One night recently Oli and I were playing with a set of couples' question cards - you know the sort - 'What was my most embarrassing moment?' (too many!) - 'Would I rather own a BMW, a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari?' (is there a major difference?) - 'What adrenalin rush sport or activity would I most love to do?' (ha!) - and I pulled out a card that made me hesitate before I read it aloud:
'Who is my favourite cartoon character?'
Here was where I would find out if two years of rolling my eyes and stressing, 'anime is not the same as cartoons!' to Oli would pay off. Apparently not, as he listed the protagonists from Fushigi Yuugi (which, incidentally, would have been spot on should the question have been 'Who is my favourite anime character?').
My otaku heyday was, perhaps, between the age of 14 and 19 - a long time ago now, yet I find myself still incredibly protective and defensive of it all, perhaps even more so than I was at the time! Nowadays every HMV in the country has a little 'anime' section (a ridiculously poor and specific collection, but ten years ago it would have been totally unheard of) and most people know - or think they know - exactly what it's all about.
When I was 12, on a sick day from school, I lay on the couch feeling sorry for myself and flicking through daytime TV, which - although endlessly fascinating for me now, I do love my talkshows and antiques buying and property hunting! - was painfully boring. Flicking onto Sky One, I became engrossed in an episode of Pokémon (it was Ditto's Mysterious Mansion, I remember!) and from that day on I was totally hooked.
Pokémon is (still) such a massive brand today, it's funny to remember that at this point nobody had heard of it outside Japan - the games had only just come out in America and the series had only just begun on Sky One. Fortuitously, my mother went to the States a couple of months later, and returned with a suitcase full of Pokémon goodies - plushies, the soundtrack, the TCG packs, posters! The Red and Blue games were snapped up the day of their release and that was that - Jonathan and I were obessed. We recorded every episode onto tape, and sat at our ancient computer every night designing labels to stick on the tapes and browsing a fledgling internet on dial-up for all the news and information we could get.
It was inevitable that in these browsing sessions we would happen across reference to other American-popular anime series - before too long I had memorised the entire plot line to Sailor Moon (which I annoyingly insisted on calling the full, glamorous title of Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, naturally) without having actually ever seen an episode - before realising that they showed it (dub, obviously) on Fox Kids, and begging my mum to add it on to our Sky package.
Pokérival Digimon followed, then a shocking incarnation of CLAMP's beloved Card Captor Sakura ("CARDCAPTORS! A MYSTIC ADVENTURE!! A QUEST FOR ALL TIME!" - I mean, seriously??). Actually, speaking of Cardcaptors, it had two of my all-time favourite DubFail moments ever.
Syaoran (or Lee or whatever it was that they called him in the dub) is eating mochi rice balls with a soup.
"Mmmmm, great hamburgers Meiling!!"
Syaoran, bless him, is a little hot and bothered in the trouser department when the gorgeous Yuki is around... This is causing him to walk a little strangely... which the dub explains away as him practicing marching for band practice.
So this is the only anime exposure that was possible when I made my first forages into otakudom... But the turning point was the advent of broadband! Suddenly I could stream, I could torrent, I could read manga online!! And accordingly, as it was made more accessible in my own life, anime became more accessible to the mainstream. Channels like Cartoon Network began to pick up more series, the DVD selection in HMV expanded and merchandise popped up alarmingly in random shops.
Basically, I think the otakus of today (especially the American ones!) are seemingly spoilt for choice, but it's actually to their detriment. I see my sister, exactly as I was at that age, and with her it's all Naruto & Bleach, which are exactly the same series that have dub DVDs in HMV up and down the country. I think the explosion of widely avaliable series is not a advent of choice... rather that it chooses for you. Which is rather sad.
My years as an otaku were incredibly expensive (for my parents!) and incredibly impatient (waiting for import DVDs to arrive or dawdling downloads to complete) - but I wouldn't swap them for the otaku experience of today.