Location: San Francisco Bay Area
When did you discover anime? I grew up watching anime on TV, and while I could tell it was Japanese from all the names in the credits, I didn’t know it was a specific thing called “anime.” I watched stuff like Captain Harlock, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z, Macron 1, Robotech, and all those animated versions of fairytales they’d show on Nickelodeon.
I first got into anime (or “Japanimation”) as a specific thing in high school in 1991. The movie theater at the nearby university was showing a double feature of Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Vampire Hunter D. Both were subtitled. While I actually laughed more at D than Lupin, I thought both were great, and from that point on, I made an effort to find and watch whatever anime I could. The pickings were slim. I could find stuff like Clash of the Bionoids and Warriors of the Wind at local video stores, along with random tentacle things. I also found some anime for rent at a local comic shop, where I managed to watch stuff like Gall Force and later on, Ranma 1/2. I even rented random raw anime from a local Japanese video store.
When I started college in 1992, I saw flyers for the University Anime Club, and I finally managed to join in in 1993. I stayed in the club as a full time member and later as an officer through 1997, and then returned as a regular member again from 2001-2007.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I liked how a lot of it had fantasy and sci-fi elements. Fun stories with young characters. Things I couldn’t really find much of in the fiction and US comics I was reading at the time. (These days, the YA fiction boom covers a lot of what I was missing at the time.)
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Akira or Ranma 1/2.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt a bit odd at first because there weren’t really many girls into it at the time. I’d go to a convention in 1995, and it was definitely mostly guys.
Also, my university’s club was huge. In its heyday in the mid-late ’90s, we’d have 200+ people show up for weekly screenings because the Club was really the only place to see anime beyond the same half-dozen tapes at the video store.
And screenings were different because much of the time in the early days, things were not subtitled so we’d watch with a flyer that had a description of the action. Eventually more things were fansubbed, and Club members with connections got their hands on them and shared the loot. The Club had a huge library of VHS tapes, both raw and fansubbed, that members could check out for a week. So the Club was the place to be, even for all the unsocial nerds, lol. I could chat with people who liked the same things and learn about new shows. As time went on, and the anime selection at video stores increased and the internet made anime more freely available, Club attendance decreased because it wasn’t the only option anymore.
Being a girl in a mostly male space—what was that like? did you ever feel like an outsider? Why do you think anime fandom was so male? I don’t think I really felt like an outsider. Maybe an oddity occasionally at first, but female fandom sort of exploded once Sailor Moon hit, so things changed after that.
A reason the fandom at the time might have skewed more male is because, at least for me locally, the only place I could really find anime stuff at first was my local comic shop, which already skewed male. And a lot of early titles we got were pretty violent: wholesome things like Urotsukidoji, Wicked City, and whatnot. But things like Rumiko Takahashi series had a wider appeal, and then anime started appearing in regular video stores, and then manga started appearing in regular book stores, and so the audience expanded.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was a part of fandom in the form of newsgroups like rec.arts.anime or bulletin boards. Later on there were chat rooms and IRC . Eventually, web pages appeared, and anime fans made tons of fan sites (myself included!) on places like Geocities and you could find all of them through the Anime Web Turnpike. General fansites connected via webrings and top site lists, then collective web pages, then blogs. I think Wikipedia probably killed the concept of the anime fan site, since I don’t see passionate fans really making those sites anymore. Now it’s mostly Wikipedia, news sites, and review blogs.
Tell me about your sites! Are any still up? I made a bunch of anime and manga fan sites, starting in around 1996 or so. I have kept several of them online, though they are kind of painful to look at now, and I only make sporadic attempts to update them.
Currently some of my fansites are for:
- Cowboy Bebop http://www.futureblues.com
- Ashita no Nadja http://niko-niko.net/nadja
- Hana yori Dango http://niko-niko.net/hana
- HanaKimi(For You in Full Blossom) http://niko-niko.net/hanakimi
- Random Shoujo Manga http://shoujo-manga.land
- Mizuiro Jidai http://niko-niko.net/mizuiro
- Fun Fun Factory http://piffleprincess.com/fun
- Miwa Sakai Fansite http://piffleprincess.com/
- Tachibana Kaim Fansite http://niko-niko.net/kaim
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first anime convention was Project Z-kon in January 1995. It was an attempt at making a winter version of A-Kon, but I guess it never took off. It was tiny, maybe only a couple hundred people attended. I had fun though. I went for one day. The dealer’s room had about 6 tables, but I still managed to get a P-chan plush from Ranma 1/2, Macross Plus OST 1, and a Dragon Half CD, so I was happy! It was my first time seeing anime merchandise for sale! My fist big convention was A-Kon 6, later that summer. Maybe 1500 people attended that time, and it was also great fun. The masquerade had entertaining skits, and I was just so amazed to see all the anime merchandise for sale. Lots of bootleg CDs though. I learned quickly how to spot an SM bootleg CD!
There were screening rooms showing things I hadn’t seen, and while there were some people in costume, the focus back then really was more about ANIME than it seems to be these days. My impression of cons now is that they are more about showing off cosplay and repeating memes than the actual act of watching and enjoying anime. But that’s probably because again, anime is so easily available at home now, and everyone is connected on the internet, you don’t really need a club or convention to find other fans.
What’s an SM bootleg CD? SM CDs are “Son May” CDs. Son May was a bootleg company from Taiwan that produced copies of anime CDs—direct copies of existing soundtracks with lesser quality printing on the packaging, as well as their own compilation CDs, like ‘Polling Best Anime Themes of 1996,’ etc. Many anime conventions were not so strict about what kind of merchandise was in the dealers room. So, while we’d always see legit anime music retailers like Mikado selling real CDs for at least $30 a pop, some other dealers would have the Son May CDs for $14-16 each. For broke college students with not too many scruples (or just ignorant about bootlegs), these were amazing lol. Heck, if you had enough friends chipping in, you could order CDs in bulk direct from SM in Taiwan and it would average out to about $6 per CD. I eventually grew out of that phase and realized I should support the industry, and switched to buying real stuff from Mikado, but I still have a bunch of SM CDs from the early days.
In your opinion and personal experience, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? The quantity and easy availability of anime now. It’s staggering how much is out there, and how the internet has made things so much easier to find. The idea that we can watch stuff within hours of Japan is mind-boggling. And that we get almost all of it, the good stuff and the dregs. So fandom feels so spoiled now, hahaha. There are complaints if a show is delayed a few hours or days, or complaints about stuff like Little Witch Academia being delayed a few months for binge streaming here. I want to shake my nth-generation bad-tracking EP mode raw VHS tapes at you spoiled whippersnappers, hahaha.
Emily can be reached on Twitter.