Suffering the consequences of playing Anime Rental Roulette

Remembering the time that Doomed Megalopolis forced me to admit that anime wasn't always perfect.

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:

  1. This exists in front of me right now.
  2. It’s only $15.
  3. 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.

Mr. Movies in New Richmond, WI. Not the store I grew up with. (Credit: CBS Minnesota)

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.

Trust me. Don’t click on that.

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.