When did you discover anime? Like most people in my age group, I discovered anime during the Pokemon boom. I didn’t get a Game Boy to play the Pokemon Blue videogame until a bit later, but I did have easy access to the trading cards and the TV show. While the show itself was grouped together among other Saturday morning cartoons, there was just a certain thing about Pokemon (besides its popularity) that told me it was different somehow. I already forget when exactly I heard the term used, but in no time, the show became synonymous with the term “anime” for me.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I was never into fantasy worlds with dragons, warlocks, and the like. However, when growing up, those types of worlds seemed to be the only option when it came to some kind of fictional escape from reality. Anime, on the other hand, didn’t seem to play by those rules. The lore of shows like Pokemon or Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball took from a different culture than other shows I watched at the time and as such felt like something less grounded in reality and that much more fun for it.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Pokemon by far. Unlike certain pop culture phenomena where its notoriety relied on how “American” the household itself was, Pokemon was known by absolutely everyone. You know something is big when your grandpa, whose didn’t primarily speak English, still knew what Pokemon was.
What language did your grandpa speak? How did you find out he knew about Pokemon? My grandpa primarily spoke Ilocano, which is a secondary language in the Philippines. He lived with my parents in order to help raise me and my sister, but once a year, he’d always go back to his home town in the Philippines during festival season and come back with souvenirs. One year, while he was back in the Philippines, my mom told me it would be nice to write and send him a letter. Alongside my letter, I ended up sending him a drawing—a copy of the first Pokemon movie poster, logo and all (I distinctly remember using the newspaper’s ad for the movie as a reference). Upon his arrival back in the states that year, he came back with a ton of Pokemon souvenirs—tin pencil boxes, a pocket mirror, folders, pencils all bright yellow with some markings to indicate it was in the style of Pokemon‘s Pikachu in some way or another. I’m sure the picture I drew him was enough of a lead to go off of to figure out if the area had any related merchandise.
Also, what did your family think of your interest in anime, especially as it continued into high school and beyond? My parents were never the type to discourage things I was interested in, even if anime did seem rather juvenile from their perspective. On occasion, they’d see me browsing online and chatting on anime forums or reading manga, but they never directly addressed it in one way or another. I think part of this was the cultural gap between myself and them. Both my parents grew up in the Philippines, so they’ve gotten used to seeing something they were unfamiliar with and being open to its entertainment value even if they didn’t necessarily “get it” themselves. I was clearly enjoying anime, and I never went as far as imitating the violence or develop a negative attitude from it, so they just let things be.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? While anime existed when I grew up, there were definitely shows that people would watch while still not considering themselves fans of anime. Those earlier shows were able to cross that barrier of “weird Japan” in a way that most anime still can’t do, simply because they were the first to do so (at least for that particular era). As such, I wouldn’t consider myself part of “anime fandom” until I was well into high school with shows like Naruto and Bleach.
By high school, there were a lot more shows readily available in America to the point that people (myself included) felt a bit more comfortable with being considered an “anime fan” rather than specifically a fan of one show. And while that lends to the misconception of anime being a genre over a medium, it does allow for people of similar interests to find each other. While I didn’t attend it religiously, I would attend my school’s anime club from time to time and be subject to its president’s pompous ramblings on what obscure anime deserved the highest praises over mainstream trash. It’s pretty much what today’s anime fandom experience is, honestly, except with a lot more torrenting and blank-disc-burning over internet streaming.
That sounds like a crappy situation. Did you have any other interactions with anime fans around that time, or were they all kind of like that? In general, I’ve kept my circle of friends small, making sure to weed out or just ignore anyone that had a “holier than thou” type of approach to their fandom, hence why I didn’t go to my high school’s anime club often, even in senior year when I knew the head honchos of the club. The people I interacted with on a regular enough basis to consider “friend” in high school were either more into videogames and simply tolerated my own anime-related ramblings (as I did their videogame ramblings), or was someone I considered an “equal” in fandom– someone with similar anime tastes and opinions as me. Slightly unrelated, but it’s for this same reason that I’ve hated going to comicbook shops– so many egos in such a concentrated space.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? While streaming wasn’t what it was today by a long shot (YouTube came around my sophomore year of high school. I remember the one “full episode” type of upload I saw was of a Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends episode.), people still had means of accessing anime online. Certain corners of the internet would provide access to torrenting anime illegally. And if you wanted to share a certain series with a friend, you’d have to transfer those episodes from your computer to a disc (read: Multiple discs. Dozens of discs.).
In terms of fandom within the internet, social media wasn’t nearly as prominent as it was today, either. So rather than twitter or tumblr which serve as a nice catch-all for multiple fandoms, at the time I resorted to online forums. Being a big Dragon Ball fan, I immediately discovered the wonderful community at daizex (currently named “Kanzenshuu“), so I never had the misfortune of having to deal with much in terms of vitriol-posters. [Editor’s note: Kanzenshuu’s web master has also submitted an Anime Origin Story.] Being primarily a “sub over dub” type of community, however, it did breed an air of know-it-all-snootiness, though I’d take that over an ignorant fan every time. To this day, I still keep up with a handful of those fellow forum-goers, though the conversation’s shifted over to Twitter.
Do you remember your first convention? Not specifically, but considering my location, it must have been Fanime during high school. I was dropped off by my parents and was immediately given a sensory overload. The dense concentration of nerds, specifically ANIME nerds, was both daunting and soothing, and I definitely took a lot more time wandering through the aisles of merchandise, sifting through what I could only find in small doses at comic shops and occasional Japantown trips before then.
I’m not much of a social person, however, so anime conventions have always felt like this giant oxymoron for me—so many anti-social people gathering together and socializing over this one very specific thing that’s treated as mainstream only within the confines of that building. Anime conventions, especially earlier ones I’ve attended, have been more for me to browse the merchandise in-person more than anything else.
Tell me about Japantown. What was it like discovering it as an anime fan? I grew up in the San Jose area, so I had the option of going to either the Japantown in San Jose or making the slightly longer trip to San Francisco. I never had a liking to American comic book shops just because there was so much ego involved with whoever ran the store. So to go to a shop in Japantown that was similar physically, but run so much more casually felt like a breath of fresh air. Seeing walls and display cases lined with Pokemon cards and figures where I couldn’t read any of the text on it since it was in Japanese felt so much more welcoming. I don’t specifically remember any of the store runners, but it was in this casual and quiet environment that I was able to better appreciate anime and further branch out into other things like figures and manga in the first place. The feeling was only multiplied when a mall closer by opened an Asian-exclusive hobby store.
As a self-described “not much of a social person,” how do you most often participate in anime fandom? I mainly do fan-art, but I also do manga/anime reviews on Fandom Post and have also done a piece on ANN a few months back. And in the case that freelancing doesn’t take any ideas I pitch, I end up just posting them on my personal blog.
For you, what’s the biggest difference between being an anime fan then and now? The biggest difference would have to be the library of what’s available to you. Even if you took some of the less seedy routes to get your anime fix back in the day, it would still be limited to what the distributors released. And at the time when I grew up, the majority of those were action-centric series, resulting in distributors playing catch-up and this strange wave of anime from the 80s and 90s ending up being the most readily available anime for consumption stateside (I remember Yu-Gi-Oh being announced in the states and thinking “oh, they’re trying to catch up by taking a chance on a newer show this time”). Now, there’s so many genres and subgenres released and available via streaming alone that the opposite problem has happened– America has finally caught up to what’s currently being released in Japan and anime fans have become far more picky as to what they want to consume. Lots of “sifting through the chaff to get to the wheat” types of moments are becoming more commonplace because there’s such an oversaturation of anime. It beats the alternative of not having enough and knowing there’s more out there, though.
Gabe can be reached on Twitter.