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”. 

Le Critique S’Ennuie

It started in a fairly innocuous manner. It started with a friend of mine (who is younger than me [yes, that matters]) and I started an anime together after I had spent our time together recommending shows that I watch and it ended with a show that neither of us had watched but both have heard of: Food Wars. Now, this anime started out with plenty of promise, the animation was really pretty and the opening reminded me of many of the other shonen series that got me to sell my soul to anime to begin with and before we go to deep in this, this is because the last of the nice things I have to say about this anime. If this is your show: I’m not here to bash you but I know that I can and am probably going to for the remainder of this post sound like an old man yelling at a cloud. Just because I don’t have nice things to say about a show doesn’t mean that I don’t have nice things to say about you.

So back to Food Wars. I’ve run out of nice things to say about this series as far as episode one goes. The plot seems to be yet another “hard/challenging school” plot and the main character seems as bland as wallpaper. Now, I’m an old smut peddler, but typically one doesn’t go full tentacle until episode five and the idea that food can remove clothing, induce orgasm and make boobs grow is just…well, I’m tired, okay? I sat mostly quiet and tried to write while my friend sat and processed the nonsense on the screen and when she looked at me to ask if it was okay to change it I said “No, you’ll never learn unless you really sit and realize your mistake.” I was kidding, of course, but when it comes to anime, you have to sift through plenty of nonsense to find a gem but what matters more is what we watched after we had finished with Food Wars. We watched InuYasha, one of the first anime that really had turned me into someone willing to go to bat for glorious Nihon. And as we watched the opening my friend said something that made me really give thought to a feeling I’ve had for a few years now. She said “There’s been more story in this opening sequence than the entire first episode of Food Wars.” and she wasn’t wrong. We weren’t even very far into InuYasha. I chose episode six: because of course I did. And she was not wrong, in the minute and a half or so of opening, you get so much more of a feel for the anime that is to come rather than just mindless technicolor fanservice. And we had even watched an anime before Food Wars that had plenty of technicolor fanservice in the form of Space Dandy.

Her comment really struck me because recently I’ve had a bit of a crisis of faith. I can say I’m an anime fan but really, there hasn’t been an anime in a few years that has done much for me if we ignore the fact that DevilMan: Crybaby turned me into a puddle of goo and misery and I still watch Free! because of course I do. I haven’t really had any positive things to say about newer anime, especially newer shonen, which is my bread and butter. It was shonen anime that got me through some of the darkest parts of my life and now when I watch what the youths are: I’m just disappointed. I gave My Hero Academia about five episodes before I bailed because it was boring. Sword Art Online is just a rehash of plenty of other isekai anime that have never done much for me. Attack on Titan takes itself too seriously for being as trash as it is and Yuri On Ice is just Gravitation with less plot and more skating. And before you all get your indignant pencils out and say:

Well, you’re watching anime meant for children.

Hello, and welcome to my blog, Strawman #5. There are episode of Fullmetal Alchemist that can still make me feel all the power I need and desire to follow Roy Mustang into my eventual death and Avengers: Endgame made me cry for about two hours in a theater. I may be an old soul but my heart knows no bounds for what I love.

But these series feel hollow to me. They feel cheap to me. If I wanted to watch a cheap knock-off of an anime I love, I’d just watch the series they’re clearly ripping off. Why watch discount Naruto when I can just watch Naruto?

And this feeling has been with me for a while now as I continue to panel. Before panel season really starts, I go on a little binge because the anime the children are watching are the anime I get asked on and increasingly as I try and watch newer shows, I’m forced to come up against this wall of miserable mediocracy.

They’re all so painfully average and none of them have been able to get me really as thrilled about anime, animation or the characters as the shows I grew up were able to do in an episode of less. I remember watching Space Dandy and within moments being absolutely sold on the premise, characters and all and I was well into my twenties when that show was given a dubbed release. It can’t just be my age because as I mentioned with Devilman: Crybaby I was exactly as many years old I was last year and I was pretty sold from jump. So it isn’t just an issue of “I want the backwards comic books to make me feel like I did when I was a kid.” I find a lot of newer shows devoid of passion, devoid of grit, devoid of stakes or consequences and honestly, I have an even bigger issue with newer anime.

I have seen an anime before.

One of the most tragic but also freeing things I can think of when it comes to how I feel about modern anime is this:

This isn’t for me.

And:

If this was my first (insert genre here), then I’d love it.

And this is very true. If MHA hit me at the same time Naruto had then dammit I’d be all over class 2-A and yelling “Plus Ultra!” from the rooftops. But it didn’t.

That feeling came up when watching Food Wars. I’m old now. I’ve heard boob sound effects for twenty years. Fanservice doesn’t do much for me unless it’s pretty meta (like Space Dandy) and none of the gimmicks are new to me. It’s another challenging school anime like the fifteen or so I’ve grown up with.

Ennui is described as a feeling of listlessness or boredom that comes from a lack of stimulation and truly, it’s the best way to describe how I feel with modern anime.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means I’m old now. And here is a point I cannot stress enough. Without giving away my age, you need to understand what I was watching when I came into anime.

My love of anime began when I was six years old with Dragonball. I didn’t know what it was but on the screen in front of me I saw a kid with a monkey tail punch a pterosaur out of the sky while riding a cloud and then cook and eat the dinosaur. I was hooked and from there moved on to Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors, Pokemon and the like.

I fell out of anime a bit as a kid but rejoined in full force with YuYu Hakusho and One Piece.

As twelve I was willing to give up all of myself to Splendid Nihon and grew up with InuYasha, Cyborg 009, Big O, Case Closed, Lupin III, Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. I got these anime during formative years of my life.

At fourteen I got to watch Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf’s Rain, Death Note and by sixteen I had Bleach, Naruto and Ouran High School Host Club. By the time I left high school I had Antique Bakery, Gravitation and too many other series I cannot list here because I would simply run out of time.

I cannot impress to you enough that I was formed in the heart of the best of the best when it came to anime and at the height of power for dubbing in America. I was forged by fire when it came to fangating, gatekeeping and the height of fanfiction and the rise of online communities.

I am a fan forged in darkness, smut and shipping. I grew into anime with the best of the best.

So please forgive me when I sound a little callous. A little jaded. A little cynical. A little elitist.

I have been at this for a long time and it takes a little more than just large boobs and a shiny paint coat to really make me go wild. I grew up in the shadow of giants, so you’re going to really have to show me what you’ve got when it comes to modern anime.

My Top 20 Songs from Anime

We’ve done a few lists now, haven’t we? I think they’re a fun exploration of a genre or form. And in the spirit of Lists: let’s try one that’s a little bit different: we’re going to be discussing in no particular order, the music of various different anime! This includes opening themes, background songs, ending themes and more. I’ll give you the series and a brief reason why that song means the world to me.

Let’s jam.

Oh, and you’ll likely see plenty of overlap between the music I like and the anime I like: reading over that list may give you a vision of the future. You’ll likely also see some repeats from a few core series: that’s likely for a reason.

Funny Bunny, The Pillows

FLCL

FLCL is one of my favorite series of all time and it has one of the best soundtracks I can think of. Don’t be surprised to see this series on the list more than once. Funny Bunny is sweet, sentimental and emotional: The Pillows as a band are good about using puns, wordplay and most importantly: heart. This song has made me cry too many times and one of my favorite moments of all is driving down the highway with Carlos singing this little song during A-Kon. It’s a love song for the ages.

Hybrid Rainbow, The Pillows

FLCL

I told you FLCL would appear on this list more than once. Even though this was just a background song, this was my anthem in college. A song about disillusionment, overcoming the sameness over the world and how what appears is not always as it is was the perfect song for the angsty college kid that I was.

Anti-Nostalgic, Kotani Kinya

Gravitation

Who knew an anime about music would have great music? This song still makes me super emotional and as a ballad to a lover, it doesn’t get much better. I always really related to how Yuki Eiri felt about love, time and relationships and how trauma colors your perception of all of those things: because of that, this was one of the first songs I remember committing to memory as a young fan.

Shining Collection, Iceman

Gravitation

Now, this is the real song from Gravitation that sold me. In the OVA, this song is the last thing Shuichi has to sing and he has the privilege to sing it with his idol, Ryuichi. Now, traditionally, the OVA says that this is a song that Yuki wrote for Shuichi. But that’s when my fangirl senses began to tingle. Yuki wrote a song with Ryuichi Sakuma and it made Shining Collection: one of the least romantic love songs possible. Here’s my theory, and this for all of us who still know this old anime: this song is about Yuki’s former lover and tormentor: Kitazawa. The tone, the feverish pace and all seems to add up more to this being a song about Kitazawa rather than the somewhat useless Shuichi: but that’s just an Amanda Theory. I love this song and it’s frantic pace keeps me typing away: you’ll often hear it while I work on my blog posts, my fiction projects or my panels.

Sleepless Beauty, The Seeker

Gravitation

Last one from this series, I promise. The confidence that Ryuichi Sakuma has when performing this song is a strong motivator for me. I’ve used this song to get me through some of the toughest patches in my life and the fact that it has an almost lullabye-like acoustic version that ramps up into an electrifying dance track only ensured that this song stayed in my heart for over a decade.

Fukai Mori, Do As Infinity

InuYasha

I’ve gone on record saying that this anime is the one that made me sell my soul to fandom and this beautiful ending theme is part of the reason I was ready to make that leap. I listened to this song on repeat before going to bed as a teen and I was so happy when I learned even a part of it in Japanese. I picked up a CD copy of InuYasha’s OST and Amber and I sang along the entire time. This song is a part of my childhood and a part of who I am as a fan.

My Will, Dream

InuYasha

Not to be outdone by Fukai Mori, My Will is beautiful, amazing, haunting and more. It had a stunning key visual, too that cemented to many Americans into anime. What more can be said about one of the most iconic songs in all of fandom?

Wind, Akeboshi

Naruto

This song makes me cry. This song comforts me when I am sad. This song helps lift me up. Naruto’s themes of not always fitting in, finding your family and your worth and being more than a painful past always hit home with me and a song as reassuring as Wind was vital to helping me cope as an angsty teen and even now as a sometimes melancholic adult.

Blue, Mai Yamane

Cowboy Bebop

Now is where things get serious. Bebop is probably a close attempt at number one for me as far as anime go. And this song, wow. It is in my actual will that this will be played during my funeral service. It is that serious to me. This song is haunting, emotional, raw and just…so powerful. I had a moment while driving to visit my mother’s grave and this song came on thanks to my phone’s cursed shuffle. I sobbed. I cried just over and over again repeating: “I’m so free.”

I cried, I put the flowers I got for my mom on her headstone, I spoke to her and visited my grandparents. And all the while I just kept repeating: “I’m so free.”

Space Lion, The Seatbelts

Cowboy Bebop

Didn’t think a song with almost no lyrics could bring me to tears but it did. Space Lion is a beautiful song that so perfectly bookends season 1 of one of the most perfect anime to ever exist. The song pulls elements from another part of the OST, Goodnight Julia, a song attached to Gren (who we meet during the last two episodes of season 1). Space Lion is the song we see Gren  die to. It’s the song that closes this part of a chapter and it’s just stunning.

Shiki no Uta, Minmi

Samurai Champloo

Champloo has an energetic opening that deserves an honorable mention but as soon as I heard the first bars of the jazzy closing, Shiki no Uta I was in love. The vocals are top notch and the whole vibe is calmer, more collected and more mellow than the high energy of the anime.

Who’s Theme, Minmi

Samurai Champloo

Watanabe-sensei can do no wrong when it comes to picking music and this mid-season finale song for Samurai Champloo is a stunning piece of music that I simply cannot skip if it starts playing.

Viva Namida, Okamura Yasuyuki

Space Dandy

Okay, Dandy is another Watanabe-sensei special and honestly, this song sold me on this weird anime about a dandy guy in space. The lyrics are deeper than you’d think, so be sure to pull up the English lyrics and simply enjoy.

Life Goes On ~Side K~, Chemistry

Antique Bakery

Have I told you lately how much I love this anime. Within moments of this opening song I was sold. It’s an anime about cake, pretty boys, emotional drama and had an amazing art style and the music, god this song did it for me immediately. It’s upbeat and fun and matches the energy of the series just right in places.

Life Goes On ~Side D~, Chemistry

Antique Bakery

If I ever get married, I want this to be my first dance with my new life partner. This is true and has been true about me for years now. ~Side D~ is the slower ending to Antique Bakery and while the lyrics are the same, the beat is way slowed down and turns an upbeat J-Pop song into a loving ballad. It stole my heart immediately.

Ranbu no Melody, SID

Bleach

I don’t think I can impress upon you all how much I love Bleach as a concept and show but am disappointed by its narrative choices. I fell in love with the characters almost immediately (Famously, I watched a fair amount when the show was first released and then fell out of it when the show started to bloat in the middle. I fell back in love during the Espada Arc because it’s some of the best writing the series has ever done and some of the best character design and arcs given in shonen anime.) and the music has always been top-notch. Even when the music isn’t firing all on cylinders, it’s some of the best in the shonen genre. So when I had to pick just a handful to represent this series on this list, it was difficult but only so. Ranbu no Melody is a stunningly beautiful song, it’s easy to see this as maybe a movie theme or something rather than just one of maybe 30 openings for the series. And it happens to be one of my favorites because of its unique feel: I’m also a little biased by the fact that the animation that goes with it may be some of the most stunning in the series’ history.

Life is Like a Boat, Rie Fu

Bleach

Of course I like this song. Of course I like this melancholic song with a little twinge at the end that even the heaviest of burdens can be shared with the right people. The vocals on this one alone are some of the best in anime and even though, yes, this song does feel melodramatic and sappy for those who haven’t felt the cold embrace of a tough life, for someone like me, it was and still is exactly what I need to hear after a difficult day.

The World, Nightmare

Death Note

In the theme of melodramatic, I happen to love Death Note and in this week’s entry in the category of: Someone really should have listened to young Amanda when she said she related to Light Yagami. The whole season one soundtrack is powerful and brooding and made my young vampire heart sing.

Alumnina, Nightmare

Death Note

Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.


Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.

Honorable Mentions:

Honestly, I could dedicated an entire blog to writing about anime music and its influence on me as a writer, human person and I found that this list changed depending on what day I wrote it. This list as it is now is far from the one it started as. But here’s where I want to give a shout out to the albums that you have probably heard me talk about but did not end up on this list. Namely the soundtrack for Axis Powers: Hetalia should have and needs to be mentioned.  You learn so much about the characters in these songs and I am still shameless in my ability to sing The Delicious Tomato Song or Paris is Indeed Splendid.

I’d also like to talk about the rest of the soundtracks to a lot of the animes I mention. Just because I picked one or two songs from each series does not mean the rest of the soundtrack is garbage. Bleach has amazing music, Naruto has amazing music: these series have fantastic soundtracks and you’re welcome to ask me more about it in the comments below. Additionally, there are songs particularly that are special to me despite not fitting neatly on this list that I’ll speed round here a little.

  • Haru no KatamiAyakashi Samurai Horror Tales
  • Genesis of NextCyborg 009
  • Most of the soundtrack to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the original Fullmetal Alchemist
  • A good portion of the soundtrack of Naruto: Shippuden
  • Cruel Angel’s Thesis and Fly Me to the Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • The entire OST to Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt
  • The rest of the FLCL soundtrack
  • Most of the Code Geass soundtrack
  • The OST to Air Gear
  • Is it cheating to mention how much I love the music of nearly every Miyazaki movie?

Now, onto the main event.

Ready, Steady, Go!,  L’Arc-En-Ciel

FullMetal Alchemist

You know this was going to be the official, unofficial number one, right? You knew I had to do this. You knew that there was no way I could get through this list without mentioning the anime theme song to end all anime theme songs. This song gets me so hype and it ignites something in me that I’ve felt for damn near twenty years now. The opening animation only continues to sell the song as uplifting, emotional and powerful. There are so many memories of me and my friends singing this song on road trips, during conventions, on stage and more. It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. The vocals sell the song and lifts me to greater heights. I could dedicate more to this song but I’m sure it doesn’t do this song justice. If you’ve somehow never heard it before, just give it a listen.


Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I like doing these Top 10s! What’s the next thing I should rank?

Embracing The End

_There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story._ Frank Herbert.png

After our last post about webcomics, a very common thread appeared as I ranted about why I fell out of touch with some formerly beloved comics: many of them just need to end. And this doesn’t just apply to webcomics, we realistically could have an entire other blog just on anime series and television shows that need to end for a myriad of reasons.But embracing the end of a series is hard; it’s something that I as a creator have really only dealt with once. I finally finished a long fiction project that I started when I was a teenager (no, you can’t read it).  I’m by nature a creator and ending a work is hard. If left to my own devices I would never finish a story, hell the long fiction piece I was working on I continue to dip into that well with short stories and side narratives. I’m afraid to let this piece of fiction go. But we’ve established that I’m a bit of a self-indulgent writer. This fiction piece will never be seen by mortal eyes so it’s okay for me to relish in trudging up old plot points. But for creators who create to be seen, embracing the end is vital.

Before we dip too far into series that refuse to end, I want to talk about a few that ended perfectly. Cowboy Bebop obviously is a perfectly ambiguous ending that if you don’t question when the movie is supposed to be happening ends a serious and dramatic series on a serious and beautiful note. Adventure Time just gave us an ending full of heart and power thus proving that Pendleton Ward is now even better than his master, Butch Hartman (a man who is physically incapable of ending anything[ unless a network demands him to do so]).

Comic books are always in a strange limbo as far as endings go because death means nothing and a character will continue on despite different continuities and canons but that doesn’t mean that comic books don’t ever end. Watchmen as a graphic novel had a fantastically powerful ending. The Death of Superman was such an intense cultural touchstone that folks actually assumed the comic book industry is would collapse upon itself after the death of a beloved icon.

And even an unsatisfying ending is better than nothing. I’ll go on record saying that the end of Trigun is hot garbage but hey, at least it ended. Wolf’s Rain had a terrible ending that I am still angry about but more episodes wouldn’t have fixed the show’s serious structural problems.  InuYasha and really most of the big shonen series have had lackluster endings but them ending has been so powerful and cathartic.

Enjoy positivity, we’re here to talk about the times where a show refused to end and thus have all dragged us down with its pathetic death rolls. I mentioned Sister Claire in my webcomics post and that’s very high on the list for me as far as webcomics that just need to end: we are so far from the original plot that it’s embarrassing. Case Closed is an anime that started many years before me and is now approaching the 1000th chapter of the manga and the point of the main series is so far buried that it is up to be the next mystery for Conan to solve. One Piece should have ended literally years ago and I am refraining myself from talking about it further because it will make me the angry.  

But wait, my usual strawman screeches from the rafters:

But series have to keep going because of money!

Thank you, strawman. Where would I be without you?

Okay, so in anime especially there’s plenty of reasons why a company would keep a series going. Free! Is a series with zero plot that did not need a season three and the third season has taken a series I love and has made me hate it. Boruto is a sequel no one asked for because hey, you kids loved the Naruto. Bleach is going to get a stupid sequel because hey, you love that show, too, right? And many of these series just ended. Bleach’s ending was awful and weak and had easily 4-5 ending points that you can see where painfully drawn out because money. While I could have any entire post about the cash-grab sequel and the horrible thing that is a filler arc, this is more about a lack of an ending due to being a poor writer.

And I don’t say that to insult any writer who is objectively better than I am. But not being able to end a body of work does show some weakness as a writer: one very common to many writers including me, a well-intending idiot.

InuYasha comes to mind. Rumiko Takahashi is a brilliant storyteller and its because of her characters that I am the fan I am today. But she started with a series that could have easily been a few volumes and stretched it out into a series that finished when I was in college. For the record, I started this anime and manga at the same time when I was 12. And it finished when I was an adult: that’s weak storytelling. You can even see the series start and stop and drag on and not know what to do with its at times bloated cast and meandering point. And you can see her be more concise with her more traditional romances, no other series of hers has such a problem ending: she simply struggled with InuYasha. She likely built a world too big for herself and then spent a great deal of time trying to fill that world. Eventually the ending to InuYasha Final Act which was already beginning to meander on after the first anime was cancelled due to her not being able to end she had to rush an ending that left longtime fans like me deeply unsatisfied: but hey, it did eventually end.

Webcomics are an entirely different format that are suited for being longform. And for a slice of life, that’s okay. It’s okay to have a webcomic that doesn’t have a foreseeable end as long as it stays consistent. Girls With Slingshots ran for a small eternity but stayed consistent for its 10 year run and when it did it, it was satisfying and perfectly appropriate for that series. But comics like Sister Claire are now so far removed from its plot that I long for its final end. I’m happy to know that Menage a Three is hopefully wrapping up soon and the other affiliate comics should wrap up.

To rag on a franchise I love, Harry Potter as a world has refused to die because Jo Rowling apparently has too much time on her hands and truthfully her intrusions into the lore and canon of Hogwarts have only soured my desires to continue my studies with the esteemed school: I’m happy to go rogue and create my own stories based on scaffolding that Rowling built for us.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, I divulged that I just finished up one of my long-running fiction pieces. It’s based on a series I love and I started it when I was in high school. I finished a few years ago because I was determined to finish it. During my time after high school, the muse I had to write the series was my then partner, but when my partner left me, I stopped writing. I did my best to will myself to finish the work and I did. It likely will never be published because it’s about as self-indulgent as self-indulgent can be and likely no one would want to read such a thing. But I struggled to end that work and I still dabble in its lore and with its characters because I’m afraid of what will happen if I let this rest. I’m scared I’ll lose that world, those characters, their personalities.

When I say that refusing to end a work is a weakness it’s one I’m fully aware of.

One day, this blog will come to an end.

But not any time soon.

See you next time.

 

The Woman, Framed

“I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.png

I still remember the first boy’s love series I picked up as a young one. It was Gravitation when I was a youngling and almost immediately I loved how radically different the series from from the shonen action fodder that dominated my anime landscape.

Ever since then, I’ve been a huge fan of shonen ai. For one reason or another, I found the aesthetic and tone much more rewarding and interesting than the typical  romance anime and their shojo counterparts. But because shonen ai by default focuses on male characters, the women in them tend to be…well, they’re something. And sure, we’ll pause here for the folks saying:

Well, why are you up in arms about the women in a boy’s love comic?

Because biologically, I’m female and boy’s love is, hilariously, mostly read by women; particularly, young women and the internalized misogyny attached to the genre can be very damaging.

Today we’re going to go over the three main ways women are framed in boy’s love narratives.

For some vocabulary, framing is how we look at a person or a person’s actions. We’ve talked a lot about framing this year but I think it’s an important part of fictive language. Even though we may know a character is in the wrong or in the right, the framing around that act or character can flip those two things very easily. Again like with Killmonger in Black Panther or Thanos in Infinity War the movie frames them oftentimes in the right even though we know they are both genocidal and very very wrong. Framing is an issue because as a viewer, it isn’t always easy to point out the negative in that character. If everything else in the film or work is telling you that this thing, character or act is okay it’s difficult to buck against that even though you may know logically or in your heart that it may not be true.

And now without any further interruption: here are a few ways that women are framed in boy’s love.


The Woman, Obstacle

This is probably the most common and most hurtful. The woman in so many narratives from Gravitation to Yellow feature subplots or plots where the woman stands in the way of the love between the two male leads. Now, this isn’t entirely unheard of. Sometimes men do discover they do not care for their female partner and try either out of curiosity or genuine desire to be themselves be with a male partner. And sure, not every woman is gracious during such a time but the idea that the woman is a consistent barrier to love is frustrating and exhausting. You also see this a lot in fanfiction where authors who wish to ship two male characters will demonize the female aspect the more canonical heterosexual pairing. This is troubling for more than one reason, the first is again the often flat out demonization of the female for standing in the way. Gravitation is the example I’ll use because it is still one of my favorite animes of all time and does absolutely face is issue. Right as Yuki and Shuichi are ready to finally say they are together, a young woman appears claiming to be Yuki’s fiance. This throws a wrench into the entire plot of these two men finally accepting that they may have feelings for each other and the plot (which is peak Murakami hating women and she will continue to do this in almost all of her works for the series) is a series of sight gags trying to get this woman (whose name I refuse to Google or recall) out of the way. Her refusal to “give up” Yuki, a man she is promised because Yuki’s father is a terrible garbage fire of a person along with the rest of the Uesugi family is seen as not courageous or valid but as irksome and immature. Eventually, the plot of the anime and manga give her the sloppy seconds that are Hiro and she is forgotten as Shuichi and Yuki find better things to argue about like whether Yuki is bisexual or gay.

Another example of this is Lizzie in Black Butler. Lizzie is…well, she is a precious little thing (says this Sebastian through gritted teeth). Lizzie is Ciel’s fiance and she is entirely oblivious to the obvious relationship between Sebastian and Ciel while also managing to be the one thing that keeps Ciel from completely diving off into the abyss of the black space where Sebastian’s heart would be. Lizzie’s helplessness and stupidity (which is somewhat corrected in later parts of the manga and the movies but as far as I am concerned, the damage is already done) make her an item that often requires saving: she is in fact that only character that requires as much saving as The Little Master does. Her needing rescuing and just well, existing on screen takes moments away that are more vital to the narrative and Black Butler has a lot going on; story-wise, we simply don’t have time to humor Lizzie and thus she’s consistently one of the least popular characters in the series.


The Woman, Duplicitous

Ah yes, the woman who plays the field for the sake of ruining the main couple. If there is a more common trope in boy’s love, it’d likely only be rivaled with bad hand proportions and hair that covers over one of the protagonist’s eyes. I’ll pull one more Gravitation example because this is my blog and I can do what I want. Yuki’s sister, Mika (who confirms the concept of the Uesugi family being full of garbage people) spends most of the manga and a vast majority of the anime gaslighting Shuichi for the simple sake that she doesn’t like the pink-haired brat with her precious little Eiri. There’s just one problem: this is awful and manipulative and tiresome. And while, yes, Gravitation is an adventure in keeping Yuki Eiri miserable, it’s particularly harmful because Mika is one of the few female characters that: 1) is important 2) has a great deal of lines and 3) isn’t a moron. Mika’s fall from grace is tragic because of what she could be which is a supportive sister who does rightfully have some reservations about her brother’s new boyfriend. We’ll pull a recent example as well, Hitorijime My Hero is the anime that made my heart sing after the Summer of Incessant Ice Skating. Hitorijime My Hero is pretty standard as far as boy’s love plots go centering around Setagawa ( a high school student ) and his mentor and crush Kousuke. During one of the later episodes of the series, Kousuke’s somewhat overly protective friends including one of his stylish female associates decide it’s a great idea to plant seeds of doubt in Setagawa’s mind. Keep in mind, Setagawa comes from what may be one of the more tragic of backgrounds for a mainstream boy’s love character that includes him being a former member of a gang, a neglectful mother and him struggling with the fact that he is in love with a man that’s easily 10 years his senior. It’s actually such a turn from the heart of the series that it took me a while to get back to it: I felt Setagawa’s betrayal and resented the show for using such a cheap trick for the sake of plot advancement.


The Woman, Pious Saint

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the woman as victim and saint. This one is strange at first because it makes you wonder why it’s such a bad thing. Isn’t it good after all of these examples of women who are bad that a woman can be good and pure? Well, here’s why it’s a problem: it removes a woman’s agency and choice. A noted example is Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners where Dr. Haskins’ wife is absolutely oblivious and in the dark about just how much of a tool her husband is. Dr. Haskins is as garbage of a garbage person as you can get, he’s been cheating on his wife since before they were even married and in one of the best parts of the manga, Dr. Haskins is entwined with his polo partner: Danny, who mind you is also engaged to a lovely woman; all the while, Dr. Haskins refuses to acknowledge the commitments either men made to their respective future wives and during their time entangled, Danny’s fiance is looking for him, calling for him and she almost catches them in the act and while Danny struggled to stop the encounter, he didn’t want to be caught.  During the whole thing Dr. Haskins continues not only egging Danny on but actively stopping any of his partner’s protests towards the act. It’s selfish and terrifying. This sets up one, Dr. Haskins as a tool (we’ll pause here for people saying he’s gay and just trying to live his life but cheating is cheating) and that his wife can do no wrong as she is during him cheating with Danny which is alluded to be one of many times, is conveniently out of the country . What’s even more tragic is that Dr. Haskins is a loving family man on the surface despite his affair with the series protagonist, Johnathan. One of the most interesting scenes in Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners involves Johnathan meeting Dr. Haskins’ wife and daughter and she is nothing but gracious and loving and treats the starving college student to a lavish ice cream sundae. She seems totally unaware that her husband is a serial cheater and she praises how loving her darling is despite her constant traveling for work.

This is tragic. We see a woman who is so in love with her husband that she cannot see what is in places a very obvious lie. There are chapters in the manga where it doesn’t even seem like Dr. Haskins cares much about hiding his torrid affairs from his doting wife and robbing women of agency is a huge issue in any narrative. At least if she knew about the affairs, it would still be tragic but it would either be her choice to stay or her choice to leave: both automatically give her more power in a narrative that is strongly run by one man. And yes, it isn’t her story Dr. Haskins being married is a huge part of the story. And his wife isn’t even given the chance to be an obstacle like Lizzie from Black Butler is; she’s just sort of there and she does her best to be supportive and kind. She does eventually become a bit of an obstacle, Johnathan does feel immense guilt after meeting his lover’s wife but not enough to stop sleeping with Dr. Haskins as a means to achieve his goals.


I’m going to take a moment here to address that pin I’m sure all of you have of:

Well, it’s boy’s love. What do you expect?

Here’s the thing. I know plenty of boy’s love stories that feature almost zero women entirely, especially if all they are going to do is be blocks of wood or literal obstacles to plot. Fumi Yoshinaga is an excellent boy’s love mangaka and many of her works either feature no women at all or they are relegated to supporting roles which means they cannot ruin the plot. Even Yoshinaga-senpai’s most noted female character in Antique Bakery appears for an episode and vanishes after dropping a bomb on the plot that is neatly wrapped up within the same episode she appears. Kyo Kara Maoh features several female characters that either push the main pairing together or are there to support the other main characters and not a single one is an obstacle to plot: some are antagonistic but none ever grind plot to a stop.

And here’s why we’re doing this: readers hold onto that misogyny and perpetuate it. I’ve been reading shonen ai for longer than I feel comfortable admitting as well as just shonen anime in general and years of women being irksome plot obstacles sticks with you. Even now, if you’ve been blessed or cursed to read any of my fiction, you can practically see me struggle with writing female characters that aren’t either aggressive Mary Sues or utterly useless pieces of furniture. It would be one thing if that internalized hatred simply stayed on the page but it leaches into other aspects of life. It forms and informs casual sexism and keeps old stereotypes afloat through confirmation bias. It fosters a complacency that means we don’t challenge the norms of female characters and thus create a feedback loop that perpetuates all the things we hate about them and quells any desire to change them for the better.

What’s even more fascinating is that many boy’s love novels are written by women who seem to hate or are irked by women; it’s typically the male shonen ai creators that either don’t worry about female characters at all or show them in a more complex light either as mostly supportive or actively antagonistic. And it is almost entirely women who read (indulge) in shonen ai so this harmful message is really hit home.

Challenging female characters regardless of genre is one of the only ways we can continue to hold creators and characters to a higher standard. Having the same message hammered into your head over and over again that just by being a woman you are lesser in a narrative is immensely hurtful and readers deserve better. They deserved to be loved, respected and appreciated. If we can do it for the boys, even in a trashy shonen ai manga, we can do it for the girls.

The Soundtrack of a Young Man’s Heart

It's so lovely, it's so lovely, there's nothing else for meI'll round up the entire scenery I viewed from hereI’ll take you to that, so please don’t let go.The MELODY of this wild dance will never cease..png

I can’t be the only person who gets super pumped to Ready, Steady, Go!. I can’t be the only one still singing Go!!!. There’s something magical about a good shonen theme song. And while there’s one or two shojo that I like and still sing along to, there’s a special kind of magic that is used by the pairing of a good shonen and a theme. So today, in the spirit of the youthful revolution still in my heart, I wanted to talk about what makes a great shonen theme song, why the themes match so well and why I spent most of my high school career learning how to groan into a microphone like Hyde.

Before we even begin, there’s a saxophone playing elephant in the room. I am will not be mentioning any Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo in this post. Why? Is it because I hate Yoko Kanno? Is it because I can’t stand good music? Hell no. I love both of those soundtracks but Bebop is made greater because of the OST so it’s a little unfair to compare Yoko Kanno belting out her heart to the owl-shrieking that is SID during Monochrome no Kiss. The music of Bebop and the way Watanabe uses music in anime could and should be its own post along with the way Miyazaki uses music. I’ll pause for any more indignation despite reading the obvious reason why I’m not mentioning those works.

All done?

Excellent.

Now, let’s get on with the show.

Some of my favorite songs of all time are from animes. Some of those animes happen to be shonen series and while I’ve been very open about my love of the average shonen series, the way they use music really is genius. So much of the animation, style and feel of a show is conveyed just in the theme music. The translations alone should tell you where you’re going: Save the One, Save the All, No Rain, No Rainbow,  Alones, and so many songs titled Rain. They’re moody, they’re deep and most of them are far more intense than the light whimsy of most shojo. And when a shonen goes girly like Yura Yura for Naruto or the other half of the InuYasha soundtrack. Or it was thematic. The more intense song was the opening like Ready, Steady, Go! To the much softer Motherland that it transitioned into from opening to closing. Bleach is probably the most effective at this where you begin with a song like Asterick and close with Life is Like a Boat. By the end of an episode, you probably need a break and what better break is there than a 2 minute melodramatic-fest.

Even more brilliant is when a theme matches the plot. Think about Death Note briefly. The first two openings are Alumina for the closing and The World for the opening. Both are very 90s Japanese metal from Nightmare and they speak more to a benevolent leader who does what he can despite making unpopular decisions. Really, these are the theme songs to an Ayn Rand fever dream.

The fact of piercing through the whitewash will turn into the truth someday

I want to keep believing in it stubbornly; It’s just my faith. The absolute truth.

And that matches season 1 of the series. Light is a strong dictator with a mission but he feels he is doing the right thing. He feels like he is justice.

By season 2 we get two songs from Maximum the Hormone: Zetsubou Billy as the closing and What’s Up People? As the opening. These are about as vulgar metal as you can get. I totally understand why my aunt didn’t like me screaming these at home. That’s okay. Sang these songs in the halls at school because at school, no one understood the collective screeching of the Japanese Culture Club. By Season 2, Light has gone from caring about his mission to full nihilism and self-protection. Light is willing to kill anyone that stands in his way and that is very evident in these songs.

Despair the Billy

C’mon, morals

Go on, the unstoppable EraserRain

Despair the Billy

C’mon, morals

Go on, the unstoppable EraserRain

And both of the sets of themes are taken from artists who wrote around the series as opposed to just grabbing a song from a discography the way Paradise Kiss did with Do You Want To by Franz Ferdinand (and yes, I know this isn’t shonen, I just needed to prove a point).

I think Naruto also does this very well and it isn’t just because Wind is probably one of my favorite songs. As Naruto gains confidence so do the songs from Go!!! And Haruka Kanata and when the show despairs a little with the main as he loses friends and ties are broken you get songs like Wind and No Rain, No Rainbow, songs that reflect that to get anywhere there are things that must be lost.

It was those themes that inspired me so much as a youth and even more so now as an adult. As a teenager, my anime club and friends sang these songs. At home, I obsessed over learning the lyrics and even began to translate them for Gendou.com. I recorded fandubs. I made friends that I’ve kept most of my life. I’ve made new ones running through convention halls belting Ranbu no Melody. These songs, because they were of our hearts, were of our generation and we committed them to memory. There’s a reason when on road trips Amber and I both finish each and every non-sensual groan Hyde does in Ready, Steady, Go! (Actually, Amber usually leaves those to me. I take them on with pride.). So many of these songs were learned in darkened bedrooms, at late hours of the night, in between homework assignments and collectively with friends.

Look at the music I listen to that isn’t from an animated TV show. I still love the themes of shonen that are determination, forging your own way, self-reliance, the importance or friends and making your own family from those that value you. I also adore the way shonen theme songs frame love in a better way. It’s seldom the obsessive cringe-stalking of shojo series or the passive “I watch you while you sleep” of other girl-centric narratives, it’s romantic while also valuing the person you love like this piece taken from a Bleach closing theme.

I will protect you, from everything that makes you hurt

I don’t even care if other people laugh at me

I may not be able to make it perfect but I’ll definitely make you smile

I swear, I will protect you no matter what

Here’s where I’ll pause and let you have your moment of “Well, Amanda, that’s like totally a matter of opinion.” to which then I submit that point only then to remind you that you are in my world and we briefly go back and forth on the nature of reality and why my hair is blonde for some reason.

Sure, it’s all subjective. The stories and themes of shonen spoke to me and amazingly still do as an adult. If I could pin down one reason I never clicked with shojo it probably just was boring storytelling. I didn’t fit neatly into the narrative of “the normal high school girl”. By age 14 I had buried a parent, moved out from my mother’s house, was living with my aunts and was a strict honor’s student trying to balance a host’s personality on a misanthrope’s heart. Tohru Honda didn’t get me. Kagome Higurashi didn’t get me. And while I found disappointment after disappointment when it came to looking for representation in a female lead in anime, I did find my voice, my heart and my spirit in their male counterparts. That’s what led me to shonen all those years ago. Edward Elric gave me my voice. Yuki Eiri gave me my voice even though Gravitation is to shonen anime what a Jackson Pollock is to an upside-down framed toddler painting.

Not to say that there aren’t series that aren’t shonen that don’t get the music right. Most of the shonen ai series that have taken over my heart and corrupted it like a vine to a statue use music exceptionally: they have to. Most shonen ai series have such a shoe-string plot that something has to keep you in. If you aren’t watching Antique Bakery for anything other than watching Tachibana-san struggle emotionally and financially, you’re there for the beautifully mirrored opening and closing that is Life Goes On and that song is even echoed in the series itself. Tachibana’s ringtone to the phone he almost never answers is the slower, waltz-like version of Life Goes On Side D, the very same song that acts as the shows closing theme that is the foil to the upbeat version that seems to follow optimistic Eiji around which is Life Goes On Side K.

Gravitation is centered around a couple of bands so you’d expect the soundtrack to be great and it’s one of the best. Shuichi’s not so annoying when he sings and Anti-Nostalgic still makes me cry on the right day. I could spend hours going on how Sleepless Beauty is a fantastic song (you should hear me sing it) and how Shining Collection confirms that the true OTP of the series is not Yuki and Shuichi. (GASP. Leave me a comment and I will explain the song to you in a way only a person who has spent almost 20 years obsessing over Gravitation can.)

If I have to praise shojo for a moment (a very brief moment), I still know all the words to Sakura Kiss thanks to years of cosplaying as Tamaki and I’m surprised by how much of the dance from Lucky Star I still remember. Let Me Be With You annoys Amber but I like it. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt doesn’t fit into any one category but it has a fantastic soundtrack. Same could be said for FLCL but when you start with a good base, of course the result is good. (This also could be its own entire blog post but I’d call this one a shonen/coming of age story). 

This was different, wasn’t it?

Let’s do this again soon.

You Are My Friend, You Are My Dream

Today, and even tomorrow and the day after, we'll keep laughing togetherWe're all tied to the same fateToday, and even tomorrow and the day after, we'll walk togetherWhatever happens now, is meant to be.Thank you, Th.png

Why wouldn’t I be into shonen anime? What about a good standard shonen series wouldn’t apply to someone like me? I didn’t click with shojo girls and their mostly small problems. And from an early age I fit much more easily into the narratives of young men against the world. We discussed in an earlier post how some series can grow with you while others get lost in the dust: I wanted to talk about an anime that itself may have been outgrown by me and my current life but has one theme that still holds true to my day to day existence and has been a nearly ever-present constant in my heart: friendship.

Naruto the anime and I have an interesting relationship. I started out as a high school student loving the story of a 12 year old Naruto Uzumaki trying to make his way through Ninja School to become Hokage. But the series did ebb and flow with some high points in the narrative and others that were…well, The Curry of Life arc comes to mind. But one radical notion did always stick with Naruto and my life with that series: how much Naruto went through for his friends. Now, we aren’t going to talk about…”dedicated” Naruto is to Sasuke but we are going to talk about friendship, sacrifice and effort.

Naruto is constantly fighting for Sasuke’s friendship. He is always trying to prove to Sasuke and to the others around him that they are important and that theme is so important to the series that most of the music in Naruto centers around it even before it centers around the romantic love the series tried to push later on in its run. This theme of friendship is so important to most shonen series that it is often more compelling of a story than the one between the main male and the main female.

Sasuke and Naruto have such great chemistry( And I use chemistry platonically. I have great chemistry with people I am not trying to date but that because we’re both compelling and engaging humans.) because they are constantly trying to prove something to the other while Sakura and Hinata are just sort of existing in the world.  Naruto speaks highly of friendship and is willing to do anything anything to prove his worth to Sasuke and then later to Gaara and to an extent to Shikamaru.

Friendship means collaboration, friendship means showing those you care about just how much you care but it also means regardless of where you are or what you are that hardship doesn’t simply  mean that anyone will being your friend.

One of my favorite scenes from Naruto is probably towards the end of the main anime that features Sasuke and Naruto as kids. Sasuke is underwater, he’s drowning in a sea of anger and darkness and a hand sinks below the water. Naruto literally pulls his friend up and is trying to save him. That’s what Naruto is willing to do, that’s how far he’s willing to go and to me that’s beautiful. Even though their backgrounds are similar, their experience shaped how they view the world and that’s what has the potential to make them close or to break them apart.

The same can be said for most shonen main males and their antagonists like Ichigo and Uryu of Bleach or even Goku and Vegeta of Dragon Ball Z. Their narratives together are much stronger because each one of those groups of men are proving themselves to those they care about all the time. Losing a friend is probably at times a more difficult and tragic part of a shonen anime than the main character dying for the 5th time or when the villain gets the magical McGuffin device. Think back to any episode of One Piece. The issue seldom is “Hey, let’s actually find the treasure.” and is usually Luffy trying to keep his crew together. He’s far more invested in keeping Sanji, Zolo, Robin, Nami and Usopp together than his is actually doing anything? And to go back to Naruto, the series only doubles down on the pain Naruto feels having lost Sasuke’s friendship. Shippuden is a giant road trip to find a lost friend and then the sequel Boruto (a show following everyone’s kids for some reason) continues to echo that sentiment. Everyone is still looking for Sasuke. Everyone still wants their lost friend back. 20 some odd years later and we’re all still held hostage while we look for one angsty raven-haired man in the woods.

Let’s get back to the real world before I fall off this soapbox.

I’m fortunate to have some of the best friends in the world. Why do you think I talk about them so much? They’re my family when mine has been less than ideal and I spoil them the best that I can as you’ve seen in several blog posts now. But fundamentally, friendship has always been something to work for and towards. While we all have something in common, we have differing opinions. We have different schedules: some of us live in different parts of the globe. We agree, we disagree. We have varying ideas about how cute a main character is or whether Batman’s a bad guy or a hero.

But it’s also about understanding when not to press an issue. Being of the older generation of the Internet, I’m very aware of the fact that my friends may not be on the same level as I am. They may not want to hear about me trying to figure out a Kousuke Oshiba costume and I don’t always want to hear about Street Fighter.  But them being my friend means supporting them.

Remember that A-Kon I spent mostly bored as the boys played their fighting game? Sure, I complained and I regret that now. But seeing my boys on stage made me so proud that by the second round when they both advanced to the main stage, I was on the ground taking photos. They’re my friends: I celebrate their success. And then immediately after the tournament they supported me as I courted one of my biggest panel audiences ever. I ride the wave of my friend’s success and their passion motivates me: even if it’s in something I may not typically enjoy myself.

Carlos and I have had passionate one-sided conversations while I rant over military uniforms in Japanese anime. And I lovingly will sit and listen to him talk about the game mechanics of Persona 5. And we double down on the things we do have in common like comic books and YuGiOh and misanthropy.

Friendship is struggle, sacrifice and understanding. Friendship is empathy and love and making time even when you don’t want to. Friendship is coming home early, staying up late and listening regardless of  how difficult your day was. Friendship is understanding hype levels, lovingly arguing and being there if and when you need a shoulder to cry on or a stiff drink. Working towards friendship is important and being willing to go above and beyond for those that matter to you is vital.

The lyrics that this is titled from is part of the Naruto Shippuden closing theme Distance and it’s about as shonen of an ending as shonen can be.   It’s strange little song but I think it’s a good place to wrap up with a few of the lyrics.

You are my friend

You are my dream

So I’ll go the Distance