Interview: Open Mike Eagle on Anime and Hip-Hop, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Trauma Therapy

Open Mike Eagle

Anime, trauma and divorce. Those are the three things Open Mike Eagle took into his latest album, aptly titled Anime, Trauma and Divorce, a heartfelt examination of processing trauma, finding a place in the world and what it means to be a headass.

I had the opportunity to talk with Mike over Zoom about his latest album, and his process of bringing his own experiences into the booth. For him, anime has always been a center point.

“I’ve felt this undeniable connection between specifically the Black American ghetto, and I wish there was a better word for it…” he said. “…there’s something with marginalized people, people in high-pressure circumstances, there’s something about shounen anime that really resonates in those communities.”

He’d been a fan since high school, when he and his friends would stay caught up on Goku, Vegeta and the Z Fighters in Dragon Ball Z, creating a contrast, he said, to his own life growing up in Chicago.

“I was in the hood in Chicago when [Dragon Ball Z] came into my life, and it was because me and all of my hood friends were in love with this show,” he said. “We all wanted to be Goku.”

From there, he discovered series like Death Note, Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but there were three series in the past few years that Mike credits for bringing him back into the anime fold: Tokyo Ghoul, Death Parade and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Tokyo Ghoul is the first anime that struck me as a trauma anime…” he said. “That show opened my eyes in a lot of ways to what I love about anime, and I think it resonates with me especially in this part of my life.”

And his specific connection to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure inspired two tracks on Anime, Trauma and Divorce: “Bucciarati” and “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy).”

On “Bucciarati,” Mike dives into needing help, changing direction and doubling down on his art, all inspired by Bruno Bucciarati from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind. On “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy)” he focuses on bringing himself into the universe, and into a family all about breaking their own boundaries.

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“The protagonist changes. I think that’s such a different way to tackle the shounen anime, where it’s usually about the growth of one character over a very long arc…” he said. “Because the personality changes, the power set, the circumstances the people live in change in each chapter, [JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure] really gives me the opportunity to imagine myself mentally—to imagine myself in the world. 

His anime inspiration didn’t stop with the Joestar family, either. In dealing with his own trauma, a newly established bachelor life and a struggle to figure out his place in the world, he turned to Neon Genesis Evangelion, specifically the character of Shinji, who is referenced on “Headass (Idiot Shinji).”

“He overthinks everything. He is relentlessly nervous…for my framing, he has created this world where he’s the only special guy who can pilot the Eva, because he needs to feel that,” Mike said. “There’s always this other layer of thought, this other layer of hesitance to connect and to live and to be in the moment. I think that kind of just ‘living in his head’ as he does it is headass-ism.”

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And the album truly embodies that train of thought. It’s not a negative thing, and Mike dives headfirst into confronting his own feelings. Even beyond anime, there are references to comic books (shoutout Rob Liefeld!) and television, with “The Black Mirror Episode” an arguable standout on the record.

Why? Well, Mike shifts into a different vibe on this track, pulling in feelings of aggression and frustration to illustrate his own experience. It’s not a literal retelling of his divorce, he said, but something he needed to put down.

“There is some truth in that song, but it’s more absurdity laid on top of that truth,” he said. “In the path of that absurdity, I sort of gave myself the permission to act aggressive and let some of that energy out. The first time I laid those vocals—that’s the only time I did it.”

Of course, famously, he won’t name the Black Mirror episode in question. But there’s a good reason for that.

“I’ve said that I won’t tell,” he said. “I think it’s the kind of thing that if I ever did, the answer would only cause things to get more complicated.”

Even the album’s features carry a weight, voices Mike felt were integral to the story of Anime, Trauma and Divorce. His 11-year-old son even sings the chorus on “Asa’s Bop” as Little A$e. Other features include Kari Faux and Video Dave.

“The chorus was a thing [Asa] would literally skip around the house doing when he was like 7 or 8 years old,” he said. “And ‘Fifteen Twenty Feet Ocean Nah’ is something we recorded on a cruise. We had this near-traumatic experience the day before, trying to snorkel in the middle of the ocean.”

Anime, Trauma and Divorce - Open Mike Eagle

At its core, Anime, Trauma and Divorce is something Mike felt he had to record as part of his own recovery.

“Part of what it comes from is me being in therapy and my therapist saying ‘Hey, you have this outlet that other people don’t have. You make music for a living.’ And there’s people who deal with stuff that have no way to say what they can’t say in regular life,” he said. “It helped me start to move past everything that I was stuck on.”

And in touching on the impact and importance of mental health, realizing his own strength and connecting it all to the power of anime, Open Mike Eagle has created something truly incredible, truly personal and truly unmissable.

“A lot of the words on this album had to be written—had to be recorded,” Mike said. “I’m still weird about putting it out into the world, because that’s a whole other layer. But just that act itself, I can’t tell you how valuable it was to start to actually push through.”