When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Weirdly enough, anime can be found scattered throughout my childhood. I can remember singing along to the theme song for Maya the Honey Bee on Nick Jr. I can remember getting completely absorbed by Sailor Moon during junior high. I watched Pokemon not because of the games (which I somehow was completely unaware of), but because I thought Pikachu was cute and Team Rocket was funny. Despite that, I wasn’t aware that these shows were part of some larger thing—I just though they were just another sort of cartoon.
I wasn’t really aware of anime as this separate, larger thing until 2010, when I was well into my 20s. For that, I have Jacob Chapman to thank, back when he was making video reviews as Jesuotaku. I started watching his reviews simply out of curiosity but his analysis made me curious about a number of the shows he reviewed. Eventually, my curiosity was too great, and I can clearly remember going to Best Buy and mentally debating for something like five minutes over whether to pick up Romeo x Juliet or Ouran High School Host Club. I went with the latter, loved it to pieces, and never looked back.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’ve always loved animation in all forms, but anime simply told different stories and looked different from the Western animation I was used to. It was more ambitious in some ways and way more friendly to both older viewers and to women.
How did you find anime to be friendly to older viewers and women? I don’t know if anime itself was necessarily all that friendly to older folk and women at the time. Manga fandom was a different story. Both then and now, it’s always skewed toward an older and more feminine audience so I fit in right away. I was able to find plenty of interesting articles and critics to follow and learn from, especially since it was so easy to discover new voices thanks to the popularity of Manga Moveable Feasts. They were these regular events where a particular blog would host all sorts of articles around a particular series or mangaka and they were a veritable cornucopia of interesting insights and reviews. Sadly, the manga blog scene has died down since then, but I look back at that time fondly and it’s part of the reason I started writing my own reviews in the first place.
As for anime, the fandom at the time was largely centered around forums. I didn’t really enjoy larger ones like the ANN forums because the conversation was so repetitive, shallow, and sometimes juvenile. I didn’t really find a sense of community until I found a smaller fan forum where some of the posters would host regular stream nights. These became the equivalent of must-see TV for me as I would chat with the regulars while we watched half a dozen episodes of some scheduled series along with shorts, AMVs, random Youtube videos, even clips of joshipuri wrestling [female pro wrestling in Japan]. It wasn’t exactly legal, but anime streaming was only just becoming a thing in those days and this format felt more personal and personable than simply marathoning shows on Hulu by myself. We came from all over the country, if not the world, and ranged in age widely, but that didn’t matter in the chat so long as you have interesting conversation or a few jokes to make. Some of those regulars are still online friends of mine and I talk with them on Twitter on the regular.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? 2010 was not a great time for anime, considering that so many shows were going out of print and streaming was in its infancy. I think the biggest show at the time was Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as far as visibility and sales.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It’s weird that I got into this fandom at a time when it was most decidedly on the decline. That awkwardness could be felt on the anime forums where I hung out. There was more than a bit of pining for the glory days of the boom years, frustration with the lack of quality titles (and thus, the proliferation of piracy), but still some hope and plenty of discussion.
Could you go into detail about the decline you perceived? 2010 was a bad time for both the anime and manga industry. Those few companies that survived the recession in one piece were simply trying to stabilize things and that wouldn’t start truly turning around until Bandai shut down not too long after. The manga scene was in even poorer shape and that wouldn’t come to a head until the next year when Borders shut down and Tokyopop followed them shortly thereafter.
I was largely oblivious to this at the time because I was still trying to learn as much as I could about this strange new world of fandom. There were so many shows for me to catch up on, so many books to read, and so much history I wanted to learn and understand. I didn’t have the same frame of reference that others did. I didn’t really grasp that things were not in great shape until the 1-2 punch of Borders and Tokyopop. I had only just started collecting manga at the time, but I remember being awed by their selection. I couldn’t have known at the time that those long aisles full of books were just about to go away. The Tokyopop shutdown was the first real big fandom event that sticks out in my mind, even if the biggest impact for me personally was that it might affect my ability to finish getting the full run of Fruits Basket. It’s only in retrospect that I can look back at that time and realize just how diminished it was compared to even two or three years later.
So it’s not still on the decline, in your opinion? Oh no, not at all. If anything, it’s the healthiest it’s been in years. Streaming and simulcasting breathed new life into it and made anime more accessible than it ever was before. As for manga, it took the publishers a little longer to gather themselves up and start rethinking their approaches, but they found the big crossover hits and license rescues they needed to succeed. If anything, the manga world is entering into some interesting and unprecedented ground. We’re seeing publishers takes risks again and dabble in genres they wouldn’t have even during the boom years of the 2000s. It’s a brave new world out there in manga, and I for one am eager to see just where it goes.
As a fan who got into anime later, did you ever feel unwelcome or like you needed to study in order to grasp people’s comments and jokes? I may have been late to anime and manga, but I had been online for many years and had floated around the edges of some of the major fandoms of the 2000s. I’ve also always been the sort of person who tends to read voraciously and likes to learn as much about any new interest as much and as fast as possible. As such, it didn’t take me too long to adapt to anime and manga fandom.
How did becoming an anime and manga blogger change your participation in fandom? I learned how to better express myself and to really articulate what made the works I consumed good, bad, or something in between. Ever since I was a kid, I was the sort of person to savor the media I loved by myself instead of sharing it with others. I knew in my own mind what I liked or didn’t like, but that approach meant I was never really called upon to explain or defend those preferences to others. By writing reviews, I learned to exercise those underused portions of my mind and to hone my writing skills to best express them. Of course, critique is like potato chips: once you start, you can’t stop. I couldn’t apply these critical skill to the manga I read and not do the same for the shows I watched. I might not always enjoy every show I watch or book I read, but I feel like I get more out of it regardless because I can explain what does or does not work instead of settling for “this was good/bad/ok/whatever”.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime and manga fandom then and anime and manga fandom today? The biggest difference between anime and manga fandom then and now is how instantaneous and free-form things are now. When I started, those fandoms were largely contained within forums and blogs. It was possible to forge communities within those spaces, but it was more limited and distant. Now it’s so much easier to connect thanks to social media and simulcasting. Just through Twitter, I’ve met people and learned things that I would have never known or encountered otherwise. The fandom also feels more lively since shows can be watched as they premiere in real time and you can watch the conversation grow and evolve with it live.
Unlike a lot of my peers, I didn’t know any anime or manga fans growing up because I grew up in such a small, rural community. I didn’t get to enjoy things like anime clubs in high school or college. I didn’t attend a con until I was 30. I wasn’t even aware of things like DVD releases of shows I knew as a kid (which is good, because college-aged me would have spent too much money on those old Sailor Moon boxsets had I known they existed). The online part of anime and manga fandom is essentially all I’ve ever known of it. It’s added so many people to my life that I might not have ever known otherwise, to say nothing of the boxsets and books it’s added to my shelves. It’s given me outlets I would have never considered. It’s added so much color to my life that it’s hard to imagine what what my everyday life would be like without it. I may have been a late comer to the fandom, but I’ve never regretted a single minute of it.