#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

#109: Adam A

Age: 32

Location: Wisconsin

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I don’t remember a specific point. The thing is, prior to my interest in anime, I had already been exposed to a lot of nerdier things. Partially because my dad worked with computers and I was always around them (thus becoming interested in them and the games I could play on them) and partially because I was a shy introverted kid who enjoyed stories more than the things typical little boys did (like sports, and the outdoors).

I remember very early on, I saw some Japanese animation early in the morning that came on the Sci-Fi channel. (One of them was Gigantor and the other was something I can’t remember enough of.) I didn’t really think a whole lot about it at the time due to the fact that I was usually half asleep (this was like 6 AM on a weekday) and my parents were trying their best to get me to go to school.

I guess the pivotal moment came somewhere in my early teens (around 1997 when I was 12) when I started getting into a lot of RPG video games. At the time they were the kind of games that scratched my need for a story. RPGs around that point were starting to become a lot more anime styled (thanks partially to improving technology and more stuff being brought over) So I started really becoming used to it.

Then one day my mom mentioned to me that there was a Japanese show on Cartoon Network around 3 PM. I checked it and discovered Sailor Moon, which I guess I would consider my first actual anime and the thing that cemented anime as something I wanted to pursue.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? My childhood was kind of rough. While I can’t say it was entirely miserable, there was a lot of bullying and isolation I went through. Partly because I was different (deaf in one ear, glasses, shy, uncoordinated, sensitive) and partly from being sick a lot (I got unbelievably bad migraines that would send me into puking spells)

At the time, I really latched onto my TV and video games to get me by. The problem was that video games were pretty expensive and the stuff I watched on TV (mainly Cartoons and Nick at Nite) had almost no continuity (except in limited cases, which I enjoyed the hell out of)

Which is why when I came across Sailor Moon (Toonami 1997-1998?), a show where what happened before actually mattered, I was spell bound. Well that, and I found I had a schoolboy crush on Sailor Moon herself. (Though I became more of a Sailor Mars guy as I got older.) Those were both really appealing factors in why I pursued anime.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon, although, I would probably say it was Dragon Ball Z a year or two later. (Though I remained more of a Sailor Moon fan despite liking both of them.)

What was it like being a male fan of Sailor Moon? Did you feel like you were watching a show for girls? I never felt like it was a show “for girls” but I knew almost instinctively that there were people out there that wouldn’t understand that no matter how I tried to explain it. I wasn’t talking to anyone in my physical world at that time, but even if I had been, I imagine that I probably wouldn’t have said anything to them in fear that I would be made fun of or bullied for it. (Based on some previous trauma I’ve had with people picking on and bullying me.) 

I had crushes on both Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars. I guess that’s something probably more unique to male fans. (Though there might be bi/gay female fans who do, I don’t know enough about that.) Of course, I realized the characters weren’t real people, but there was a part of me that watched the show thinking that it could teach me what girls liked and give me ideas I could emulate towards dealing with them.

Fortunately, with how reserved and socially anxious I was during that time, it didn’t really lead to any moments of public embarrassment. Though I will sheepishly admit that I wanted to dress and look like Mamoru (or Darien as he was called in the bastardization that was DIC’s localization) and might have once ruined a green sweater of mine trying to recreate his jacket from the anime 😡

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Not great, to be honest. Like I really enjoyed anime, but no one in small town Wisconsin had ever even heard of it. The fact that I liked it and no one else around me was into that stuff, drove to look for companions 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? The internet pretty much the center of all my hobbies. None of them were really known or understood in small town Wisconsin back then (and to some extent it’s not much different today) But on the internet, at least back then, you were guaranteed to find more people who were in a similar sort of situation.

In other words, the internet really drove people of that type together back then.

Tell me more about making friends on the internet. Where did you meet them? What do you remember about them? I met my first batch of internet friends from an IRC chatroom called #rpgmaker (which was ironic because the actual conversation of RPGmaking made up maybe 1% of the things talked about) From there I moved on to a Final Fantasy forum known as FFAlpha and I started keeping a Livejournal. After that was a long period where I was addicted to the online MMORPG Final Fantasy XI.

During the #rpgmaker days everyone I met was older than me. Some only a year or two, while others were legal adults and could even drink. My name back then was PWX which stood for Phantom Warrior X (I used to think the X was cool).

My very first friends, or at least who I considered friends back then, were actually two chat moderators named Default and Cassiopeia. They became my friends after I broke down crying after some jerk in the channel started picking on me for some reason (Keep in mind I was in 7th or 8th grade then and I had no friends for quite some time).

Klondike, whose real name was Eric, was another person I became friends with and the only one I still have any contact for. I was never quite able to get him into anime despite him liking JRPGs. We used to exchange games via the mail in order to play as many as we could on our limited teenager budgets.

There was a guy named Edge who pretended to be my friend but often gave my computer a lot of viruses. Yet, despite that, I actually hung out with him and defended him. Probably not the smartest thing, but I was desperate for friends. He always used to talk about his rap career and DBZ (which makes me laugh thinking about nowadays).

After about a year or so, I ended up becoming one of the many chatroom operators. Although at that point, the chat itself had started to die. People were getting busier with real life, and less and less new people were dropping in. Eventually, my friends Ryoko (who loved the Tenchi character almost as much as I did) and Kbro convinced me to come visit this site called FFAlpha. I had a similar experience with FFAlpha that I did with #rpgmaker, in that when I got there I had a lot of trouble finding my place. I wanted badly to be friends with everyone, but none of my prior relationships were really anything I could draw any sort of guidance from.

One thing that I tried that was popular back then was Livejournal (essentially the Tumblr of its day). I thought that if I wrote about myself and my life that would help people understand me and want to be my friend. I tried hard to be people’s friends through that, but only a few of which probably stand out.

I had two friends, both named Cassie. One was from California that I remember talking about all sorts of anime (but in particular Inuyasha) The other one was from Wisconsin like me, and we were friends for a fairly long time afterwards, but due to differing points of views (and life) we grew apart from each other. As is often the case with a lot of older internet friends 🙁

Eventually through the years, a point and time came that I worked my way up to a super moderator on the forums. I became passionate about improving the site because I believed somewhere that if I did, I’d be popular and people would like and open up to me more. Unfortunately, this led to me not seeing eye to eye with the administrators then, and it devolved into a lot of petty drama (most of which is embarrassing to really recount anymore).

At around that time, I was close to starting college (I believe) and that’s when I got addicted to the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI. There’s a lot of history there, but in relation to anime there’s not a whole to say. Most people I actually met on there weren’t really interested in anime at all, and a surprising number of them hadn’t even played Final Fantasy.

Whew, I hope that gives you an appropriate overview!

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? It was Anime Detour. Funny story about this actually.

At the time I was attending school in Moorhead Minnesota (about 7 hours away from where I live) It was 2007 I think. The anime club, of which I was a member but didn’t actually know anyone that well, decided to get a group together to go to this convention. They had you pay a fee, and with it they’d help register you and get hotel rooms. I think I would up paying between $80 and $100.

Thursday, the day before the convention. I crammed into a van with a bunch of almost strangers (I knew of them at club at least, there was about 6-7 people) which was pretty nerve racking (I suffer from social anxiety) We spent 4-5 hours on the road. Not doing great, but I figure it will soon be over.

We get to the hotel. I’m glad to be out of the cramped van. Getting ready to prepare myself for the prospect of rooming with 3-4 other dudes in a room. Meet up with my club (who all took separate rides to get there) Find out they only rented two rooms, one for the guys and one for the girls.

At first, I’m okay. Most of the people I had actually traveled with were girls. So I thought, naively, it’d probably be me, a guy I rode with, and maybe 2-3 other guys from club. NOPE. It was 7-8 other guys total aside from me.

I panicked hardcore. So much so I had to call my mom and I was melting down. Because there was no way I’d be able to sleep (both due to space and due to anxiety) in a room with all these other dudes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much my mom or family could do at the time, except suggest I try to get another room at the hotel.

Conventions being what they are. I was able to get a room that night before the convention but after that night, I would need to seek other lodgings or somehow learn to deal with the dude room for two more nights (which I was incredibly anxious about considering I had already spent a night away from and was worried about coming back and saying “Hey I know you all got settled in but I’m actually supposed to stay with you guys :I ” )

Fortunately, for me, at the time Anime Detour was hosted at a hotel near the Mall of America. Also near the mall was another hotel that offered free shuttles to the Mall. I ended up walking over there and being able to get another room for the weekend.

Far as the convention itself. I was really hoping that it would bring me closer to the club that I wasn’t really that great friends with or bring me in contact with someone cool. The one thing I didn’t count on was the fact that I would need to be proactively social, which pretty much kept me from really connecting with anyone there.

I did end up spending a ton of money in both the vendor room, and the bookstore at the mall. So in a way anime conventions have kind of cemented themselves as more of a place to splurge on my hobbies rather than meeting people (which I’m still always hopeful for in my attendance of conventions, but never really pans out).

 It sounds like anime fandom played a major role in your social development and how you learned to make friends. Can you tell me more about anime, social anxiety, and learning to be social? Haha, well to be completely honest, I never did really figure out how to make friends. At least, not in the normal sense.

My social anxiety started when I was young. Partially because I was bullied for being disabled (I was deaf in my left ear and uncoordinated) and partially because I was into things that people in small town Wisconsin had no idea about. It got worse and worse as time went on, and eventually I stopped being able to deal with anything that involved people being around.

Which is why I turned to the internet. I thought it could bring me relief to my loneliness and solve my scoial problems. For a time, it was a reasonable substitute, but when I started hitting the later end of high school, I started to understand the limitations of online only friendships and started to wish I could have what I had online in the real world.

During college I started using Facebook to search up people who went to my school and liked anime (back when FB allowed you do that). It wound up not working for the first college I went to because I stupidly chose a school in a place that was similar to my hometown (ick). At the next college, I was introduced to some of the people in the local anime club as well as a few people outside of it, but despite my limited efforts, I could never really establish anything real with them, even when I managed to work myself up into attending Anime Detour with them.

It wasn’t until I attended college in 2008 (after many years with different schools) that I eventually found someone on FB that was as interested in me as I was them. Josh, who would later become one of my best friends, invited me down almost immediately to play Super Smash Brothers Brawl in his room. I accepted his invitation with some trepidation and blind courage, and it turned out to be one of those rare turning points in my life.

It was him that I owe most of the credit for helping me get over some of the awkward social hurdles that I had. Before I met him, I couldn’t even eat in a campus cafeteria or do a whole lot of anything involving people. After I got used to hanging out with him and the people who sometimes tagged along, I became more confident in doing everyday sorts of tasks. I eventually got to the point where I could somewhat function around people (even if I had no idea of how to actually engage with them).

Unfortunately, the anime club for the University where I met Josh wasn’t quite as engaging as my prior university. Where my previous university would plan fun events and go to anime conventions (like the one I mention in my first convention story) this one would only sit and watch anime. While both Josh and I tried to connect there, we found it very unwelcoming and decided to essentially do our own thing.

Our “own thing” was a group that we commonly referred to it as “the group.” We started it in our second year when we became roommates, and its where we showed a bunch of freshmen (and a few other people) our favorite anime (Gurren Lagann, Code Geass, Eureka Seven, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, I can go on and on). Not only that, but we also spent a lot of time with them doing other things like going out to eat, attending the local convention, and going on long walks around the city.

Unfortunately, as time went on, more people from the group started getting interested in other groups on campus and even started making their own splinter groups. In our prime we had as many as ten people that were always willing to hang out and talk, and then by the end it had dwindled down to just myself, Josh, and our friend Mike.

Then we pretty much hit today. I’m wiser but still not really sure how to make friends. The anime fandom along with the internet has changed a lot, and I can’t help but feel lost. Especially as I grow older and it becomes harder for younger generations to want to relate to me. (Even though I feel I can pretty much keep up with most ages.)

I suppose if there’s anything specific I took from anime during the years, it would be that I always wanted to have a group of close friends. I guess good example would be One Piece and its concept of nakama (comrades). Josh and I had always been annoyed at casual friendships that didn’t mean much and we were always on the lookout for people who wanted to be something deeper. Unfortunately (I know I’m saying that a lot) neither of us are as charismatic as Luffy or other anime protagonists are with making friends 😡

Oh and I guess I learned that women weren’t much like Sailor Moon characters, to both my joy and disappointment. 😛

Aside from watching anime, how did you express your anime fandom? Did you create anything, like fan fic or websites, or roleplay in forums? I did try to write one Tenchi fanfic (technically an adult fanfic) when I was a teen. There’s not a whole lot I can say about that (other than it would probably be pretty embarrassing if it still existed). I also tried to make a Tenchi RPG, but that never got anywhere past making a few sprites for it (apparently a friend told me later that someone else had stolen them and claimed them as his own work, but I was past the point of caring about it at that point).

For the most part, the way I expressed my fandom was online. I would either use character names from series I liked (I think I used Keitaro from Love Hina once) or pictures when I designed my Livejournal (and later blogs).

Finally, what’s the biggest contrast between your life as an anime fan then and now? When I was young, being an anime fan was an identity for me. It was something that set me apart, and sort of gave me a place to belong. While I still had difficulty making friends, it felt like people in the community were the same and that if I tried I could meet people.

Today anime is a lot bigger and more diverse. While I’m happy about that for some reasons (more stuff coming to the west, less stigma about liking anime,) it also sort of brings with it a kind of identity crisis. How do I use anime to find the people who I’m capable of connecting with? It’s not as simple as just shared experiences or having watched mostly the same anime anymore. You’ve got plenty of people who had no problems making friends in high school or have only seen a fraction of the hundreds of anime you’ve seen.

I don’t know age might be a factor. I might also be making it more complicated than it needs to be. Though regardless of the many disappointments I’ve had, I still hold onto anime as one of my few outlets with potential to introduce me to people like myself. I still go to anime conventions despite not seeing the appeal to a lot of them anymore. I do whatever I can to express that part of my own identity.

Adam can be reached on Twitter

#108: Andy

Age: 23

Location: Southeast US

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I discovered anime about four years ago when I was 19. It was right at the end of my freshman year of college. I had watched Pokémon and YuGiOh as a kid, but wasn’t into “anime” specifically (as a medium). So, the first series I saw that got me interested in anime was Soul Eater. I noticed it airing on Toonami and the title caught my eye, so I checked it out. I was really intrigued by it and how it was animated, but not a kid’s show. I had Netflix at the time and found it on there. I devoured the rest of it and then started searching through their catalogue to see what else they had.

I watched a bunch of other series there and got more and more interested in “this anime thing.” (One of the series I watched early on was Angel Beats!, which really got to me emotionally and remains my favorite anime to this day.) That summer was when I found Crunchyroll and Funimation and started realizing that anime was something I was really consistently interested in. I started learning more about different series and reading forums and engaging with anime culture more. Funny story: one of the first anime I watched on Crunchyroll was Oreimo, which I enjoyed, but is quite the anime to watch when you’re new to the world of anime… haha. Anyways, after that, I kept on seeking out more and more and started reading news sites like CR and ANN. That pretty much takes me to where I am today. I’ve seen thousands of episodes and it’s something I’m really passionate about 🙂

Andy’s organized anime collection.

What was surprising about Oreimo for a brand new anime fan? I’d love if you could try to remember what surprised you back then that wouldn’t surprise you now. I think what surprised me about it was its take on a very taboo subject that is almost never portrayed in American TV and movies (which is all I ever knew before discovering anime). It isn’t a very good gateway anime, but I think that it helped show me the more niche side of anime early on. And I’m glad I got to see that side earlier on, rather than seeking out anime that I thought I would enjoy because they are more familiar and not “too anime.” If I were to watch it for the first time now, it probably would not surprise me as much, since I’m now a lot more familiar with the ability of anime to portray topics and themes not explored much in other forms of media.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
What really appealed to me about anime was that these series were animated, but told mature stories that weren’t “for kids.” And they were cool and funny and could evoke a strong emotional response from me. The aesthetic style of anime is something that really appeals to me. I love anime-style character designs (I’m a big fan of moe/bishoujo).

Has your interest in character design led to active participation? Do you draw or create anything because of anime? A few years ago, I was briefly inspired to try my hand at drawing anime characters. Drawing was never exactly my forte, and while I didn’t think they were bad for a beginner, I wasn’t passionate enough about it to keep it up. So now, I’m just a fan of other artists’ amazing anime illustrations on sites like Pixiv and Twitter…

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Honestly, if you had asked me this at the time, I couldn’t tell you. I wasn’t really aware of the greater context and community of anime when I first started. I was interested in the anime that I was watching specifically. I just checked to see what aired in the spring of 2013 when I started watching and so I’d say Attack on Titan, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, and The Devil Is a Part-Timer were probably really popular at that time (although I didn’t know about them back then.)

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Anime was already fairly popular and accessible in America when I joined, so I was joining thousands of other very passionate fans. It did take me a while before I started learning about the greater context and community of anime fandom outside of my personal experiences with it.

Did you feel like it was hard to be welcomed into anime fandom? Did you feel like people used words you didn’t understand? What was it like to slowly become an insider to the fandom? Although I wouldn’t necessarily say it was hard to become a real part of anime fandom, there was definitely a learning curve when I was first starting out. Originally, I only really knew about the anime on Netflix. And when I tried reading some forums online, I wasn’t familiar with the majority of the series and topics talked about there. Although, I feel like I caught up fairly quickly. This was probably thanks to reading news sites and forums a lot, and consistently finding new series to watch. Eventually it got to the point where I knew about a lot more than I had actually seen—where I could point out series at conventions, even though I hadn’t watched them. And as the amount of series I had seen increased, I became more and more of an “insider” to anime fandom.

Andy’s collection from another angle.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes it was, but I didn’t engage very actively in the anime community, although I really enjoyed reading forums about other fans’ favorite series, etc. After a little while, I started showing and talking about anime with my family and friends.

How did your family and friends react? My parents are really supportive of my anime passion.. When I had just started watching my first anime, Soul Eater, I had to tell my mom how cool it was. She was happy to listen and even watched some episodes with me. Since then, we’ve watched a lot of series together, and she really appreciates the pretty art style and wonderful stories that anime can tell.

I also have friends who are into anime and we go to conventions and have a ton of fun sharing our love of anime together. Pretty much anytime I’ve told someone that I’m into anime, it’s always been a positive response. So, I’m grateful for that.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Yes! My first convention was Anime Weekend Atlanta 2013, and it was amazing. I ran around the Dealers’ Room, pointing out everything I recognized. “Look, they have this! No way, look at that!” It was a fantastic experience and I’ve gone back every year since.

What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first anime I really got invested in was Angel Beats! It was one of the first anime I saw and the emotional impact it had on me was unlike any other series or movie I had ever seen. That’s why, even after everything I’ve seen in the years since, it’s still my all time favorite. I bought the songs from the anime and had a wristband with the name of the in-series band on it (the first piece of anime merch I ever bought). And when that one faded, I bought another one!

Now, my room is filled with things like wall scrolls and figures from different series that I’ve collected over the years.

Finally, how is your anime fandom experience different today from when you first got started? I think one of the main things about my fandom today that is different from when I started is that I have friends who are super into it also to share my passion with. When I first started, I didn’t really talk about it much with many people, probably because I wasn’t sure if someone I knew/met was also interested in it. But now, it’s really awesome to be able to express myself and have friends who support that without judgement.

Another aspect that’s different now is my interest in the actual production and industry side of anime. I pay more attention now to aspects like voice actors and animation production studios (my favorites being KyoAni and Lerche). I’ve learned over the years of all the different facets of the anime world. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I watched my very first episode of Soul Eater years ago. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Andy can be reached on Twitter

#107: Harry K

Age: 33

Location: Washington, DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I watched some anime in Korea such as Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water when it was aired on TV or Ranma 1/2 from rented video tapes, but I believe Evangelion was the first anime series I completed and became a huge fan of. If I recall correctly, I picked up a copy of Animerica from the local Suncoast Video, and on the last page there was an advertisement for the release of the last VHS of the Evangelion TV series. I bought the first two episodes on VHS, and ended up owning the entire series and passed it around to friends at school.

How did your access to anime change once you moved to the US? When was that about? I moved from Korea in 1997, and my access to anime in the US were limited to either purchasing VHS/DVDs or watching whatever was on network or cable TV.  Thinking back, those early weekend night/morning anime showings on Sci-Fi network and Toonami were game changers in making anime more mainstream.  I have to say it might have been worse in Korea, especially as most mainstream Japanese media were not allowed in South Korea untill late 1990s-early 2000s.  Kids in South Korea watched anime on network TV but it was heavily localized and removed any if not most traces of anything overtly Japanese.  I did get some bootleg video CDs in Korea when that was a thing.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Complex story and its unique art direction. It definitely had more mature content and was visually different than what was on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. (This was right before Toonami began.) Even today, I prefer anime series with complex storylines, excellent production values, and captivating mise en scène: some of my favorite anime from the late ’90s to early ’00s are Ghost in the Shell, Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team, Cowboy Bebop, Record of Lodoss War, and Ninja Scroll.

However, while I had limited exposure to anime before, I was a voracious manga reader with Dragon Ball Z and Slam Dunk being some of my favorites at the time. To this day, I prefer manga over anime.

Evangelion was the first show you really got into. Why so? How did you express your fandom? I guess the angsty part?  *rolls eyes*  I mean, Evangelion have some great action sequences and cute characters, but in my high school years I definitely identified with the high drama of Evangelion.  I still have a soft spot for it, though nowadays I would be like, “man up, Shinji.” Expressing my fandom materialized in many doodles of Evangelion, making those Bandai plastic kits, sharing my VHS collection with anybody interested, and sometime discussing it afterwards.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I think in the US anime was getting enough interest and there were enough anime releases to occupy a small section in stores like Suncoast Video and EB Games. I also remember catching some anime on Sci-Fi channel and MTV. However, most kids in high school did not know much about anime other than some series being aired over the TV, and even admitting your interest in anime could be seen as being nerdy- you had to tread carefully!

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes but way smaller and limited compared to the fandom today. It is amazing that people can follow the anime being aired in Japan and discuss individual episodes merely minutes after they were aired. I think I knew there were forums and chat rooms for discussing anime yet did not feel compelled to venture into them. My university also had an anime club, but I lost interest after a semester because I was not interested in what they were watching, and the fact that they were willing to watch something they already saw over and over!

So growing up, was anime a solitary thing for you or were there friends or siblings you could watch and discuss with? My sister and my brother all watched Evangelion. My brother actually volunteers for cons, though I don’t know if he watches many anime.  Growing up, we were way more into manga, with Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z, Slam Dunk, and Monster being some of the favorites. I have to say in South Korea manga were more popular and accessible than anime, and I guess we followed suit. I later tried out an anime club at my university, but it seems pointless to watch something over and over—I love watching movies and TV shows, but the communal viewing of anime for 3-4 hours seemed too dull for me.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? I have never been to an anime convention, but I have been to the very first PAX East. While it was fun in small doses, I never liked the hours of waiting or the large crowd. However, Otakon is moving to downtown DC this year so I want to go and catch Jam Project as well.

It’s been a while since you sent this. Did you end up going to Otakon? No, I did not go to Otakon. I had a business trip early on Sunday morning! (God, I became a square.)

Were you always into anime, or did you dip in and out of interest in it? I definitely dip in and out. Nowadays if there is an anime film I heard good things about I would check it out, whereas for OVA/limited series or TV series I find it difficult to get hooked on. I watched a lot of anime during that couple of years during the late ’90s-early 2000s, but have not had that level of enthusiasm since then.
Finally, for you, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first discovered it? It is way more accessible and mainstream compared to when I was younger—but I guess media culture became more nerdier as corporations realized nerds are as likely to invest into their fandom as sports fans do, if not more. I remember when my younger colleagues at work asked if I watch anime, and if watching/following anime was a yardstick for being in tune with pop culture. As someone who was in art club/photo lab and art classes in high school, which was one of the few places you could discuss anime without any negative feedback, it has gone a long way. And it is so easy to follow new anime and discuss it about it! Now I have to go and tell the kids to get off my proverbial yard.