My Anime Journey: What’s it all about?
Anime is a hotly contested subject and considering the darker sides of it, it is easy to see why.
Hi, I’m Andrew Quinn. Magic players among you may know me as a Judge for competitive level Magic. I also recently became a fan of anime and as someone who used to not look particularly favourably on anime as a culture, I would like to discuss the reasons why I changed my mind about this culture. I will also talk about some of the different series that I’ve grown to love and would like to share with as many people as possible.
Growing up, I loved watching Yu-Gi-Oh! on TV and this love drove me to start playing the card game, which ultimately led me to play Magic. I was put off by every other anime series that was around at the time. Shows that came on the kids channels that I would watch with my brother, such as Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z and Shin Chan just didn’t appeal to me. Some adverts looked downright stupid. Whether it be the toilet humour seen in Shin Chan or the over the top action sequences of DBZ, I never really wanted to get into these sorts of shows. Granted, I was watching Yu-Gi-Oh! but I’d always loved card games and something about that resonated with me in a big way.
This isn’t the only thing of course. As a judge, I’m very familiar with “ecchi,” in the form of busty anime girls in sexy poses being used on sleeves, playmats and even card alters. “Ecchi” is a Japanese word meaning sex or perversion. As a genre in anime, ecchi is the use of things like upskirt camera shots, lack of clothing, cleavage shots and other such things, usually as an attempt at humour. Whilst some fans undoubtedly enjoy this, ecchi is naturally the most controversial topic in anime and lots of people see it as perverse.
So, why did I even bother with anime if I had so many reasons to dislike it? Well, at first it was a combination of my brother getting into the genre and me being bored one day and deciding to look further into it. What has kept me interested is the fact that my earlier 2 points are nowhere near as prevalent as I first thought. The majority of anime series don’t fall into either of the above categories and that suits me perfectly.
“No one knows what the future holds. That’s why its potential is infinite.” – Rintarou Okabe
Enter, Steins;Gate. Steins;Gate is easily one of the best anime series of all time. Rintarou Okabe (or Okarin as his friends call him) is a man in his early twenties who spends most of his time bumming around in his “Future Gadget Laboratory” with childhood friend Mayuri Shiina (or Mayushi for short) and best friend Hashida Itaru, a perverted hacker who goes by the name “Daru.”
Okabe sees himself as a mad scientist by the name of “Hououin Kyouma” who will eventually invent a device to take down the establishment. His wish comes to fruition when one day the three of them discover a way to send e-mails back in time (which they dub as d-mails). with the help of scientific genius Makise Kurisu and a number of other new lab members, Okabe manages to send multiple d-mails into the past and ends up changing the present. Whilst no one notices any changes as their memories change along with the timeline, Okabe has the ability to notice changes in the timeline and eventually realises that his changes need to all be reversed, so he sets out to fix the mess he has caused.
One by one, characters come to Okabe, learning of his ability to change the past and make deeply personal requests to change parts of themselves that they’ve always wanted to change. For example, Ruka Urushibara is a boy whom has grown up as transgender and has always yearned to actually be born a girl, like her looks and personality would suggest. Faris is a popular idol who works in a maid cafe in Akihabara and is responsible for a lot of the “moe” culture in the city (Moe is a term which generally means cute things). Despite her very cheery and bubbly personality, her father died when she was very young and she naturally misses him and wants him to still be with her. Steins;Gate is a wonderful series that proves to be capable of tackling very difficult and personal situations whilst also being wacky and funny. Not to mention the great number of stories that I’m of course not divulging for the sake of not spoiling the show.
In the interests of neutrality, does Steins;Gate have anything going against it? Well, of course it does. Every show does. The most common complaint of the series is how slow the plot develops. The first two episodes develop very quickly but then the next 8 or so are very stagnant. There are 24 episodes in total and these can be divided into 2 very distinct halves. Episode 12 is a major turning point in the plot, after which the series is incredible but before which is quite slow. A lot of people are critical of the series claim they didn’t bother to continue past the first 10 or so episodes.
Unfortunately, the show is not completely devoid of all annoying anime tropes, although it does do a good job of getting rid of them. Transgender character Ruka is often put in very stereotypically feminine situations to hammer home the point that she aspires to be a girl. The scene that introduces her has her making rather sexual moans whilst practicing Kendo. In one scene, Kurisu and Mayushi are bathing together (it is common practice in Japanese culture for people of the same sex to bathe together) and Okabe walks in on them. This is a fairly common scene in anime and given that this particular scene has no bearing on the plot whatsoever, it’s a little disappointing to see this scene. It is absolutely true that it’s hard to get away from the fact that this is an anime and it will have some of the typical themes you might associate with that, but it doesn’t detract from just how good the series is.
Steins;Gate is nothing short of a masterpiece. An incredible drama that has something to appeal to absolutely anyone. The full series is available on Netflix and is viewable in both English and Japanese (I highly recommend Japanese with subtitles). Now is even a great time to watch the series as the sequel: Steins;Gate 0 is coming out this summer. I can’t divulge anything about the plot without naturally giving away the ending of the original, but believe me I’m excited to see what happens.
Ok, so allow me to explain a little bit more about myself. I love drama, romance and comedy. I don’t like action series quite as much as I love a good romantic drama series. This leads me to my favourite anime series: Toradora!
Toradora is a Japanese pun. Tora is Japanese for tiger and dora is short for dragon. In Chinese mythology and folklore, Tigers and Dragons are eternal rivals. Toradora follows two main characters named Aisaka Taiga (the tiger) and Takasu Ryuuji (Ryuu is the Japanese word for dragon). Both seniors in High School, Ryuuji and Taiga bond over an unfortunately placed love letter. Taiga places a love letter in someone’s bag, thinking it belongs to her crush, Yuusaku Kitamura (Ryuuji’s best friend) but it naturally belongs to Ryuuji. Late that night, Taiga breaks into Ryuuji’s house to recover the letter and of course beat up Ryuuji until he forgets that he ever found it. When Ryuuji points out that the envelope was actually blank and he didn’t see anything, Taiga spares him and they begin to talk. It turns out Ryuuji also has a crush: on Taiga’s best friend, Kushieda Minori. At that point they swear to each other that they will help each other to find love with their respective crushes.
In anime history, Toradora started a trend that would be extended into many future series. The trend of the modern “Tsundere” character. Tsundere is a term coined by fans of anime dating sims in the early 2000s, which refers to a character that is outwardly aggressive whilst having a sweet, sensitive side. Whilst Tsundere characters have been around in anime for a long time, Toradora started a wave of new Tsunderes in popular anime, largely headlined by Kugimiya Rie, the voice actress behind Aisaka Taiga. Rie had her breakout headline performance with Taiga and that led to her receiving many lead roles in anime throughout the last decade, mostly in headlining Tsundere characters. Toradora started a wave that has persisted to this day and will always remain in anime history for this reason.
One of my favourite characters in the series, and one of the most deep and interesting characters of I’ve come across in anime, is the 5th main cast member: Kawashima Ami. Ami is the quintessential “hot girl” character associated with not just anime but all forms of TV shows. She’s a supermodel, admired by others for her good looks and perfect figure and ogled at by the boys in class for the same reasons. She comes off as ditsy and clueless and that only seems to add to her appeal, making her appear as very pure and innocent. However, that’s where the archetypal traits end. As it happens, Ami has a darker side. She is arrogant, deeply self-absorbed and simply hates everyone. Being a supermodel, she has learned to hide her true nature from anyone she’s close to and from the public. Ami has always despised other people, largely because they fall in love with this fake personality of hers and she fears they would hate her if they knew the truth about her. She immediately finds a rival in Aisaka Taiga, whom has managed to gather a following of close friends and admirers despite her equally repellent personality. The two fight a lot and hurl insults at each other, but over the course of the series they grow incredibly close, out of mutual respect. Taiga even slowly downgrades her trademark insult for her until it becomes like a term of endearment (she starts by describing Ami as being like a dumb chihuahua in heat, with the way she constantly seeks affection from others and eventually just calls her bakachi, short for dumb chihuahua).
By far, one episode stands out above all others. The Christmas episode! Taiga is just coming off a recent suspension for starting a fight in school (it’s a long story) and as she’s coming back to school, preparations for Christmas are about to begin. As a member of the student council, Kitamura is planning a Christmas party at the school and Taiga sees it as the perfect opportunity for Ryuuji to confess his love to Kushieda and win her heart. She’s confident it will work and is pretty sure that Kushieda loves him too. Not only that, but Taiga seems to love Christmas. She recalls a story that when she was little, Santa came to her and gave her a present, telling her that if she was good at Christmas then he would come back. Ever since then, Taiga has tried to be as good as she can around the time so that Santa can come and reward her. She thinks that by getting Ryuuji and Kushieda together, she will finally get what she’s been looking for. This episode is wonderful for so many reasons. The party itself is incredibly funny, with Kitamura sporting a “topless Santa” look (wearing the typical white beard and red trousers) and generally making a fool of himself. As part of her plan to facilitate Ryuuji and Kushieda’s confession, Taiga plans a performance with Ami and they perform a beautiful Christmas song together on stage. When Kushieda doesn’t even show up at the party, Taiga goes looking for her and tries to convince her to meet with Ryuuji. Ryuuji, who’s finally managed to see how much Taiga has done for him, comes up with a plan of his own. He goes to her apartment that night, dressed in a large bear costume, claiming to be Santa. This scene alone is a reason to watch not just this episode but the whole series. Seeing Taiga finally be granted the wish she’s been hoping for for the last ten years is such a lovely scene and I will remember it forever. It is one of the sweetest moments you could ever see on Television, whether you’re watching anime or live action.
Hopefully this has given a little insight into my anime world so far and if I have convinced just one person to give either of these series a go then I’ll consider this a job well done. Moving forward, what I would like to do in this blog is discuss many of the issues surrounding anime and provide examples of series I’ve watched that I believe are good examples of how these issues are addressed. Next week, I will be talking about the ongoing issue of sexist attitudes that seem to be portrayed by anime.
Until next time!