Location: Sidney, Maine
When did you discover anime? My first anime series was the original season of Voltron back in the mid ’80s. I was a huge fan of the series as a kid, even though I didn’t know what “anime” was.
It wasn’t until the late ’90s and the advent of Toonami on Cartoon Network that I discovered Voltron‘s origins but also discovered Sailor Moon, which aired as a replacement for Thundercats after that show had gone through all its episodes twice. Although dismissive of the “girl show” at first I started getting into the story, characters, and the art. Besides Voltron, other shows followed like Robotech and Dragon Ball Z. Everything snowballed from there.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’ve always been an animation fan, but anime had an approach to art, characters, and storytelling that wasn’t insulting to my intelligence like many American shows produced at the time.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? This was 1998, so the big shows for American audiences were Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo (Both TV and OAV), and Evangelion. Pokemon and those shows hadn’t come to America yet.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Being in Central Maine, it was just me and my best friend. During school one of my friends was an exchange student from East Asia who was the only other person who was familiar with anime outside of Akira, so it was kind of lonely.
Did you meet your best friend because of anime, or did that happen after? My best friend and I have been friends since we were 11. He knew of anime some time before I did. It wasn’t until I got into it that we started becoming big time otaku and started watching everything we could find. A lot of what he had watched was from the old Sci-Fi network back in the early ’90s, whereas I didn’t get the channel until 1996.
Also, how did that exchange student join your duo? She really didn’t. We had an art class together and when I started getting into anime by my senior year. She said she used to watch that stuff when she was back home growing up. She ended up giving me a Right Stuf catalog and we became friendlier during the year. Unfortunately, I lost contact with her when I graduated. Like I said, she was the only person I knew at that school who knew what anime actually was instead of “that Akira stuff.”
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I was a He-man kid! When I was very little (kindergarten age) I was big into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe! I knew all the characters and had a number of the figures, vehicles, and playsets. I was into that until about 1988 when the original series was ended. After that was G.I. Joe and I never really got out of that. I still collect those little figures and this past year my collection topped 500 figures for the first time. I also got into Silverhawks, Thundercats, Voltron, Centurions, Inhumanoids, and a bunch more of those good ’80s cartoon shows and toy lines.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It certainly was. Back in those days a lot of people had free Geocities websites (myself included) and a lot of places to find fanfiction and message boards to go to, even if those sites were basic ones.
What was your Geocities site? HA! It was the old Sailor Sun Fan Fic Collective! That site was where I stored and “published” my Sailor Moon fanfiction series. It was a single series that was over 150 stories by the time I ended it, since I was trying to write my novel at the time. I first got into that when watching Sailor Moon and started imagining my own character involved so I just started writing. The story started right after the second season and took things in a much different direction away from the Monster of the Week type stuff the show did.
The pen name “Soul Tsukino” was one of the fan characters I created, I also had a wedding, a childbirth, mixed both Tenchi Muyo and Ranma 1/2 into it, and basically broke every “rule” of fanfiction there supposedly is out there. I use it as a talking point in my “Damn Write!” writing panel at conventions as a way of telling people that I’m not an elitist when it comes to fan iction. “I wrote a 150 story Sailor Moon fanfic series with TWO self-insert characters, an otakukin, involved Sailor Pluto getting married and having a kid, mixed in both Ranma and Tenchi, and gave Kodachi Kuno cancer, and I apologize for NONE of it!”. I kept up that series for 11 years and really cut my teeth as a writer with it.
I have since moved on to original fiction, which you can find here.
Do you remember your first convention? My first con wasn’t until February of 2002. The very first PortconMaine held at the University of Southern Maine campus. It held maybe 200 people during a single weekend. I wasn’t used to gatherings like that and felt a little out of place with the cosplayers and well traveled otaku. It was fun, even if I felt I wasn’t very high on the totem pole.
Was there a pecking order in fandom? Early on in my fandom it kinda felt like it, even if it was more in my head than anything. You had the people who went to cons, the people who went to the BIG cons (Otakon), the cosplayers, con staff, the con chairs, and stuff like that leading to becoming an “Otaking.” As time went on I realized two things: 1) I didn’t need to watch EVERYTHING and just find stuff I liked, and 2) I don’t need to prove myself to anyone other than myself.
In your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The availability! Sure there was stuff in the stores like Suncoast, Sam Goody, and the video rental stores, but nothing like we have today. Anime wasn’t being dubbed into English as much as it is today and we certainly didn’t have streaming sites like Crunchyroll or Funimation’s site that made finding this stuff much easier. More anime shows up on TV now where as back then having anime come to Cartoon Network was an EVENT.
The convention culture hasn’t changed that much, it’s just gotten bigger. Using bootlegs and fandubs at cons is more frowned upon now (thankfully). In Maine, we have more annual conventions now than we did back in 1998 and even rural places like this can get anime now. It’s also more socially acceptable to be an anime geek now than it was back then.
Keith can be reached on Twitter.