Location: North Dakota
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I’d say it was in ’99 or ’00 when I was around five or six years old. My older bro and I would run home from school to watch the Toonami programming block on Cartoon Network. We were always excited to see the latest episodes of Gundam Wing, Dragon Ball Z, Outlaw Star, Ruroni Kenshin, etc. All of our favorite anime.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was a whole different world of animation, storytelling. Worlds full of characters, settings and thought provoking themes that some Western animation lacked. It was a form of escapism for me to get away from a terrible childhood.
If it is not too personal for you, could you elaborate on how anime helped you through a difficult childhood? As a child growing up in North Dakota, I was bullied a lot whether it was because my last name sounds funny to kids or my being a skinny, geeky redhead unable to fight back. Anime was helpful in the sense that you had these strong, tough, badass characters that were ready to take on whatever obstacles stood in front of them. Gene Starwind from Outlaw Star and Kenshin from Ruroni Kenshin were always favorites of mine because they were such cool and badass characters that just so happened to be redheads. Anime was a form of escapism that could temporarily make me forget how cruel and unforgiving the world is.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I’d say it was either Dragon Ball Z or Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Growing up, being a fan was hard. It felt like many people ridiculed and ostracized me because I was a fan of something that was different. Something that was against the norm, something most people didn’t understand.
Did that make you consider not watching it? Liking anime made me an outsider, but not once did I ever consider not watching it. I enjoy anime too much to do that. Growing up though, liking anime made it really hard to make friends.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Growing up, Internet wasn’t part of the fandom for me. I just told people I liked anime and I hoped for the best.
Can you tell me about meeting other anime fans? As a child, some people I foolishly believed were my friends didn’t like the fact that I liked shows such as Dragon Ball Z. Not every interaction was bad though. Nowadays, I’d say that most of the friends I’ve made are people I’ve met after graduating high school. The friends I finally have are real friends that do enjoy anime.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first fandoms my older bro and I got into were without a doubt Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing. We had all sorts of Dragon Ball and Gundam merch growing up. Shirts, video games, toys, etc. you name it. That was how we expressed our fandom.
Is your brother who got you into anime still interested in anime? Do you still watch together? My older bro and I pretty much discovered Toonami at the same time, so I guess I wouldn’t exactly say he introduced me to anime. We don’t really watch anime together anymore because we’re always so busy with work and life these days. I’d say I watch more anime regularly than my older bro, but we still reminisce about all the classic anime we watched on Toonami. As far as recent anime goes, the two of us really got into Attack on Titan when that first came out.
For you personally, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Personally, I feel that the biggest contrast between anime fandom then vs. anime fandom now, is that it’s much more open. Back then, it felt like being an anime fan came across as weird. Now it’s so much easier to talk about liking anime because it’s much more accessible. It could also be that I might have developed a thicker skin over the years and that I stopped giving a damn if people thought I was weird for liking anime or not. History shows us that people become hateful and afraid of things they don’t understand, but when given enough time and exposure, maybe they can learn to love and respect certain things. Anime is one of those things.
Austin can be reached on Twitter.