So I thought this would be a good sort of introductory post since I haven’t done one of those yet. I was kind of hesitant since my Best of 2018 post is a list of sorts but I decided to do this anyway. You can read that here if you’re interested.
You always hear of that one title that got someone into anime. A series that sparked their interest, the gateway anime, or the anime that “awakened” them to the medium. For me, there are a couple of series like that. It took a while for me to truly become the fan I am today. I thought I’d document that journey for you. I’m going on a nostalgia trip, and I’m inviting you to join me. How exactly did I get to this point where I’ve seen hundreds of anime with this huge collection? Let’s find out!
I will preface this by saying that the Ghibli films should probably come first or second, but they didn’t really contribute to me being an anime fan specifically. Although Spirited Away is my favorite film and the Ghibli films are all wonderful, I sort of consider them independent of my anime hobby and hold them to a higher standard, more part of the film corner instead of the anime corner. So while they aren’t on this list, keep in mind I did see those films at an early age.
One more thing. This is more about my experiences with the medium rather than how I feel about each series, so there aren’t much plot synopses or reviews. Just me talking about how I became a fan with a lot of my “firsts.”
With that in mind, let’s go on a nostalgia trip!
Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh: Anime I didn’t know were anime
I’m not sure which of these came first since my memory is a little murky going back that far, but these two are probably the first anime I remember liking. I didn’t know these were anime, though, I think. I just knew them as cool cartoons that seemed to stand out from the others. I have fond memories of both but I’ll share one memory for each show.
For Digimon, the one thing I remember is the Play Station video game Rumble Arena. I’d go over to a friend’s house and we’d play like it was Smash Brothers. I’m not sure how, but we got some video tapes of some of the movies, which my brother and I played endlessly. And of course, there was the television series itself which aired on American TV on early weekend mornings.
The other series is Yu-Gi-Oh! Of course I watched this series on TV too, and I played the actual card game with friends from time to time, and I played that old PS2 videogame as well. But the biggest memory I have is going to see the movie, Pyramid of Light, in theaters. There’s a Regal in my town so it gets a lot of good showings. They gave out free cards to people who got tickets. I ended up seeing it twice and it was amazing. It was my first experience watching anime in theaters and few things hold up to that.
Basically, what I’m saying is that these two anime are my childhood and although it wasn’t them that sparked the anime interest, I felt it necessary to mention them.
Dragon Ball Z: The real first and the beginning of collecting
Come on. You had to have expected seeing DBZ in an article like this. DBZ has gotten so many people into anime from my generation it’s not even funny. Without DBZ, I would not be an anime fan. That said, my love of DBZ comes mostly from two parts; the video games and the DVD sets I began collecting. I do have memories of seeing some of the Buu saga on Toonami when I was a kid, and have some memories of acting it out with my cousin who was also a huge fan, but those memories don’t have as much weight and aren’t as clear.
But my real love for DBZ started when I got a silver Game Cube console (which I think is when I was in 4th grade or somewhere around there), way back. One of the first games I got for it is Dragon Ball Z: Budokai. That’s a game I still play occasionally today. I would battle my dad all the time since he liked playing too. He’d always be Cell and I’d be Frieza (I won pretty much every time but he still put up some good fights!).
Then there was Budokai 2 for the Play Station 2. This is one I also played a lot, particularly with my brother. Once the disc and console aged, it didn’t play very well. Loading times took forever, maybe as long as 30 minutes at a time. So what my brother and I would do is turn it on at night, and sleep during the loading times, then wake each other up when it finished loading so we could play. We took turns, I think.
So fast forward a few years. I’m in 7th grade now. Something I loved doing was going to the mall to our local FYE with friends to get CDs, which I continued to do until they closed later in my high school life. One time, when I was with family, I stopped by the anime section, not recognizing anything except those big orange DBZ season sets. I decided to get one. I started with season 7 because I was eager to relive what I saw on Toonami back in the day during the Buu saga. Looking back, I can’t believe FYE charged $50 for each of those season sets. Anyway, we get home, and I watch the crap out of the 27 episodes that came on the set, only to find the season ends just short of the Buu saga (it contains everything from the other world tournament to the world martial arts tournament). I had to get the next set.
And so during this time, I begin buying the movies as well and managed one day to pick up season 8 after saving while my brother picked up season 9 so we didn’t have to wait. My brother and I got some real enjoyment out of the films and games. Within the next few years, I managed to get the season 1 and 2 sets as well. My DBZ collections spans the orange brick sets for seasons 1-2, and 7–9 as well as every movie on DVD with the exceptions of movie 7 (Lord Slug), movie 10 (Super Android 13), movie 12 (Bojack Unbound), and the more recent movies 18, 19,and 20 (Battle of Gods, Resurrection F, and Broly respectively), and of course, whatever didn’t get released in the U.S.
There’s also the games I own. Budokai Tenkaichi 3 for the Wii, which I absolutely love playing even today. Can’t get enough of that game. I also have Xenoverse for PS3, which I also play sometimes. There are a handful of others but I don’t want to drone on about DBZ for too much longer. Just know that the video games mean a lot and I’ll probably get Xenoverse 2 and/or FighterZ down the line and that I still enjoy the franchise today and that I watched Kai and Kai: The Final Chapters on Toonami when Toonami got the reboot.
Viz Part I: Naruto, manga, and the beginning of online binging.
When I was in 6th grade, I dipped into manga. I caught some moments of Naruto when it was still airing part one on Toonami and decided to give the manga a try. I ended up getting the first two volumes at Borders (yes, Borders, if people remember them!), however, after that, it faded into the background while DBZ took over.
Fast forward and now I’m in 9th grade and DBZ flare has died down. I decide it’s time to pick up the manga again, and this time I’m totally invested. First volume 3, then volume 4, then volumes 5 and 6, then 7 and 8. Volume 9 was out of stock so I ended up getting volume 10 before getting volume 9 at a Barnes&Noble while on vacation out of town. Then finally it was volume 11 before I picked up the anime. I started watching anime the way anyone else from my time started…by watching the dub version in a crappy format on YouTube that avoids copyright while episodes were broken into three videos each. I made it all the way to episode 15 or 16 before there weren’t any episodes on YouTube anymore. So I switched to Hulu and watched the next episode in Japanese with English subtitles. This was my first experience to subbed anime and while I hated it at first, I came around to it rather quickly, and finished up the Bridge of Courage arc, the first major arc of the series, on Viz Media’s website.
This is when binging online started. I would just watch episode after episode. I was so invested in Naruto I would spend entire days on the family computer watching Naruto. Sometimes ten episodes at a time, something I’m not sure I’d be able to do today. But I loved seeing all the moments I loved from the manga adapted into anime form.
Eventually I caught up to where I had left off in the manga at volume 11, but I pressed on, continuing the anime and getting the manga volumes. So the first half of my sophomore year was spent watching and reading Naruto. The last volume I ended up getting is 45 in my senior year. And I also caught up to where the anime was and now needed to watch weekly.
And so, now that I was caught up on the Naruto anime, I needed something else…
Viz Part II: The long running series of Bleach, Inuyasha, and Blue Dragon
Naturally after I caught up with Naruto, I had to start something else, and what caught my eyes first were the titles that were also on Viz’ site at the time.
For Bleach, I had actually bought the Shattered Blade video game for the Wii at some point and had fun even though I knew nothing about the story. So I finally dived in and was hooked. Though unlike Naruto, I actually skipped some filler episodes late in the series (particularly the Zampakuto rebellion arc). I was into it until I caught up with it, and then I just never picked it back up after episode 300-something before the last arc. However, I still have a fondness for the series and I love the first 63 episodes. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday.
Then there was Inuyasha. I’m not going to go too much into it because I’ll just start repeating the same things. I started it, got sucked into it, and finished it around the end of my Sophomore year. It had an ending so satisfying and complete that I didn’t know what to do with myself after I finished it. It’s still in my top 10 today. Though I might give it a rewatch to see how it holds up, and perhaps add the series on DVD to my collection. I already have the first two films, and one of the first pieces of my collection was the second film which I got for $5 at a local CD/DVD shop. It was with Inuyasha I became a sub elitist. I heard the English dub and hated it instantly. Thankfully that part of my weeb phase died off relatively quickly and within a few months I was into both subs and dubs.
Blue Dragon, same deal. Remembered it vaguely from my childhood so I gave it a watch, and followed it through to the end. It was more engrossing than I remembered. It also kind of reminds me of JoJo with how the powers work now that I think about it.
Viz Part III: Death Note, Blue Exorcist, and my experience with shorter anime
In hindsight, these anime didn’t actually have that much of an impact on me, but I found it important to mention them because they were my first foray into shorter anime and they were both very good when I watched them. This was the first time I had seen anime listed with less than 50 episodes and it seemed weird.
Along with a few series that didn’t click on Viz’ website, I stumbled upon these two, and I loved them. I haven’t seen them in a long time but maybe I’ll go back to them.
And with finishing those I thought I had reached a conclusion. Some peak. For some reason, I thought I had seen all there is to see, until my friend suggested a title to me at the end of my sophomore year that changed everything…
Netflix: Soul Eater, modern favorites and a new era
Toward the end of my sophomore year, a friend of mine suggested I try a series called Soul Eater on Netflix. The image to the left is the one I saw on Netflix. I decided to give it a try blindly, in English. Long story short, I ended up watching all 51 episodes in a couple weeks. I thought it’d take the summer but I got so sucked in like all the others (and finished it before the school year!), but this time it was different. The aesthetic was so new and fresh compared to all the shonen titles I’d seen via Viz. It’s so cartoonish but so anime at the same time. A shonen anime adventure with typical anime humor not found in previous series, but with streaks of maturity. I hear it’s very common for fans of the medium to start with Soul Eater and I saw why. Soul Eater is another series that carries some nostalgic value for me and I revisit it from time to time.
This led me to exploring all the other anime Netflix had to offer, taking into account more recommendations from the friend who suggested Soul Eater. Back at this point in 2012–2014, Netflix primarily streamed other company titles instead of their originals, which weren’t quite a thing yet. So there was tons of content from mostly Funimation and Sentai Filmworks, titles that weren’t even that popular or well known. This is also when I started getting into collecting anime for real getting a lot of what I saw on Netflix. So now I’ll mention a few of the major ones that stood out during this time when I just binged every anime Netflix had to offer. There are, of course, many, many titles that belong here but I probably don’t have enough time to talk about them all so I’ll only pick out the ones that have the most meaning.
Believe it or not, Kaze no Stigma was something you could watch on Netflix. While this is a title that stands out for being a nostalgic favorite, what makes it most noteworthy is that it’s the first title I added to my collection that wasn’t DBZ related or the second Inuyasha movie. There’s a place that sells anime in the city I live nearby. I went there with my father once and I was baffled by how expensive anime can be! Seeing price tags on anime is a shocking experience for all new fans, I’m sure. But I saw this title tucked in on display with with that famous green S.A.V.E banner (luckily Funimation doesn’t make these releases anymore) for less than $30. I got it and was so excited to finally own something like this on DVD. When I got home and put the first disc in our Blu-ray player at home…the first episode froze…The first disc was busted! That put quite the damper on the experience. I took it to get it refaced, twice, and that didn’t help. You can imagine my disappointment. But nonetheless, I enjoyed having it, and it wasn’t until about 5 years later, I replaced that first disc by buying an old part 1 release and swapping out the discs, which did work. I treasure it to this day. It also cemented Robert McCollum and Cherami Leigh as two of my favorite voice actors.
It’s quite unfortunate the original author died before getting to finish the series. May he rest in peace.
I can’t get through an article like this without mentioning my favorite anime of all time, Angel Beats! I played this series once out of curiosity. I was intrigued by the premise but never got around to it for a while. I was blown away when I first saw it. It was a feels trip like no other, and my first experience with a Key anime. It was the best looking anime I’d ever seen (and still to this day is the best looking anime made, in my opinion). Kanade is still my waifu to this day.
One day my family went out to a large mall and there was an FYE. I rushed to the anime section and saw this on DVD…for $70. But I knew I had to have it. I saw it had all the episodes plus a bonus episode I never knew existed! I felt a connection to that DVD set. I ended up getting the first Bleach movie, Memories of Nobody and the second season of Dragon Ball Z instead since I didn’t have the money for Angel Beats! I made it clear to “Santa” that I really wanted that set, and come Christmas 2012, I got it! It’s, to this day, one of my most beloved presents. I ended up getting the series on Blu-ray in 2015 along with a French copy of the limited edition DVD set, the limited edition Japanese Blu-ray box set, the first Japanese Blu-ray volume, and a smack dab of other media over the years. I revisit this one often and the Jun Maeda tale of an amnesiac wandering into the afterlife will always stay with me.
Unfortunately the series is out of print in North America now. Hopefully Aniplex USA rereleases it sometime in the future.
Another title worth revisiting every year at least is School Rumble, my third favorite series. I saw this on Netflix and saw a TV-MA rating next to it wondering what the heck was in store for me. I waited until people were asleep in case it was something raunchy. And…it was actually a really sweet, funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and nostalgic anime. It’s always good to rewatch, and every so often I rewatch certain episodes with my brother so we can feel nostalgic together since we both love it. It’s also one of the first anime I bought online during my junior year. Turns out the first season has a rating of TV-PG and the second season is rated TV-MA despite the material being the exact same throughout both seasons. I’m still not sure why. In any case, I’ll never grow out of class 2-C’s love struggles.
While Rosario + Vampire does’t stand out particularly in getting me into anime, there is one thing special about it and that’s the fact it got me into Japanese music. The ending song by Nana Mizuki in particular is so good it led me to importing my first Japanese CDs, of which I now have a few (I’ll link a full version of the song here if the TV version isn’t enough. The quality is a bit low but it’s the only full version I could find that exists as of press time). I don’t have the CD that song is on, but I do have others, and they’re pretty great too!
Of course, it’s also one of the first harem anime I watched, and it cemented Alexis Tipton as one of my favorite voice actors.
I’ll go through one last tile before we end off.
Another one of the first series I added to my collection in my junior year, Baka and Test represents this time in my life very well. During this time in my life. I’d wait until all my family members went to bed around midnight, I’d make myself a really large snack, and I’d just watch anime on Netflix until 3:30 in the morning. Those two summers before 11th grade and 12th grade were some of the best in my life. This is another of those comedies I’d stay up late watching. The opening song is pretty catchy too.
Ah, high school. From there, I discovered streaming, and a few titles caught my interest in that era as well, but by the time I got into my senior year I was already entrenched in anime and manga so I don’t feel like mentioning them is necessary. Even that long thread I just made about Netflix titles might not have been necessary. But I consider it a foundational part of me becoming a big fan of this medium. It is, after all, what accelerated my love for anime beyond the mainstream long running shonen. After I graduated high school I got myself a Crunchyroll subscription and have been a member ever since, and I continue to buy anime, light novels, and manga.
All right, all right. I’ve kept your attention plenty long enough. If you’ve read this far, thanks for your readership. Leave a clap if you enjoyed reading this nostalgia trip as much as I did writing it. Maybe it brought back some memories for you too. Thanks for visiting my humble blog, please spread it around and I’ll see ya next time!