If you asked me in early 2020 if I would get back into watching and collecting Anime and Manga at 30 years old, I would have thought you were crazy. I DO live in the center of it all in Japan and have been for almost 9 years now, but despite me living here for that long I never collected anime and manga even though it was such a huge part of my teenage years. This changed when the pandemic hit and I was forced to find other things to occupy my time with besides traveling and going to concerts like I normally would, along with other hobbies that involved interacting with people in crowded places.
Anime and Manga was a huge influence in my young life, beginning around 13 years old, which was right before Anime and Manga had a boom in the United States. It’s what shaped my interest in Japan that only grew stronger as I entered high school. I collected MANY MANY volumes of manga and anime, some of which still sit at my parents house in Florida to this day, and I literally made it my entire existence. The only thing I didn’t do was cosplay and that was because I was insecure and uncomfortable acting as a character. I could even read 1 whole volume of a manga in about 10-15 minutes on the way home from the book store, which never ceased to amaze my parents. To everyone around me, I was the Japan girl!
However, this interest in Japan was forced to change shape as I went into university. I was always supported by my loved ones on all of my hobbies, but though not directly stated, my environmental influence told me that it was time to give up on the fictional characters “made for children” and to focus on real life – i.e. get ready for real world situations and, if I was serious about Japan, to learn the language and culture/ business culture. I could do a job in Japanese or with Japanese influence someday! I took this to heart and shifted my interested to learning the language and business in university as well as watching live action dramas and movies, getting into jpop and Japanese music… at least it was real people, not cartoons.
By the time I graduated from university in 2012 and moved to Japan for my MBA program, my interest in Anime and Manga had basically died out. I had created this narrative in my head that anime wasn’t “real” and live action movies and dramas and jpop boybands and learning about the culture by actually living in Japan WAS real. I had moved to the epicenter of it ALL and I was only focused on boybands and dramas and finding any way to get a job here to stay. I even low-key judged people who still did like anime and manga and turned my nose up at anime advertisements and movies. I was no longer an “anime otaku” I was a proud “Johnny’s otaku”, which means being a HUGE fan of the largest producer agency of boybands in Japan. I even wrote my MBA thesis on it!
This lasted until I was stuck in the US for 5 months at my childhood home with nothing to do and waiting until Japan let its residents back in from March 2020 – August 2020. I started to rummage and sort through the things that I had abandoned at my parents house 10 years prior and found a gold mine of memories. I sold some, kept others, but it inspired me to sit down and watch some anime again. I ended up binging Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Code Geass and I looked at it in a completely different way that I had when I was a teenager. I loved them as a teenager but as an adult with more life experience there was a whole new depth to it and my mind was blown. No, this show wasn’t necessarily meant for kids and I don’t think the people in my life realized that at the time when I was influenced to shift my perspective. The door to anime and manga that I had shut closed almost 10 years before was officially open again and I when I finally made my way back to Japan and settled back into my previous routine it was in the back of my mind.
In late Fall of 2020, COVID cases spiked in Osaka which eventually lead to another state of emergency, which lead to me being inside much of Winter in early 2021. During this time since once again I couldn’t go outside, I defaulted back to watching Anime. It got me through the hard winter of being inside and on the other side of it around Valentines Day I went to my first themed anime cafe EVER! I had picked up watching Gundam SEED and its sequel DESTINY again and they were doing a Valentines Day and White Day themed “party” at the Gundam cafe here in Osaka with a Gundam SEED theme.
I can’t emphasize how excited, but nervous I was to go to something like that. It wasn’t out of nostalgia, it was out of me falling in love with the series again, despite its faults. Fandoms can be intense here but I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t judged at all and in fact, was left to my own devices during the party to enjoy the entertainment but still be surrounded by fellow fans. I thought to myself at that point “wow… why was I judgmental towards people who enjoyed these things before? Was it because I thought it was childish?”. ALL of the people in there were at least 25+ years old with adult money. There are so many deep and intense themes in Gundam SEED as well, its NOT just a “kids cartoon”.
After this experience, I fell even deeper down the Anime and Manga rabbit hole and began to collect my favorite manga again. It was nostalgic, but I was also slowly discovering myself again in the process. I had come full circle. I realized that my love for boybands might not go away, but it wasn’t comforting anymore like it had been. It had run its course. On the other hand, I realized that my love for Anime and Manga never really went away… I had just suppressed it throughout most of my 20’s because of a notion I had in my head that it was childish. There were signs of it over the years but I chalked it up to being nostalgic more than anything. If the pandemic never happened, I think I may have slowly gotten back into it over time, but because of everything that’s happened in the past year it fast tracked it since I have more time on my hands than I did before, as well it was one of the only hobbies that I could do safely during this time. The intensity will die down as life gets back to normal over this next year, but I am now no longer judgmental and that no matter how many times I go back and watch an anime I can go back to something stable that I enjoy or I can experience something new with the surge of amazing anime that have come out over the time I had been gone. Stories and art are timeless and cartoons are NOT just for kids.