Location: Washington, DC
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Like many ’90s kids, I started off with Pokemon and Digimon, but back then I didn’t even really consider or know that it was a Japanese product. It was only until I watched Spirited Away for the first time and watched the extras that I understood what anime actually was. Shortly after I came across Fullmetal Alchemist, happily bought all 13 volumes for $25 a pop, and the rest is history.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The stories were so different than the American media (mainly games, TV shows, and comics) I consumed that I couldn’t stop watching. Especially coming to FMA during my last year in middle school, it was my first introduction to cartoons that went deep into adult themes, conflicts, and ideas. So perhaps a part of it was being drawn to something that was a little more “adult.”
You’re one of many to say you were interested in anime’s “adult” themes. But can you elaborate on what that means to you, ideally with examples? When I speak about “adult” themes, I have two examples I can give. The first is the original Fullmetal Alchemist series during the Ishvalan War arc. When it was released, the wars going on in the middle east were still pretty fresh. Being able to watch one of those episodes, change to any major news network channel and see scenes of the wars going on really stuck with me at the time. Of course, there have been and continue to be series that cover current events (war or not), but FMA was the first series where I experienced that direct parallel. And when you’re a young teenager just starting to develop your tastes and ideas about the world, I think it was pretty pivotal. Another example is Welcome to the NHK, which goes really deep into issues of depression, the value of friendships, and dealing with growing up. Granted I was midway through high school when the series came out, but Welcome to the NHK was one of my first series with more relatable adult themes that made me evaluate my own life and relationships.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Absolutely FMA and Inuyasha. Basically anything that was on Toonami or Adult Swim around the 2005 era.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I feel like a part of it was the beginning (some say golden age) of forum fandom. Everyone had their particular website, and their online screen name or persona. Around that time Gaia Online was huge, so being a part of fandom also meant having your dumb little avatar as well.
Please tell me what it was like to be on Gaia Online. (I have never been on it, so go into detail!) Gaia Online was definitely a strange place in retrospect. It was a forum that allowed you to customize an avatar with special monthly items. However all of those items were heavily influenced by anime/manga/games, but they got around any copyright stuff by being non-specific. For example when Naruto was a big hit, they released a bunch of ninja-related items—one of them being the signature headbands—but without any of the symbols from the show. Everyone I knew ate. it. up. At the end of the day, everyone was just trying to make their avatar look as close to their favorite character as possible. (And if you paid up, you probably could!) The people behind the site knew their audience for sure. From there it was basically an all-purpose forum with fan discussions/convention talk/cosplay how to’s/role playing. I actually met a lot of my earliest convention friends through the site.
How did you participate in fandom at the time? Funny enough, the way I mostly participated with fandom was staffing at cons. My senior year of high school, I started staffing for Anime Iowa and, long story short, the Programming Head couldn’t go that year and I took up the role. While I was still only a few years into the actual fandom at that time, I really dove headfirst into organizing the events people went to in the first place!
How did you connect with other fans? This answer definitely flows from the previous, but I connected with other fans through the convention scene. My home con for a long time was a ~3,000 person event out of Iowa. With a con that small, it was really easy to make friends and connections, and I still keep in touch with a lot of the people I met there. Some of those connections got me to go staff at other cons around the country as well.
Did anime inspire you to learn Japanese and become a translator? Oh, absolutely. My path to learning Japanese definitely started with wanting to learn what the shows were saying, but once I started taking it seriously in college, anime-comprehension became much more of a secondary reason. I was lucky enough to have professors who introduced much more broad aspects of the culture, so while I still watched shows and tried reading raw manga, I learned real fast not to rely on my nerdy media as a sole means of practice. I’ve heard similar stories, but classmates in my Japanese 101 classes who were only there out of their love of anime dropped real fast.
Do you remember your first anime convention? Can you tell me about it? God bless my mother, but for my first con we drove all the way from Northern Illinois to Des Moines for Anime Iowa in 2005. After the friend I planned to meet bailed, I was by myself for the entire weekend. I remember that’s where I saw Bleach for the first time and thinking it was the coolest thing I ever saw. I’ll always remember the Naruto dub premiering on Toonami that weekend too. I actually had no idea what Naruto was at the time, but the atmosphere was pure hatred because of the “Believe it!” catchphrase and it being at the height of the “dub v. sub” argument. I took a photo of a sign in the lobby that said “BOYCOTT THE US NARUTO DUB” with a bunch of signatures, but unfortunately that photo is lost to time. I actually went back up to my room that night, watched the two episodes that premiered, and it quickly became one of my favorite series.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Outside of not having to pay $25 for single DVDs anymore, for me the biggest contrast between fandom then and now is the increased visibility and role of female fans. Of course there have always been anime fans who are women, and maybe it was just my perception at the time, but for a while it felt like series for women were “Shojo Beat adaptations” or “Yaoi.” (I am really happy those paddles are not a thing anymore.)
Now it’s pretty well known that the majority of Shonen Jump readers are women, and in general I think everyone enjoys the hits together more. The most in-depth discussions I’ve had about shonen-sports series (Haikyuu!! and Yowamushi Pedal specifically) have been with women, which I don’t think would have been such a thing 10+ years ago. Certainly a welcome change in my book.
Kyle can be reached on Twitter.