Saturday, June 23, 2007

Anime And Feeling Old

I’m not a super fan of anime, but I do enjoy pulling “Porco Roso” or “Royal Space Force/Wings of Honneamise” or “Ghost in the Shell” down off my DVD shelf and watching them on occasion. Anime has always been somewhere in the background and occasional foreground of my SF viewing for as long as I can remember. “Starblazers/Space Battleship Yamato”, “Battle of the Planets/Gotchaman” and “Robotech/Macross”, among others, were staples of TV over the years of my childhood and pre-teen years and augmented the western SF fare in terms of flushing-out ideas of how science fiction could be presented. Watching some of the older shows now stirs up a whole range of feelings and memories. One thing I never expected as a result of watching anime, though, was that it could make me feel old.
I’m not talking about feeling old in the sense of watching some show that you loved as a kid and saying “How the hell could I ever have wasted time on that?” like you might after seeing a rerun of “Mr. Belvedere”.
No, I mean old as in “That went to air when? No-one else remembers it? Geez, I must be old!”
That’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago, and it was a double-shot to boot! And both times concerned the afore-mentioned “Starblazers/Space Battleship Yamato”.
It started during the conversation with a friend about our favourite shows when we were kids (a discussion I’ve mentioned a couple of posts ago). One of the programs on my list, and in fact, one of the shows I recall watching as just a little guy back in the mid-late 70’s, was “Starblazers” (the North American title for “Space Battleship Yamato”). My friend, who’s only a couple of years younger than I am, didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Granted, a couple of years can make a huge difference in terms of TV experience, and granted the TV stations she watched here in BC likely were running some different programs than what their counterparts were in Ontario where I grew up (and by extension, New York state, which had signals that could be picked up in some parts of Ontario), and granted because she was a girl she might not have paid any attention to the kick-ass space battles that I, as a boy, would have craved. But still, no idea that it existed at all? Suddenly, the few years between us began to feel like centuries. I felt like an old-timer trying to tell a modern kid about traveling by steamer.
The second blow came within a couple of days: my wife and I were strolling through a local mall when we noticed some hopeful young entrepreneurs had opened a store devoted to Japanese manga and anime and their spinoff toys, models, action figures, clothing, etc. We ambled in to check out their wares, fully expecting that we wouldn’t recognize most of the stock because we’re not immersed in this particular SF subculture, or that if we did recognize it, the items might be from some popular cheesy production like “Sailor Moon” that we wouldn’t watch if you paid us. And to be sure, there was a lot of merchandise for series/movies/whatever that we didn’t recognize. And there were more than a few statuettes of scantily-clad anime heroines with cat ears on the tops of their heads which we passed by.
But there, crowded up at the top of a side shelf, was a box with an illustration that I actually recognized. I crossed the room, reached up and brought it down for a closer inspection. It was none other than a model of the Yamato/Argo, the cosmic warship at the heart of “Space Battleship Yamato/Starblazers”. I was shocked that the storekeepers would stock such a retro item among the endless rows of mecha from the latest incarnation of the endless “Gundam” series. I was downright impressed.
Presumably because my wife and I didn’t fit the mold of his usual customers (17-year-old fanboys holed-up in their rooms in front of the latest videogame consol when they’re not on the streets trying to impress each other with their customized Honda Civics with oversized mufflers to create extra noise), one of the proprietors (just a tad older than his normal clientele and still happily lodged in their world when he wasn’t investing more of his dad’s money in the store) came scuttling over to ask if we needed help. He prattled on for a while about the minutia of the model, looked at me like I was a savage when I asked what type of modeling glue they recommended (it was a snap together! My fault for not having put together a model since I was 12 and assuming people who do these days might still have something called patience and steady hands), and prattled on some more.
I finally was able to get another word in and noted how surprised I was that they’d carry such an oldschool item amidst the new fads. The kid, with self-centred innocence, proceeded to explain how there was enough of a demand from the solid fanbase of 24-25-year-olds – “people my age” he said - who’d seen the "Yamato" and “Arcadia” (the battleship featured in the various “Captain Harlock” adventures) shows in their first run.
“First run?” I asked, smelling something off.
“Yeah,” he said, “we were the first ones who watched the shows. The videos came out about 12-15 years ago.”
Huh? “Starblazers” first aired in North America in ’77 (originally launched in Japan in ’74). This kid wasn’t even a glint in his father’s eye back then.
I did my best to keep a straight face and to prevent myself from sounding too condescending when I quietly interjected with “Actually, it’s people my age, in their mid-30’s to early 40’s who saw ‘Yamato’ when it first ran on TV in the 70’s.”
The kid looked at me like I was from Iscandar. He simply couldn’t fathom the possibility that this particular artifact of anime predated his own birth by nearly a decade. It was like he was trying to decide whether I was bullshitting him or if he had to suddenly re-evaluate his whole concept of the history of anime.
Not wanting him to strain anything, I changed the subject by asking if he had any smaller models. He didn’t, so after a cursory glance at a few other items in the store, my wife and I left.
For me, the experience was another blow. Leaving a self-proclaimed anime expert stunned because I’d watched a particular series not only years before he had, but years before he was born, made me feel like a bit of a relic. I don’t think this incident would have weighed as heavily as it has if it hadn’t been for that previous discussion with my friend.
The odd thing is, I know I shouldn’t be quite so surprised at being dated. It happens all the time when I chat with my parents’ 14-year-old godson, who’s “Star Wars” experience in the theatre is exclusively the new prequel trilogy. For him, the originals are things that only exist in video format and lack much of the emotional punch because they’ve already been spoiled by the prequels.
Maybe anime is different somehow in its impact precisely because it is animated. Sure, this particular medium has been using CG for years now, but still, it is, ultimately animation. The tropes, themes, and yes, even the visual styles, haven’t really changed much over the years. It’s that continuity that probably lulled me into not seeing the passing of time in quite the same way. And yet, time has passed, and at the tender age of 33, having seen the old anime series that I have in their first North American runs, having watched the Yamato cruise off into the sea of stars on an old wood-cabinet TV in a fake-wood-paneled 70’s basement, I am now something of an old-timer when it comes to discussions of anime.
If you’ll excuse me, I feel a “Back in my day…” rant coming on. I’d better get my rocking chair and cat ready.

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