Image © Toei Animation.
With 2013 here, it's a good time to reflect on what's happened in the past year. More than that, it's also a reflection of years past as well. For me, this will be my 20th year following anime. It is a genre that has saved my life repeatedly over the years. I don't know what would have happened if I never got involved in anime and the world of Japanese pop culture. This is my story.
I first got into anime back when Dragon Ball Z was big in all parts of Asia in the early '90s. A friend of mine introduced me to Cantonese dubs of the series. I used to go to the Chinatown in my area and bought so many Bandai Cardass cards. My favorite character was Vegeta. I wanted almost everything related to the character. Part of me was fascinated in his behavior, as he was the first character I've seen in cartoon media that went from bad to good. My passion for DBZ grew as the Internet became popular in the late '90s and I learned more about the series through various fansites. You can say I was a DBZ hipster since I was into the series before it became mainstream in the United States.
After graduating high school, my life suddenly took an abrupt turn as I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Everything was a mess for me. I felt life was meaningless. Maybe I wasn't prepared for life after high school. The worst part was that thoughts of suicide emerged. I drowned myself in anime and video games for a while until I discovered a couple of series in the early 2000s' that would move me emotionally.
Image © Nobuhiko Watsuki, SHUEISHA Inc.
The first was Rurouni Kenshin. I watched the series up to the point where fillers became rampant. While I was fond of many of the characters, my personal favorite had to be none other than Saitou Hajime. You can say I liked him because of his similarities to Vegeta. Because of Saitou, I got into soba noodles and developed a sense of justice similar to his “Swift Death to Evil” philosophy. The guy was literally true to himself. RK was a turning point as well as it was the first anime series to get me to read manga. Mostly because it covered more of Saitou. The moment that made me cry and believe that I should continue to fight was Kenshin's depression period around Volumes 24-25. Seeing him in conflict with himself on how to continue living sent chills to my spine. The moment when an old man reminds him that he's still clutching his sakabatou despite being in mental turmoil made me think about how the answer to my life was right in front of me, and that answer was that I have to be there for those who need my help.
Image © Studio Pierrot.
The second series was Great Teacher Onizuka. If you haven't watched or read this series, you are missing out on one of the most captivating shonen titles ever. I hated the “adult” way of thinking and loved how Onizuka fought against that mentality. The way he was able to relate to his students was amazing. GTO has a special place in my heart since I always wondered what it would be like to be Onizuka, only smarter. It spoke to me because I wished my high school experiences were fun. Though I did wish the series featured more of Urumi Kanzaki near the end. She was my favorite character and I loved how Onizuka won her heart by telling her that it's not just her that has problems and that there are people who were willing to save her. In a sense, I was Urumi.
Image © Studio Pierrot.
In the mid-2000s', thanks to the power of online streaming, BLEACH was the next title to influence me. Back when the the series was amazing, I wanted someone to be my Rukia Kuchiki. Someone who could change my world. I did meet a lovely lady in college who did make my life better, but philosophical differences tore us apart over the years. Kind of similar to how the story of BLEACH has gone these days, huh?
Image © SUNRISE.
As of right now, I don't follow that much anime these days as I heavily prefer manga, though I do watch a few notable series based on fan reaction. The only current anime series I'm really obsessed with is Gintama. You can say that I'm a real-life Yorozuya; I'm just trying to make ends meet while encountering interesting folks along the way.
Image © Xebec, Inc.
The scary part is that I still struggle with my inner demons to this day. Just recently, I got into Pandora Hearts and read the intense confrontation between Oz Vessalius and Eliott Nightray in Volume 6 of the manga. This led me to take a hard look at myself. There were times where I craved death and I was happily willing to throw it away to protect someone else. I thought that my life had no value. However, I know that there are people who do worry about me and that folks I'll meet in the future will appreciate someone like me around them.
I'm also at an age where I can be considered an “old man”. It makes me depressed, but last year, I met someone older than me who has a productive life and is a proud otaku. She gives me hope in that I can continue to grow up in terms of using my love of anime to mature myself and not be a boring old person. I'm really, really grateful for meeting someone like her in my life. She's also helped open my eyes to other things in the anime/manga world. To this person, thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart. You know who you are.
Image © Toei Animation.
I will continue to fight these demons with an unrelenting spirit of optimism. Part of that optimism coming from the vibrant world of Japanese animation and comics. Thank you, Japan, for your imagination and showing how much it can move lives all over the globe.
For my fellow otaku, I hope anime and manga bring you strength in the coming year and many years beyond it.
Tony Yao has been an avid fan of Japanese pop culture since junior high school. He blogs about the psychological aspects of anime/manga/video games at Manga Therapy. In his spare time, he enjoys exercising, watching sports, hanging out with friends, eating, a lot of sleeping, and obsessing over his favorite anime/manga series, Gintama.
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