#65: Grant J

Age: 30

Location: United States

When did you discover anime? S Depends on the definition of “discover,” as I was exposed to Voltron, Battle of the Planets, Speed Racer, and others so early on they are formative memories. I thought about them in the same way that I thought about Transformers, G.I. Joe, Looney Tunes, or anything else on television—cartoons that I liked.

It wasn’t until I caught Demon City Shinjuku on Sci Fi Channel’s Saturday Anime (I was, what, 8? Maybe 9?) that I became aware of these things as a separate category of animation. It was a feeling similar to when you think, “Oh, I guess I haven’t eaten,” and then you realize you are famished. I began taping Saturday Anime religiously, scouring my grandparents’ TV Guide and newspaper for any sign of airings at strange hours, and renting out everything my local Blockbuster stocked.

Did you live with your grandparents? What did they think about your interest in anime? I was raised by a single mother so I often spent nights, weekends, or entire summers with my grandparents. They took no interest in my anime watching habits as they set up a spare TV for me to watch when I was over. This meant I had free reign, so I took every opportunity to ingest anime, kaiju movies, martial arts movies, and anything else I could find. There was a very real, tactile joy to poring over newspapers and/or Reader’s Digest and trying to find this stuff to watch and record later.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Anime was playing with a completely different toolbox of genre tropes than I was used to, had a cinematic visual language unlike anything I had seen in American animation, and the level of detail communicated to me that these creators cared as much about animation as I did.

And, well, let’s be real—it had blood and kewl robots and lasers and did you see that dude’s head explode?!

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In a word: all. It was incredibly difficult to find, and finding other fans was similarly difficult. After a few failed initial attempts at getting some friends into it, I realized that what I thought was mana from heaven was apparently bizarre to some others. So when I did find other anime fans, we mostly just sat around watching each others’ collections and freaking out about it.

We saw anime as a monolithic pillar, and we loved all of it. Certain titles came up more often than others due to access (like Blockbuster) but until Toonami hit we didn’t really think in those terms. Anime still felt small, whether it really was or we were just dispersed.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Like being in a cult. Or, maybe like being in a cult inside of a cult, since even finding other “general” nerds was tough back then. Geek was not chic in those days—it would be decades before spandex-clad heroes would rake in billions at the box office.

Still, we loved it, it was like having a secret language. We could communicate in a way that no one else really “got” (whether they cared to was another matter).

Since people were quiet about liking anime, how did you find fellow fans? A careful mixture of tactics. The most obvious was asking others if they were fans outright or trying to bring it up casually in conversation (which was not at all casual given my social awkwardness at the time). This may seem strange, but a safe route was keeping my eyes peeled for people who drew a lot. Anime seemed to attract people who either could draw or desperately wished they could (I was/am in the latter category). But often people doodled in class or had art on their trapper keepers (if they were brave enough) and if it was in the “anime” style that was one way to spot new potential friends. Another route was attempting to show people anime that meshed well with existing fandoms like sci fi or fantasy; Bubblegum Crisis and Record of Lodoss War were great litmus tests in this regard. But overall I did anything I could to find new fans without sliding even further down the social ladder.

Where did you mostly hang out with these people? Did you introduce them to shows, or did they introduce you? The schoolyard mostly, and then later at one another’s houses if our parents would let us. We were too nervous to risk bringing tapes to school, so sleepover nights became mad dashes to show all of your favorites to one another and make copies if you had spare tapes. So it was a healthy mixture of both once that initial hurdle had been leapt.

You also mentioned failed attempts to get friends into it. Did you lose friends because of anime? I wouldn’t say I ever lost friends over anime, but my fandom certainly made me drift apart from others that either did not like it or lost interest over time. Though now that I think about it I may have subconsciously shut someone out at one point. I recall a former friend who I never really spent much time with after I showed him the Area 88 OVA and he bad-mouthed it the entire time.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? No, not until much later. Even when the internet appeared, it took a while for enough of us to have home computers and internet access to really even consider searching out fandom online.

Word of mouth, mainly.

Tell me about those early days after you finally did log on.  A lot of Geocities and Angelfire, and a lot of shrines [fan sites to specific anime or characters]. I used to pore over episode and film descriptions, having no clue whether it was accurate or not. I had become pretty skeptical of random nerd information at this point (such as video game rumors about ‘hidden levels’ or ‘secret moves’ that you spent hours trying to uncover, only to find they were a schoolyard lie… it hardens a child), so I was always reading with one eyebrow perched. Still, I voraciously consumed anything and everything I could find, much of it little more than a few words and some still images.

Mostly it started with Robotech, Battle for the Planets/G Force, Star Blazers, Voltron, and Japanese Transformers episodes, but soon it spiraled outwards into whatever else I would come across. I knew of many shows and films by reputation but never really ventured into trying to download entire episodes, and I’m not sure if such a concept even crossed my mind until late high school/college. Forums also helped a lot (I missed the usenet days entirely), but even there information could get dodgy. It was all very hodgepodge, often embellished or fabricated for the sake of making the speaker appear to be king/queen nerd. A lot of this information gathering was fun, but it required a lot of effort. Because of this I often spent a lot of time re-watching my favorite shows over and over while digging deeper into those specific fandoms. It was a safer return on my time investment than trying to find new things, a habit I am still trying to break decades later.

For you, what’s the biggest difference between fandom then and fandom now? It feels like we won the war in a way. It’s all here now—we can access basically every single bit of anime that is (and nearly all that was). Anime fandom feels like less of a struggle to get/see the shows, and more like a struggle to sift through the mounds of content and find what is worthwhile. It is not just a problem for young fans, either. I once worked an entire summer to save up the $150+tax for the complete set of six Record of Lodoss War tapes, but these days even I perk a brow at a $10 subscription fee for streaming content including hundreds of titles. Times change but the times also change us, I suppose.

For better or worse we get everything and it’s like drinking from a fire hose. That constant flood changes the texture of fandom quite a bit. Sometimes I feel like anime fandom was a wild dog fighting for scraps and eating anything it could find, but now it will just eat and eat until it’s sick because it doesn’t know any better. That is not meant as a judgment in any way, mind you. Anime has always been about devotion, but I guess the old form of devotion was paying exorbitant prices, building tape trading network, or pounding the pavement to find some hole in the wall store. There is still a lot of devotion in fandom, but it has adapted to match the new ecosystem.

Grant can be reached on Twitter.

#64: Jackson

Age: 24

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When did you discover anime? My first experience with anime is one of my oldest memories, back when I watched mostly the public service broadcaster TVOntario, and my favourite book was The Little Engine That Could. I have vague recollections of that time of the little blonde haired kid who lived in space and went on adventures down on Earth by catching a ride on a comet by hooking one in a fishing net. Some 20 years later I discover the title of that show was Adventures of the Little Prince, which was part of the World Masterpiece Theatre franchise, adapting well-regarded global novels into children’s anime.

After that is a period where anime was always around, mixed in among my other cartoon entertainment. I remember watching Sailor Moon and Garfield most mornings before catching the school bus (Dragon Ball Z was on just before this, but was too early for me to catch). Pokemon and Digimon made big splashes with me and my brother, and everything that looked like them was nicknamed “-mon” on the schoolyard (“Yugimanz,” etc…).

The first time I made the connection that, “Oh all these shows are part of the same category,” was when I discovered Fullmetal Alchemist at age 12. My mother took us along for her friend’s wedding, sending us back to the hotel when it was time for the reception. So there we are flipping through channels late at night to amuse ourselves. We land on Adult Swim and the Phantom Thief episode is showing. The premise of the story and plot of the episode interested me, but the thing that struck me most at the time was the first accidental groping I had ever seen. Of course my hormone-riddled 12-year-old brain said “Yes, more of this please”. Google led me to a site that hosted the episodes and that linked to other series, and the rest is history.

I googled “Yugimanz” but I still don’t get it. Why did this meme get popular? I’d say from people only passingly familiar (maybe they can name Pikachu), and a little disdainful. It’s another proxy battle show with monsters, so it must follow the naming pattern, right? Add in a bit of leetspeak and it deforms farther.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Everything anime did was big. Big emotions, big fights, big stupid idiots, big monsters, big worlds, big grandiose music, big flashy villains. But also stories like FMA that were quieter that told more intense stories with darker consequences than I was used to. It also appealed to my nerdiness: “This power works like this, and interacts with this other power because of such-and-such scientific property.”

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I was big into YuGiOh!, so as far as I’m concerned that was the most popular. Most anything on the FoxBox or Kids WB was A-list material in my book (Shaman King, Ultimate Muscle, Kirby, etc…). I think I just missed the Inuyasha bubble, and got in just as Death Note was hitting. The Big 3 Shonen Jump shows were around, but I wasn’t aware of them then.

What were the big three? Why weren’t you aware of them? I’m speaking of One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. The latter two anime were only on cable and satellite, which I didn’t have, so I wasn’t exposed to them until later. One Piece was on Fox, but it wasn’t a big deal like it became. Shonen Jump magazine was ongoing, but I only ever saw one issue of that, which my aunt got for me because Yugi was on the cover.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? My sphere of fandom initially was basically just me and my brother, watching our favourite Saturday Morning Cartoons, reading magazines off the rack at the grocery store. After that, a couple schoolyard friends who’d bring their flashy toys (Trading Cards, Digivices, etc.). A lot of playing pretend and battles of the imagination happening during recess.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The first anime forum I joined was a YuGiOh! one, fronted by a simple generator that let you create cards. I was there for the card game, but there was an Anime and Manga section. I learned a whole bunch of things for the first time. Things like the word “anime,” and that it doesn’t rhyme with “lime.”

Everyone had anime avatars/signatures, many leading me to new shows to watch. One time I was asked over MSN what my thoughts were on Bleach and I replied, “Like the cleaning liquid?” It was full of cool people, and troublemakers. People who could write, draw, role play, edit photos and videos, critique creations, and play the card game, of course.

Do you remember your first convention? Anime North 2011 in Toronto. The first summer after moving away from home for university. It was an exciting time: I had joined in the anime club, had been exposed to many more anime titles, and had a much better idea of what I liked. I don’t recall any events or guests that year, but my traveling companions pointed me to the big ones, like Anime Hell. I have some photos of the time, mostly cosplayers of Fairy Tail and One Piece, as well as a tentacle monster carrying a blow-up doll, and a Morning Rescue cosplayer from Madoka Magica. I spent big in the dealer’s hall, adding to my modest collection of DVDs and merch. And had my first experience meeting an internet celebrity and bumbling in front of them. I made a friend or two, and had plenty of polite conversation, but it was the next year that I made some real connections and stayed in contact with people.

What was the biggest thing you bought? How much was it? That first year, must’ve been the 10 manga volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist which I spent about $40 on.

Who was that internet celebrity you met? It was Arkada of Glass Reflections fame.

Tell me about the following year and making real connections! That following year, Anime 2012, I decided to try cosplaying for the first time. Pretty simple, Sanji from One Piece, just my one good suit and a blonde wig. Went around the photoshoots taking pictures. Funny thing happens when I go to the Fairy Tail one. Because I look like a character from that show (Leo), and get roped into the shoot and I play it off in character as Sanji sneaking in to get close to the pretty FT girls. After that weekend, I go looking around for pictures from the shoot and someone’s started a group chat on Facebook for cosplayers at that shoot. Seems I’d made a memorable impression. The 20 or so of us get talking and knowing each other better, soon we’re throwing holiday parties and hanging out on weekends the play boardgames.

Jackson can be reached on Twitter

#63: Greg

Age: 24

Location: Baton Rouge

When did you discover anime?  I watched Pokemon as a kid, mainly just because I was a fan of the game franchise. I wasn’t so interested in the shonen action anime on Toonami, but I was somewhat interested in Spirited Away and other movies I saw at Blockbuster. I finally watched Spirited Away on Toonami in 2006 and saw Ponyo at the theater in 2009. During the summer of 2011, I was trying to get into more diverse cinema, so I made a point to watch the rest of Miyazaki’s films. I spent some of that next year watching other notable films like Akira and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time before deciding to watch some series. I referred to IGN’s Top 100 Animated Series list. Cowboy Bebop was #14, Evangelion was #10. I started with Cowboy Bebop because a friend had already suggested it, then FLCL because I saw it on Adult Swim and it looked interesting, then Eva.

Is that still up and if so, can I have a link? It is!  I actually thought it had been taken down, but it seems to be back in a new format.  The list is for all animated series, not anime specifically, and only shows that aired on American television were eligible.  For instance, The Simpsons was #1.  I started with Cowboy Bebop (#14) and moved to Evangelion (#10) partly because they were the highest ranking anime on the list and partly because they were the only anime on the list that I had never heard of.  The list also features Gundam Wing, Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and Death Note, shows that were popular on Toonami with my middle school friends.  I had some preconceived notions about the kinds of shows that aired on Toonami and was trying to avoid anything too popular, so I skipped past those.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Anime seemed to be hitting a middle ground between “cartoons for kids” and “cartoons for adults” that American animation wasn’t attempting. I liked, with Eva in particular, that anime was being used to tell long-form stories with intimate character focus and was using film language in interesting ways. I also liked, for FLCL in particular, that anime could be “pervy” without being vulgar or crass the way a lot of Adult Swim’s original programming often is.

Can you elaborate with an example? I sort of regret my choice of words there, but what I meant is that, in Family Guy and other Western animated series for adult audiences, sex and sexuality mostly seemed to be used to set up crass humor. When FLCL and Evangelion dealt with sexual themes, they did so with what felt like a great deal more sensitivity and understanding. That may not be a fair comparison, but that was one of the more noticeable difference between the shows I watched before getting into anime and the shows I was discovering as I was getting into anime.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I wasn’t paying much attention to what was popular at the time, but Sword Art Online was the new big simulcast in mid-2012.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was daunting discovering an entire medium and trying to learn everything I could about it. Also, I got into anime around the time that Bandai USA was dying, so it was very easy to find their licenses on YouTube.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I made no attempt to connect to other fans on the Internet for the first several years of my fandom. I mostly just listened to what critics were saying.

Which critics? I discovered Jacob Chapman‘s videos very early into my fandom.  Those videos helped me navigate an intimidating amount of content in order to find some gems.  I also enjoyed reading Anime News Network reviews by Carl Kimlinger and now read pretty much anything Nick Creamer writes.

Do you remember your first convention?  I went to a tiny convention called BayouCon in Lake Charles. I only went on the Sunday, and it was basically dead. The vendors were closing up shop, and the floor was quiet. The few people there were at a panel with an actor from Star Trek Voyager. There was a room showing episodes of a show I would later find out was Shiki.

What was the highlight of that con? Would you go back? I suppose one highlight of that first con was discovering the 2010 horror anime Shiki, which ended up becoming a favorite of mine when I finally watched it several years later.  I did go back to that con the next year, this time on a Saturday and with my brother.  We had a pretty good time.  He bought some Princess Mononoke art for his dorm room, and we sat in on Vic Mignogna’s panel.  I don’t know if I would go to a con again, at least not alone.  I don’t enjoy traveling or crowds.

For you, what’s the biggest difference between fandom for you then and now? I am actually involved with fandom now.  I’m a member of an anime Facebook group and have more recently started talking to people on Twitter, so I’m actually talking to other fans for the first time.  One thing that has definitely changed for me as a fan in the past year is that I have to do more to combat burnout.  I have to choose what shows I dedicate time to more carefully now and try to enjoy shows at my own pace rather than try to keep up with conversations.  It’s been a difficult process with a lot of trial and error.

Greg can be reached on Twitter

#62: Emily

Age: 42

Location: San Francisco Bay Area

When did you discover anime? I grew up watching anime on TV, and while I could tell it was Japanese from all the names in the credits, I didn’t know it was a specific thing called “anime.” I watched stuff like Captain Harlock, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z, Macron 1, Robotech, and all those animated versions of fairytales they’d show on Nickelodeon.

I first got into anime (or “Japanimation”) as a specific thing in high school in 1991. The movie theater at the nearby university was showing a double feature of Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Vampire Hunter D. Both were subtitled. While I actually laughed more at D than Lupin, I thought both were great, and from that point on, I made an effort to find and watch whatever anime I could. The pickings were slim. I could find stuff like Clash of the Bionoids and Warriors of the Wind at local video stores, along with random tentacle things. I also found some anime for rent at a local comic shop, where I managed to watch stuff like Gall Force and later on, Ranma 1/2. I even rented random raw anime from a local Japanese video store.

When I started college in 1992, I saw flyers for the University Anime Club, and I finally managed to join in in 1993. I stayed in the club as a full time member and later as an officer through 1997, and then returned as a regular member again from 2001-2007.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I liked how a lot of it had fantasy and sci-fi elements. Fun stories with young characters. Things I couldn’t really find much of in the fiction and US comics I was reading at the time. (These days, the YA fiction boom covers a lot of what I was missing at the time.)

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Akira or Ranma 1/2.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt a bit odd at first because there weren’t really many girls into it at the time. I’d go to a convention in 1995, and it was definitely mostly guys.

Also, my university’s club was huge. In its heyday in the mid-late ’90s, we’d have 200+ people show up for weekly screenings because the Club was really the only place to see anime beyond the same half-dozen tapes at the video store.

And screenings were different because much of the time in the early days, things were not subtitled so we’d watch with a flyer that had a description of the action. Eventually more things were fansubbed, and Club members with connections got their hands on them and shared the loot. The Club had a huge library of VHS tapes, both raw and fansubbed, that members could check out for a week. So the Club was the place to be, even for all the unsocial nerds, lol. I could chat with people who liked the same things and learn about new shows. As time went on, and the anime selection at video stores increased and the internet made anime more freely available, Club attendance decreased because it wasn’t the only option anymore.

Being a girl in a mostly male space—what was that like? did you ever feel like an outsider? Why do you think anime fandom was so male? I don’t think I really felt like an outsider. Maybe an oddity occasionally at first, but female fandom sort of exploded once Sailor Moon hit, so things changed after that.

A reason the fandom at the time might have skewed more male is because, at least for me locally, the only place I could really find anime stuff at first was my local comic shop, which already skewed male. And a lot of early titles we got were pretty violent: wholesome things like Urotsukidoji, Wicked City, and whatnot. But things like Rumiko Takahashi series had a wider appeal, and then anime started appearing in regular video stores, and then manga started appearing in regular book stores, and so the audience expanded.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was a part of fandom in the form of newsgroups like rec.arts.anime or bulletin boards. Later on there were chat rooms and IRC . Eventually, web pages appeared, and anime fans made tons of fan sites (myself included!) on places like Geocities and you could find all of them through the Anime Web Turnpike. General fansites connected via webrings and top site lists, then collective web pages, then blogs. I think Wikipedia probably killed the concept of the anime fan site, since I don’t see passionate fans really making those sites anymore. Now it’s mostly Wikipedia, news sites, and review blogs.

Tell me about your sites! Are any still up? I made a bunch of anime and manga fan sites, starting in around 1996 or so. I have kept several of them online, though they are kind of painful to look at now, and I only make sporadic attempts to update them.

Currently some of my fansites are for:

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first anime convention was Project Z-kon in January 1995. It was an attempt at making a winter version of A-Kon, but I guess it never took off. It was tiny, maybe only a couple hundred people attended. I had fun though. I went for one day. The dealer’s room had about 6 tables, but I still managed to get a P-chan plush from Ranma 1/2, Macross Plus OST 1, and a Dragon Half CD, so I was happy! It was my first time seeing anime merchandise for sale! My fist big convention was A-Kon 6, later that summer. Maybe 1500 people attended that time, and it was also great fun. The masquerade had entertaining skits, and I was just so amazed to see all the anime merchandise for sale. Lots of bootleg CDs though. I learned quickly how to spot an SM bootleg CD!

There were screening rooms showing things I hadn’t seen, and while there were some people in costume, the focus back then really was more about ANIME than it seems to be these days. My impression of cons now is that they are more about showing off cosplay and repeating memes than the actual act of watching and enjoying anime. But that’s probably because again, anime is so easily available at home now, and everyone is connected on the internet, you don’t really need a club or convention to find other fans.

What’s an SM bootleg CD? SM CDs are “Son May” CDs. Son May was a bootleg company from Taiwan that produced copies of anime CDs—direct copies of existing soundtracks with lesser quality printing on the packaging, as well as their own compilation CDs, like ‘Polling Best Anime Themes of 1996,’ etc. Many anime conventions were not so strict about what kind of merchandise was in the dealers room. So, while we’d always see legit anime music retailers like Mikado selling real CDs for at least $30 a pop, some other dealers would have the Son May CDs for $14-16 each. For broke college students with not too many scruples (or just ignorant about bootlegs), these were amazing lol. Heck, if you had enough friends chipping in, you could order CDs in bulk direct from SM in Taiwan and it would average out to about $6 per CD. I eventually grew out of that phase and realized I should support the industry, and switched to buying real stuff from Mikado, but I still have a bunch of SM CDs from the early days.

In your opinion and personal experience, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? The quantity and easy availability of anime now. It’s staggering how much is out there, and how the internet has made things so much easier to find. The idea that we can watch stuff within hours of Japan is mind-boggling. And that we get almost all of it, the good stuff and the dregs. So fandom feels so spoiled now, hahaha. There are complaints if a show is delayed a few hours or days, or complaints about stuff like Little Witch Academia being delayed a few months for binge streaming here. I want to shake my nth-generation bad-tracking EP mode raw VHS tapes at you spoiled whippersnappers, hahaha.

Emily can be reached on Twitter.

#61: Alexandria G

Age: 20

Location: Columbus, Ohio

When did you discover anime? I discovered anime at a very young age (in the early 2000s) because of my older half-sister Chelsea, who is eight years older than myself. She was always obsessed with Japan and anime, having countless Sailor Moon tapes and merchandise; her closet was bursting with SM dolls and figures, and she had a whole binder full of first edition, Japanese holographic Pokemon cards under her bed. I lusted over it through my whole childhood. She was so obsessive over Sailor Moon that my mother was pushed over the edge and essentially forbade the viewing of anime, and especially Sailor Moon, in any part of the house except for the basement, where she could not see or hear it. Of course, that only made me more curious about it, though I could not express that sentiment out loud. Probably out of spite for my mother, she planted the “anime seed” in me and my younger sister by showing us Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away, Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. We had no idea these movies were from another country since they were dubbed in English, though I don’t think we would have cared much. They were different from the usual coming-of-age Disney stuff we were used to, so I was fascinated with them. When Chelsea went off to college, I would look forward to her return on holidays because she would bring her DVD of Spirited Away back home. Seed successfully planted!

Fast forward a few more years and I was going through my obligatory adolescent wolf phase. I loved roleplaying wolves on forums (my OC was a black wolf named “ViperScar”) and drawing my fursona on deviantART. One day I was looking at some dank wolf art on dA and someone mentioned a show called Wolf’s Rain. So, I gave it a try, because wolves! I binged the whole thing on YouTube, with each episode uploaded in three ten-minute parts in what must have been atrocious quality. I didn’t understand all of it, but I loved it, and it made me feel mature because of all the blood. A few episodes in, I figured out it was Japanese. I didn’t want to be associated with anime since my parents hated it so much, so I rationalized that it wasn’t “real anime,” because it was dubbed in English and had an English OP/ED. I kept my interest in the show a relative secret (though I introduced it to my BFF who probably only sat through it because he had a crush on me).

Alexandria as Riza Hawkeye and Chelsea as Maria Ross from ‘Fullmetal Alchemist.’

My interest in this show allowed me to really bond with Chelsea; we weren’t particularly close until the summer after my fifth grade year, when she discovered I had tasted the forbidden fruit. I think she was excited to have another person to talk to about anime and Japan, even though I had only really seen one title. And I was happy to get the attention and fulfillment resulting from having an actual connection to my sister. She would take me on long drives to the nearby Japanese markets and bookstores and we would talk about anime and play Yoko Kanno tracks from a CD in her car. She also told me about the times in distant past where you would have to get anime by mailing blank tapes to strangers so they could copy shows to them and then send them back. Her stories about ’90s anime fandom were so far removed from my reality at that time that it almost seemed like some sort of mystical Tolkeinesque fantasy. I was enchanted by it. Everything was good.

A few more years passed and my parents separated. Everything was not good. He subjected me, my mother, and my younger sister Danielle to narcissistic abuse, terrorizing us in our family home every day after he got off work and then leaving suddenly to return to his girlfriend. Chelsea and my other half-sister Lindsay were living out-of-state at this time, so they didn’t have to deal with him. Everything had turned around so quickly that no one knew how to handle it. Suddenly, we had no father, no money, barely a mother (she was sick and constantly bedridden; my dad was her physician and purposefully gave her medication that would interact negatively in the body), no friends, and I was deep into clinical depression that was so far unresponsive to medication.

Because of all the turmoil, I became close with Danielle and we binged shows like Sherlock, Hannibal, Adventure Time, and Star Trek: The Next Generation together. When I was a junior in high school, I heard about an animated show called Fullmetal Alchemist, and the premise sounded interesting. There was a catch though: it was one of those forbidden Japanese cartoons! I asked Danielle if she was okay with watching an anime and she was just kind of like “sure.” We were hooked, watching the original and Brotherhood two times over the course of a month. It only made us hungry for more; that summer we watched Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Evangelion. There was a showing of Evangelion 3.33 in theatres that we had the privilege of going to and it was a religious experience. Then, I haphazardly learned how to sew by watching YouTube videos just so we could cosplay Riza Hawkeye and Maria Ross. That winter, we went to our first anime convention wearing the cosplays I so lovingly sewed together. I spent so much time on them that I actually broke my cheapo sewing machine! We were officially knee deep into anime fandom and it only snowballed from there.

To this day I have watched 274 different TV anime and am an avid cosplayer. I have gotten many other people into the medium and am even learning Japanese with great enthusiasm. Most strikingly, it has helped me deal with the treatment-resistant depression that has been slowly taking all positive feelings away from me over the years. Stories like NGE, Rurouni Kenshin, Berserk, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and The Rose of Versailles have given me a slew of interesting and multifaceted characters and situations to analyze, while things like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and One Piece allow me to smile when it seems like nothing else is worth smiling at. All of these things have brought me immense joy and remind me that I am still capable of feeling it.

I know it’s silly and cheesy to say something like this, but I am very thankful for anime. It has allowed me to connect to my family and make friends in new places, inspired me to continue making my own art, and has often made life the slightest bit easier to handle when it seems like everything is falling apart™.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? How unique the stories and characters were in comparison to what was available in the West.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Pokemon and Naruto; later, Attack on Titan.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? When I was a kid and first getting into anime, I wasn’t even that involved in a wider fandom. It was more as a teenager and an adult that I realized there even was a fandom and got more involved. And that was pretty much present day, so it wasn’t much different than now!

Do you know how your half-sister Chelsea found out about anime that led to her getting hooked on Sailor Moon? No surprisingly, no one seems to know how it started. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t into anime, and she is very secretive about her feelings and passions.

Alexandria’s first cosplay, San from ‘Princess Mononoke.’

How did anime fandom lead to an interest in cosplay? How did you learn cosplay was a thing? How did cosplay make you feel? I think it was just a natural evolution of what I was doing before for Halloween, etc. I always went all out on my costumes (e.g. James Cameron’s Avatar costume in for Halloween 2010 with full-body blue paint and latex prosthetics) and enjoyed assuming the identities of fictional characters because I just didn’t like my own identity too much. I saw a lot of cosplay over the internet and I had already learned some sewing basics by the time I was getting serious about anime; It seemed like an enjoyable way to express my deep love for the things I liked while also pretending to not be me for a little bit. Cosplay was and is very empowering for me; I am a lot more animated when cosplaying and it’s fun interacting with people that have the same interests. It’s a source of validation in addition to it being a chance to show off my craftsmanship.

Do you remember your first anime con? Yes, it was Ohayocon 2014! I cosplayed Fullmetal Alchemist with my sister, but we only ended up cosplaying for one afternoon. The con seemed huge and overwhelming, especially since we were so young (I think I was 16-17 while my sister was 13-14). We couldn’t find registration to pick up our badges for the first 2.5 hours we were there, it was actually kind of a stressful experience and we didn’t really go to any panels that because the place was so hard to navigate. The day after was more enjoyable, we decided not to cosplay and were able to go to to more panels because of the time that freed up in the morning.

How does your mom feel about anime now? Does she still dislike it? It’s not something that she seeks out by any means or anything, but she does seem to have a deeper appreciation for anime since it’s helped her daughters so much. At one point, she considered writing a thank you letter to Eiichiro Oda, since One Piece helped me through a very rough part of my life and very well could have saved me.  Heck, I think she considers herself a lowkey fan of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, though a lot of that comes from the surplus of buff and attractive men in that show. Who can blame her, though!

It’s heartening to see how anime helped you bond with your sisters. Do they still watch anime today? Do you still watch together? I am living on my own now so I don’t get to see Danielle very often, but when I come home we marathon it together. I’d say it’s our main sister-bonding activity and it’s a highlight of my visits. I don’t see Chelsea very often either; she lives in Japan and is there indefinitely since she fell in love and got married there! Apparently, she doesn’t watch anime much anymore, though her husband is into it (he’s big on Attack on Titan and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I feel like I haven’t noticed any significant changes since then, I don’t think I’ve been part of anime fandom long enough to notice too much.

Alexandria can be reached on Twitter

#60: Kelly S

Age: 30

Location: Southeastern United States

When did you discover anime? I discovered anime in stages. At first, I found out about a show called Sailor Moon because of chats on AOL. I watched the show on Cartoon Network during the Sailor Moon R arc in the late ’90s. I didn’t realize Sailor Moon was anime at first, but looking around online, I found a fan page that, crazily enough, is still around. I started looking up the different magical girl anime listed, although there wasn’t a lot of information out there at the time. I found the “anime” section of my local video rental store and liked that it all looked like Sailor Moon. The first anime I rented was Ah! My Goddess! It was okay. Then I rented Slayers and fell in love. Slayers was my obsession for years and years, and it was my introduction to fanart, fanfic, fanvids, cosplay… Before I knew it, I was sending out self-addressed stamped envelopes to fansub distros and hanging out at Suncoast. I went to my first convention in 2001.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I liked the art style a lot. It was colorful and bright, and at a time when Lisa Frank was my aesthetic, I think Sailor Moon hit that sweet spot. After getting hooked on the plot, I was curious about what else was out there, and then when I watched Slayers, the storytelling and humor struck home with me.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon was a big one simply due to it being a gateway anime, along with Dragon Ball Z. After that, I can recall licensed releases being popular due to accessibility: Cowboy Bebop, Tenchi Muyo!, Slayers, Record of Lodoss War, Outlaw Star, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Trigun. Magical girl shows were popular.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Pretty fun. It felt like an underground culture at the time, and knowing the lingo and connecting with other fans resulted in strong bonds. Even knowing some Japanese was “cool.”

It took some doing, but I converted one of my friends into an anime fan, and we would have sleepovers where we’d marathon shows. My overnight bag was always heavy with clunky VHS tapes, and I can fondly recall the sound of tapes clacking together as I walked with the bag on my shoulder.

I’d like to hear more about the friend you managed to convert into an anime fan. What won her over? Is she still a fan?  Unfortunately, that friendship fizzled out a while back due to various reasons, so I’m afraid that story is open-ended. My impression is that, for her, it was more of a passing interest. She liked Sailor Moon a bit due to its popularity at the time, but I won her over through sheer enthusiasm, forcing her to watch fansubs with me. She did enjoy Slayers, and so for a while, we’d pass notes to each other in class with doodles of Xellos and Valgarv, our two favorite characters. We enjoyed Kodocha, too. In high school, she became less interested in the anime scene and more interested in other things, eventually moving away as I’d reach an apex in my fandom. I took her with me to a convention once, and although she had fun, we spent a good amount of time hanging out and going off the convention center grounds instead of participating in fan activities.

Slayers seems like it was huge for you. What kind of fanworks did Slayers inspire you to make? I was never involved much in the creation of fanworks, more the consumption. I wrote one fic for an online friend in the Slayers fandom, and never shall it see the light of day! With Slayers, I began to read massive amounts of fanfic, and from that point on, I was a fanfic junkie. Even these days, if I watch, read, or otherwise interact with a piece of media, I immediately look for fanfic. I watched a Netflix show out of curiosity four days ago, and since then, I’ve read about 12-15 fanfics from it. Oftentimes, I may not be a “fan” of the show, but I love the show beyond the show. In addition to fanfic, I made a few terrible fanvids. I used my vidding skills to create a fanvid as a school project once… using a VCR! It was very tedious. Happily, learning about encoding and video formats was a résumé booster, so thank you, terrible fanvids.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes and no. I found anime due to the Internet thanks to simple fan pages. I found the Sailor Moon fan page and learned about the hundreds of episodes that the States didn’t have at the time. I read up on the light novels of Slayers and on the characters of all the shows I watched. Most of the Internet’s role in the late ’90s was as a source of information and images. I saved my favorite illustrations onto 3.5-inch floppy disks.

As time went on, UBBs and message boards became popular, and I talked to people through those. As anime went digital, I talked to people on IRC, too. I bought anime and Japanese imports through web stores. After going to a convention, I’d look up photos on A Fan’s View to relive the moment.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
The first convention I went to, Animazement, was amazing. I met up with an online friend at the con and sang karaoke with them. People were really into Chobits, Dragon Ball Z, and Final Fantasy cosplay. I took disposable cameras to the con and wondered what the people at the photo developing lab thought of all the costumes I’d caught on film as I took the rolls of film to be developed. The con was the only place where I could play DDR and buy Pocky, so I stocked up Japanese snacks and played tons of video games. I also got to see weird Japanese commercials and other late-night video trash, the kind of stuff that’d be easy to find on YouTube now. (The “Yatta!” music video, for example.) J-rock videos were hard to come by, and everyone in my friend circle was happy to see clips. Gackt was huge. A highlight of my trip was running into Yuu Watase on the elevator.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? My family was incredibly supportive of my interest. They were the ones who drove me hours and hours to my first anime convention in my early teens, despite having no idea why I liked “cartoons.” My grandmother even helped sew my first cosplay, and I wore a character wig to her birthday party. No one in my family teased me or told me my interest was silly, even though I suspect they thought my interest was a phase.

Tell me more about acquiring anime at the time. Truth be told, I spent a lot of money on VHS tapes at Suncoast. I was also very lucky to have a well-stocked video rental store nearby that had lots of videos. For example, I didn’t have to buy all of the tapes from Slayers… just the last few. I would say that all of my earned money from my after-school job went into buying VHS tapes. The lack of dual language tracks made the dub versus subs wars very fierce at the time, but I was online friends with some people wanting to be voice actors, so I think dubs were looked at more fondly in my circle than in the rest of fandom. For series that weren’t released yet, I sent in S.A.S.E. (self-addressed stamped envelopes) to various fansub distros. At the time, there were titles out being released that people were 100% convinced would never be brought over to America. When digital media became more prevalent, I upgraded to sending out CD-Rs for digisubs. For a few years, I traveled to another school’s anime club, and all of the members would trade tapes, DVDs, and burned CDs. These days, I have a Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Anime Strike subscription, most of which have offered streams of the shows I watched fansubbed all those years ago. It might be an unpopular opinion, but I still like dubs! I’m so happy to support the people who bring these shows and comics to life.

What’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then, and fandom now? I’d like to know about the biggest different for you personally. It is unbelievably easy to get anime these days, and the pace at which titles are streamable is incredible. For example, the fact that simuldubs are a thing is something I would have never, ever thought possible. If I want to watch Slayers right now, I can press a few buttons on my smartphone and cast it to my television in under a minute. If I want to make a cosplay outfit, there are tutorials available. If I want to binge-read a manga, I can buy the whole series for my Kindle (which I have done). All of this accessible media is not only easy to get a hold of, but it’s accessible in a way that supports the creators, too. It’s also easier to find fans of even the most obscure media.

#59: Chris Adamson

Age: 49

Location: Grand Rapids, MI

When did you discover anime? I remember watching Speed Racer in 1974 when I would have been like seven. I also had some Shogun Warrior toys from when I was 10 because I thought they looked cool (still have them, BTW). But for anime as something with a specific aesthetic and history, that would be watching Robotech in 1985 when I was 17. I found it on afternoon TV in the weeks between finishing a summer job and going off to college. When I got to college, I found it on the San Francisco station and it was just wrapping back around to episode one, so a small crowd of dormmates started watching it in my room every weekday afternoon at 4. One of my roommates joined in enthusiastically; the other went on to become a literal billionaire. So, remember kids: don’t watch anime, go be evil and rich instead.

When you discovered Robotech in high school, did you recognize it as the same medium that the Speed Racer of your childhood was? I knew it was related, because the visual style was obviously different from American TV cartoons. But I didn’t get a full understanding until I found written sources I could learn from. They did a coffee table book for Robotech, available at comic book shops, and its last chapter was an entire history of manga and anime, so that’s where I first learned about Osamu Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto, and big titles like Gundam that hadn’t come over yet, etc.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The storytelling, without a doubt. There was little continuity in 1980s TV, and only anime (and miniseries) had the novelistic approach that’s so popular in scripted TV today. In a way, Robotech was kind of like our animated soap opera, as we were all on pins and needles about whether Rick would end up with Minmay or Lisa, or if Dana would get Zor’s head put back together before it was too late. But it was better than a soap opera because it didn’t just go on forever: things changed, people died, and each chapter of the series came to a solid conclusion.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Well, I’ve said enough about Robotech. Rich, a guy down the hall, also told us about having seen Star Blazers a few years earlier where he grew up, but I’d never seen it (I guess we didn’t get it in Detroit?). As I started getting exposed to the early fandom (see next few questions), I found out about stuff that was popular in fan circles in the late ’80s like Kimagure Orange Road and Urusei Yatsura, though I had no access to it at the time. And when I’d go to hobby shops that imported model kits, I learned the names of other mech franchises of the day: Gundam, Orguss, Dunbine, and the rest.

Your story is different from others about the ’90s because it sounds like you were able to watch stuff legally on American TV. Do you remember what channel? As you got more into anime, how did you find stuff that wasn’t on TV? As the saying goes, “ANIME DEMANDS SUFFERING!” It was actually a little better in the ’80s, because in a big city (I grew up in Detroit and went to college in the Bay Area, then came back to Michigan), you’d have three network affiliates (ABC, NBC, CBS) and then some independent stations. The network stations had game shows and soap operas for their daytime schedules, and the independents would run cartoons. Usually, there’d be an obvious pecking order among the independents: like in Detroit, channel 50 would have the best stuff, then 20, and then 62. Anime, being cheaper than first-run syndication like GI Joe or Transformers, would show up on the lesser independents. So if you really dug deep, and looked at TV Guide listings for 6AM on the crappiest channels, you’d find stuff like Macron One, Tranzor Z, or Teknoman. And remember, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball both got their American start as syndicated shows on these stations. When I was out of grad school and living in an apartment with my girlfriend in Lansing, MI, I found that if I moved the TV and carefully re-pointed the antenna, I could pick up the Grand Rapids station that played Exo-Squad, an US cartoon that was explicitly an attempt to make an American anime-style space opera (in recent years, its creators have straight up said they were inspired by Gundam). In the ’90s, these independents became the Fox, WB, and UPN stations, and the cheap anime got replaced by the Fox and WB kids’ blocks.

Sometimes you could find video rental stores that would go deep on anime. Not Blockbusters or Hollywoods, but in Lansing we had a store called “Video To Go” that went deep in many categories, and they had all of Bubblegum Crisis along with Project A-ko and the Dirty Pair movies, plus a generous selection of hentai of course (it’s hard to overstate how the mere existence of that stuff helped compartmentalize anime as its own distinct thing, if only to help separate it from the cartoons for the kiddies).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Only a few people knew that there was a fandom or what to call it, and I wasn’t really in that group. It wasn’t until Carl Macek gave over the last 30 pages of his Robotech coffee table book to praising the rest of anime and manga that I could get a sense of what was out there and what I could seek out, at which point I’d get into stuff like Trish Ledoux’s “Animag” magazine at the comics shop. So, for me, it was a personal journey to learn more about this stuff, not so much an engagement with a fandom.

Was anime fandom something you could share openly? From what you told me, it sounds like all your college dormmates were fans, too. Except that there were only one or two other clearly anime things around in the mid-’80s (Star Blazers and Voltron), so anime wasn’t quite enough to identify as its own form or genre and merit a lot of discussion. So the small group of us following Robotech were mostly only into Robotech, and it was just one of many interests we had. Also, I did have one friend who got so obsessed with it, seeking out model kits and comics, that he neglected his studies and failed out of school, so that was kind of a black mark that put our enthusiasm in check.

Anime kind of crossed over with comic book culture too, most prominently through Marvel publishing a colorized version of the Akira manga, so some of my comic-book fans went with me to the Akira movie when that hit the local independent theater, though they weren’t interested in anime much beyond that.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Only for super nerds. I was doing computer science at Stanford, and it wasn’t until my junior year until I could get access to Usenet and rec.arts.anime, which was the English-speaking anime world’s most significant online presence for a time. This was also right around the time of the American animation renaissance — at one point, people wanted to post about American cartoons on rec.arts.anime because there wasn’t a better place for it, at least not until rec.arts.animation and alt.tv that groups for those movies and TV shows emerged. I got really into the American renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Tiny Toons, etc.) so around 1990 or so, I drifted away from anime for a while and into these online communities.

Do you remember your first convention? Anime Weekend Atlanta in like 1997 or something. I only found out about it because they happened to be running their early website on the same server as something else I was into (I think the Gundam site from one of the editors of MacAddict magazine?). So that would have been like AWA 4 or something. I’d never been to a pop culture convention, so I didn’t do much the first time, just bought a bunch of Final Fantasy VII stuff in the dealer’s room and attended the Cartoon Network panel (which had the voice actors from Space Ghost Coast to Coast, like George Lowe, who were a total blast but of course had nothing to do with anime). In returning to AWA in later years, I’d get more into watching shows in viewing rooms, learned about AMVs, etc.

What did your family think about your interest in anime? (And what do they think about it now?) In both directions, zero interest. My parents are still alive, and when I mention I’m speaking at an anime con, they politely change the subject, so I don’t stick with it. I once mentioned anime to my wife’s grandmother and she started in on a Pearl Harbor rant, so that was fun. I have kids of my own (ages 15 and 12), but they’re not into anime at all, and it’s not something I’ve pushed; I’m happier they find their own stuff. My wife watched a little anime with me over the years, and she liked some of it (Project A-ko, His and Her Circumstances), but it’s not something she’d ever watch on her own.

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and anime fandom now? Mostly that it’s identifiably its own thing. Anime in the ’80s was largely attached to other fandoms. It was another source of sci-fi action, since there was only so much of that available domestically, even after the “Star Wars” boom. So a lot of where I’d learn about anime was from a comic books store where they had the American comics of Robotech, Lum, and Ranma 1/2, and then import toys and model kits. The store I went to in Palo Alto, CA (“Comics And Comix”), would show random videos on a tiny TV on the counter on Fridays, usually American stuff like the terrible Pryde of the X-Men pilot, but sometimes anime—they had a tape (unsubbed) of the Akira movie before it came out in theaters here, and Char’s Counterattack, which was surely the first fansub I’d ever seen.

Today, you also have all these other genres of anime that even if they had existed back then, wouldn’t have been brought over. The economics of broadcast TV and even for-sale VHS tapes demanded more fans than you’d get for unconventional genres like moé or BL.

The other role anime served at the time was as something for people generally interested in animation. The late ’70s and early ’80s were the nadir of American animation, so some people interested in animation found anime compelling if only because anime directors knew what an over-the-shoulder shot was (because clearly nobody at Hanna-Barbera or DiC did). Along with anime, I was digging into stuff like Ralph Bakshi’s movies and the UPA cartoons from the 1950s, just because I was so frustrated with how plan bad US animation was, at least until we got the renaissance with Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Tiny Toons and all that stuff.

Chris can be reached on Twitter

#58: Gabe P

Age: 27

Location: California

When did you discover anime? Like most people in my age group, I discovered anime during the Pokemon boom. I didn’t get a Game Boy to play the Pokemon Blue videogame until a bit later, but I did have easy access to the trading cards and the TV show. While the show itself was grouped together among other Saturday morning cartoons, there was just a certain thing about Pokemon (besides its popularity) that told me it was different somehow. I already forget when exactly I heard the term used, but in no time, the show became synonymous with the term “anime” for me.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I was never into fantasy worlds with dragons, warlocks, and the like. However, when growing up, those types of worlds seemed to be the only option when it came to some kind of fictional escape from reality. Anime, on the other hand, didn’t seem to play by those rules. The lore of shows like Pokemon or Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball took from a different culture than other shows I watched at the time and as such felt like something less grounded in reality and that much more fun for it.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Pokemon by far. Unlike certain pop culture phenomena where its notoriety relied on how “American” the household itself was, Pokemon was known by absolutely everyone. You know something is big when your grandpa, whose didn’t primarily speak English, still knew what Pokemon was.

What language did your grandpa speak? How did you find out he knew about Pokemon? My grandpa primarily spoke Ilocano, which is a secondary language in the Philippines. He lived with my parents in order to help raise me and my sister, but once a year, he’d always go back to his home town in the Philippines during festival season and come back with souvenirs. One year, while he was back in the Philippines, my mom told me it would be nice to write and send him a letter. Alongside my letter, I ended up sending him a drawing—a copy of the first Pokemon movie poster, logo and all (I distinctly remember using the newspaper’s ad for the movie as a reference). Upon his arrival back in the states that year, he came back with a ton of Pokemon souvenirs—tin pencil boxes, a pocket mirror, folders, pencils all bright yellow with some markings to indicate it was in the style of Pokemon‘s Pikachu in some way or another. I’m sure the picture I drew him was enough of a lead to go off of to figure out if the area had any related merchandise.

Also, what did your family think of your interest in anime, especially as it continued into high school and beyond? My parents were never the type to discourage things I was interested in, even if anime did seem rather juvenile from their perspective. On occasion, they’d see me browsing online and chatting on anime forums or reading manga, but they never directly addressed it in one way or another. I think part of this was the cultural gap between myself and them. Both my parents grew up in the Philippines, so they’ve gotten used to seeing something they were unfamiliar with and being open to its entertainment value even if they didn’t necessarily “get it” themselves. I was clearly enjoying anime, and I never went as far as imitating the violence or develop a negative attitude from it, so they just let things be.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? While anime existed when I grew up, there were definitely shows that people would watch while still not considering themselves fans of anime. Those earlier shows were able to cross that barrier of “weird Japan” in a way that most anime still can’t do, simply because they were the first to do so (at least for that particular era). As such, I wouldn’t consider myself part of “anime fandom” until I was well into high school with shows like Naruto and Bleach.

By high school, there were a lot more shows readily available in America to the point that people (myself included) felt a bit more comfortable with being considered an “anime fan” rather than specifically a fan of one show. And while that lends to the misconception of anime being a genre over a medium, it does allow for people of similar interests to find each other. While I didn’t attend it religiously, I would attend my school’s anime club from time to time and be subject to its president’s pompous ramblings on what obscure anime deserved the highest praises over mainstream trash. It’s pretty much what today’s anime fandom experience is, honestly, except with a lot more torrenting and blank-disc-burning over internet streaming.

That sounds like a crappy situation. Did you have any other interactions with anime fans around that time, or were they all kind of like that? In general, I’ve kept my circle of friends small, making sure to weed out or just ignore anyone that had a “holier than thou” type of approach to their fandom, hence why I didn’t go to my high school’s anime club often, even in senior year when I knew the head honchos of the club. The people I interacted with on a regular enough basis to consider “friend” in high school were either more into videogames and simply tolerated my own anime-related ramblings (as I did their videogame ramblings), or was someone I considered an “equal” in fandom– someone with similar anime tastes and opinions as me. Slightly unrelated, but it’s for this same reason that I’ve hated going to comicbook shops– so many egos in such a concentrated space.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? While streaming wasn’t what it was today by a long shot (YouTube came around my sophomore year of high school. I remember the one “full episode” type of upload I saw was of a Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends episode.), people still had means of accessing anime online. Certain corners of the internet would provide access to torrenting anime illegally. And if you wanted to share a certain series with a friend, you’d have to transfer those episodes from your computer to a disc (read: Multiple discs. Dozens of discs.).

In terms of fandom within the internet, social media wasn’t nearly as prominent as it was today, either. So rather than twitter or tumblr which serve as a nice catch-all for multiple fandoms, at the time I resorted to online forums. Being a big Dragon Ball fan, I immediately discovered the wonderful community at daizex (currently named “Kanzenshuu“), so I never had the misfortune of having to deal with much in terms of vitriol-posters. [Editor’s note: Kanzenshuu’s web master has also submitted an Anime Origin Story.] Being primarily a “sub over dub” type of community, however, it did breed an air of know-it-all-snootiness, though I’d take that over an ignorant fan every time. To this day, I still keep up with a handful of those fellow forum-goers, though the conversation’s shifted over to Twitter.

Do you remember your first convention? Not specifically, but considering my location, it must have been Fanime during high school. I was dropped off by my parents and was immediately given a sensory overload. The dense concentration of nerds, specifically ANIME nerds, was both daunting and soothing, and I definitely took a lot more time wandering through the aisles of merchandise, sifting through what I could only find in small doses at comic shops and occasional Japantown trips before then.

I’m not much of a social person, however, so anime conventions have always felt like this giant oxymoron for me—so many anti-social people gathering together and socializing over this one very specific thing that’s treated as mainstream only within the confines of that building. Anime conventions, especially earlier ones I’ve attended, have been more for me to browse the merchandise in-person more than anything else.

Tell me about Japantown. What was it like discovering it as an anime fan? I grew up in the San Jose area, so I had the option of going to either the Japantown in San Jose or making the slightly longer trip to San Francisco. I never had a liking to American comic book shops just because there was so much ego involved with whoever ran the store. So to go to a shop in Japantown that was similar physically, but run so much more casually felt like a breath of fresh air. Seeing walls and display cases lined with Pokemon cards and figures where I couldn’t read any of the text on it since it was in Japanese felt so much more welcoming. I don’t specifically remember any of the store runners, but it was in this casual and quiet environment that I was able to better appreciate anime and further branch out into other things like figures and manga in the first place. The feeling was only multiplied when a mall closer by opened an Asian-exclusive hobby store.

As a self-described “not much of a social person,” how do you most often participate in anime fandom? I mainly do fan-art, but I also do manga/anime reviews on Fandom Post and have also done a piece on ANN a few months back. And in the case that freelancing doesn’t take any ideas I pitch, I end up just posting them on my personal blog.

For you, what’s the biggest difference between being an anime fan then and now? The biggest difference would have to be the library of what’s available to you. Even if you took some of the less seedy routes to get your anime fix back in the day, it would still be limited to what the distributors released. And at the time when I grew up, the majority of those were action-centric series, resulting in distributors playing catch-up and this strange wave of anime from the 80s and 90s ending up being the most readily available anime for consumption stateside (I remember Yu-Gi-Oh being announced in the states and thinking “oh, they’re trying to catch up by taking a chance on a newer show this time”). Now, there’s so many genres and subgenres released and available via streaming alone that the opposite problem has happened– America has finally caught up to what’s currently being released in Japan and anime fans have become far more picky as to what they want to consume. Lots of “sifting through the chaff to get to the wheat” types of moments are becoming more commonplace because there’s such an oversaturation of anime. It beats the alternative of not having enough and knowing there’s more out there, though.

Gabe can be reached on Twitter

#57: Serdar

Age: 45

Location: Florida

When did you discover anime? (Note: Not long ago, I wrote an essay that contains many of the answers to these questions. I’ll be quoting parts of that essay here as my response.)

For a while, I didn’t even know the name of the first anime series I ever watched. I didn’t even know it was “anime”. It was merely this curious-looking TV show that appeared in one of the leased-time programming blocks on a UHF station that reached my house in northern New Jersey in the early 1980s. Most animated shows were about cartoon animals beating each other into bloodless submission; this one was about a boy with a shaved head living in Japan’s distant past.

The show was called Ikkyu-san, and its sheer oddity (at the time, anyway) made me go back to the leased-time programming block to see what else might turn up. Sure enough, later on, other shows also from Japan appeared: Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999. All of them, including Ikkyu-san, aired with English subtitles. (Between those and the foreign films that aired on PBS, the idea of reading my movies was something I got comfortable with at an early age.) But again, the idea that I was watching something special called “anime” hadn’t entered my mind yet.

In a way, I got into anime backwards. The idea of Japan being a place of interesting things had lodged in my mind early enough that at the tender age of ten, I found myself spending one of my last dollars on a Yukio Mishima novel that proved too tough for me to plow through at the time. A little later came Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, just then in theaters for the first time, and the impact of that sent me scurrying back to the library with a whole passel of names to research: Kurosawa himself, composer Toru Takemitsu, actor Tatsuya Nakadai. The books I unearthed about Japan’s live-action film industry dated from too far back and were too narrow in scope to say anything substantive about animation. There had to be more.

It wasn’t until six years later, when Akira got fairly dropped on my head by a friend, that I was reminded in a full-blown way that yes, Japan did animation too. Boy, did they ever. With far more ambition and enormity of purpose than most anything in this side of the Pacific, too, from what I’d seen. That touched off the second phase of my “Japan thing”, punctuated not only by buying up anime itself, but back issues of the late lamented Mangajin and remaindered copies of Anime UK. A whole culture of others existed who were as curious as I was.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Some of it was the thrill of discovering something that, at the time, seemed like completely undiscovered territory. It wasn’t until I was into my college years that I realized the material in question had a specific label. That made it all the more mysterious, and for that reason all the more inviting.

The other thing that appealed to me was how it presented the absolute flipside, as it were, of everything I’d come to know about Japan through its literature and its cinema. Much of that material had been staid, sober, straight-laced. This stuff was anything but. The contrast between the two made me feel like I had been given a privileged glimpse at Japan—at least until it became a relatively mainstream phenomenon in the West.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? At the time of my first exposure, there wasn’t one, as anime hadn’t yet become a thing of any kind in the U.S.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time?
As I was to later understand it, there was essentially no fandom in the U.S. worth speaking of at the time. There were people scattered here and there who had stumbled across this stuff and were spreading enthusiasm about it essentially by word of mouth between peers. But no fandom as we currently know it.

Where and how did you access anime? Were you able to buy it at stores? Most access was by way of whatever was available at the local video rental store. Very occasionally, I picked up an import LaserDisc (albeit with no English subs); occasionally, bootlegs as well. Sometimes I’d go to the Tower Records Bargain Annex in downtown NYC and pick up cheap stuff from the cut-out bin. (I also found many back issues of “Animage” there, which only fueled my curiosity all the more.) But it wasn’t until DVD came along—and until I had more disposable income generally!—that I could really begin to satisfy my curiosity properly.

In such an early time for fandom, what did your family and friends think of your interest in anime? When they did know about it, they understood it mostly as an adjunct to my existing interest in Japan. That impression was doubled when I started buying the now-defunct magazine “Mangajin”, which I wrote briefly for just before they went bust. My other friends who were fans saw it as being essentially the same kind of thing as being a fan of, say, European comics/BD: a niche taste.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I had to wait until the Internet came along before I became fully aware of the breadth and depth of anime fandom. The fans had been out there waiting all along for something like that to help them find each other. Before that, there were U.S. and U.K.-based publications like “Anime UK”, and publishers like Dark Horse Comics, but they were very few and far between. My only connections with other fans until the Internet really took off was almost entirely by accident.

What kind of accident? Most of how I bumped into other anime/manga fans during that time period was by way of other things—role-playing games, for instance, or meetings at conventions that didn’t really have an anime theme track. I was always surprised by the mere fact that they knew about anime or manga at all. They also almost always had some novel facet of it to share that I’d never been aware of before, again because access to any information at all about such stuff was so hard to come by.

How did you first get Internet and discover over fans that way? I was an early adopter. In the early ’90s, I was an avid dial-up BBS user, and from there I gravitated to online services that were the precursor of modern Internet connectivity. A key one was CompuServe, which had SIGs (Special Interest Groups) that covered a great many subjects. As weird as this sounds, I never thought to look specifically for anything anime/manga related in such SIGs, in big part because I always believed the whole thing was still too obscure to merit that kind of documentation! Eventually, when my CompuServe account became an actual Internet account (by way of another early dial-up provider), I bumped into the first web sites put up by anime fans.

Do you remember your first convention? The first convention, period, that I attended was not specifically anime-themed—it was a general SF/fantasy con with some minor anime track programming. The folks in the anime track were a lot more welcoming than those in the general SF track. Later, when I attended my first general anime con, I found that feeling to have been spot-on.

Tell me how you started writing about anime for About.com. It happened twice, actually! I started back in the late ’90s, when they first appeared under the moniker “The Mining Company” (as in, mining the web for useful information), and managed their anime subsite for several months. I left mainly because I was having trouble juggling the workload, and because I was able to make more money doing freelance work in other venues.

Some years later, in 2010, I circled back and saw they needed an anime guide once again, re-applied, and was accepted. I kept that position for three years, but I didn’t like the format constraints imposed on my work, struggled with their toolset, and grew annoyed with the general lack of guidance. After three years of declining traffic they elected not to renew my contract, and I didn’t shed any tears. One month later I launched Ganriki.org.

Tell me about your anime-inspired novels, and anime-inspired writing in general. In the spirit of this project, how did that start? The first project I did that really fit in that category was probably my 2007 novel Summerworld, which was as much an outgrowth of my general studies of Japan as it was an attempt to do something that had an anime flavor or theme to it. The same went for Tokyo Inferno, which stemmed from me wanting to write something that was set in the Taishō Era, and that had a strong horror/supernatural flavor to it. A third such project in that vein was The Four-Day Weekend, a sort-of love letter to the fandom/convention scene, although that was more about the culture around anime/manga (and the ways people create substitute families through appreciation for such things) than the subject itself.

After that, though, I made a conscious effort to move further way from doing explicit homage to anime/manga in my work. (Another book from this period that did have such things in it, The Underground Sun, remains unfinished, and I don’t know if I’ll ever complete it at this rate.) But a lot of what I took away from the experience of creating those books continues to influence the work I do now, even if my current work isn’t explicitly influenced by anime/manga

What I wanted to keep was not any one particular set of elements or aesthetic sensibilities—it didn’t have to be set in Japan, or employ tropes familiar to anime fans, or what have you. Rather it was about the narrative energy, the thematic fearlessness, the thrill of encountering something unfamiliar but at the same time immediate and accessible. Watching and reading anime and manga sparked those feelings in me, and I wanted to find any way I could to create them on my own for my audience, in a way that only I could.

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between being an anime fan then and now? The biggest thing I can think of is the ease of access and entry. It used to be appallingly difficult to learn *anything* at all about anime or manga; now, it’s more a question of which of a dozen different competing venues to choose from and be flooded with.

But that also means there’s that much less curation going on. Once, a given label could only license a handful of properties for U.S. distribution, and so they had to pick wisely. Now, you have access to every show airing in Japan within hours of it debuting over there. That means more of the burden of making choices falls on your shoulders. And let’s face it—a lot of what was released back in the day wasn’t “classic”; it was crap, too, and some of it really only got elevated to the level of classic because there was so little of the stuff available in the first place that you tended to latch onto whatever was offered.

There’s so much anime and manga out there right now that it’s difficult for people just coming in the door to know where to start or how to proceed. Sometimes they walk in, look around, feel lost, and walk right back out again. The usual tactics of marketing for a given demographic only go so far, especially as people find that good properties defy demographic boundaries. (I can’t *only* recommend Revolutionary Girl Utena or Princess Jellyfish to women, but I know they will find them especially heartening.) So the biggest difference between then and now is, where before we had to learn how not to die of thirst, now we have to learn how now to drown.

Serdar can be reached on Twitter and his blog

#56: Jennifer

Age: 44

Location: Durham, North Carolina

When did you discover anime? In the olden days of the 1970s, there existed Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets, but they never hooked me. In college in the early 1990s, a vampire-loving friend acquired VHS tapes of Vampire Hunter D and Vampire Princess Miyu (OVA) at a science fiction convention; in a fit of nostalgia in 1997 I bought Miyu through Suncoast video, but the clerk gave me such grief for requesting anything as uncool as Japanese cartoons that I resolved to purchase future tapes from some new online vendor called Amazon. Fast forward to the 2000s, when I caught a glimpse of Inuyasha on Adult Swim, and I was hooked. After Inuyasha was Ghost in the Shell, and while it wasn’t to my taste necessarily, the voice actor who played the Major had a phenomenal voice. I bought a TiVo so that I could capture both shows. In 2007 the twenty-something in my lab introduced me to online fan-subbed, and this was back in the day before YouTube videos played longer than ten minutes. To have accessible material was a dream. I’m now a subscriber to legitimate anime stations, and I consume print and digital manga.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Two things: it filled a hole left behind when Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. I will always be a sucker for Scooby-Doo crossed with Days of Our Lives shows. Secondly, the on demand aspect of online fan-subs: all I wanted to do was watch television while eating dinner after a long day at work, and the only thing on cable TV at that time was news or garbage.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was a working professional, so I was only confiding with close friends.

How did being a working professional make fandom prohibitive? Working for a large corporation, there was a lot of pressure to not stand out. It was a very competitive environment. The only safe topics of conversation were traffic, sports, or weather; admitting to liking anything unusual might give your coworkers something sticky with which to label you or otherwise undermine you. It took me years to realize somebody the next lab over watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, too, because we just couldn’t admit it aloud.

Is it different today? Are things easier now? In the workplace, it really depends on the folks in your micro environment. In my mid-forties I mind less about my reputation. If my manager gives me grief because I slapped a Hello Kitty magnet on my car, so be it. What is easier is accessing other fans online.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? I only connected by word of mouth with other fans I knew through work: the twenty-something recent graduate, and the friend practicing her hiragana with names from an anime during a company safety meeting.

When did you first begin participating online, and what form did that take? I had no idea that an online fandom existed until relatively recently. (A couple of years ago?) I found Anime News Network through internet searches and followed the handles of contributors to Twitter. I read more than I write or post, because at the end of an exhausting day, I just want to be informed and entertained. I had no clue that other fans were out there or that I could search for them.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
2009(?) Animazement in Raleigh, NC. I hear that it’s a very well-run convention, and the participants have a reputation for enthusiasm and good behavior. It was overwhelming and fun!

Why did you decide to go to a con? I knew a family who were volunteering, and they encouraged me to go.  They also gave me advice as to which panels to go to, and that helped me from becoming overwhelmed.  It helped that I had been to my own professional conventions before, so I didn’t mind the noise or the crowds.  It also has helped that Animazement has earned a reputation for being a very well-run event, and the crowds are generally well-mannered and cheerful.  I love the  shopping, the energy, and the many creative cosplayers.

For you, what’s the biggest change between anime fandom when you discovered it and anime fandom now? My perception of fandom has changed.  I used to think that fans were all young adults, and while that is who mostly goes to cons, I have found writers online who represent much more diversity in age and experience.

Jennifer can be reached on Twitter.