Let’s try something new! As Sarazanmai airs, I’m going to try writing a few personal posts about life experiences watching Ikuhara shows (and anything else that seems relevant.) In the meantime, if you’re looking for analysis, I recommend checking out Steven’s posts starting here.
I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid. I’m not sure exactly why; I think it has something to do with the fact that when I lived with my parents abroad, there were years of my life when we did not have Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. Moving to the Philippines and gaining access to those channels was like having an endless goldmine poured onto my lap every weeknight. I felt guilty as a child seeing a classmate had submitted a drawing of robots fighting aliens for school, while I had submitted (horrors!) fanart of Ed, Edd and Eddy. Couldn’t I have come up with something original myself? But that’s how it was: after a long absence, my mind was frantically vacuuming up as many TV cartoons as I could, indiscriminately.
The one exception was what I thought of as “cartoons for girls.” If The Powerpuff Girls or Totally Spies were on, I’d always change the channel. My friends watched and enjoyed these shows without complaint, and in fact judged me for not watching them! But catching them as they aired made me feel weirdly guilty, like I was somewhere I was not supposed to be. I continued to behave in this way until I stopped watching cartoons entirely, except for badly dubbed anime on Toonami and Fullmetal Alchemist reruns on Animax.
Many years later, in high school, I became interested in a series called Revolutionary Girl Utena. In those days, I was convinced the original Fullmetal Alchemist was the greatest TV series of all time, and Dennou Coil a firm number 2 (maybe, I thought, Code Geass could be number 3?). Utena wasn’t as broadly known in western fandom as hardcore favorites like Evangelion back then, and many of the reviews I saw floating around always came with qualifiers like “it’s repetitive” or “it’s really weird!” But even though I figured it was a show for girls, I queued up the first episode on Youtube. And was promptly hit in the face by Ikuharisms: why are there balloons in the student council room? What is this music? What is happening???
It took me a long time to watch through the whole series. Utena takes some commitment, and I picked it up and put it back down again at different points throughout high school. During that time of slow discovery, I started to engage with more media aimed at girls. I watched Princess Tutu, another show like Utena that played with cliches and wasn’t above hitting you with a bizarre non-sequitur, like a dancing anteater. Shaenon Garrity’s “Overlooked Manga Festival” turned me onto shoujo manga, like Basara and High School Debut. The walls I’d constructed regarding what I “liked” and what I didn’t began to crumble.
What I discovered in the process, to my shame, is that a lot of media for girls was frankly better than media aimed at boys. Utena and Princess Tutu are masterpieces. Reading Basara made me realize that shoujo comics (aimed at young girls) were actually far more diverse in subject matter and tone than shounen comics (aimed at young boys.) I discovered the work of Year 24 artists like Moto Hagio, who soon became one of my favorites. And, yeah, I realized that The Powerpuff Girls was really good, and that Totally Spies has its fans (they used a Metric song for the movie! That’s pretty rad!)
I’m not sure why it took me so long to break through my own childish biases and try things outside of my comfort zone. Especially when, in retrospect, much of that work I came to late ended up defining the way I saw the world as an adult. I know that I still have blind spots I need to grow beyond. But as a teenager in the process of becoming more self aware, Utena was really the vanguard for me. I’d chase the feeling it gave me for years after seeing it, not knowing I was doing so, until one day Mawaru Penguindrum aired and I realized: It was here all along. The birth of my serious anime fandom, and a story for another time.