One of the things that my wife and I bonded over when we first started dating was growing up and being into the late 1990’s/early 2000’s Japanese anime and manga boom. Being a kid into weird sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and niche subculture things, of course I was drawn to this sort of stuff. I grew up on genre fiction, and I felt like when I was 19, 20, 21 or so I was in a desert when it came to options I enjoyed or I felt really pushed the limits of what could be done. Japanese comics and anime fell right into that gap for me.
Neither of us are really as into it as we used to be, but periodically we’ll return to a lot of these works from a pretty-crucial time in our lives, watching our old DVD’s or digging through the offerings that a lot of TV streaming services have surprisingly-offered (although, I shouldn’t be too surprised considering how much stuff I actually used to initially find during the early days of Netflix, when I was part of the early-wave of just-DVD Netflix users and all they had in their catalogue was horror movies and tons of anime).
I know that a part of it was being an impressionable kid who found the “exoticism” of foreign media fascinating, because some of it looking back is…not that great. Still, at times the ideas and concepts compared to what was available for someone like me who was into horror and fantasy and sci-fi, anime and manga comics were an incredible plethora of new stories and perspectives when it came to genre storytelling. The epicness and strangeness that I was looking for at times was there, and I dove headfirst into it.
Still, my very first exposure to anime was actually when I was much younger. I have a distant memory of coming across 1988’s anime adaptation of the hit manga AKIRA about psychics, post-nuclear war Japan, youth gangs, anxiety and teen angst and rage against the backdrop of military rule. I was living overseas, and for some reason (actually probably because they could get a lot of stuff for cheap and to appeal to the then-growing base of English-speaking expats and cash in on American culture in general), Greek television did tons of rebroadcasts of American cartoons and movies. The country was struggling to modernize and take advantage of all that the EU and a healthy American economy had to offer to bolster what tourism did for it mostly, and that included a ton of new channels that needed content. This also, for some reason, also covered dubbed anime shows and movies, like a late-night broadcast of AKIRA I stumbled across one evening while the rest of the family watched something else.
It horrified me.
Seriously, I think I had nightmares about it for a little bit, about just how monstrous and weird and visceral it felt, especially the nightmare of flesh that is the end. When you’re 12 or 13, the mix of brutal violence and body horror in an almost impossible-to-follow story about teenage angst, a post-apocalyptic world overrun with nothing but confusion and angst and a complete lack of actual support for anything, not to mention the completely-bonkers ending that, if you’re unaware of just how complex storytelling can be. It’s still one of the heights of the medium, and now when I think about it I feel kinda lucky to have stumbled across it at a pretty-impressionable age, when I was basically absorbing any and everything I could, fiction-wise. This wasn’t the tipping point, but it’s definitely where I first came across it, and ti was etched into my brain for a long time before I finally saw AKIRA again and realized what i’d been exposed to all those years ago in front of the TV in the back bedroom.
Sometimes I think about what else I might have come across when I was that age, in that place, with that kind of TV access, and I just don’t remember seeing it, what other 80’s/90’s animation gems of weirdness that gave me mutation techno-flesh nightmares as a kid. Also, I think a lot about who was and those time periods in my life when I was 11, 12, 13, and then when I was 18, 19, 20, in the glow of strange foreign cartoons from the TV while everyone else was asleep.