Anime fandom didn’t lead me to JRPGs. JRPGs led me to anime, a little more than 10 years ago around this time.
Today I picked up, for $20, a copy of the Nintendo DS remake of Chrono Trigger. I first played the game when I was still a freshman in college, and memories came flooding back to me as I ended up glued to the console for nearly four hours. The spiky-haired hero who looked way too much like a DBZ character. The meganekko that I thought was cute at the time. The spunky princess who looks way better, IMO, in sprite form. The story seemed somewhat thinner than I remembered, though I knew that as the time traveling motifs continued it would get more and more complex. I never actually finished it back then, so there will be more to discover in the days ahead.
It took me back to the beginnings of my interest in Japanese pop culture. Many of you know that Evangelion was what turned me into an anime fan. That’s still true; it was the first series that not only impressed me but made a lasting emotional impact. However, the groundwork for my fandom was actually laid a year before that by Final Fantasy VII. Some kids had come over to my house back then and brought a Playstation 1, and with it FF7; as I watched them play it I was impressed with the epic storytelling and the attempt to evoke more than merely basic emotions in the characters. The scenes were cinematic. There were flashbacks, regret, self-doubt, the whole shebang. I never expected that kind of storytelling in games, and it didn’t take long before I was told that this was the sort of storytelling that existed not just in new games but in anime, as well. By the time I was given Eva, I had already been on the hunt for similar types of stories, and had previewed a number of anime like Ghost in the Shell and Akira. I was ready, and once the match was found, I fell in.
JRPGs and anime pretty much seem to come from the same kinds of imaginations, after all: Toriyama did the character designs for Chrono Trigger, and well-known seiyuu have been adding their voice talents to games ever since speech became widespread with the PS2. Most JRPG character art is clearly anime-style, and many have anime cutscenes. Playing Eternal Sonata was pretty much like watching a Hirano Aya anime, and many story elements/tropes/cliches are shared: the childhood friend who wakes you up, memory lapses, fan service…the list goes on. Nowadays of course JRPGs get anime adaptations, like Tales of the Abyss or the Persona series. Games can also follow anime trends. I remember coming to the end of FF7 later and thinking–they really took some motifs from Evangelion, didn’t they? Which led me to the even more Eva-influenced Xenogears, though that took things to somewhat ridiculous heights.
It seems to me that gaming–which is bigger than movies nowadays–may in fact be as much a gateway into anime fandom as much as a manga volume or a particular anime series. Video games are very mainstream now, and it can’t be an accident that at least a third of all cosplayers I see at cons now are dressed up as game characters. Ultimately it’s because, at their best, the same kind of storytelling values that you see in good anime–rich character and plot, thoughtful endings–are present.
I’d like to turn it over to you now: how many of you out there got into anime through gaming? Was it a gradual exposure to Japanese-style storytelling or was it more immediate that did it? Share your experiences below!