Let me first preface this embarrassing little episode from my younger days by saying that behavior such as this should not be imitated, condoned, supported, in fact, it probably shouldn’t even be posted about. So why share it with Anime Diet readers the world over? Simply to illustrate not only the kind of silly kid I once was, but to perhaps help some better understand where we were. and where we are now. Always remember that like tobacco & oil in early America, Hentai became a financial pillar of US based anime distribution in those larval days. Certain titles even outsold some of the prime names of their time. There would have been no ADV without it. In fact, this story is possibly even more universal that I imagine it is.(IE-doubtful.) So to those precocious souls, this one’s for you.
Or rather, Hentai on VHS.
Now that more than half the room has cleared, and the rest of us can essentially share in this mini tale of woe that has surely happened in homes across the land in the hopes that more will come out, and cleanse themselves of this particular stigma. The late 80s, through early 90s was a strange time for anime since certain business decisions led to the medium eventually having certain labels emblazoned across it. Especially when one grew up where I did.
A largely conservative haven for retirees with little concern for the fringe, the California desert was never known for embracing the progressive edges of popular culture. Which is to say that even as alternative rock was gaining traction thoughout a good portion of the metropolized world, the desert was more a place where these ideas were quickly examined, only to be dismissed within the same breath. And anime, while gaining only a small following in local video shacks, had the magic word, “PORN” burned onto it as if it were some prized steer. In my area, it may as well have been a pink triangle. After print media had a field year with explaining Japan’s proclivity towards “pornographic cartoons” with the limited theatrical release of the compiled version of Urotsukidoji: Legend Of The Overfiend, it was easy to be deemed “a person of suspect” even if all you had was AKIRA at home.
So yes, it was an awkward time to be an anime enthusiast. Especially when you were 17 years old, and had a 13 year old brother with a newly found curiosity for the stuff, and an insatiable appetite when it came to his interests.
As previously mentioned in these confessionals, my brother and I had begun to check out anime from an independently run video store in town, where we first learned a love of GAINAX, reveled in the further adventures of the guys responsible for Macross, and even caught some animated Japanese Lit! It was a wholly new kind of library, but while my sibling was in candyland, enjoying his newfound hobby, I was cautiously checking tape covers for objectionable content like a dutiful big brother in hopes of keeping things sane. (and me out of hot water with the parental units) Because you see, I had been aware of this H thing for a short while, and was doing all I can to avoid spoiling this infectious new high. There were only so many titles out on the video market, and we were quickly running out of new shows.
The weekend ritual of checking out rented anime & horror films went unabated, until afterschool activities began to take hold. Being in Theater, it became harder and harder for me to be able to keep track of matters at home. And I guess, it didn’t seem to matter too terribly much since it had felt as if we had seen most-to-all of the anime available at the store we frequented. And none of it contained anything aside too terribly racy outside of Ani & Unipuma, so I felt a sense of security.
In the coming months, however, I began hearing stories that a certain “Japanimation Porno” had been making the rounds in town. And when one title makes the kind of noise this one did at my school, chances are it was within the vicinity of danger since…the video store in question was just a short walk away from campus! A part of me just shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps this was some other big brother’s mail order purchase. Their irresponsibility that landed this troublesome show in the hands of the “wrong kids”. Nothing to get too worked up about.
Now it needs to be said here that I was raised a diligent boy of Catholic faith, and had an ingrained radar for things that could get me into trouble. Anything from classmates smoking on the outskirts of school grounds, or other forms of mischief, I tended to avoid with regular frequency. After all, this was about being a model older brother, and I couldn’t be bothered with the ways kids in America expressed themselves without guidance. Seemed an easy enough life decision. At 17, I thought I had the world figured out. That was until the Friday I had no rehearsal, and my brother stormed in gleefully holding his backpack to his chest. Out of breath, he looked at me, and said “You won’t believe what I got today.” A part of me figured it was yet another low-budget horror-fest, possibly featuring Bruce Campbell, or Clint Howard again, but little did I know that it was closer to that of a little black box carrying within it 45 kilotons of nuclear fire.
Thankfully, having a hyperactive little sibling means that there are times when sitting down and watching TV wasn’t going to suffice, leading him to often drop his bag, and run out of the house afterschool to play with the neighborhood kids. Something that definitely happened that day, leaving me at home, alone.
With adults away for a few more hours, and the kind of curiosity often cursing the average kid, I scrambled for the backpack to see what all the grinning was about. Careless little brother, don’t you realize this was bound to happen? The first warning was the Anime 18 label stamped across the face of the tape, with a name I had a tough little time trying to pronounce. And realizing that this was INDEED the video mentioned all those times in the school halls as being totally insane, I just had to run it to the VCR to see what all the talk was about.
Now I may have not lived through the times of McCarthy, and in fear of being blacklisted as an undesirable. In fact, the feeling that swallowed me whole that afternoon was closer in tone to what George Orwell was feeling in Havana. The fear was so real, so palpable, that it led me to mental images of not only helicopter lights blaring though those living room windows, but of an angry deity, committed to having my soul for breakfast. It was as if I had stared straight into the forbidden, only to have it winking back with promises of forbidden pleasures, fast cars, firetrucks & kazoos, but there was also a deep feeling of this threat of eternal torment from then on and thereafter. In the near two-hour onslaught of debauchery, post-human musings, and wholesale splatter, it was clear to me that:
a) Japanese artists are much more screwed up than I had once imagined.
b) Misunderstandings were bound to ensue from this being in the country.
c) That my ubringing was far from the only valid one.
d) This thing is going to make a crapload of money.
No matter the quality of this particular work, it made a deep impression. It is something like catching your first 18 and over show, with the most decadent, wild, drug-addled rock act imaginable, and having the lead singer puke on you offstage. It is that kind of awesome, and nightmare inducing. There simply was no context for it yet, and as such, it haunted me for years.
As for what happened after this ordeal, I made it my way to get the incriminating evidence back to the store with the initial drive to find out who in their right mind would lend this out to a kid. Not unlike selling cigarettes to a minor, this was indeed a problem. (until the reality set in that this was the only store within reasonable distance that carried this stuff) Turns out it was borrowed from an older “friend”, who also had an account at the same store. The threads of fate determined this for whatever reason, and even though I had saved my sibling from what I found to be a fate worse than death, I know he eventually saw it for himself. Now if I could only see what went thorough his mind that first time.