4 Reasons Anime Fans Have It WAY Better Nowadays
You know we've arrived in the future when we can tell harrowing "Back in my day" stories about anime fandom. But it's true -- life wasn't easy for us anime fans 20 years ago, and it wasn't just because people heard that you liked something called Outlaw Star and instinctively wanted to cram you into a toilet. For instance ...
Anime Video Rentals Were A Minefield Of Porn
Outside of glorious, glorious Toonami, there weren't a lot of televised choices for anime fans in the late '90s. Thus, you had to search elsewhere, which usually meant going to the back of a video store, where the shadows lie. My local store called this section "Japanimation," which is a word that only gets created when you ask a suburban dad to classify Dragon Ball Z.
And when you didn't want to watch three episodes from a Toonami show crammed onto a VHS tape, you took a total gamble and picked something else. One of my most vivid memories was when I rented Devil Hunter Yohko from Hollywood Video, a place that only exists in the memories of the dead. All I knew about it was that Yohko was a ninja, and the series was touted as sort of a magical girl / action anime. Then I popped in the video, settled onto the couch next to my mom, and found that in the first ten minutes, Yohko is naked, getting her sweet anime boobs sucked on by some dude. So you get to have the "This is what anime is" talk with your parents, and then the "And it's not always like this!" talk right after.
The problem was that back in those days, unless it was explicitly porn, there weren't a lot of ratings on video covers. You could usually tell from the case art if there would be graphic violence (muscular cartoon dudes, girls with katanas), but there were no "All of these folks will be getting nude later!" warnings/promises. These movies would all have been aimed at older audiences in Japan, but in the USA, animation = kids. So films that featured lovingly animated jiggling cartoon nipples sat right next to Pokemon on the shelf.
And when you didn't get blindsided by surprise porn, you got confused by titles that meant absolutely nothing without months of research (and the internet was in its infancy, so if the information was out there, it wasn't easy to find). So you get to the video store, wanting to see if they have some Gundam Wing, which was one of the many backbones of Toonami, and you see ... Victory Gundam? And G Gundam? And Char's Counterattack? You realize that asking for Gundam is like walking into a butcher shop and asking for one pound of "meat."
You Had To Deal With America Butchering Your Favorite Series
The sharp divide between what cartoons looked like in America and Japan was never more stark (or ridiculous) than when it came time to air anime on TV. Keep in mind, in American cartoons in the '90s, some superheroes couldn't even be shown punching with a closed fist. This became a nightmare for shows that A) were totally cool with marketing violent brawls to ten-year-olds and B) had hundred-episode story arcs that had to be watched in order.
It wasn't a matter of just cutting a few frames here and there. Avoiding "objectionable" parts meant that storylines were hacked apart and glued back together. Liberties were taken with English dialogue translations, blood and other bodily fluids were removed frame by frame, and certain episodes had to be eliminated altogether. So when you watched them in the U.S., you weren't getting the actual anime; you were getting the anime as explained to you by your Baptist aunt.
One of the most famous examples is the 4Kids Entertainment localization of One Piece, an anime that's adapted from the best-selling manga series in history and which, as Cracked has covered before, is mostly about punching. Aside from deleting full episodes, replacing a constantly smoking character's cigarettes with lollipops, and generally shying away from the "I'm going to beat you until the blood coming from your head looks like the chocolate fountain at a Golden Corral" vibe, 4Kids also added this shit to the beginning of every episode:
If you don't want to listen to the worst thing that's ever happened in the combined histories of anime and hip-hop, that's cool. It begins, as all dynamic shows do, with 30 fucking seconds of narration, and then ... rapping. Specifically, a rap intended to catch up the listener to a show that had aired more than 200 episodes by the time 4Kids started showing it.
It tries to explain the main characters using vague one-word descriptions, but vomits into its own lap when it gets to the sole female character at the time: "and a l-a-d-y Nami's not shy." I don't know how superhumanly disinterested you have to be to spend half of the one line that you're giving to the only woman spelling out the word "lady," but I'm thinking nobody worked late that night.
You Would Drown In Useless "Filler" Episodes
You know how Game Of Thrones eventually caught up with and then passed the books it's based on, to the point where the show is now just finishing the story on its own while George R.R. Martin labors away, two books behind? Well, imagine if instead of going ahead, the show just started inventing weird, random storylines to tread water until Martin could catch up. This happens in anime all of the time -- thus "filler" episodes. Most popular anime shows are based on manga series (a Japanese comic book, for those of you totally out of the loop), and when they start to run out of print storylines, they have to streeeeetch out their own stories to let the source material build up a buffer. The filler they slap together is stunningly bad.
For example: To end an awesome story arc about time-travelling super hybrids, Dragon Ball Z gave us an episode in which Goku had to get his driver's license. Goku fails the test, by the way, and the episode ends with the driving instructor wishing that he could fly. Ya know, like Goku can. Which means he doesn't need to drive in the first place. Welcome to the world of anime filler, bitch. Meanwhile, in the middle of a struggle against a villain who controls people like puppets and makes them kill each other, One Piece exploded into three weeks of anthropomorphized manatees doing kung fu.
Bleach was filler for a year. Filler episodes are God getting revenge on humanity for inventing fiction. And today's anime fans don't have to deal with them. Now they have whole websites explaining exactly what can be safely skipped (and what must be skipped in the name of preserving your own sanity). But in the '90s, we had no such thing -- we just sat through it all and choked it down. With no frame of reference, we just accepted that this was just how anime was. Sometimes you'd get a lot of good episodes in a row, and sometimes Ash Ketchum has to go fight a guy who beats his Pokemon with a whip.
If this seems like only a minor problem, understand that my beloved Sailor Moon had 200 episodes, and 101 were filler. So 51 percent of the show that defined my formative years was dedicated to plots that, in the long run, didn't matter at all. And I watched every single one of them, over and over.
Collecting Merchandise Was Confusing, Sad And Dangerous
Sure, today you can go into freaking Barnes & Noble and not only see rows and rows of manga, but also anime action figures and toys. The average person doesn't need to discover different manga series through getting a virus at robotechfan666.tripod.com. Teenage Me, on the other hand, mostly collected $3 bootleg posters and sticker cards (which to this day are in a binder, stored in my bedside drawer next to my grown-up lady toys). For figurines, we had two options: Chinatown bootlegs, which were cheap, unlicensed, and hideous (though I still bought them aplenty) ...
... and officially licensed figurines which usually ran $100 or more, which you also had to paint yourself. So not only did early anime collecting demand that you go out of your way for it, but also that you be capable with a tiny brush and hobby paints. Otherwise, you were stuck looking at a Cowboy Bebop figurine frozen in futile, deathly grey.
Meanwhile, through sketchy Geocities sites, I had discovered that a guy in Canada had the best-quality bootleg videos. And because that guy only accepted cash payments, I also discovered the dread of spending the time between order and arrival wondering if this guy wasn't just rolling in a pile of cash he'd collected from other naive nerds. And before the bootleg anime jewelry craze hit eBay ...
... I used to buy those shitty metal and enamel pins and stick those filthy beasts through my ears. It was like I was begging for a more isolated friend group AND tetanus.
One time, I dug through the garbage of my mall's hobby shop because I saw a broken bootleg Sailor Mars' red high heel and needed to reconstruct the doll's corpse, which was presumably also somewhere in the trash. After mending her various wounds, the completed abomination sat on my dresser until it fell apart. That was old-school anime fandom in a nutshell: digging through the mess, piecing together what we could, and loving it all.
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For more check out 5 Anime Shows That Even 'Normal' People Will Like and 5 Things Casual Viewers Will Never Get About Anime.
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