#54: John

Age: 50

Location: Canberra

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Initially through Robotech on Saturday morning TV in Perth in the mid-’80s, then as part of the early members of JAFWA.

What was it like to be part of the JAFWA in the early days? How often did you meet? How did you participate? In the very earliest days JAFWA met in a Church hall and screened on 3 TVs hooked together to one VCR. In the earliest days we sometimes didn’t even have fansubs, and would watch with a synopsis someone wrote up and handed out. I watched a chunk of Gall Force that way, and also Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. We met weekly, except for the first Saturday of the month, and eventually got big enough to hire a lecture theatre at the University of Western Australia. I basically went most weeks, and helped out by running the loaner library.

A former JAFWA fansub in John’s collection. This loaner video was pulled from circulation when Fushigi Yuugi got an official US release.

Later on as JAFWA grew in size to about 100 or more attending every week, I helped the group incorporate and drafted the constitution for doing so. Well, for values of “drafted” equal to “stole the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation’s Constitution and filed the serial numbers off.” Not that WASFF minded; they even helped me do it. 😄

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Continuity: when things happened, they mattered. There wasn’t the Big Red Reset switch of Star Trek.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In the west? Robotech or Star Blazers. In Japan I’m not sure—Patlabor was getting started then, Dirty Pair had finished, Urusei Yatsura would probably have been close to its peak.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Challenging. When you’re looking at a 6-12 month wait to get a 5th generation VHS fansub you learn to be patient.

Could you elaborate on this entire VHS situation? Was a 5th gen VHS tape still watchable? Did you trade tapes? Once there were enough fansubs coming through, and people wanted to catch up on previously screened material, JAFWA started running a loaner library of fansubs using converted videos. Australia uses the PAL system, and most of the fansub supply coming through was on NTSC (Never Twice Same Colour). We needed to do the conversions because NTSC-capable VCRs were pretty rare in Australia in the early 90s, and pretty pricey. I think mine cost around $1,000 then. After that I’d run a simple card system to check the copies in and out.

I did a lot of the copies/conversions for these—I had custody of an NTSC-PAL converter and a couple of VCRs that I would use to run yet another generation of copy, and then another member would print labels for the boxes. We’d pull the tapes from circulation once a title got licensed, we were pretty big on encouraging the commercial market and stopping fansub distribution at that point. So I ended up with a lot of the old loaner library tapes, and I’ve attached a couple of quick images to show how we were presenting them.

A warning on a JAFWA fansub.

As for whether the copies were watchable, well, that was debatable. 😄 It did tend to encourage support for the commercial market even at the brutal prices of $60 US for a couple of episodes, and I even ended up buying commercial laser discs long before I had a player. A lot of local fans were in the same boat, so that converter I mentioned earlier got a fairly heavy workout making PAL copies of NTSC commercial tapes for local playback.

There was some tape trading going on, but I wasn’t involved in that, I was mostly supporting the committee in other ways.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Not really. A couple of the JAFWA founders went to AnimeCon ’91 and established fan sub group connections but that was most of it.

How big was AnimeCon ’91? I’m honestly not sure, but I vaguely recall it being well over a 1,000 attendees. It did have a really cool opening video set to Dvorak’s 9th Symphony “From the New World” and it’s been one of my favourite pieces ever since.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first convention was SwanCon ’11 in Perth. I go back to Perth every year for SwanCon but that’s mostly for the gaming room and to catch up with old friends. That’s what SwanCon is like, and has been like for me for, well, decades now. 😄

How big was SwanCon back then? What kinds of activities were there? 
SwanCon’s been pretty stable in size over the years, figure on attendance in the 2-300 range each year. It can get bigger if we get a major name guest like Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman, but that’s where it usually sits. SwanCon was a pretty strict literary SF convention in the mid-80s when I started going, but started evolving after that. By the 90s there was a fairly decent gaming stream (that I ran in 1991 on the SwanCon 16 committee), and it started branching out into other media. This included running a video stream that ran 24 hours at some conventions. This introduced a lot of people to anime, particularly the standards like Ranma ½ or Vampire Princess Miyu. At a couple of these the Video Committee would each take a midnight to dawn slot to program as they saw fit. I did “Not all dubs are Evil” that way one year, which must have been in the mid to late 90s since I would have relied on El Hazard for a lot of that. Meanwhile the regular SF con activities of panel discussions, banquets, and masquerades continued on their merry way. These days I mostly go to SwanCon to catch up with old friends and hang out in the gaming room, the video streams died off a while back because of copyright issues.

I found your blog and it said you originally blogged on LiveJournal. Were you part of the anime fan community on LJ? I actually didn’t start blogging because of anime at all—it was initially a journal to keep track of a cycling trip from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. So I wasn’t really part of the anime fan community on LJ at all. In fact it took a month and a half for my first ever anime review—Kamui no Ken—to appear on the blog.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between fandom then and now? Obviously the instant gratification of Crunchyroll is the biggest change, noting that CR doesn’t get Australian licenses for everything, and that AnimeLab doesn’t always fill the gaps. I’ve been hearing interesting things about Re:CREATORS, but it’s not streaming anywhere in Australia as far as I can tell, so I’m kind of out of luck there. On a secondary level is the still fairly successful DVD/BD markets with Australia having no less than three publishers going: Madman, Hanabee, Siren.

Between the two I mostly don’t bother with fansubs anymore, and certainly don’t download any. About the only exceptions are those hard to get shows that I might pick up occasionally when I visit a friend in Perth.

I try to buy local, but there are still times when I need to order overseas. I’m still dithering over it, but I’ll probably have to order the BDs for the Patlabor TV series in from the US because the market here isn’t big enough for Madman to do them (they did DVDs but I want BDs if I can get them). And, yes, I have a multiregion DVD/BD player, that was an essential requirement when I upgraded from the creaky old DVD/LD player (which I need to get repaired again).

Another difference is that I’m probably more involved in pure anime fandom now than I have been in a while. I’m only at the edges of Anitwitter but I’m doing panels regularly at GammaCon in Canberra, did a couple at SwanCon this year, and I’m doing one at Continuum this month.

John can be reached on Twitter.

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