As an adult, I spend a lot of time looking back: things I regret, things I wish I could live again, things I wish had happened to me, and so on. I'm only 22 years old, so I still have a lot of life to live, but it's a constant habit of mine to remember. One memory that asserts itself from time to time takes place in middle school, circa 2004, and has troubled me ever since because one of my classmates was being bullied for liking anime. Our teacher had stepped outside the classroom to make copies of a worksheet, and our hormonally unstable classmates took that opportunity to taunt one kid for his childish interests. At the time, I felt a turbulence of emotion-empathy for the poor kid, because I shared the hobby that made him a victim of bullying; relief that I wasn't the one being bullied; and finally, the feeling that persists even now, confusion. Why did watching cartoons and reading comic books make him a target for social hazing?
Years later, I still don't have a complete answer to that question-something to do with mysterious human behavior, groupthink, and fearing what you don't understand-but remembering that experience has made me realize a few things about life, the universe, and everything. I'm currently a university student and I still like anime and manga, although my tastes are a little more refined. Anime and manga grow with you over time-they encompass a range of ideas, tastes, and age groups-and have something for everyone. I still like a lot of angsty teenage series that capture the lazy days of adolescence (BECK), the frustrating social challenges (Paradise Kiss, The Wallflower, No Matter How I Look At It, It's Your Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!), and the inexplicable randomness that comes from growing up in a world that's hard to understand (FLCL, Kill la Kill). But I can also appreciate the more underrated, abstract series that attempt to say a little more about society (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Psycho-Pass, Skyhigh, Journey to the End of the World), as well as those feel-good series that give you hope for humanity (Fruits Basket, Kimi wa Petto).
What you like is what you like. Anime and manga are an escape, a release, a stimulant, and a cultural gateway. I still don't know why that middle school boy was bullied for something so harmless, but he gave me confidence to be a nerd proudly, to abandon all shame when reading Attack on Titan in public, and to hoard comics and DVDs without a single thought about social acceptability and all that jazz. So thanks, middle school boy whose name I can't remember. If all those series about social outcasts have taught me anything, it's that maybe one day the odds will turn in your favor and you'll become some demon king, mecha pilot prodigy, or other hero whose actions will determine the fate of humanity.
On second thought, let's hope that never happens.
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