What Was Your First Anime Obsession?by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
We asked our writers one simple question: which anime made you a fan? Not the first anime you ever saw - not the blurry memories of Robotech or Gundam Wing before you knew what anime was - the first show you really embraced as an anime fan. The first show you scraped your pennies together to buy, the first show you bought a ton of merchandise for, the first show that introduced you to the world of anime fandom. The second part was simple: revisit the show and tell us how it strikes you now. Easy, right?
Peruse our critics' responses below and then make sure to hop over into our forums and let us know what your first big show was - the show that made you the fan you are today!
I first watched anime as a young girl in the '90s, cutting my teeth on Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Digimon. I got into shojo manga in middle school. However, it wasn't until high school that I really saw anime could be something special, when I was first introduced to Fullmetal Alchemist. The show was everything I wanted: it had fun and realistic characters, representing every side in the conflict with depth and sympathy, it had deep questions about life, death, morality and identity, and it had an engaging fantasy world with a strong connection (literally) to our own. I was a huge history buff, particularly for World Wars I and II, so putting those parallels in an anime pretty much guaranteed I'd love it.
But what really appealed to me as a teenager was what Fullmetal Alchemist had to say about contemporary politics. The first anime's team took the general anti-war, anti-racism themes of the manga in their own direction to become biting commentary on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It couldn't have come at a better time for my 14-year-old self, who was furious about Bush's re-election and how many of my classmates seemed totally okay with the war. A lot of those people still loved Fullmetal Alchemist though, so Fullmetal Alchemist also showed me that it was possible to stand on your soapbox and also write a story that people will enjoy and connect to regardless of how much they agree with your message.
I was really happy to revisit it a few years ago and discover that it wasn't just an anime version of American Idiot, but still stood the test of time. Heck, some of its political predictions have arguably come true, making it even more relevant now than it was in the mid-2000s. What I really love about it now are the smaller character dramas at its heart: Ed and Al's close bond with each other that gets them through thick and thin, Scar's attempts to reconcile his complicated relationship with alchemy (and his late brother) in light of his crusade against the military, Roy Mustang drowning his guilt and grief in newfound ambitions, and Lust's search for agency and identity. These characters' basic struggles are universal, as are some of the core themes behind its topical ideas. (Even good people can go along with awful regimes.) At the same time, you don't have to pick up on or care about the politics behind the show to get it and love it.
That's good, because most anime that deal with broader political issues aren't quite as specific as Fullmetal Alchemist. Many of my other favorites are about broader issues, like the patriarchy (Revolutionary Girl Utena) or environmentalism (Princess Mononoke) or family structures (Penguindrum). Fullmetal Alchemist prepared me to love those shows by proving that I could find the things in anime that I most love about art: not just escapism to another world, but teaching me something new about the world I do live in.
I got into anime thanks to a blue-haired doll in a sailor suit that shared my name. (Sailor Mercury was “Amy” in the dub.) Since I loved superheroes, I was elated to discover one that wasn't much older than me—and a girl, no less! Of course, once I discovered there was a cartoon on TV that revolved around this girl and her friends battling otherworldly monsters, I made sure to be there every day after school to watch my VHS-recorded episodes of Sailor Moon. (Even as a kid, I wasn't getting up at 5:30 a.m. to watch TV.)
Throughout my middle school years, I was obsessed with Sailor Moon and re-watched every DiC episode more times than I can count. Finding Sailor Moon merchandise became my number one mission every time I was in a store—almost any store. (Even when the show was being marketed to a mainstream youth audience instead of nostalgic anime fans, finding this stuff was harder than you'd think. Things like lunchboxes and even bubble bath became holy grails.) I hunted down all the information I could about the Japanese version of the series and imported some of the manga and other books through my local comic store. I soon became known as the “Sailor Moon kid” to the store owner, who'd call my parents every time she had access to something new.
Sailor Moon combined my love of superheroes with my desire to see stories about girls in my age bracket. While series like X-Men had some kid characters, they were seldom the main focus. When I watched Sailor Moon, I was drawn into a world of fantasy, adventure, romance, comedy, and friendship. Some of the series' earliest installments are still among my all-time favorites. They may have been by-the-books monster-of-the-day boilerplate, but the character relationships and general sense of fun made up for many of the show's narrative shortcomings. I was particularly fond of the rivalry between “Serena” and “Raye,” an element that was absent from the source material and the decidedly more manga-faithful recent anime remake.
It took about a year for me to realize that my love for Sailor Moon might extend to other anime. After picking up my first issue of Animerica (which featured Sailor Moon on the cover), I became aware of dozens of other “cartoons” that bore a strong aesthetic resemblance to my favorite show. Among the first other anime series I picked up from my local Suncoast and Blockbuster were Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo!, and Slayers. Although these series didn't have much in common with Sailor Moon, I quickly became hooked on each one of them. Anime offered creative stories, unique characters, and imaginative settings I was hard-pressed to find in other popular media.
To this day, the original Sailor Moon is one of my favorite series, but that isn't to say it's one of the best I've ever seen. Even though DiC's dub is embarrassingly cheesy and maligned by the fandom at large, I actually have a soft spot for it. Yes, I've now seen the entire series in its native Japanese and prefer the show without edits, but the haphazardly-edited, crazily-dubbed version of the show is what cemented my love for anime. Every once in a while, I can still be found rocking out to the dub's soundtrack and the strangely-conceived Lunarock. There's no question that I view this series through rose-tinted glasses, but a lot of it holds up well, and I think it has more heart and humor than the modern-day remake.
Jacob Hope Chapman
Like many other '90s babies, I was introduced to anime through a cadre of monster shows made to sell me toys and games. I was the perfect target age for Pokémon when it hit big in America, and you better believe I bought into the phenomenon hard. But all the hours and hours of Kanto-league Pokémon and Digimon Adventure that I consumed didn't really get me interested in "anime" as a separate thing from Western cartoons, since I started watching them when I was about 8, but didn't get into anime until I was 11 or so. Even when I was confronted with the fact that these monster cartoons were made in a different country, I didn't feel compelled to check out other Japanese cartoons as their own thing just yet. My little kid brain decided that Pokémon and Digimon made me feel things deep down, more like Disney or Pixar movies, while other TV cartoons like Dexter's Lab or SpongeBob just made me laugh really hard, but that didn't make one kind more enjoyable than the other. Cartoons were cartoons, and I loved them all.
But finally, in 2001, I saw a monster show that was incredibly different, even though it was technically a rebooted third season of the Digimon franchise I already loved. This one was called Digimon Tamers, and it caught my attention right away by scaring the crap out of me.
Now my folks didn't want me to watch a lot of TV in general, and I definitely wasn't supposed to be watching the "demonic" foreign monster cartoons that were all the rage at the time. Even though I knew that Japanese monster shows were more story-driven than other cartoons, I had to accept getting the story out of order, taping and sneaking episodes when I could get away with it. I'd already done it with the first two seasons of Digimon, but I got pretty frustrated with Tamers because its story was way more continuity-heavy than Adventure, and I kept missing huge chunks of the plot. When episode 34, "Lionheart," came up on my successfully smuggled Saturday morning VHS tape, I had probably only seen about eight other episodes before it, but this was the one that would seal my fate as a future anime fanatic.
The show's former comic relief stooge, Impmon, had made a deal with the devil to become a grotesque power-mad monster named Beelzemon, and "Lionheart" was not downplaying how disturbing this twist was supposed to be. I distinctly remember the first big chill running down my spine when heroine Kyuubimon desperately tried to burn Beelzemon's hands and make him drop the huge guns he was pointing at the kids. At first he screamed and dropped his weapons, but then he smiled and held up his now ungloved hands to reveal horrifying claws for shredding Kyuubimon into pieces. It may not look like much now, but I had never been that freaked-out watching a cartoon before. Everything in the scene, from the cast's intense reactions to the ominous music, was playing this moment up like Kyuubimon was really going to die. She didn't, though! Instead, Beelzemon thrust his claws right through the stomach of Leomon, partner to the kindest and sweetest girl on the Tamers' team, Jeri. He evaporated into bits of data, Beelzemon swallowed them up, and Jeri started screaming. Well, maybe they could all band together, defeat Beelzemon, and bring Leomon back somehow before the episode ended? Nope. The team's leader Takato went ballistic, mutating his equally kind and sweet partner Guilmon into a mindless rage-fueled abomination with acidic drool. When Takato dropped his digivice (the connection between monster and kid) in horror at what he'd created, it shattered and evaporated. The last line of the episode was just more of Jeri screaming. Roll credits.
I was not going to miss the next episode of Tamers, even at risk of getting caught and punished. I was hooked harder than I'd ever been into a TV show before, and as Tamers went on, it continued to shock and provoke me with its imagery and concepts. Leomon was dead for good, and the entire last quarter of Tamers was devoted to exploring Jeri's grief, as she came to terms with both Leomon's death and her mother's from years before. I had never seen anything like that before. When I asked my friends if they had any other Japanese cartoons, one of them lent me my first Ghibli movie, Princess Mononoke, and that scared the pants off me too! I promptly returned it to her the next day and told her I hated it. (I didn't really, but I had no idea how to explain the visceral reaction it had gotten from me.) Honestly, many of my most vivid memories of discovering anime are related to being shocked and upset. My first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, another early discovery, was "Night of the Chimera's Cry," and I sure couldn't go to sleep after I saw that, but I knew I wanted more.
Nowadays, I attribute most of my anime fan-love to the medium's capacity for complex storytelling and wide range of subject matter. But these are draws that I discovered over time, by watching enough anime to see patterns and quirks that I enjoyed. At the very beginning, before I knew anything else about it, I was attracted to anime because it was the only kind of cartoon that had the power to terrify me.
Like many who first got into anime in the late '80s or early '90s, the Streamline Pictures dub of Akira was my gateway title. After that though, several years passed where I drifted along as only a casual anime fan, since not much was available to someone who didn't have the college club connections needed to get early fansubs. Besides, nothing really captured my fancy to anywhere near the degree of Akira. (The downside of having one of the most spectacularly animated anime movies as your gateway title is that it sets an impossibly high bar.) That changed for me in the mid-90s when a slough of bold newer titles started hitting the convention viewing room scene all around the same time. While several of those titles are probably collectively responsible for making me a serious anime fan (the Ghost in the Shell movie, Tenchi Muyo!, and the fansubbed version of Bastard!! – complete with all of the original heavy metal references), the one that most captured my attention was the Ninja Scroll movie.
If you've seen the movie, then it's probably easy to understand the appeal that someone raised on violent '80s action spectacles like Die Hard and Aliens could find in this hyperviolent, heavy-sexualized tale about battles between super-powered monks, ninja, and ronin. I first came across it in a convention viewing room's schedule listing and was intrigued by its description, along with the fact that it had been relegated to a 1 a.m. viewing slot, so I stayed up to check it out. I was hooked from the early scene where one ninja literally had his arms torn off by the big, stony-bodied Demon of Kimon, who then proceeded to drink his victim's blood as it gushed out of the ruin where the ninja's arm used to be attached. I had certainly never seen anything like that before, not even in my revered Akira! I was glued to the seat for the rest of it and loved how liberally it mixed in nudity, something which even my favorite R-rated action movies usually didn't do much. The distinctive visual style and throbbing, hard-hitting musical score also made an impression. I ended up seeing the movie a handful of times over the next few years and snapped up the 10th Anniversary Edition DVD release when it came out later.
The movie has not been a regular rewatch for me over the past decade or so, primarily because my interest in hyperviolent fare has waned over time. However, I did jump at the chance to revisit and review it when it made its debut on Blu-Ray late in November 2012. (The full review can be read here.) This time around, I was much more critical of the storytelling, which is rather thin and doesn't spend much time on character development, two factors I didn't care as much about back in the mid-'90s. Still, it's lost little to nothing in its status as a stylish-looking, standard-setting graphic action thriller. Few titles have come along over the past two decades that rival its success in that regard, and I still occasionally find myself asking the question, “okay it's graphic, but is it on a level with Ninja Scroll?” More than anything else, that's probably the best testament to its lasting impact on me.
Technically speaking, I fell in love with my first anime series, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, when I was seven years old and Nickelodeon aired it at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am. Of course, this being the 1980s, there was no way for me to know it was anime, so I didn't figure that out until the advent of the Internet. By that point, Sailor Moon had aired on American television, so I knew what I was looking for in a VHS fansub: strong girl characters, magic, and some kind of interesting mythology, because I never forgot how fascinated I was by the Incan legends in MCoG. You can probably guess by now that what I found was a magical girl show, and the one that solidified my love of the genre: Wedding Peach.
In all honesty, this was an odd title for me to latch onto – weddings aren't my favorite events. (You never get cake soon enough!) But I was taken in by the story: devils arriving on Earth to (literally) occupy peoples' hearts and make them reject love and friendship was an appealing explanation for the cruelty of my school experience. The fact that these monsters could only be stopped by a group of teenage girls showed “girl power” in a way I hadn't really seen since my childhood worship of Rainbow Brite. The fact that it lacked the screechy English voices of the Sailor Moon dub made it more appealing than that show, and I loved that the heroines were friends from the start, giving them a closer bond than “Serena” and her group. And of course, there were the transformations: all of the Love Angels transformed twice. Not only did this mean more transformation scenes, which I loved, but there was also an appealing practicality to it; first the girls transformed into their Love Angel forms with full wedding dresses and bouquets, and then when it was time to actually kick bad guy ass, they changed again into their Fighter Angel outfits of leotards and short skirts so they could move.
A lot of what I loved about Wedding Peach back when I first found it still holds up for me today. Momoko, Yuri, and Hinagiku's bond both before and after their transformations makes them a stronger fighting force than most cobbled-together magical girl groups, as Angel Salvia's later entrance on the scene helps show. They aren't all good feelings and perfect days, though – Momoko is often the odd girl out or teased by the other two, which helps them to feel like a more believable group even though Hinagiku and Yuri never get actually mean. The story respects them enough as individual characters to not only give them their own interests and episodes, but to also give all of them romance plots; in fact, Yuri, Angel Lily, is the one who gets the guy presented as “most desirable” rather than Momoko, the main heroine. Likewise I still think it's neat that Momoko is the only one of the girls who isn't a strict reincarnation of her previous self. Angels Lily and Daisy were reborn on Earth after dying in their previous lives, but Momoko is the daughter of a Love Angel and a human. Technically, this should make her less powerful, but instead she's presented as the strongest because of her mixed heritage. The plot itself is still pretty typical of a magical girl show (reincarnations, star-crossed lovers, elegantly evil villains), but the characters get more time to grow, particularly in the case of Yousuke and Momoko.
I still have a place in my heart for Wedding Peach – in fact, even though I paid my fansub debt and bought the DVDs when they were released, I still have my old fansubs, like a video cassette security blanket. It has been replaced as my favorite magical girl show (by Nurse Angel Ririka, which needs a legal release!) and some of the goofier aspects, like randomly toasting with milk or those metal garters, magical lipstick, and battle heels, don't quite hold up anymore. But I still pop in my soundtrack sometimes and thrill to their double transformations. It's a show I'm not likely to forget, and whenever I'm walking past a group of lilies or daisies, I think of it and smile.
Like many anime fans my age, my first regular introduction to anime was the Toonami block on Cartoon Network. Coming home after school every day to catch episodes of DBZ, Tenchi, or Rurouni Kenshin was a formative media experience for me; I can still remember how shows like Outlaw Star dazzled me with how good ambitious cartoon shows could actually be. But outside of watching what was conveniently on television, I didn't really get into anime as anime until a friend of mine loaned me his burned CDs of that classic anime romance, Love Hina.
Love Hina was a revelation for me in early high school. I'd always been a sucker for romance in that kind of mopey, self-absorbed teenager way, and not only was Love Hina funny and endearing and full of characters who actually seemed to like each other, it was also about people older than me, characters one brief life-stage up stumbling through romantic follies, as they struggled their hardest to get into college. Even then, the slapstick could get pretty hammy, but the characters felt like people worth caring about, and that was important to me. After an adolescence spent consuming typical action-packed guy-stuff, a show about pining and heartbreak and feelings in general seemed like the most intimate, heartfelt, and worthwhile story imaginable.
Everyone remembers their first harem. I actually do return to Love Hina from time to time - I haven't seen the anime since high school, but I own the manga (which goes further than the anime, actually showing a couple negotiating early relationship hurdles), and every few years I give it another glance. It certainly shows its age and doesn't quite measure up as the ode to human truth and romance that my teenage self imagined, but it's still endearing, and its characters still like each other in a way I find valuable. It's canned and repetitive and clearly a boy's story, but there's an earnestness there.
In retrospect, Love Hina was probably a better indicator of my future tastes than other high school favorites like Cowboy Bebop or Evangelion would turn out to be. I can enjoy shows in most genres, but my heart rests with the shows that find people themselves the most magical concept, and the bonds between them the most valuable treasure. In 2016, what Love Hina offers as a romantic comedy may be echoed and usurped by countless other stories, but what it offered teenage me in terms of coming to understand myself is irreplaceable. I'm pretty comfortable having Love Hina be my first truly beloved anime.
Also, Naru and Keitaro are a super-cute couple, even if he did have better chemistry with Motoko. Love is a battlefield!
I can say with confidence that I became an anime fan in December of 1999, when I was 12 years old. I've always wanted to be a writer, so I had a diary even then. At the risk of totally embarrassing myself, I'm going to introduce my first anime through my first diary entry about it:
OK, so obviously the joke's on me. Last I heard from Sharon, she had her hands full being a mom, a teacher, and a productive member of society while I marathoned Fushigi Yuugi on the weekends. Fortunately, if you want to get into anime now, you don't have to choose between saving your allowance to buy $40 VHS tapes at the mall or a big sister with a job who can afford them.
Anyway, the first thing that captivated me about Slayers was the art style. I'm probably preaching to the choir, but it was so different than anything I'd ever seen animated on TV. Sharon and I would pause the screen for thirty minutes at a time and practice drawing the characters, with their glittering eyes and sharp chins and noses. I was also fascinated by the foreign words that came out of their mouths. We'd rewind an interesting phrase (usually one of Lina's colorful threats) over and over until we could mimic it like an inside joke to one another at school. The words I most remember learning were “tako” (octopus) and “himitsu” (secret). To this day, I still try to pick up at least one new Japanese word with every anime I watch.
Unfortunately, Slayers hasn't aged well. The exaggerated art style is totally 90s and barely animated at that. Today, I recognize it as a series of clichés and quite a few dirty jokes that went over my head at the time. (It is a seinen anime after all.) Even though it was my first show, the one that made me fall in love with anime in the first place, I've never felt a desire to track down those VHS tapes or DVDs and add them to my collection. Slayers showed me a completely different world so “far away,” from my own, to use a line from its extremely catchy intro music, and I'd rather remember it fondly in the past than scrutinize its imperfections today.
The first anime series I ever really attached to was Tenchi Universe, which is the low-rent TV adaptation of an OVA series people liked a lot more. It was 1996, the show had just started coming out on VHS, and I had wandered into a Best Buy on a Saturday afternoon looking for anime after reading some Lum comics. If I'm being honest, It's tough for me to talk about it.
Not because the show betrayed me horribly or I have some traumatic memories associated with Tenchi Muyo!, or that I'm horribly embarrassed by my former love of Tenchi – I was 16, a standard-issue turbonerd in high school, absolutely powerless in the face of a show like this - but because honestly, there just isn't that much about Tenchi Universe that's particularly memorable. Given that it's the first anime I honestly fell in love with – I bought Tenchi everything, from CDs to figures to wallscrolls to the hilariously overpriced VHS release of the TV series – it's a little disconcerting that I remember so very little about the actual plot of Tenchi Universe.
Going strictly from memory, let's see, how did it go – there's a potato-faced kid, Tenchi, who talks like Kermit the Frog. He has a bunch of alien ladies who all want to sleep with him, including Aggressive Girlfriend, Prissy Girlfriend, Airhead Girlfriend, Career Girlfriend, 80s Science Girlfriend and, uh, 8-Year Old Girlfriend. Eventually there are spaceships and lightsabers, the 8-year old turns out to be 700, and Tenchi fights a guy named Kagato. I remember Kagato's name but absolutely nothing else about him.
That was my entire memory of Tenchi Universe before revisiting the show for this piece, and I have to be honest – my memory didn't really fail me. That's the show – Tenchi is a potato-faced kid who sounds vaguely like a pubescent Kermit the Frog, he has a bunch of girlfriends who fight over him for lord-knows-why, and then there's some sci-fi stuff. I was particularly struck by how slow this show moved along – revisiting Trigun showed me just how slow stuff from the 90s could be, with that sleepy cadence, those slow pans and all that odd silence designed to pad the episode out, but everyone in Tenchi Universe (particularly the dub) sounds like they just got shot with a horse tranquilizer.
Ryoko: “Hey… Tenchi… let's… go… to… the…”
Me, shouting at the TV: LAKE. YOU WANT TENCHI TO GO TO THE LAKE WITH YOU SO YOU CAN TELL THIS BLANK POTATO BOY THAT YOU INEXPLICABLY LOVE HIS WOODEN SOUL
Ryoko, several seconds later: “…shrine”
Me, angry: GAAAH
Revisiting Tenchi Universe was predictable – I laughed at the old corner-cutting animation, and the outdated dub, and the impossibly retro character designs. I laughed at Tenchi's dad, Nobuyuki, who has maybe one of the most bizarre dub voices I've ever heard. The English casting in this show is absolutely bonkers, like they wanted the show to sound like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from 1972 (try to imagine what “snooty princess” might've sounded like in an episode of Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch and tell me Ayeka's voice isn't a 1:1 match). I laughed, and laughed, and in all of that laughing, remembered exactly why I loved Tenchi Universe so much as a fledgling nerdlinger 20 years ago.
I didn't love Tenchi Universe because I wanted to imagine myself surrounded by alien women with low standards in men – what I loved about Tenchi was what it represented. If you've never seen anime before, Tenchi Muyo! is absolutely perfect gateway material – the story is a touch more complex than your average action cartoon, it has both fighting AND sex appeal, it's unabashedly for teenagers without getting too raunchy and it looks like nothing from the west at all. Tenchi Universe introduced me to the following concepts at 16:
- Professionally-produced animation can tell stories aimed at adults (or in Tenchi's case, teenagers at least)
- Animation doesn't have to look like Disney feature animation or whatever's on in syndication
- Serialized dramatic storytelling not only works in animation, it works particularly well
- Hey, I really like romantic comedies!
All of this stuff feels significant now, and to think that I came around to all of this as the result of watching something as ephemeral as Tenchi Universe – well, it imbues the show with a little personal meaning for me. In many ways, I fell for the most obvious bait available, and though I had no idea at the time what an impact on my life this stuff would have, I remain forever indebted to Tenchi Universe for opening my little manbaby brain up and showing me the stories that animation was capable of telling.
So thanks, Tenchi Universe. You were like the pretty-OK sandwich that showed me there's a whole ocean of delicious sandwiches out there for a sandwich-loving guy like me to experience. I'll never forget you again.
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