Self-Indulgence 6.2: The Summer Before my Youth Died, Part 2
Nostalgia’s a funny thing. You get this feeling of longing that makes you wish you could relive certain events that have long since passed. You miss those days that you’ve ever so slightly edited in your mind to appear to be far more enjoyable than they were at the time. Rationally speaking, you know they weren’t nearly as good as you remember them to be, but you don’t give a damn. Sure, being a teenager again may mean having little more than a ten-dollar bill in your pocket and no car to get you around, but you want to recapture that wide-eyed feeling of being that young brat again. Rationality has nothing to do with it. Being better off now means jack shit. You just want that feeling back in some way.
That pretty much sums up my feelings for the summer of 1996. The magic from those three months is a feeling that I long for at this time of the year. Seeing kids having the time of their life, goofing off, not having a care in the world– it makes me wish I was 17 again despite the fact that being a teenager isn’t the most appealing prospect in life. For every day I spent idling around playing the SNES there was a day where my parents got on me about what I wanted to do with my life. I sure as hell had no idea at the time and didn’t particularly want to think about that shit at the time, and 14 years removed from that time it’s a feeling I don’t want to relive. But I still long for those days of hanging out with my friends and playing Vampire the Masquerade until dawn while hopped up on Big Red and crappy pizza.
During that summer of Chrono Trigger and the like I also experienced something of a revelation when it came to anime. I’d been a fan for a couple of years, but my experience with anime was limited to what was on the racks a Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. I’d seen Project A-Ko and some Tenchi and Ranma and a few other series, but my eyes had yet to be opened much further than that. Then one of my friends pulled out what appeared to be a blank VHS tape. On this innocent-looking cassette was a massive amount of Ranma 1/2 episodes. Episodes I’d never seen. Bootlegged episodes of stuff that the video stores never got around to carrying.
Know that look that Indy Jones got when he realized where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden– that telling look of someone that’s just experienced something profoundly spiritual and earth shattering? That was me when I saw this VHS tape.
We must have watched that and a handful of similar tapes three or four times that summer. I saw the entire first season of Ranma and the entire run of the original Tenchi Muyo OAV several times over, and the experience turned me from a guy that just happened to like anime into a full-blown convert to the religion of anime.
But what made this experience all the more special was the fact that anime itself was special at the time. Video stores had a limited selection and rarely updated it. These sorts of bootlegs were hard for guys like us with limited access points and limited cash to get a hold of. When we got a hold of some anime it was a genuine find, and we pretty much had to treasure it because of this. We weren’t going to get much, so we better damn well be happy with what we get.
From a purely objective standpoint this is a damn lousy situation. Anime was fucking hard to get. We weren’t college kids, so we didn’t have other college kids to depend upon. There was an anime club here in town but it was mainly for older fans and we wouldn’t have been all that comfortable in that situation. Our supply was limited and our knowledge was piss poor. Nowadays, anime is literally a click away on the computer. “Bootleg” is the current gold standard in anime fandom. Almost any series imaginable can be found if you have the patience to track down its torrent.
Anime fandom is better now than it was 14 years ago, but all I can think is “fuck that noise.” I want to recapture that feeling where anime was special. It’s completely irrational notion but I don’t give a damn. I want that magical feeling of awe and wonder to return. I want an anime to make me gawk wide-eyed and dumfounded.
I want anime to be special again like it was in 1996. I know that’s impossible. I’m firmly planted in reality and know that such nostalgic notions are little more than wistful delusions, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting it. A guy can want something he knows he’ll never have, and he can accept the fact that he’ll never have it, but that doesn’t make the longing go away.
I will say this: Over the past week I watched Kemonozume. It was the closest I’ve come to that feeling in ages. It wasn’t quite the same, but I did feel my metaphorical eyes widening with amazement just a little with each passing episode. Once I wrap my head around the series it may very well become my new all-time favorite series.
Also: The above song came up on my Youtube playlist right as I was wrapping up this post and it seemed pretty approrpiate.