A popular thing within the Anime community in recent years has been “Anime origin stories” which are exactly what they sound like, tales of how people got into Anime in the first place. It was started as an interview project by an ani-blogger called Lauren Orsini. I wanted to share my Anime origin story in the hope that it resonates with some old school fans and perhaps newer fans who weren’t around at the time may find it interesting.
It was summer 1993 and I was thirteen years old. My friend John came around to my house. He was always borrowing movies from his brother, this day he came round with a pirated VHS tape of something called Fist Of The North Star. Now John really loved his martial arts movies. I had assumed it was a live action film but John explained to me excitedly that it was animated but it was one of the craziest, most over the top and violent movies he’d ever seen. Of course I was intrigued, despite being only thirteen I had a penchant for weird and wonderful cult movies already and this definitely seemed to fit the bill. I enjoyed every minute of delirious gory excess but most of all was wowed by the animation and how imaginative the action was.
It was so far removed from anything I’d ever seen before. Needless to say….I was hooked.
At the beginning of the movie there was a trailer reel for other films and shows from “Manga Video” a UK company that was only a year old at the time. This gave me the name of a video label to start researching and even some other titles to look into to try and get a handle on exactly what I’d just watched. Fortuitously, a mere few weeks later issue 3 of a magazine published by Dark Horse comics called Manga Mania turned up in my local newsagent. This magazine had adverts for many of the titles glimpsed in the trailer reel on Fist Of The North Star and I realised I’d found my bible for this new and exciting form of entertainment that I would soon learn was called “Anime”.
At the time in the UK I think a lot of people who didn’t attempt to read much on the subject of Japanese animation assumed the medium was called Manga (which is of course the more common name for Japanese comics). This was down to one main thing; the fact that during Manga Video’s early days they left out the word anime from a lot of their marketing and instead used phrases like “It’s classic manga action all the way” promoting their brand over the actual name of the medium.
The cover of that Manga Mania featured Godzilla ( a Godzilla manga based on the movie Gojira 1984 was being serialised within the mag’s pages) which made me want it even more. It made me recall watching a lot of the 60’s and 70’s Godzilla movies on BBC2 and Channel 4 some years earlier and how much my friend John and I loved them. Up until the purchase of this magazine the big G was probably one of the only cultural icons I knew without a doubt was Japanese. I learned a lot about Japanese culture in general from Manga Mania not just anime. I still have that issue to this day.
I also learned that some of the cartoons I loved growing up had their origins in Japan. For one I learned that Battle Of The Planets was actually a westernised edited version of the anime Gatchaman and that some of my favourite childhood shows such as Transformers, Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold were all animated in Japan for international markets (See my “It’s Japanese animation but is it Anime?” article).
The sense of discovery and excitement in those early years was intoxicating. I made lists of titles I wanted to buy and things I hoped to be translated. I discovered tons of other video labels like Kiseki video, Pioneer Video, East 2 West, Western Connection and more. These labels were cool because unlike Manga Video they released a lot more subtitled videos which I enjoyed a lot more than dubbed. I started to watch Japanese cinema around this time and just found I enjoyed hearing the sound of the Japanese language a lot more and switched to trying to find subtitled anime whenever possible.
I got a glass collecting job at my local workingmen’s club just to put the money towards buying my anime tapes and my walls were covered in Manga Video promo posters that you could acquire by collecting tokens in the VHS cases and mailing away. I even got called “Manga Man” at my school because I wore a Manga Video branded jacket. 95% of the people there had no idea what Manga or Anime was. They just thought it was funny that I had what was in their eyes an unfashionable jacket without a recognisable brand name because that’s the kind of pathetic assholes some of them were.
A few of my friends got into anime too and they started video collections of their own and then I moved onto Manga and merchandise as well. We regularly traded tapes to combat having limited funds since we wanted to watch as many titles as possible. For young people reading this you have to remember there was no streaming back then. Mainstream household internet access was about four years away and when it arrived it took an age to download anything. Not to mention the fact that anything you could download in the first years were truly awful quality because no-one had good sources for this stuff.
What was on video to buy at retail was literally all we had. Although later some rental chains stocked anime tapes they were few and far between and while a few OVAs and anime movies got shown on late night TV here in Britain it was a very small number indeed. Cinema releases were also a rare beast and one off promotional screenings tended to take place in areas like London which were a bit too far away at the age I was then.
I look back at the beginning of my anime/manga fandom with a lot of fondness but also cringe when I think of the amount of shitty dubs I sat through. Because Manga Video were the dominant force of the UK market and most of their titles were dub only I watched a lot of great titles with some absolutely atrocious English voice overs. I’m not here to trash dubs in general, to each their own. They’re not my preferred way to watch anime but some of these were incredibly bad. It’s a miracle I ever became a Devilman fan in retrospect when I think of the atrocity against audio that was the Manga Video/LA Hero dub of the OVA episodes.
In addition to bad dubs the UK market had its fair share of bad anime too. Thankfully I managed to avoid most of it since I read a lot of reviews and occasionally borrowed tapes but there were a few bargain bin blind buys that ended up in the ACTUAL bin. A little tip: if you’re ever tempted to watch Sword For Truth take my advice……don’t.
Bad or good every single anime I’ve watched has lead me on the path to being the avid fan that I am today. My hunger for the medium has never really went away. There have been busy times of my life where I’ve not gotten round to watching much for brief periods but there’s never really been a time when I’ve become tired of it. I’m absolutely certain I’ll be interested in it (and Japanese culture in general) till the day I die.
While I may miss the crazy early days of constant new discoveries there are still new things to discover from the classic eras of anime in 2019. For one thing there’s still a number of elusive old school titles that have only recently made their way to home video or streaming and then there’s all the new stuff as well. I think it’s going to be a good few years yet before my classic anime backlog is done. Then of course there’s the rewatches…….
Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me. I plan on talking about the early UK anime video market in more detail in future articles. Feel free to share your earliest anime fandom memories with me in the comments.