Anime intersects with many passions for therapist, musician, fanfiction writer

Dareece Shaw didn’t even know what anime was when she began watching Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon after school.

All it took was Netflix and Cartoon Network to get her hooked on the rich stories and artful style of Japanese animation. Now, she’s so serious about it, she keeps a spreadsheet of the shows she plans to watch.

A licensed marriage and family therapist, mother, musician, and writer of fanfiction based on the characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Dareece isn’t content to limit herself to just one or two fandoms.

She loves Studio Ghibli, manga, Japanese culture in general, DC and Marvel (but mostly Marvel), Star Wars, video games, conventions, comic books, Game of Thrones, and Final Fantasy. And that’s just the short list.

Read on for her thoughts on how psychology and music intersect with geek culture, the social significance of Marvel’s upcoming “Black Panther” movie, what M. Night Shyamalan deserves for his live-action “Last Airbender” film, tips for discovering anime you’ll love, and what it’s like to raise two little future geek girls. 

Dareece Shaw at WonderCon.

I think you are the first serious anime enthusiast I’ve interviewed for No Man’s Land. Clearly, I need to be acquainted with more anime fans! When and how were you first introduced to the genre?

Wow! Well, I’m so honored and excited to be the first! I hope I represent well.

My first introduction to anime was around middle school, when I would watch Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon after school. I didn’t even know I was watching anime at the time. They were just cool Japanese cartoons to me that came on Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block.

When I hit late high school and early college, I really became acquainted with the genre more and pretty much watched whatever came on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. From there it was a matter of joining Netflix at its maximum allowable DVD program and binge-watching the series as much as one can when one has to wait for the DVDs to arrive in the mail and be returned. It was a never ending revolving door for me until streaming became a thing. So, I suppose I should be thanking Cartoon Network and Netflix for introducing me to anime.

What do you love about it?

I love the storytelling and artwork most of all. I’ve watched many American cartoons, of course, but I was always pleasantly surprised at how well manga and anime writers could capture human emotion and develop compelling characters and stories by using animation.

Anime is such an important part of Japanese culture, from what I’ve learned. Shows and movies are often used as tools for writers and directors to make social statements or observations about our world. Even the music you hear at the beginning and ending of each episode of an anime was carefully selected from top J-Pop artists in Japan. So, it’s a very big deal there and I see why.

The first time I ever cried watching a cartoon show was while watching an anime. I don’t love watching things that bring up those kinds of emotions, but I can appreciate and respect when it’s done so authentically that my emotional reaction feels natural.

Dareece in her college days, sporting a Cowboy Bebop shirt.

What are some of your absolute favorite anime series and movies?

This is a tough one because I love so many. My all-time favorite anime is Cowboy Bebop, but I also would place Samurai Champloo, Naruto, Fairy Tale, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Dragon Ball Z, and Soul Eater at the top of that list.

As far as movies, the Cowboy Bebop movie was outstanding. Most of the anime movies I’ve seen were based off of series that I enjoyed at one point or another (Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist, etc.) and so usually the corresponding movies were just as good as the series I was already watching.

What are you currently watching?

Currently, I’m watching, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and Your Lie in April. I intend to restart Attack on Titan very soon and there is a fairly new anime I’ve heard great things about called My Hero Academia that I’m extremely interested in checking out. My Netflix list is filled with anime shows I need to watch, but just haven’t started yet. This is always the case with me, but one day I will conquer that list!

Do you also read manga? If so, what titles do you recommend? And how is the reading experience different than what many Americans are used to?

I have read manga in the past but not so much now. It’s primarily a lack of free-time issue. With all of the geeky things I’m into, among the other random hobbies and work and marriage and having two young daughters, there just isn’t enough time anymore for reading manga.

As far as recommendations, I would say start with a favorite anime or one you’re interested in and go from there. Something everyone may not know is that pretty much every anime you’ve ever heard of or seen started out life as a manga. It was likely serialized in a weekly Japanese magazine and updated with new chapters on a regular basis.

Shows like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece (which most people have heard of, even if they don’t know the genre) started off as weekly manga chapters in a very popular magazine called Shonen Jump and were still being published there even after they became animated. If the manga is successful enough, they’ll adapt it into an anime in Japanese. Then, if it gets even more popular in the West, they’ll have American voice actors dub it in English and that’s typically when it appears on our television screens.

So, if you love Naruto, for example, check out the manga! Much like movies adapted from books in our country, you’ll find that the manga can often have different aspects of characterization or even storylines that end up differing from what they are able to animate.

Regarding differences in reading experiences, the main difference an American would have to contend with regarding manga vs. comic books is the direction you read. Manga are traditionally read right to left rather than left to right like we’re accustomed to.

At first it’s a little strange to be feeling like you’re starting from the end of the book and working backwards, but eventually you get used to it. And although this is a potentially off-putting aspect of reading manga, many manga are now being converted into graphic novels, which read like traditional American comics and graphic novels.

One more difference between comics and manga that I’ve noticed is the communication the author will have with the readers. At the beginning of a new chapter, it is quite common for the creator of the manga to write a little note to the readers about what’s going on in his/her life, giving little insights into the writing or artistic process, and thanking the fans for continuing to support the manga. I really love that the creators do that because it really connects me to the process and the person behind the story.

You’re a big Studio Ghibli fan. Do you remember your first Ghibli film? What do you recall most about it?

I was actually poring over the list of films trying to remember all the ones I’ve seen and when I saw them. I found myself struggling to remember … maybe because it’s been so long since that first experience!

But, I believe the first one I ever saw was Spirited Away. I think the aspect of the film that captured me the most was the imaginative way the supernatural world was depicted. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it and wants to, but I just love the way the characters were drawn and written.

Also, it contains one of the most iconic scenes in animation, known as the “train scene,” that is simply an outstanding moment in the movie. Please go see that film if you haven’t!

Dareece’s daughter Kayla plays with Totoro.

What’s your favorite Ghibli flick?

Ha, I was kind of hoping to not see this question because it feels almost impossible to choose just one Ghibli film as my preferred one. I’ve seen a good portion of them and have not encountered a bad one in the bunch.

But, after much deliberation, I think I’ll have to identify My Neighbor Totoro as my favorite. The story is heartwarming and Totoro himself is just this giant, adorable, fluffy woodland spirit who I would love to have helping me out any day of the week.

And I don’t think I’m alone in loving this film or character, as he’s had a cameo in Toy Story 3 that literally made me scream with joy. There are other references to the movie in pop culture for sure and I always love seeing them because it not only reminds me of the fun I had watching the film, it also reminds me of how well known it is in our country.

Is Hayao Miyazaki an animation god sent down from heaven to walk among us?

Honestly, he just might be. The imagination he has and the outstanding storytelling ability are hard to match in that genre, as far as I’m concerned!

Are you interested in Japanese culture in general? If so, what fascinates you about it?

I am for sure. In college, I became interested in it because many of the Japanese made video games and anime are based around a group of friends in high school who are students by day and heroes by night.

There are so many cultural references in these games that I couldn’t help but be interested in the various festivals they have, the traditional attire, the fact that they attend school six days a week, and the cute bento boxes they carry their lunch in! I’ve been known to have owned a bento box or two myself.

College was also when I was taught about the magical world of sushi and how to use chopsticks, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Even now, if I come across a Japanese sundry shop, I may just run in and pick up a stationary set or little figurine of a cute, obscure cartoon character. Or, if I run across a local Asian market, I have to pick up some Pocky, which is one of my favorite snacks from Japan!

Do you hope to one day visit Japan?

That would be an amazing opportunity! My husband and I discussed the idea of leaving the girls with family and attending the next summer Olympics which will be held in Tokyo in 2020. But, after a little research, it looked like visiting a country like that during such a huge intercontinental event was not the best idea ever. So, hopefully we can make a visit to Japan happen one day in the future, because my ultimate dream would be to attend an anime expo in Japan. It would literally rock my world!

You were (and maybe still are) a fan of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” What did you enjoy about that series?

I am not as hardcore of a fan as I used to be, just because it’s been so long since the show first came out and since I first watched it. But it is one of the greatest American made cartoons I have ever seen. What I enjoyed most was how well many of the characters on Team Avatar were developed and I liked the open world concept of them traveling to different nations to ultimately build the team, learn new skills, and save the world.

I also love the universe created by the minds behind the show. The interesting animal species, bending elements, and traditions hearkened back to familiar concepts that exist in our world, but were still tweaked just enough to be enjoyable for their unique setting. I also enjoyed seeing strong, not completely stereotypical main female characters because that just always puts a smile on my face.

Who’s your favorite “Last Airbender” character?

If you had asked me this question back when I first watched it, I would’ve said Katara, hands down. But now, after having watched the series more times than I care to admit and analyzing the characters more, I would have to go with Zuko. His character arc was the most dynamic, in my opinion, and a very heartbreaking yet hopeful journey was created for him. The fact that I had such animosity for him when I first saw him in Book 1 to now stating he’s my favorite character says a lot about how well his character development was.

If you lived in that world, what tribe would you be part of … Air, Earth, Fire, or Water?

Definitely Fire Nation. I’m a city girl who likes warmth and modern conveniences. The Fire Nation had a “big city” feel that I could relate to. And their temperatures and climate match what I would prefer in real life. But, the element of Fire is so interesting with its dichotomy of being able to bring life and death. They did a great job of addressing that in the show and it left a lasting impression on me.

What punishment would you say M. Night Shyamalan deserves for the live-action “Last Airbender” movie?

He deserves to be tied down to a chair in a small windowless room and made to watch “The Movie That  Shall Not Be Named” on an endless loop forever. I think that would be a good start, right?

In all seriousness, that movie brings up so much anger and frustration whenever I think about it, not only because it was so poorly done, but primarily because there are so many people in the world who will never know the true beauty of the show. Some people saw that horrible film and now have no interest in watching the cartoon series. That is so very sad and irritating.

As I recall, you used to write some “Last Airbender” fanfiction and it was pretty good, too! Tell me more about that.

Yes, I have written some ATLA fanfiction! The most recent thing I wrote was a modern alternate universe story based on my main ship, Zuko and Katara (aka Zutara). Although their relationship was not canon, I saw so many meaningful and borderline romantic interactions that it was hard for me to miss. Also, I just felt they were a healthier, more balanced match, but that’s a story for another day.

So, in the fanfiction I wrote, I chose to do a modern alternate universe story (or Modern AU, as it’s known in the fanfiction world). That means the original characters were placed in the current culture and time and the plot reflects that. It’s basically a story about Zuko and Katara meeting through their work. Katara is  professional dancer and Zuko is a composer who plays the piano. And even with it being out of the original story universe, I still wanted to make small, little references and nods to their elements in the original story, which was fun to do.

The story chronicles their first meeting and the ups and downs they go through as well as some separation and danger before coming to what’s hopefully a nice ending for all. It’s probably the most intensive thing I’ve ever written and actually completed. It’s 28 chapters long and that was after I went through a massive editing, rewriting, and addition process. It was a lot of hard work and I almost quit writing it at least 10 times but I’m glad it’s done, even if it’s not perfect.

Do you still write and/or read any fanfic?

I do, actually. I haven’t read as much as I used to just because I haven’t identified a new fandom to jump completely into. There are several in the running but I’m still waiting until something feels right. But I am writing again.

I decided to do a continuation series of the fanfic I mentioned in the previous question. Instead of it being another full-length fic, which I’m not sure I have in me to do, I decided to do a series of one shots (short stories) that show what happened to the characters in their universe after the events of the previous story.

So, I’m basically just choosing topics and moments I would want to see, like engagements, marriages, possibly children, career development, family struggles, and writing little stories about them. It takes the pressure off of having to develop another fleshed out plot and it allows me to touch on a lot of different topics without having something too big.

You’re also a fan of comic book movies. Do you favor Marvel or DC?

This is an interesting question for me because, as far as characters go, I think both Marvel and DC have interesting superheroes with origin stories that pique my interest. However, if I’m being real, Marvel tends to do major motion pictures (and possibly even television series) better than DC. I guess there are a number of factors but this is the impression I’ve gotten lately.

Dareece and her husband Edward show off their Wonder Woman spirit.

What have been some of your favorite films in this ever ubiquitous genre?

In no particular order, I really enjoyed the first Avengers film, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy volumes one and two, the first Iron Man film, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor Ragnarok.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming “Black Panther”?

I am beyond excited about this movie. First off, as a black person, I am so thrilled to see a major superhero film being made with a predominantly black cast and director. I feel it accurately reflects the setting and characters in the comic book and I’m so glad that accuracy was not abandoned in casting. This may very well be the first time I’ve seen a superhero movie of this caliber and budget be done in this way. I had similar feelings about Luke Cage on Netflix and it did not disappoint.

To me, it’s an important step culturally and socially. I am so filled with hope to know that a movie like this was not only considered to be part of the MCU but also was able to transition from an idea to reality. Also, it just looks like a great film from the trailer alone. So, I cannot wait to check it out in theaters next year, hopefully in IMAX!

Did you see the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer? What do you think?

I just loved it. More than the storyline itself, I’m in love with the idea of seeing so many Marvel characters in one movie. Each time a new superhero showed up, I squealed. And I’m most excited for the interaction between the Guardians squad and the rest of the Avengers. I hope this movie turns out to be as epic as it looks!

Are you a comic book reader? If so, how did you get into that and what does that look like in your life right now?

I’m not a huge comic book reader, but I do have a few books on rotation that I’m slowly reading through. It’s mostly DC origin stories right now. I’m reading comics on The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Superman. I hope to expand that list to some Marvel characters soon.

I would say I was first exposed to comic books when I was a kid visiting my uncle for summer vacations. He had a massive comic book collection and my job each week when he would go to the local comic book store and purchase his books for that week was to put them back in their plastic covering after he finished them and make sure they weren’t damaged in the process.

I have always loved to read but for some reason I never got into comic books until now. I’ve even been reading manga much longer.

Were you into geeky things as a child? How did the geek lifestyle begin for you?

I would definitely say I was into geeky things as a child. It probably started with gaming and expanded from there. When my brothers would be playing Nintendo and Sega, I would want to join them instead of playing with my Barbies and Easy Bake Oven. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy playing with my dolls and other girlie toys because I did.

At the same time, I also liked Super Mario Brothers and Mortal Kombat and Ninja Turtles and Transformers. I would say my father and uncle were probably big influences on my becoming interested in gaming, which was my geek gateway activity. My father was a computer engineer and also into games so we always had the latest system in the house.

You’re a licensed marriage and family therapist. This might be a stretch, but have your studies and experience in psychology influenced the way you consume or think about various fandoms and geek culture?

This is not a stretch at all and I’m so glad you asked this question!

I think geek culture, specifically the characters in American and Japanese cartoons and comics are ripe with information for anyone interested in psychology. The main thing that interests me are character origin stories. And pretty much every cartoon superhero or anime protagonist has had basically the most traumatizing childhood one could imagine. That trauma is obviously what spurs most of them to become powerful and protect the innocent as well as fight against evil.

But, also, I enjoy when writers take the time to put in the normal trauma reactions a person would have when having the pasts these characters do. I feel they all should constantly be having flashbacks and nightmares and panic attacks over what they’ve been through and haven’t actually processed. And I would honestly love to do therapy with any one of them. It would be the most challenging yet cool experience ever.

Because of my career field, I constantly find myself analyzing the characters and assigning a feeling or past experience to their current behavior. Consequently, in movies like Iron Man 2, where most people disliked that movie in part due to the “daddy issues” and PTSD stuff, I loved that they showed that side of him. Because real people wouldn’t be able to go through all that he’s gone through and just be okay.

Our culture tends to downplay the importance of mental health and even frowns upon displays of people being vulnerable and showing that they’re struggling. But that is the human condition and I like that it’s becoming more visible in modern media because maybe those will be the first steps to encouraging those of us watching to be more accepting and open to taking emotional wellbeing more seriously.

Okay … soap box moment over! But, yes, psychology affects my ingestion of geek culture and I love when shows and movies intentionally focus on it.

Dareece’s 18-month-old daughter, Maya.

As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of fandoms and geek culture?

Definitely. I’m sure what I’m about to say has been beaten to death, but I have to say it again because it’s still an issue. I still get tired of the over-sexualization/objectification of women in geek culture.

In America, you will still see female heroines or characters wearing next to nothing with body proportions that aren’t real or healthy. You will still inexplicably see shots of legs and backsides and busts. Even in a movie like Wonder Woman that has done the best job I’ve seen so far of balancing femininity, strength, heart, compassion, intelligence, and humor in a female superhero character, I still had to deal with focus on her outward appearance and certain body shots that were meant to show her off.

I’m not against acknowledging and showing an attractive woman, but when it becomes gratuitous or doesn’t make any sense within the narrative of the scene, it bothers me. Again, it didn’t really bother me in Wonder Woman because of how well done the movie was overall, but it was still something I noticed.

Anime in general offends worse than American cartoons, to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a scantily clad female character be ogled by male characters to the point that they develop nose bleeds and pass out. Or how many times I’ve seen a male character walking near a gorgeous female character, stumble, and then fall face first into her enormous cleavage. It’s pretty annoying and will usually result in me shutting it off, unless something really amazing begins to develop in the story.

In general, I do think we are getting better stories about women as heroes that aren’t so focused on how sexy they are. But we unfortunately still have a long way to go.

Dareece’s daughter Kayla engages in a lightsaber duel with her Daddy.

Do your husband and two daughters share your love of geeky things? What are some of your shared and individual interests?

My husband and I definitely do! Our love of geeky things is in part what brought us together all those years ago. He is more well-versed in the comic book, superhero side while I’m more knowledgeable about anime. And we both enjoy sci-fi as well. But we are both open to pretty much anything.

I never would have thought I would get to spend my life with someone who would not only be willing to play video games with me and watch movies and TV shows about geeky things with me but would also enjoy attending conventions with me. It’s a dream come true.

And though my daughters are still young, my older one is definitely showing an interest in the same things we’re interested in. She has yet to see the Star Wars films in their entirety due to her age (she’s 4) but she has seen a few fight scenes and fully embraced the spirit and demeanor of a true Jedi when first given her toy lightsaber. The battle she had with her dad was epic, to say the least!

She also loves superheroes as well. She recognizes many of them, particularly Iron Man because he’s Daddy’s favorite. But she gets excited when she sees Wonder Woman, too, which I love.

Kayla also loves video games and often sees us playing them. She likes to play Tekken with her dad and try to beat up his player. She’s even done the patented “throw the controller when you lose” move all gamers are guilty of doing, so I think she’s well on her way to becoming a true geek one day!

My other daughter, Maya, is only 18 months old, so she has yet to show an affinity for geek culture, but I hope to one day expose her to similar aspects. Maybe we’ll have a true geek family and attend conventions together!

Kayla shows she’s strong with the Force.

Would you say you are actively raising your daughters to be geeks? If so, in what ways?

I would say I am to a certain extent. Growing up, I fought against what I identified as stereotypical gender expectations related to women. When I was very young, I had Barbies and loved pink and dresses and glitter. But when I reached an age where I realized that seemed to be the only way to define a woman, I didn’t like it. So I went more tomboyish and tried to dress differently almost to place myself as far away as female stereotypes as I could.

When I became an adult, I realized I could both enjoy makeup and clothes while also enjoying geek culture and it was very liberating for me. When my older daughter came along, I found myself battling the idea of things having to be super girly for babies and little girls. Now that she’s 4, she loves Disney princesses and glitter and pink just as much as she loves Star Wars and superheroes and games.

I’ve learned that embracing being a woman is not about fitting into one box or another, but having the freedom to express that womanhood in many ways. So, though I do make conscious choices to expose the girls to things I’m interested in related to geek culture, I also try to not stifle their interests that may not perfectly line up with geek culture as well.

You’re also into Star Wars, of course. Tell me your Star Wars saga. How did it begin for you?

I remember watching Episodes 4, 5, and 6 for the first time in middle school. I’m a big fan of science fiction and space travel in particular, so I was in love with the idea that these heroes got to explore the galaxy, use the force, and defeat enemies using spacecraft with massive guns attached. And I loved the story overall, as well as finding out the family connections between Luke, Leia and Vader. R2-D2 (or R2, as I refer to him) is still one of my favorite characters and Yoda was just that perfect wise presence to balance things out well.

I remember the first time I saw the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, I thought they were adorable. Specifically, I thought Wicket was the perfect little ball of cuteness … like a large walking teddy bear. I’m not ashamed to say I wanted an Ewok back then. And not a plush version of one … I wanted an actual Ewok to come stay with me and hang out.

But that was how it all started for me. I’ve watched those films many times since and love them even more each time. I couldn’t get as much into Episodes 1-3, which came out later. But I did appreciate learning the origins of Vader’s character and how he ended up entrenched in the dark side of the force. Other than that, I’ve only seen each of those movies once and that is more than enough!

And, of course, I’ve seen the newest releases that have come in the past year. I love them, especially how the movies were filmed in a format reminiscent of the original saga. And Rey is just a beast so it’s hard not to love these new films!

Do you have big plans for “The Last Jedi”?

The fact that we get to see the movie on opening day, even though we both are busy and don’t have readily available babysitting for our kids, is big in and of itself! But, in reality, we’ll just be going to our local theater during the day while our little ones are at school and daycare and watching it. The plans feel big to me because I’m super excited to see it and I love going on dates to see geeky things with my husband.

Porgs. Yes or no?

Well, I do see the appeal of those little guys, but I’ll have to admit that I’m not that into them. Maybe things will change once I’ve seen them in the film so we can circle back to that one later.

What are your other personal fandoms?

I definitely enjoy a good TV show. I have recently fallen for Game of Thrones. I am proud to say I’m fully caught up on the most recent season and am anxiously awaiting the next and final season. By the looks of it, I’ll be waiting a while.

I also am a fan of Supernatural, Grimm, The Flash, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. I was watching Arrow for a while but it went from being barely tolerable to intolerable so I had to stop. I would also consider myself a Final Fantasy fangirl because those video games influenced a large portion of my life as a teen, young adult and even now I still play them.

Among Dareece’s collectibles are plush versions of Black Star from Soul Eater, Ichicgo from Bleach, and Kakashi from Naruto.

Do you collect anything?

I want to begin collecting figurines more but I don’t have any space to display them yet. I bought a bunch of little Disney Tsum Tsum stackable characters because they are adorable but they are sitting in a grocery bag in the attic at the moment.

I also have my prized possession, which is a Spike Spiegel (main character in my favorite anime Cowboy Bebop) figurine I bought at Comic-Con and got signed by the English voice actor who portrayed him in the anime. I’ll explain more of that story later.

I would like to start collecting Funko Pop figures of my favorite anime, video game, and superhero characters but I promised myself I wouldn’t do that until I have a proper display set up. Here’s hoping for some display cases and floating shelves to work their way into our house soon!

Dareece with her husband, Edward, and Retta from “Parks and Recreation” at San Diego Comic-Con.

Have you attended any conventions? If so, tell me some of your favorite memories of those experiences.

I have attended my share of conventions. I primarily attend comic and anime conventions. My favorite experience of all was one I mentioned previously pertaining to my favorite anime. I remember my husband and I were at Comic-Con in San Diego. I was about six months pregnant with my first daughter so that was quite the adventure for us!

But we were wandering around the exhibit hall when we came across a table with a man signing some pictures and things. I didn’t even notice the table until my husband called to me and said, “Hey, that’s the guy from your show!”

I took one look at him and almost passed out. I told him it was Stephen Blum, one of the greatest voice actors ever, and that he was the voice of Spike as well as numerous other characters in anime and cartoons. I will not go through his resume here, but do yourself a favor and look him up. You’ll be surprised at the characters you’ve probably heard him portray.

Anyway, I had just bought the Spike Spiegel figurine only moments before and so I ran (or should I say waddled) up to him and started fangirling like nobody’s business. I was talking a mile a minute and telling him how much I loved his work and that I couldn’t believe I got to meet him. He was so nice about everything and signed the box containing my figurine as well as two photo prints. He shook my hand with a big smile and was so gracious even though he must have thought was a crazy person. I regret not getting a picture with him, but I still feel a little giddy when I look at the figurine and remember that moment.

Another non-anime moment from that same convention was when my husband and I got to meet Retta (aka Donna Meagle) from Parks and Recreation. At the time I believe it was approaching its final season.

At the time, we happened to be walking to a panel for Wilfred, another show we used to watch. On the way, Edward spotted her riding in a golf cart to a panel and he flagged her down. She was so nice because she stopped and let us freak out over seeing her and even took a picture with us.

We were embarrassed because at the time we couldn’t remember her real name or her name on the show, but I blame pregnancy brain and us being too star-struck.

And one final anime moment I had was at the first convention I ever want to, which was Anime Vegas in Las Vegas. I went there during my senior year at UNLV and that year they had most of the English voice cast of Dragon Ball Z on hand as well as other notable voice actors. This was the final panel of the convention and the moderator had them all do voices of some of their favorite or well-known characters.

It was such a treat to hear them go down the line and do phrases and voices of these characters that I knew and loved. And because there were so many DBZ folks there, they all started talking in their various voices and I got to hear Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Master Roshi, Krillin, Gohan … you name it.

I felt like I was in heaven and it took me right back to those afternoons in middle school when I first discovered anime and looked forward to watching Dragon Ball Z after school. That experience was what set me on the path of attending other conventions in the future.

Items signed by one of Dareece’s favorite anime voice actors, Stephen Blum.

You’re also a musician who sings and plays the piano. Does your love of music intersect in any way with your nerdier hobbies?

It absolutely does. What a great question!

The various anime and video games I have watched and played all have a strong emphasis on music. I began following various Japanese artists and even buying their albums because I heard a song I loved as an anime intro or ending theme.

And I still have a large collection of Final Fantasy and other RPG game sheet music that I started collecting in high school. I would hear a beautiful piano theme at the start of a game or during a certain sequence and would want to play it myself. So, I would either find the sheet music online or transpose it myself by listening to the song and working it out on the piano until I could play it similarly to the song.

And, my favorite anime holds that position not only because I love the story and characters but also because the music is just so great. It has an awesome jazzy vibe that I fell in love with and I’m pretty sure I bought the soundtrack at some point.

Is there anything else we should know about you (work, life, hobbies, etc.)?

I feel like I’ve said so much already that I can’t really think of anything else to add! But, I do find myself referencing anime and superhero characters when working with my clients. The Hulk is one of the best examples I use when working with kids who have anger management issues. Discussing the complexities of his character and how it relates to their feelings is very helpful.

As far as hobbies, outside of the geeky things, I enjoy crafting activities as well. But literally everything I could say after that would be something related to geek culture so I may as well stop there!

What’s the next big release (movies, TV shows, books, etc.) you’re looking forward to?

I feel like I’ve aged two years since I last saw Game of Thrones, so it will be a huge deal when that show finally returns for its final season. I’m also hoping to see some more seasons of the Marvel television shows on Netflix I’ve already watched (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil).

Cinematically, of course, I’m excited about The Last Jedi, Infinity War, and Black Panther. And also Pacific Rim … that first one was surprisingly great and I hope they keep it up for the sequel. So, yeah. Next year is going to be outstanding!

Dareece and daughter Kayla.

Can you offer any tips for those who might be interested in getting into anime but are intimidated, overwhelmed, or just don’t know where to begin?

First off, I would say have a game plan … organize your entertainment. There’s too much out there and if you see something you like but can’t watch or access it immediately, you’ll lose it. So keep track of it and jot the title down somewhere so you can come back to it. I literally have a spreadsheet of all the anime I’ve watched, want to watch, and am currently watching. So, if I find myself in a lull, I can go to that and find something new to check out. You don’t have to go to that extreme, but just keeping a list of titles you would like to see takes the pressure off of your brain to have to remember everything.

Second, figure out what you like. Anime genres are very similar to American cartoon, TV, and film genres. There’s everything from supernatural, samurai, ninja, romantic or fluffy, sports, mystery, medieval, streampunk, gundam, and even psychological thrillers. So if you like supernatural shows or cartoons, then seek out supernatural anime as well.

Also, you can start out with a popular, well-known anime and see what you like or dislike about it and start to adjust from there. Again, I have to plug Netflix here because they have been pretty good at recommending shows for me based off of what I watch. So the more you watch and rate anime on there, the better it gets and guiding you to other similar types of anime you can try. And Netflix has a very robust anime section nowadays, so it’s a win/win.

In addition to that, there are no shortage of YouTube channels and websites devoted to reviewing and talking about anime. So, I would be shocked if you couldn’t find a good place to start from those resources.

And finally, if all else fails, find a friend who is into anime and ask them for recommendations. They may end up liking totally different styles than you and that’s okay, but at least you’ll know what’s out there. I have certain ones I always suggest people watch either because they are my favorites or because they are well liked. But, if your anime friend really knows their stuff, they can also help point you in the right direction to find something you may truly fall in love with.

For example, Fairy Tail has become one I enjoy and I also think it’s a good gateway anime. It has a little bit of everything a person might like about a show and it’s fairly easy to watch. It also has what I consider to be a compelling storyline. Naruto is similar which is why it has become so popular. So those are two I would start someone off with if they were completely clueless.

But, most of all … don’t freak out about it! It’s supposed to be a fun, entertaining experience so there’s no pressure to find the perfect show for you right away. And once you just relax and enjoy the process, you’ll probably find that (like I did) you’ll come across your favorite title completely at random.



2 thoughts on “Anime intersects with many passions for therapist, musician, fanfiction writer

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