How I ended up living and working in Japan is a long and complex story, but like many, anime was a big part of it. In my highschool years, my friends and I were watching at least one 26 episode series a week by means of trading VCDs with strangers off of message boards, importing DVDs from Singapore, or just leeching off of the collections of rich friends. What can I say? The years before BitTorrent and the divx codec were a tough time for anime fans.
When I entered college, I began studying the Japanese language and the culture that surrounds it. A Japanese film class gave me access to the University's large Japanese film collection and a few fellow students passed a Japanese drama or two my way. Yet, even between all that and learning the language formally, I was still chewing through anime at an alarming rate.
Then I moved to Japan for my final year of college. Within two months I pretty much stopped watching anime all together. I watched Japanese game shows, trivia programs, and dramas, but not anime. Maybe I was burned out or maybe there was just so much else to do. Either way, I guess I no longer needed it for my "Japanese fix." Just living in Japan was enough.
Then Heroes Pulled Me Back In
Now seven years later, I'm still in Japan. Over that time, I've watched perhaps one or two series each year—usually a sequel or remake of something I watched "back in the day."
And then I picked up Heroes Phantasia.
A little review—in case you haven't read our other coverage of Heroes Phantasia: It's a PSP RPG that combines nine fantasy and sci-fi anime into a single adventure. Going in, I had watched three of the series—Slayers, Blood+, and Sgt. Frog—and had at least heard of the rest (though I knew little to nothing about most of them). The more I played, the more I wanted to know about my party members. Why was one a fighter but dressed as a mage? Why was a bookworm teamed with an army grunt? Why did one of them put on a white mask for his special attacks? I wanted to know.
Quick side note: I don't now nor have I ever liked moé, but I do understand why it's prevalent. Otaku—and I mean true Japanese Otaku, not simply "anime fans" as it has come to mean in the West—love it and generally spend more money on anime series and related merchandise than any other demographic. So if they like cute child-like character designs, studios have no problem pandering to them.
Over the course of writing about the anime featured in Heroes Phantasia, I got my answers to all these questions and a million others. The more I learned, the more I felt these anime are all the kind of shows I loved growing up—far removed from the moé-saturated market prevalent today.
So while I'm still working my way through Heroes Phantasia, I have already been pulled into three of the anime present in the game.
Read or Die
If you locked me in a room and asked me to do nothing but throw out the craziest ideas I could
think of, I would never in a million years come up with a story about a paper-controlling secret agent who must stop a resurrected Ludwig Von Beethoven from playing "the death symphony" before his steampunk rocket ship reaches orbit. And if that sounds like the most awesome thing ever, that's because it is. With the first anime OVA out of the way, I'm already gearing up for the TV series—once I finish the fan-made video game.
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
I admit it, I've have a dragon fetish ever since I watched Flight of Dragons at age six. If you'd asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd have said "a dragon." Hell if you asked me now, I'd probably say the same. So when you mix my nostalgic love for dragons with a
tragic love story, I am completely on board. But while that's what got me to start watching Orphen, it's not what keeps me coming back. The English dub is.
Blasphemy, I know. The problem is that in the original Japanese, the characters of Orphen are so stereotypical it hurts—angsty pretty-boy, submissive boy, aggressive girl. Watch the dub and suddenly it's a sarcasm-filled snark fest that brings life to the adventure. None of the important plot details are changed, but most individual conversations have been completely rewritten. And really, it's better for it.
Rune Soldier Louie
As a child of the 80s, I grew up with a lot of anime on TV (Voltron, Transformers, etc). Of course, I had no idea they were anime. And by the 90s, anime in general was promoted as
ultraviolent and gory cartoons—something I had zero interest in.
Then a group of friends sat me down and forced me to watch Record of Lodoss War. That truly was the start of it all. So when I found out that Rune Hunter Louie was a magical comedy set in the same fantasy world, I was on it like the last chopper out of 'Nam. It's the opposite of Lodoss War in one major way: comedic instead of serious—poking fun at Tolkien-based fantasy instead of embracing it. But while the tone is different, it still delivers an enjoyable fantasy adventure which is all I care about.
A Full Return to Anime?
Do I expect this rediscovery of my love for anime to last? No, not really. Besides the amazingly artistic new Lupin the Third, nothing so far this year has really grabbed my attention. But regardless, it's great that Heroes Phantasia has exposed me to many of the best anime I'd missed, and I'm thankful to it for that.