June 20, 2006
Even before I knew about Fullmetal Alchemist, I understood alchemy’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange: “To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.” So, when I started collecting anime in earnest, I looked to do some online trading. Back in the early '90s, after all, there were only a handful of commercially available titles.

I created a website based on one of the few network TV cartoon shows I could respect: Dungeons & Dragons. I’d taped all 27 episodes of its three seasons off of cable. On Betamax, no less. So I mentioned on the site that I was looking to trade tapes, anime preferred but not required, in exchange for the 27 eps of D&D.

It wasn’t a flood of offers; more like I turned on a faucet, which resulted in a steady stream of offers. At first I was nervous about intellectual property and all that jazz, but the Copyright Police never came a-knocking, even though (and this is 2006!) D&D is still not available in Region 1 DVDs! I’ve found airchecks from the attempt to show it on Fox a few years back, but they added the network watermark and an unscheduled commercial break, so I still think my clients got the better product.

What I got was a massive, diverse look into anime. Most folks would be guided by their personal tastes and whatever happens to be at the stores. I was offered titles I’d never heard of and knew nothing about, including these buried treasures:
  • Kenji Tsuruta’s Spirit of Wonder: Miss China’s Ring. There is simply nothing quite like this OVA. Nineteenth-century sci-fi, romance, and a heroine who’s blessedly post-adolescent but still has some of the same anxieties. The artwork is fantastic, the story is unexpected.
  • Studio Ghibli’s On Your Mark. Same song, second verse as I got Hayao Miyazaki’s music video. A futuristic mishmash of doomsday cults, Chernobyl, and the need to Do the Right Thing even if it means bucking authority. I could watch this every day just to pick out the little things, like Mister Cool kissing the Angel’s hand when he sets her free (of course his name is Mister Cool: what else would you call a guy who wears sunglasses inside his hazmat suit?) Six and a half perfect minutes.
  • Vampire Princess Miyu. This four-part OVA truly captures the quasi-Gothic feel of the best Japanese horror films. The title adolescent vampire and the flawed exorcist have a fascinating relationship; the overall mood is languid, dreamlike. Nothing would even come close to this masterpiece until Boogiepop Phantom.
I “lost” some bucks in blank tape and Priority Mail fees, but I definitely got the better part of the exchange.

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