Location: New York, New York
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. As the age outlier for your project, I hope my tale will prove amusing. My first experience with anime was in 1967, with Astro Boy. Growing up on a balanced diet of Disney and 1930s cartoons, there was something about this little robot with the squeaky feet that captivated me. There was quite the hiatus between that initial moment and the 1980s, when I was again able to connect with anime.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The character of Astro Boy was appealing, but the sci-fi setting completed the deal. The whole package was so different from the anthropomorphous animals or traditional folktale villains from “regular” cartoons! And, perhaps, being at the liminal stage of entering adolescence may have made me more vulnerable to Astro Boy‘s quest for identity.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? None other [than Astro Boy]—he reigned supreme.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? There was no real fandom, as you can imagine. This was the Dawn of Time, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and watched mostly The Flintstones.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Internet? Computers? Those were part of the sci-fi stories we all loved to read and daydream about.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My generation, alas, was not much for conventions. I also did not grow up in the U.S., so another strike against being part of that subculture.
Where did you grow up, and when did you come to the US? I was born in the Dominican Republic, but after a civil war there my family moved temporarily to Puerto Rico, where I came across anime in the form of Astroboy. As I said, that was 1967.
I first came to the US in 1978, to work on my B.A. in Latin American Studies.
There was a gap between your interest in Astro Boy in 1967, and rediscovering anime in the ’80s. Can you talk about rediscovering anime? The gap between 1967 and the 1980s was due to my going back to the DR for several years, then going to college (a couple of years in the DR, then a couple more in the US), and then taking some time to start a family. Once my daughter was a toddler, I went back to anime as a source of “comfort food” for my soul. In the ’80s all forms of visual culture became more accessible through VHS/Beta tapes, and even some laser discs.
I started attending film school (Columbia College in Chicago), taking animation classes, hanging out with animators. This was the crowd that introduced me to fandom, a concept that had not existed when I was growing up in the Caribbean. Back then it was mostly an individual viewing experience; by the 1980s it had become more of a network if only because no single person could afford to find/own the tapes that were available either through legitimate or under-the-table means. You really needed a group of people who would travel, exchange, copy, invest so as to have a “lending library” that all of us could enjoy.
Back then we survived on strong helpings of Miyazaki, Matsumoto, and more Tezuka. Monster movies would fill in the gaps.
Some of my friends in that crowd would attend comic-cons and other cons, but unfortunately I was too busy and too strapped for cash to be able to take the time to do so. Internet didn’t become a reality until much later, so chatrooms were not part of the picture. Everything was more of a socializing in small group structure – we would have viewing parties, especially when someone from the group would travel to Japan (or Europe) and bring back new tapes and discs. Often we would rely on a couple of Japanese friends to roughly translate as we were watching, since these were not subbed titles.
How would you characterize your experience as an anime fan today? My current day experience as an anime fan is rather peculiar. I am now in my sixties, but I continue to watch inordinate amounts of anime. I follow favorite directors, keep a hawk eye on Anichart to figure out my seasonal viewing schedule, read reviews (Anime Feminist first, then ANN – no others), and am always ready to blather on about anime to anyone who’ll put up with me. I am fortunate that there are enough fans where I work (at a university with an Asian Studies program), so there’s always fresh blood. Many of my students are fans and they get a thrill from being able to talk about their favorites with one of their professors, who takes them seriously! Plus, they will sometimes alert me to titles I might have dissed at first glance (Xam’d Lost Memories, looking right at you).
While I have your attention, I wanted to share my beautiful fandom experience in Cuba. One would not expect a poor, socialist country to have any such outlet – but they do!!! Some of my students there (I’ve been going every year, couple of times a year, for over two decades now) love anime (One Piece, Naruto, but also some of the short-run series) even though it’s devilishly hard to get. There’s this thing called “The Package,” which is nothing more than an external hard drive that gets circulated every Wednesday with hours of content from Florida TV. You can also request content from “providers” – people who travel or have family in the U.S. and download entire series.
And there’s cosplay nights at some night clubs! Capitalism has won the battle, alas, but when it comes to anime I feel less bad.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? I think the biggest difference has come about in the way people interact because of the changes in technology. Obviously, duh, we didn’t have so much as videotapes back in the mid-sixties, much less the internet. Being able to tweet, having access to so much streaming content, podcasts, blogs, connecting to fans all around the globe – these are things that would have smacked of science fiction (sorry, alternate reality or whatever) Back In My Day, as any good grandma should say. I mean, look at how Cubans have formed a solid fandom network in spite of all the drawbacks in their economy! They were not able to do that up until five years ago, when the government allowed some access to the internet. Yeah, technology has made a huge difference in fandom over the decades as far as I can see.
The other aspect that I think has changed a great deal is in the gender relations within fandom. I don’t have to establish cred as a fan just because I’m female, which I got a lot back then (up to the early 1980s).
Were there always female fans, but they just weren’t accepted? Or are there more female anime fans now? I can’t make claims for the number of female fans having increased. I have no way of knowing that, really, since I’m not attending cons and I don’t have a group of friends who can be considered fans who might give me that insight. I was thinking more along the lines of (back in the 1970s and 1980s) female fans in my crowd not being considered “hard-core” because we had other interests, not just anime. If you only cosplayed for Halloween or Mardi Gras, you weren’t a “true” fan; if you only dressed up as certain characters, if you didn’t own figurines or make models, that sort of thing, you would be part of the group but just not accepted as one of the guys.
The same group that I hung out with for watching anime or going to cons back then was also the group that I would play a made-up variation of D&D with, and god forbid that one of us “girls” wanted to create some original character! There would be grumbling, and the “Master” would verbally pat us on the head and tell us to be content with being Emeraldas or Maeter or some such.
Anyway, these same guys slowly came around as we women just did as we pleased or made their lives difficult!
BTW, my daughter grew up around all of this and is to this day a huge anime nerd. I’m so proud of her.
Did you introduce your daughter to anime? Do you watch anime together now, and if so, which shows? Yes, I introduced her to anime. The first things she watched were, obviously, Nausicaä and Totoro. But we went from there to all sorts of other shows: Ranma 1/2, Fushigi Yugi, Bubblegum Crisis, Unico, etc. We both loved watching Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon when she was older.
Nowadays we both work a lot, so we tend to have less time to watch together. But most recently we’ve watched Tamako Market, Nozaki-kun, Tonari no Seki-kun, we rewatched Inuyasha, and I forget what all else!
We sometimes will watch stuff independently and just exchange impressions, but whatever she sees and likes will be a sure hit with me – and vice versa. Our tastes dovetail perfectly.
Daisy can be reached on Twitter.