Pandemic Anime: Revisiting Old Favorites in Quarantine, Part I — Everything Will Be Alright

While the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, things are significantly less scary than they were back in March of 2020. Even with new variants floating through the air, I am less freaked out by basic errands like grocery runs after getting my jabs. However, during the early days of the pandemic, the very thought of venturing outside petrified me. As such… I shut in and watched a bunch of anime, reminding me of my days as a young, awkward teenager. However, rather than using the time to discover new titles, I opted to go back and revisit old favorites.

One of these old favorites was Cowboy Bebop, which I examined in detail in the series Future Blues 2020. I also watched a lot of Gundam, and the original Evangelion again as well. But among the many shows I revisited, I found myself drifting back to those 2000s-era titles that cemented my deadly otaku fate. You know, the kinds of anime I watched when I wrote this blog. Upon these revisits, one thing I noticed about these titles is that all of them reveled in being Japanese — meaning, they were all set in Japan, and to some degree relied on the viewer being familiar with Japanese culture to relate to and understand the content. Back in the day, I regarded watching and understanding these titles as a badge of honor — I knew all about the magical land of Japan, and you didn’t! Yes, I was an arrogant shit about it. But after living in Japan for over a decade, I realize I missed so much, and these titles mean way more to me now than they did then.

While we are far from out of this mess of a pandemic, I would like to use this series of posts to look back at my quarantine viewing of these formative titles. And of course–in the context of the pandemic–mirroring my mental state, titles be will categorized by themes accordingly.

Our theme this time is “Everything Will Be Alright.” Yes, that’s what we all thought in the early days of the pandemic. If we just stayed home for 2 weeks, we would be fine! Sure, no big deal at all. Of course, that’s not how it happened. I had started watching both of the below titles before the world headed earnestly into the pandemic, and in watching them through the early days of the pandemic, I felt some glimmer of hope…

Azumanga Daioh

The start of the pandemic coincided with a period in my life where I miraculously had a lot of free time on my hands. I was going to devote this time to re-visiting anime, catching up on video games, and traveling. While I didn’t get to do much of the last item on that list, I did a lot of the first two. But knowing in advance that I had this time on my hands, I had already planned on revisiting Azumanga Daioh. Despite owning the ADV DVD release, one of the first purchases I made upon my arrival to Japan was the Japanese DVD boxset of the now 2-decade-old show at Mandarake for a cool 3,000 yen. It had been sitting on my self across three different apartments, so I felt it was long overdue for another watch.

The big thing that makes these Japanese school shows hit different than in the past is my time as an Assistant Language Teacher. After working in a Japanese school for 2-and-a-half years, these settings have way more texture for me now. The changing of the seasons and accompanying school events, the challenges presented in each new year of one’s academic career, and even the simple stuff like cleaning up after class all feels familiar… and dare I say, nostalgic. The care to which Azumanga Daioh portrays these moments with its direction and writing does a great job of putting you back in that time and place. Grounding the show in reality even more, examination into the setting of Azumanga Daioh shows that the city our characters are living in is modeled after western Tokyo–where I currently live. Sure, a lot of the backgrounds default to Japanese Suburbia, but many scenes clearly depict locales such as Inokashira Park and Mitaka Station.

Of course, it goes without saying that Azumanga Daioh is still an extremely funny show, and one of the best examples of strong, character-based comedy. This was my first time watching it without a translation, allowing me to pick up the more language and culture-specific jokes which were likely re-written in the ADV release (but don’t quote me on that). Beyond that, it was just great getting to know the characters again, and the more quieter moments without the laughs are some of the best time we get to spend with them. And of course, this time I related way more to the adults. Each time Yukari and Nyamo go out for a drink, or impart their “knowledge” to the kids, is like looking straight into a mirror.

In lieu of a proper review–which may happen in my lifetime–you can listen to me hyped on coffee discussing the series with Evan Minto on AniGamers here.

Kamichu

Kamichu was one of those shows praised by people who had opinions that I trusted when it dropped. However, due to a slow fansub release (or me not being able figure how to make MKVs work), I only watched the show in full when it came out on DVD in the US. It hit me in the weeaboo sweet spot then with its idyllic depictions of suburban life in the Hiroshima town of Onomichi, populated by cute girls in cute school uniforms.

This time around the Shinto angle really hit me, hard. I suppose it just washed over me as Miyazaki-esque “magic” when I was younger, and I didn’t realize how all the talk of gods and rituals were relevant to daily life here in Japan. Of course, the regular person here doesn’t believe that their lives are actually governed by a myriad of gods, but people still do visit shrines for a prayer when they need a boost of confidence. The manner in which Kamichu brings to life these mundane daily rituals with colorful design sense and expert characterization is where the show shines.

Another thing that struck me was the show’s distinct ojisanflavored nostalgia. The show is set in the early 80s, but it could seem like even further back given how old of a town Onomichi is. Yurie’s house is built in a classic Japanese style, and small details like the household phone, the TV, and the various pieces of furniture work to sink you fully into the world and setting. The episode where the gang visits the old beach house, or the one where they bring back the soul of the Yamato, also pay lip service to this nostalgia–and weirdly, some nationalism? But at the same time, the show dishes out some sharp criticism of the Japanese government, outright depicting the prime minister as a back-stabbing snake in its fourth episode.

What was at first just a bubbly and cute moe show to me when I was younger actually turned out to be a well-aged glass of Japanese nostalgia–which at times puts forward puzzling political stances. And it’s what I want.

Ah… if only everything had been alright. But as the record states, things were actually not okay… very not okay. Look out for Part II of this series, coming soon to an internet near you.

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