#119: Austin

Age: 23

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

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.

A ‘Legend of the Galactic Heroes’ cel from Austin’s collection.

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.

A ‘Galaxy Express 999’ cel from Austin’s collection.

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.

A ‘Black Jack’ cel from Austin’s collection.

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?

Austin at Otakon 2017, getting his ‘Bobby’s Girl’ cel signed by creator Masao Maruyama

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.

Austin at Otakon 2017, getting his ‘Bubblegum Crisis’ cel cel signed by Hidenori Matsubara.

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.

Austin can be reached on Twitter and his blog.

#118: Kevin

Age: 26

Location: Chicago, USA

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.

Kevin’s anime figure collection.

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.

Kevin meeting up with Anime Maru fans.

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.

Kevo posing with Eriko-chan, the voice actress for Haruka on ‘The Idolmaster,’ at Anime North 2013.

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.

Kevo can be reached on Twitter

#117: N’Donna

Age: 37

Location: Victoria, BC, Canada

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.

Java chats were just that—chats that operated on Javascript. You’d just create a name for yourself and log in. WBS Chat was pretty popular because you could have a dedicated account and use pictures in the chat. It was kind of like Facebook communities before Facebook in a way.

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.

N’Donna cosplaying as a Team Rocket grunt from ‘Pokemon.’

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.

N’Donna wearing her Princess 9 cosplay.

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.

N’Donna can be reached on Facebook and Twitter.

#116: Cthellis

Age: 42

Location: New Jersey

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.

One of the tapes in Cthellis’ early collection.

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.)

Another of Cthellis’ tapes.

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?

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.

Cthellis can be reached on Twitter

#115: Kristen

Age: 35

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was 11, I stumbled onto a movie called Project A-ko on the Sci-Fi channel’s Saturday animation block. It was an action-comedy film where the hero, a teenage girl who wants to make a good impression in school, is forced into these crazy fights because a classmate wants the hero’s friend to be with her. During the commercial breaks, they would promote other anime movies including Robot Carnival, Akira, and Lily C.A.T.

It was a while later when I found out shows like Samurai Pizza Cats, Maya the Bee, and Hello Kitty were anime. Around that time, I saw Sailor Moon on syndicated TV.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For the most part, it was the animation style. It wasn’t as fluid as say a Don Bluth or a Disney film. In fact, the characters’ mouths weren’t in sync with the dialogue and that piqued my interest.

In sci-fi animated films like Project A-ko and Akira, the fight scenes, the technology, and the overworld were so over-the-top, they looked like expensive blockbuster films.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Samurai Pizza Cats. Keep in mind this was before Toonami existed and many anime were aired on either syndicated or Nickelodeon.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I didn’t even know about fandoms period, let alone a fandom for anime. Not many kids my age at the time were talking about anime. In fact, I don’t think they knew what “anime” was. But then again, I didn’t ask.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The Internet was fairly new when I got into anime. I didn’t discover message boards until a couple years later, and back then, people were discussing episodes of Sailor Moon Stars and Dragon Ball GT.

Could you tell me about when you did discover message boards? I learned about message boards around mid-90s through American Online. Back then, I would spend little time online as the only way I could connect was through the landline, so if I was online, no one else in my house could talk on the phone. I didn’t actually post back then, just read.

However, I jumped into posting on message boards around 2003, while I was in college. I used a few screen names, mostly Anikiki, which is a combination of ‘Anime’ and ‘Kiki’, a name I called my sister’s cat at the time (the cat’s name was ‘Akira’). I made a few online acquaintances, but we would only see each other at conventions.

I joined a variety of websites including Cosplay.com, AMV.org, Nintendo.com, and DeviantArt, just to name a few. On Cosplay.com, mostly I just shared photos and asked for advice on how to make a great costume. On AMV.org, I mostly talked about anime conventions since I don’t usually make AMVs. I made one AMV for a panel at Anime USA my friend and I did about anime in the 1980s, mainly used as an introduction to the panel. On Nintendo.com, I talked about upcoming Nintendo games, Nintendo-related events, did some role playing (I made a shop and an inn called Star Haven Resort (inspired by a place in “Paper Mario”), and chatted with people at Nintendo of America. On Deviantart, I shared my art and ask for advice about art. I don’t usually post on forums anymore as now social media like Facebook and Twitter exist.

Kristen as Suzuka from ‘Outlaw Star.’

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? It was Katsucon 2003. I didn’t even know what to expect when my college buddies from the anime club suggested I come. We didn’t stay long, since there was a blizzard coming. But during the Saturday I did stay, it was a lot to take in. For the most part, I watched some anime and AMVs and played video games in the game room.

Cosplay was the biggest attraction and seeing people having fun, I’d figure I would try dressing in costume in the next convention I attended (Otakon 2003).

Did you? I cosplayed as Suzuka from Outlaw Star, Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog, Ishizu Ishtar from Yu-Gi-Oh, and Marisa Kirisame from Touhou Project. Suzuka and Tails were the first ones I cosplayed at Otakon 2003. Marisa was the latest one, and compared to my other costumes, I felt I had to step up my skills in construction quality and use fewer store-bought items. It is still my favorite costume.

Tell me about the first friend or friends you made through anime fandom. Was it an online or IRL friend? First friends I made through anime fandom were in college. I was very lonely in my first semester in college. It wasn’t until the second semester when I overheard my neighbor in the dorms playing Super Smash Brothers Melee. I joined for a few matches and soon we learned we both liked anime. We watched a few episodes of Slayers Next and Ranma 1/2. In fact, he was the one who got me into watching subs, as he was not much into English dubs. We didn’t talk much after the end of the semester because he was heavily focused on his studies in music and getting into the music fraternity.

However, I did get to meet a few more people, who are still friends with me today, in the college’s anime club. Every week, we would spend the day playing video games, watching anime, and having dinner at the college hangout. Sometimes, we would go to a friend’s house and watch anime, play games, and socialize. It was through them I had learned about anime conventions and we would spend time together at those events.

What was the first anime you really got into? How did you express your fandom? If we were talking about obsessing over a franchise that I would browse through fansites, make fan fiction and fan art, compile a Windows desktop theme, and even build a fansite (filled with my reviews, photos, and fan pieces I’ve done), it would be Mario. My Twitter handle, @starhavenstudio, came from my current website, starhavenstudios.com, which was inspired from my Mario website, “Star Haven Resort”, from my days on the Nintendo forums.

But if we’re talking about an anime that made almost as much as a fan as I was Mario, I probably would say Yu-Gi-Oh. I bought the cards (sadly never played them), cosplayed Ishizu from the show, and joined group photoshoots. At Katsucon 2004, when I premiered the costume, a little girl asked me for my autograph. At the time, I didn’t know what to sign, so I signed my character’s name and my Internet handle.

Finally, can you tell me how your anime fandom is different now than it was then? When I was in high school, not many people other than “geeks” would talk about anime. But when I got to college, I learned I wasn’t alone. There were clubs and conventions people would gather to share their love for anime, video games, and Japanese culture. Because of the club, I did some things I didn’t even dreamed of doing. I didn’t even think about learning Japanese when I entered college, but since a lot of my fellow anime buddies were learning Japanese, or have learned Japanese, I figured I would take a few courses in the language.

I even took some risks by having one of my friends and I do a panel (it was mostly his idea). I was very nervous presenting the panel, even going a little over the time limit. But people stuck around and we even had a discussion, so there were some people who seemed interested.

And with all the times I post anime-related stuff on Facebook, people reading began to get curious about anime and conventions. They were interested in my adventures in conventions and the anime I watched. I will admit it is difficult for me to explain the feeling of my love for anime and the fandom, but I try. I mean, how does one explain subjects like Hatsune Miku, Touhou Project, and some of the popular Internet memes without getting strange reactions? I remember trying to explain Food Wars and its appeal to a co-worker who was curious while looking through the manga. Yeah, it was difficult.

Kristen can be reached on Twitter.

#114: Destiny

Age: 21

Location: Port Saint Lucie Florida

When did you discover anime? I was in Queens, New York visiting my aunt for the summer. She was at work most of the day so I went on the computer looking up different manga (I was a HUGE Case Closed fan) and I stumbled upon the anime Peach Girl. I was hooked ever since!

Destiny as a teenage fan.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
I was 14 or 15 at the time and I was interested in teenage stuff: boys, falling in love, friends, drama at school. Then I find this anime about a girl who looks kind of like me going through the same thing! All I knew before that were American cartoons so I couldn’t believe how real it was.

I’d love to hear more about anime and identity. Was it hard to find American shows featuring people who looked like you or liked things you liked? When I was 14, it was hard to be black girl who liked anime and listened to rock music. It was completely taboo, and if anyone found out, you were either made fun for not being black enough or looked at like a weirdo. Believe it or not my nickname all the way through middle school was Oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside).  In American shows the black character, male or female never dabbled beyond the generic stereotypical interests like sports, fashion, singing, etc. In Peach Girl, although the main character wasn’t  black, she was constantly judged. Because her skin was tan from swimming so much, they assumed she was “easy.” I resonated with her; just because I liked different things, didn’t make me any less black. Watching her deal with that struggle as well as the day to day drama of growing up, really made things easier.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
Naruto, One Piece, Vampire Knight.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Honestly it was difficult . No one in my immediate circle of friends even knew what anime was,  and social media wasn’t really a thing yet.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Without social media thriving yet, I met other fans from my local anime shop or from hanging around the manga section at Borders.

Can you tell me more about meeting people early on? Were you in an anime club? I live in a small town in Florida, so meeting people usually came from school and the local mall. I do remember meeting a couple of  girls in school who loved anime and were judgement free. When I would meet people at Borders, it usually consisted with us trading manga recommendations, and talking about shows we liked. But that was pretty much it. There was an anime club in high school I was too scared to join. I would see them yell anime sayings and one girl even wore her cosplay wig to school. I remember going up and wanting to join them but I heard people talking about how weird it was and chickened out the last minute. I wish I could go back and tell her, “who cares what people say” and at least give it a chance.

Do you remember your first convention? Ah my first convention was actually two years ago! I can’t remember the name but it was in Orlando and it was small. There wasn’t much to do but I was so happy that there were so many people who like the same things I did. There were so many amazing cosplayers.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first fandom I got interested in was Case Closed, later known as Detective Conan. I have always loved Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys so when found this anime I was completely infatuated. I would go online and write fan fiction, make scrapbooks, and try to buy every manga I could get my hands on. My mom was such a huge supporter,  that I found something that made me so happy. She would take me to Borders when they had the “buy 7 get the 8th free” sale and let me fangirl out.

Were you always interested in anime since discovering it, or did you fall in and out of interest over the years? When I first discovered anime it was the only thing I could think about. I wanted to do nothing else but watch anime and read manga. But as I got older, although my interest for anime didn’t die, I rarely found myself any shows.  Since the people I hung out with never even watched anime, I decided to let it be a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I fully merged myself back into the otaku lifestyle.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? To me the difference between fandom from back then and now is, now there’s no social pressure to love what you love. With the Rick & Morty sauce fiasco, Crunchyroll hitting a million paid subscribers, and Star Wars hitting theaters again, it’s okay to be a “nerd.” I talk to people everyday in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older who love anime, and I’ve even learned about older anime that I didn’t even know existed. Everyone has grown up and wants the younger generation to know its okay to be to be yourself.

Destiny can be reached on Twitter or her podcast.

#113: Jeanne Morningstar

Age: 32

Location: Indiana

When did you discover anime? My first exposure to anime was actually those Robotech novelizations by Brian Daley. I ran across them in the late ’90s at that college bookstore we have whose owner will never get rid of anything if he can help it. I was an avid reader of weird obscure science fiction books and this seemed like something intriguingly different, so I jumped in. (This was also how I discovered Doctor Who via the Target novelizations.)

Eventually I started finding out more about anime. I got into Ranma 1/2 via Doctor Who crossover fanfic. (Unfortunately I don’t think the Doctor fell into the Spring of Drowned Girl.) I learned I was supposed to hate Robotech. I learned about Sailor Moon, something that would one day have an enormous transformative impact on my life, via fan pages.

Due to the nature of ’90s anime fandom where the source material was scarce and hard to get ahold of, I didn’t watch actual anime for a long time. I watched my first anime at a high school anime club; I’m pretty sure it was either Nausicaa or Cowboy Bebop. I fell in love with a bunch of shows via fan pages and fanfic that I never actually watched until much later. Even when Toonami started I didn’t get into it because we had only one TV in the house and I was worried what my parents would think of it; I didn’t watch anime regularly until college.

At the time, why were fans against Robotech Most of it was due to the changes that Macek made to the material. (The TVtropes name for unnecessary dub changes was “Macekre.”) There was also I think the desire for “real” anime fans to distinguish themselves from the casuals. There’s always been the issue of Robotech blocking the Macross license, though when anime was kind of an underground-ish thing even among officially licensed works that was less of a big deal.

Of course, there were genuine Robotech fans too, who enjoyed the Macek lore and the novels and comics that built on that. There was actually some excitement when the abortive CGI revival, Robotech 3000, was
announced. There’s a Geocities fan page for Robotech 3000 which I find weirdly poignant now.

You visited fanpages for anime you didn’t watch until much later. How did you understand fan pages for shows you didn’t watch? It was interesting because I wound up developing a lot of emotional investment in things I never saw and still haven’t seen. Then again, sometimes that still happens today. There are a number of shows I’ve never seen but know extensively through shitposts and memes. Back then, the issue was scarcity—anime was hard to get ahold of if you didn’t have the right channels. Now it’s the opposite problem. There are a million series available online and no one can watch them all. (You’d have to eat eventually.)

You were worried about your parents finding out about anime. What did your parents think of your interest in anime when they found out? Initially I think they were a little leery of anime—I had to be careful to distinguish the anime I watched from the hentai, as there was still an aura of perversion and creepiness around anime/manga in the popular consciousness up to the late ’90s. When the mid-’00s manga boom took hold, that lessened, and I started having more conversations about anime and manga with them. This decade, they actually started watching it themselves. At first they were interested only in more “respectable” Ghibli-ish stuff but then got into more otaku-y things
like Fairy Tail. Of course, maybe that’s not so surprising now that we live in a world where influential middle-aged centrist pundits watch hentai.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’ve always been predisposed to like things that are weird and colorful and energetic—that’s why, as a comics fan, the Silver Age stuff I could find reprints of was always my favorite, even deep in the heart of the Image ’90s. (Though that could be like that too, in other ways.) I liked a lot of the motifs and themes that cropped up in anime that was big at the time—giant robots, Blade Runner-style cyberpunk android stuff, magical girls, cool machines, tough women who blew things up.

And gender was definitely a big part of it. I was nonbinary and had no idea at the time. I never questioned consciously whether or not I was a boy but I gravitated toward things that involved female protagonists, and there was a lot of that in anime. Sailor Moon was a story by and for girls and it helped me experience the world in a different way. (I had a tremendous crush on Rei, BTW.) And then there’s Ranma 1/2—one of the first things I came into contact with that made me think about gender fluidity and such. I was intensely fascinated with the concept without quite knowing why.

Can you tell me more about how anime figured into your nonbinary identity? Anime has always been a space that allows for more exploration of
gender variance even as it’s often frustrating in not fully committing
to queerness and transness. Ranma 1/2 helped me think about the
concept of gender fluidity, in a half-articulated sort of way. Sailor
Moon helped make femininity feel more accessible to me and also played
with gender through characters like the Starlights.

Anime has been a hugely important factor in queer and trans culture in
the US among people in my generation and later. (Probably other
countries too—I’d really like to know more about the international
reception of Sailor Moon!) I feel like a lot of trans and nonbinary
people identify with magical girls because it presents femininity
through a lens of transformation-fantasy, where you get the power to
become your best and most fabulous self. I’ve come over the years to
identify more with Usagi, as someone who’s just starting to feel their
way into femininity. She’s not cool and elegant and struggles to keep
up with all the expectations society places on her, but she’s deeply
loved by people around her and has the potential to become a goddess.
Maybe someday I can be a Moon Princess too.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Ranma 1/2 was huge. Huge. It dominated anime fandom in the same way that Naruto, Death Note and such do now. There was an everliving crapton of fanfic. Sailor Moon was big too, and drew in a lot of fic, fanpages, passionate fan investment of all kinds.

Dirty Pair was a series that had a pretty substantial following which I really got into even though I never saw it. I still have a lot of fondness for that concept and characters to this day, even though I’ve only seen like one episode and read a couple of the Adam Warren comics.

Other popular series included Slayers, Evangelion, Tenchi Muyo, and Utena. Dragon Ball Z was the #1 shonen anime back in the ’90s and very early ’00s, but I never really warmed up to that. I do remember that my family used to stay in a vacation house in North Carolina with another family, and we would watch some anime on the Cartoon Network, and they showed the same episodes of Dragon Ball every time we went there. They involved Vegeta turning into a were-monkey. I remember those episodes really well.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Most of how I related to anime was through fanfic and fan pages. That was true of a lot of people back then, I think. There was a ton of fanfic written by people who never actually saw the show, who were basing it on other fanfic they’d read. It was pretty wild.

The fanfic often went in some really weird directions, as fanfic does. There were Ranma 1/2 fics that were slice-of-life comedy like the show, but also ones that were epic dramatic stories, sweet or and tragic relationship-based stories. People got really invested in who was the Best Girl for Ranma and wrote stories that wrote whatever love interest they liked as perfect and demonized the ones they didn’t like. (Polyamory was not really on the table.) There were some really ambitious Sailor Moon stories that created new mythologies. Evangelion attracted a lot of fix-it fic from people who wanted the characters to be happy or wanted it to “make sense.”

There were also original anime-inspired stories, sort of OEL before the age of webcomics. And there were crossovers—just about everything was crossed over at some point with Ranma, Sailor Moon and/or Evangelion. The Sailor Moon/Hellblazer crossover was probably my favorite. There was one mega-crossover series that brought in just about every anime under the sun, and a lot of other fandoms too—Undocumented Features. I think it’s still going on. It started with a bunch of self-insert college students bringing the Dirty Pair to life via a computer program. They blow up the campus, of course, and then the authors each marry one of them and then go off to explore the universe. It eventually crossed over with a million other things, as other authors joined in the universe and married their own anime girlfriends.

And that’s another thing—anime fandom was a lot more straight and cis than it is now. There were a lot of selfinsert-y fics by male writers where they dated their favorite characters. Yaoi was not discussed much, until it made a sudden surge around the beginning of the ’00s, which seemed to be a crucial point for teenage girl fandom activity. There wasn’t a lot of femslash/yuri even though Sailor Moon is extremely conducive to that and Utena was pretty popular. (And Dirty Pair for that matter—there would be a lot more Kei/Yuri if that were a thing now.)

Sometimes people made an effort to scrub queerness out of series that were extremely queer. Like the whole Prince Uranus thing–when some people were claiming Haruka/Michiru wasn’t really gay because Haruka was the reincarnation of a man, and claimed to have sources from [Sailor Moon creator] Naoko Takeuchi to back it up.

That said, I am sure there were a lot of queer people out there running into this stuff in anime and forming their own identities, like I was. We just didn’t have a community and context for that the way we do now.

At the time, how did you connect with other fans? Online? I didn’t really interact with people much on the anime internet. I passively read a lot of fan stuff and lurked on a couple usenet newsgroups. Weirdly I didn’t go much into the Sailor Moon groups, where my future partner was a prolific poster. We were like sailors passing in the night, or something.

Tell me about meeting your partner! Points if the story is related to anime. We met through a small writing group/shared universe we’ve been part
of a long time which originated on Usenet. We both wrote stuff that drew influence from both Western sueprhero comics and animanga. We started collaborating and throwing around ideas and turned out to have a lot of really specific interests in common, like Doctor Who novels. We’re both interested in taking apart and analyzing pop culture and genre fiction so we had a lot of great conversations, and then we eventually both independently realized we were genderfluid, and then that we were in love.

How is your anime fandom experience different today than it was back then? Anime has never been my primary focus but always been a consistent thing in my life. There are particular series I get intensely
into—Yuri!!! on Ice helped me through some difficult times earlier this
year. Nowadays, I learn about new series through Twitter and Tumblr. I
don’t necessarily go out of my way to follow people who post about
anime and manga, but it comes up a lot in queer contexts.

Jeanne can be reached on Twitter

#112: Amy

Age: 34

Location: Wisconsin

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. In retrospect, I saw My Neighbor Totoro on VHS as a little kid because I wanted the cute plush that came with it, but I didn’t know it was anime. Sailor Moon was the first anime I recognized as such, and it spurred my love for the genre as a whole. I was at a Farm & Fleet of all places, one of the most boring stores in the world to my 12-year-old self, but near Christmas, they added toys every year. I saw these superheroine dolls and got really excited because one shared my name (Amy), favorite color (blue), favorite food (sandwiches), and favorite school subject (at the time, math—not so much in later years). I was a huge X-Men fan and I loved that these superpowered girls seemed to be about my age. I asked for Sailor Mercury for Christmas and then figured out it was from a “cartoon show” that was airing in syndication at the time. I had to record it on my VCR each morning because I wasn’t getting up that early. Once I got into the show, I was hooked. It took another few months for me to see Sailor Moon on the cover of an issue of Animerica, and from there, I started buying, renting, and trading more anime series. Some of my earliest other favorites were Ranma 1/2, Slayers, and Dragon Ball Z.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I loved the art style and the uniqueness of the stories I encountered. I was especially excited to see an all-young-girl team of superheroes since I was a big superhero comic reader and none of the series I read were about girls just like my friends and me—until Sailor Moon.

What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Definitely Sailor Moon. For a few years there, it was practically my only anime obsession, although it slowly led me to other ’90s anime. As far as expressing my fandom, I bought every piece of (mostly American) merchandise I could find—which wasn’t that easy to do at the time. But even finding something dumb I’d never use like a Sailor Moon manicure kit at a Shopko was enough to get me excited. I even got a Sailor Moon ice cream bar from an ice cream truck and cleaned the wrapper so I could keep it for years afterward. (I eventually did throw it away…)

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a lot less connected. We had slow Internet, and I spent a lot of time on the Save Our Sailors website and a few AOL Sailor Moon chat rooms, but it wasn’t until I found some anime-loving pen pals (snail mail) that I made some anime-loving friends. Some of my school friends caught a few episodes of Sailor Moon, but they mostly weren’t interested in the same geeky things I was.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? See above. The Internet was harder (and more expensive) to access, so I didn’t spend much time at all online. My pen pals were the best. I wrote to 100 or so at one time. I had a lot more free time on my hands. I still keep in touch with around ten of them online almost every day, but I’ve gone from writing 10 letters a week to two letters a year to no letters at all for the past few years.

How did you meet pen pals to send snail mail? What kind of things did you put in your letters? I’ve written letters since I was about six years old. Originally, I got some international pen pals through a post office program. Eventually, one of those international pen pals, a Japanese one, sent me what’s called a “Friendship Book” (“FB” before Facebook existed!), and it had a list of addresses and people’s ages and interests. She sent me an anime-themed FB, knowing I loved Sailor Moon, and I wrote to everyone around my age in that particular book—mostly other Americans. They introduced me to their pen pals and sent me more FBs in the mail until at one point I had easily around 60-70 pen pals going at once. This was before the Internet was quite as prevalent, so I had more free time. I also advertised for pen pals in Wizard Magazine when I was 12 as an American comic book fan and got a few good anime pen pals from there. (And far too many creeps, ha—don’t try that at home, kids!)

We mostly just talked about anime and what had happened in our lives since we’d last been in touch. We traded photocopies of anime news from Japanese magazines we’d get at comic shops and speculate about seasons of anime we hadn’t seen yet. And yeah, we swapped fansubs on VHS, long before anime was as easy to get. At one point, I had this pen pal I sent two letters a week to—we’d answer the questions in one letter while waiting for the other to arrive—but I wasn’t able to keep in touch with her for long, sadly. She was a Sailor Moon fan who introduced me to Fushigi Yuugi and Watase Yuu, so I’ll always remember her. (Sara R., if you’re reading this, message me to say hello! 😉

I cannot believe you still keep in touch with some pen pals! How did that progress over the years? I still wrote letters regularly throughout my high school and college years, though I’d say it dropped down to about 20 in high school and 10-15 in college. Right about then, the Internet was becoming a more integral part of daily life (we’d had AOL before that, but you were charged by the hour and it tied up your phone line, so I hardly spent more than an hour or two each week online) and most of us got MySpace pages and then Facebook pages and eventually, we signed up for all the social media accounts that are popular these days. We exchanged our online info and then started messaging each other online, which was obviously a lot faster than waiting the week to three weeks it took me to write a reply by hand and send it back then. We all “grew up” and got busier and online just seemed easier, especially since we can check in with each other daily to talk about anime or actually, mostly just see what’s up. (A number of them aren’t as into anime as they once were, but most of them still watch a handful of series each year and one of them still loves anime a ton; she’s the woman behind The Anime Nostalgia podcast.) I still wrote a letter about once every three months to two pals who aren’t that into social media and email up until a couple of years ago, but it just became too much for me to even do that, unfortunately. Oh, and a fun fact: Since I met most of the pals I’m still in touch with through the same FBs, they’ve all been pen pals with each other for decades, too, so we’re kind of a clique, though of course we have our own online and IRL friends from other sources as well.

Amy’s first cosplay, Sora from ‘Digimon.’

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Anime Central in 2002. I had a blast. I went with my sister and met a few of my pen pals briefly while there. I cosplayed as Sora from Digimon the first year, got a few dub actors’ autographs, and went to a few of their panels. (I watched a larger amount of dubs in those days, although I still preferred subtitles.) I remember the Masquerade being especially fun to watch. I think that was the year I got a huge Pyocola from DiGi Charat plush for only $5 on the last day. I was so surprised it was so cheap (because everyone had those DiGi plushes that year) that I had to double-check the price, much to the seller’s apparent annoyance.

Amy posing with voice actors Brad Swaile and Crispin Freeman at an early con.

You went to ACen with your sister. Was she an anime fan too? What did she and the rest of your family think of your interest in anime? My sister is a low-key anime fan, I’d say. She also liked Sailor Moon and watched quite a few series back in the day on my recommendation—Tenchi Muyo! and El-Hazard being a couple of her favorites, but even more recently, Polar Bear Café and some of Chi’s Sweet Home—but she’s always preferred dubs to subs, so she’s not that interested in the streaming-almost-instantly anime of today. We both saw some dub voice actors we liked in the late ’90s/early ’00s at the con together, though. (See pics of me with Brad Swaile and Crispin Freeman.) My sister can sew and I can’t, so she helped me put some of my more basic costumes together. (Like Sora from Digimon.)

My parents knew their kids were geeks. (My sister got me into American superhero comics and my mom got us both into Archie Comics as a kid.) They were pretty supportive, even if they didn’t understand any of it. My mom actually did watch a Studio Ghibli movie marathon on TCM a while back, though, and loved all the movies and she’s a Professor Layton fan, so I showed her that movie, too. My whole extended family knows me as the “Japanese cartoon” fan and two of my cousins are/were anime fans, too. They got me into Berserk and we exchanged Ranma ½, Sailor Moon, and Revolutionary Girl Utena manga and anime growing up.

Finally, for you, what’s the biggest change between your anime fandom then and now? The instant access! I would have wept with joy to have that way back when. An anime episode airs in Japan and you’re watching it translated on your TV less than a day later. I was definitely a more devoted anime fan back then—for example, I wore anime T-shirts a lot as a teen but almost never wear anything like that now. I do have a way bigger manga collection now since manga didn’t really take off here until the 2000s. Also, my room was full wall-to-wall with anime and other pop culture goodies, and I’ve definitely toned that down these days. I’d say American TV has improved a lot since the ’90s (the “Golden Age of TV” and all that), so whereas in the ’90s, I basically watched anime and played games in my free time, watching very little American TV, now I probably love more American shows than anime. At the same time, because of the easy access, I’m watching more anime than I did back then and it’s still a huge part of who I am.

Amy can be reached on Twitter

#111: Ryan Elizabeth

Age: 31

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. The earliest anime I ever remember watching are Cardcaptors and Pokemon because my little brother liked them. It’s weird but I pretty much have no memory at all of seeing the anime that fans my age typically started with like Dragon Ball or Sailor Moon. I had very little interest in cartoons at all as a child, I do remember Power Rangers but of course that’s not anime hah.

I didn’t start to become interested in anime until years later when I started watching Adult Swim with my little brother in my later years of high school. At first I kind of made fun of Inuyasha but I ended up really getting in to it and Rurouni Kenshin. From there I started getting in to manga, especially CLAMP and I started learning about and watching fansubs.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I really liked the art style, I love cute things! I also found the stories interesting.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I felt like Inuyasha was fairly popular at the time but in general probably still Pokemon.

Your little brother got you into anime. Is he still into anime? Do you still watch any anime together? He’s still very into anime but we don’t usually watch shows together because we’re not interested in the same things. He likes dubs and I’m subs only 😝

Recently we did watch the Rurouni Kenshin live action movie together though.

Also, what did your parents think of your and your brother’s interest in anime? My parents don’t mind it too much even though they aren’t interested in it at all. We all go and stay at the hotel for Anime Boston together every year. My mother does really hate that we collect figures tough and she calls our collections her retirement fund…

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Right around the time I really got in to anime our local anime convention had just moved to a bigger venue and I saw signs for it on the subway so that was kind of cool. Other than that most of my interaction with fandom was online and mostly on 4chan. At the time I felt like 4chan was a really special place but it’s different now.

The only major difference I can really think of between then and now is the rise in legal streaming sites. When I started I had to get pretty much all my anime in torrents but now it’s all really easy to get (for people in the US) and there’s a much wider selection and you no longer have to wait for the fansubbers to decide to sub something.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes, I pretty much only connected with people online and mostly on 4chan. I also was on a few different forums and livejournal communities but the truth is I don’t really remember any of them!

We know what 4chan is like today, but what was it like back then? For me from time to time I’d meet someone on 4chan who liked exactly the same things I liked and felt exactly the same way that I felt and we were able to talk more openly and honestly about things then we would if we weren’t anonymous, it was just a real cool feeling but at the same time I’m sad that I didn’t know who any of those people were.

I also liked finding and posting fanart there because back then it was so much harder to find Japanese fanart back then, pixiv changed that.

There were always bad parts of 4chan but I used to feel like it was worth it to put up with them for the good parts but now I don’t feel like that anymore. I really don’t know if it got that much worse or if I just finally out grew it.

Do you remember your first convention? Yes. It was Anime Boston 2005. It was exciting. During my first conventions I really loved to go to the English VAs panels and the industry panels.

One thing I clearly remember from one of the first Anime Bostons I went to was that on the last day we had to share the convention center with another convention and it was pretty funny. It’s grown so much since then that they don’t have to do that anymore.

Can you share a little more about what Anime Boston was like when it was tiny? Anime Boston was already getting big when I started going because it had moved to the Hynes. I want to say I remember less lines but actually what I remember is waiting in the longest, slowest lines ever getting my badge on Friday morning. I to remember it being easier to check out the masquerade and not having to go through security 😞

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference in your anime fandom today compared to back then? For me personally it’s maybe my willingness to watch streaming video. Also I used to be really big on buying and collecting DVDs and manga but I’ve cut down a lot. In general I’ve moved away from being just an anime fan and I’m really big in to other Japanese media like music and live action.

Ryan can be reached on Tumblr and Twitter.

#110: Drew

Age: 34

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. While I am an ’80s kid and loved a lot of ’80s shows animated in Japan, I truly discovered anime in the early 1990s when I attended local comic book conventions with my dad and they advertised “Japanimation” on the flyers. A couple of the dealers there had fansub tapes for sale; one enterprising dealer had a small TV playing the tapes, where I stood mesmerized in front of his booth. Not too long after that, dubbed versions of Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (aka Ronin Warriors) and Sailor Moon aired on local stations and I was hooked.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Mostly the story-telling: while its settings and subject matter were a big change from typical American animation, the biggest thing that got me at first was continuity. Shows had definitive storylines, which kept me coming back for each episode!

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I was first getting into it, Sailor Moon was probably the biggest thing I remember but when I started surfing the ‘net, I most frequently saw a lot of people talk about Bubblegum Crisis (which I loved) and Ranma 1/2 (which I watched a lot of).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt pretty detached—Atlanta has a history of anime clubs around the city but I was much younger than the college-and-older demographics. I had my immediate friend group, what we could rent or buy at the video store, and some sense of fandom on the Internet.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes, but not like it is now – where everyone is connected with Facebook groups, Twitter or follow their specific fandom on Tumblr. I was a member of a Samurai Troopers email group and used resources like Anime Web Turnpike to find other anime websites, which usually were about specific series, characters or actors. We also weren’t dominated by Google as far as searching the Internet, so I usually had to use multiple search engines to look for things that weren’t listed on AniPike.

Can you tell me about what you did online regarding anime at the time? The internet was primarily a tool to learn about anime: either going more in depth for a show I’d seen on TV or from a video store, or trying to find out about new shows. Even in the mid-1990s, anime we were getting broadcast on TV was still being edited and altered from its original Japanese source, so you could spend a whole afternoon reading websites that talked about what changed where in what show—whether it was just name changes all the way to plot points, episodes being cut, or other edits like that. The fan reaction to the changes were usually pretty negative—that much hasn’t changed in the fandom! But at this time, a resource like AniPike was super important. The concept today wouldn’t really fly—it’s just pages of organized links to *other* sites—but when I first watched a new anime, I could hop onto AniPike and find all of the sites other fans had created dedicated to a show. I spent a lot of time in various image galleries and media galleries (posting mp2 & mp3 tracks for download and eventually super short RealMedia video clips that took forever to download). AniPike was also how I found the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers Mailing List (YSTML). On the mailing list is where I started writing fanfiction and participating in role playing stories we had started. After a few years, I started learning HTML to start my own websites which were general sites about anime fandoms I was in—never going so deep as to have a character shrine site or anything like that.

Because you found other fans running these sites, you could reach out to them and talk about the show and get to know them as actual people. Not like now with Facebook groups and pages where you’ll see something posted and scroll past it. Consciously, I know there’s another person on the other side of that equation, but there isn’t the same desire to reach out and say, “Hey, I like this thing, too!”

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was technically the comic book show where I really learned what anime was. That was a stark contrast of what comic cons are now: no one cosplayed. At all. It was a show centered around a dealer’s room; people came in, shopped, maybe met a few friends and left.

My first anime convention was when I was 15 at Anime Weekend Atlanta 4 in 1998. My sister, dad and a friend of mine got lost looking for registration and ran into a couple of girls dressed as Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. Not only were there cosplayers but as characters that weren’t on American TV yet!

I’d love to hear more about your first con! Anything you remember. My dad, sister, and I were used to comic book conventions; essentially a collector’s show that had vendors tables in a hotel ballroom and another cluster of tables that were essentially an artist alley—artist tables, fanzines, and publisher advertisements. It was a great way to kill a Saturday afternoon for a hobby we all enjoyed and my mom appreciated the peace and quiet of all of us gone. Through these shows was how I got exposed to anime outside of TV broadcasts and video rental shops. When I heard about an anime con, I kind of expected the same thing, so we went just for the one afternoon. The whole experience was a sensory overload: it was my first gathering of people who were into this Japanese cartoon thing and there were a couple hundred people there! Before the Pokemon and Toonami boom, fandom seemed small to me—consisting of either my immediate friends or web pages on the Internet—but this was a happy middle ground that made fandom seem a lot less lonely. There weren’t a lot of costumes—the Outer Senshi, a Lum (which was probably Ippongi BANG) a troupe of Inner Senshi & Tuxedo Mask, and a few others—which is probably the biggest difference from a convention now.

We went expecting there just to be this dealer’s show where we’d look around and shop but there was lots of stuff to do like video rooms and panel programming that was just so engrossing to me. We ended up staying and watching the AMV contest which was a part of fandom I didn’t even know existed. After watching that, I knew that the next year I’d want to go all three days of the convention and not miss a minute.

What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Early on in my fandom, the biggest shows I was a fan of were Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, and Dragon Ball Z. I expressed that fandom through talking to others, essentially evangelizing the shows, and doing quite a bit of fan art (some of it was alright, most of it was garbage) and writing some fanfiction. From there I grew into other shows—Bubblegum Crisis, Macross, Gundam, and Rurouni Kenshin being some other ones I am super-into – but expression of fandom became more about the creators and staff of the shows and looking at what else they did. Thanks to Gundam, I would up being a big fan of Sunrise studio, so often I would watch a show for no other reason than being animated at/by Sunrise. I also went down that road of “Let’s Learn Japanese for Anime & Manga,” and despite a couple of pit stops, I did okay with it but not quitting a day job any time soon. Now I prefer to express my fandom by sharing—whether writing in a blog or talking about a show on a podcast or hosting panels at conventions. I’ve moved away from fan art and fanfiction but still like connecting with other fans over a show by being able to have a conversation about it.

In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest shift I have seen in my experience is that anime fandom now is a part of an overall nerd culture. Parts of it have hit a mainstream stride—characters like Son Goku or Pikachu are recognized right along with Captain Kirk and Spiderman. Going to conventions now, the attendees are demonstrating equal love for all sorts of things—video games, American comics, television shows, etc.—right along with Japanese cartoons. In a way, it seems like anime has lost its specialness because it’s consumed just like everything else but on the other hand, it was kinda what we were hoping for all those decades ago. Anime needed its own unique place to get the word out and once it was out, it grew to be fairly mainstream and just another media to be consumed.

Drew can be reached on Twitter