I had a dangerous addiction during my teenage years. Oh, it started off innocently enough; I’d steal a half-hour after school, or maybe an early Saturday morning before my family had gotten up yet. Soon it had progressed. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, where it was all we did and talked about, and the next thing you knew, I was finding ways to involve it in every aspect of my life.
Then, I finally hit rock-bottom. I couldn’t hide from my problems any more. I found myself looking into abyss when I handed a fanfic to my creative writing teacher in 11th grade for credit: I had become a teenage anime fan.
It is with humility that I admit before all and sundry that I was a teenage otaku. Thank Zombie Jesus this was in the mid-to-late 90’s, well before the advent of the horrible influx of fuckery that modern anime fans watch such as Naruto – the worst I can say for myself is that I was a religious Dragonball Z watcher back before I realized that it was the same thing every episode: someone in a torn shirt and a bloody nose screaming like he was passing a kidney stone for twenty minutes straight.
Thankfully, Dragonball Z broke me of that vicious, unending cycle of fascination and self-loathing. That, and taking Japanese classes at 8:30 in the morning three days a week freshman year of college (nothing worth learning in college should be taught before 11 AM, as far as I’m concerned). It helped that my Japanese professor looked like a female version of Yoda; gone were my fantasies of the class being taught by some cute Japanese foreign exchange grad student with a tentacle porn fetish and a penchant for tutoring freshmen by taking a “hands-on” approach.
So I turned over a new leaf. I took down all those the overpriced wall scrolls purchased at the local science fiction convention; I boxed up the action figures still in their packaging (taking them out of the plastic decreases their value!); I quit going down to my favorite comic book shop every Wednesday so I wouldn’t be tempted to pick up the newest issue of Horrible Drawn Manga Adventure #832; and finally I quit scouring the Internet so I could download the latest subtitled copy of Berserk (everyone who was anyone knew that for the true anime aficionado, watching anything not in the original language of Glorious Nippon was blasphemy).
But what caused such a horrible, crippling addiction? For me, my gateway drug was Robotech, the Anglicized version of three distinct and completely unrelated Japanese anime shows that had been stitched together by an American company called Harmony Gold at the hands of Carl Macek, a lowly producer and story editor that was one of the true pioneers for bring anime to the United States that sparked controversy for the cavalier attitude he took to the original subject matter.
Whether you see him as an guardian angel or a no-talent hack, Macek was incredibly influential in bringing anime to the US, as after he left Harmony Gold he started Streamline Pictures, the now-defunct distributor that brought seminal works such as Akira, Vampire Hunter D, and Fist of the North Star to American audiences. I know more than a few of my friends remember wearing out our VHS players as we watched those four movies, along with everything else we could get our hands on. Deep, abiding friendships were formed over that ridiculous, over-the-top action – friendships that have either endured to this day or that have been rekindled with an ease that borders on supernatural.
For me, nothing has really recaptured that same sense of wonder and exhilaration that I felt upon watching Robotech as it originally aired, especially the first third of the American series, which was taken from the seminal Macross, a mecha franchise that is only second to Gundam in its longevity. Due to a licensing dispute between Harmony Gold and the original Japanese company that produced it, Studio Nue, no imports of any Japanese sequels appeared in the US until the amazing Macross Plus. This left the majority of English-speaking Macross fans little choice but to rely on poor-quality bootlegs subtitled by fans and sold at anime conventions – I once bought what was purported to be a full run of Macross 7 only to have it be old episodes of that awful Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the 80’s. If I ever find that asshole with the Flock of Seagulls haircut, he’s catching a massive beating.
I remember the thrill that went down my spine when I found out that the Exosquad cartoon from the early 90’s had licensed the designs of the Robotech mecha from Harmony Gold and were coming out with a toy line. There were rumors of an Exosquad/Robotech crossover for the cartoon’s third season, but my hopes were dashed when the show ended up being cancelled and Universal pulled the plug on my dreams of seeing F-14 Tomcats turning into robots that beat the shit out of each other.
A part of me died that day I heard the news. Don McLean would have written a song about it if he had still been alive (it was only after that I found out he wasn’t dead). My downward spiral into trying to find an anime that would ease my pain began. For a while, medieval fantasy anime like Record of Lodoss War helped get me through those cold, sleepless nights, but even then I knew it was just a stopgap measure until I could find another show with massive engines of death entrusted to moody, emotionally unstable teenagers; I tried both Gundam Wing and Evangelion, but it just wasn’t the same. Plus, both those shows were utter shit; there are much better Gundam shows out there, and if you ask me, the only good show Gainax has ever put out dealing with giant robots was Gurren Lagann, and that’s just because the whole series was intentionally over-the-top to the point where there were Voltron-style super robots composed of larger and larger mecha merging with one another until the climactic battle between the good guys and the bad guys had not galaxies but universes being used as ammunition. You know, maybe I’ll just re-watch that, it’s been so long since-
Holy shit. This has gone on way too long. I need to call my sponsor before I start watching episodes of One Piece or something. Fuck you, Netflix, and your streaming high-definition content. I need to go take a cold shower or something. Besides, I promised my mother I’d never join the military unless I got to pilot the giant robot.