Coming full-circle

Last night’s karaoke was momentous. At a little hole-in-the-wall karaoke place in Ikawa that’s out of the way and easy to overlook, I discovered, and went on to sing, music from the Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers anime series.

Why is this so momentous? Because that anime is pretty much the reason I’m in Japan right now.

Back in 1995, it was probably the first anime series to be aired (under the name Ronin Warriors) that people widely recognized as being from Japan and therefore distinct, following on the heels of the Sci-Fi Channel airing the film Akira. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I was drawn in. It was a short-lived show, with just 39 episodes and 3 OAVs, but I loved it. It was my first anime “craze,” which took hold the summer before 9th grade.

Sailormoon started airing that fall, which I fell for even harder, but may not have watched if not for already being acquainted with Ronin Warriors and being more aware of anime from that point on.

And then I met a few extremely hard-core Sailormoon fans who got me turned onto the idea of studying Japanese independently. We’d write letters that we’d trade in Spanish class, and one of them gave me a chart of the katakana and hiragana characters, as well as copies of the Japanese (kanji/kana) lyrics to songs from the series with English translations. I was intrigued by all of it.

(Yes, this is me admitting openly that the reason I started studying Japanese was because of Japanese animation. It’s something I’m pretty embarrassed to admit.)

Not much later, I discovered a show on Georgia Public Television called Irasshai: An Introduction to Japanese. I started watching it regularly and even procured a notebook specifically to take notes on the show, and I studied it regularly.

When I went to Georgia Tech, I was able to get into introductory Japanese during spring semester–and it was then that I realized that Irasshai was backed heavily by the Georgia Tech Japanese department! (Years later, I found and checked out several of the episode videos from the central library in our county, and I recognized Kikuchi-sensei, one of my professors, as a “guest star” on the show, assisting with example dialogues and situations.)

Time went on, I got sick of Sailormoon (though Ronin Warriors/Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers was still dear to my heart, and by now I’d actually seen the original Japanese, and after that, the show and OAVs were released widely on DVD in the US) and moved on to other anime, and by graduation, I’d settled on a few series and films that I enjoyed, but I was fairly sick of the genre as a whole, and how many American viewers seemed to embrace it as the only viable form of 2D/hand-drawn animation and Japanified a lot of western animation series to “fit in” or “be trendy.” On the contrary, though, something about the Japanese language and culture had grabbed me–it just clicked into place and became something I enjoyed learning more and more about.

And then, in my final-semester Japanese History/Geography/Government class, my professors brought up the JET Programme, which they’d mentioned a few times over the years…and I figured, why not give it a shot? While applying for jobs, I simultaneously applied for JET. When I was home this winter, Hamza and I went to the Starbucks on 14th and West Peachtree in Atlanta where I’d sat and finished my paper application while sipping tea one winter afternoon in November 2004.

And here I am, heading into the second half of my second and final year on the program. In my travels, I recognized a lot of historical names in museums and the like that the characters in Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers were supposed to have been descended from, since the show revolves heavily around references to Japanese culture, history, and mythology. I found a DVD from the show at a discount bookstore on Rte. 55 this summer on our way back from the Sayounara Party for last year’s outgoing ALTs, but I figured that was just a fluke, because it really isn’t a very well-known show in the history of anime in Japan. For some reason, finding 6 or 7 songs from the show while doing karaoke last night really impacted me. It was a very, very cool moment, and I really don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

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