rial, Chris Sabat and of course the names I listed above and too many others were all names I could clock in an instant. I relished in knowing American voice actors by name and role and respected the choices companies made when it came to translation and distribution. The dark days were over, we could all see a bright future. 

But that started to change around 2012…

In the next post, we’ll talk about my changing relationship with dubs, my new appreciation of subs and how American voice acting changed. 

Advertisements

Unfortunately, Required Reading Episode 17: The Real Hell is Ye Olde English

In which hosts, Tori and Amanda, go over John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and Amanda complains about an overly smoked cheese.

On Seeing Miyavi Live for the First Time

I have a slightly hoarse voice, I’m pretty sure I still have on the remnants last night’s makeup, my feet hurt and I have never been more thrilled by the sight or prospect of water in my entire life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What lead up to me deciding to wear highlight, two colors of eyeshadow, a shirt with a cute demon in 106 degree weather?

Last night I went to a concert; so, let’s talk about it. 


Miyavi is a Japanese rockstar who I have had the pleasure of following since I was a wee young demon angsting around my high school with an iPod full of music in different languages. Now, I don’t go to many concerts and this concert was truly something special and in a special circumstance: I was going alone.

Long time readers will know that I suffer from social anxiety and the mere thought of going to a place alone was daunting. There are plenty of things I do alone but this was akin to going to the movies alone, a barrier I have yet to fully cross. The thought was made even more daunting by the recent mass shootings that have happened around the country: one happening in my home state. Social anxiety is a funny thing that hyper-inflates usually paranoid ideas about tragedy happening at events but when those primal crazy lizard thoughts seem less crazy, that’s truly a scary thing and quite the hurdle to jump over.

But Miyavi was coming to San Antonio and the tickets weren’t expensive. I waffled for a day or two about going before taking the leap and purchasing exactly one ticket. I spent the week trying to find a “logical” reason to back out of the show. The show was on Sunday, I had work in the morning, what if it’s too hot, and other reasons that had varying levels of validity. I spent Sunday mostly unenthusiastic about the concert and did my best to muster enthusiasm as I put on my makeup and scheduled my Uber ride to the venue. None of that is Miyavi’s fault, it’s just my dumb, mean brain’s fault. The Uber ride to the venue was short, my driver was nice and when I arrived about twenty minutes before the doors opened and the line wasn’t too long which was a relief. It was still unbearably hot even though it was past 6 PM. I chatted with a few folks in line, got many compliments on my makeup and one that stuck with me: the woman who patted me down and checked my idea said I was “so sweet and so pretty” and that warmed my cold dead heart for some reason. 

I entered the venue and had about an hour to kill before curtain. I ordered one cocktail (a Sprite and Deep Eddy’s Cranberry vodka) before promptly discarding it because it tasted like miserable old-timey medicine for questionably sick children and I figured vodka would only continue to dehydrate me. 

Being alone was nearly maddening as I waited for curtain to rise. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I worried about draining my phone battery and I was already starting to get sore and cranky. 

I did make a few friends talking to people around me but it was mostly me trying to not linger on any one person’s conversation for too long.

That, of course, all changed when the curtain rose. 


Miyavi is an electrifying performer. He is hot, he is talented, he is brilliant. He is a charismatic showman and from the opening number I was just hooked. Without speaking hyperbolically, Miyavi may be the best guitarists I have ever seen perform live. I was so happy to be close to the stage in such an intimate venue. I could ignore the heat and the pain in my feet; I was too busy dancing. Miyavi is just pure hot electric sex on stage; an attractive and stunning man who is talented beyond belief and compare. Each song blended so seamlessly into the next and just being so close to someone I have followed for years was so moving. There was also a pretty good balance of new songs and old classics and really, whether the song was in Japanese or English, the whole crowd sang along with him.

View this post on Instagram

SEEING MIYAVI WAS AMAZING! 💖

A post shared by A 💖 (@amanda.actually) on

Miyavi spent a good amount of the concert just talking with us as an audience. I learned a lot about Miyavi as a human person and not just the idol I follow on Twitter. He’s never had Whataburger despite several visits to Texas, he’s currently Paleo and he loves Buc-ee’s. He also talked a lot about his work as an activist and advocate for those in refugee camps. Hell, he opened the show by talking about the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I think if any other artist had been so topical, I would have been more cynical about such conversation but from Miyavi it felt more genuine since it’s backed up by actual work towards the greater good. It was a little distracting to me personally because honestly, that misery was the part reason I wanted to go to this concert: I wanted an escape. El Paso is literally too close to home and with my day gig, I am constantly reminded of the fact that there are terrors happening everywhere and all the time. I wanted to just have a good time, wear too much makeup and sweat in a tiny venue. 

The show did wrap up about an hour earlier than I was expecting. In the moment, I was thrilled and happy to be returning home and to the sanctity and cool embrace of air conditioning but in the cold (this is San Antonio, the day is not cold, it is still 100+ degrees) light of day, I do wish the show went on a little longer. Another slight ding on the experience has nothing to do with Miyavi. There was a show happening in the venue next door and oftentimes the two concerts were in competition with each other as far as noise went. It seemed like the other band ramped up in volume just as soon as Miyavi was going for a ballad or slower song: that’s just poor planning on the venue’s part. Miyavi even told the other band to stop playing once and encouraged us as an audience to out yell the rival band. It was sort of distracting but far from a serious neg.

With the concert ending earlier than expected, I hailed another Uber and headed home. I relished in the car’s air conditioning and chatted with another driver, mostly talking about video games and comic books. I came home, took off my makeup, sang Reflection from Mulan as per tradition and ate popcorn on my sofa. I checked in with my friends so they know I made it home safely and went to bed cooler, happier and still electrified by the power music and bonding. 


I learned so much about myself going to this show alone. I would likely not have gone at all if I had to rely on someone else going with me. However, I will say that going alone was a bit of a challenge; those negative voices in my mind were the only thing I could focus on. There wasn’t anyone there to distract me from my aching feet and damn near heatstroke.

Almost all of that negativity was mitigated once the show started. As a performer, Miyavi is one of the best I have ever seen. He is magnetic, charming and so eloquent and just…oh god, the show was so good. Miyavi is amazing at putting his body in a position that just made every photo amazing. He was so athletic and energetic and just watching him command the entire stage was mesmerizing.  

I am still a little sore and still a little tired. I am still a little anxious and still a little starstruck. But that night was such a blast and seeing Miyavi is for sure a memory I’ll keep for the remainder of my days. I took so many photos, talked to so many people, got to see people all share in an experience of seeing someone they love so up close.

It was glorious and grand and I’m so glad I went.

Why I Watch Anime

In my last post about Sarazanmai and my changing relationship with anime, something that kept coming up in the back of my mind was just why I started watching anime to begin with and why I continue to watch anime. Well, that’s a little more than just a passing thought so let’s explore that a little. Here are some of the reasons I watch anime.

To Escape

I’m a member of the Tony Stark Society for Disaster Orphans. My childhood was not great and my teen years were not great. Fundamentally, what got me into anime was escapism. I got to escape into worlds so unlike my own where I was stronger, prettier, more capable, or hell, even still had both parents. Consider the anime I fell into as a youth: InuYasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, YuYu Hakusho, Naruto, Bleach…most explored fantastical worlds and magical elements and took me to places I couldn’t imagine. There were demons and monsters and ghosts and danger and magical lands, it was all wonderful and it was so much nicer than my aunts’ impossible standards for me or my mother’s immaturity. 

I didn’t always think of anime as a form of escapism but I did write (still do write) a lot of fanfiction and that fanfiction allowed me to be so much more than whatever my shell was and fanfiction aside, my taste in anime has become increasingly slice of life. I used to shun romance and more pedestrian series for shonen as a youth but now as I’m older just seeing things okay for a few people for once is really comforting and really nice considering that as of late the world (not just my personal life) feels like a fiery inferno that which the only escape is the sweet embrace of death. 

To Find Closure

Losing your parents often leaves you with a bucket of what ifs that you just sort of carry around with you, like a box full of all of your desires. Watching characters fumble through their feelings, do more, do better, be more and be better helped me and still helps me work through my feelings. It may be why I had such a visceral reaction to Devilman Crybaby. I so badly wanted things to be okay. I wanted Akira to be okay, for Ryo to be okay, for Miki to be okay and when they weren’t I felt miserable for them and felt all the moments where things were not okay for me all in one crushing, overwhelming moment. When watching Sarazanmai as Toi goes through the last part of his character arc I was utterly emotionally connected with him as I felt his same worries about nihilism and being a mere burden to those I called friends. I am an empathetic person and it is very easy for me to see myself in characters that have been through similar things to me. Trauma is a funny thing and it makes it very easy to project those feelings onto especially narratives. Think of those who found themselves so much in Harry Potter. So many had their own horrible families they didn’t love and didn’t respect them and so many found comfort in Hogwarts because it was a place to be themselves, to be better than their families, to be welcomed and appreciated. I watch anime to find closure because I know that I may never get that in my own life. 

To Feel Something

Losing a parent young warps your entire world. It isn’t always dramatic but it means that the average cookie cutter narrative just doesn’t fly. Most shows I was watching at 12 still featured two parent households and that just didn’t resonate for me anymore. Anime featured a ton of broken families, families ripped apart by death and circumstance and characters that didn’t have to pretend to be okay as I had to. I got to experience emotions and defer a lot of my feelings onto fictional characters and it was instrumental in me working through my angst. Now as I am an older and much wiser hobgoblin I watch anime still to feel all sorts of things: love, joy, triumph, excitement, fear. As much as it stresses me out sometimes to have my emotions dashed upon the rocks of cold hard nihilism to feel shock and worry and emotion is thrilling and just something I don’t get in most Western shows with the exception of BoJack Horseman or Tuca and Bertie, I rarely get that emotional release from Western narratives who tend to wallow more superficial story-telling or using framing devices and tropes that I find abhorrent or just plain tired. 

To Learn Something

I fell into anime from an early age because of how radically different it was from the Western media I was surrounded by. I knew nothing of Japan as a youth and anime was one of the finest and best examples of cross cultural exchange that I could have been exposed to. I live in Texas and was raised in Texas. No one bowed here. No one spoke Japanese here. I didn’t know what Buddha was outside of the large statues that hang around in Chinese restaurants. I cannot tell you how much I’ve picked up from anime alone. My vocabulary has changed, my mannerisms have changed, the way that I speak about myself and others. And no, I don’t feel comfortable going to Japan on anime alone; I had to have the want to learn more on my own. I have dictionaries, language guides, vocab books and more to prove it. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about is actually cooking. I loved cooking for my anime clubbers in college and being able to make onigiri just like I saw in the manga I cherished so much was a delight that cannot be entirely expressed by words. I still watch anime to learn new things and my natural desire to learn often means that little things that are throwaway gags in anime become rabbit holes I dive down in topics ranging from demonology to why the hell bakus are so scary and Christan influence in Japan.


There are obvious reasons that I watch anime. I watch for enjoyment, for curiosity and because it is still something new and oftentimes exciting but this relationship is now over two decades old. The reasons I have now are likely not the same as they were when I was a teenager. I use anime to escape now in entirely different ways than the power fantasies I lived out as a teen. I watch anime now more to relax and to unwind. It’s also still a key factor in many of the friendships I told dear. There was no neat way to add this but I’ll say the most important reason I watch anime is because it makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. I am proud to call myself an otaku and I am proud to be an anime fan. There is nothing like seeing someone’s eyes light up when they see someone else wearing an anime t-shirt or merch from a series they love. The connections I’ve made because of anime and at conventions and by discussing these weird cartoons critically and passionately is something that doesn’t fit neatly into a list but is so important to the experience. 

I’m proud to be a veteran otaku and you see that pride during each one of my Twitter rants, panels, blog posts and more. I watch anime to be more than myself. To express myself. To learn. To grow. 

I relish in fan casts, in shipping manifestos, in shipping wars and discussions about voice actors. I love translating music and listening to drama CDs and hoarding manga like a dragon. 

Anime is a part of my life, so it was only natural that I discuss and explore why I watch anime to start with.

My Changing Relationship With Anime

After my post about Sarazanmai and an earlier post about my feelings about more modern anime titles, I’ve been feeling like I need to explain myself. Because while I admit and own being a bit of a harsh critic, one thing I am not is a contrarian. I try to have reasons that I don’t like something and just saying “it’s modern” is rarely an excuse for me. But after going over the tapes, I absolutely can see how people would assume that I just have a vendetta against modern anime. I sound bitter and old and sometimes I feel bitter and old. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about my relationship with anime. 

But before we talk about the present, we need to talk about the past. I first came into contact with anime at 6 with DragonBall. From there I stayed safe with a lot of the series that are anime but never really felt like anime to me just another cartoon but with different faces: mostly shows like Sailor Moon, CardCaptors, Pokemon and DragonBall/DragonBall Z. It wasn’t until I was 9 that I started really seeing anime as something different and that was mostly thanks to YuYu Hakusho. By 12 I had fully embraced glorious Nihon with series like InuYasha, Trigun, Case Closed and Cowboy Bebop and the rest is history. 

If you’ve been keeping track, I have been an anime fan for over 20 years. And a lot has changed in the world of anime and manga. But a lot has changed for me personally, as well. It’s telling that I fell in love with anime during one of the most trying times of my life: I had lost my father at 12, moved in my aunts, had emancipated myself and was doing my best to cope with grief and loss and my own changing identity and personality. And some of the series that mean the world to me like Fullmetal Alchemist and Death Note and Bleach hit me when I was in high school. I wasn’t much older than Edward Elric when he lost his mom so seeing someone like me process grief and use science and will and grit to overcome loss was intensely powerful. 

But in 20 years, my life has changed a lot. I did join the Tony Stark Club for Successfully Disastrous Orphans, I finished college, I moved away from my hometown and started a life on my own. I didn’t stop liking anime but I like to think I have matured in those years. 

Which leads us to where we are. I for sure do look like a harsh media critic and honestly, that probably started in 2010 with a little show called Attack on Titan. Now, keep in mind in 2010 I was 20 years old and had some of the best anime series ever made happen during the most formative times of my life. AoT to me was a lazy redux of series I already held near and dear to my heart but for many this was their first big bombastic shonen. For me it was a dumb series that thinks its very smart and the vitrolic fandom around it made me seriously question what I was doing as an anime fan. And those feelings have persisted now for nearly 10 years. New anime comes out, I feel very little about it. I feel worse about it because of hyperbolic fandom and it leaves me in an odd place. 

Before every major convention I usually do a cram session so I can be aware of what the kids are watching and having to cram in the top three of what’s popular only continued to sour me on modern anime. I think it was just my approach. I’m also a very stubborn little goblin. I don’t like being “told” what to do so my friends who have suggested series to me rarely are met with open and loving arms but mostly hissing and frustration. There’s only one series Carlos has suggested to me that I watch and that was Devilman Crybaby. I do tend to watch what is suggested to me but it’s typically pulling teeth and the faint memory of “being told what to do” lingers with me. Look at my feelings on Sarazanmai and Yuri On Ice: two shows that I like (hell, one that I like a lot) but that moment of being told what I would like and what I wouldn’t like…it just got under my skin. Maybe it goes back to the whole struggle of being biologically female and an anime fan that so much of it was spent being told what I would and wouldn’t like or having to prove my fandom. I’ve let that become an excuse and my unwillingness to try new things is bothersome. 

I struggle with a feeling of hollowness in newer shows. My Hero Academia is a perfect example of that for me. On paper there’s a lot that this show has going for it and going for me. But watching now, I mostly just don’t understand character motivations or why any of this matters. Why did All-Might make a kid eat his hair? Did they think fanfiction writers wouldn’t notice? Why is Bakugo so mad at Izuku? What crawled up Iida’s ass and died there? I have so many questions. But I didn’t want those questions answered and I abandoned ship around episode four. And the comment I kept going back to as I thought about My Hero Academia was that if this series hit me at the same time that Naruto did, I would be all over this. Not to say that older fans can’t be down for whatever All-Might is putting down but for me, it was just a little too much like a shonen series that I loved to make it truly special to me or worth further investigation. 

That hollowness I believe comes from the fact that as I mentioned, some of the best anime ever made were ones that came to me during a very formative parts of my life. Why would I watch a discount Naruto? I have Naruto. Why watch a knock-off Evangelion? I have Evangelion. And I’m intentionally being reductive because it’s easier to fit into the structure of this post but if I have to be nuanced, then yes, as a media critic a lot of more recent series do feel like rehashes of long-standing tropes and that’s a key point. These shows aren’t bad but they are using a formula that is now decades old and has been seen over and over again.

A lot of newer series suffer purely by the fact that I have seen an anime before. I have less patience now for a protagonist who doesn’t struggle and has no problems, for an antagonist who is tacked on for merchandise and a villain with a dumb plan. I’ve been doing this for decades, it takes more to impress me. Which is probably why my taste in anime has changed so much in the last few years. The series that have truly captured me have been ones that subvert my expectations. Space Dandy was a masterclass in meta humor and heart. Devilman Crybaby gave me a full on existential crisis that left me a babbling mess. Sarazanmai left me genuinely worried about three dumb boys and two dumb murder cops. 

So when a show like, let’s say Food Wars, hits a lot of shonen beats in a very linear fashion from loud main male to antagonist with muddy reasons to be an antagonist and a story line that is let’s be honest basic then you can see why I’m bored. 

It’s interesting to think that a lot of the series I still watch are either the classics or are slice of life or romance series now considering that I was such a shonen fan when I was younger. A lot of the newer boy’s love series (well, newer as in their new anime adaptations of manga I read when I was too young to read them) have been excellent and comedies like Pop Team Epic have been way more interesting to me than Fairy Tail ever could be. I’m old enough to catch some of the references and I’m mature enough to want to escape the misery that is my current routine and just watch two men be in love and eat cake or something together. 

I will say there are two points that I want to make as far as newer anime goes and especially newer anime fandom. The death of discourse is a huge problem for me as I even try to navigate some of the newer series. I do my very best to have reasons to not like a thing and folks being garbage about valid criticism is a great way to turn passive malaise into full on hatred. Looking at you, Yuri on Ice. Second point is a lack of looking backwards. This may be a generalization but as I talk to newer fans there’s this shocking lack of knowledge of series that go past 2010. I understand that the shows I grew up with are old but to even walk into a comic book shop back in the day I had to be able to know and talk about series that were running before I was born. And as soon as I accepted that anime was my new lifestyle, I naturally wanted to look back. I saw Outlaw Star and the old 70s run of Lupin III and did my best to understand that anime was not something that started for me in the 1990s. A lot of the hyperbolic rhetoric around newer anime like this show is the first or this show is the only just fundamentally sticks in my craw. Nothing is original anymore and that’s perfectly fine but you aren’t going to tell me that a cartoon that was released this year is somehow treading new and uncharted waters. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been in a panel and I’ve mentioned a show like Cowboy Bebop or InuYasha only to be met with silence. I get it. These shows are old but dammit they’re like anime required reading, it’s just basic. I don’t make the rules I just enforce them and judge you for not following them. And you kids have the internet now. Back in my day (full old man rant time) we had to wait for that one friend whose parents were stationed in Japan to bring back DVDs or to just full on spend weeks trying to find a bootleg copy of stuff.

In hindsight, I do want to be more careful with how I talk about anime nowadays because even though a series may not be my cup of tea, it does not give me an excuse to be a garbage person to anyone for liking it. I can also be more open to trying new things and not being such a stick in the mud. There are shows that are on my list and that I want to try and I want to be open to. I want to be less stubborn and try the things my friends suggest to me: they wouldn’t suggest something to me that they think I wouldn’t like

What has been incredibly freeing is realizing that a lot of these shows aren’t for me. Not to say that age is everything. Toi in Sarazanmai is several years my junior but I absolutely could relate to his pain, nihilism and want to be close to someone because they are related even though they are trash. It’s a weak argument to assume I or anyone really would  just “outgrow”. If anything what I’ve noticed is that in any given series my gaze has merely shifted. In Fullmetal Alchemist I went from relating very much to Edward to now seeing a lot of Mustang’s perspective because I relate to be a tired old man surrounded by idiots but still has grand ideas of taking over the world despite the heavy burdens of mental illness and trauma. The episodes of My Hero Academia that I did watch I found myself not relating to Izuku but All-Might who is mostly jaded, exhausted but so badly wants to believe in the good inside people. 

My relationship with anime is complicated. The ones I love I will love forever even if I can now see flaws in their facades. The newer ones that people assume I’d like I tend to find a little lackluster and the newer ones that I have committed to have became part of my usual rotation. I love anime and probably will until I am no longer able but I admit it’s been harder and harder to say that I am an anime fan just because so few of the newer shows do it for me.  I do want to continue to challenge myself to try newer series and my goal recently has been to go over a few of those mid 2000s series that I completely skipped over as I was busy obsessing over like two shows at the time. I also want to start refining my language when it comes to critiquing and talking about anime.

Anime changed my life. I’m not being hyperbolic by saying that. Literally anime has changed and saved my life. It gave me some of the best friends in the world that mean everything to me. It taught me so much about myself and others. Anime gave me something to look forward to and discuss and study and explore. It helped give form to my feelings. Without anime I doubt I’d be writing much now. Without anime I wouldn’t cosplay. Without anime I would be an entirely different person. I’m proud to be an anime fan. I’m proud to be an older anime fan. So even though sometimes my relationship status feels more like “it’s complicated” the answer at the end of the day is still as it was two decades ago: “in a serious relationship”. 

What Sarazanmai Did Wrong…And Then Oh So Right

If you pitched me a show about three middle school boys being turned into kappas and having to do a lot of what is essentially weird butt stuff to make the plot advance and also there are two vouging murder cops and a ton of puns I would tell you to get out of my apartment and to leave me alone. I was encouraged to watch this show by a close friend (the same person who lovingly encouraged me to watch Yuri on Ice) and when I started the series, I admit, my mind and heart weren’t in it. I had gotten into a minor car accident, I had convention stress on my mind, my job was wearing on me and when I started up the anime I mostly felt full of salt, bitterness and anger at the absurdity of the first episode. I got two episodes in and gave up, mostly tired of puns, kappas and weird butt stuff. 

It was Carlos that got me to watch the series again at A-Kon because as I told him about the show, he noticed the same thing the person that recommended the show to me noticed, this checks off a ton of boxes for me in theory. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is Sarazanmai about? Well, let’s go over the plot briefly. 3 boys: Katsuki, Toi, and Enta are cursed by a kappa named Keppi to become kappas and correct the world of evil zombies that have something to do with desire and exorcising those demons correctly (think about Bleach where only Soul Reapers can send spirits off to the Seireitei correctly and if something happens to that spirit or someone else tries to send them off they can become Hollows, monsters or something worse). It starts as a monster of the day sort of thing with some overarcing plot points (like the vouging murder cops) but the first half othe series is just monster of the week. 

I’ll probably spoil things because that’s who I am but this series takes a dive that I’ll talk about more soon but back to the timeline. Carlos and I ended up watching about three or four episodes in our hotel room with way less pressure on me and while I still thought the series was mostly dumb and absurd, I was able to have more fun and just sort of enjoy the ride. We stopped right as a major plot point began and Carlos chided me and said I’d probably finish the show on my own. 

Fast forward to con being over and me crying hysterically on my sofa lamenting over my series son (look at the poster and guess which one is my son, you get a cookie if you’re right) and spirling into emotions I haven’t felt since Hitorijime My Hero as far as oh no, a Japanese cartoon has hit too close to home or honestly, like Avengers: Endgame in the scope of feeling that everything I love is wrong and dead and how do I cope? My children, oh no, how do I save them?

So after a few days, I’ve decided to write about this series. I have finally left Kappa Hell. So let’s talk about it.

Let’s go over what this show did wrong first and honestly, it was the absurdity. Now, I’m an anime fan. Hetalia is one of my favorite series, I can handle absurd. I can handle vocal tics, kero. I can handle puns even the otterly devastating ones and I can handle plot points that make zero sense like desire being held in the butt and having to carry around a box of something sacred to you. What I can’t handle is not feeling like any of that matters. Remember my issue with Food Wars? It’s similar. I had lots of questions after I entered Kappa Hell but upon first watch, I wanted none of them answered. I had no curiosity. I just wanted it to stop. Now, I’ll give a lot of weight to my mental state here. I was not in a good mood, frantic and emotional and I don’t like being pressured even lightly into anything. Spite is a powerful motivator and at that point I probably would have turned my nose up to ice cream or buttered sourdough rolls or even to a series I know I like. 

When I removed the pressure to like the series so I didn’t disappoint someone I care for deeply, I found that surface level it was still sort of absurd but in a way I was curious about.  I think having Carlos with me absolutely helped that because when we got to the two cops who were dancing and muttering quite a bit in the back of a police station, we rightfully had questions about that and came to the conclusion that the other cops just let these two have their little dancing moment and interrupt what was official police business. 

Next up is a small voice acting nitpick because each episode features a song about removing evil from zombies and usually it’s sung by Katsuki (who is pretty decent in the sub) but later on the series, Toi takes over and Enta does too and Carlos and I both joked that we found the one (the voice actor) who has the album coming out later. It’s adorably dissonant but dissonant. 

I’ve always been up front in admitting that the series is beautiful and a lot of the designs benefited from looking a lot like things I already like, including tan blonde cop Rin Matsuoka (his name is Reo) and Kuji who looks like an adorable little school boy version of Jason Todd. The colors are bright, the sets are good, the music grew on me as I continued and the plot…well, this is Kappa Hell. Let’s talk about the plot. 

Remember how I said that the first part of the series feels like monster of the week sort of thing? Well, threads are still forming and they start to get pulled on around episode five and boy when those threads are tugged. Little things you’ve noticed start to make sense and honestly, the story became more than just a bunch of boys exorcising demons through weird puns and butt stuff but became about desire, want, needs, selfishness and bonds. 

Katsuki does some pretty strained and strange things to ease his guilt about what happened to his little brother. Enta full on sabotages things so he can have a reason to stay close to his crush, Katsuki. Toi has an unhealthy relationship with his mob boss older brother and is willing to do literal crimes to cover for his aniki. Blonde Matsuoka-kun cop, Reo, is actually deeply flawed and deeply in love with his partner, Mabu and Mabu is literally some kind of golem who was willing to give up his love for Reo so that he could stay alive in an attempt to stay by Reo’s side despite death having taken him prior. It all spirals quickly, sadness after sadness and it left me screaming and worried and unsure how to process emotions about these characters. I felt for Reo as he mourned the death of his beloved once more and related to his willingness to lash out in anger only to die and be reunited with Mabu at last. I felt for Toi who so badly wanted to be with his family after loss left him with few he could rely on and even if that meant doing things that were morally compromising to him. I related to Katsuki who ended up being quite selfish in trying to be selfless. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt series for a show about kappas, puns and butt stuff. 

When the tone of the show started to change and focus more on bonds and what we do to keep them is when it did something magical: it reminded me of a long-time lover. It reminded me of Gravitation. One of Yuki Eiri’s main themes in Gravitation is his connection to his sensei and his desire to remain connected to that horrible man and how that often butts up against what he wanted later on in the series which was a relationship with Shuichi. Gravitation is all about bonds and what we’re willing to do to keep them. Tohma is willing to lie and gaslight to keep Eiri. Shuichi is willing to be a victim to keep Yuki. Yuki is willing to be abused by Tohma so that he can keep one thing sacred and in turn he abuses Shuichi because that’s all he knows. Love sometimes is a selfish feeling and drives us to do not so romantic things. 

Towards the end of Sarazanmai, the plot centers more and more on the theme of connections and bonds and the fact that sometimes we do terrible things to keep those that we want close. Reo and Mabu’s arc together is such a great example of the horrible things we can do to each other just to feign what was once a great and healthy bond and just how toxic and corrupting grief can become. And that’s surprisingly thoughtful from a show that has a main plot point being a young boy who crossdresses as an idol girl to keep his little brother happy and seems to enjoy being in a dress a little too much. 

There’s one more point I’ll bring up and I think it encapsulates why the show made me so emotional but also managed to bring me back around and that’s consequences. For a dumb show about kids turning into kappas there’s a lot of violence, particularly gun violence (which is rare in Japan because, hey, effective gun laws work). The two cops use their guns to remove desire from deviants and thus turn them into monsters and Toi uses a gun because his aniki is yakuza and of course he does. Towards the end, Enta is shot and honestly, he gets very close to death and it’s not sugar-coated and I felt horrible for this kid who was just doing his best.  Toi is forced to kill his beloved aniki because he realizes that his brother is just not good for him and Reo is killed because he lashes out in anger after losing his beloved Mabu once more. Sure, this is still a show clearly aimed at younger audiences and most of it is sort of waved away by kappa magic but in the moment it felt so real and so grounded and so emotional that I cried more than I like admitting. 

Let’s talk about my son, Kuji Toi. If you guessed correctly, you can claim your cookie now. Toi has the best arc in the series because he has to come to terms with the fact that his relationship with his aniki is flawed and dangerous and what is beautiful is that he faces consequences. The last sequences of the series are Toi being sent off to prison for his crimes. He spends years there and we resume with him returning home older, more jaded and more alone as he had spent years away from his friends and family and likely had little to return to as now he was a criminal, or at least society hopes, a reformed one. He also has the most realistic feelings about connections in that he feels his life is at times just not worth the risk to his friends and his dive into melancholy and depression in the last episode just made me want to hug him if I wasn’t so concerned about the fact that he’d stab me over it. 

The series does end on a happy note with the friends all coming together once more and that optimism but that’s again a surprising amount of weight and thought for a show that was meant to be a bit of a throwaway as far as I was concerned. I felt for Toi and was glad he faced consequences for his actions because that’s one thing about anime, especially boy’s love, that I struggle with: a lack of consequences for bad things. Sure, Toi did kill his aniki over something valid and but he still did kill someone and seeing him face a consequence made it oh so worth it. 

Sarazanmai didn’t do much for me at first but as I continued on, I got emotionally invested in these characters and their lives and I ended up a babbling mess of emotions and worry about these boys who were just doing their best. I wanted to protect all of them. I wanted them to be okay. I wanted things to be okay. There’s a melancholic optimism to the show that I can relate to. We hope things are going to be okay but the series cops to the fact that we just don’t know. We can hope that the boys are going to be okay, but there’s no promise that things are going to be okay. The future is uncertain and that’s just fine. So long as we’re connected, even if we drift apart, the bonds that we formed never truly leave us.