Expanding My Horizons in an Easterly Direction
by Rana Eros
I'm a specfic fan at heart. It's what I write, it's most of what I read, it's what I love. Within the confines of speculative fiction, I prefer fantasy to science fiction. Within the confines of fantasy, I prefer urban fantasy and mythic fantasy and magic realism to high fantasy or epic fantasy. I like quest fantasy only when it has a sense of humor. I love fairy tales and myths retold and reimagined. I have flirted with ad execs and art students and actors in my fannish career, but it's always that which contains a speculative element that holds me.
In terms of live action television, there's currently not much out there for a fan like me. Even for a more science fiction-inclined fan, pickings are slim. Farscape and Firefly were both cancelled, as was the latest incarnation of Star Trek. Buffy, Angel, Highlander, X-Files, and Babylon 5 all finished their runs. Touching Evil was cancelled. Dead Like Me was cancelled. Tru Calling, Joan of Arcadia, Wonderfalls, Tarzan, Birds of Prey, and a number of other speculative-themed television shows were all cancelled. Smallville will soon be finishing its run, and I know I'm not the only fan leery of getting attached to Supernatural or Medium or The Ghost Whisperer for fear they will disappear after less than a season (among other reasons, admittedly). The SciFi Channel offers SG-1, Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica, but if you've objections to the SciFi Channel (and boy, do I), or if ensemble sf isn't your fannish thing, then none of the three are going to do it for you.
So, when I'm craving a new fandom, possibly even one still in production, what are my options?
Well, one of them requires stepping away from the live action, and getting a little cross-cultural.
When I was a kid, I lived in San Francisco for a while. We got a few channels, including one that, while fuzzy, had a lot of cartoons we'd never seen. My sisters and I would contort ourselves into human antennae, trying to get better reception and watch the shows at the same time. I don't remember the names of all or even most of the shows we caught, but I do remember Gatchaman, called Battle for the Planets, and I do remember Starblazers. I'm pretty sure they also showed Robotech, since the characters looked familiar when I saw it again, roughly a decade later. As a kid, I adored these shows, but then we moved and they became just a fond memory.
I was reintroduced to anime in my late teens. By that point, my tastes had changed, and I found the style of much of what I was shown to be off-putting. It didn't help that so much of it included naked and semi-naked women with high-pitched voices and big breasts. I filed anime under Not My Thing and moved on.
There was plenty to move on to, and I played happily in fandom for over a decade before anime really crossed my path again. I knew fans of anime and manga, I knew the titles and even some of the characters and storylines of big fandom favorites, but animanga really was a more or less separate entity from Western live action fandom, so it wasn't too hard to dodge real exposure for those so inclined.
And then one of my favorite writers fell head over heels for Yami no Matsuei. Being the pimping sort, she praised her new love on the ml we shared. Because I loved her work so (and because, in retrospect, I was subconsciously beginning the new fandom search), I decided to see what all the fuss was about. She pointed me toward a place to download fansubs, I grabbed the first ep, and...the first ep grabbed me back. Hard.
I'm the sort to get nauseated by certain visuals, and certain styles of animation have been known to make me queasy. This was another reason for me to avoid both anime and animation in general, and it's why certain fandoms that might otherwise draw me in (One Piece, Samurai Champloo) just don't exert that poll. But the animation for YnM is the sort that actually appeals to my preferred aesthetic. That, plus the angle of death gods working essentially like paranormal detectives in modern Japan, would have hooked me in to at least watching the rest. Then the character of Kurosaki Hisoka entered the picture, and I was smitten. Snarky, weapon-toting blonds are indeed My Thing.
I settled in happily to the YnM fandom and began to both read and write, but the lines between fandoms in animanga are on the fluid side, and my writerly friend was still acquiring fandoms, and so it wasn't long before I had a fair working knowledge of a few other fandoms, including Fullmetal Alchemist. The art took some getting used to on my part, but the story and characters sucked me right in. Snarky, weapon-toting blond, check, steampunkish urban fantastical world, check, alchemy as working magic system, double check. I didn't have enough of a feel for the characters to write them, and they didn't grab me as hard as the YnM characters and world, but I read them, and made more fannish contacts.
Then one of those contacts introduced me to Saiyuki.
Again, the art style took some getting used to (now I adore it to pieces). In fact, every new animanga fandom requires an adjustment period when it comes to the art, I'm finding. Maybe it stems from the same thing that creates the nausea at certain visuals. In any case, Saiyuki is a retelling of Journey to the West (aka Monkey); it features a snarky, gun-toting blond, an hermaphroditic goddess of mercy, demons, half-demons, and a really long quest with a really, really big sense of humor. It was, in short, guaranteed to be a hit with me. And so it is.
I've found my way into other animanga fandoms, and recently I realized the balance is more tipped toward animanga than live action anymore. Considering that I was in the habit of viewing animanga as Not My Thing, it was a bit of a revelation to see that it had become so and that, in fact, I now look to anime and manga to fill the yen for a new fandom before I look to live action. At this time when "reality TV" seems to be ruling the airwaves, I know anime is more likely to deliver what I'm looking for.
If you share my tastes, and my issues with what's currently on offer on your TV screen, anime might deliver what you're looking for, as well.