Note from the editor: this project’s 125th installment is formatted differently than previous posts. Unlike the interviews that I conduct with most participants, this submission is published in the essay format in which I received it.
Why the break in routine? Because this project doesn’t simply aspire to be a celebration of anime fandom, but an archive of fan narratives. Lynzee’s account is graphic and at times, difficult to read. However, it’s an important reminder that while we all love anime, the circumstances that brought us to seek it as a solace are not always ideal. I’m honored that Lynzee has chosen Anime Origin Stories as the platform to share her essay.
Content warning for sexual abuse. The essay published is below the cut.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I’d been a fan of Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets since I was a pre-teen, but the first anime I knew was anime was Robotech. I would have been 18 when I saw it, and I soon learned it was assembled from three unrelated animated series from Japan, which apparently had all kinds of this stuff.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Macross captivated me. This show had a storyline that didn’t talk down to its audience; complicated protagonists and antagonists; a grand space opera backdrop; and transforming vehicles that managed physical and logical plausibility. Honestly, the last one probably was the biggest influence.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In the mainstream, Robotech was probably most recognized as an anime series. Sailor Moon hadn’t hit yet; one could sometimes find heavily-edited and oddly-translated anime videotapes at Blockbuster, but few people realized they were anything more than stylized kids’ cartoons. Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato) had been extremely popular, but only a few older fans knew it was anime.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Once you discovered imported anime, you almost always had to watch it untranslated. Sometimes a Japanese-speaking fan would provide Xeroxed synopsis handouts, but we spent a lot of time working out our own ideas of what was happening. Also, a lot of it was hard on the eyes, since we were generally watching 5th- or 6th-generation VHS videotape copies. Which is another point: back then, if you wanted to watch anything but a very few dubbed shows, you pirated your anime. I won’t defend the practice, but that was the reality.
Can you tell me more about the untranslated or synopsis provided days of anime? Who did you watch it with? Where did you have these watch parties? Where did people find anime to watch, and how did they decide if it was worth watching? Most of what I had the chance to watch at the time came via the Virginia Tech Anime Society in Blacksburg. They had a steadily-growing library of videotapes provided by other fan groups (such as the Baltimore-area JASFA), by Japanese exchange students who would bring tapes back from vacation, and by friends with military and business contacts in Japan. I got to know VTAS people through friends in overlapping fandoms, and many of them are good friends to this day. We would watch in one of the auditoriums at Tech using their AV equipment—not a problem as it was a sanctioned club and besides, half the AV department were members. As far as “worth watching,” that was mainly a matter of “I just got this and it was cool and I think you will agree!” Personally, sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t, but that was fine, it was the nature of the club.
You said that back then piracy was the reality. When did that shift? When did the prevailing attitude around anime piracy change? Piracy is still rampant, of course; back then, the copyright holders seemed not to be very concerned. Perhaps they felt they were building a market for future exploitation (accurate, if true) or perhaps they believed the American market was not large enough to justify enforcement. I believe attitudes shifted in the late ’90s and 2000s as viewership matured, and anime became available by more legal means. An attitude I still hear is, “I will quite honestly pay money to see Series X the moment I’m given the chance to.”
Interestingly, I personally know at least two people who now have legitimate jobs in the anime subtitling industry due to the strength of their work on pirated fansubs. It’s a strange business.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Well… the Internet didn’t exist yet. I am sure there were AOL message boards and Usenet newsgroups, but at the time I didn’t even know where to look for such. All my interactions with other anime fans were In Real Life, at general science-fiction cons, where we’d spend our time debating exactly how you pronounced Nausicaa.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first fan convention was in 1986, and didn’t involve anime. My first anime convention was Katsucon 1, where I helped with the Opening Ceremonies; after that, if memory serves it was NekoCon in 2011. I wore my Sailor Mars cosplay, which went over very well or very poorly depending on the observer. I remember the huge crowds, and incredible quality of some of the costumes, and feeling a bit lost because I’d been away from the fandom for a while and didn’t recognize a lot of what was popular.
Can you tell me about cons back when anime was grouped into sci-fi cons? I really want to hear about the 1986 con (since that’s the year I was born!) My first con in 1986 was a small 200-300 person convention in Roanoke, VA called RoVaCon. I was there for the Star Trek and Star Wars fandoms, and there was a strong literary sci-fi contingent represented there as well. There may have been bootleg anime tapes there—I remember a bootleg of Star Wars—but I did not notice them if there were.
Now, in 1987 I went to Technicon 4 in Blacksburg and was first exposed to untranslated anime in the form of the 1984 Macross movie (quite confusing to a Robotech viewer), Urusei Yatsura, and Captain Harlock. I may not have understood everything that was going on, but I was hooked. This was also my first introduction to anime cosplay: two young ladies I would later befriend cosplayed the Dirty Pair, and one of them cosplayed Lum. I was still a young man and will try not to sound like a creep when I say those images are permanently etched in my memory.
Can you tell me about helping to launch Katsucon 1? Why did you and the founders decide to start this con? I was little involved with the actual production – I just knew through VTAS several of the “First Ones,” as the original staff became known. They knew I was happy to appear on stage and run my mouth, so I was tagged to MC the opening ceremonies. Sadly, I was ill that weekend and remember little of the con. I can even remember if I was a good MC, but I obviously did not wreck the franchise!
You helped with Katsucon and then attended Nekocon years later. What caused the gap in between. Did you fall out of fandom for a while? If so, what drew you back in? I fell out of anime fandom for several years, simply because I had no means of keeping up. It became impractical for me to attend VTAS meetings held weeknights at a venue 90 minutes from my house, and so I didn’t have much access to new shows. Bootlegged tapes were disappearing from convention tables as holders began to enforce their copyrights, and Star Trek fandom was keeping me pretty busy. I attended NekoCon because I moved into the area where it was held, I needed more conventions in my life, I’d never stopped liking anime, and I wanted to get more involved with cosplay. I figured there would be enough “old-school” anime fandom there to give me a foundation from which I could catch up, and that proved to be the case!
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? While some young intensely-serious fans will still try to claim it as theirs alone, anime fandom is now widespread in geek circles and even outside. Almost everyone I interact with has heard of Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Dragonball Z. My first partner had a passing familiarity with anime, while my current partner and I trade showings of favorite work the other hasn’t seen yet. Of course, it’s far easier to watch anime legally, and both imported and American-produced merchandise is all over the internet for all. Cosplay has become an industry all its own; and relatedly, it’s now much easier to be an openly transgender or genderqueer fan in 2019 than it could possibly have been in 1987.
I’d love any photos you can give me of old cons or even VHS tapes from the fansubbing days! My VHS tapes are gone, because with the advent of streaming HD it’s become almost painful to watch blurry 4th-generation SuperLongPlay mode media. But I’ll share some of my pictures – you can find more of them at my Cosplay.com page.
My friends Telf and Denise as the Dirty Pair at Technicon. A life-altering moment.
Heather and my girlfriend Sonoko as the Dirty Pair, with Paul and myself in the background as Starfleet Vice. (Long story.)
Denise with me as a gender-swapped Daicon IV bunny in 1990. (I had just been in a car accident, thus the crutches.)
Tuxedo Mask for Halloween a couple years later. My friends JJ and Kim joined Telf and Denise.
Sailor Mars a few years after that. For a while I tried to look as feminine as I could when cosplaying such characters.
Me with Kara and Celia as Macross Frontier’s Sheryl Nome, Ranka Lee, and Klan Klang. This was the last time I shaved for a cosplay, as I was getting feedback from partners that a genderqueer look was cuter on me.
Kagami from Lucky*Star, Kotoko from Chobits (the second costume I made myself!) and me with an unknown cosplayer as Mako and Gamagoori from Kill la Kill. By this point, the beard was back to stay.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was a kid, most of my friends were watching Scooby Doo, but I was crazy about a show called Battle of the Planets. I think it was the first cartoon where the good guys had setbacks and suffered. I noticed that the 7-Zark-7 bit was weirdly out of place, but ignored it. It wasn’t until years later that I found out it had been a severely edited anime show called Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman.
Years later, during my first semester at Virginia Tech in the US, there was a thing on campus called AnimeFest. I was bored and curious. I opened the door to a dark video room, and the guy in charge nearly fainted at my feet… literally, because he hadn’t eaten in 24 hours as he was getting everything prepared. I helped his roommate get him to the car… and found myself in charge. First anime I watched there was Tonari no Totoro. Age 17, and it stuck.
Two years later, I was president of VTAS, the anime club there.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Bad guys sometimes win, and good guys get to suffer a bit in order to reverse that. Blew my mind as a kid.
By the time I hit university, though, it was the amazing visuals of the Miyazaki films that really caught me.
Still, I can’t deny that it’s the whole darkest before the dawn trope that still works for me.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Ranma 1/2 was big, well, anything that was Rumiko Takahashi, really. Not really my thing, as I wasn’t really into farce.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Totally different from now. Utterly. Back then, we’d trek up to Washington DC to meet with another club, and daisy chain dozens of VCRs together to get unsubbed anime from either tapes made by US military guys in Osaka or wildly expensive laser discs. Our club had a gigantic suitcase full of tapes.
During my year as VTAS president (1990-91), I managed to, ah, persuade Virginia Tech to buy us an Amiga and a genlock for subtitling. Nearly talked them into getting us a set-up to make our own cel animation. If this sounds crazy, it was mostly due to the fact that we had 300+ club members and were the largest non-sports related club on campus. Our Tuesday meetings had a minimum of 200 people. This was all people willing to watch raw untranslated anime.
So, once we had the machines, during my term and the next year, I subbed shows for the club meetings and our twice yearly Animefest weekends. Taught myself Japanese just to know when to hit the enter key for dialogue. That first year, the subs made the club explode even larger, but then the titles I was subbing were Record of Lodoss War and Gundam 0083. I managed to con the club into watching Legend of Galactic Heroes as well with selective edits of the cool ship battles. By the time people realised it was a “talking heads” show, they didn’t care.
We had one AnimeFest in 91′ where we fan-premiered the Silent Möbius film that I subtitled for the event. What a nightmare. I worked for two weeks timing the subs for it, even bought the CD so I could translate the ending song, and still, somehow the whole thing was lost hours before the event. We hacked the auditorium set-up, and I subtitled the damn thing live in front of 500+ people. (Seriously glad the fire marshal didn’t show up. We definitely had more people that we should have in there.) I made two mistakes, and one was during the ending song. I can’t listen to “Sailing” without twitching.
I stopped fan-subbing once companies like ADV and Animego started doing some seriously good stuff. As I’d only subbed for my college club, not for sale at cons or even in the post, it wasn’t a big thing. Viz did some nasty saber-rattling at that time as well, but their Ranma subs were pretty horrible back then.
It was during one of the VTAS AnimeFests that Larry Drews and Chris Impink started making noises about starting an East Coast anime convention. AnimeFest already had a huge audience coming from out of state as well as from Tech, we had a guy selling bootleg Chinese knock-off CDs, a bunch of fan art on display under the stairs, people wearing stuff, a program book… And that’s how Katsucon started, really.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? There was email, and basic stuff, but this was before Mosaic introduced all the pretty pictures to the Web. So we’d get some subtitling scripts from other clubs, or swap timings, but most of our interactions with other clubs were face-to-face at either SF cons or by attending their meetings. I drove up to DC for weekend taping marathons, drove down to Raleigh NC a few times for the UNC’s club anime weekends (where I had to console a Japanese expat who had no idea about how Minky Momo died.)
[Editor’s Note: After the show’s toy manufacturer sponsor backed out, the animators had Minky Momo get hit by a toy truck. It was brutal.]
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Katsucon Ichi, where I was Head of Art Show. (The first three years or so, we used the Japanese numbers for the con, but I think after San/3 we stopped as it was just confusing people.)
I ran the Art Show for the first few years there. Back then, the Art Show was huge. Now it seems to be an afterthought, with most fan artists being in the Artist Alley. For Katsucon 3, I had so many artist submissions that I had to choose whose work to hang. Biggest artist influencer during those years was Clamp Studio due to X. We had a small sectioned-off Hentai area, which I nixed after the third year because no-one would hang anything, the chickens. I used Magic the Gathering cards clipped in half for the baggage check and nearly made Bob Woodhead of Animego cry. (He wandered around that first year with a deck just to flash his damned Black Lotus card around.)
Artist Alley didn’t exist back then, so you’d find me, Rob DeJesus, Fred Perry and a bunch of others hanging about outside the art show drawing on tables placed there for water coolers. One friend of mine who shall remain nameless handed over a sketchbook to DeJesus and, when asked what he’d like drawn, replied “Whatever!” Mistake. Sleep-deprived and punch-drunk artists granted carte blanche means a whole sketchbook full of anime-style porn with an increasingly outrageous use of Pocky.
Being con staff in the ’90s was incredibly different. No corporation, just a bunch of fans. So much more casual. I looked in on a meeting for Katsucon a few years back, as an alumnus. It was insanely complicated. The early cons, Japanese guests were easy to get. The idea of US cons was new to them and the publishers. Katsucon got Masakazu Katsura [manga artist for Video Girl Ai, character designer for Tiger & Bunny] as a guest by offering time at a gun firing range. Staff couldn’t be in the Masquerade (the term from the SF cons, we hadn’t started using cosplay then), so a bunch of female staff dressed as the Sailor Scouts for fun. I was Sailor Mars if you find the photos online. We made all our own costumes and props. Either the second or third Katsucon, I made two life-size Azaka and Kamidake, the Jurai guardians from Tenchi Muyo, out of free-standing lamps and hula hoops. They became the big photo-op prop that year.
Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z had started airing on TV, so we had a bunch more small kids than we’d expected. Lots of bewildered parents being dragged around by pre-teens then. The dealers’ room was a bit caught off guard that first year, but then so were we.
You’ve spent a lot of your time as a fan in leadership roles, as a club president, a convention founder, and convention staffer. Do you continue to seek out roles like this today, why or why not? I’ve moved back to the UK, and did join a club in Bath for a while. It was very small and met in the skittles room in the basement of a pub. Having a pint and watching anime was rather fun. But I wasn’t anything more than a fan there. Now I work in the comics industry (DC and Marvel, not manga), I’ve mostly slid out of anime fandom. I keep up to date to some degree, and whenever I visit the US and the timing is right, I go to Katsucon.
Because of your roles, did you mainly interact with fandom in person? How did the internet change that, if at all? Fandom for me was almost entirely in person, other than getting translated scripts for subtitles back in the early ’90s. Most of us subbers were at university, so we all had college email. Still, really no social interaction that way, mostly just swapping scripts and timings. Now, all my interactions with anime fandom are online and not in person. Bit sad, really.
Also regarding the internet, do you remember any of the old sites or forums you frequented in the early days, and could you tell me about them? I did do a bit of BBS stuff, friend of mine ran one, but not much. Later in the ’90s, past my subbing days but well into the Katsucon years, I did a fair bit of chatting with Jan Scott Frazier over ICQ, mostly chatting about anime soundtracks. Cowboy Bebop in particular. But I can’t recall much more.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Age 9: Battle of the Planets. I was absolutely nuts about that show. Had the lunch box. Made a watch and a helmet out of tinfoil and cling film. Did a lot of jumping off high things. I’m surprised I lived through it. Later found out about APAs and was sad that I’d been too young for it. (probably just as well, or I’d have had an early encounter with slash/yaoi.)
In my university years… Might be odd to say, but I never went crazy mad about any particular show. Plenty of shows I’d press on others, especially with the VTAS voting tapes. I was desperate to get people to watch more than Maison Ikkoku, which I seriously loathed. First show I was genuinely surprised by liking was Marmalade Boy. Everything I hated in an anime. Sports, miscommunication, slice of life, high school drama? Ugh. Yet not only did I watch the entire series, I kept the tapes for ages. In fact, wouldn’t be surprised if they’re upstairs somewhere still. I’m looking around my office, and other than a book on the art of Studio Ghibli and a bunch of ancient NewType mags, I’m oddly anime fandom free.
Wait, what’s an APA? Stands for Amateur Press Association. There’s a Wiki page on it, but look at it as a Tumblr post for the pre-internet geeks. They were started by amateur press owners in the 1870s, and many still run today. A number of the SF ones led some big authors down the path to writing professionally.
By the time I first saw one, BBS had more or less killed them off (despite the lack of art, which was one of the pluses for an APA.) Friend of mine showed me her collection of Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets APAs, which were amazing. Fanart, fanfic, and of course, slash, because Berg Katse [from Gatchaman] and his makeup were just too much temptation. Anime-oriented APAs provided synopses for anime (pre-subbing, so these were like gold), information on upcoming series, news about toys. Friend of mine managed a brilliant prank in one, where he gave a loving synopsis for a series called Hoi Polloi, art and album info included… and the thing never existed. I don’t have any personally.
Oh, and APAs are still a thing here in the UK. I’ve seen them at Gosh Comics in London.
Today you live in the UK. How do your experiences of the US and UK anime fandom communities differ? Mmm, I should explain. My mum is British, my dad is American. I’m very transatlantic. I think I’ve now lived equal time in both countries. Until my mid-twenties, I came over to the UK mostly for either summer or Xmas holidays.
I didn’t meet the UK fandom until I was subbing in the 90s. Can’t recall how it came to be, but I did end up meeting a crew of Londoners because of the internet. I first met Helen McCarthy back in the days of Anime UK. Managed to watch the UK dubbing of All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku because of her, which was hands-down one of the oddest anime experiences ever. They really stretched to get as many UK regional accents in as possible, and I nearly died at the one they chose for Nuku Nuku. Later on, we showed it at Katsucon (something that would be so illegal now, oops, but we were really clueless that first year). I brought over a lot of UK animated work, including the first Aardman Studio film, A Grand Day Out, as well. A clay animation called The Trap Door was a huge hit with VTAS. Many of the older UK fandom are just as intense about Gerry Anderson as they are about anime.
The UK anime fandom, as I’ve experienced it, are a tight bunch. Might be because one of the first anime introduced to the UK was Urutsukudoji, followed by Akira. It sort of cemented the idea of anime being porn and violence in the mainstream. But again, I’ve really not been involved with it much.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? We were idiots. No, seriously. It was so casual back then. No pressure for perfect photos or costumes. It was all home-made. You had to go to tremendous lengths just to see new stuff, and subtitles were an amazing bonus if you could find them. There was one show that we thought aired in black and white, but we found out was in colour, only our copy was so many generations down the line that the colour had warped. Then we got the final episode of Gunbuster, and thought it had happened again. We’d get tapes from friends, from army bases, from strangers in trenchcoats, and some times we had no idea what the show was before we’d put it in the VCR. It was like anime Gatcha. Sometimes you’d find that a show with a weird title was something utterly amazing, other times you’d find you’d been given tentacle porn. My poor roommate. She was cataloging the tape library, and after watching Creamy Mami, she stumbled across Cream Lemon [NSFW]. Oh so very not the same thing. But you just didn’t know. Friend of mine created a spoof anime synopsis for an APA, and I think it spread across the US as a rare hard-to-find show. We’d go through all the NewType issues, trying to figure out what was airing.
Today, no mystery. Advance info for every show coming and going. Easy access to everything with Hulu and Crunchyroll, all in mint quality. (Dubs are still a mixed bag though.) I’m a mix of envious and sad. I do think that if I was the same age I was when I first stumbled into that Animefest right now, I would have only stepped shallowly into the fandom. The sheer flood of it, the high pressure at the cons… I’d have kept to myself. I think it was easier for introverts back then.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. As the age outlier for your project, I hope my tale will prove amusing. My first experience with anime was in 1967, with Astro Boy. Growing up on a balanced diet of Disney and 1930s cartoons, there was something about this little robot with the squeaky feet that captivated me. There was quite the hiatus between that initial moment and the 1980s, when I was again able to connect with anime.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The character of Astro Boy was appealing, but the sci-fi setting completed the deal. The whole package was so different from the anthropomorphous animals or traditional folktale villains from “regular” cartoons! And, perhaps, being at the liminal stage of entering adolescence may have made me more vulnerable to Astro Boy‘s quest for identity.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? None other [than Astro Boy]—he reigned supreme.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? There was no real fandom, as you can imagine. This was the Dawn of Time, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and watched mostly The Flintstones.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Internet? Computers? Those were part of the sci-fi stories we all loved to read and daydream about.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My generation, alas, was not much for conventions. I also did not grow up in the U.S., so another strike against being part of that subculture.
Where did you grow up, and when did you come to the US? I was born in the Dominican Republic, but after a civil war there my family moved temporarily to Puerto Rico, where I came across anime in the form of Astroboy. As I said, that was 1967.
I first came to the US in 1978, to work on my B.A. in Latin American Studies.
There was a gap between your interest in Astro Boy in 1967, and rediscovering anime in the ’80s. Can you talk about rediscovering anime? The gap between 1967 and the 1980s was due to my going back to the DR for several years, then going to college (a couple of years in the DR, then a couple more in the US), and then taking some time to start a family. Once my daughter was a toddler, I went back to anime as a source of “comfort food” for my soul. In the ’80s all forms of visual culture became more accessible through VHS/Beta tapes, and even some laser discs.
I started attending film school (Columbia College in Chicago), taking animation classes, hanging out with animators. This was the crowd that introduced me to fandom, a concept that had not existed when I was growing up in the Caribbean. Back then it was mostly an individual viewing experience; by the 1980s it had become more of a network if only because no single person could afford to find/own the tapes that were available either through legitimate or under-the-table means. You really needed a group of people who would travel, exchange, copy, invest so as to have a “lending library” that all of us could enjoy.
Back then we survived on strong helpings of Miyazaki, Matsumoto, and more Tezuka. Monster movies would fill in the gaps.
Some of my friends in that crowd would attend comic-cons and other cons, but unfortunately I was too busy and too strapped for cash to be able to take the time to do so. Internet didn’t become a reality until much later, so chatrooms were not part of the picture. Everything was more of a socializing in small group structure – we would have viewing parties, especially when someone from the group would travel to Japan (or Europe) and bring back new tapes and discs. Often we would rely on a couple of Japanese friends to roughly translate as we were watching, since these were not subbed titles.
How would you characterize your experience as an anime fan today? My current day experience as an anime fan is rather peculiar. I am now in my sixties, but I continue to watch inordinate amounts of anime. I follow favorite directors, keep a hawk eye on Anichart to figure out my seasonal viewing schedule, read reviews (Anime Feminist first, then ANN – no others), and am always ready to blather on about anime to anyone who’ll put up with me. I am fortunate that there are enough fans where I work (at a university with an Asian Studies program), so there’s always fresh blood. Many of my students are fans and they get a thrill from being able to talk about their favorites with one of their professors, who takes them seriously! Plus, they will sometimes alert me to titles I might have dissed at first glance (Xam’d Lost Memories, looking right at you).
While I have your attention, I wanted to share my beautiful fandom experience in Cuba. One would not expect a poor, socialist country to have any such outlet – but they do!!! Some of my students there (I’ve been going every year, couple of times a year, for over two decades now) love anime (One Piece, Naruto, but also some of the short-run series) even though it’s devilishly hard to get. There’s this thing called “The Package,” which is nothing more than an external hard drive that gets circulated every Wednesday with hours of content from Florida TV. You can also request content from “providers” – people who travel or have family in the U.S. and download entire series.
And there’s cosplay nights at some night clubs! Capitalism has won the battle, alas, but when it comes to anime I feel less bad.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it?I think the biggest difference has come about in the way people interact because of the changes in technology. Obviously, duh, we didn’t have so much as videotapes back in the mid-sixties, much less the internet. Being able to tweet, having access to so much streaming content, podcasts, blogs, connecting to fans all around the globe – these are things that would have smacked of science fiction (sorry, alternate reality or whatever) Back In My Day, as any good grandma should say. I mean, look at how Cubans have formed a solid fandom network in spite of all the drawbacks in their economy! They were not able to do that up until five years ago, when the government allowed some access to the internet. Yeah, technology has made a huge difference in fandom over the decades as far as I can see.
The other aspect that I think has changed a great deal is in the gender relations within fandom. I don’t have to establish cred as a fan just because I’m female, which I got a lot back then (up to the early 1980s).
Were there always female fans, but they just weren’t accepted? Or are there more female anime fans now? I can’t make claims for the number of female fans having increased. I have no way of knowing that, really, since I’m not attending cons and I don’t have a group of friends who can be considered fans who might give me that insight. I was thinking more along the lines of (back in the 1970s and 1980s) female fans in my crowd not being considered “hard-core” because we had other interests, not just anime. If you only cosplayed for Halloween or Mardi Gras, you weren’t a “true” fan; if you only dressed up as certain characters, if you didn’t own figurines or make models, that sort of thing, you would be part of the group but just not accepted as one of the guys.
The same group that I hung out with for watching anime or going to cons back then was also the group that I would play a made-up variation of D&D with, and god forbid that one of us “girls” wanted to create some original character! There would be grumbling, and the “Master” would verbally pat us on the head and tell us to be content with being Emeraldas or Maeter or some such.
Anyway, these same guys slowly came around as we women just did as we pleased or made their lives difficult!
BTW, my daughter grew up around all of this and is to this day a huge anime nerd. I’m so proud of her.
Age: I’m 26 now, finished my studies and am now working full-time.
Sadly this means I have a lot less time for anime. I went from 30+ shows a year to maybe 5-6 now. If you ever do a “time skip” follow up series, let me know because this is a real personal struggle for me.
Location: Karlsruhe, Germany
When did you discover anime? Like most German kids, I watched Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, etc. without realizing what it was. By 15 I thought I had grown out of it but my neighbor was really into Naruto. When I dragged a case of pneumonia around long enough to chain me to the bed for three weeks, I decided to try it out. Looking for more, I found the fansubbing communities online and with them, a whole new world for me.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The “shonen battle” trope. There is just nothing what could get a 15-year-old more hyped than that and you didn’t find it in any other medium. Funnily enough, this is now the trope I’m probably most tired off.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? DBZ was always big but at the time Naruto got all the good “kids show” spots. So I have to say Naruto.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The first two to three years, I wasn’t part of it. I just loved watching anime and sometimes I would visit a forum but discover that most other German anime fans were pretentious douchebags.
It wasn’t until I started fansubbing that I discovered how fun the community can be if you find your place in it.
What was your role in the fansubbing community? I actually got more or less “forced” into fansubbing. I was an author for the biggest German Naruto site (GermanNaruto.de* – clever, I know) and the site started a fansub group to deliver quality german fansubs for our beloved ninja. I was originally not part of the team but as with all group projects, people were unreliable and I more often than not ended up helping out with timesetting and proofreading subtitles to get the episode out in time. We actually existed out of the fansubbing community as we didn’t care about the craft itself but only about delivering an enjoyable Naruto experience for our users as German subs (even Crunchyroll ones) were mediocre at best at the time.
[*This fan site is no longer accessible at this address. Find it here.]
As anime has become more accessible, have you continued to be a part of fansubs? Why or why not? Even though I, to this day, would never want to join another fansub project, I really enjoyed being part of this team. I’m sad I lost contact with most of them but one of my best friends is a girl I met there.
The site itself fizzled out shortly after the manga finished but we continued to sub Naruto to the very end of the anime. I actually don’t know how this correlates with anime becoming more accessible since none of us did it for any other reason than because we liked doing it.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? It was mainly just a source for streams with some forum threads dedicated to certain shows. (Around 2010.) Since Germans never talked about anime as anime there were only small groups who were interested in it and those usually met in those threads.
When I finally started checking out English sites two years later, I discovered that I probably missed out on a lot of stuff. So it’s hard for me to say how the internet was involved in general.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?Aninite 2014. Hard to believe that it took me four years to visit a convention and on top of it it was one in Austria. I met up with my fansubbing group who I only contacted via Skype before. The convention was OK I guess, but I was too busy meeting people (which is always the best part of cons) to really evaluate it.
It probably had little programming apart from the main stage and focused a lot on selling merchandise and holding art workshops. But that didn’t matter much since I was there for my online friends.
On the other hand, Connichi two months later was a whole new world for me. I ran from panel to panel, meeting Atsuhiro Iwakami from ufotable and Studio Trigger’s Sushio who worked on two of my favorite shows of all time. I kinda regret not being as informed about the industry at the time, but I can’t help but smile when I see my posters with their autographs.
All the other panels were great too and I met a few longtime friends there.
The whole experience was a blast and is the reason I go every year: connecting with people, getting to meet my (now) idols, and finding out so many new things about anime and manga—these are some of the best feelings in the world.
What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? This is a really tough question. I’m not entirely sure what the first thing I bought was but if we are talking about the first thing that meant “buying into anime” for me then it’s definitely my Misaka Mikoto (Raildex) figurine. It’s too bad I don’t have a picture right now as she is still in a box from my move to the new house a couple of weeks ago. I actually bought her at Aninite and getting this figurine was a must for me. She and Gilgamesh (who I got shortly after and who is luckily standing behind me so you get a picture) are to this day constantly in my top five favorite characters. Both cost around 45€/$50/£38.
In hindsight, this was either a great or terrible idea, as I now have a hard time spending more on characters I don’t like quite as much while not really getting more expensive figurines of those two since I already have them.
Did you stay a fan the whole time up until today? If yes, what kept your interest? I did stay a fan the whole time and I hope to be one for the rest of my life. The reason I fell in love with it has a variety of reasons which I will spare you since I’m rambling way too much anyways but it boils down to that for me, it is the freest medium. There are no boundaries, the possibilities are endless, and every story looks like it feels to the characters. In this unlimited pool of ideas, I will always find something I enjoy.
You said you loved shonen battle anime when you discovered the medium. What types of anime do you like now and why? I’m not sure I have a “type”. Until two years ago I always said I’d watch everything except BL as long as it’s fun but having seen and loving Doukyuusei I can’t even exclude that anymore. If there is one thing I look out for then it’s well-drawn relationships. Those don’t need to be necessarily romantic but can be rivalries, friendships or feuds as well. White Album 2, Oregairu, Hibike Euphonium, and Shinsekai Yori are really good examples for this.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? For me, there are two big differences: The first one is that with the growing accessibility and mainstream drift that anime is getting, it’s getting harder to know someone through anime. When I started seven to eight years ago, the community was very small and anime watchers all had things and character traits in common. Finding out that a colleague/classmate watches anime meant that you would for sure get along. Today, all different kinds of people watch anime, which is great but drives out this feeling that you would like anyone who watches anime. Also, there are so many shows that if you both watch anime it’s not even likely you both watch/like the same things.
On the other hand, give it a few years and we’ll be able to recommend anime like any other show on Netflix.
The second contrast is me getting older and having less free time. I cannot really partake in the community anymore. I spent my whole time in college on /r/Anime, Twitter, Sakugabooru, and similar sites. After getting a consulting job, I maybe get to open Reddit for five minutes a day and haven’t read an (anime related) article in a year. And even if I had time to participate, the amount of seasonal anime I’d need to watch would mean sacrificing a lot of time I can otherwise spend with friends, hobbies, and family. So the contrast is that anime has become much more of a solitary activity for me. I do hope to change it but if I’m honest with myself, the chances aren’t too great.
When did you discover anime? Anime has always been part of my life in some form—I watched Unico as a kid and a little bit of Sailor Moon when it boomed—but I really became interested in college, after a high school friend had spent ages telling me how great Slayers was.
It’s incredible that you joined “sight unseen.” Did you have any preconceived notions about what anime was going into it that made you want to join a club? So I was born in ’81 and had cable, which means I got a steady diet of anime-I-didn’t-know-was-anime in my childhood. Mostly that was Unico and the Grimms’ Fairy Tale series with the little green-haired girl in the opening. (You know. “Hey, come along and join the fun!”) I still had no context for “anime” until Sailor Moon got big, and then my only knowledge of it was Dave Barry writing an article about how he didn’t understand it. So my exposure was more limited and biased than nonexistent. Really, I just knew I had a friend who was into it and I kind of dug the art, so I wanted to see what it was beyond the look.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first, it was a whole new source of animation I’d yet to discover. But when I made friends with the local anime geezers who loaded me up on things like Macross and Bubblegum Crisis, I started getting a better idea of how much the animators cared. With the shows I tended to gravitate toward, there was an obvious love for the product that went into it: detailed backgrounds you only saw for the space of a few seconds, mechanical designs that invoked realism when I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief, things like that.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Right when I was getting face-first into anime, Utena and Cowboy Bebop were still relatively fresh. In that span of college years when I made my way from knowing nothing to being relatively versed, the “gateway drugs” were Bebopand Fruits Basket. The live-action Sailor Moon also ran its course, so the entire fandom sort of had its toe in tokusatsu without really realizing it.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I have two slightly different answers to this. The first anime I was ever REALLY a fan of was Unico, but I didn’t know what anime was, so it’s hard to call that “anime fandom.” But I did make myself a little cardboard cutout Unico I’d take places with me because I liked to imagine he was my friend and I’d go on adventures with him.
I think my first anime fandom, KNOWING what anime was, was Utena. I did some cosplay much further down the road, but while I was still in WMAS I headed up a parody dub of episode 3 called “Utena: Dance Dance Revolution.” I thought I was really quite funny and launching off things like “Voltron: Hell-Bent for Leather” and “Dirty Pair Does Dishes” and that whole scene. We had a good group, though. Shannon Granville (still a friend I see occasionally) was a very deadpan Utena, I did Anthy a la Molly in the original Sailor Moon dub… we had people’s roommates coming in and doing voices. I think one character spoke in fake Klingon. Something tells me it’s not aged well in a lot of ways, and there were a lot of club in-jokes, but I’ll bet people can find it if they dig around enough.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Anime cons were still relatively small, and clubs and conventions were where you went to see things. So there was a camaraderie there that was more than just cosplay meet-ups. (Not to put down cosplay meet-ups—I still love them!) But like, we were just at the end of the sub vs. dub era when you had to choose which to buy. You couldn’t get pocky at World Market. It was sort of the “last hurrah” of anime as a subculture [as opposed to popular culture], which I don’t consider a “hurrah” at all because I like it being easily accessible. It was strange, jumping on in a time when it was gathering steam and getting big, but I kind of feel like I ended up being a product of two generations of fandom. Which means I love both generations, honestly.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? We were JUST on the edge of going digital. Like my first junior year of college (I took a medical withdrawal for a year), I distinctly remember both sending out for Lupin III fansubs on green VHS tapes AND downloading Neighborhood Story and Mahoromatic fansubs on Limewire.
The year or so I was on medical leave was when torrenting really became a thing, so it’s sort of like my college career is split into two chapters, and right along that chapter split is where the fandom started to become what it is today. Legal streaming was still several years away—even after I graduated, I was still working with fansub groups on obscure stuff (which you can now watch legally on Hulu). So I came in during the shift from “You can find maybe half of anything but you have to work for it” to “You can find things right after they come out but not legally.”
Did you participate in early internet fandom? Were there particular sites or forums you visited? I was actually into the late ’90s/early ’00s fandub community more than anything else: a bunch of people dubbing ten-second clips from SailorStars and whatever else, and sometimes doing actual audio dramas. I did a few longer-form projects (which shall remain nameless since, you know, that was copyright infringement). I did cross paths with a lot of people who ended up going pro, though—Cristina Vee notable among them. I had this sort of wild fifth-dimensional moment during the Crunchyroll Awards, doing live news updates while she was on camera and sort of mentally interposing that over our stuff 15 years ago.
The voice acting community was rough sometimes, as any online community can be, but it was some of the best stuff I ever did. I met a lot of friends and collaborators I still work with (like Mike Dent and Aron Toman), and I still do some voice acting (Toman’s Chronicles of Oz). It helped improve my range, too. And it gave us this whole crop of ready-to-go voice actors.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first con wasn’t an anime con, but my first anime con was only like a month after. It was Katsucon 6 and I went with WMAS (my anime club). My memories of it are extremely blurry, but I remember we were in the cosplay and we did “Anime Family Feud” with the Ikaris (Evangelion) vs. the Mishimas (Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku) hosted by Captain Tylor. I’d seen zero Eva, they just spray-painted my hair blue and said to act emotionless. I did get the biggest laugh of the night, though:
“So, Rei, how are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
Funnily enough, apparently WMAS got REALLY known for its skits after that because we did ridiculous parodies. A River Song cosplayer I met more than a decade later (who’s now a good friend) actually recognized me for those skits. Wild.
Would you mind sharing a photo of this cosplay, or any photos you have from Katsucon 6? Sadly, those photos are lost to the sands of time. I checked back on my college anime club’s site and a few other places but no joy. I can describe it, though. It was all closet cosplay with bits chopped up: Peter Pan collar shirt, a light blue dress I’d just cut chunks out of to imitate the shape of the front, and a frayed red ribbon for the collar. From onstage it looked fine. Up close it was a hot mess.
Today you are a professional in an anime-related field. How did your early anime fandom experience shape your career today? One of the most valuable things about my early fandom is I had friends of all ages: college friends, yes, but also older friends who had been into the anime scene literal DECADES longer than any of us. That was great because it brought us insight into the fandom before our time and encouraged us to watch older shows, but it was also a matter of leading by example.
Everyone has their “obnoxious time” as a new fan, especially if you’re a teen when you get into it. It’s just part of the maturing process. I was fortunate that I had older friends that understood it, guided me through it (occasionally with “tough love”), but didn’t write me off just because I was an annoying newbie who didn’t know as much as they did. They saw that as an opportunity to share what they loved and watch someone be enchanted by it for the first time.
If it weren’t for those people, I would have fled the fandom, rather than digging deeper into it to the point that I ended up working in multiple facets of the industry. Specific people like Mike Griffith, Rob Lantz, the late Dan Taraschke, are all people who were (and in some cases still are) my positive examples. And I work with more positive examples daily. Preserving the history of our fandom is such a big deal, but not to the point of keeping it “pure” or whatever. I hope in some way, what I do can help another new fan digging in for the first time feel welcome.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I will separate this into three discovery periods: before I knew of the term “anime,” when I first learned about the term anime, and finally my rediscovery of anime and what it can really encompass.
Until I entered high school in America, I grew up in Hong Kong. When I was still an elementary schooler, one night I was watching TV and airing on the TV was some cartoon movie that enthralled me. It was in a Cantonese dub (of which I understood basically nothing) with rough English subtitles that would appear once every couple of lines. Eventually it was past my bed time and I had to submit to my parental overlords who would have just forcibly torn me away from the TV otherwise. It killed me that I had no idea what this movie was even called (much less that it was a Japanese cartoon) and I only realized much later after I had learned of the term anime that this movie was in fact Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. I went through the same experience again from half-watching Princess Mononoke, also presented with a Cantonese dub and shoddy English subtitles during those same childhood years.
I did not actually learn of the term anime until a friend of mine introduced me to Naruto during my middle school years. Today this is probably one of my marks of shame from my earlier days as an anime fan, but I rewatched the original Naruto TV series including filler at least three times. It didn’t take long after Naruto to check out the other Shonen Jump fare, and then I had a phase of watching a bunch of shoujo anime after getting a bit tired of shonen fighting stuff. After that I proceeded to much of the male otaku-pandering harem series. I began to watch most of the airing series that was being fansubbed at the time as I proceeded into high school until I reached major anime burnout. The show that really broke me was K-On. I had a revelation that the shows that otaku were hyping up as the “must check out” shows or the “best anime of the season” just did not really appeal to me anymore. Even those shows aside, after being burned too many times by anime with great beginning episodes that would then be completely unable to sustain their premise for their full running length (Gonzo anyone?), I was really questioning whether or not my heart was really in anime anymore.
My re-discovery of anime I have to credit 100% to the Anime World Order podcast. I very well may not be an anime fan today if I had not found their podcast during my high school burnout. It really opened my eyes up to just how many gems there were back in the ’70s/’80s/early ’90s and to get in the habit of just trying to learn more about who is actually involved in creating the anime I watch and love. It also really opened up my eyes to the fact that anime is not just Shonen Jump adaptations or a cesspool of otaku in-jokes and tropes, but it really does have the capacity to take on a much wider diversity of fictional material. Helen McCarthy summarized this well on the AWO interview with her (at the 5:58 mark):
“Anime is an adventure playground and like any adventure playground you’re only going to get out of it what you take in with you […] if you go looking to try new things, explore new genres, and look around for challenges, then anime is going to provide that.”
The pursuit of challenges is what keeps my anime passion alive. Every time I see a side of anime I’ve never seen before, my otaku expiration date pushes back even further. My hope is that I will never hit this expiration date, so long as I remember that watching anime does not have to be limited to the titles that trend with the anime fandom at large.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For my elementary school story, the main feeling I came away from having half-watched both movies was “Wow, I did not know a cartoon could portray such a compelling story.” My prior exposure to cartoons was things of the nature of some of the older Walt Disney cartoons, Tom and Jerry, CatDog, and Rocko’s Modern Life to name a few. While I enjoyed those as a kid, we can all see that these are comedic endeavors that completely unlike the aforementioned movies. Those movies imprinted upon me a much deeper, lingering feeling of fulfillment.
Although Naruto marked my initial foray into anime, I have actually fallen completely out of caring about it at all. That being said, when I first watched it I really thought it was a fresh breath of air from all the Western cartoons done in episodic format. I actually love a lot of the DCAU cartoons but I feel like there is a limit to how far or deep you can take a story when constrained by that format. The serialized nature of Naruto and other series like it grabbed my attention and I grew a much stronger attachment to characters from long running series like this. This is not to say I necessarily dislike anime that take an episodic format, but an anime series portraying a single story that runs for the length of one or more cours returns a particular feeling of immense satisfaction when done well. I can’t say the same for most of the Western cartoons I watched when I was younger. I was also fascinated by many of the cultural differences from Japan that were exhibited in some of the anime I watched during this time, and so there was definitely an appeal of adventuring into a culture very different from my mostly Western sensibilities.
The appeal of anime since my rediscovery of it has taken a much more fascinating turn. Prior to this point I did not really take to the cel-animated style of animation but I’ve grown exceedingly fond of it the more stuff I visit from the ’70s and ’80s. It saddens me to think that it practically a dead art at this point. (If I’m not mistaken Sazae-san was the last anime to use cel-animation and if the production for Sazae-san cannot keep it up… well nothing else can right?) The amount of artistic and narrative diversity that was possible during the ’80s due to the booming economy in Japan at the time is something that I have not really found in anime of recent times; with any luck crowdfunded anime will continue to carve out its own niche though. That aside, I also have bizarre theoretical nostalgia for the ’80s which my parents find both puzzling and amusing.
Just to clarify, even though I have primarily been focusing my attention on anime from the ’70s and ’80s since my rediscovery, I do think that currently anime is doing pretty well and when I do finally get around to watching some more recent anime it is not that hard for me to find something I would like. I am just in no rush to watch anime that everyone is talking about, and I am hesitant to watch shows as they air for fear of being let down by the end.
You grew up in Hong Kong and then Cambridge. Can you tell me how anime fandom was different in each city? I should clarify here. Until high school I grew up in Hong Kong. During high school I was in New Jersey. For undergraduate schooling onwards I was in Cambridge. So I’m not really sure I can say I “grew up” in Cambridge since I was already in college at that point.
As someone that cannot actually speak Cantonese (I can understand a very small amount), my experience is unlikely to be representative of actual fandom in Hong Kong. I also did not attempt to interact too much with fandom in Hong Kong. I think what stands out to me the most over there compared to the states are the sort of properties that were represented. I can remember walking in random malls and seeing illustrations and merchandise for Astro Boy casually in areas. Even more so for stuff like Doraemon. Doraemon would be broadcast dubbed on the Cantonese language channels. Basically you can clearly see representation of the set of anime or manga properties that are huge across East Asia but are virtually unheard of in the West. Many of these properties are popular to large audiences, not just self-proclaimed anime fans. As far as people at school (I went to a British private school taught entirely in English so again, possibly not representative), there were kids who were into those huge Shonen Jump titles like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and so forth. I do recall someone reading a localized (into written Chinese) Sgt. Frog manga volume. I wasn’t even aware that this was released in the states or that it had a following until checking just now. In my head I had thought of this as another “popular in East Asia but not in the West” property.
I went to a boarding high school in New Jersey and I didn’t leave campus much because I was lazy and going to town required more walking than I cared for at the time. So I can really only comment on the situation at school. I think besides what I’ve already said, it appeared to me that there wasn’t a lot of interest in an organized club setting for anime (although I feel like it could have been different if the school actually allowed for non-athletic and non-theater extra-curricular activities). There were however people with at least some kind of passing interest in anime; their presence was not very visible though so to this day I’m not entirely sure how many people actually cared about anime. This is when I really understood that there’s a whole population of people who consume anime but do not speak about it whatsoever.
College in Cambridge was a pretty huge letdown as far as anime fandom is concerned. Admittedly, if I was still the same fan I was when I was getting into this stuff I would have fit right at home. There were a lot of people to whom anime is essentially a bunch of memes. While I do actually think one great aspect about anime fandom is that people can celebrate it in so many different ways, it was a letdown for me that I had so much trouble finding people who would also want to take it seriously. I’m not gonna pretend like every anime is some kind of cinematic masterpiece, because that is not true at all. At the time it struck me as strange that anime fans had so little interest in seeking out things worthy of that kind of recognition. Stepping aside from my biases, there’s definitely a lot of that internet awareness of anime fandom that would be represented by anime fans at my school. So if you were the sort of person who was constantly on top of the zeitgeist of anime fandom, quickly jumping to one hot otaku property after the next, you would have had a great time.
You spent a lot of time gravitating toward much older anime. What appealed to you about those over more modern titles? When I first saw a non-Ghibli cel animated anime, I was still in my relative infancy as an anime fan and the aesthetic did not appeal to me at the time. It’s funny that since then I now tend to gravitate much more to older titles. Probably the biggest driving force during my transition to older titles is wanting to get away from the glut of moe titles that kept getting pumped out. Before that point most of what I was watching was that moe stuff and at first I thought it was quirky and fun but later on I realized I was just lying to myself about liking that stuff anymore. There can be shows with moe elements that can still be good provided other quality aspects (plot, characterization, etc.) are there. However, the balance wasn’t really there when I was really getting sick of it. Nowadays anime seems to be doing a lot better than simply completing a checklist designed to cater only to the moe fanbase.
So older anime had a lot less moe stuff crammed into it. On the other hand, there’s a ton more mecha stuff there which I previously did not care for. I no longer have any resistance to mecha shows now and do enjoy greatly the ones that I have seen. I still don’t think I would call myself a huge mecha person though. I do really like the level of detail you see with some illustrations of robots. It is a shame that the animators who can actually animate robots in 2D are dwindling out.
The hand-crafted feel of cel animation versus the technically cleaner aspects of digital animation is something that I enjoy greatly. It’s really great whenever some window shatters or a building gets demolished and you can see the individual bits of debris and rubble. People spent weeks painting cels for something that amounts to a gorgeous second long shot. Whenever the camera perspective switches I’m blown away because everything in the shot has to be redrawn each frame. The warmer color palette gives a different vibe than that of modern titles. In any case, for many of these aspects there’s not necessarily a technical reason you couldn’t do these things in digital animation. However, there is one thing that was certainly different in the ’80s and that was the economy in Japan.
The amount of money that got pumped into the anime industry as a consequence of the ’80s bubble economy would allow for these super detailed and time-intensive shots. Not all old anime is like this of course, but at least the possibility was there. Besides that, the crazy amounts of money that would get thrown around would enable the production of strange, extremely non-merchandisable titles such as Angel’s Egg, To-Y, and Bobby’s Girl. Success or not, there is something fascinating about creative output in anime unrestrained by commercial considerations. If you wanted to pick a single decade to look for as much anime that is unlike anime you’ve seen before, unquestionably the ’80s is the place to go.
Putting aside my preference for the aesthetics or the experimental stuff of the time, if I were to try and sell someone on the concept of going back and checking older anime it would be that titles that have withstood the test of time are worth checking out. It’s hard to identify if an anime title is going to have any staying power at the height of its popularity. So the only reasonable way to unbiasedly test this I think is to simply wait and see. Especially nowadays, fans move rapidly from one show to the next. Here’s are modern examples of things I don’t think pass the test of time. How many people honestly care about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anymore (well, they weren’t doing themselves any favors with that second season)? How about Lucky Star? On the other hand, people will still bring up Akira as one of these cinematic masterpieces. Somehow fandom over Legend of the Galactic Heroes has persisted for all this time despite only very recently getting an official release for the first time. Old school fans still talk about Bubblegum Crisis. A couple of years back Carl Gustav Horn cared enough to assemble writers and put together a gorgeous 25th anniversary fanzine for Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. To me, that is a strong signal that those particular titles are at least worth checking out. An argument could certainly be made that since so much less stuff made it to English speaking audiences back then, it was easier for fandom as a whole to rally and concentrate around a small subset of shows compared to now. But hey, people still care about this stuff more than 25 years later. Why not find out what all the fuss is about?
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I did not really try to connect with anime fans until high school. There did not seem to be a whole lot of interest in anime at my school when I tried asking around, and so I eventually started an anime club in hopes of finding other fans. Unfortunately basically any extracurricular activity that was not sports or theater was shafted because there were credit requirements related to these and so even though a bunch of people expressed interest in an anime club at my first administrative meeting, very few people could actually come to showings I held after school. To be honest I did not really have a good sense of direction for what I wanted to do with the club until I was a senior and had experienced my rediscovery of anime. It was also during this time I began nurturing my love of old anime. The goal I set that year was to try and break people’s preconceived notions of anime with every showing I did and try and make it a little educational by talking about some of the background details of how the titles came to be. So I would show titles like Royal Space Force, Project A-ko, Angel’s Egg, Gunbuster, and the early ’90s Black Jack OAVs to name a few. That being said, the anime club was really just one guy I had not met before I started it, and my friends most of whom were not really anime fans. The people that attended did tell me later after I had graduated that I showed them some really interesting stuff that they would never have associated with anime normally, so I guess I did achieve my goal in the end. I think there might have been more anime fans than I was originally led to believe but perhaps none of them were interested in going to an anime club. I say this because at a completely unrelated event I was talking to a friend about the unfortunate passing of Satoshi Kon and why this was a big deal, and someone I barely knew chimed in and said “Oh yeah I heard about that too!” I was shocked that someone else in my high school would even know of the name Satoshi Kon.
Then after that was college. Even though I went to a very nerdy college, I really did not connect much at all with anime fans I met there. It honestly was a really hard time for me as an anime fan to have to come to terms with the fact that I had so little in common with other anime fans in my age group. I am aware that what I am saying would probably anger some of the older fans who may have had to endure bullying for being into anime and would have killed to find any other anime fans. With the exception of one person (Hi Steve!), I basically did not meet any anime fans who really cared much about both old anime and the people who worked on them. Even putting aside old anime, people who went to the anime club in college were not particularly interested in having serious discussions about anime either. Apparently the club used to be open to the public but from what I hear, too many old folks being around turned off students from the showings so it was closed off by a previous club president who had graduated by the time I was attending. While I am sure this was done with good intentions for the students, I was pretty bummed out that had I only attended a few years earlier I would have been able to meet a bunch of older anime fans. The one time during those years I felt a really strong connection with other people about anime was during a summer internship in Tokyo when I was 20 years old; basically all the actual employees in my team were middle aged software engineers. That same summer I was again reminded how out of place I was and still am; I was cel shopping in Nakano Broadway and I realized that the only people that ever walked into the cel shops (I spent hours upon hours just looking at cels) that were younger than me were the kids of couples that were much older than me. It is not easy for me to be reminded frequently about my interests are quite out of place with other fans in my age group. I would love to meet other fans in-person that are into old anime regardless of their age but I do not really know of a way to do so easily. I think most people tend to socialize within their age groups so I am not sure there is an easy way.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was, but I did not really use the internet to try and find other fans during middle and high school. These days I follow a bunch of the Anitwitter folks though. I mostly gave up trying to connect with other fans in real life circles. Some of my college friends who watch anime have tried to appeal to me by claiming to me things of the nature “Miyazaki seems like he thinks he’s the only one who can save anime” or “I can see how Hunter x Hunter was influenced by Naruto.” When I respond “Oh that’s interesting I never heard of that” and then ask them for a citation source or how they know any of this eventually they admit that they were bullshitting me which I do not take kindly to at all. Experiences like this deter me from wanting trying to discuss anime seriously with the anime fans I currently know in person. As a result I now sort of just silently follow the tweetings of (to name a few) the Mike Toole, Dawn / Usamimi and 80s_anime folks of the world. My small (maybe dumb) hope is that perhaps writing all of this may help open up some avenues to connect with other anime fans into older anime.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first anime convention was actually only a little over a year ago, at Anime Boston 2016. Prior to that my entire knowledge of what actually happens at anime conventions was pretty much based the AWO podcast coverage of them. I only went on Sunday and I mostly just spent time in the dealers’ room, especially at the only vendor that was selling cels. Instead of cels, at that booth I ended up buying two Galaxy Express 999 posters, a Royal Space Force poster, and a Macross Do You Remember Love poster. I’m kind of kicking myself for not going for the whole weekend because Masao Maruyama was a guest that year.
Tell me how you got a summer internship in Tokyo. Where was it? Did you speak Japanese? So I actually did three summer internships in a row in Japan. The first in Hyogo Prefecture (near Osaka), the second in Tokyo, and the third in Tokyo. These were all arranged through my school which had a program that you where you could do summer internships abroad. All of these internships were software development related (I majored in Computer Science).
The first internship was for a startup which excluding me and another intern from my school, consisted of literally just my French boss and a Japanese student working there. At lunch sometimes we would use Japanese but for work stuff I would just speak to him in English.
The second internship was for a more traditional Japanese company called Secom, and took place at their research lab in Mitaka city (the same city where the Ghibli museum is located). They asked me what language I preferred to communicate with and I insisted on Japanese because I was trying to get more comfortable speaking it. They seemed relieved and happy to accommodate that request, although we would have once a week English lunch table events which I would go to so they could practice English. Those lunch tables were the only time I spoke English at the company. In the present day my spoken Japanese has atrophied very hard, although I’m still practicing reading and listening. As I mentioned earlier, most of the people in my team were essentially folks in their 40s to 50s who majored in Computer Science back in the day. In other words, the demographic of people who would likely enjoy the same kind of anime that I do. This was exactly the case. I could talk about how great Galaxy Express 999 is and people would respond with pleasant agreement instead of a blank face, wow! Forgive me for tooting my horn a little, but those guys were continually surprised by just how much I knew about older anime properties; actually I feel like I actually don’t know that much compared to the super fans that I follow online. For a presentation I did in front of an audience comprised of people from a bunch of different teams, I showcased some of the cels I bought that summer and invited people to stop by my desk if they wanted to take a look at the rest. One guy who came by was talking about Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise and referred to Hideaki Anno as the director. I gave him a weird look and corrected him, pointing out that the director was in fact Hiroyuki Yamaga. He still wasn’t quite convinced but my supervisor had my back and said “he actually knows a lot about anime.” Most of the people in my team weren’t necessarily hardcore anime fans so much as people who enjoyed anime when they were younger. It just so happens those anime titles were exactly what I was into. As a half-joke I would tell friends in the states that I was finally with my kind of people. It was the first (of very few) major experiences I’ve had offline where I felt like I really had an overlapping anime interest with another group of people.
The third internship was not an internship so much as a summer research experience I did at Tokyo University. I think most students (all of them were graduate students) in the lab could read English decently, which was probably a requirement given that most academia is published in English, but they were no one spoke it at all. It was kind of unfortunate since my Japanese speaking had gotten a lot worse at this point so it was hard to actually engage in conversations about stuff. During my introduction to the lab I did mention (in Japanese) “Hmmm, as far as hobbies I’m into ’80s anime in particular.” After processing what I had said, one of the students responded “… wait we weren’t even born then.”
This reminded me of an amusing experience during my first summer in Japan before my first internship started, where I was in a language exchange thing that was happening at Tokyo University with my Japanese class from school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently my bizarre interest in older anime left an impression on some people there. At the end of this language exchange thing, there was a closing event where on a whim they were someone should do karaoke. Prior to this I had used the opening to Gatchaman in a presentation for my Japanese class so everyone from my class wanted me to go sing the opening in front of a bunch of Tokyo University engineering staff and graduate students, which I did. I’m not even sure the graduate students knew what this was, and it must have been weird for some of the staff to get a flashback to their childhoods.
Was your interest in anime a contributing factor to you taking an internship in Tokyo? Maybe somewhat but honestly I don’t think it was that big of a factor prior to accepting the internship. Completely unrelated to my anime interest, I had read up a lot about lifestyle differences or social issues in Japan. So I was well aware that it isn’t some fantasy land where people casually walk down the street rocking Naruto headbands. Especially coming from Hong Kong and then living in the states, the culture shock wasn’t that big for me by the time I spent my first summer in Japan.
I also didn’t really have this anime fan obsession with Akihabara being the holy land nor did I feel like I absolutely had to make a pilgrimage over there to complete my anime fan journey. I did go a couple of times and at first it was a little overwhelming but honestly overall it was pretty boring for me. If you are down with all the hot anime merchandise and have tons of money, then they will very willingly accommodate that fan interest. But for someone like me whose mind was flooded with obsession over older anime, there wasn’t a lot that catered to me from there. Nakano Broadway on the other hand, THAT is where the old school anime fan stuff is at.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? This is a pretty boring answer because it could apply to anyone besides people that became fans after the rise of streaming as a anime delivery mechanism, but it has to be just the sheer amount of anime that is available via legal means. More accessibility is great but ironically the problem of legal accessibility being solved has lead to the problem of too much anime being available. The latter is not actually a problem because it’s as simple as choosing not to watch everything, but I think any long term fans can probably name a person or two that tried to watch everything available every season and burned out really fast. As far as how this relates to fandom specifically, I think an obsession with always trying to stay up to date has lead to overall anime fandom having a very short term memory. To be honest not long after I was getting into anime I think this was already starting to happen, but now it seems even worse. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t really see the modern equivalent of extreme concentrated pockets of fandom for older properties (whether that’s stuff from when I was getting into anime, or before). It would be a shame to lose that level of fan dedication. That being said, I’m still pretty optimistic that dedicated fandom will still thrive in some form.
When did you discover anime? It was sophomore year of high school (I think around 2006?) when I decided to try anime. Things like memes and imageboards were just starting to get popular. So my first anime was Rozen Maiden because I saw so much art of one of the characters.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was because it was so different from cartoons I’ve seen before. Sixteen-year-old me found it so cool watching animation made by a different culture: what stories they tell, the style of comedy, and what kind of characters they create.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first anime that made me go “alright, this is the best anime I’ve ever watched” is the Aria franchise, cumulating with Aria the Origination. It remains my favorite anime to this day. Fortunately, there isn’t that much merchandise or events related to this show, but I do have the art books, blu-rays, and manga. The day Kawakami Tomoko died in 2011 I was inconsolable. I still get emotional when I hear Athena’s voice.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Bleach and Death Note. I didn’t really pay attention to airing stuff until like 2008, and by then I distinctly remember Lucky Star being all the rage.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I had one or two friends who watched anime as well, but I mostly kept it to myself. I did try showing some stuff to other friends with mixed results.
What were those mixed results? It was more or less a learning experience that different people liked different genres—really, really early on. I showed a good friend Lucky Star and School Rumble, but he enjoyed the more cerebral shows like Serial Experiments Lain and Evangelion instead. I was still in that wonderful phase where I thought every anime was just the most incredible thing ever.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet was a place where I could freely talk about anime because I was in the company of other anime fans. It was a godsend for someone like me, where I just have to share the ideas filling my head to the brim. I started really getting engaged when I joined the Saimoe community (those voting poll contests to democratically determine best girl popular a few years ago) which eventually led to me starting my own anime blog which eventually led to me making fake anime news.
I want to hear more about the origin of your “fake anime news” blog Anime Maru! I had my own blog that I had been writing for a few years. I was proud of my work and more or less did it for fun, and through blogging I virtually met many of my close acquaintances in the anime community (including you!). But over the years I started losing passion for and I was looking for some way to be different. I felt like everyone has an anime blog and while sometimes a great clever idea or unique insight pops into my head, in the end I was just doing what everyone else was doing. I wrote a few parody anime news articles and not only were they incredibly fun to write, the people I shared them with found them really entertaining. I knew I had a fresh new idea, but I had decently high ambitions so I would need a staff. I took some time off to really plan out my vision, do the groundwork for making a website, and finding a good staff of writers. While the first year was a bit rocky and had some growing pains, I finally found joy and passion in writing about anime again. I’m glad I can contribute to this community in my own unique way.
As a blogger, do you interact with newbie fans? If so, how do you think their perspectives are different than when you were a newbie fan? I think Anime Maru targets the hardcore anime crowd a bit more, as a lot of humor is meta-humor about the fanbase itself or oblique current events in the anime world. But outside of writing, I do enjoy talking about anime especially with new people. One trait newbie anime fans all share is being easily impressed by anime. I think this is because early in fandom they are recommended good shows by people trying to help them, and also by the fact they have not been “jaded” by tropes or cliche. To have that innocence back!
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was Anime Expo 2011, for which I flew into Los Angeles for. I never imagined having fun at an anime convention because I couldn’t find anyone interested in going. However, one of the blogs I wrote for at the time offered me press credentials and I just decided to go for it. Besides getting awesome access to guests and not having to stand in line, I was exposed to how fun it was to brush shoulders with “people from the internet” and be in a literal sea of individuals who share my passion. Now I am a regular convention goer.
You had press credentials. So you got paid to write about anime? How did you go from fan to pro? I’m really into anime music. Many years ago I was really into movie soundtracks, and that kind of bled into anime and I began researching anime soundtracks. I was invited by zzeroparticle to contribute on his anime music blog for a while because I could write moderately intelligently about anime soundtracks. His blog was a bit more successful and popular than my little shack at the time, and I got to go to some conventions! My fondest experiences with anime music include Yoko Kanno’s PIANO ME performance at Otakon and Kalafina at Anime Expo. For a soundtrack geek at the time like myself, it was an experience of a lifetime.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you found it and anime fandom today? The sheer size and organization of the fandom. Twelve years ago I could easily find a discussion board about anime or watch just about any show using the high seas, but now anime fandom is like a galaxy swirling around thanks to social media. Each fandom has huge rabid communities, and anime has never been more accessible. Anime has become far more mainstream and will only continue to do so.
When did you discover anime? The first anime I ever really saw and connected with was Sailor Moon, when it first aired in the US in 1995. I’d seen anime like Speed Racer and a few Christian titles (like Superbook and the Flying House) beforehand, but Sailor Moon is the one I really connected with.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The mature storylines and the emotional weight of the story. Before I watched anime, many American animated tv shows followed a “monster of the week” formula—it was all about defeating the bad guy while looking both pure of heart and strong. Anime was the first instance in which characters were portrayed with shades of grey. Plus, the animation techniques used were completely different from the ones American shows used.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon definitely had its fan base in 1995. It gained further popularity when it aired on Toonami several years later. Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z were also very popular.
Tell me more about getting into Sailor Moon, your first fandom. Why did you like it so much? To be very honest, when Sailor Moon hit the airwaves for the first time in 1995, it was exciting because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Serena/Usagi was this high school girl with meatballs/odangos in her head who fought the bad guys while being clumsy and imperfect, dealing with an annoying sibling, and hanging out with her friends. She was special but she was just like me—she was a teenager than dealt with the things teenagers dealt with. Furthermore, the narrative was very compelling. Unlike other shows at the time, which were monster-of-the-week good guy/bad guy shows, Sailor Moon featured characters that weren’t perfect and quiet flawed. Sailor Moon didn’t always win at the end of the day. You could see her emotionally react to things and even have a breakdown. Even though the original airing was limited to half of the Sailor Moon R season, I still kept watching because it was just so dang addictive!
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Back then, you had to be in the know when it came to anime. This was before Tokyopop made anime infinitely more popular and mainstream. I didn’t know a lot of people who knew about anime. Just my friend and I at the time were into it. Anime conventions were just starting up—they weren’t as popular as they are now.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Anipike [Anime Web Turnpike] was the go-to site for anime information at the time. This was before Facebook, so I connected to other fans via mail groups and Java chats.
What are mail groups and what are java chats? Describe to younger fans reading this who may have never heard of these before. Back when I first started really using the internet, mail groups were the best way to connect to other fans. On Anime Turnpike, the most comprehensive website related to anime (at the time), there were listing for groups related to various series. You’d visit the website to opt-in to the mailing list, and then you’d have to confirm that you wanted it via an email. Then you’d send messages to the group via a special email address.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first ever convention was Anime Central 2005 in Rosemont, Illinois. It was the most exhilarating experience. It was the first time I ever saw cosplay and I was amazed at how people spent so much time on looking like their favorite character. Because it was a 24-hour con, I didn’t get any sleep all three days. My friends and I all went together, and we had an amazing time.
You saw cosplay for the first time at ACen 2005. How much time elapsed before you started doing cosplay yourself? Oh, a good ten years! Honestly, as a plus-size woman, I didn’t think cosplay was for me. I had no sewing skills whatsoever and I was just happy going to events. Also, back then, only a few people would cosplay at events. You could tell that they’d work hard and make it all themselves. And I loved that. The culture wasn’t as visual as it is now. A majority of people were dressed in fan/brand shirts and maybe wigs with cosplayers being a cherished minority. It’s not like that now, is it?
As for myself, I didn’t cosplay until my son was older (about four). I felt like by getting him to dress up for cons gave me carte blanche to do the same. Little did I realize that we’d run with it three years later. Every cosplay we create seems to be more elaborate than the one before it.
How does cosplay allow you to express your anime fandom? It allows me to use a costume to embody and perform a moment that meant a lot to me or carries emotional significance for me. For example, the first elaborate cosplay I ever did was Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro. I watched the film with my son when he was just two and we loved the film. Even though this little toddler had no understanding of the Japanese language, it still managed to connect to him. As for myself, it made me feel like a child, imaginative and whimsy, all over again. When I cosplay as Totoro, it helps me to muster those feelings again and it helps me to connect with others who may have felt the same way watching the film. Because my local convention (Tsukino-con at the University of Victoria) takes place on a college campus, I encounter both con attendees and university students. Even if they may not be attending the convention, both groups know who Totoro is! It warms my heart when people want to hug me or take a picture of me because of their love for Totoro.
Can you tell me about an experience you had while you were cosplaying at a con that made you want to keep doing it? Oh geez, I think that would be cosplaying as Mistress 9 [from Sailor Moon] last summer. My friend was kind enough to make the cosplay for me but I still wasn’t convinced that I could pull it off because we look so vastly different (anime-slender body aside). Lucky for me, my friend and I were sharing a room for the event so she was right there to encourage me and be my biggest cheerleader. As I transformed myself bit by bit—foundation, contouring, make-up—I could see myself transforming in the Messiah of Silence bit by bit. People my scoff when its suggested that cosplayers have the ability to transform into a certain character, but it’s true. Little by little, I saw less of myself and more of Mistress 9. When I finally have everything on, my friend gasped and said to me “You’re really Mistress 9!” And I struggled because I wasn’t about to cry and ruin my make-up! Not everyone knew who I was, but that didn’t matter. I knew who I was and I saw myself transform into that character. Now, every time I cosplay, it’s kind of like a challenge of who I can transform into this time!
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and anime fandom when you first discovered it? Hmm… that’s an interesting question. I think back then, anime was this low-key, under the radar thing that only people who were in the know knew about. Like, if you liked a show and someone who was a fan of the same show found out you liked it, it was a positive thing. Anime was an underground thing back in the mid-to-late 1990s, even if it was becoming more visual. Like, Toonami is credited with bringing anime to the mainstream masses, but anime cons and events were still relatively small compared to now. It was like a treasure hunt – you had to really work hard to find out more about your favorite shows which made you appreciate it even more. My friends and I would pour our resources together and piece the puzzle of various anime series. It was very much a community-based culture back then. I guess what I’m trying to say is that back then, it was more of a subculture and fans treated it as such. Nowadays, it’s everywhere. You don’t have to send money in the mail to get a fan sub tape that has humorous translator notes. I mean, Sailor Moon is such a prominent series that I got to write my master’s thesis about it! People from all walks of like attend anime cons, it’s not just a one-off celebrate created by nerds for other nerds. Parents may have wondered why you were watching animation in another language, but now, parents and their families go to anime cons. It’s good to see that so many people like anime now, but the small community feel is for the most part gone. A good way of saying it is “Anime Con? We e-sports now!” or something like that.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I certainly remember watching broadcasts of shows like Voltron and Speed Racer and G-Force and (particularly) Star Blazers on TV when I was a kid. But some I was too young during some of them to differentiate them from Hanna Barbara or Herculoids, and others came about later but melded into Transformers and Thundercats and other shows as well. I don’t really count US broadcast dubs as “discovering anime” or as part of my “otaku origin.”
Robotech, I half-count. I think because I got into this show DEEP, discovered it right as it was hitting our shores, and followed it avidly the whole way. Also because it contained more elements “more stereotypically and uniquely anime” than the earlier broadcast dubs, and hit me at the right age to prime me for the rest. Transforming fighter jets that even a dink like Rick Hunter could learn to pilot hit my 10-year-old boy brain pretty damn hard, and developing a crush on Minmei just seemed to make perfect sense. Interestingly it wasn’t the animation itself which really dug me in, but the novelizations that started to drop when I was 12. I read feverishly at the time, and I had no enjoyment limitations (broadcast schedule, TV availability) with the novels like I did with the show, the story mapped out further, and it introduced more maturity to the overall story by End of the Circle than I ever got from the show. (Or that eventually watching the anime sources Robotech was based on would deliver.) I could share them, get other friends into them, and that played the largest part in priming me for “official anime” which would come to me in high school.
I’d started collecting comics only a few years before, so my comics habit introduced me to a few upperclassmen pretty quickly, to find the better comics store option they used. It also introduced me to someone who collected raw Japanese anime that was getting passed around in a college club he had access to. I’d hand him VHS tapes, and he would return them packed to the gills with anime.
This was the very best deal.
So I can tell exactly what my first “otaku exposure” was for me, since I still have my “Japanese Animation #1” VHS, carefully labeled and timecoded for ease of quickly advancing to the show I wanted to rewatch. The front label is getting sun-bleached to the point of illegibility now (as many others are fully) but the top label has always been protected by the case, so…
Bubblegum Crisis #1-2 (0-1230) Grey Digital Target (1283-2630) Dirty Pair: Project Eden (2631-3810) Megazone 23: Part 1 (3811-4800)
“Konya wa Hurricane” [the Bubblegum Crisis theme] haunts my soul to this day, because I consider it my very first “otaku exposure.”
I probably had about 6 “packed with random” tapes that I rewatched continuously. I don’t have the exact order of everything else, but I know Tape 2 had Dangiaoh, Dragon’s Heaven, Gunbuster (1-2), and Venus Wars. Project A-Ko and Devil Hunter Yohko would enter my life shortly. Vampire Hunter D and Demon City Shinjuku and Wind Ninja Chronicles would light up my supernaturalism and horror appreciation. Kimagure Orange Road would be my first introduction to “TV series anime,” and I Ayukawa Madoka became my first serious waifu before waifus were waifus, even though I only had episodes 5-8 to watch over and over again. (Though Minmei from Do You Remember Love was probably my first inkling of it.)
It would actually take me a few years to start getting any anime, subbed or dubbed. Prior to that I was rewatching the raw Japanese and getting everything I could from tone and scene context. It linked me pretty close to how the Japanese language sounds, even if I never committed to learning it. If I was lucky I could find translated scripts on BBSs [Bulletin Board Systems] and read those. When I DID get access to my first “modern dub” is was Warriors of the Wind, on the same tape as Nausicaa in raw Japanese. Eventually I would watch both to compare the vocals and scene edits, and would come out on the other side concluding that the English dub’s acting sucked horribly, and I disagreed vehemently with all the editing they did (something I did not know they were prone to, prior). As well on the same tape I gained access to my first official subtitled anime in MADOX-01. “Wait, so I can get the original work, without editing and horrible acting, and I just read the dialogue in English? SOLD!”
I officially had the sub/dub war on one VHS, and decided the victor, before I knew there was a war or a place to fight online.
I wouldn’t find TOO many people to convert to anime-appreciation in my early years, so mainly chatted with the upperclassman who introduced me to it and kept me fed, and otherwise… I rewatched. I stuck my stereo up to the TV’s mono speaker and recorded music for my own mix tapes. I rewatched some more.
I’d like to hear more about your older otaku friends. I was a freshman in high school, so 14 at the time. Started high school in ’89 and had been collecting comics for a couple years; wiki tells me Transformers #25 was February 1987, and it was “Megatron’s Last Stand!” that first got me to pay attention and start collecting. I’d mainly been picking comics off the newstand at grocery stores and book stores at the mall up until high school. I met a junior named Terry in choir who went to a specialty comic store a few towns over (older people who can drive!), and through him a sophomore named Tim who had a job working weekends at a local Diamond distribution warehouse. (Basically, they fed the comics TO the stores.) It was Tim who started getting me the anime tapes, after we started chatting about Robotech. I think his brother was at a local community college, and it was there that anime was making the club rounds. Terry was more of a general comic book enthusiast, and older enough that we didn’t hang out much outside of chatting before and after choir. With Tim I found the anime specialty, but also a fellow geek and gamer about other things, as over the high school years he would run Robotech RPG games (as would I), played a bunch of Games Workshop stuff with his friends, and such. (Tim also held back a quality Macross Super Veritech VF-1S for me that was sitting in the warehouse, but $25 was a lot for me back then, and I never snagged it. A decision I regret to this day.)
Terry I only knew for the two years we shared in high school, and Tim as well, though I’d still see him at various fine arts events my senior year and some years afterward. (I think he was the only one who knew how to properly use their ancient stage lighting board.) And while I tried out anime among some of my friends during high school, it didn’t really stick. Even with Tim we’d mainly chat about things after the fact, since he had already watched whatever he passed copied for me, and hanging out in a group was mainly for gaming rather than anime. So by and large ’89 to ’95 was much more of a “me doing my own thing” with anime, and would only come to change after college and new friends and convention-going. Some of them I am friends with to this day, go to Otakon with, and anime even reconnected me more strongly with my oldest-running friend (my grade, who I met in pre-school when we were four).
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’d like to say “maturity,” but in truth probably all manner of “otherness” appealed to me first, of which mature story and action were just a part. Japan at the time was fascinating, and had an aura of “nerd cool.” I knew things I particularly loved—Transformers and Robotech—originally CAME from Japan, even if I wasn’t fully on the process. So Japan was apparently pretty awesome, and this still was PURE Japan! I mean, they were speaking Japanese and ONLY Japanese!
It delivered animation that certainly was far and away more involved than American fare. Bloody, violent, grotesque, action-packed, and R-rated in all that represents. (Yes, I mean boobs. To a 14-15 year-old four-eyed geek, Priss was extremely risqué right from the first shots of her, appealing, and Mackie got to “sneak a peek” here and there at the whole gang. Grey Digital Target had a shower scene, casual toplessness, AND sex scenes! Gunbuster had casual and comedic toplessness of epic memorability. Ha… get it? “TOPless!” Look if Diebuster can make that joke, so can I.)
But it would eventually introduce me to “wait, THAT can be animated?” as well. Kimagure Orange Road was just… a high school romance? (Admittedly with a sci-fi twist.) They Were Eleven was a compelling sci-fi/adventure/mystery/romance? Can you even combine all those things?! Apparently, because it was great! I Can Hear the Sea was just… well, a sweet romance. No kung-fu, no laser beams, no psychic powers, no nothing. In a cartoon? No shit?
As much as I suppose I also cared about having my own special nerdiness to appreciate that most others knew nothing about or did not, and as much as “otherness” is attractive but usually doesn’t last long, it would be anime’s sheer depth and scope that would keep me tuned in for the next…
Wait, how many years? 1, 2, 3… 28?!?
*Captain Gloval gruble* Bozhe moi…
I don’t think fans today realize that back then fans had no translations at all sometimes. Can you talk more about this? Why wasn’t it boring to watch a show when you didn’t understand the dialogue? About what year or age do you recall first getting dubbed and subbed shows? As to “why wasn’t it boring,” I think this fed into the “otherness” I mentioned to begin with. It was… special. I mean, it was something you really couldn’t get any other way. (At least to my knowledge. And to any level of convenience.) I was learning where this stuff came from, including Robotech‘s source itself. And if that required a bit of effort, well… It was effort well worth giving! In many ways, it made it less boring. You could get a lot out of just the visuals and sound by itself, and piece together “what they’re saying” even when you don’t strictly-speaking know what’s being said. It added a tinge of… mystery to things, somehow. And it certainly made things amusingly to learn about later, when actually seeing the dialogue! I’d get the occasional scripts and synopses downloaded from BBSs, but that was infrequently enough as well. But you would be surprised how much continues to sink in just from repeat viewings!
The tape I mentioned with Warriors of the Wind and MADOX-01 on it were my first official sub and dub exposures, which was probably in ’92. But that didn’t mean “and after that, subs were broadly available!” Those were two of a very small number of exceptions throughout high school. In college that changed, but in a different way. It suddenly became easier for me to collect localized manga. Starting with Ranma 1/2 and picking up pretty much anything they or Dark Horse did, I finally got acclimated to translated works, but anime was expensive and my college clubs weren’t anime-related. Magic: the Gathering started to take up all my time and money, at that point.
It really wouldn’t be until the Sailor Moon DiC broadcasts that I picked up anything more commonplace (and even that would serve to cement my dislike of dubs). Anime East ’95 got me a “duffel bag of Ranma” that would be passed around among us (old school friends, new Magic: The Gathering friends, new college RPG friends), so even at that stage it was still access to raw Japanese content (this time full broadcasts, with commercials!) which was getting people into the habit. It was maybe not their first exposure, but it would prove to be the strongest exposure for them, too.
“Common access to subs” would probably come in ’96 and beyond. That comic shop I’d been going to since ’89 started expanding into anime, so I could rent quite a lot there. (And specifically he got subtitled tapes, whereas Blockbuster would only have a smattering of dubs.) And from there we would start making trips into NYC Chinatown, which was the bootlegger/importer’s paradise! Anime-wise that meant rampant distribution of fansubber’s content. $5/tape or cheaper when you bought enough. I really couldn’t afford the “two episodes for $35-40” which was still commonplace at that time. So I’d rent, or bootleg.
Did anime inspire you to be interested in Japan in other ways? Like, did you ever visit or study the language? It couldn’t help but to! I did take classes in college, but not too many. Much moreso, it made me interested in cultural aspects in general. And even more, it certainly affected my culinary exposure! Sometime in ’95 or ’96 I started going with that aforementioned pre-school friend (brought into vogue by the Duffel Bag of Ranma™ and the other friends it grabbed) to Yaohan supermarket in Edgewater, NJ (now a Mitsuwa Marketplace) where I would become somewhat permanently addicted to Japanese food of all sorts. Initially of course it was to pick up anything recognizable (Nuku Nuku loves eating taiyaki, give me some of that!), but that quickly turns into trying anything and everything. (Including regret when the taikayi/obanyaki vendor downsizes and no longer offers takoyaki or okonomiyaki. I still lack good okonomiyaki options, and it makes me sad.) I had only experimented with sushi prior to my otaku origin, but that became a lifeblood. Chopsticks turned from curiosity to requirement at any meal that offered them. Lately I’ve been burning through history podcasts in general, and Japan among them. Some art and literature collection outside of the anime-adjacent.
Visiting I desperately want to do, but have not had the opportunity–or rather the wherewithal–to do so. So on that front I continue to live vicariously through anime, and @Surwill.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I couldn’t even tell you. For years all I could judge by was the stuff my friend obtained for me, so it all mixed together. Everyone else were people I got into it myself.
I suppose the first inking I got from “outside” dudes I didn’t know were those who knew Fist of the North Star, Akira, Vampire Hunter D, and nothing else.
Well, maybe Ninja Scroll.
I would attend my first anime con in 1995, so at that point I started to get a view of the wider community in the US. But by that point I had a cadre of friends who all largely came to it through me, and otherwise came in from the Sailor Moon/DiC direction.
I did make a new friend who met someone at that con who had all of Ranma 1/2 broadcast dubs from Japan. So that become one of my larger “popular” assumptions. Those tapes would also become a huge entry point for a larger second wave of otaku friends.
Interested in your role as a member of an earlier wave of fandom introducing a younger generation to anime. Did you feel like a mentor? How did you introduce people to anime? That is an interesting thing to ponder. I don’t suppose I ever felt like a “mentor” to most of the folk I watched anime with, for a long time. That’s probably because my gaming and general geeky proclivities always made me search out above and below my age for anyone who’s interested, and can play with. I started BBSing in ’86 or so, and that was mostly an older-boys kind of activity, so when I would make friends with a sysp[ and was invited to their MERP/Rolemaster group… I was a 13-year-old hanging with high-schoolers and being GM’ed by a 30-year-old. So when it got to the point where I was 20+ and hanging with some 15-year-olds to play Magic… it didn’t feel out of place. Older or younger, if you’re always fighting to maintain a small group of friends to play what you enjoy, they’re all peers. Yes, peers who may not be able to drive yet, but… you’re getting them into games in hopes of all having fun and skilling up together. You’re role-playing with each other constantly as elfin wizards or hundred-year-old vampires… You’re all taking turns running games and playing in games, and shifting from one activity to another… It’s pretty much an equalizer.
So in that regard, while I had a lot more exposure for a lot longer than some, they’re “skilling up” the same way, at the same time. We’re all watching shows we newly gained access to together. I didn’t really feel like I was “mentoring” anyone, because a lot of us were exposed at the same time (phrasing!) to all the Tenchi rentals, all the Chinatown trips leading to Kenshin and Gundam Wing weekend marathons… “Thank Eru, more people to play Magic with!” turned into “Thank Eru, more people to buy tapes as well, which we can all watch!” Starting in ’89 vs starting in ’95 is small beans at that point. They may not have watched Gunbuster raw dozens of times, but they DID watch and love it when I picked up the legit tapes! But we were already all in the midst of so much other stuff. No mentor feelings in particular, just new friends to ride the waves with. Also they’d mostly had some original exposure on their own (Sailor Moon, Ghibli films) because anime started becoming more popular and nerd-adjacent. Our enthusiasm fed off each other, and went to more places.
I suppose the first genuine time I ever felt like a “mentor” was with my nephew. I was his source of the eclectic and weird, especially the Japanese, so I had fun trying out which movies to gift him and when… And while he still watches occasionally, he never felt the same kind of bite. (Not with anime, not with Magic. So rude.)
I felt a bit more with a friend I met on forums, who’s younger than me but got started early on a litany of kids. (I tried to name some, but sadly no takers on “Archimedes” or “Elanor.”) The forum was run by that pre-school friend. I’d actually been out of the anime habit for a while (’01 I stopped staffing at Otakon, through ’06) and he and a simple schoolgirl named Haruhi pulled me back in, more enthusiastic than ever. My eventually-having-six-kids friend had some Ghibli exposure, but I would eventually get her and her crew into watching a lot more. Cross-country mentoring, but… it stirs the heart to know that a 4-year-old can stare with rapt fascination at Nanba Mutta’s face along with the entire family.
But I suppose my MOST mentoring experience would be… with my mom.
She straight up HATED “those squeaky-voiced, huge-eyed kids” (her description of Star Blazers) when I watched any of that as a kid. She bought me Robotech novels, but that was alongside Tolkien and McCaffrey and the host of books she’d get me into, so I think that was more of a curiosity. And she’d occasionally peek in to check out some of the stuff I’d watch when I was older (alternately fascinated by the style and grossed out by the content of Vampire Hunter D, for instance), but outside of the usual “good Ghibli stuff” and some things that would escape our corner of the world to get some mainstream and critical attention (Millennium Actress, for instance), nothing in particular stuck. I brought a stuffed Ryo-Ohki back from a convention, which she likes. But that’s cheating, Ryo-Ohki is adorable.
But that changed after I became “a seasonal.” I’ve been a Crunchyroll member since 2010, and used it to rewatch old stuff, keep up with new and interesting stuff… It slowly picked up steam until the past few years turned into 10-20 titles minimum per season, and one show in particular I recommended to her while it was running. After Kaori’s performance in Your Lie in April #2, I found a YouTube video of it put up quickly and said “hey, watch this.” She wanted to know where it was from, so I gave her the Crunchyroll account as well. And we stated watching that show cross-country as well, texting about it after we’d watch. We kept that up the whole way through. And then after Erased #1, I again said “holy shit you need to watch this now” and THAT became its own simulwatch as well. Erased would prove to open the floodgates to seasonal watching as well. Last season she turned 76, and was watching 10 shows to completion! (Dropping a couple halfway through, and trialing a bunch more.)
I mean, it’s not ALL great news. She’ll rule out whole genres like mecha, doesn’t believe in giving shows three episodes, Midousuji [from Yowamushi Pedal] creeps her out, and she doesn’t think Space Brothers is the finest series ever created… (it’s probably closer to 4th). But her favorite show is probably Rakugo, she fangirls over Majime from The Great Passage, and got to love watching karuta, so… she’s a successful pupil!
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? My high-school years were pretty insular, just me and a friend to start, and a few underclassmen I got into it years later. I wouldn’t process it as anything approaching “fandom” in those days. Even on BBSs, I never found people to chat about anime with. I might pick up some scripts, but that was it. After it led to my first convention, message boards and MUD/MUCK/MUSEs and the internet… that’s when I could count anything as “anime fandom.”
I basically watched Anime Web Turnpike get created, and pursued that often to find these newfangled “websites” getting created which had cool low-res pictures which I would print out in black and white to appreciate at home! Oh, and lyrics! I still listened to a ton of anime songs, and wanted to sing them official-like. So I’d seek out lyric pages, print those, and learn to sing as many as I could. I discovered Hitoshi Doi’s seiyuu database early, and through that learned a whole bunch of names and got exposed to a whole bunch of series I hadn’t heard of.
Other than at cons, anime “fandom” still wasn’t very conversational for me. It was largely slow-moving websites. And occasionally an anime-themed MUCK where I’d role-play, map out “abcb” and attempt to create Megazone 23 underneath it that people could discover and explore.
So I’d watch new things with friends at home, but otherwise we were playing a lot of games. It was more of a personal/insular fandom, with occasional wide exposures by hitting a few conventions.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Anime East 1995. My friend “who converted me” knew one of the con staff, and became staff himself. So I also attended the con, as security, with one of my other friends. For a while Jackie Chan was rumored to be attending, so we fantasized a lot about “running security” for him. 😉
I didn’t get much of a feel for “what a con was about” because my first experience was staffing and being available for the higher-ups. So I had no feeling for the community or events. I thought I would do so by remaining staff in later years, but…! After 1995 it detonated and disappeared forever.
I remember the dealer’s room being miserable. MISERABLE! I was looking for T-shirts and music CDs. There were a smattering of Bubblegum Crisis T-shirts, of fairly poor quality, that were really expensive. Bootlegs had not invaded the show floor, so the official merch was sparse, unimaginative, and expensive. On the last day I remember learning about “Room 303” where someone was selling things… This hotel room was STUFFED TO THE GILLS with exactly what I wanted! I learned all about bootleg iron-on T-shirts this day, and went home with like eight of them. Also I picked up the KOR Sound Color 1-3 albums, which were amazingly cheaper than the CDs on the show floor! (It would take me until Chinatown runs to learn that SonMay was bootleg as well). Which I play first, every time I go to an anime convention, to this day. (I skip the last track on #3. It’s jarringly out-of-context, and a bad way to end it. “One More Yesterday” is the perfect clincher.)
I’m also pretty sure I signed up to pre-order AnimEigo’s KOR laserdiscs here.
Finally, for you what’s the biggest shift between your anime fandom back then and anime fandom today? I suppose it is two things. But two things that are largely everything born of and fostered by The Internet Age, which I preceded-but-anticipated (BBSing since ’86, and a permanent feature of computer labs in ’93).
The first: Access. My origin story involves “anything I count get” and that “anything” was raw Japanese and not at all of my own personal selection. (Not that I wouldn’t have, but that I literally had no choices.) Personally, I think very fondly of these days, and it’s quite possible that without the quirky nature of my exposure, I may not have ever picked it up to the degree I quickly immersed myself in, and continued for as long as I have. If I watched Pokemon as a kid, had friends who talked about the last episode of Naruto or Hunter x Hunter on Crunchyroll…? I don’t know whether I would have thought of it anywhere near as special, or as uniquely interesting to me. I still occasionally try to put myself in the mindset of 15 year-old-me but with access to dozens of shows, translated, and in my lap the day after they air in Japan… and I WAS getting them quicker by getting them raw! It is utterly mind-blowing. There are positives and negatives to how “fandom” and “access” interact with each other today, but it is certainly the most mind-blowing change.
The second: Community. Anime for me was a relentlessly insular thing for me when I started. As much as I got them from my friend, we didn’t watch together. We didn’t chat about it terribly much (since I was the only younger friend of his who was watching). I watched and I rewatched and I recorded music to listen to on my Walkman and I took special pleasure in random personal things like knowing just how to take a run in Ski Club so that “Over the Top” from the Dirty Pair movie would be timed perfectly. While _I_ was a fan, it certainly wasn’t a “fandom.” And while this would change majorly in the future, it was much of my first six years.
After my first convention, I could finally see what “fandom” was, including with my friends. The Duffel Bag of Ranma™ got more of my old school friends into it, and new Magic: The Gathering friends increased their habit alongside. Anime very much became a community thing for me. We’d play Street Fighter and Soulcalibur together. We’d play Magic together. We’d all jump down a Legend of the Five Rings hole together. We’d take trips to Chinatown together. We’d buy out series after series, go to someone’s house, and watch everything we just bought for the rest of the weekend. And that was the main reason I got out of the habit for a few years… Friends moved, or moved on. I restarted because an old-friend-still-hooked got a bunch of us on a forum to start watching together and chatting about it.
And today, we are part of a community that extends to Japan as well. While language and culture barriers are still there, we are watching the same shows ALL OVER THE WORLD together. We post snarky comments and and create instant memes of episodes broadcast the same week. We forum and we podcast and we Discord and we live-chat. I’d text with my mother about YLiA. I’d wake up at exactly the right time to watch Space Brothers the moment it started airing on Crunchyroll with a friend living in Japan. I’ll watch the same show with my friend in California and her kids later in the day from watching it with friends from three timezones. I have a Discord server with every damn airing show anyone wants to chat about in it, so we can spoil the shit out of it with each other which we can’t do on Twitter. Communities within communities, with the ability to build communities to make up for limitations in the other.
And while that TOO can have its downsides, it’s a staggering leap further down the road from “occasionally saw a fanzine.”
Some of us use it to compile stories of even the most long-winded dorks. 😉
It’s nice to be reminded that it’s a goddamn beautiful thing.