Spirited Away reminded me why I love anime (my anime origin story)

I started Thoughts That Move primarily as an anime blog in January 2017, gung-ho on analyzing the medium until I wrung it dry. It remained my bread-and-butter for (coincidentally) six months to the day; while I would intersperse posts on other topics, I was an anime blogger first and foremost. Then, my passion started to wane. There are a variety of reasons for this but the one most pertinent to our purposes is that I simply wasn’t enjoying anime anymore. I’ve blogged sporadically in the nearly six months since but never once about anime and on most occasions not at a level of quality I was satisfied with. It became so bad that I almost let my WordPress subscription lapse which would’ve effectively taken the blog offline. So why am I still here?

Because Spirited Away reminded me why I love anime.

Back at the end October I went to a theatrical screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s opus. It was at least my sixth time watching the film but what drew me to the theater was never having seen it on the big screen nor with the Japanese audio track (ironic given my typical preferences). Plus, MoviePass made the outing basically free. That evening I dragged myself three city blocks from my apartment to the AMC. My only expectation walking in was to noncommittally revisit one of my favorite films. I walked out having had my childhood brought back.

Flashback to mid-2003. I’m 10 years old. Spirited Away has won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in unprecedented fashion, exposing the anime film to a wide Western audience. My friend’s mom must have heard the buzz and bought it on video for us to watch. I first set eyes on the film in the backseat of her car, me and my friend glued to a tiny screen hanging from its roof. I had no idea what I was watching nor had I seen anything like it before, yet I was enthralled by the elaborate, foreign world it portrayed. We only made it through roughly 30 minutes of the film at the time which meant my next few weeks were to be consumed with filling in all the gaps. This was my Star Wars, a film that set my young imagination running with possibilities.

A few weeks later, my friend and I sat down for a proper viewing of the film at my request. What I witnessed was nothing short of transcendent. No other film that I’ve seen to this day is so densely imaginative. Sootballs, radish spirits, a dragon boy and of course No Face; the bathhouse and all its residents etched themselves into my mind. I had become an anime fan even if I was yet to know what “anime” was. My closest point of comparison at the time were Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and a slew of toy-based shows (Beyblade and Medabots, anyone?). I recognized that these series came from another country but it wasn’t until I discovered Shounen Jump that I’d realize it was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Japanese animation.

It was late 2003 when I came across a copy of Shounen Jump on a Boston newsstand. I begged my father to buy it for me and– perhaps against his better judgement given the contents versus my age at the time– he folded. I spent that night in my grandmother’s attic bedroom flipping through its pages in awe. It had all the mega-franchises of the time: Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh and a preview for the first Saint Seiya volume which grabbed me in particular (you bet that as soon as those volumes hit store shelves I was begging my way into collecting them). I began to put the puzzle pieces of “anime” together yet never quite managed to make the transition to it from manga, ultimately falling off the bandwagon altogether a few years later. No longer did I find the mediums “cool,” a concept that was becoming all too important to me as I entered my adolescence. I didn’t touch anime for most of my middle school years. Instead, the spirit of Japanese pop culture was kept alive in me by an older step-cousin who would introduce me to JRPGs every time I saw him (the most critical of which was Chrono Trigger which changed the way I perceived gaming forever).

My relationship with him bloomed when I entered high school. He introduced me to World of Warcraft which acted as the platform through which we bonded. I would stay up until four in the morning following him onto IRC channels and absorbing his interests. One night, he made a recommendation that would bring me back full-circle to my 2003 friend’s mom’s car’s backseat; “we should watch some Ghibli films.” We synced up our video players and blew through Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro while commentating via AIM (my username: rastamasta1001… we won’t discuss this). Something seemed eerily familiar when watching these films but– being unaware who Hayao Miyazaki or what Studio Ghibli were– I couldn’t quite place it. A few nights later we put on Spirited Away and the revelation of “anime” blew my mind. This was that elusive cartoon I was so mystified by all those years prior! Anime wasn’t only Shounen Jump and glorified toy advertisements but indeed an ocean of endless depths, filled with fantastical stories of all shapes and sizes to discover. What other anime could I find?

Well, it’d be a long time until I found out. Soon after this period I got a job writing for a mobile gaming website which– alongside World of Warcraft and schoolwork, in that order– took up all my time. I also got into Western television dramas which kickstarted my deep love for storytelling in general. Many of my high school friends watched anime but I never caught the same bug outside of Cowboy Bebop, (randomly) Spice & Wolf and a few other odds & ends. Through their hallway banter I’d pick up on what was popular in anime, information that was certainly helpful when I got into it as an adult years later. But that was about it.

It’s now 2011 and I’m attending Drexel University in Philadelphia. This just so happened to be an hour-or-so drive from where my cousin lived. Having kept up with him primarily through World of Warcraft, he and I were finally able to start hanging out in person. Jump a few years to early 2014 when I’m in the throws of deep depression. Needing anything to do outside of my apartment, my cousin drove down and we went to a Japanese culture festival. Here I bought my first anime statue (a low-quality Rise from Persona 4), and that night he introduced me to Attack on Titan. Its weirdness connected with me in a moment when I felt alien to society. From then on I was hooked on anime. These stories of outsiders by outsiders for outsiders helped me cope with my mental state and three years later would lead me to create this blog.

You may be asking what this drawn-out backstory of my history with anime has to do with Spirited Away reinvigorating my passion for it. The answer is: everything. Walking out of that screening, all of this came flooding back to me. I remembered the way that anime had impacted my life at so many junctures and the person I was today because of it. I remembered the high of a good watch and needing to share it with anyone who’d listen; the entire walk home was spent huddled over my phone as I jammed out a thread of tweets raving over the film. Through those tweets I remembered that anime had come to encapsulate an entire community to me, one that I was steadily feeling alienated from. Most of all, I remembered the pure joy that watching anime gave me. It was time to return to its embrace.

Life as an anime fan has been good to me in the time since. Recent series such as Little Witch Academia, Girls’ Last Tour and Made in Abyss have sparked my imagination and reinvigorated my want to blog. While this is my first anime-based blog post in nearly half a year, I’m teeming with ideas for others to come. I’ve recaptured the drive of my early blogging days and it feels fantastic.

In writing this piece, I’ve come to realize just how critical Spirited Away has been at the three most critical junctures of my anime fandom to date: it was a pivotal starting point, the lens through which I learned of the broader world of anime, and the arbiter of rekindling my love for these awesomely weird Japanese cartoons. I suppose one great story is all it takes to change someone’s life.

11 thoughts on “Spirited Away reminded me why I love anime (my anime origin story)

  1. Nice, we share quite a few things, indeed. Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Beyblade, as expected. AoT especially, it too reinvigorated my passion for my anime. It’s also awesome to see someone remember Medabots (I had completely forgotten about it, wow).

    Even though I practically grew up on the Ghibli movies, it’s only in my recent years that I’ve really started to appreciate them. Princess Mononoke was the one that left a solid impression on me, showing me an atypical source of awesome beyond anything I had seen up until that point. It’s still my favourite.

    But despite multiple re-watchings Spirited Away never really grabbed me. I haven’t seen it in years, but I’m hoping the next time I do, my newfound appreciation for it (and your epic enthusiasm) will make it into a more enjoyable experience for me. It’s certainly quite unlike any other movie out there, and I highly respect its uniqueness (and of course all the visual hooks: top-tier animation, extremely life-like expressions in characters, unbelievable attention to detail and world-building…). I am determined to like it.

    Thanks for sharing your story. These things always, always get to me.

    Liked by 2 people

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  4. Elisabeth O'Neill

    I’ve dropped in and out of anime a couple of times myself, and even though it’s never been one particular show or movie that’s brought me back, it was exactly the same feeling you described. There’s a beauty and nostalgic warmth to the medium that’s impossible to replicate with anything else, and you do come to miss the friendship and community around it. When littleanimeblog went on hiatus it slowly came to me that I felt there was something almost painfully missing. And I know that having a sense of purpose, whether through writing or otherwise, is so important for getting through rough times.

    So anyway, welcome back, it’s good to have you 😊 Looking forward to reading the pieces that come out of your fresh inspiration and rekindled love of anime.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Thanks for sharing. This was a fun post to read, for sure! Looks like we grew up roughly in the same era, so many of the anime you mention influenced my anime fan development as well. It was awesome reading about different ways that anime has significantly impacted your life at critical moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post and I was glad to read someone’s honest perspective on how they feel about anime. For myself, I have been more into it in recent years than before. I started out with similar shows as yourself and Spirited Away was a biggie that got me deeper into the genre as well.

    I dont’ see myself not watching anime anytime soon, but I also see myself with less time to do so. I wish I could watch up to the huge queue in my Crunchyroll account…..one day I will, but every season means more shows to watch which just makes the pile bigger 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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