Location: Dallas, Texas
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Technically when I was around five or six with things like Unico, Galaxy Express, and Warriors of the Wind at video stores, and watching repeats of Speed Racer with my dad on TV. It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 when I discovered stuff like this was “Japanese animation” and that was why I liked it so much. With the Sailor Moon/Dragon Ball boom in ’95, I got more into tape trading & fandom type things like cons. I’ve been buying and watching since.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The art styles were nothing like what I’d seen before, and there were more sci-fi/fantasy bends to stories, which I really enjoyed.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? When I first started collecting it, there wasn’t really much of a “fandom” in my area. I occasionally ran into other fans at comic conventions (my main source of getting tapes at first), sometimes at the comic store. It wasn’t until the mid ’90s when I started pen-paling that I really communicated with other fans. (This was after I published my address in a comic pen pal column saying I was looking for friends who liked anime as well.) We’d talk about our favorites, trade tapes and small merch like trading cards & stickers, etc. This was long before having the Internet & chatting online was common. It was basically the snail mail equivalent to that.
Tell me about tape trading. Did it cost money? How did you get tapes you could trade? Tape trading varied to whoever it was you were trading with and what you were trading. Sometimes I traded tapes with friends—this was the easiest, of course. We’d write up lists of what anime VHS we owned… I was VERY thorough & would include info on the condition of the tape, what “generation” it was (i.e. if it was a copy of a copy, something taped off TV, or a store-bought copy), etc. We’d buy blank tapes, choose what we wanted the other to copy, hook the VCRs together, and make copies for each other.
If I was trading tapes with a pen pal, it went pretty similarly; only we’d mail each other the tapes, which of course added to the cost. And sometimes I’d trade tapes with people I’d see on BBS boards or mailing lists who’d post their lists of tapes they had. If I didn’t have anything they’d want to trade, most would offer to send me a copy of something if I sent them a few bucks for a tape & the cost of postage. (Of course, there were a few times that money would be sent and I’d never receive anything. This was the dangers we had to face in the pre-Paypal era of sending cash or money orders through the mail… no guarantee or safety net if it got lost in the mail or someone just decided to keep your money.)
The tapes I started with were either things I recorded off of TV, things I bought either retail or at comic conventions & comic shops, or things I had rented and made copies of. For years, one of the standard things my parents would give me as gifts were blank VHS tapes, because they knew I’d use them! (I know that might sound ridiculous, but the cost of tapes added up quickly!)
Tell me more about pen paling. What magazine let you do this? Who were your pen pals and where were they? Are you still in touch? Many of the anime/manga related magazines would let you publish your address if you were interested in having people write to you who were also anime fans! Animerica, Mangazine, and I believe Protoculture Addicts all had pen pal sections or would include them in their Letters from Readers sections. Back in the day of American Monthly-style manga releases, Dark Horse & Viz often had letters sections in the backs of their more popular titles (similar to old Marvel or DC comics) and would also publish your address for pen pals if you requested it. I wrote to many people this way all over the US, and even in other parts of the world like the UK, Spain, and Italy!
Most of my pen pals were girls close to my age or a little older, too—I only had maybe two or three male pen pals. Many of us wrote to each other, so we were all kind of networked, too, because it was so hard for some people to find local fans to talk to and geek out with. At one point, I had nearly 100 pen pals, if you can believe it! But nowadays, I only still keep in contact with maybe 20 or so, though we now keep in contact via the internet. (Though a few of them still write me letters, too!)
One of my favorite memories of pen paling with other anime fans was that when Sailor Moon was originally canceled the first time, many of my friends asked if I knew how the end of the season (what was Sailor Moon R) went. I had managed to get fansubs of it, so I hand wrote detailed notes of the last few episodes for my friends who couldn’t afford to trade tapes. Word got around that I had the lowdown on Sailor Moon knowledge, so others asked for explanations as well… I got so tired of re-writing them over and over again that I ended up writing it one more time & making multiple photocopies to send to people just to save time. (This was before I had access to a computer & printer, obviously!)
What were comic conventions like back then? The comic conventions I went to in the ’90s were definitely super small affairs that would probably be laughable compared to the ones people go to now. Three banquet halls in a DoubleTree Inn: one for vendors, one for special guests (usually comic artists or inkers, sometimes a writer or a voice actor who was known for comic-related cartoons), and then another sectioned off into video rooms (i.e. a tube TV with a VCR on a cart with about 10 folding chairs in front of it), with maybe one or two lonely TVs for random anime or tokusatsu showings. The untranslated stuff would either have an accompanied printed paper script passed out to people so they could “follow along”, or the person showing it would stand there while it played and gave a play-by-play narration (which was kind of sketchy at best).
Sometimes in the “dealers room”, you’d be lucky and find someone who’d have bootleg VHS of random anime, almost ALWAYS untranslated (sometimes it’d just be something randomly recorded off of Japanese TV, commercials and all!). Every once in a while you’d also find someone who had a relative who got stationed in Japan in the army or navy & picked up a bunch of random toys or stickers to sell, for ridiculously high prices because it was “imported” and “rare.” Back then I was still keeping current with American comics alongside manga and anime, though, so I always enjoyed going to these and scouring the area for any anime stuff that looked cool.
Today you run the Anime Nostalgia Podcast. What captivates you about anime back then? Growing up, I gravitated towards anime because it seemed so much more imaginative than the usual stuff I’d watch. The art styles were usually a bit different, which made them intriguing, and there were movies or shows that featured young girls or women as the main characters. There was also a lot of really neat sci-fi stories being made, too, which I was also very interested in. While anime still has most of that going for it today, there’s something to be said about HOW these older things were made. You can’t replicate the look of ink and paint on celluloid with a computer…I mean, you can TRY, but it’s just never going to look exactly the same. Watching something like the Galaxy Express 999 movie, The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, Robot Carnival, Gunbuster, or Akira… there was a team of people who painted all of those frames, bit by bit, and there’s an aesthetic there that’s very difficult to capture with modern technology. I hate to romanticize it because I’m definitely not saying modern animators today don’t work hard (because they DO, a little TOO hard, really!), but there’s something almost awe-inspiring about seeing a giant mecha transform on screen without the help of a 3D modeling computer program. These were the things that people working today were watching that inspired THEM to work in the industry, not to mention stuff like this inspired a whole generation world-wide, not just in Japan, to write their own stories, or become animators or storyboard artists or character designers.
Every era of anime has their gems, and I love sharing these older things with new fans because they get to see it with fresh eyes for the first time. That’s part of the magic of anime, and why it’s so fun to share things with others. There’s always something you haven’t seen yet, just waiting to be uncovered and loved for the first time.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The most obvious difference is definitely accessibility. It felt like there were less anime fans back in the day because the threshold for becoming one wasn’t very easy to jump over. If you wanted anime, you had to find it, and it wasn’t easily gotten for most people. If you didn’t have a local video store that carried any, you had to seek it out either through mail order or comic stores. There wasn’t much anime on TV for free, and the ones that were were famously edited or changed, and you just had to deal with it. Before the internet, if you wanted fansubs of something, you had to wait YEARS for something to be translated & available, and you’d have to order it through snail mail. Now you can get anime pretty much everywhere, and even watch things for free online with ads on various streaming sites. Anyone can get into anime in a single afternoon, and have years worth of anime at their fingertips, which is pretty convenient!
It’s also SO INCREDIBLY EASY to find almost all the information you’d want to know about an anime series, who produced it, the creators, the voice actors, the designers, the animators… I remember poring over Japanese magazines like Newtype and Animage, learning specific people’s names in kanji so I could look for them and see what else they were doing. Every tidbit of information fans could find was worth their weight in gold; and once Geocities took off, fansites were sometimes our only source of info for things (and sometimes it’d just be someone giving their best guesses).