Out of all these, the worst would have to be how I would say that I hated anime (with a passion!). My reasons were never really clear. I’m not sure if it was all in my head or if this really was a thing in my all-girls school, but other girls generally tended to look at the girls who liked anime a bit differently. Insecure ol’ me took this as a sign that anime or anything remotely related to it wouldn’t be good for my fitting-in agenda.
And so I stayed away from it, with my judgement mostly based off of the snippets I saw on Animax. The same went for K-Pop and K-Dramas. I would tease my tita whenever I saw her watching them, and I’d roll my eyes whenever a K-Pop video would come on TV. Present me would’ve really hated past me. While the longing to be liked gradually went away in my third and fourth year of high school, by that time I’d already gotten used to avoiding shows with subtitles or English dubs.
“Watching and reading these things taught me that forms of entertainment that come from other cultures can be as relatable as what we’re used to.”
Everything changed when the fire nation attacked — er, I mean when I entered college and found out that lots of people have loads of interests that don’t necessarily mesh with each other. It was also around then when a friend told me that I just had to read Hirunaka no Ryuusei, a Japanese shoujo manga about first love and (spoiler) a teacher-student relationship. “It’s like YA,” she promised, referring to the Young Adult novels that I love. She was right. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I spent all my free time reading chapter after chapter to see whether Suzume would end up with Shishio or Mamura, even if it meant I had to endure reading it on the tiny screen of my phone.
By the time I finished, I had that same lost feeling that I get whenever I read a great YA novel. It was as if I unlocked a whole other source of entertainment, and I wanted more. Later on, another friend introduced me to Ouran High School Host Club (aka the golden standard of shoujo anime), which then led me down a shoujo live action film-watching spiral.
Watching and reading these things taught me that forms of entertainment that come from other cultures can be as relatable as what we’re used to. Personally, I found that shoujo manga and K-Dramas could trigger the same kilig that I got from YA novels, teleseryes, and Hollywood RomComs. Sure, we’ve got our differences, but there are equally as many relatable elements that show how similar we can be.
“You can’t force yourself to like something. At the same time, you also can’t go ahead and decide that you hate it without trying it out first.”
With this fresher perspective, I recently found myself getting sucked into the Korean pop culture vortex. This older (and hopefully wiser) Gaby is the type who obsessively re-watches episode 13 of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo just to see Joon Hyung get kilig over and over again. She clicks on “Best shoujo live-action adaptation” list videos on YouTube, and spends hours watching fanmeet experience videos of GOT7.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that it’s natural to be iffy about things that you aren’t familiar with. But it’s also cool to be open-minded. I know that this sounds very parental sermon-like (think: when they try to convince you to eat your vegetables), but you can’t force yourself to like something. At the same time, you also can’t go ahead and decide that you hate it without trying it out first.
While I haven’t reached the point of calling myself an otaku, I think I’ve watched and read enough to admit that high school me was very wrong. I now regret not getting into all of this sooner because I feel like I missed out on a ton of great stuff. The only way for me to atone for these sins would be to binge-watch on everything I missed, and I guess that isn’t so bad.