A look at Bani Garu

I had a sippy cup sip of anime with Maya The Bee in the late 80s and then chugged a 50 oz Big Gulp of it in the year 2001 that hasn’t gone flat to present day. Between those two points, though, the timeline of anime to me is pretty sparse. I knew Sailor Moon was a craze in the mid-90s (my cousin the same age as I am had a wallscroll of the characters back then. Nerd!) and Dragon Ball filling in for the rest of that decade, but other than that, I didn’t take notice of anime during those years. It remains a black hole in my hobby, but that’s where Lea Hernandez comes in to help change that.

If you’re familiar with Marvel Mangaverse then you’re probably already acquainted with Lea’s work (she inked for The Punisher issue). She also draws for Teen Titans Go!. I kind of skipped both of those… But I did catch wind through Twitter of a webcomic series she’s behind called Bani Garu (click) at Boing Boing. The story is Lea’s personal life during her time as the vice president of the U.S. marketing arm of Gainax from 1989 to 1990. Why only a year? Well, it’s hinted in the first page that things “were itsy-hugey problems with Gainax from the start.”

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I’m going to admit this right now; I don’t know much of anything about Gainax. Sure, I watched and loved FLCL, and was amused by Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, but like how anime was for me in the 90s, nada! I did try to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion while it was airing on Adult Swim, but since I worked on most Saturday nights at Quiznos, I didn’t catch all the episodes, and I feel a series like that needs to be watch via Ludovico technique to really appreciate the “fuck you”-ness at the end by director/writer Hideaki Anno. I’ve always wanted to watch Gunbuster, too.

While I haven’t seen much of Gainax, I do hear quite a bit about them. Lea looks fondly back at the studio in Bani Garu. Mostly, anyway. It’s hinted  plainly stated in parts that Lea will have a breakdown. The timeline in the comic goes back and forth from when she’s hired up to current thoughts on the studio as sort of an aftermath, and events between the those two points. I noticed Lea also did this on her article reminiscing on U.S. manga pioneer Toren Smith (check out those rockin’ specs and hair highlight in the header photo! Also, read up on Mr. Smith. Looking at the manga landscape during the boom years in America, calling him a pioneer almost feels like an understatement).

I’ve already seen a few readers confused by the leaps in chronological events and focus of topics, but you have see this as a trials and tribulations way of recalling events that just spring to mind and getting a feel for your own emotions from years ago (I did the same thing in my first convention post, didn’t I?). In one strip, Lea finds a piece of cel paper of a note with a drawing on it. When she flips the page over it turns out to be pencils for a cel from Daicon IV. It’s my favorite page of the web series so far. I’m not sure how this comic will engage readers who don’t know exactly what anime is in the slightest, but I think even casual anime viewers will get a feel for what’s presented, and admires of Gainax will certainly pick up some tidbits here and there. I’m learning a lot about the studio without having even watched most of their productions (their habits behind the productions, anyway). I plan on working on that soon.

So, what can we take from Bani Garu? I guess if Gainax had their shit together (i.e. money), or perhaps did more research on the U.S. market back then, maybe Lea would have had a less stressful experience? I don’t know. She does make note of the times she cries- She even cried during her interview on ANNCast, which I thought was kind of sweet. The comic itself is emotionally charged in that way;  something that compliments autobiographical comics and writing quite well involving any subject, in my opinion. There is humor and sincerity in the challenging moments that Lea displays in her pages, and as a reader that’s what I appreciate the most. I get the same feeling such as when I listen to a Tom Waits album.

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Being wide-eyed to the 90s anime landscape and Gainax, Bani Garu feels like a setting of wise old sage telling meandering townsfolk about the myths and mavericks of generations past. …Or it’s just personal experiences mixed in with anime in webcomic form- which I find fascinating and unique in its own right. Even in the age of Wikis, how many sources out there really dig into the surface of the anime industry a generation ago? Or even tell firsthand of what it was like to be a fan of anime during the tail-end of the 80s? I wish there were more like it, if just to compare what’s changed and what hasn’t with this generation. I’m not sure if many could be as captivating or emote in illustrations the same way Lea Hernandez has in her comic, though.

Read Bani Garu at Boing Boing here.

  • Matty, thank you for reading Bani Garu and writing this thoughtful essay about it.

  • Ems

    No updates since May 2nd. No PSA from Hernandez. I think it’s dead.

    No Garlicks comic too. It’s over a year overdue. No update for half a year.

    I give up.