What Anime Is To Me

As I’ve said a number of times prior, anime is purely a media platform at the end of the day. Computer animation, animated cartoons, and the like.

It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It tends to sit outside the realm of what would be categorized as a vital necessity, and exists as a non-essential digital commodity to help pass time or provide entertainment. For many, it’s taken to extremes on opposite sides – to either ostracize from society and disconnect from reality, or to witness it purely for its craziest and most foolish moments and walk away from the platform entirely.

Most of my history with anime, at least as a fan, follows a fairly common storyline that many people can probably relate with. Using it as a low-cost stress relief outlet for life, as well as something to pass the time with.

What’s interesting in my case is that it ended up becoming one of the core catalysts of change in my life that put me on the road I’m on today. As strange as is may sound, you can see a marked leap in personal growth on my part that started with the concept of OC in 2016, and has increased pace continuing on up into the present.

So, the question, then – as a fan, who ultimately turned into the engineer spearheading the non-profit humanitarian anime streaming service, Otaku Central, what is anime to me?

A Rocky Road

My modern stint with anime began anew in 2015. Sure, I’d followed the trend of kids my age of diving into some Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the occasional Dragonball and Gundam episode, but anime had largely stayed in my childhood and been pushed to the side once college and full-time employment rolled around.

The road towards Caleb getting back into anime later on was, unfortunately, paved in some sub-par personal conditions. In mid-2014, I had just changed jobs – leaving a company where I’d experienced an incredibly poor culture fit, and going to work night shift for the government’s IT support instead. The pay was pretty garbage, and I was forced to move back in with my Dad for the time being due to budget constraints. (I’ve never had a good relationship with my Dad, and there was a lot of two-way conflict)

I took on some debt during this time; I shouldn’t have done this, and it took me years to get rid of it. In an effort to try and and get into a better spot in life, I took on a second job on day shift, and was working 70-80 hour weeks in an effort to try and get the money to get my life back on track. This was intended to become a short-term solution, but weeks turned into months.

Finally, I got myself to the position where I had to get out of my Dad’s house – which meant that my cost of living was going to go up. I had just negotiated better pay at the day job, to the effect that I was able to drop the night-shift job and move to a single position again – getting my hours back under control. Sadly, this only went on for a little while until I realized that additional money was needed to help fight the dollar amount of my personal debt. As a result, I picked up a few side gigs with small IT network buildouts, or odds and ends for jobs to earn some extra. One of these jobs was house-sitting and pet-sitting for various people.

At this point, I was running myself ragged just to try to make ends meet and stay alive. My quality of life was incredibly poor, and I turned to alcohol in an effort to try and give myself some semblance of happiness for the pit that I’d put myself in. As anyone who’s done this can attest, alcohol takes far more than it gives in this regard. By the end of 2015, I was a raging alcoholic.

So, at the end of 2015, as a raging alcoholic who was still trying to unsuccessfully battle his way out of debt, I found myself house-sitting for a middle-aged, well-off businessman who’d given me a degree of liberty in terms of using some of the entertainment in his home. Interestingly, he had a decent anime collection, and a few subscriptions to services such as Crunchyroll.

Exposure to anime with this was what ultimately brought me back to anime after many years without. I was at the lowest point I’d ever been at in my life, and a couple $8/month anime subscriptions were a pleasant expense to provide quite a bit of mental relief. I slowly started to get immersed in animation to the point I began to show early warning signs of disconnecting from reality and going down the “hardcore weeb” road.

At the start of 2016, I was a physical and mental mess of a human being. My life was in shambles. I was still stuck in the same overtime rut just trying to balance all of the cost expenditures in my life. My alcoholism was taking its toll on my friends, my family, and most heavily on me. I was into weeb territory with anime, and all the undisputed negatives that it entails.

Finding A Way Forward

I knew something had to change. I had to fundamentally change. What I was doing to try and “cope” with my life situation wasn’t panning out, and wasn’t a sustainable way to carry on living.

To be completely honest, the pivotal turning point for my life actually came in the form of a very specific animation:

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (or, the “Devil King, and Hero”, in English)

At the end of the first episode, you find the protagonists – the Hero of Humanity, and Ruby Eyes the Demon Lord of the Realm – striking a truce between each other individually towards trying to reconcile the years worth of war between their races and reach a peaceable solution to conflict through economic balance. They’re joined only by a small band of supporters on both sides; the rest of the large powers in their respective races don’t favor peace because they’re heavily profiteering off of the war, and there would be subsequent economic damage to either side if the war were abruptly cut off – they’re too heavily invested in war as a concept to break it off.

In essence, you find that there’s a mixed group of demons, humans, and demi-humans that number less than 30 in size. This group is aiming to reverse a raging war between their races, and to accomplish this NOT by adding more war into the equation – but to cause war to naturally recede using economic balance and trade. Basically, make it so in-viable from a trade dependency perspective to continue the war.

Now, I won’t say that this anime is perfect. It has a few minor holes in it; it has a bit of a dependency on common anime tropes, too. It’s not an anime for everyone.

This anime opened an entirely new mental frontier for me. It provided a landscape view, from start to finish, how a group with very little overall knowledge about economics and financial theory, was able to salvage the majority of sentient life in their world from all-out war. In the process, this group also grew incredibly on the personal front to rise to the challenge that was in front of them – apart from the Hero and Demon Lord, most of the group is comprised of commoners with no higher-level skills to speak of.

I saw myself in this animation; specifically, as a slave who had to be brought into the scope of a cause bigger than themselves. But first, before they could contribute to that cause, they had to “fix” their current situation – something that I hadn’t been able to do up to that point. Maybe it was the result of seeing the whole process from start to finish in the span of a couple years in that anime, but everything started to click for me in terms of understanding what I needed to do, and how well within the realm of possibility it all was.

The Turnaround

Within the span of about a year after watching Maoyuu Maou Yuusha for the first time, I’d committed myself to the grind of getting back to studying towards industry certifications. I’d done a substantial amount of damage on my personal debt, and was at a slightly better position in life overall. There were still noteworthy issues, but I had an understanding of what had to happen to get them addressed.

I started using anime as a catalyst for personal inspiration; using it as a way to find portrayals of overcoming extreme personal adversity, and using that portrayal as a template for how to apply myself to fix similar personal problems. This use of anime has stuck with me up to the present – and it’s pretty much the only reason I watch anime, or anything else, anymore.

​While I can’t credit everything that’s happened in the last five years of my life purely to watching inspiring animes, they’ve been one of the core components that’s shifted my perspective on life in general.

If you compare where I’m currently at in life to where I was five years ago, it’s beyond a 180-degree turnaround. My personal debt is gone. My pay threshold is roughly three times what it was then. I have my personal living situation under control. I’ve left alcohol behind me. I’ve found a cause to commit my life to for at least the next five to ten years – Otaku Central.

What I Look For In Anime

If you think about it, what anime has done for me largely explains why I gravitate away from many of the common “tropes” or less-inspiring aspects of most mainstream animes these days.

Things like “being transported to another world where you’re an overpowered superhero”, or “having a hidden cheat ability that no one else has” are a pretty hard turn-off for me in anime because they can’t provide any inspiration for me as they’re a complete contrast to the road I came down to get here. Most shounen animes would fall into this camp as well; purely because they’re intended to be pleasant storylines or mental retreats for people from harsh realities – they don’t really demonstrate a real-world path forward to work out that harsh reality.

Romance and relationships in anime for me tend to follow a similar trend. You find that relationships in anime tend to be ignorant or oblivious to many harsh, real-world factors when it comes to dating or marriage. (I’m talking, of course, about things like money, social status, employment status, and personal problems on both sides)  The only thing I can think of is that anime’s portrayal of relationships is intended mostly as a mental relief from those that are either unfamiliar with the dating scene personally (which is fine!), or have interacted with it before and had a brutal awakening because of it.

I try to come across to people as though I’m heavily biased, or am picky about anime bordering on paranoid, but I am looking for something very specific out of animes – and it’s becoming a progressively more rare commodity in these modern times. And, with as little free time as I have anymore, I have to get personal inspiration out of anime if I’m going to watch it, or there’s not any point left in it for me.

This isn’t to say that I dislike or hate animes that don’t offer personal inspiration to me (well, in most cases – I can’t stand animes that are needlessly ecchi). It’s not to say that Otaku Central is going to extend preferential bias towards offering some animes over others. It’s purely my stance on anime, for me personally.

What I Hope Anime Is For You

I’ve said for a long time now that in the process of naming our organization ‘Otaku Central’, we’re trying to re-define what the term Otaku means in the world today. We’d like to take it out of the realm of fanatical, disconnected-from-reality obsession and move it into the field of enjoying animes as a momentary pastime while getting the most out of your life outside of animated media.

It’s my hope that you’re able to use anime towards that end, regardless of whichever animes you prefer watching. What’s important to us is that you’re getting the most out of the anime platform, and it gives you the strength to handle whatever else life throws at you.

Some people would probably reject this fact, but anime can, and does change peoples lives for the better. You simply have to set yourself up in the position where you let it.

If you’re doing that, then our mission to you as an anime appreciator has succeeded.

If you’re not…    what are you waiting for?

Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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