With the news of the Blockbuster Airbnb on everyone’s tongue, it got me thinking about how video rental spaces shaped me as a fan. I made $6/hour working at McDonald’s in high school, so I put serious thought into the value of the anime I was buying.
New anime releases regularly sold for $30 and came with 3-5 episodes. That’s $6-$10 per episode! Price-per-episode was the biggest deciding factor when making a purchase. It was common for me to buy a show I’d never heard of if the first volume had more episodes on it than something I knew I would like.
If something was sold at a discount, the decision-making process was even simpler:
- This exists in front of me right now.
- It’s only $15.
- Holy shit, there are five episodes on this disc‽
That’s how I ended up with the first volume of Samurai Deeper Kyo. The only thing notable about Samurai Deeper Kyo is that the 2008 box-set came with a Gameboy Advance game. This was the last game released for the system and could not be purchased separately
This bargain-hunter mindset is something I still have trouble shaking as an adult. Even when I can watch what amounts to unlimited anime for $10/month, I catch myself browsing fire sales. For fuck’s sake, I bought all of Kanonkon because it was on clearance.
Not being able to drive also put a damper on my teenage spending habits. Online retail was still pretty new, and I didn’t have a debit card anyway. Unless my mom drove me to the city, which wasn’t going to happen, I was limited to what was in biking distance.
Thankfully, we had a rental shop called Mr. Movies nearby. We also had a Blockbuster, but they charged so damn much that we only went there if Mr. Movies didn’t have what we wanted. I remember renting games from a local grocery store for $2/week when I was in college. The same game was $7 at Blockbuster for fewer days. Fuck that.
My earliest memory of renting anime is from 2003. I would watch anything during this time period, and I would rationalize until I enjoyed it. I don’t know what the goal was, but I refused to admit to myself that bad anime existed. That didn’t last very long.
Mr. Movies played a big role in this. When it only costs a few dollars to watch a show, you’re not as picky as when you’re buying something at full price. Sometimes you’ll get lucky. That’s how I first saw Akira and Berserk. But more often than not you would end up with something like Ninja Resurrection or Sin: The Movie. It’s a dangerous game of Anime Rental Roulette.
One day I rented ADV Film’s Doomed Megalopolis: Special Edition.
Doomed Megalopolis is the kind of show Anime Network is talking about when they say that anime is, “NOT KID’S STUFF.” It’s hyper-violent, hyper-sexual, and an all-around bad time for every woman in the cast. In Flowers from Hell, Jim Harper compares it to Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend.
It’s that’s kind of show.
At this time in my life, I had seen Ninja Scroll more than once. I wasn’t new to disturbing anime, but Ninja Scroll also has fun with its characters. Jubei spends half the film snarking off and being a doof. Doomed Megalopolis is just plain mean. Nothing good happens to anyone over its 4-hour runtime.
Having recently revisited the series, I’m still not sure what I think about it. The animation is top-notch, and the pacing works surprisingly well for a story that’s told over several decades. But it’s also a tidal wave of nonsensical bloody nightmare visions and unrelenting misogyny. And it’s damn near incomprehensible.
Something changed in me when I watched Doomed Megalopolis as a teenager. I caught myself thinking, “Some parts of it were good. Anime is still good, right?” And anime was still good.
Part of it.
It would take a few more years, but I was on the path learning an important lesson about internalizing the media I consumed. Too often I see people battle with the cognitive dissonance that comes from making the entertainment they enjoy a defining part of their identity.
I watch anime and I consider myself part of the anime fandom community. When I joined this community, I had trouble admitting that anime wasn’t always perfect, because I thought that would mean that I wasn’t always perfect. That’s ridiculous mindset, because it’s not and I’m not.
I don’t remember renting anime from Mr. Movies after Doomed Megalopolis. It’s not that it broke me; I just ran out of things to rent and stopped going to the store. I saw what I needed to see and moved on. Of the 20 or so titles they carried, the only things I hadn’t rented were Record of Lodoss Wars and éX-Driver: The Movie.
I would rediscover my love of blindly renting titles with the Netflix anime catalog in 2008, but it doesn’t hit the same when you have a giant list to pick from. There’s also no mystery when you can watch trailers online.
The days of Anime Rental Roulette were over.