#10: Hugh

Age: 22

Location: London, England

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember deciding one day at 18 years old to read the first few volumes of Bleach in my school library. I then decided to watch the anime after looking it up online. I was aware of anime before but it was the first time I really looked into it and took an interest.

What about Bleach made you decide to give it a chance after previously not being interested in anime? Something about that artwork was really appealing to me, and I don’t just mean the eyes; the panelling and the general character design weren’t like anything I’d seen before.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was mainly a way for me get back into animation again, so it having such a unique style and direction compared to Western animation really piqued my interest. It was also appealing to see different cultural sensibilities at work that really hooked me in, especially when it comes to my favourite anime, Gintama.

You said anime appealed to you because it helped you “get back into animation.” What was it like when you were into animation the first time? What I mean is that when I was a kid, I would religiously watch Cartoon Network. All sorts of things happen in animation that can’t happen anywhere else, and I loved that. Then at 12 years old or so, I decided for some dumb reason that I was too old for cartoons so I just stopped watching them. Anime made me realise that I never stopped liking animation, so it was an ideal way to get back into animation.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Attack on Titan. It had just started when I got into anime, so it was interesting to get into the fandom when there was a currently airing show that people thought was going to make anime more mainstream again.

When was anime mainstream before? When Toonami was on the air. Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z were huge.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? See previous answer, but yeah it was pretty exciting to be getting into a medium that felt like it was only getting more and more popular by the minute.

How did you connect with other fans? When I was nearly caught up with Gintama in 2013 I joined up with a fan site called Yorozuya Soul, and I still have friends I speak to on twitter from that site. It isn’t really active anymore, unfortunately.

Aside from actually watching shows, how did you participate in fandom? Besides checking fan sites and Tumblr pages, I only starting going to cons towards the end of 2014. London Comic-Con was my first. I don’t really buy all that much merchandise in all honesty outside of the occasional T-shirt and figure. Currently, I only have one figure—Gintoki in a Kamehameha pose, because it was too funny to pass and thankfully wasn’t too expensive.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Not a lot. I go through phases of what I decide to nerd out on, and currently I’m in an anime/manga phase, so I can’t really say if all that much has changed. However I can say,that the anime community on YouTube has expanded massively from 2013 till now. And that anime feels more prevalent in wider Western pop culture than it was in 2013, an example being the Arby’s Twitter account explicitly referencing Jojo recently.

So anime fandom is on-again off-again for you? What inspired your latest foray into the fandom? I find that any resurgence in my anime interest happens whenever the Gintama anime comes back, as that is my absolute favourite show period and I can always make time for it.

Hugh can be reached on Twitter

#9: Zayed A

Age: 20

Location: Chicago, Illinois

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. There are actually two points of discovering anime for me.

First one is when I decided to pick up Durarara!! on a whim after watching a couple of episodes back in the day. Decided to follow it weekly and was really REALLY into it. I was so used to the feel of Naruto that I wasn’t expecting DRRR!! to be so….modernized. It was refreshing, to say the least. And fun, too!

But after that, I just fell off the anime map. I became slower and slower with Naruto until I stopped trying to keep up. This lasted about 2-3 years.
Then, in late March 2013, I was browsing a certain board for a certain show on a certain website, and then I came across this little GIF right here:

I don’t know, I guess looking at this made me feel a bit warm inside? Haha.

Anyway, I quickly showed this to my friend who was more experienced in anime than I was, and I was told that the name of the show is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Pretty much immediately after, I marathoned the entire thing on Crunchyroll. Literally. All of it. Didn’t even read the synopsis or have any prior knowledge of the show outside of a name and that one GIF. It took me to some wild places, lemme tell ya. Also hilariously, the GIF wasn’t even in the series proper. It’s from the OP for the first two films.

Anyway, that’s what really got me back into anime. A couple weeks later, I kept seeing posts about Attack on Titan on that same board (even though anime has its own board lol) and I thought, hey this looks popular, so I pick that up too, and catch up on the entire thing in mid-August.

In that same timeframe, I also ended up

  1. Re-watching DRRR!!
  2. Watching all of K-ON!
  3. Watching Nichijou

I ended up enjoying those three things much more than AoT. I believe it’s what caught me in that niche of just watching cute girls doing cute things as my preferred genre, haha.

Was the forum you mentioned 4chan? You guessed it. /a/ was the main platform for my re-entry. It’s where pretty much all of my anime discussion would take place. I stopped going there sometime after, though. I think it was in early 2015.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I don’t know, really. It just… felt different from whatever else I watched. That’s all I can remember, I’m afraid. At least for 2010.

But in 2013, the appeal was how cute it could be. No exaggeration. I mean, I watched Madoka Magica on flimsy cute GIF pretenses.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Back in 2010? I think I was watching the most popular anime, Durarara!!. I’m legitimately not sure though. I wasn’t paying attention.

In 2013, it was during late March, so I think it was JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as it was closing up its first season. Very, very quickly after, however, attention shifted to Attack on Titan.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention to the anime community at the time. I was just focused on doing my own thing. To an extent, I still am. I never expected the community to be this big, though.

What was online anime fandom like at the time? I’m going off of what I’ve seen on /a/, but I feel like I can apply this to most places. The fandom as a whole seemed a bit less… abrasive, in a way? Like, it was easier to have gentle discussions about anime back in 2013. Now everything just feels so much more fast-paced and discussions become more aggressive and to the point to compensate.

How did you connect with other fans? Before I had my Twitter account, I had two thing: /a/ and IRC. I was in a certain IRC channel on the Rizon server, very small, only like 11 people max. But they were mostly warm to me.

You got into anime at a time when it was starting to get very established. Did you run into any “gatekeeping” or were you made to feel welcome? Back in 2010? Not really. I mostly kept to myself as I watched Durarara, so yeah I didn’t really run into anything. In 2013? It was mostly the same. It was a bit easy for me to ease into the fandom, actually!

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? I was at a bookstore in downtown Chicago back when I was going to university there. I had this one friend that would always talk about how good the manga Evergreen is, so I thought I’d humor them by purchasing the first volume right there—along with the first volumes for Prison School and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto!

Since then, I’ve purchased and read through the other three volumes of Evergreen, but never made it past the first volume for Prison School or Sakamoto. I’ve also purchased many, many more volumes of manga since then! My manga interests have also taken an interesting skew towards yuri, finding myself buying every single volume of Citrus, and several other volumes of yuri manga. Kinda curious as to how that happened.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? This is a tough one. I think we’ll go back to what I mentioned when I was talking about online fandom, about how everything’s so fast-paced now. Back then, discussions were noticeably slower. Kinda more lax. It sort of made me feel welcome there, in a way. Had I tried going into it now? I probably wouldn’t get into fandom nearly as much. It gets really frantic at times and I’m not sure how I would take it if I didn’t get into anime until now. I mean, I still like where I am, but I kinda wish people would just slow down, y’know? They’re just cartoons, people!

Zayed can be reached on Twitter

#8: Chris M

Age: 34

Location: Baltimore, Maryland.

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. At 8 or 9 years old, browsing through the animation section at Erol’s Video.

Erol’s Video? It was essentially the precursor to Blockbuster video in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. It was one of the larger video rental chains out there. This one is was actually in a shopping center by my house. It eventually was bought out and became a Blockbuster, actually.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The artwork and the much more mature stories.

Mature? But you were, like 8. As far as the cartoons of the time in the US vs. anime, they were things like Transformers and Centurions—a show you are too young to have been exposed to, I think. They were all right, but were expressly written for children, and therefore followed certain rules about content, strictures that anime did not need to follow. In anime, characters could die and violence could be real. it was significantly less sanitized than American cartoons were. The animation and art direction were also generally far superior, in my opinion, to most American cartoons.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In America, anime had just begun having a presence… so most likely Speed Racer.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Extremely niche. I am the one who introduced most of my friends to anime.

Tell me about introducing friends to anime. What was that like? Remarkably easy. I simply invited them over to my house to show them, at the time I think it was Neon Genesis Evangelion. Patches, as I am sure you know, took to it right away, as did most of my friends. I dare say we were all fairly precocious, so we all were attracted to the more adult themes of anime.

Adult themes? So, I think one of the first anime I watched with friends was Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is an extremely weighty series from an emotional and intellectual standpoint: characters die, the world is not a happy place, mankind on the brink of extinction. These sorts of themes just weren’t very common in American cartoons. That’s sort of what I mean. Most of the anime we watched at the time was much… grittier, and intense, I would say. Bubblegum Crisis was much the same. It was straight cyberpunk, mulling over questions like machine autonomy and intelligence, corporate dominance, etc. Again, not themes you were likely to find in American cartoons 😛

Do you remember your first anime-related purchase? I think the first anime I actually bought was the box set of Outlaw Star. For much of my life I simply sponged off my brother’s anime collection. It was a box set, so I wanna say it was actually around $100 or so. I used birthday money to buy it.

Do you remember your first anime con? My first con was Otakon 8, I think. I went with a friend of mine from Japanese class in high school, and spent the day just wandering around and taking the sights in. I want to say the original Naruto series was just making its debut in America in fansub form, but I might be wrong on that… this was quite a while ago. 15 or more years ago, I think o.o

Anime inspired you to visit Japan, so tell me about that. Yes, I was inspired by anime to take Japanese language courses, which then gave me the opportunity to go to Japan. Japan was just so culturally different from the US that I was fascinated by it. I actually really enjoyed how Japanese sounded when spoken, even if I didn’t always understand it. Much of my favorite music to this day remains Japanese rock and pop, most of it anime theme songs, natch.

What’s the biggest difference between fandom then and fandom now? I think the only major change between anime fandom then and now is connectivity. It is so much easier to find and talk with anime fans than it was when I first got into it—and I think anime has also gained more acceptance in the eyes of the public in general. For example, the first anime movie that I know of to show in American theaters was Princess Mononoke, which showed up about 10 years after I got into anime.

Chris can be found on Twitter

#7: Nick

Age: 23

Location: North Carolina

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I first “discovered” anime watching heavily edited Voltron on TV, plus Toonami runs in the early 2000s, but my first time seeing an anime and wanting to really get into the medium at large was a friend dragging me to our high school anime club’s first meeting. We watched episode 00 of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and I laughed so hard I fell out of my chair.

What was the club like? The club was decently popular for the size of the school. At the start of each year we’d start with around 40 or so interested members, but usually by the end of the first term we would be down to around two-dozen core members. We originally met in the school’s library, but were moved to our (almost never present) advisor’s classroom after the Vice Principal caught us playing ecchi anime on the projector wall. I was a member for three years, but had to leave in my senior year to focus on classwork and extracurriculars for college applications.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’d always enjoyed cartoons, and anime was one of the first places I saw animation with a more structured, serialized approach to storytelling.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In anime fandom I’m pretty sure it was Haruhi. In the world at large, Naruto.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I only really started getting into online fandom years later, but my impression from the other anime club members and their stories is that it was a whole lot of expensive DVDs and roving bands of cosplayers doing the Hare Hare Yukai dance.

What was it like to be in online fandom when you joined it? My main online hangout around that time was actually Gaia online. I frequented their anime and music forums a lot. Outside of that I didn’t have a huge amount of contact with the online community outside of like, YouTube comment arguments.

Do you remember your first anime-related purchase? The first anime purchase I ever made was buying the first 3 DVD volumes of Serial Experiments Lain and a local used book/disc store. I’d watched the whole series online (on YouTube in nine-minute chunks XD) and fell in love with it, and when I found those discs I nearly had a heart attack since they had been out of print from Geneon for ages. Sadly I could never find the final volume.

Do you remember your first anime convention? My first and only anime convention was going to Animazement with some of the anime club members. It was only for the first day and I honestly don’t remember much besides holding the camera for the upperclassmen’s Hare Hare Yukai performance.

You only went to one? I’d like to go to an anime con again, but I’d like it to be one where I can meet up with online friends, and currently that’s not economically feasible. For what I’d do differently, I’d want to go the entire convention, and have a definitive idea of what panels, events, or guests I’d want to see. Basically do the con as it’s supposed to be instead of wandering around as a broke teenager with no idea what half of what I was seeing was.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The biggest contrast that stands out to me is how fast everything moves now. When I first found anime it seemed like one or two big shows would come out a year and that would be all anybody really talked about outside of staples like Naruto and One Piece. But now with simulcasts and seasonal viewing there’s almost always something new to talk about every month. It can be pretty exhausting at points =”D.

Today, you do some work for Anime News Network. Did you ever imagine anime becoming part of your identity in that way? Definitely not. I’d occasionally entertain the idea of submitting something when I first started watching seasonal anime, but until very recently I’d never had the nerve to submit or query anything like that.

Nick can be reached on Twitter.

#6: Kit P

Age: 32

Location: Washington, DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember watching Akira and the film Tenchi Muyo in Love on the Sci-fi Channel in New York, between 1993-1996. I knew these were not considered Western cartoons, and these were feature films (the channel did anime films on Saturday after Mystery Science Theater 3000).

After that I got into Sailor Moon, which was also on TV then, and through 1996-2003, I managed to find video rental stores with series like The Slayers, Fushigi Yugi, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and more. My first convention was in 2000 and I already had a good idea of some anime at the time.

Can you tell me about your first anime convention? It was Otakon 2000. I remember convincing my parents to drive me for a day trip, and bringing a notepad with me to ask questions to artists in artist alley and a disposable film camera to take cosplay pictures. My parents complied, even though they considered anime to be very childish, and to leave Japanese pop culture to the Japanese. So I had a bit of a rough time at the start, because I was fighting against all those misconceptions.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
It focused on an overarching narrative (or characterization, or both) much more than many of the other cartoons at the time (though obviously there were notable exceptions like Gargoyles). So I really enjoyed that the story meant something.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
Ehhh, this was the ’90s so there were lots of anime that people still remember (Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Yu Yu Hakusho, and later on Pokémon) so…

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? $30 VHS tapes and you had the choice of the tape being subtitled or dubbed. No dual audio here! In part because of that, and because not much was licensed (or later episodes not released), there were fansub trading circles and tape circulations. Watching anime at cons or at an anime club was pretty important then still.

How did fansub trading circles work? Did you have to join an anime club? No, not necessarily. Some were through the Internet: you’d find people listing what they had or could get, and you sent a money order in the post to a PO Box… ^^;

But for some series or seasons of series like, for a long time, Sailor Moon‘s later seasons, this was the only way to get them before the tipping point of Internet broadband use.

How did you meet other fans? IRL? Online? Hmmm, online. Though that depended on where you lived, too. It was easier to find other fans in New York than Oklahoma, simply due to the numbers being in my favor more.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? A lot of things from back then are still going on but I think… nowadays, while there’s an emphasis on culture on the East Coast conventions (so film, music, traditional arts, etc), fandom now is so much more consumer oriented in a weird way. Before, you might strike up a conversation with someone in the registration line because they like anime and you do too, or you heard the word Gundam. But then there was a need for connection, for depth.

Nowadays it’s – more complex. People even in the same series fandom say true fans read the chapter raws when fan circles scan them… there’s a heightened sense of if you don’t do fandom a certain way it’s bad, and this gets thrown around with all sorts of intentions. Obvious example: people refusing to buy the anime or manga of a series, and then the arguments about why or how the industries respond. There are so many arguments for why they might make this decision: from convenience of scans, to social expectations of reading the latest chapter/seeing the latest episode, to finding or imagining faults with translations.

It’s not that conspicuous consumption wasn’t going on, or fandom policing wasn’t already a thing, but now it’s combined with other factors – like consumption combined with not supporting the industries, policing who’s a true fan and who isn’t, recognizing memes and series but feeling pressured to watch everything as soon as it’s out… I think it’s more stressful for everyone, as it’s all out there, now. I think fandom is still very insecure about itself, but due to the pressure to always be online/immediate, we see much more of its negative aspects now.

Kit can be reached on Twitter

#5: John S

Age: 34

Location: Schenectady, New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I discovered anime in 1990 when I bought Revenge of the Ninja Warrior, which was a dubbed, edited version of Dagger of Kamui. I knew it was animated in Japan but didn’t know what anime was at the time. Still, I knew it was different from other cartoons I had seen at the time.

What made it starkly different was the tone and atmosphere of the movie. It had a somber tone to it due to the hardship and tragedies that the main character, Jiro, encountered. There’s a particular scene towards the end where he sees his childhood home, which made me feel something I never felt before—that whole feeling about the passage of time and the sadness that comes with that. It was a while before I saw something that would be considered anime again but that was my intro.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The way characters were drawn. They looked more complex than average American cartoons. Plus, the music in some anime was very theatrical and unique. Also, with the level of violence and death being a legitimate possibility, there were actual consequences at stake.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Ghost in the Shell or Dragon Ball Z.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I didn’t know really many people that liked anime . It was kinda of a solitary thing for me where I grew up.

Can you tell me about your first time connecting with other fans? The first time I connected with someone that was a fan of anime was probably in 2003 when i started going to college at Plattsburgh State University. I had a roommate named Mike who was big into anime at the time. I remember when we first meet, he asked me if i had ever seen Cowboy Bebop and as I was unpacking my stuff on move in day showed him my Bebop DVDs.

We bonded over watching a lot of stuff together like FLCL and Yu Yu Hakkusho, which were airing on Toonami at the time. I remember we had these philosophical debates about Evangelion back then, especially after watching the movie End of Evangelion. I remember always trying to get him to watch some of the older Gundam that was available at the time like Gundam 0079 and Char’s Counterattack, but he always said older anime was not his thing, which was a bit disappointing because I love older anime like Fist of the North Star, UC Gundam [a group of Gundam shows that take place in the same timeline, called Universal Century] and City Hunter.

Through him I meet other people in my dorm who were also into anime and we had these nights were we would order Chinese food and marathon some anime in our room with several friends. I remember one time, he had spent some of his student loan refund on the Escaflowne DVD boxset and we had tried to marathon the whole show in one day but we had to tap out at like episode 17, probably due to mental exhaustion. There was an anime club on campus but I only remember going to one meeting and they had Otaku No Video on that day. I never really got the opportunity to partake more in the club at the time due to class load and my part time job. The club always met on the weekend during the day and I had to work.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? My first anime that I bought myself with my own money was probably Record of Lodoss War volume 1 VHS which I think was about $19.99 in the summer of 1996. It was dub only. Man, back in those days you had to choose between sub or dub only and sub was always more expensive.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The biggest change between fandom when I got into it and how it is now is probably there is less gate keeping than there was before. I feel social media has played a big part in breaking that down. I remember seeing you tweet something a while back about still having not seen Akira yet. It made me think about how back when I got into anime there were certain OVAs, TV, and movies you had to have seen to be considered a true fan and Akira was one of them. If you hadn’t, you had to turn in your fandom card, and mediate under a water fall to repent for your sins. Now with social media that’s something that can be shared and that’s OK.

Another big change is the sheer amount of anime available. Back when I was just getting into to anime, it was small relative to now. I feel that has made fandom grow more mainstream, especially with anime being on Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

John can be reached on Twitter

#4: Andrea

Age: 28

Location: United Kingdom

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember.
My first experience was with Pokemon. It was the only anime airing on the tv at the time I started watching.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
The story, the animation, the characters, the song. Everything.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Definitely Pokemon. Everyone was watching it, even those who didn’t enjoy other “cartoons.”

How did you connect with other fans at the time? Mostly friends at school. With Pokemon being my entry point I was maybe 10 or 11 at the time talking about it at school and watching it with friends when it was on TV.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I don’t know if I truly was then. I felt I had to “grow out” of it pretty quickly as “cartoons were for kids” and didn’t rediscover it again until last year.

Where did the pressure to “grow out of it” come from? I think the pressure to grow out of it came mostly from society. I lived in a fairly small village and and just the concept of a girl being into “boy things” like games and anime was always a bit strange at my school, even if most of my friends were boys.

The other problem was the anime I saw snips of, after Pokemon and Thundercats, always involved girls being exposed, abused, taken advantage of for laughs. There wasn’t anything I came across that I connected with.

How did you get back into anime again last year? The biggest thing for me really was Anime Feminist and finding entry points that didn’t involve the almost stereotypical aspects of anime.

Also I wrote a blog post back when I was starting out about my history with anime and manga:

I wanted something lighter, though, and my eyes strayed to manga. I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to try. After some friend recommendations, and a bit of internet research, I invested while at Forbidden Planet in 2015. I went for “Fullmetal Alchemist – a friend recommendation, “Blue Exorcist” and “Rosario+Vampire” – internet recommendations. I’d wanted to pick up “Fruits Basket,” another friend recommendation, but unfortunately they didn’t have any.

I found something enlightening in “Fullmetal Alchemist,” not every manga has awkward scenes. “Blue Exorcist” had a few odd moments, and “Rosario+Vampire” showed what you were getting from the start but I realised something about the manga I enjoy – I don’t mind fan-service shots when I know that’s what I’m getting. It’s when they creep into story lines and I don’t expect them that it bothers me. I still stayed away from anime but as I read more and more manga over the last two years I found myself wanting to watch anime too but I didn’t want to take the risk at just finding more and more anime that made me uncomfortable.

A website started up that I’ve mentioned before, Anime Feminist, a site I found from Kotaku and kept an eye on. I read a few articles and found myself returning time and time again. They did reviews on the first episodes of seasons on Crunchyroll and some of them sounded very appealing, but I was wary. A friend offered me a trial of Crunchyroll and I started watching some in October. I began with a recommendation from Anime Feminist, “Poco’s Udon World.” I watched the first episode of that, tried an episode of “Trickster” and also “Attack on Titan.” I’d finally found anime that I enjoyed and other places for inspiration and thoughtful articles too.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? I don’t know if I could contrast it. I’m such a different person than the teenager me that felt ashamed to enjoy things that weren’t deemed “normal”. The internet has changed things for sure. Having found people who enjoy similar things and even just feeling like it’s okay to be able to look at anime and say “I like this but not this!” rather than having to enjoy everything to be a fan.

Andrea can be reached on Twitter or her blog

#3: David M

Age: 32

Location: Detroit, Michigan

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember watching Transformers Gen-1 and Voltron, and knowing they were slightly different from typical cartoons. I knew they were from Japan, but I didn’t really recognize anime is its own thing until a few years later.

When Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z were in syndication in the early-to-mid 90s, I didn’t care for them. When I first saw Teknoman on UPN Kids (an adaptation of Tekkaman Blade) I was hooked.

How old was I? Around 6 or 7 when I first saw Transformers Gen-1, if that counts. I watched Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon when I was 9. And Teknoman is what sparked my love of anime when I was 10 and a half. It aired in summer of 1995 on UPN, the network that eventually became the CW. YouTube the Saban theme song and the transformation sequence. Just trust me.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It seemed like they were telling stories where each episode went into the next one.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? At this time, anime was still very obscure in America. It’s really hard to say. Maybe Sailor Moon. Dragon Ball Z had just started in syndication and was only beginning to pick up.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a clear line. Sailor Moon was for girls, and everything else was for boys. Man, how things have changed!

How did you connect with other fans at the time? I was fortunate in that I’m of the generation that Toonami targeted—I was a teenage boy when they were making shows for teenage boys. It was the foundation of my high school friendships. I was the Gundam Wing kid. Back in the day, my first few times making female friends was over how I didn’t hate Sailor Moon as much as other boys did.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? I got a Gundam Wing t-shirt when I was 17 that was way too big for me at the time, but I knew I wanted it. It was the only Gundam Wing T-shirt I could find, and I was the only kid in school that had one. This was during the big Dragon Ball Z fandom explosion of around 1999-2001 when everybody was wearing DBZ shirts. I’ve always sold myself as a bit of anime hipster, and even back then, I couldn’t help it. :p

Where did you buy it? Oh, man. Maybe at Hot Topic. This would’ve been 2000 or 2001, so it’s really tough to say. Toonami was SO BIG at the time that it could’ve been sold anywhere. Hot Topic is most likely.

Why was Gundam Wing such an important show to you? I think it really goes back to what even little David liked about anime. Space. Drama. A story. Characters that had some gravitas to them. It felt so different from Dragon Ball Z, and it just pulled me in. Like a lot of people, Gundam Wing was my gateway into the Gundam franchise. I eventually got a second GW T-shirt; a white Tallgeese shirt that did fit better. It featured the character that I call “my first waifu,” Lucrezia Noin. It also included Zechs, and the Tallgeese and Epyon [mobile suits from the show]. It was the rest of the Gundam pilots. It was Treize. It was EVERY DAMN CHARACTER… except for Dorothy. To hell with Dorothy.

Being a fan of Gundam Wing was fine, honestly. Everybody still watched it, and people liked it. And it was also the fact that at midnights, Cartoon Network would show Gundam Wing “uncut” and seeing anime on TV that had fewer edits made everyone that much more excited.

What did your family think about your fandom? They really had no issue with it at all. They knew that wrestling and the Japanese cartoons were what was in at the time. My sister fully supports and endorses my podcasting, and my dad always asks me, “When’s the next convention?” It’s definitely been one of those “as long as you’re happy” kinds of things.

Do you remember your first anime convention? My first anime convention was Youmacon 2008 here in Detroit. After I got out of the Air Force, one of the things I asked myself was “Why have I never gone to an anime convention?” When I found one in the area, I knew it was time. I took the bus to the convention center in Dearborn, MI. It was everything I hoped it would be. I ended up making a friend over her cosplay of the Major from Ghost in the Shell. Some of the highlights for me were panels on Gundam and cool cosplayers. I’ve been to over 40 conventions since and still going strong.

What was it like being an anime fan in the Air Force? Being an anime fan in the Air Force was a breeze. There were a ton of us. It was an extension of my teens, where no matter where you came from, no matter your background, Toonami and anime was what it was all about. By the early ’00s and into the mids, being in your late teens and early ’20s and liking anime had almost become normal. And yes, even back then, the crossover between anime fans and wrestling fans was still strong.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Accessibility. The internet has come along way from when I was accidentally stumbling onto raunchy Gundam Wing fan art in high school. Streaming, YouTube reviewers, guys from Detroit that host two anime podcasts at the same time [a reference to David and his partner’s two podcasts]. The internet also helped me find out that I was not crazy in thinking that girls liked anime just as much as guys did even when I was younger. The fandom in the western world is a big fandom, and we’re all better off for it.

Speaking of raunchy Gundam Wing fan art (I’m sorry, possibly), what was the fandom internet like? Were there particular sites you visited? At the time, I visited ToonZone and the Toonzone Forums. Along with that, cnxtoonami—eventually known as The X Bridge—run by Jeff Harris, best known as “nemalki” back in those days. And don’t worry about the GW fan art. If you couldn’t figure out Quatre and Trowa at least, you had your head in the sand.

You said the internet showed you how much girls liked anime, too. Why weren’t you sure before? Aside from Sailor Moon, girls that I knew didn’t talk about anime much with other friends that I had. I guess they weren’t as comfortable with them as they were with me. It definitely wasn’t a boys club mentality. It was more the other way around, in that the girls isolated themselves, until I worked my charms. Forget that last part. I’m sorry.

David can be reached on Twitter

#2: Mark D

Age: 43

Location: Lansing, Michigan

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My earliest was “Battle of the Planets” (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) as a elementary school kid, but I only vaguely knew it was anime at the time. When I got serious was with AnimEigo VHS rentals in 1991. Bubblegum Crisis and Urusei Yatsura had me hooked from then on. After that, I joined an anime club about an hour away, and started going to cons soon after.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Mature and complex themes, ease of telling fantasy and science fiction stories that would otherwise never be made due to the cost of other media.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Hard to say back then; there was very little widespread communication. The internet was not filled with easy-to-use social media at the time. But probably Bubblegum Crisis. Everyone had seen it, the music was incredible, and it was easily identifiable to western fans that loved sci-fi and Blade Runner.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The meetings for Anime Club of Michigan were in a tiny ostracized corner of a monthly comic book convention at a VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] hall. There were about 12 chairs, a TV, and a VCR. People were free to come and go so it was a major source of new fans, but we always had a few parents sit toddlers down to “watch the cartoons”.

The shows that really floored me at the time were Record of Lodoss War and Legend of Galactic Heroes. We had strict rules about fansubs. Anyone that charged for a fansubbed VCR tape was basically scum. Our club traded recorded fansubs for blank VCR tapes (of a required quality). You could do 2-4 per month depending on demand, and pick them up the next month. The only time money changed hands was for shipping if someone couldn’t pick them up, and it was exact as possible. Once a particular show was licensed, we always stopped distribution.

Back there there was basically no translated manga other than a few 12-20 page VIZ titles that were flipped and broken up to fit normal american comic format. I also regularly hit the local Japanese bookstore. Absolutely no English titles there, and I couldn’t read them, but faithfully bought “Nakayoshi” [a shojo manga magazine] for this new CLAMP manga called Magic Knights Rayearth. When it became an anime, I repeatedly drove to this store an hour away, rented an unsubbed recorded-off-TV VCR tape, drove home, then drove back and returned it (uphill both ways, git off mah lawn). Watched the entire first season that way. Still love that show.

What kind of video store let you rent something like that? The store was a Japanese bookstore, absolutely no English materials there at all. They had cheap rentals of VCR tapes recorded directly off Japanese TV, commercials and all. This was long before YouTube even existed. It was a way for Japanese people living in the US to still see shows they loved or keep up with things.

When did you attend your first convention? Went to my first real convention, Katsucon #2, in 1996 because Katsura Masakazu (Video Girl Ai) was there. 800 attendance, it was a 500 mile drive for me, alone. I took up cosplaying after that and got more of a convention crew to go with me of friends and SO’s. I think I have always attended at least one con every year since then. I still remember saying “Sailor Moon would never be shown on American TV.” Thankfully I was proven wrong a few years later. Fandom really picked up then.

Fandom began as something solitary for you, but now your wife is an anime fan, too. How did you two meet? At the very start I had a friend that I watched rented VCR tapes with, but he wasn’t serious enough to regularly travel and make club meetings, but enjoyed watching stuff when I could manage to get my hands on a show.

My wife had a common story for many: she grew up watching Sailor Moon on US TV. She had a close friend that was highly involved in a local club and a local convention. We met through a mutual friend on IRC chat that was mainly anime and Legend of Zelda-oriented. I got involved with that group by way of a conversation about Saint Seiya.

Did you meet your wife in-person for the first time at a fandom event? Yes, but we were not long distance dating yet at that time, we were meeting mutual friends. It was at JAFAX, a smaller Michigan convention. She was very blue, cosplaying an OC character from her novel—with a leotard and elaborate face paint. She’s a very outgoing cosplayer and does not mind being seen by, as people put it then, “normies.” We ended up going to a restaurant with convention staff, most of us in cosplay, and that’s how we met.

What’s the biggest contrast between fandom when you first discovered it and fandom now? I really think the Internet has changed convention cosplay.

I’ve attended many conventions several times yearly from 1996 till now. With more and more social media and availability of convention photos, the average fan who has never gone to a convention before sees professional cosplay from all around the world. They see amazing outfits with retouched photos. When they actually get to a convention, they see normal people doing what cosplay they can with the budget and ability they have. It’s changed the feeling of cosplay over time.

There are more attendees that view cosplay as something that exists for their own entertainment, instead of the cosplayer’s. Expectations have changed, shaming became more prevalent, and there is less focus on just cosplaying a character you love, any way you could, for yourself. Things got kinda bad around the late 2000’s with harassment, hallway catcalling, guys blocking hallways insisting on hugs, cosplay shaming websites, and the like. The “Cosplay is not consent” movement has made things better in the past few years in my view. Everyone benefits when people wear whatever they want feeling comfortable and safe doing so without harassment.

On the other hand, the internet has really improved anime watching.

Back in the early ’90s there was no YouTube. There was no streaming video of any kind. Any anime on TV was very, very rare and if it was shown, it was a shadow of its former self with plot changes, and even splicing shows into one another.

Other than that you watched what you could get from fansubbers. Many times you didn’t even know a show existed at all unless you ventured into a Japanese bookstore and bought untranslated manga. Releases from AnimEigo and other companies were very rare in the early ’90s. If you wanted to see a show like Sailor Moon or Marmalade Boy, you were out of luck unless you had access to fansubs at the time. Any show targeted for women just was not licensed here at all before 1995.

Fansubbing now has a bit of a bad rap because we have alternatives, and a completely unlicensed show is very rare outside of licensing legal trouble. (Such as all Macross shows that still has no ability to be licensed outside of Japan currently.) But back then fandom, didn’t exist without it. There was a clear code with most anime clubs: Don’t distribute licensed works. Don’t sell fansubs for any profit. (Shipping and cost of VCR tape if absolutely necessary, but usually a blank tape was traded.) We tried to keep money out of the equation. Many isolated fans had no choice but to buy some fansubs from shady dealers, but they didn’t know there were alternatives.

Today, it’s hard to imagine fandom without video on computers. If you want to see a trailer or opening for a show you can, any time you want. It’s very easy to check out shows you might like.

Mark D. can be reached on Twitter

#1: Lauren Orsini

Age: 30

Location: Northern Virginia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I was in 6th grade, so I was 11 years old. My best friend at the time asked if I wanted to come over and watch Sailor Moon, a show I had never heard of.  She told me it was called anime. Later, we visited her older sister’s room, which was papered from floor to ceiling with printed-out anime pictures.

We borrowed some of her older sister’s VHS tapes of The Slayers to watch in the basement. I was hooked.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? None of the American shows on TV resonated with me. My sisters and friends liked shows about attractive teenagers in high school, but I didn’t see myself in those characters at all. I liked bombastic and flawed Lina Inverse better.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Either Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball Z, which were both airing on Toonami.

How could people watch anime? How did you? You could watch a very limited selection on Toonami, or you could buy anime on VHS at Sam Goody, Suncoast, or Another Universe at the mall. (None of these stores exist now).

The first anime I bought was Neon Genesis Evangelion at Another Universe. It cost $30 for three subtitled episodes. Since it was so expensive, most people picked just one show to collect. My Evangelion tapes are extremely beat up because I swapped them with friends to watch what they had.

Were you part of an anime club? No, but I spent a lot of time in middle school with a group of girls who were also really into anime. We would watch it at sleepovers. We also gave each other nicknames; mine was Ren-chan. Today I’d rather not share something so embarrassing!

Are you still friends with anyone from that time? Yes, most notably my friend Kailer. We still hang out and recommend anime and manga to each other (usually BL stuff).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Fans found each other online. There was Anime Turnpike, a list of links to what was probably every anime-related website at the time. You could write fanfiction on fanfiction.net, but there was no real hub for fan art or other fanworks, so people would create sites called “shrines,” dedicated to either individual characters or “pairings,” two characters they’d like to see date. For example, I was a fan or Nuriko from Fushigi Yugi so I would spend time on Nuriko “shrines” seeing people’s fun facts and fanfic about them.

Can you remember the first time you made a derivative work inspired by anime? While watching The Slayers, my friend and I would pause the tape and try to sketch Lina’s face. Later on, I drew a lot of Gundam Wing art including the infamous shirtless Duo Maxwell poster I put up in my bedroom. (Since actual Gundam Wing posters were expensive, I decided to make my own.)

When did you first attend an anime convention? Not until I was 20, in college. My first convention was Otakon 2006.

What were anime conventions like then? This was only 10 years ago, so not so different than they are today. Otakon already had a five-figure attendance number, which was a huge shock to somebody stopping by for the first time. I had never seen that many anime fans in one place before.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime then and anime today? Access. It is much cheaper and easier to get anime now than it ever was then.

Interested in sharing your own introduction to anime?