The Almighty American Dollar killed anime. I remember the good old days when I discovered anime. I saw anime in my local blockbuster all the time, but out of ignorance and prejudice that cartoons were kids stuff, I always passed up the anime section. This was in the mid 90's, way way before anyone had even heard of anime. In fact, 100% of video stores and video rental outlets only carried the VHS format. My only exposure to anime had been the Speed Racer episodes I'd seen as a kid back in the mid 70's. So, when I'd casually glance at a video box in a video store Speed Racer, Ultraman, or Johnny Sokko would come to mind--in other words, kids stuff.
One day, I happened to follow a customer--I'm a cab driver--into a small hole-in-the-wall video store that was literally paneled with used VHS movies and old Sega and PS1 video cartridges. A stocky white fellow who looked like a hippie stood behind the counter. Behind and above him, I saw some of the "cartoons" I'd seen in Blockbuster; they were only $5 so I bought a couple, Wicked City and Mad Bull #1. From that point, I was hooked and I went back to that video store and bought the original Fist of the North Star. Back then, Streamline was the big anime company with all the hot titles. I started buying every anime on the old Streamline trailer: I bought Akira and Tales of the Wolf. I went on Easter egg hunts for the hard to find titles like Neo Tokyo and the original Vampire Hunter D. I found both of these titles at Uncle Leonards, a small mom and pop video store/pawn shop on the other side of town (I live in St. Louis,Mo.). Back then, anime was a novelty and didn't have its own video store section or film category. Anime was a gypsy you'd find mixed in with action, drama, thriller, foreign, and even children's sections. The big stores like blockbuster ignored anime altogether. Best Buy was a baby back then. Amazon was an experiment back then. The best places to hunt down anime were pawn shops, comic book shops, or the small mom and pop video stores that have since become extinct.
Those days were the good old days of anime. There was so much fun and variety and character. Back then, anime let it all hang out and wasn't a bit shy about being cheesy, over-the-top, derivative (a la Fist of the North Star and The Road Warrior), and JAPANESE. Anime had a style and an attitude that American animation--with its talking teapots, spoons, elephants, mice, etc--lacked. I became an anime crack-head. I'd burn so much gasoline--back then, I drove a '73 Oldsmobile 98 sedan--that I'm ashamed to confess to. When Saturday Matinee and Suncoast opened, I didn't know how to act. Every Tuesday, you could find me at either store like a fiend, gambling my hard-earned money on blind anime selections i.e. anime based on the art on the box. After a while, and thousands of dollars, I got my selections down to a science and started using the same process that I used in selecting live action films: I started selecting anime by directors. Discovering Cowboy Bebop on a whim led me to Macross Plus and Escaflowne, both of the same directorial team of Shinichiro Watanabe and Shoji Kawamori. Discovering Wings of Honneamise led me to Neon Genesis Evangelion, both by Hideaki Anno. Wicked City led me to Ninja Scroll, Akira led me to Neo Tokyo, Fist of the North Star led me to Vampire Hunter D, Cyber City Oedo, and the Cockpit. I could pop off the names of GOOD anime directors all day. Go Nagai, Yasuomi Umetsu, Mahiro Maeda, etc. But where are they today? Today, unfortunately, most of these directors' names pop up in the end credits of Hollywood cgi-heavy films. Shame.