There are many accounts of the history of Anime in the United States, easily found through any search engine, but to different people, Anime means different things. Here is one of our staffers, David Ordoñez, Copy Editor in the Art and Publications department, giving his otaku’s eye view of the history of Anime:
Let me tell you when I realized that Japanese animation was something special, something completely different from American animation. It was when I was a freshman in high school in the mid 90’s, developing an interest in girls, but not having enough savvy to socialize with them. I would wake up every morning and watch this show I heard some people talking about. It was about a group of magical girls fighting an evil queen from the moon. I know, it sounds pretty hokey, but to a 13 year old boy, watching schoolgirls in short skirts winning love by daylight and fighting evil by moonlight was pretty cool.
Having only been exposed to American made cartoons and their associated tropes, I took the show’s overall plot to be pretty static: The girls fighting the big bad evil queen and her bumbling henchmen. The plot seemed to progress as most cartoons at the time did, the good guys gather up their forces, the bad guys continually make completely ineffective efforts to try to take over the world solely by focusing on a small geographic area where the good guys just happen to live (cartoon bad guys never seemed to have read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”).
Around 40 or so episodes in, they finally come face to face with the evil queen for a toe to toe fight. I’m thinking to myself “Wow, this is pretty epic. I wonder how the evil queen is going to escape this one and fight another day.” It gets to the point where the leader of the girls is building up to her big final attack, and I’m thinking, “No… they can’t kill the evil queen. That’s not how cartoons work!” The final attack is unleashed, the evil queen is destroyed, and I’m floored.
They’ve just killed the big bad.
He-Man always had Skeletor, the Thundercats always had Mumra. My expectations of cartoons had just been shattered. What are the Sailor Scouts going to do now they don’t have Queen Beryl to kick around? Are they going to move on to something bigger and better? Or worse yet, is the show over?
Of course, “Sailor Moon” wasn’t over, but the bigger surprise is that they did move on to something bigger and better: new story arcs, more character development, and bigger bads to fight! From that point on, I knew that just because a show was animated, didn’t mean that it had to be just for children.
The Japanese were making epic shows prolifically, before the Americans were, where watching the previous episode was largely required viewing. With many American cartoons, most episodes were stand alone packages (with the exception of an occasional two-parter).
Anime wasn’t just superheroes, cute animals, and their misadventures. Anime looked at real life. It looked at sex and not just romance, violence and not just slapstick, death and not just struggle. Storytelling today has improved because of the writing style of early anime, so much so that many shows, both American and Japanese, are so well written that they make the revolutionary anime of the early days look pale in comparison.
I don’t watch “Sailor Moon” anymore because my tastes have changed since then. I know that there are lots of other great shows out there now too, and it’s a lot to filter through to find the real gems, but the Sailor Scouts will always hold a special place in my heart as the show that started it all for me.
What’s your point of view on the History of Anime in the United States? Feel free to leave a comment!