Location: Atlanta, Georgia
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. While I am an ’80s kid and loved a lot of ’80s shows animated in Japan, I truly discovered anime in the early 1990s when I attended local comic book conventions with my dad and they advertised “Japanimation” on the flyers. A couple of the dealers there had fansub tapes for sale; one enterprising dealer had a small TV playing the tapes, where I stood mesmerized in front of his booth. Not too long after that, dubbed versions of Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (aka Ronin Warriors) and Sailor Moon aired on local stations and I was hooked.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Mostly the story-telling: while its settings and subject matter were a big change from typical American animation, the biggest thing that got me at first was continuity. Shows had definitive storylines, which kept me coming back for each episode!
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I was first getting into it, Sailor Moon was probably the biggest thing I remember but when I started surfing the ‘net, I most frequently saw a lot of people talk about Bubblegum Crisis (which I loved) and Ranma 1/2 (which I watched a lot of).
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt pretty detached—Atlanta has a history of anime clubs around the city but I was much younger than the college-and-older demographics. I had my immediate friend group, what we could rent or buy at the video store, and some sense of fandom on the Internet.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes, but not like it is now – where everyone is connected with Facebook groups, Twitter or follow their specific fandom on Tumblr. I was a member of a Samurai Troopers email group and used resources like Anime Web Turnpike to find other anime websites, which usually were about specific series, characters or actors. We also weren’t dominated by Google as far as searching the Internet, so I usually had to use multiple search engines to look for things that weren’t listed on AniPike.
Can you tell me about what you did online regarding anime at the time? The internet was primarily a tool to learn about anime: either going more in depth for a show I’d seen on TV or from a video store, or trying to find out about new shows. Even in the mid-1990s, anime we were getting broadcast on TV was still being edited and altered from its original Japanese source, so you could spend a whole afternoon reading websites that talked about what changed where in what show—whether it was just name changes all the way to plot points, episodes being cut, or other edits like that. The fan reaction to the changes were usually pretty negative—that much hasn’t changed in the fandom! But at this time, a resource like AniPike was super important. The concept today wouldn’t really fly—it’s just pages of organized links to *other* sites—but when I first watched a new anime, I could hop onto AniPike and find all of the sites other fans had created dedicated to a show. I spent a lot of time in various image galleries and media galleries (posting mp2 & mp3 tracks for download and eventually super short RealMedia video clips that took forever to download). AniPike was also how I found the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers Mailing List (YSTML). On the mailing list is where I started writing fanfiction and participating in role playing stories we had started. After a few years, I started learning HTML to start my own websites which were general sites about anime fandoms I was in—never going so deep as to have a character shrine site or anything like that.
Because you found other fans running these sites, you could reach out to them and talk about the show and get to know them as actual people. Not like now with Facebook groups and pages where you’ll see something posted and scroll past it. Consciously, I know there’s another person on the other side of that equation, but there isn’t the same desire to reach out and say, “Hey, I like this thing, too!”
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was technically the comic book show where I really learned what anime was. That was a stark contrast of what comic cons are now: no one cosplayed. At all. It was a show centered around a dealer’s room; people came in, shopped, maybe met a few friends and left.
My first anime convention was when I was 15 at Anime Weekend Atlanta 4 in 1998. My sister, dad and a friend of mine got lost looking for registration and ran into a couple of girls dressed as Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. Not only were there cosplayers but as characters that weren’t on American TV yet!
I’d love to hear more about your first con! Anything you remember. My dad, sister, and I were used to comic book conventions; essentially a collector’s show that had vendors tables in a hotel ballroom and another cluster of tables that were essentially an artist alley—artist tables, fanzines, and publisher advertisements. It was a great way to kill a Saturday afternoon for a hobby we all enjoyed and my mom appreciated the peace and quiet of all of us gone. Through these shows was how I got exposed to anime outside of TV broadcasts and video rental shops. When I heard about an anime con, I kind of expected the same thing, so we went just for the one afternoon. The whole experience was a sensory overload: it was my first gathering of people who were into this Japanese cartoon thing and there were a couple hundred people there! Before the Pokemon and Toonami boom, fandom seemed small to me—consisting of either my immediate friends or web pages on the Internet—but this was a happy middle ground that made fandom seem a lot less lonely. There weren’t a lot of costumes—the Outer Senshi, a Lum (which was probably Ippongi BANG) a troupe of Inner Senshi & Tuxedo Mask, and a few others—which is probably the biggest difference from a convention now.
We went expecting there just to be this dealer’s show where we’d look around and shop but there was lots of stuff to do like video rooms and panel programming that was just so engrossing to me. We ended up staying and watching the AMV contest which was a part of fandom I didn’t even know existed. After watching that, I knew that the next year I’d want to go all three days of the convention and not miss a minute.
What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Early on in my fandom, the biggest shows I was a fan of were Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, and Dragon Ball Z. I expressed that fandom through talking to others, essentially evangelizing the shows, and doing quite a bit of fan art (some of it was alright, most of it was garbage) and writing some fanfiction. From there I grew into other shows—Bubblegum Crisis, Macross, Gundam, and Rurouni Kenshin being some other ones I am super-into – but expression of fandom became more about the creators and staff of the shows and looking at what else they did. Thanks to Gundam, I would up being a big fan of Sunrise studio, so often I would watch a show for no other reason than being animated at/by Sunrise. I also went down that road of “Let’s Learn Japanese for Anime & Manga,” and despite a couple of pit stops, I did okay with it but not quitting a day job any time soon. Now I prefer to express my fandom by sharing—whether writing in a blog or talking about a show on a podcast or hosting panels at conventions. I’ve moved away from fan art and fanfiction but still like connecting with other fans over a show by being able to have a conversation about it.
In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest shift I have seen in my experience is that anime fandom now is a part of an overall nerd culture. Parts of it have hit a mainstream stride—characters like Son Goku or Pikachu are recognized right along with Captain Kirk and Spiderman. Going to conventions now, the attendees are demonstrating equal love for all sorts of things—video games, American comics, television shows, etc.—right along with Japanese cartoons. In a way, it seems like anime has lost its specialness because it’s consumed just like everything else but on the other hand, it was kinda what we were hoping for all those decades ago. Anime needed its own unique place to get the word out and once it was out, it grew to be fairly mainstream and just another media to be consumed.
Drew can be reached on Twitter.