I am a geek. People who define themselves as geeks do so with utmost confidence. As the scholar Joshua Blu Buhs, who writes on topics related to popular culture, argues, we see ourselves as the modern cowboys, as the “wildmen of the cyberfrontier” (70). We use it as a “term of pride as self-reference,” (Dictionary.com). We embrace our way of life, our predispositions, our love for technology, and our way of thinking. Complex systems and abstractions from reality tend to fascinate us.
As with many geeks, throughout my life, I have embraced the characteristics of obsession. We geeks are “identifiable by a singular obsessivity about the things they love, both work and play.” (Blu Buhs 68)
In my childhood, I often indulged in intense infatuations, whether it was the latest computer game or a collection of trading cards. No matter what the endeavor, I wholeheartedly devoted myself to mastering the current task, whether it was having the biggest collection of trading cards in my school class or mastering a computer game completely. I took no prisoners with my inner geek.
One of these obsessions happened to be a deep interest in Japanese animation, also called anime. In their original conceptions, anime and manga, which is the book form of the same art work, differed in their style and themes from western animations, but not anymore.
Of the shift, Steven Brown, who writes frequently on anime, says:
Instead of being defined as a pale reflection of national cinema, anime is repositioned along a continuum of visual production mapped in relation to the intersecting and multidirectional lines of transnational movement out of which political, economic, social, technological, ethnic, and aesthetic flows emerge, coalesce, enter into conflict, and take flight. (Brown 1)
I was especially involved with one particular series called Dragon Ball and its sequels Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT. This series told the tale of an ape-like alien, Son-Goku, who is sent from his home planet, due to its impending destruction by a mass-destructive alien. It seems (at least at first) that he is the lone survivor of his race. He lands on earth as a child, and, during the first moments on the planet, he hits his head and suffers from amnesia. He forgets everything he knew about his home world and why he is on earth. He embarks on a far-reaching adventure to find the seven “Dragon Balls,” which, if located and brought together, can grant him one wish. Several times during the story, the whole world is at stake, and, together with his archetypal allies, Son-Goku has to fight many enemies in order to save the world. He marries and has sons. His enemies become his allies. He dies and comes back to live, through a wish from his friends.
At one important point in the story, he ascends several stages of power, becoming a “Super-Saiyan.” He literally transforms from a dark-haired, friendly looking character into an aggressive, muscular blonde. Obviously, more than at any other moment of the series, I saw myself in him, not only because I am blonde but also because I identified my struggles as a child with his struggles. His struggles made him become me, and, in the same breath, I became him.
Now I’m not saying the story is truly logical or always makes sense, but compared to so many other shows and media I was consuming at that time in my childhood, I felt it had depth. Unconsciously, I sensed philosophical themes were involved. Christopher Born, a lecturer at the University of Missouri's Pierre Laclede Honors College who specializes in anime, writes: “Taken in conjunction with traditional materials, certain shonen [sic] manga and anime illustrate Confucian principles as they might apply to daily life in contemporary Japan.” (39)
What I most liked about the series was its depiction of physical training. Each character has distinctive martial arts techniques that he relies on. The techniques are especially important since Akira Toriyama, the creator of the series, deemphasized the relationship between size and power in the series. In previous animes, size was correlated most of the time to power; in other words, the bigger the character, the more power he or she had. With Toriyama, size didn’t matter; it was all about technique and the right use of specific skills.
As a teenage boy, I couldn’t rely on my size either. I was one of the smallest boys in my class. I saw myself in Son-Goku. His determination and persistence in training made him the strongest fighter on earth and sometimes it looked as if he survived on sheer stubbornness. He was loyal to his friends and forgiving to his enemies. Even in seemingly hopeless situations, he seemed able to retain control over his situations. And of course, he always won.
At the same time I was obsessed with Son-Goku, I was intensively training as a ballet dancer in my free time after school. The constant drive for improvement in Dragon Ball mirrored my life in the studio. What became clear to me through the anime’s story was that every improvement depends mostly on precedent systematic actions. If you prepare and work in a conscientious way, you prepare yourself for the moment when fate comes into play. You prepare your body and mind to be accustomed to challenges and react favorably in these “moments of truth.”
My most vivid memory about the training method embodied in the story was the incident in which the protagonist Son-Goku and his son Son-Gohan face an evil monster named “Mister Buu” as their enemy. At a moment of such great challenge, both can obtain the “Super-Saiyan” state, which is a state of superior strength, but one which still does not give them enough power to beat the enemy. They train so that the heightened state of power becomes their new state of normalcy. Only when this goal becomes reality are they able to ascend to the next stage of power, the “Super Saiyan 2.” Visually, this state is represented by the characters having more muscles and longer blond hair.
In my ballet training, I embraced the “ascending levels of normalcy” technique espoused in the story. In particular, I changed certain aspects of my training, which retrospectively made a difference in my technique. Specifically, I made sure to do all the exercises we do on half point, or “demi-pointe,” as it is called. That practice involves rising on the ball of your foot while doing the exercises.
Theoretically, this is an optional feature of a step, and it is much easier to do the step on “flat,” which means with your heel down on the floor. Nevertheless, by consciously rising on demi-pointe, I trained my “higher state” each time, and after years and years of doing so, I felt I achieved effortlessness. Nowadays, I do not feel any strain or struggle doing my exercises on demi-pointe. My balance has become a subject of my unconsciousness, and my body seemingly balances on its own.
This initial mastering of a “lower” level and incorporating a certain difficulty in my “normalcy” by doing all of my daily exercises on demi-point led to a heightened capability in more complex movements and sections. With time, I had more control in my turns and jumped more easily. Even to this day, I consider this practice one of the factors that makes my dancing look light and effortless.
In my ballet training, I had no enemy but myself. Especially when I would watch myself in the mirror in the studio and execute my ballet routines, I often envisioned myself as Son-Goku struggling with the enemy. When I would fail, my hair would look darker; when I would triumph over a seemingly impossible task, my hair would appear blonder than it is.
Whenever people watch me dance, I hope they see the character I’m trying to impersonate onstage. I might be the noble prince from Swan Lake or the Prodigal Son; I might be a beggar or a soldier. In reality, I am just a geek owing everything I can do to an ape alien named Son-Goku.
the American Wildman Lore Cycle.” Folklore 121. (April 2010) 61-80. Web. November 7, 2011. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.vezproxy.stmarys- ca.edu:2048/eds/detail?vid=2&hid=121&sid=a64d4492-785a-477d-8b7a- dc4dba49cad0%40sessionmgr110&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#