Being an anime fan is a strange thing sometimes. There are things about the fandom that you don’t often find in other communities. One of those things is the guilt we feel for not watching anime hard enough. We might still rewatch our favorite shows and attend conventions, but we’ll find ourselves in group settings with other fans afraid to admit that we haven’t kept up with the latest trends.
Conversely, we might be embarrassed because the only thing we are keeping up with is considered too mainstream. You may watch Toonami every Saturday, but you don’t feel like a real fan anymore.
We wear knowledge of obscure trivia as a badge of honer, as if knowing who directed that anime film from the 80s about secret police escorting an ambassador from the demon realm to a treaty signing really matters. It’s Yoshiaki Kawajiri, by the way. How do you not know that‽
We have this obsession with collecting that I’ve touched on before. We buy things for the sake of buying things. I once left an anime convention with a giant box of anime VHS tapes. For a time, I owned most of the US print run of Shonen Jump and Newtype. I didn’t even read them, I just liked knowing they existed near me.
That isn’t to say there aren’t super fans of other media. Lost and Game of Thrones are perfect examples of this. Fans of those series spent years analyzing frames and weird character details, crafting theories until their faces were red. But most people just watched the weekly episodes at face value and moved on with their lives.
Nobody casually watches Queen’s Blade.
Anime fans will spend an afternoon defending their hobby to non-fans that think it’s all porn, then spend all evening defending themselves to other fans because they still haven’t seen the uncensored hot springs OVAs. They haven’t been translated yet, Barry. Fucking chill.
What’s I’m getting at is that as long as I’ve been an anime fan I’ve felt this cognitive dissonance when I’m not actively watching something. In 2017 I didn’t watch anything.
After how productive of a fan I was in 2016, I failed to maintain that level of energy in 2017. And while it’s weird to apply the word productive in a situation like this, it’s weirdly appropriate. Because I often feel disconnected from fellow anime fans if I’m not watching something current.
I throw around the term Fake Anime Boy sarcastically on Twitter, but when I look at everything that was released in 2017 and I only recognize a few titles, it stops feeling like a joke.
So why wasn’t I watching anything? With all the strides I was making in my professional life, I was simultaneously making strides in my depressive life. My mental health was being run like a company with a new CEO that wanted to impress the overzealous shareholders. They wanted to bring things back to the glory days of 2014 depression, but with a modern approach.
Now that I was done with college, I had to find new ways to be self destructive. Phoning it in at work was a start, but not having a full-time job made it difficult to reach my worst potential.
But don’t worry, I found a really nerdy way to outdo myself.
In the Summer of 2016, an arcade bar opened in my neighborhood. I had been there a few times, but it didn’t become a regular thing until after a bad breakup. Now that things were falling apart, this bar became my happy place. I started going every night. The deafening crowds and nostalgic pop music made it harder to hear the voices in my head.
I became addicted to games like Smash TV, Ice Cold Beer, and Hyper Sports spending hours at a time trying to best my high scores. When I wasn’t throwing away my savings trying to reach the Pleasure Dome, I was chain-smoking on the back patio.
This is how I was first introduced to Killer Queen, a ten player indie arcade game that required two oversized cabinets and a lot of communication.
One of the league players asked if they could use my lighter. She asked me if I’d ever played Killer Queen. I hadn’t. I was familiar with the game, but I was always intimidated by how complicated the gameplay looked and how people would huddle around the cab to watch others play.
She convinced me to join her once the crowd had calmed down. After explaining the basic mechanics with the in-game tutorial we played a few casual games while I got the hang of things. And once I was introduced to the competitive scene, I was hooked.
Killer Queen became my new routine. Every night I would go to the bar and play until the staff unplugged the cabinet at 2am and kicked us out. When I wasn’t playing, I was watching archived gameplay online. I started playing in tournaments and became friends with players from other cities.
Despite my devotion, I never became a star player. In fact, during nationals that year I didn’t make it past round one of the losers bracket. Turns out it’s harder to play video games while Two Beers In. But being part of this new community helped me crawl out of my funk. I was still an unhappy drunk, but at least I had things to look forward too again. I had friends.
But not having a steady job makes it very difficult to drink and play video games seven days a week. I solved this problem by selling all the junk that I had been hoarding my entire life. When an addict is backed into a corner, choosing between a liter of whiskey and the limited edition Pokemon Yellow Gameboy Color is easy. I didn’t need all of Inuyasha on DVD if meant I could drink for another week.
Fortunately, work started to pick back up in the Spring. I still wasn’t working full-time but between the occasional radio shift and recording voice over for religious cartoons, I was able to survive long enough until my next big film job.
And when that job did finally come, nothing that could’ve prepared me for what happened next.
The job itself was a nightmare, but the circumstances of its conclusion resulted in my move to New York. For the next two months, I would driving back-and-forth between Minnesota and New York, jumping from project to project, while simultaneously playing musical rent with my landlord. I don’t recommend that last bit. They don’t like when you do that.
In October I received a call from a friend in Brooklyn. Somehow they had gotten me a job on a major motion picture. The catch was that I needed to be in New York in seven days. I was already planning to move at the end of the month, but now I had to put the plan into overdrive.
I put the rest of my high ticket items on eBay with a three day window and sold the remainder to Half-Priced Books. What I couldn’t sell went into the industrial sized dumpster behind my apartment. At 11pm, after seven days of literally throwing my life in the trash, I put whatever would fit in my car and set out on the 20 hour drive to New York.
But something I didn’t account for was that I wasn’t driving to Brooklyn this time. The job was three hours upstate.
I made it to the hotel with just enough time to slam a beer and get 90 minutes of sleep before my shift. The next two months was spent sleeping on a mattress pad in my friend’s dining room while looking for an apartment.
By the end of the year, I was back on my feet. Sort of. I didn’t have a bed yet, but at least I was sleeping on my own floor. I rounded out the year by watching the Crunchyroll Holiday Special while drinking a mimosa and eating breakfast tacos. Considering how poorly the year went, I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion.