2020/10/22

Anime Back in the Day

Vision of Escaflowne

Back in high school and college when I was first getting into the anime scene, I came to notice a recurring and highly vexing phenomenon. Bootleg VHS tapes were still the main source of new stuff from Japan back then. Getting our fix legit meant sending away via a mail order catalog and waiting weeks for delivery or dropping a small fortune at a music and movie joint in the mall. I mean "new" in the relative sense. The official releases on US store shelves were three years old on average, and even with bootleg fansubs, you were lucky to get last season's episodes. You can probably deduce my rough age based on those data points.

That wasn't the annoying part. Nobody had a hard drive with every Rumiko Takahashi series in HD. Your hardcore otaku buddy who went to Tokyo every summer courtesy of his local corporate big shot dad might have a complete set of Fushigi Yuugi. Beyond that, you were issued your 11th generation copy of Vampire Hunder D, and from there you had to leech off a series of friends, each of whom had portions of various shows. For efficiency's sake, anime viewing became a group activity, with everybody contributing his sketchy library to the stone soup. This haphazard approach led to what I dubbed Perpetual Episode One Syndrome.

Here's what would happen: You'd get together with a buddy on a weekend afternoon to play some Soulcalibur. After a couple hours, a mutual friend would show up. The situation would snowball from there until, by dinnertime, a sizable impromptu gathering would have formed. It would turn out that two or three guys would have boots of a new-to-you series out in the car, and upon pooling their resources, you'd end up with enough consecutive episodes for what we now call binge-watching.

Having cobbled together sufficient sequential tapes of good-enough-for-government-work quality, the group would hunker down in front of the tube for an evening of grainy entertainment. But somehow, events would conspire so that you'd only get through episode one before the wheels fell off. Bob's girlfriend would call, needing a ride home from work. Kevin would notice the time and suddenly remember he hadn't started a paper that was due on Monday. The host's drunken roommate would stumble in with a loud skank on his arm and kill the mood. We've all been there.

Even that kind of video blueballing, irritating as it may be, wasn't the worst part. Within two weeks to a month--it was never the next weekend--a similar viewing party would spontaneously break out at somebody else's place. By the luck of the draw, the same guys who collectively owned the same series from last time would again be present with their ill-gotten wares. You'd park yourself in front of the TV, eager to finally see episode two, when it would be pointed out that someone in the group had been absent last time. It would be decided to restart the series from episode one. And like clockwork, some fresh shenanigans would interrupt the proceedings as soon as the first episode's credits rolled. Again. This process would repeat two or three more times until the next series dropped.

In my case, The Vision of Escaflowne was a constant occasion of Perpetual Episode One Syndrome. I can't count how many times I watched the first poorly subbed, jumpy episode of that series. It would only be years later, when I finally obtained a complete set of Hecto subs, that I finally got to see the whole thing.

Perhaps the repeated frustrations I endured in my formative years instilled an obsessive need to write fully realized anime-influenced stories with timely and satisfying conclusions. Whatever the cause of my obsession, you, the reader, win! The second action-packed series in my epic Combat Frame XSeed mecha saga is about to begin. Catch up with the first hit series now!

Combat Frame XSeed

25 comments:

  1. Vision of Escaflowne is pretty great.

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    1. I'm told that watching the Hecto sub, as I did, is a whole other experience.

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  2. I guess I'm glad I didn't get into anime in a big way until the era of filesharing over the 'net took off. I do remember my elder brother spending small fortunes at video stores in the mall to pick up subbed or dubbed copies of evangelion, rahxephon, and arjuna, among others.

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    1. Oddly enough, your point of entry was my departure point. The end of fansubbing, 8th generation VHS tape sharing diminished the social aspect of anime fandom in ways that made it less appealing to me.

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    2. My entry was late fansub (downloading over NetZero back when it was free), but I kept it up in college where the school anime club was able to get fansubs months ahead of U.S. localization, keeping the social aspect.

      I never really exited, but my interest diminished significantly when I realized that new stuff I was seeing was almost universally surpassed by the old stuff. I watched Attack on Titan only to get super bored when it went from being Spiderman vs. King Kong to something grim enough to be depressing, yet far less interesting than works like Berserk and the Elric Saga (though the latter is obviously not anime).

      Maybe it's that time chews up the bad, but given how much people gush over this stuff, I doubt it. I'll take SDF Macross, silliness and all, over anything from the past 10-15 years, and I would argue that Macross Plus is the best anime I have ever seen.

      Side note: physical media is king. I shelled out for one of the few (out of print) Macross localizations Harmony Gold allowed, despite the exorbitant cost. Pretty sure I bought the last copy of the last disk that was ever on sale outside of a boxed set.

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    3. Macross Plus is definitely up there, though I think I like DYRL more. And the first Patlabor movie (from 1989) is my all time favorite. Of more recent stuff, only maybe Goblin Slayer, My hero Academia, and Youjo Senki come somewhat close to the high 80s classics.

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  3. Never got into the VHS game. I mostly only got into digging deeper when I went online.

    I was juggling burned CD-Rs and also passing them around. Every now and then I do a cleaning up of my CDs and still find random batches of a few episodes burned on a disc here and there. It was a weird time.

    One that we're probably going back to tbqh.

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    1. Oh? Please do elaborate further.

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    2. Actually, it'll probably be memory sticks.

      With the current implosion of the western localisation industry, we'll soon be seeped in Pony Canyon-style two hundred dollar sets for 13 episodes to match Japan's hosing of their buyers. The only other option will be giving money to companies like Crunchyroll to overcharge for a crap service. As pirate sites fall one by another we will be stuck with physical or bending the knee to badly managed streaming services.

      I expect passing around memory sticks full of pirated anime to be the future for the hobby.

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    3. As cheap as sizeable, portable SSD drives are, I suppose one could trade whole libraries easily.

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    4. I'd guess MicroSD / transflash cards. But the principle is the same.

      I've been expecting sneakernet to come back as storage media gets really small and cheap and bandwidth and licensing restrictions get worse. We'd almost certainly be there already if Net Neutrality regs hadn't been nuked (counter-intuitively maybe, letting ISPs boot the worst data hogs/piraters or just slow down types of traffic associated with it makes things safer for folks doing it casually).

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    5. I hear VRV is much better than Crunchyroll. If I ever try something it will probably be through that. (I would probably also be trying one or two from Cowan's list of "Best Anime of the 10s," especially Ushio and Tora or something like that.)

      What does everyone think of the morality of pirating/passing out free copies? I prefer not to get involved in that because it is kind of shady (though I'd be much less concerned about, say Disney, than a smaller company...)

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    6. I suppose it depends on whether the recipient would buy the product if possible but literally can't or simply keep freeloading. An enthusiast who trades bootlegs with another enthusiast until legitimate copies come along is not stealing, I think. I suppose another question to ask is: are the bootleggers fans trading the object of their enthusiasm, or merchants trying to run a business?
      I don't know how true it is anymore, but I seem to remember that Baen made a conscious decision to give books away, because that actually produced more loyal customers down the line.

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    7. Thanks for the thoughts, Reader.

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  4. I'd have to place my anime phase about '94 grad school and went to the college anime club and watched one weird fan-subbed mecha: K.O. Century Beast.

    P.S. I've been testing your 1997 Pop-culture collapse theory and it hasn't failed yet. Look at KISS. Guess when they went back to makeup.

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    1. I've bee looking into the 1997/98 deadline and . . . there is a lot more there than I first realized. Much that effected everything going forward, and not in a small way. I'll probably put out a post on it in the future.

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    2. Highly anticipating. Will read! Let us know.

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    3. Sure thing.

      If anyone notices anything in those years, don't be afraid to send it my way.

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    4. Do you have the collapse of TSR and their absorption by WotC in there? That one takes a few years to start to show, as they spent most of 1997 and 1998 publishing stuff that had been written under TSR, and a few years after that with stuff largely written by TSR folks.

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    5. Oh wow, add another one.

      It was 1997.

      Not even two years later they were then bought by Hasbro.

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    6. On the subject of D&D and gaming, Black Isle published Fallout in 1997. Baldur's Gate, actually written by Bioware, came out in 98, as did Fallout 2. Planescape: Torment, written by Black Isle, came out in 99. Planescape is my favorite of the ones they developed. After that came Icewind Dale, but ID, IDII and the rest that they wrote were dungeon crawls. Given that one doesn't write a game in a year, I would pin Black Isle's creative years on the good side of Cultural Ground Zero.

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    7. Cultural Ground Zero affected music, movies, comics, etc. first. It took a while to catch up to video games, but now it's making up for lost time with a vengeance.

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  5. I remember seeing a few episodes of a hacked together edit that was meant for younger Saturday morning audiences. The story focused more on Vaughn than Hitomi, and the pacing was weird. The series didn't appeal to me until I saw the subbed version. It borrows from a ton of different storytelling movements, but it mostly works.

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  6. I was a big enough fan of Vision of Escaflowne that even 1st generation VHS tapes didn't cut it. I went for the official VHS releases at pricey Suncoast Video, and then even bought the complete DVD set.

    That was the trick back then- You had to watch complete series on your own time and discuss it with your friends later. During group anime screenings (unless you were watching an actual movie), you had to expect to see not much more than a few episodes per series before they'd want to try something else/want to leave.

    Unless you were in a hardcore late 80's/high 90's dedicated anime screening room in the darkest, smoke-filled, receded corner of a convention, you had to treat viewings with your friends as a "sampler", a way to know what to record/add to your collect, and what to skip.

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    1. I've got a lot of fond memories of those dark, seedy corners :)

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