I was reminded of this tonight while listening to Matt Baume’s The Sewers of Paris podcast, featuring Andy Casadonte. In each episode, Matt interviews a different member of the LGBTQ+ family, specifically delving (at first) in the entertainment or media that most influenced who they are.
For this particular guest, it was anime, particularly queer anime, but for a reason. He had gone to college in New York to study illustration and came way out, but then his first job was in Tennessee, working on the decidedly conservative kids’ show Veggie Tales, so he went right back in.
Queer anime was his private lifeline to maintaining his identity.
Now I can relate to that. I just never got into any of it — anime, manga, whatever. And the thing that people may not realize is that anime, etc., has been a part of American culture a lot longer than most people think.
It did not all start in the 1980s with Pokémon. (Surprise: Pokémon didn’t even come around until the mid-90s.) Anime started to come over to the U.S. in the early 1960s, at the same time as early Japanese electronics.
“Anime” at the time consisted of a few Japanese cartoons, badly dubbed into English and animated in a very stilted manner. And this was also a time when “Japanese electronics” was equated with “cheap crap.”
My how times change, huh? But a lot of it was part of the post-War effort by the U.S. to turn Japan’s economy around and make sure that it didn’t fall under the influence of China or Russia. (Reminder: For most of the 20th century, Japan was at war with, and later conqueror of, China.)
You may have heard of at least one of these proto anime — a little thing called Speed Racer, which arrived in the U.S. in 1967. Fun trivia: In the original, Speed Racer’s real name was Go Mifune, with the last name being a tribute to the Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune.
I think that growing up I always kind of had a back-of-mind awareness of anime on TV, but it was more in the sense of instantly changing the channel if I happened to hit any — the big advantage to being an only child.
This included running across anything Gundam, which created the concept of robot mecha suit anime that was later co-opted in the U.S. with the Transformers. All I knew was that any time I watched more than a few minutes here or there of any anime series, they all became completely repetitive, overwrought, overacted, and generally pretty silly.
Of course, I eventually ran across otaku, who are the fans of the graphic novel versions of the anime, known as manga — but if you criticize one of their favorite shows in front of them, run — lest you fall victim to a long, long lecture about what the story really means, the symbolism you don’t get because you’re not Japanese, etc.
Hey — I shouldn’t need a doctoral course in order to watch a kid’s cartoon, okay?
And yet, I know plenty of adults who live and breathe this shit, and I just don’t understand it. Sure, it does give ample opportunity for cosplay, and I know of an underground (literally, not in the political sense) group of shops in Little Tokyo in Downtown L.A. that covers everything, but is also very compartmentalized.
On one side, there are three shops that must all be run by the same people or company, but each one appeals to a slightly different aspect of the culture — one is anime, one is manga, and the third focuses on models, action and scale figures, and Funko Pops for days. I know that all of the Pokémon stuff is in one of the three stores, but I can’t remember which one.
On the other side are the cosplay shops. I’ve never been into either of those, but I think that one specializes in the more casual, cheaper side of it — like Halloween dress-up — while the other caters to professional cosplayers who go to all the conventions, or cons.
(*Note: Go to them when they happen. I haven’t been down near those shops since 2019, so I don’t even know whether they survived, but I do know that the cons have been few and far between since March 2020.)
But all art is matter of taste, and of course there are people who just do not understand the genres, programs, or directors that I can’t get enough of. So, as long as someone isn’t trying to push anime on me as the greatest thing ever created, I’m fine.
Then again, I’ve never even had the slightest inclination to dress up as a character from a Kubrick film — not even Alex or one of his Droogs — and the closest I come to any sign of ridiculous fanboy-ism in my place is the three-foot tall Kylo Ren figure standing in my corner.
And yet, I haven’t even been able to make it through all of season one of The Mandalorian, and haven’t even looked at any of the others. Although, to me, any 3D animated Star Wars property is not canon. Sorry, but I find it really hard to watch badly digitized and designed versions of characters I’ve already seen in photo-realistic films, especially when they were originally played by actors and not VFX.
But maybe that’s just me.