This post is part of my NaNoWriMo 2017 Life Excerpts Posts.
What the Heck is This “Anime” Thing
Like most elementary school children, getting out of bed for school in the morning was kind of hell on earth. Like most parents, my mom had to bribe me with cartoons to get out of bed. It usually worked. These cartoons were typically Disney stuff like Ducktales or Talespin, but one morning in 1995 Sailor Moon snuck its way into my weekday morning line up and I was forever changed.
At the time, nine year old me didn’t really understand that there was other anime out there besides this. The Internet wasn’t nearly as developed at the time. We didn’t even have Google. In fact, I didn’t even own a computer yet. Can you imagine? All I knew was that I was completely in love with this Japanese cartoon and I needed more of it.
Within a few months I had an entire set of Sailor Moon dolls, a bed sheet set, and a costume for Halloween (I’d repeat this costume at the age of 15, too, but this one was my first and it came after only a few weeks of obsession). I named my parakeet Darien after the English dub name of Tuxedo Mask and I even taught myself how to play a bit of the intro music on the piano despite having no piano training whatsoever (I guarantee you that this skill has long since been lost. I can barely play chopsticks anymore). I was completely and entirely consumed by the show.
When I got to Junior High, the popularity of anime was beginning to increase. Both Pokemon and Cardcaptors/Cardcaptor Sakura were part of the Saturday morning cartoon line up. I was far more interested in Sakura than Pokemon, but I still watched both eagerly. Pokemon also replayed every day after school, so it was a heavy part of my media diet, though I never quite got into the gaming portion of the franchise. On the peripherals of my awareness there was also Dragonball Z and Digimon. I never really watched either of them, however. Still, they were there and more and more kids were beginning to like these imported cartoons just like I did. There was an anime surge happening and I was on the cusp of it.
By this point I was aware that this type of cartoon had a name – anime. And I had access to the Internet at this point, too, so I was finally able to start researching these things in earnest. There was a lot more of it out there than I could possibly imagine. The only stuff I had access to was what American TV channels decided was appropriate for an American audience, which was often heavily edited and censored, but it didn’t matter to me at the time. I was too young to care about the purity of it like I do now (why yes, I am a bit of an anime snob nowadays and I’m sorry). I just loved the medium overall. I loved the aesthetic and the magic and I loved the characters and the costumes and the talking animals. I was so doomed. Anime had it’s claws in me and wouldn’t let go.
In 8th grade I met someone else who was interested in anime and that’s when my obsession with the medium really started to begin in earnest. I escalated from a casual viewer to a full blown Otaku. She introduced me to Slayers (which didn’t really hold my interest past a few episodes, but STILL it was something NEW) and a few other titles that I can’t exactly remember here twenty years later. She also introduced me to the fact that manga existed and *gasp* I learned the big Sailor Moon secret that Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were totally gay for each other. We’d been deprived of that as Americans along with a lot of other things. My mind was completely blown by all of this. What else didn’t I know?
It was somewhere in this window around 8th and 9th grade that I began to tackle this obsession on two new fronts. DVDs were becoming popular (ah, the 90’s) and I began to buy new imported anime at this little store called DVD Planet. I started collecting a couple dozen series at this point and still have a few DVDs kicking around from that era even now (my .hack//sign and Night Walker DVD’s will stay with me until the day I die). The anime section to the DVD store blew up during this period and I bought whatever we could afford every month. It was probably a budgeting nightmare considering how poor I was, but my mother indulged me with this hobby and I was the most badass Otaku I could be with the meager funds available to me.
I also began purchasing manga on titles I already knew (Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura) and ones that I didn’t (pretty much everything by Clamp). Manga was a game changer for me. I could carry my obsession around with me. I could read it at school and in the car and on vacation. I wasn’t tied down to a DVD player and TV anymore. This was my first major chance to flaunt my nerdiness and I reveled in it.
Over these two years things escalated rapidly and I gained a reputation as ‘that anime person.’ You know the one. Every school had at least one if not a small group of them wandering around the halls with manga and anime doodles of varying quality on their binders (mine was typically of the poorer quality… often just tracing existing works). Well, that was me. I’m ashamed to admit it but I definitely slipped in random Japanese words into every day conversations because I thought it was cool (I don’t do this anymore. thank God, but it happened). Looking back some of that behavior was pretty damn embarrassing, but what are you going to do? It is what it is.
And then… yaoi happened. Oh God. Yaoi was a thing. Send help. But it was an important part of not only my anime fandom journey, but for me figuring out my own sexuality as well. As weird as it is to say that some gay (and often explicit) cartoons changed the course of my life, that’s absolutely what happened.
The Yaoi Dealer of Cypress High
At this point in my life, I was already hardcore questioning my sexuality. I’ll go into the details on that in it’s own dedicated chapter later, but when I first stumbled on the anime Gravitation I was completely shocked that an entire genre devoted to gay characters (males, in this case) existed in anime. There was still a stigma surrounding it, even in anime circles, but just the fact that it existed was monumental to me. I had absolutely no outlet to explore this topic.
My first ‘yaoi’ was Gravitation which wasn’t exactly explicit, so nowadays the term ‘yaoi’ might not exactly apply. When I was younger ‘yaoi’ was an umbrella term for all m/m anime and manga, but now it’s reserved for more graphic material. This would likely be categorized as “BL” now. I do tend to switch back and forth so for anyone who is stringent on these terms, I apologize in advance.
Looking back, the relationship depicted in Gravitation wasn’t exactly healthy, but I consumed whatever queer media I could and that’s what was available. Gravitation led me to Fake and a few others and soon I had a backpack overflowing with yaoi. I was basically the ‘yaoi dealer.’ I had a ledger that I used to keep track of who had what books or DVDs. It was very organized. Also very discreet because can you imagine if I was caught with all this mature anime in my backpack? YIKES. My High School was very conservative. During my senior year they even protested “gays.” But once more, that’s probably a story for another time.
I much more quietly also loved Utena, an anime about two women who develop a romantic relationship. This one I was more hesitant to mention because, while it seemed most of my female friends were alright with my gay men manga thing, I was afraid of outing myself that I liked queer women manga things too. Many of my friends already knew that I was interested in women, but it was an ‘open secret’ on a larger scale. At least for most of my High School career. But the story of how I was eventually outed is for a different time. It was quite the adventure, though, let me tell ya. But I digress….
By Sophomore year of High School my reputation was firmly established. I had ‘cred’ as far as being an anime geek was concerned. That was when I began attending Anime Expo, which was at the time the largest anime convention on the west coast (if not the entire country). By Junior year I had founded and became president of my high school’s Anime Club. Throughout this time I was one of the most frequent posters on a fairly popular anime forum online and prided myself with enjoying subs over dubs. I was completely and thoroughly consumed by anime. My work as the Anime Club president was even a highlight on my college application. It was essentially a core part of my identity.
Anime: The Resurgence
When I hit college I was pretty much alone in my love of anime. I did attend Yaoi Con my freshman year, but without friends to share in my interest my enthusiasm quickly fizzled. College was a strange time for me for many reasons and my drift away from anime was one of the biggest. My wall scrolls were replaced with indie movie posters and artwork. My DVD collection gradually changed in a similar fashion. I wouldn’t attend another anime convention until 2012 and, even then, it was as an outsider. I was completely removed from anime fandom.
There was a decade long lull before I dipped my toe back in. The only reason I came back was because I was tired of the lack of queer narratives in my TV shows and movies, so I wanted to give yaoi another shot. It’s not the best representation for sure (oh god, so many negative tropes), but god dammit I was desperate. You can only take so many stories where the queer characters are just secondary to the protagonists before you throw your hands up in the air and say “I’ll take anything!” This is when I began my Yaoi Recommendation Series. It’s now one of the highest ranking yaoi recommendation lists on the Internet as far as SEO is concerned. Seems I have a little cred back. Just a little.
Last year Yuri on Ice happened. If you know anything about me, you know what type of affect it’s had on me. I’m suddenly into ice skate like legitimately. And I’ve started an LGBTQ+ podcast because I just had so much to say. I’ve written over a dozen articles about it as well. I also hosted the Yuri on Ice fan panel at my local anime convention and hope to do so again next year. Like Sailor Moon back in 1995, this show has completely consumed me.
Yuri on Ice has become an incredibly important part of my life. It has all the colorful characters that attracted me to anime back in 1995, but also has the queer representation that I’ve been seeking since high school, but never truly found in yaoi. It shows a healthy loving relationship and also an exciting sports narrative with tension and passion, but also artistry. It has relatable and realistic characters that inspired me to write fiction again. Yuri on Ice has saved me from myself, essentially.
NaNoWriMo Count: 4475/50,000