I’ve been a fangirl for 20 years now. Yes, let that sink in. Most of my life I have known comic books, anime and manga. Yes, I’m very old. And one question I love and hate getting is:
What’s your favorite anime?
And while I covered that in a list, I wanted to go over a big part of why some series stick and others fall flat.
Some series just don’t age well. Not all animes or comic book series are like a fine wine. Some just spoil. Even wine sometimes curdles into vinegar.
Let’s take two series that I started actually around the same time: InuYasha and Fullmetal Alchemist. InuYasha did not age well. I now can barely stomach the main cast and any episode I watch is just a nostalgic-filled jaunt hoping to relive some of the memories I had of sneaking into the living room as a teen and plugging my headphones into the TV and watching the show very late at night and with subtitles because I wasn’t allowed to be up at the hour it ran on Adult Swim and my aunts weren’t (still aren’t) very keen on the whole Japanese murder cartoon-thing. The characters are cliche now. Kagome’s issues that range from not knowing what to wear to not knowing how to bring proper supplies from the future seem so small in comparison to other characters even within the show because they are. InuYasha is not compelling as a lead and he’s a pain in the butt the entire series with the “will-they-won’t-they” romance . His surface-level worries about the girlfriend he lost and the girlfriend he’s trying to keep only make for a shallow character with fantastic hair.
Fullmetal Alchemist however only gets better the more I watch it and the older I get. I really fell for the series considering that when I started the series, I was about the same age as the main character. Faced a similar loss. And I was similarly angry with God, science and the world for leaving me without a father, a clear direction and without great height (though I did achieve my childhood goal of being taller than or at least the same height as Edward Elric). But upon more recent watches, my eye has shifted from the complexities of Edward Elric’s flawed humanity and pragmatic logic to the handsome tactician that is Roy Mustang. I am closer to Mustang’s age now (weeps) and his ability to put on a face that hides just how broken and miserable he is with his greatness and military “heroism” is now a fascinating and relatable portrait of adulthood, the spectacle of power and what it means to really be strong.
Let’s go over another example, shall we? Naruto and Cowboy Bebop.
Naruto is actually a strange case. I picked up this series in high school and I actually ended up essentially growing up with Naruto. We were around the same age when I started the series and I was an adult and a working-class professional by the time he achieved his goal and his lady. And the series had a wonderful way of admitting that Naruto as a character grew up. “Wow, I was really annoying back then, wasn’t I?” Yes, Uzumaki-kun, you were annoying back then. But what matters is that we all grew up together. I faced trials when Naruto faced trials. I empathized with Sasuke’s cynicism and anger towards the family he buried. I understood Kakashi-sensei as he did his best to keep it together for these kids that he was responsible for. But my deep connection to it made the ending (I won’t spoil) rather unsatisfying for me. I grew up with these characters. I felt their struggle and to see their story end with such a cop out almost made me question my ending. Will I be a cliche, too? Will my ending be that quiet and disappointing? Am I just filled with ennui? Probably.
Cowboy Bebop however aged much better. I can still be satisfied with that ending. I can still watch the adventures of the Bebop crew and be enthralled. I am still curious about Spike’s laid-back attitude despite immense and valid anger towards Vicious. I am curious about Faye’s past and what it has to do with Betamax tapes. I am fascinated by whatever in the world Radical Edward is. And like with Fullmetal Alchemist, now that I’m older, the stories are even more important to me. The idea that life is just a dream and it’s what you make of it. That memories aren’t always true and can hold you back. The concept that nostalgia is a dangerous drug and that genius and skill can never replace soul. Bebop also teaches you that no matter what there is nothing that you can do that makes you look like less of a villain if you have a strange dragon-bird as a pet.
Heart is what makes a series something you can take with you. I mention this fact a lot in my panels: if your story feels small, it is small. If your characters issues are small in comparison to the size of the series, then those are likely to be stories and characters that don’t stand up as well to the test of time than others. The series that aged like fine wine had stories that are complex, multi-faceted and characters that from any angle look and feel entirely different. Those differences and new viewings easily breathe new life into a work. I had the immense fortune of accepting the fact that I was going to be a lifelong fangirl. I was able to take these characters with me as I grew from an angsty teenager to slightly less-angsty career person. I grew up with these shows. Their struggles helped me cope with my own. The music helped color my world. And I like to think I’m a somewhat stronger and better person for the fictional classmates and friends that I had while on the journey from petulant youth to cynical but loving adult.