Location: Southeastern USA
When did you discover anime? I (or rather my mom with my input) rented My Neighbor Totoro as a VHS from blockbuster when I was a little kid in the ’90s and didn’t know what anime was.
Then I became obsessed with Pokémon around the time that Yellow Version was released (I think I was in 2nd grade). Pikachu and Bulbasaur have been faves since the beginning. My interest in Pokémon waned (though I got back into the games later).
I was in 6th grade when I learned the terms anime/manga from a friend. She and most of the friend circle loved YuGiOh. I initially watched it to fit in, but ended up crushing on Seto Kaiba. This was the horrible 4 kids dub because if legal sub streaming existed at the time I didn’t know about it and DVDs for series were expensive.
I watched Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke on DVD and got hooked on Miyazaki. Fruits Basket was my gateway into manga. I would occasionally read scanlations or purchase volumes of other manga. I would also watch anime on websites where you just clicked play—since I was scared to actually download episodes illegally after the one time my cousin did and my computer got a virus.
I discovered Crunchyroll and Funimation during my senior year of college when I took a class on Japanese pop culture—with that I was able to get into so many more shows.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I loved the sense of magic and wonder in Totoro as a child and it still captivated me when I learned what anime was. Similarly, the idea of a world filled with adventure and cute, powerful critters drew me to Pokémon. The pretty boys of shojo were a revelation for teenage me—romance stories that cater to girls’ tastes, dudes that were hot but not Manly!Beefcake!TM and lots of feels instead of the western romcom’s “pervasive bickering is love” trope.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The Pokémon fans who I traded cards with as a child were like me, they didn’t know what anime was. At time I learned the word “anime” in middle school, it felt like a niche interest shared by fellow nerds at my school, people on the Internet who I couldn’t meet and people in Japan – who I also couldn’t meet. So anime fandom was both a bond I shared with my friends and another marker that I wasn’t part of the popular crowd.
Tell me about making friends in anime fandom. Amanda is the friend I met in middle school who introduced me to “anime” as a term. Before I just knew I was a fan of Pokémon. Amanda showed me YuGiOh and taught me the terms “anime” and “manga.” Her influence is the reason I sampled manga in book stores and started identifying as a manga/anime fan. We haven’t kept up with each other but are friends on Facebook.
After Amanda introduced me to TV anime and manga, I didn’t make friends with fellow fans until college. I went to a few anime club meetings. It felt refreshing to meet lots of people who shared my love of anime.
In college anime club, I made friends with a fellow Death Note fan named Katie. We talked about which characters were our favs and who should star in a US movie. We decided Cilllian Murphy would be a good fit for Mikami. I have learned that whitewashing is a bad idea since that time so I’m embarrassed of how excited that fantasy casting made me.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Fanfic was huge for me in middle school. I read fanfic on fanfiction.net . I wrote some in a notebook and shared it with my friend Amanda.
Tell me about the fanfiction in the notebook! I don’t have the notebook full of fanfic that I kept during middle school. I often wrote about idealized versions of myself dating anime boys. Talking with Amanda about our favorite “bishies” (bishonen or pretty boys) was a nice escape during the awkward adolescent years.
How is your participation in anime fandom different now? I now read more analysis of anime, things like Anime Feminist. When I got into fandom, I couldn’t find that thoughtful perspective of fans who are genuinely in love with series/creators but will point out flaws too. It seems like the old days had super fans who gushed over everything vs. haters of certain shows.