Location: Boston, Massachusetts
When did you discover anime? I grew up in the Pokemon generation but never actually got into Pokemon. The first time I encountered Pokemon when I was five some kid was showing me his card collection, which included a Pikachu that had been edited to have Darth Maul’s face. I was a scaredy-cat as a kid and became scared of Pokemon for a bit.
Even after I got over that fear, I was still sort of “anti-Pokemon” for a while (since I became a big Animaniacs fan and reading online that WB canceled Animaniacs in part because of Pokemon got me angry). I also remember seeing a primetime special advertising the FoxBox when I was nine and the ad for Fighting Foodons was so terrible it almost turned me off of anime forever.
Fortunately, that year was also when a movie called Spirited Away was playing in theaters, and every single person who’d seen it was talking about it like it was the greatest thing ever. I had to check out what the fuss was about. And then I became obsessed.
What appealed to you about anime then? With Miyazaki’s films, the sheer beauty of the animation was the primary appeal for me. The stuff I got into on Toonami around that time. ( Shows like .HACK, Ruroni Kenshin, Yu Yu Hakusho.) They weren’t as amazingly animated but I was intrigued the serialized plots more complex than what I was seeing in American cartoons at the time.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? After the initial burst of Pokemon‘s popularity, Dragon Ball Z was the most popular title when I was getting into anime. I never got into that show; I tried, but it was in the middle of the series when my family first got cable in 2003 and I couldn’t really follow it, plus it dragged out a lot. Sailor Moon had already left TV so that was before my time. Meanwhile, I got into Naruto before it became super-popular in the states.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was exciting to discover stuff. My mom started working at Waldenbooks and would show me the cool new stuff in the manga section (there were also manga like Chobits she discovered out of her own curiosity and wouldn’t let me read but enjoyed herself). Anime club in middle school and high school became my social life.
Ii’s neat your mom was interested in manga. Is she still? What did she think about your interest, especially as you and your sister got older? My mom’s had health problems. Her vision has gotten worse and she’s sort of fallen out of reading in general (still can do audiobooks though lately I’m afraid she’s a bit distracted by constant phone messages from a couple of very needy friends of hers to stay focused listening). She still will watch anime with us (having a Fire Stick and the Crunchyroll app now makes it a lot more convenient since she doesn’t like watching longer shows on the computer) and is totally supportive of our interests as always.
Tell me about your school anime clubs. Middle school anime club was run by an art teacher and was mainly focused on drawing while mostly Ghibli movies played in the background (one week I convinced the teacher to play Cat Soup and I think I scarred her for life). Anime club in high school met twice a week at the library, one day for viewings and one day for general socializing. It was the biggest club in the school, 50 or so members, even bigger than the football team! Though we did also sort of cheat those numbers by allowing recent alums to attend.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I was already reading general animation message boards such as ToonZone and Animation Insider before I got into anime in particular, so those communities ended up being my primary online places to discuss anime. A couple years into my time as a fan I discovered torrenting (I wanted to see the version of One Piece that wasn’t butchered by 4Kids); I stopped in 2007 after Geneon closed and I became serious about getting anime legally.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Anime Boston 2004 sold out but my parents were able to get me tickets to the dealers room on Sunday (that year they sold separate tickets for the dealers room and the general con). 2005 my mom took my sister and I to the real convention. I cosplayed Shigure Sohma, my sister was Tohru Honda. It was fun, though conventions got significantly more when I started going with my high school club in 2008 and didn’t need my mom there.
I would love a photo of your cosplay to include! Sadly don’t know where they are if we still have any. Oldest cosplay photo I still have is from 2009 when I went as Masami Eiri from Lain.
For you personally, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? There’s two big contrasts, one good, one bad. The good contrast is ease of access, now pretty much everything is freely and legally accessible (or, well, it was before Amazon Strike started buying everything up this year). The bad contrast is that it seems the uglier side of fandom has become more visible. For a long time if someone told me they were an anime fan I almost always knew I could get along with them; now I have to be a bit more careful to make sure they’re not THAT type of fan. For me personally the dividing moment between those two mindsets was when one of my former high school clubmates, who was also the boyfriend of my best friend, went full GamerGater.
Reuben can be reached on Twitter.