However, in these last few months of rewatching Neon Genesis Evangelion—a series I hadn't thought about in ten years—I rediscovered the unbridled happiness and enthusiasm that talking about and watching anime brings me. It could be the tie-in nostalgia of revisiting an experience with new eyes, or it could be the liberation in being able to feel strongly and openly excited about something I like with other people. I have been able to better connect with friends new and old through anime as a common interest, and I'm often surprised by the size of the smile on my face when the conversation takes off.
I am also surprised at the depth of anime influence in my life. I grew up watching a lot of series, but Evangelion specifically helped me confront and access a lot of feelings that didn't have names in my nubile "tween" mind. I heavily identified with Asuka and admired her. I had thought to myself at that age, "I want to be like Asuka by the time I'm fourteen." She was sharp, confident (to a fault), beautiful, fun, and did her job well. She didn't let anyone boss her around, and if she wanted something, she went for it. She also got to hang out with an older guy, Ryoji Kaji, which I found admirable at the time.
As my viewing of the series went on, a lot of incidents in my life ended up paralleling Asuka's, especially concerning Kaji. I finally made it to The End of Evangelion, which I remember borrowing from a friend in my 7th grade art class, and let out a massive exhale as it came to a close. I vividly remember watching the epileptic glitching of photographs and messages of dissonance and rejection barrage me halfway through the film, bringing me to choking sobs. Many consider Evangelion a pertinent exception to the rule that anime is all sweat drops and silliness, and after that moment I had never been more sure of it. The events at that time in my life forced me to grow up fast, and it was as if the series had caught up with me. I liked most anime, but for the impact it left on my life at that tender age, I cherished Evangelion. I had learned that the world was a painful place, but Evangelion taught me that, through loving myself and others, it could be beautiful.
It is true that my affinity for anime bordered on obsession at that age, but it stimulated me. At ten years old I taught myself to read katakana off of Pokémon cards and eventually branched out to hiragana and some first level kanji. My whiteness gravitated me toward hopping on the weeaboo train for a few years, where I eventually realized that I was alienating myself. I mistook cultural fetishization and appropriation for simply enjoying anime and cut off my hand instead of removing the splinter; that is, I gave up anime altogether to conclude my ignorant behavior. Unfortunately, as is the case with many ex-otaku, I developed a holier-than-thou judgment toward those who were passionate about anime, regardless of their behavior. And it wasn't a matter of being cool; I was still a nerd, just a different kind. Even other circles of nerds disown anime fans, so I resigned anime to "a phase" yet continued to watch it in secret to maintain an image nobody cares about. In my own mind, I knew that I grew up and wasn't being an ignorant Mary-Sue Deviantart-tracing yaoi-fan-girl art-thief weeaboo. I was going to be a REAL ARTIST and make REAL ART. (That hasn't happened yet.)
While it's true that all of those things unfortunately exist and can seriously inhibit personal development if left unchecked, there was no reason for them to keep me from enjoying something I genuinely like. I was never about to become any of those things, but I feared being mistaken for them because of what I liked. Now I am close to graduating college and it's taken me this long to finally admit to myself and others that yes, I unabashedly like anime, and if you have a problem with it, it's probably because you haven't seriously watched any. Or you've watched some and didn't like it. But to say you dislike all anime because "they're cartoons" or "the voices" is just as foolish as saying you dislike all movies because "the actors" or "Hollywood". Anime is just as varied as any other media—movies, music, books, art, video games—and, in my opinion, is not in the same realm as western animation. To compare a western animated series to an anime series is nearly as foreign as comparing a song to a book; anime and western animation carry themselves quite differently, no matter the genre or message. Fritz the Cat is not comparable to The Little Mermaid, and neither are to Spirited Away. It is within its own macrocosm, fluid in its influence to other mediums of expression and ever-developing in its own.
The long and short of it is that anime makes me happy. I no longer want to repress what I enjoy for fear of being mistaken for something I'm not. Besides, I'm still a big nerd either way, so who cares
Art by KC Green.