Testing the Anime Waters

I’ve never been an anime fan and for many years, it was simply the economics of collecting that kept me at bay. I used to occasionally peruse the anime section of Suncoast when I started buying my favorite films on VHS, and there were plenty of titles that caught my interest. If memory serves, however, those tapes were always priced higher than whatever stuff I was buying, and since I never knew where to begin, I never wound up rolling the dice on anything.

Hilariously, my first exposure to anime wound up being something from the hentai world. Wikipedia tells me the word hentai translates to “a perverse sexual desire,” and if you spend any kind of time online you’ve probably seen at least a crazy screenshot from one of these things. In the early 90s, however, this knowledge wasn’t so readily available. A friend passed me a battered VHS copy of something called Urotsokidoji: Legend of the Overfiend saying only that it was something I had to see.

And I’ll say this for Urotsokidoji: Legend of the Overfiend: I saw it once 25 years ago and have forgotten very little of it. My friends and I still chuckle about it, and I’ve seen it referenced a bit over the years. It’s not hard to understand why, either. The thing is absolutely bonkers. As the Verve Pipe once put it, we were only freshmen, and I had no idea what to expect when my eyeballs were decimated by an animated porno flick that opens in World War II with a bunch of women being violated by a mechanized Nazi rape machine and somehow gets weirder from there. It was a very high school experience. The kind of thing kids passed around in clipped and hushed tones, and giggling through superficial discussion the next day.

Not long after that, I came across a VHS tape of a 1983 anime actioner called Golgo 13: The Professional and I knew at once I had to have it, recognizing the title character from the classic Nintendo game Top Secret Episode. I was a huge fan of that game growing up, appreciating its adult narrative and earnest efforts to bring a bona fide spy thriller to the OG NES. I was elated to discover that icy cool assassin Duke Togo had his own movie, and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to drop $20 to watch him do his thing. I loved the hell out of that flick at the time, as it delivered exactly what teenage Matt was looking for: lots of bloody gun violence. It was also probably a lot closer to what I had in mind when originally thinking about wading into the anime waters before being derailed by Urotsokidoji.

As happy as I was with my purchase, I still refused to dive further in. Anime remained incredibly expensive to collect and, in the days before Netflix, wasn’t all that easy to come by. Video rental stores might’ve had the occasional copy of Akira on hand, but their selections were hardly robust and it just became easier to focus on other hobbies and interests (of which I hold no shortages). So that ship sailed and remained out to sea for a very long time.

4 or 5 years back, during a nasty bout of the flu, I happened to scroll past something on Netflix that caught my eye: RIN: Daughters of Mnemosyne. I binged all six episodes in two days and was knocked flat by this wholly original epic. By turns gruesome, erotic, and baffling, this massively imaginative story of immortals and demons was impossible to get out of my head. The premise stems from a mythical tree that pollinates the human world with pieces of “time fruit” that make women immortal while transforming men into flesh-crazed demons (naturally). One such immortal is Rin Asougi, who runs a detective agency in Tokyo and finds herself drawn into a case that spans decades while harkening back to her past.

Mnemosyne (the on-screen title) opens in 1990, the second episode is set in 1991, the next goes to 2011, and the later episodes jump even further down the line. The story feels big in scope, and while it ends on a satisfying note, it’s never compelled to answer every lingering question. This guarantees it’ll be an incredibly frustrating watch for some (there’s also some nasty sexual violence to contend with), but those who can appreciate this kind of thing should find plenty to dig. I adore Mnemosyne for its boldness, and there’s something about its mythology that keeps me coming back year after year. Its fusion of the supernatural and the futuristic has even inspired one of my own longer works in progress.

Only now have I begun picking and choosing my anime battles. I caught (and loved) Ghost in the Shell for the first time last year, and recently acquired a Blu-ray of Witchblade: The Complete Series. Five episodes in and so far it’s terrific horror/fantasy that’s unafraid to be outrageous (it took me a few episodes to take seriously the pin-up look of its title character(s), for example). It can be brazenly exploitative one moment AND saccharine sweet the next, always grounded by the mother/daughter relationship that fuels the story.

I’d like to make 2018 the year I start getting more of this stuff under my belt. I’ll get to Akira soon (I know, I know), and intend to take a good friend’s long-standing recommendation on Cowboy Bebop. Beyond that, I’ve been eyeing Psycho-Pass as something that scratches my incurable future noir itch, and would like to finally get through High School of the Dead (which I enjoyed off and on while it was on Netflix). My hope is to be able to chart my progress here throughout the year. I may even sit down with Urotsokidoji: Legend of the Overfiend again, because I’ve been chuckling nonstop about those first time memories all throughout the writing of this article.

There seems to be a lack of respect or appreciation for anime in most of the circles I frequent. This means I’m always on the lookout for recommendations. If you have any, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on Twitter (or in the comments here) to let me know what else I should (or shouldn’t ) be watching.

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