This weekend I head on to Sakuracon for the 5th time in my life. I go for the same reason other people take drugs, go to DisneyLand, or see Salvador Dali movies repeatedly. I see things that I wouldn’t normally see in polite society, nor would I want to. I get my creative muscles massaged with the sensory overload of candy-colored images flying by at the speed of light. The kind of inspiration I get from anime conventions is quite unlike what you’ll find in art museums or interpretive dance shows (the irony of which has been hacked up and subjugated for a hilariously inflated art market, but that’s another post altogether). It’s loud, brash, and commercial, but it also tries to be different.
Of course some people out there might cry foul at that kind of assumption. What about those shows where girls get magical powers from cute mascots? What about the giant robot shows where the 15-year-old steals a mecha? What about the endless bouts of tournaments for greatest duel master/pokemon trainer/cook/tea ceremony? The shows exist all right, but it’s not my experience with the genre. I got into anime before it was on YTV at 8:30pm on weekdays. I still have VHS fansubs from over 10 years ago dubbed from laserdiscs and translated using the latest Commodore Amiga technology. Sometimes I pop those tapes in and take in the full cel animation and New Wave/hair band soundtracks. True enough, the storylines do seem a lot simpler than when I first saw them. I can’t figure out if the new anime’s gotten sharper or I’ve just gotten older. But what remains is that sense of pushing the boundaries, the sense of rebellion those old shows had.
Take Bubblegum Crisis, for example (Which I now own on DVD ^_^). It’s got the cool robots and good girl art you’d expect from any piece of teenage exploitation entertainment. But anyone who has seen the show knows that it isn’t just any T&A show. The heroines of the show, the Knight Sabres, often have to settle for less than happy endings when fighting off their enemies at the Genom corporation. Even as they get revenge on Genom for their crimes, the Knight Sabres have to deal with terrible losses when their friends are killed, orphaned or even turn out to be blood-sucking androids. Complete victory was never a certainty in anime shows like these. They played with your moral sensibilities while at same time pleasing your aesthetic sensibilities.
Sometimes I wonder, would Roy Fokker have died the way he did if Macross was remade today? Would Kyosuke have had to choose between Madoka and Hikaru? Would Sailor Moon have killed Tuxedo Mask? I think we see that kind of thing less and less in anime today. Without those life and death choices with real, agonizing, consequences, we rob ourselves of the characterization that makes any story worth experiencing.