Anime Ate My Childhood: a Roundtable
Favorite childhood anime, go!
Wendy: Uh childhood? I didn’t start officially watching anime till I was a young adult, but I guess I can throw Astro Boy in here as one that I watched when I actually was a kid. Oh, does Voltron count? Five cats only, of course. For the rest of this roundtable, I will just flail about the stuff I watched later and shake my fist at these young kids.
Desiree: That’s tough because I look back at a lot of my “childhood” anime and cringe. I started watching Inu-Yasha in the fifth grade and was instantly hooked. But before that it was all Sailor Moon, DragonBall Z, and Cardcaptors (oh America dub which thought a girl’s name would ruin the show) all back in like the second and third grade. After those shows came Inu-yasha (which back then ATE MY LIFE), Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, Fruits Basket, and Full Metal Alchemist.
If I had to pick a favorite out of all of them, I’d probably say Yu Yu Hakusho. Not because the story was the best, but because it had the best built story. Fruits Basket, Rurouni Kenshin and Full Metal Alchemist strayed too far from their source material and the quality went down because of it. Inu-yasha is trash.
Vernieda: How are we defining childhood? If we’re talking elementary school, then that would be Voltron. I don’t know if we’re counting Voltron as anime since the English adaptation spliced two different series together. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t know it was anime at the time I was watching it. I didn’t even know anime existed as a medium then!
Amanda: I’m with Wendy. I grew up in small town, Midwestern America, so other than the strange stuff my cousin watched (the anime that showed on late-night MTV, like Vampire Hunter D, but I was too naive to find that on my own), I didn’t even know what anime was until I went to college. Then I met another girl named Amanda, and she changed my world by making me watch Fushigi Yuugi. This was back in the days when it was safe to torrent stuff, and wow was there a lot to torrent from other students. I filled my Dell desktop’s 2GB harddrive with RealMedia anime files in no time. So, for my responses, sub “late teen” for “childhood” and that’ll be about right. But oh, right, you wanted my favorite? Must I pick?! Okay, if I must, let’s say The Vision of Escaflowne. I really identified with Hitomi, and the story’s elegant exploration of identity, depression, and escapism still resonates with me.
Vernieda: Oh my god, Real Media files. Buffering…buffering…buffering!
Claire: I can suggest a lot of cartoons dubbed by American and Canadian voice teams that I’m currently aware of as being Japanese-first productions, but I’d probably have to go with Pokemon, if we’re talking anime-aware viewing. I broke my heart eight times over trying to catch Sailor Moon on my grandparents’ multichannel service, but both of these are early teen or pre-teen things, tbh.
When you hear childhood anime, what do you think?
Wendy: I think I’m old.
Desiree: I think of how I wasted my middle school years obsessed with Inu-freaking-yasha. But also how the story of Full Metal was unlike anything I’d ever seen. How Sailor Moon was the first unashamedly feminine, girl-friendly show of my childhood. I think of how Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho is the reason I like redheads so much. I think of Sakura’s strength and how that show led me into the world of CLAMP. I think of how Fruits Basket helped me deal with my own at-home abuse.
I think of ups and downs and an escape from my childhood.
Vernieda: Like Wendy, I think I’m old. Sailor Moon and Dragonball started airing in the U.S. when I was in high school.
Desiree: I’m beginning to feel super young, guys.
Amanda: We’re all clearly going to have a different definition of “childhood” in regards to anime. When I hear that term specifically, I think of the anime like Yu Yu Hakusho, as when I was starting to get to know anime, I noted that it was the anime a lot of people younger than me were watching. If we’re talking anime nostalgia, though, I’ve got loads of that—it’s just for a time that was past my childhood.
Claire: I’m not sure! I’d probably picture anime I know is for children but enjoy now. Not really what you’re looking for.
What anime(s) would you say had the most influence on you growing up?
Wendy: Bubblegum Crisis—specifically, episode 6, “Red Eyes.” My friend Trisha introduced me to BGC and I was utterly mesmerized by the scene where Anri sacrifices herself for Priss, and then Priss attacks Largo, only to have him respond by saying, “Is this all your anger amounts to?” Largo’s voice, death and violence in cartoons. There were so many things that just blew my mind because this was nothing like what I’d been watching before. From there, I fell in love with Rurouni Kenshin, Macross Plus, CLAMP…Trisha now bases much of her artwork on anime, while I went on to co-found an anime club at university.
Desiree: Probably Fruits Basket, I don’t like discussing my childhood much because it’s so personal. But the themes in Fruits Basket—namely how many of the characters suffered from parental abuse—really touched me. It helped me deal with a lot of my own abuse.
Vernieda: That’s probably a toss up between Vampire Hunter D and Rurouni Kenshin. Vampire Hunter D fed my love for all things horror, supernatural, and unabashed ridiculousness. Rurouni Kenshin, though, really made me love the redemption narrative. How people can change, make up for their past mistakes, and grow stronger.
Desiree: I’m going to have to throw in Rurouni Kenshin because it still is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. While the anime wasn’t as good after the Kyoto Arc (they went in a completely different direction in season three) it was still a great story. But the manga surpasses it and it was the first manga series I ever collected. I have to grudgingly say Inu-yasha as well because I loathe that show so much now, but back when I first saw it in fifth grade? Oh it was like nothing else I had ever seen. It’s the series that brought me into “fandom” as we know it now. Because of Inu-yasha I found sites like Fanfiction.net, learned what forums were, began building a space within the community that was fandom. All because of that stupid show.
Amanda: As I mentioned earlier, Escaflowne—particularly the movie—had a huge impact on me because of its narrative on depression. Hitomi isn’t the most likable protagonist; she’s a bit whiny, she despairs easily, she hopelessly idealizes suteki knight Allen, and she can’t take a joke. The thing is: she doesn’t like herself, and she can’t see her connection to others (like our tempestuous hero Van) because her self-hatred obscures her vision. One of the main themes of that series is personal growth and confidence. The ending, which frustrated me for a time but which I appreciate so much more now, is not your typical “happy ending.” Hitomi doesn’t get to be with the one she loves. Instead, she and Van are separated, one on Earth and one on Gaea, but they’re not sad. They’re whole, because they’ve helped one another find their inner strength.
Claire: Sailor Moon. I didn’t get to watch it, but I could look at geocities fan sites, and it meant a lot to see that girls definitely do deserve their own cute superhero with gravitas.
Why do you believe those particular shows had such an impact?
Wendy: As I said, the fact that they were so different from western media was the most prominent factor. These weren’t shows for kids—hell, even the shows like Sailor Moon and Magic Knights Rayearth that were meant for kids were still offering more mature content than I’d ever seen before. Not to mention the imagery and the music.
Vernieda: They dealt with mature themes in interesting, non-didactic ways. The U.S. cartoons I grew up on were shows like She-ra, which had Important Messages at the end of each episode. Anime didn’t have anything like that. Viewers were left to their own devices, to take away what they will.
Desiree: What Vernieda and Wendy have said. When I first saw Sailor Moon it was the first show that was so unashamedly about young women. It was fun and fresh in a way nothing else on TV was like. I loved those old Cartoon Network shows — Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Lab, etc — but Sailor Moon was different. I’d rush home after school at 3:30 to do my homework and catch the last few minutes of Sailor Moon—that theme song!—and then watch Dragonball Z, which were some of the best parts of my day. Anime just opened up a whole new world into entertainment for me as a child. I’ve written before about how anime helped lead me into comics because of the introduction through fandom life anime showed me.
Amanda: I spent most of my teenage summers reading fantasy and science fiction novels. I loved, and continue to love, explorations of the human condition through immersion in other realms. There wasn’t a lot of that available in other media. I mean, one can only watch Enemy Mine and Star Wars and Labyrinth so many times. And, let’s face it, the quality of the plots for many sci-fi and fantasy series are, well, varied. When I found anime, I was like: here it is! Here are my fantasy and science fiction plots in visual form, finally! And they’re PRETTY!
Now, is all anime good? Heavens, no. And there are some doozies out there, too, that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot stick. But there’s a lot more to choose from, and there are some that are just amazing. So, the impact on me was immediate. I was, quite suddenly, a huge fan.
Claire: 1) proper arcs, long-distance storytelling. 2) The romance seemed to matter, in that it didn’t reset every episode or have a status quo.
Looking back on those anime as an adult have your opinions changed any?
Wendy: Nope. I don’t watch much anime these days, but the ones I loved still hold sway over me and I’m happily sharing them with my kids. Before that, I shared them with my nephew. He and I still talk about Rurouni Kenshin and are dying to get our hands on a copy of the live action movie. For me, anime has held up very well over time. CLAMP stories in particular—namely RG Veda, X, Tokyo Babylon, and Magic Knights Rayearth—always seem to find their way to the front of my mind on a regular basis. A lot of my own storytelling is heavily influenced by CLAMP.
Vernieda: I still love Rurouni Kenshin without reservation. My opinions haven’t changed. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but my love for it remains fierce. As for Vampire Hunter D, I actually started reading the novels and wow. So many dubious elements. I still love the series, but yikes. How many times can a nubile, young woman fall in love with D? Though, to be fair, everyone—men and women—is attracted to D at some point.
Desiree: Have I mentioned how much I loathe Inu-yasha? No really the show sucked up my entire middle school life (and part of my fifth grade year), and rewatching bits of the series as an adult, I’m just so mad.
As a child you never notice certain aspects of these shows. Claire and I recently wrote about how terrible DBZ treats Chi Chi’s character, something I never noticed as a child. I never noticed how creepy it was that Darien and Serena (dubbed names for Sailor Moon) were together in the show when Darien was a college student and Serena was a middle schooler, something Sailor Moon Crystal thankfully remedies. I never noticed all the needless filler in Rurouni Kenshin, and how it caused the plot to lag and changed the characters to suit the filler needs. I never noticed how utterly TERRIBLE Inu-yasha is as a person and how the show never called him out on it.
The entire series you’re suppose to root for him and Kagome to get together, but the opposing love interests keep getting in the way. I was frustrated as a child because I just wanted them to be together! What the heck, Kikyo? Stop dying and coming back! But really it wasn’t Kikyo’s fault, she never actively pursued Inu-yasha, and because the show was determined to drag out the series for as long as possible, it left all three characters stagnant. Furthermore, because Kikyo was a trained priestess she was a better fighter than Kagome. So dealing with fans in forum boards was a nightmare.
But really? Kagome was like Chi Chi, always disrespected by the narrative and only given scrapes of narrative validation. More so than Chi Chi, since Kagome is our female lead, but it was still frustrating upon rewatching the series. Inu-yasha clearly likes her—even loves her—but his way of showing it is terrible. There’s a huge lack of respect for her from him, but at least her friends are somewhat there for her. They support her decision to leave to gather her thoughts, or listen to her when she’s sad about the state of her relationship with Inu-yasha, but he still keeps going back to Kikyo, who always makes Kagome feel inadequate because Kikyo is “better.”
Kagome couldn’t fight, but her emotional strength was astounding. She’s fifteen. Does anyone remember that? As a kid I never really looked at the ages of these characters, but Usagi (or Serena as she was called in the dub) was fourteen, Kagome fifteen, and Sakura (Cardcaptor Sakura) was ten! And they’re thrown into these wild worlds of magic, and mayhem.
One of my favorite episodes of Inu-yasha to this day is “Back to Where We First Met.” It was one of the few episodes that gave real weight and focus to Kagome’s feelings and the weight she has to carry as a young girl. Something I really didn’t appreciate as a child.
Inu-yasha didn’t deserve a girl like Kagome. Koga treated her better.
Amanda: Oh, definitely. Some series stand the test of time (Cowboy Bebop, Trigun) and some don’t (Fushigi Yuugi, alas). Fifteen years later—ack! fifteen years? I’ve been watching anime for fifteen years?!—I can see a lot of the flaws in my former favorites. Am I still a fan? Of course! I’ll probably always tear up when I think about Nuriko’s death in Fushigi Yuugi (I can’t stand seeing Tasuki cry!), and I do occasionally holler “Tamahome! Miaka!” for kicks. That doesn’t mean that I’m not critical of them, though. So, I’ll hold on to my nostalgia for the anime was and who I was at the time, and I’ll continue to learn and grow as I move forward.
Desiree: That reminds me of a great commercial Adult Swim used to air of just Inu-yasha and Kagome just yelling each other’s names.
What appealed to you most about your favorite childhood anime? What appealed the least?
Wendy: Starting with Bubblegum Crisis, it would definitely be the kickass women in battlesuits. Then there is Yoko Kanno’s music—the only reason I ever touched anything Macross related. Honestly, I can’t really pick on anything that didn’t appeal to me. Even the more questionable bouncing boobs shows or full on hentai that we watched over the years featured some very interesting and memorable stories and characters.
Vernieda: I first discovered Rurouni Kenshin while surfing the Anime Web Turnpike looking up information about some CLAMP title. The artwork really caught my eye. I might be unusual in that I got into Rurouni Kenshin via the manga in the mid-90s. That was true dedication since this was the pre-scanlation era. It was all about getting text translations off mailing lists and trying to match them up with blurry raw scans. I only started watching the anime in college when I got my hands on fansubs. Overall, the anime isn’t as good as the manga (although the adaptation of Kyoto Arc is beautifully done), but I’ll always be a fan of the music. I still listen to those soundtracks from time to time.
As for what didn’t appeal to me, I recall being frustrated that Kaoru and Misao were often sidelined in favor of the guys, despite their being warriors themselves. Shounen series, consistent to the end.
Desiree: For me is was that shows like Fruits Basket, Inu-yasha, Sailor Moon, Rurouni Kenshin, and Yu Yu Hakusho just dealt with such interesting and real concepts. Sailor Moon was so proud of being a girly show. Inu-yasha hit all my mythology buttons. Rurouni Kenshin was such a stark show about redemption. Yu Yu Hakusho is the best showing of friendship in shounen fighting base anime I’ve ever seen. Fruits Basket dealt with parental abuse in a very honest and real way.
What didn’t appeal to me is the way female characters would get sidelined. Kaoru and Misao got their moments in the Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin, which was great, but the anime didn’t live up to their manga counterparts. I didn’t like Miruko from Inu-yasha always touching on women (especially when without their consent). When watching Tenchi Muyo! they cut out most of the fanservice, but it still bugged me that Tenchi was so pathetic. Pick someone! (Who is named Ryoko).
What also bugged me was no one knew who these people were, even though it was obvious. How do people not know Serena was Sailor Moon? She doesn’t wear a mask! Superman had a better cover! Where are the parents? Your kids are out at all hours—what are you doing? These are things I notice more now that bug me, especially since I started watching Sailor Moon Crystal.
Amanda: The thing that appealed to me most were the fantastic stories and unique characters. As for the least, well, objectification and marginalization of female characters. I’ve never been a fan of the “fan service” boob and panty shots. For instance, I liked Tenchi Muyo! a lot when I first watched it (Ryoko is so awesome!), but I don’t feel the need to watch it again because, frankly, I still don’t know what all those women see in Tenchi, and there are so many scenes framed around female body parts.
If you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll recognize what I’m about to say: I’m all about the character development. My favorite anime (Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Natsume Yuujinchou, just to name a few) showcase amazing character growth. I also love the artistry and music. Like Wendy, I’ll watch anything that Yoko Kanno has had a hand in (Kids on the Slope, anyone? And Wolf’s Rain, which is pretty boring but for the score). The thing that keeps me going with anime is this: the best anime hit these things on all levels, repeatedly. They can be simply stunning. Even what I’d call moderately good anime stand out in terms of overall cohesion.
There’s always a very strong, new vs old, mentality when it comes to animation. We’ve seen this with fan reactions to the original ’90s Sailor Moon vs Sailor Moon Crystal. Is the older ’90s to early 2000s anime better in any way to the newer shows we’re seeing? Or does nostalgia play a part in passing judgement?
Wendy: Hmm. I said my opinions haven’t changed, but perhaps in the case of Sailor Moon, I will say that I can’t stand the new version. But that’s mainly because I simply can’t tolerate the character screeching at me all the time. My kids weren’t fans either. We’ve read the manga and they watched the original series a few years ago, but they had no interest in Sailor Moon Crystal after one episode. I don’t think that has anything to do with the animation though. Certainly, some of the older anime don’t stand up quite as well to the new ones, but I’d say they stand up far better than western cartoons from the same era.
Vernieda: I think nostalgia plays a big role in the old vs. new mentality. Bad series were coming out back then. Good series are coming out now. Tokyo Ghoul is a popular series, and we’ve seen how well Attack on Titan is doing!
Like Wendy, I watched the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal and while it was okay, I didn’t continue with the series. This is in spite of the fact that I knew we’d be getting a Rei that was true to the manga! I love manga!Rei. I keep meaning to try again, but I just can’t work up the enthusiasm.
All that said, I do think the landscape has changed. Weekly Shounen Jump’s editorial direction has really changed expectations of shounen series—I used to think the Rurouni Kenshin manga was long at 28 volumes. That seems concise by today’s standards! I also think the moefication of the magical girl archetype has cast a shadow over the genre. I’d been hoping Sailor Moon Crystal was going to reset it, but that was clearly a pipe dream.
Desiree: Oh hands down. Sailor Moon Crystal isn’t perfect, far from it, but it has steadily improved. What bugs me is: has anyone tried rewatching the original ’90s Sailor Moon? It’s terrible. The animation is awful, the storyline drags, the monster of the week episodes are boring, it’s the DBZ of shoujo anime. The saving grace of the show is its strong feminist rooting. Sailor Moon Crystal follows a similar rooting, but stumbles (just like the original ’90s anime) a few times. The animation does undoubtedly have its problems, but honestly I never believed the show stood a chance under the weight of nostalgia. It’s like trying to hit lightning twice; you just can’t. Fans were always going to hold it up to too high a standard that would be impossible to reach. Even though I appreciate the fact they acknowledged Usagi’s queerness, and that Mamoru isn’t freaking useless like he was in the original ’90s anime.
Amanda: Nostalgia definitely plays a part, as I mentioned above. I don’t think that ‘90s anime or early 2000s anime is necessarily any better than the shows coming out today. I actually really like Sailor Moon Crystal, perhaps in part because I didn’t watch much of the first run of Sailor Moon, but also because I think it harks back to some of the (nostalgic) patterns of ‘90s anime.
Some things are better, though! For instance, I found everything I loved about Fushigi Yuugi in Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn), but without the drawbacks that now annoy me about FY. They’re both harem anime with a female protagonist and a bunch of handsome men. What’s better about Yona? Female agency! Yona, in spite of being raised in just as sheltered of a position as Miaka, doesn’t want the men to protect her. She wants to protect herself. Yes! Plus: dragons. Yona’s handsome men are dragons. Doesn’t that sound awesome? Well, it is!
Claire: Desiree, I totally disagree with you about 90s Sailor Moon! I didn’t want it before this decade we’re in now, twenty years too late, but it’s nice. It’s cute and sulky and pretty funny, and I like everybody. It’s a totally diverting weekly anime. I can see why you wouldn’t want to gorge on the whole season at once, certain clusters of episodes aside, but… that’s a good thing! We need options, on that front! I haven’t watched Crystal, personally, because… I dunno, I just haven’t. If it was right in front of me I would. But I’m happy just knowing it’s there for other people, I think.
How did these early anime shows influence how you viewed media, specifically what constituted as “cartoons”?
Amanda: I always liked cartoons! I was just a bit shy about admitting it as an adult. But no longer! Cartoons ain’t just for kids. Seriously. Mature stories (and I don’t mean sexy mature, but there is that too) can be told in cartoon format. I think the upshot here is: don’t rule any media out. Great stories can be told in many different ways, so don’t limit yourself.
Vernieda: I always watched cartoons. I still watch cartoons. Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, y’all! I’ve had some hilarious moments throughout the years, though, because of the animation = for kids association. It led to a hysterical exchange with my father during an episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Specifically the episode where Roy was killing Lust.
Him: Wait, is this anime stuff you’ve been watching always been this violent?
Me: You want to watch it with me now, don’t you?
Him: Actually, yes.
Desiree: I remember my older brother (and the rest of my family) constantly ridiculing me for watching and thoroughly enjoying anime. Then I forced my brother to watch the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist and he was shocked by the sheer emotional force behind the series. I find it really bothersome that animation is equated with being lesser because it’s aimed at children. Children’s media shouldn’t be any less quality than adult media.
Toonami was the main source of anime for American children back in the ’90s and early 2000s, then there was Adult Swim that aired more mature anime in their late night block. Are there any equivalents to those outlets for today’s generation?
Amanda: Ooh, um, well, I can’t say that I know exactly how kids and teens are accessing anime these days, but I assume it’s the same way I do: Hulu, Netflix, and primarily Crunchyroll. And YouTube. And other streaming or torrenting services that I probably don’t even know about because I can’t even keep up with everything I want to watch on the above mentioned outlets. Huzzah!
Vernieda: Toonami and Adult Swim are back now, though! I definitely see people livetweeting Kill La Kill Saturday nights, so fans are still accessing it that way. The sites Amanda mentioned are definite sources. I’ll add FUNimation’s official streaming site, too.
Desiree: I fell out of the anime circuit years ago so I’m not sure where people get their anime anymore. I heard Adult Swim still has an anime block, but I don’t have cable so if they do I can’t watch it. I get all my anime through Crunchyroll. Netflix’s selection sucks for the most part.
Claire: You Americans.
Which of the mentioned series—if any—or others not mentioned, do you feel stand the test of time? How are they continuously relevant to upcoming generations of fans?
Vernieda: I think Cowboy Bebop is a timeless series. I was at the Otakon panel where FUNimation announced that they’d rescued the series, and you would not believe the audience reaction (Or maybe you would!). Bebop just has some classic themes and especially for an English-language audience, the pop culture references make it very accessible. It also doesn’t hurt that the English dub is amazing, and that helps circumvent the “I don’t want to read subtitles” hurdle.
While the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime is hit or miss, the second anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an amazing series that should definitely appeal to fans in the generations to come. It has something for everyone: the coming of age themes, the journey for redemption and atonement, great relationships, wonderful characters, emotional rollercoasters and such a satisfying ending. It delves deep into issues like war and genocide, too.
I also think the Rurouni Kenshin manga is timeless, but maybe not so much the anime since it can be uneven at times.
Desiree: I’m seconding all of Vernieda’s choices. While Cowboy Bebop isn’t one of my favorite anime, the aesthetic of it still resonates. From the story, to the direction, character development, animation, and music, Cowboy Bebop is simply cool.
The Rurouni Kenshin anime has a lot of problems. It doesn’t do justice to the characters, nor the themes of the original story. However the manga is still one of the best stories I’ve ever read, and that is timeless as shown with the amazing live action movies that serve as proof.
Another series not mentioned but still timeless despite later problems, is Neon Genesis Evangelion. The series followed a very stereotypical shounen action story narrative, and then literally blew everything up. The original series did things in an action show I’ve never seen before and really pushed boundaries. The budget was next to nothing in the end, and the movies were horrifying. End of Eva gave me nightmares after the first time I watched it, but it was also the first show that didn’t shy away from queer content that I had seen as a kid.
In Sailor Moon I knew something was “off” about the supposed cousins that were Neptune and Uranus, but the dub prevented any of it from being acknowledged. Same with Cardcaptor Sakura that had many queer characters and relationships. I’ll always remember the episode in which Kaworu appeared in Evangelion and how candidly his relationship with Shinji was handled—Shinji was bisexual, no arguments on this—in the show and the movies.
Finally, any anime you would consider going back and rewatching for old times sake?
Desiree: I’d watch the original Evangelion in a heartbeat. I’ve rewatched Yu Yu Hakusho many times because it’s still so good, and no one appreciates it. Kurama was my baby and I loved the Dark Tournament arc. Curse Cartoon Network for jumbling the show around so no one got to appreciate its fantastic story.
I tried rewatching Inu-yasha and Sailor Moon and just couldn’t. Those shows are terrible now in hindsight. Not that Sailor Moon was terrible, just boring and dragged out. It was the shoujo version of DBZ in that plots dragged out terribly.
Vernieda: I rewatch the Vampire Hunter D movies all the time!