Gigantic talking robots, uniform in storyline, recycling plot twists in every episode. You can expect that the day in an anime would start with mundane activities leading up to complications. Then an actual fight between good and evil, and as you guessed it, good prevails. Perhaps, hoping to spread hope that no matter how strong or bad a situation could get, the good will always win. The first arrival of anime series in the country gave the audience a taste of a culture devoted to upholding what’s right through animations.
Japanese cartoons or Anime have been around in the country since the Martial Law era. In the early 70s, the country welcomed its first cartoon series—Mazinger Z, Daimos, and Voltes V. These imported cartoon series from Japan found their way back to the country’s shores decades after World War II. But with the socio-political climate back then, these shows were banned. It was suggested that they could infuse violence into the audience’s minds.
After a few decades, these shows returned to airing on national TV. We saw the comeback of Daimos and Voltes V—both shows arguably political. Then a new breed of Anime came to the country. With Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Thundercats, western versions also tried to penetrate the niche Japanese creators have successfully created. To this day, even the younger and current generations know the iconic theme song of Voltes V. A total cultural impact brought by television programming that caters to youthful preoccupation.
And cater to the youth, Anime did.
Soon as Anime proved that it had a strong following and a market worthy of attention, TV networks and production studios proceeded to create tagalized versions of various animated series. The move to dub anime shows ingeniously attracted more people through free TV. It gave birth to pop culture references that many of us can relate to. From Taguro’s iconic “Isang daang porsyento” from Ghost Fighter to the Super Saiyan references from Dragon Ball Z, it was an anime experience in a whole new level of relatability.
We were also introduced to the kind of Anime that veered away from the usual robot romance trilogy template. The adventure fantasy martial arts anime gave us the likes of Ghost Fighter, Dragon Ball Z, Flame of Recca, and Hunter x Hunter. These anime series appealed more to the younger generation. Perhaps because their storyline capitalized on the experiences of adolescence and even early childhood. From the quests of fighting off one’s fears, learning the importance of loyalty in friendship and family, to falling in love, these anime series became the companion of many of us in our journey towards adulthood.
Then there were daring and provocative anime series like Fushigi Yuugi and Ranma ½. With the former discussing sexual tensions and the latter headlining the main character’s gender fluidity, imagine how parents reacted to these shows when they finally realized that the two shows were discussing topics considered too taboo to be shown on national tv.
When you finally understand what they are all about.
As kids, we didn’t care much about the plots and storyline. Or whether the lines they were throwing had double meanings. Our focus was only about the visuals. The transition of fight scenes, or the comical exaggeration of every character’s reactions to things. Or whether the scenes can make us laugh, cheer for our favorite characters, or feel that gut punch during intense scenes.
But when we look back at these scenes, we now see and understand them better. Why certain scenes were there and why some shouldn’t have been. We now understand that Voltes V and Daimos are actually about resistance and revolution. Which is perhaps why there was a need to pull it out in the country during the Martial Law. Or why friendship was so crucial in Ghost Fighter. We also realized that some scenes in Fushigi Yuugi were too disturbing and inappropriate for younger viewers who do not have a fully formed worldview of sex and consent. And the fact that Ranma ½ was way ahead of its time with its story arc discussing body dysmorphia, body positivity, and gender as a spectrum.
Whether we choose to keep the youthful memories we had with these anime series or embrace the lessons hidden in their storylines; no one can deny that Anime grew with us and helped us develop a better view of things. Regardless of how absurd some of them may be, Anime is a gift that keeps giving to the diversity of cultural conversation, even after decades from their release. They were relevant then; they are still relevant now.