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Let’s Celebrate Anime Day With the Anime I Watched As a Kid That I Didn’t Know Was Anime!

Goku! He's gonna show you!

Collage of different anime series

Since it’s #AnimeDay, the question I’m seeing asked all over the Twitterverse is, “What was your first anime?”

My go-to answer is always Vampire Hunter D.

I was ten years old, armed with giant coke-bottle glasses and teeth that would be fitted with braces in the not-so-distant future. A kid at school started talking about this cartoon he randomly saw on TV, but, well, it wasn’t really a cartoon. I mean, it was, but it wasn’t. None of us knew what that meant, but it was enough to get me to flip through channels on a late night when I should’ve been sleeping. I can’t, for the life of me, tell you what channel it was. I know it wasn’t SyFy (at the time just regular old Sci-Fi), and it definitely wasn’t Toonami or Fox Kids or all the future television blocks that would come to me in the future.

But yo, that kid? Was onto something with that “not a cartoon but is” thing.

Here’s the thing, though. None of us knew what anime was back then, nor did we know that anime had been a thing for a while.

We really did just think they were “cartoons that weren’t cartoons” until someone (I dunno who) said it was “Japan-imation.” Around the rise of series like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon was when we KNEW it was anime. That’s when it started to get advertised as such, or at the very least, it was being called Japanese animation. But before that? There were quite a few things I watched that I didn’t realize were a part of this form of media that I would grow to love.

Yeah, that whole “you’ll grow out of it” thing ended up being nonsense. LOL, who knew?

My child self knew, that’s who.

So, in honor of #AnimeDay, I’m gonna celebrate the anime I remember watching BEFORE I even realized what anime was! Get ready for the golden age of dramatic narration set to theme music, potential character name changes, and clips from the series that may or may not make it in the actual episodes that air.

  • Speed Racer

I feel like this is probably the most obvious choice on this list. This is the anime that I knew about because my mom watched it, but she didn’t know it was anime, either! It wasn’t until I started watching Dragon Ball Z when she said, “They look like Speed Racer,” which I’d watched, too, whenever it aired on whatever magical channel that was that decided to just play anime until TV networks made dedicated blocks.

Speed Racer is forever the anime I look at her and go, “Congratulations, you were watching anime the whole time.”

  • G-Force


Much like any anime that made it to the U.S. before the big push to actually call it anime, this was a series where I had no idea it had such a tenured history. G-Force is how I saw it back in the day, which I would learn was the second American adaptation to Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which was released back in Japan in, holy crap, 1972?! G-Force came to us in 1986, but apparently, the first American adaptation of this was 1978’s Battle of the Planets.

Um, I wasn’t born yet, so I had no idea.

  • Ronin Warriors

Ah, the adventures of Matt and his multicolored warrior friends. Sorry, I mean Ryo, and sorry, those warrior friends have different American names depending on whether you watched the television series or the OVA. Honestly, I’ve been wanting to sit and rewatch this series, if for nothing else than to hear Anubis screaming QUAKE WITH FEAR!

  • Voltron

It seems impossible to think of a time where no one knew that Voltron was anime, or that it was based on Beast King GoLion. It also seems impossible to think of a time when the whole “robots coming together to form a bigger robot” thing was brand new, but yeah, I had no idea.

And yes, if you must know, I truly did think that Sven simply went to the Space Hospital. I thought he’d come back someday. While this wasn’t my first taste of heavily edited anime, it was one of the first times I was surprised to learn that a character had actually died in the original.

  • Dragon Ball

This is probably even harder to believe than Voltron, but it’s true! When this originally aired, I just thought it was a wacky cartoon about a boy who lived in the woods as he went on a quest to find the 7 Dragon Balls with this girl he ran into. On top of the fact that the episodes were very edited (not that I knew that at the time), only ONE season aired.

Here’s the funny part.

The season that aired had zero to do with the tournament arcs the Dragon Ball franchise is known for, so when Dragon Ball Z started airing and ended up being this huge fighting anime, I was completely taken off guard.

Don’t get me started on seeing the Android Saga, learning about the Red Ribbon Army, questioning WTF that even was, and learning that there were more episodes of Dragon Ball out there.

Hell, who the hell even is Piccolo! He never shows up in the original run of Dragon Ball episodes, yet there he is in Z, facing a married Goku and … wait, Goku’s married?!

Ah, to be a ’90s anime fan …

  • Non-anime bonus: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 

I know this isn’t anime but I have to mention Power Rangers because the amount of time it took me to learn that this is part of an entire decades-long media genre in Japan is bonkers. Like. What do you mean the super sentai (superhero team) genre has been going on in Japan since the ’70s? What do you mean the Power Rangers battle is footage from a Japanese original???

Happy #AnimeDay to a form of media I’ve enjoyed from my adolescent years through today, even if, for the beginning years of it, I didn’t know what the heck it was. I gotta ask, what was your first anime series, and did you realize you were watching something that spans across decades of media?

Eh, you probably did. You’re probably younger than me, lol.

(Image: Funimation/Turner Program Services/ NBCUniversal Television Distribution)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)