Our middle school years are ones we either look back on fondly, cringe away from, or hold with some combination of both. For me, the blurry memories of prepubescence are a mix of both, but they also marked my initiation into the world of manga.
My childhood, of course, consisted of shows such as Sailor Moon, Card Captors, and Dragon Ball Z. But before my true blue introduction with manga, they never had an official name. They were just well done, differently animated cartoons. My group of friends happened to share the same interest — suddenly, if slowly, I was becoming educated on the world of anime and manga.
And by “educated” I mean my friends and I would spend our time in the school library or in class giggling secretly over the newest episode of Sailor Moon. Or sharing a computer printed scan of some racy Yu-Gi-Oh fanart.
The first manga I ever read? Tokyo Mew Mew, a story that was one part Sailor Moon, one part Animorphs, and all parts sparkly bubbles and prettily drawn people. Looking back, the manga was terrible. The story was unimaginative, the characters even more so, and the romance was paper thin. However terrible, Tokyo Mew Mew, in all its contrived glory, was the gateway into much bigger things for me.
Soon after I found myself at the center of a wonderful little store known as Suncoast. Anyone remember Suncoast? Where all your manga and anime dreams could come true? They even sold Japanese soda, which was an adventure in itself. Suncoast had an entire rack of nothing but manga. I sifted through everything, where I learned that the shows I had been watching since elementary had separate book origins — and in some cases were better than the shows I already loved.
My parents guffawed at my thirteen year old self for reading picture books — “comics!” they gasped, disgusted — but I was hooked. I became addicted to certain authors like Yuu Watasi and Kaori Yuki, seeking out their books with a fervent need. I learned about the differing genres of manga, such as shojo and shonen, and the sub-genres within them.
Eventually my collection began to grow even as my velcro Hot Topic wallet thinned. Luckily I was a frugal child even then, and was more than able to continue feeding my addiction; slowly evolving from a pastime, into a full blown fannish hobby.
This led me to discovering Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and their own anime block. Which was basically the uncensored anime version of Toonami at the time. Within the first five minutes of Inu-Yasha, I was hooked, and any hope I had of kicking this interest early was shot. While I never sought out the manga version of the series, it did lead me to discover online forums, webrings, yahoo groups, fanpages, fanfiction, and various ‘fandom’ dedicated sites.
With my overheated Windows 98 computer, I scoured the internet for more and better material to read and watch. I talked with other fans about the shows I was watching, about what other books I could read, and about what characters should end up with who. It was addicting, fun, if a bit embarrassing to think about now. However, I have little regret, because through those experiences I read some of the best material I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I learned that I had quite a passion for writing.
I’ve never forgotten the first time I watched Fruits Basket, one of my favorite anime shows to date. The concept was simple, yet utterly fun and sincerely heartwarming. A plucky, plain young girl, meets an impossibly handsome group of men with a mysterious secret that turns her life upside down in some of the most hilarious ways possible. The themes of this story about love and friendship with an A+ voice cast had me invested enough to pick up the manga series to go along with it.
The journey through that was even more incredible. I try not to be hyperbolic with my praise; I try to be fair and constructive, critical even of the things I love, but wow! Fruits Basket is an amazing series. It’s not perfect of course, few series are, but the story was so rich that it remains in my heart even to this day. The themes are timeless and go much further than the show – with only one season of twenty-five episodes under its belt sadly – ever did.
The show skirted around the darker issues the series held; themes of abuse, parental neglect, self-loathing, even suicide. The manga went there, deep, raw, and real, and that’s why it outshines the anime by miles today. Fruits Basket also helped form a lot of my preferences in terms of romance in my fictional media.
There is a love triangle in the series (because of course there is), yet instead of grating, like most, it’s honest and real. I wish the infamous love triangle between Logan, Jean, and Scott would have been handled with half as much care, but manga has the ability to end its story, unlike big named comics.
Reading Full Metal Alchemist helped set the bar for female characters, reading Sailor Moon taught me women could fight crime, look pretty, and get the guy or the girl in the end, and a very well written yet thoroughly unknown manga by the name of Red River showed me as a writer how to kill off characters and make it hurt. Reading these various titles, and discussing them online, eventually led me to other media. One online discussion buddy would talk about a show they watched outside of anime, and curiosity would sink in. Before I knew it I was watching Buffy and Angel with a side order of Charmed, discussing on forums if Pru’s death was organic or motivated by something darker behind the scenes.
These series of connections with friends of friends who liked so-and-so book series or TV show continued on until I was into Harry Potter, Smallville, Glee, Star Trek, DC comics, and so on and so forth. The more I traveled through fandoms, series, etcetera, the further I drifted from anime and manga. Now I hardly collect at all, save for a few series I still keep up on, or that one book I need to complete my collection (one day I’ll have the entire works of CLAMP, one day).
The old fever returns again every now and again; the affectionately dubbed “swimming anime” otherwise known as Free! renewed an old passion within me, as did the phenomenon Attack on Titan series. I occasionally read Kuroko no Basket or pick up the newest volume of Skip Beat, and I still go to Otakon to watch the newest Evangelion movie on the big screen without shame.
My passion might not be as intense now as when I was younger, but that passion is what helped me develop my love of all things geek related. That original passion I had led me to books like Harry Potter or the newest zombie fare by Max Brown. It connected me to a wide spread of people who were just as passionate about these subjects as I am. It helped harvest new loves in comic books, TV shows, and movies. Maybe I’m more likely now to watch the newest DC animated movie on Netflix than I am to watch Blue Exorcist, but it’s because of shows like Blue Exorcist that I ended up not only loving comic books and superheroes, but writing about them too.
So while some of my older anime crazed days are a little embarrassing, I am grateful for those experiences and what they helped cultivate within me as both a fan and a writer.
Plus, I could never forget the Sailor Moon theme song if I tried. And really, who wants to?