This probably sounds like some kind of elitist lie, but Cowboy Bebop was my first anime.
I had never really gotten into Pokemon, aside from the time I tricked a kid into selling me his copy of Pokemon Red for a kiss. (I didn’t kiss him, and his mom was really mad at me because that game had just come out and was worth like, $50 or something.) I was marginally interested in Digimon, but not enough to where I would count it as My First Anime.
No, Cowboy Bebop was the real first. It probably shouldn’t have been, but it was my first. Let me give you some backstory.
When I was little, my parents really only ever argued about one thing: what media was and wasn’t age-appropriate for their young daughter. My mother insisted that I should be allowed to watch The Shining at age nine because “it’s a classic” and “that’s how old she was when she saw it.” My father tried to convince my mother for weeks that he should be allowed to give me a poster of Johnny Cash flipping the bird for my tenth birthday. Mom would tell my dad I shouldn’t be listening to doom metal until I was at least seven, Dad would tell my mom Rocky Horror wasn’t allowed until I was fourteen…you know, the usual stuff. Basically, in their eyes, if something was good, I should be allowed to watch it/listen to it/hang it on my wall/whatever, regardless of my age or any mature content the thing contained. And, usually no matter what the other parent said, the other parent would sneakily show me the thing I wasn’t supposed to see anyways.
My parents, being fans of other [adult swim] shows, ended up getting into Cowboy Bebop when I was around seven. They loved it and, after watching half the episodes on [adult swim], bought a special edition box set and nearly every Bebop OST available (we have five different Bebop CDs).
For a while, Cowboy Bebop was the big thing in my household. When mom and dad saw me enjoying Digimon, they decided that I was beyond it. No, no, their daughter didn’t need none of those kiddie Japanese cartoons, she needed to watch The Best Anime Ever, Cowboy Bebop. Keep in mind that my parents had not watched any other anime series, but even they knew that Bebop was the pinnacle of Japanese animation.
One day, while my mom tried to clean the living room, she decided I needed to clear out and told me I could watch Cowboy Bee-bee-bee-bee-bop, as my little sister called it, if I went into the back room. She handed me the boxset, and I took it happily. I think I was eight.
I don’t really remember how I felt watching the first few episodes. All I knew going in was that there was a spiky haired man, a big boobied woman, and good music.
As you can probably imagine, the series opener about drug smuggling and a pregnant runaway was a bit lost on my eight year old brain. I zoned out, patiently waiting for a song I knew to come on. I remember that, at least in the English dub, one of the episode previews featured Jet telling kids not to watch the show. I got scared, and thought maybe I should put the DVDs away before the cops came to arrest me…
I didn’t get very far on my first viewing. In fact, I didn’t even get through episode two. That episode starts with a man getting into a bar fight and forcing a man to drink a cockroach. The exploding, bloody heads in episode one were fine with me, but the cockroach drink? That was too much. I ran to the DVD player and ejected the disk. I calmly walked out into the living room and interrupted my mother’s vacuum cleaning. I pushed the boxset into her hands. “Mommy,” lil’ ol’ me said, “I don’t think I’m allowed to watch this.”
A few years later, when I was twelve, I went back and finished Cowboy Bebop, because obviously at twelve years old I was a grown-up who could handle anything. Eight year old me wasn’t ready for all that, but things had changed: I had watched R-rated movies
but only because my dad finally let my mom show me The Shining and Rocky Horror .
I ended up loving the series and, naturally, became very pretentious and snobby about anime immediately after watching it. Fuck that Naruto shit, I was grown and into adult, obscure, classic anime.
Never mind the fact that there is nothing obscure about Cowboy Bebop…or any of the other anime I’m about to talk about watching. I was in That Phase – you know, when you’re a zitty middle schooler who suddenly develops a weird God complex about the things you’re into so that you can pretend you’re not just the dork getting bullied in seventh period.
And what’s the perfect show to build upon this complex? Neon Genesis Evangelion. I was cool, I was grown, I was gonna watch the Big Dark Existential Robot Show next. I bragged to my other nerd friends that I was watching this show that had sex and violence and deep Christian imagery in it, something that other puny twelve year old brains could never appreciate!!!
…In reality, by the time I was finished the show and went on to watch The End of Evangelion, I did the same thing I had done with Cowboy Bebop. I got about five minutes in, witnessed Shinji’s infamous “I’m so fucked up” scene, and quietly stopped the video.
“I don’t think I’m allowed to watch this.”
Plus, my older cousins, who I thought were like, totally cool and chill, heard me talking about how I watched the show and secretly told my parents to make sure I didn’t watch the movie. They tattled too late, though – I had already seen Shinji’s cum hand and was scarred.
But I was really determined to be grown with my cartoon viewings. I thought, I’m mature, dammit!!! I can watch grown-up shows!! F-f-fuck the shoujos and shounens! So I went to watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya because it was popular and I saw it labeled as a seinen somewhere.
Except, oh…there’s a lot of boob grabbing going on. Are my parents home? Am I going to get grounded for this? Dad already yelled at me for watching a Kiss x Sis AMV on the family computer. Um, um, actually, maybe I’ll watch Lucky Star. That’s still grown-up, right?
This process of starting an anime and then being afraid my parents would yell at me happened like, six more times. Elfen Lied, oops, no. Gantz? Oh, they’re having sex, goodbye. Um, I guess actually I’ll get back into Naruto…
Would I have become super cool and popular if I had successfully finished a “mature” anime series? Definitely not. Was I a fool for trying to age up my anime viewing experience? Yes, yes I was. Deep down, I was a little wuss who just wanted to watch Cardcaptor Sakura. Would my parents have actually cared if they caught me watching mature, non-ecchi anime? Probably not. Really, what it came down to was they trusted me to make decisions about mature content for myself. They knew they couldn’t monitor all the different media I took in, but believed I would make the right decision and not watch any weird torture porn anime.
…Actually, scratch that. It wasn’t so much that they trusted me, they just knew I was a giant baby who would tattle on my damn self ever since I had returned that Cowboy Bebop DVD when I was eight. The edgy anime life just wasn’t in the cards for pre-teen me, no matter how badly she wanted it to be.