I just started watching the final season of Inu Yasha on amazon. This show brought so much natural beauty, vibrant colors, and downright fabulous fabrics into my anime repertoire, not to mention the fictional mancandy who was ready and willing to receive my blossoming female gaze. This was one of those series that I reveled in during youth, bought the plushies and other gear at conventions, and even wrote fanfic. But like most fandoms, I lost touch with it in college. Inu Yasha was important to my youth in many ways, one of those being a bonding opportunity for my brother and I. With six years’ difference, opposing gender perspectives, and a vast landscape of traditional religious repression separating us, we had few places wherein to connect. Saturday night anime was one of those places.
But my family relationships are for another post, another time. What I want to talk about right now are the environmental aspects of the show and what it means directly for my nostalgia as I watch it today. Although it has its own beauty that easily stands alone, Inu Yasha speaks to me so much for the nostalgia factor. This show had its own kind of feminism going on, one which I didn’t fully understand but I at least acknowledged. There was Sango, a mighty warrior who hunted down her enemies and took no prisoners. There was Kikyo, a protector of nature and order who dealt vengeance like the BAMF that she is, not afraid to send an arrow through her own lover’s heart when she was wronged. Then there was Kagome, a like-minded teen lethargic with modern life and who secretly wanted to escape to a time before the modern hubbub, conventions, global conglomerate, and CO2. In the story, this reality is thrust upon her more as a genealogical inevitability, but of course I infused my own traits into my interpretation of her character.
I call that time the “Lord of the Rings years” because my mindscapes looked more like Rivendell than they did Maryland, USA, and this feudal fantasy-Japan anime fit the pre-technology paradigm for those years too. These were years where I was deeply disillusioned with modern life (as rebellious children desperate for autonomy and feeling emotionally, culturally, spiritually, and sexually repressed by a household whose values they don’t share are wont to be), and thus fell into depression. Blog posts on being an ultra-liberal, atheist, sexually open, feminist hippy in an opposing household are a dime a dozen, the emotional effects of which are almost cliche in their universality. So, no need to tread those grounds. Instead, I’ll discuss the avenue I personally chose: fantasy. Novels, fanfic, TV, movies, and my own imagination.
Like most avid followers of fantasy, its allure was escapism from modern culture. But I took it too far. I wanted to be there at the expense of my own self. Not that I had a lot of options with zero age-appropriate neighbors, limited transportation to friends from school, and no family activities of interest, but still… I dove in too deep. When I didn’t have my nose in a book, I had my nose in my computer, reading fanfiction all day while my parents were at work (during summer vacation), or up all night writing fanfic of my own. 2am-5am was the witching window when I did my best work. I would often lie in bed awake for hours in the middle of the afternoon with my eyes closed, acting out a plot in my special world in my mind because I preferred it to real life. In those moments when I went outside, it was alone, walking the mossy woods behind my family’s house. I’d lie out on the grass with the cats and pretend I was an elf, communicating with the trees and pretending that nothing in the modern world affected me or mattered. My escapism wasn’t a hobby–it defined who I was. I existed only to imagine another place. When it rained, I laid back and let the drops hit my face, letting the smell of a rain shower wipe out the modern world from my cerebral cortex for as long as it could. When memory of where I was and what year it was flooded back, I shut my eyes again and went back to my forest. Sometimes I would will myself to have spiritual epiphanies in the rain and feel things more than I did, because at least that way I knew I was on the right path; that it all had meaning. I could go days without speaking to anyone, and when I had to attend dinner or communicate it was done begrudgingly. My parents’ work schedules paired with my family’s avoidance of meaningful communication (I include myself as equal culprit there) made privacy easy.
Of course, eventually the reality of such a fantastical world hit me. My subconscious was the first to shake me into the modern era. One night I had a dream. I was floating bodiless over one of my many fantasy landscapes, solitary and serene–the way I liked it. A winged fairy creature approached me, crying for me, bawling in fact. She told me I wasn’t “the only one”. This was amusing to recall when I woke up because fairies were one of the fantasy tropes I always avoided. Elves, sure. Flagons, grasslands, and forests, of course. Fairies? Never! But that was the messenger my subconscious chose, perhaps to make her message stand out in the morning. It was essentially that you are not better off alone, your are not the only person on this earth to ever (or even presently) feel this way, and it is not impossible to coexist on modern earth with these predilections. All right, fucking fairy, FINE. I listened. I started to critically analyze my state of mind in a journal, and sure enough, I poked countless holes in my premise in a very scientific manner (as my future statistical writer self would have wanted). Over time, I let go of these restrictions on what I consider pure, spiritual, pleasurable, and natural. There are plenty of people in today’s world that seek a return to greener pastures, “simpler times”, and plenty of retreats for people who feel that way. This reformation, in fact, was what drew me to online groups for paganism/wicca, although I discarded them almost as quickly as I found them once I realized it was practically a combination of Hinduism and Christianity with all the names changed. Alters? Goddesses? Praying? Talismans? Church? This is not what I left religion for. Bye, felicia. I can relish nature better on my own, and I definitely don’t need your unwashed sweat lodge or your “optional” beltane orgy to do so. Thanks for letting my know that being gangbanged by fat middle-aged men was optional, by the way. Anyway, I gradually came to appreciate and even admire countless facets of modern life. I also learned to acknowledge and laugh at the fact I was so privileged in a first-world, middle-class situation to even have the luxury of becoming lost in other world dreams in the first place. Must be nice, I imagine a poor Bangladeshi child laborer commenting on my predicament.
In addition to my Inu Yasha smorgasbord of nature nostalgia today, this experience from childhood also came back to me with a kapow! this past weekend when I went on a hiking/camping trip with a friend and her father. I was immediately caught in a thunderstorm and hiked over a mile in a torrential downpour sans poncho, spending the rest of the night cold and wet. During that time, I grinned back to that era in my youth. “But surely I would have a house where I would be out of the rain”. Oh yes, a cottage, sure. Who would build that cottage for you? And you would be a glassblower for income, of course. Who would build your forge for you, you helpless damsel? I chided myself as I wrung out my socks at the campsite. It’s so funny to remember how city-slicker Mary, growing up in the suburbs writing fanfiction on her mom’s old powerMac and transferring it all to an internet-capable machine via floppy disc, had her medieval fantasy life planned out perfectly. Too bad that fantasy relied precisely on all the skills she lacked. In my fantasy, everything already existed for me and I simply lived there, performing my fantastical hobbies and being happy. Lucky for fantasy!me, I had a conveniently located well from which to draw water. No trek to the town well for me! And lucky for fantasy!me, I also had a hotspring out back for hygiene (no one had yet slit my throat for want of its ownership). And lucky for fantasy!me, my cottage was not infested by carpenter bees. “Oh well, it would be stone, obviously.” Well, was your father a stonemason or a glassblower? Which is it, fantasy!mary? My fantasy had it all ready and waiting, no work required. What a lazy world I’d created for myself at 13. My friends and I had some fun with this tongue-in-cheek on the Appalachian trail Sunday as we bounded over rocks, short of breath. We made lists of modern pleasures that we regularly take for granted. The list began with medicine and memory foam pillows (as the trip’s hard ground and dehydration triggered a migraine, so I’d just lost my breakfast in a bush) and ended with air conditioning, plumbing, and Netflix. In an unexpected, potentially uncharacteristic move, I now not only enjoy city life…. I kind of exotify it. If I could afford to live in Manhattan, and I had a job I loved nearby, I would probably live there. I considered dropping it all and running away on my last visit when a friend showed me around and detailed his Brooklyn loft apartment. Central Park is close enough and well-maintained enough to suit my critical need for trees.