Location: Baltimore, Maryland
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My discovery of anime is a two-part story.
Part one: discovering it in 2001 when I went with some new college friends at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to an anime club meeting. I got hooked quickly on the social atmosphere and anime in general. The first show I remember watching with everyone was a run through the entirety of Bastard!! in a huge auditorium. It was a lot of fun and the series was so campy it lent itself to being watched in a group. This made it far more fun to watch and really got me interested in seeing more of it. After that, I plowed through a lot of different anime my friends and the anime club at RPI had. I went through Neon Genesis Evangelion, Love Hina, and eventually got to Cowboy Bebop, which really got me hooked. Still one of my favorite series to this day.
Yet, in about 2006, I was super busy in graduate school trying to plow through a masters thesis and stopped watching as much—if any—anime. This stagnation remained for years.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I discovered it again. I had been spending my nights alone as my wife, being very pregnant with twins, couldn’t get comfortable sleeping except on our couch. I would wander up to bed to be on the same floor as our rather young kids… but couldn’t sleep right alone. That’s when I started checking out our On Demand options and, on a whim, tried out the first episode of two-anime series – Fractale and Blue Exorcist. I remembered everything I had loved about anime in the early ’00s and was hooked all over again. The fun of Blue Exorcist and the deep thinking of Fractale got me back into it again. Soon I was looking into blogs to find out more about it. That’s when I stumbled into Beneath the Tangles, which in turn led me to watching Your Lie in April—the first show I watched close to when it aired in Japan.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was animation without the limits I had seen thus far in who it was aimed at. At 18, I still enjoyed the occasional cartoon and Adult Swim was still in its early days. The only anime I was exposed to in high school was Pokemon and I really didn’t think of it as anime at the time. The shows and films I was watching, though, they were different. It was a new presentation of stories and genres I already found appealing.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Then in 2001? Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion were the big ones I recall people being the most excited about.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Honestly, when I first got into anime I did not realize much about the wider anime fandom. It wasn’t until a few years later that I went to my first convention and when I got there, I was a bit overwhelmed. In terms of online fandom, in 2001, Facebook was three years away, Twitter five years away, and I knew nothing of the greater anime fandom. The methods of communications and our ability to connect now is so different than it was then.
Joining the online fandom in 2014 when I rediscovered how I liked anime was so different. These people who loved anime like me were everywhere and I could connect with them, chat with them, and share our common interest. It was so different and… kind of amazing.
Can you tell me about your first con? Well, my first con was Genericon. I was an RPI student and the convention is literally right in the middle of campus. I spent all manner of evenings, sometimes all-nighters, watching anime in during Genericon in 2003, 2004, and 2005. However, Genericon was a catch-all convention for assorted geekery that had some anime airing in a few rooms. However, Genericon was also a gaming and sci-fi convention. There were sci fi showings, LARPs, pickup D&D games, tons of board gaming, as well as video game tournaments. It was fun, but I wasn’t just there for the anime. I was there to socialize with my college friends who were into…any combination of those things. I didn’t dress up at any Genericon I attended.
In the summers of 2003 and 2004, I went to Otakon with friends. I had never been to Baltimore until that point and kind of went in blind being told by my friends, “This is a huge anime convention.” They were correct. My one friend decided to dress up as the Cheat from Homestar Runner and made his costume out of a huge pile of yellow fabric we picked up from Wal-Mart on our way out of town. We drove overnight in 2003 and arrived early in the AM to go to Otakon in 2003. My one friend then proceeded to use spray paint on the lawn outside of the convention center to finish off his the Cheat costume. I, however, did not dress up that year. At the time, there were definitely anime showings at Otakon as well as other live-action Japanese movies (including Battle Royale which I both watched and purchased on DVD in the same day if my memory serves me correctly). The following year I went with a smaller group of friends, this time with the courage to dress up as Lupin III. My costume comprised of my own pants and shirt, a purple tie I borrowed from a friend, and a woman’s sized red sports coat I purchased from the Salvation Army. I saw it screaming at me on the shelf and had to get it. Got some temporary black hair dye and grew out my sideburns in the build up to the con and dyed my hair the night before. I was instantly recognizable and constantly smirking. Had a number of people ask to take pictures of me, which was fun! Haven’t been to an anime con since (did, however, go to MommyCon DC for a while with my wife last year… that’s a story for another day, though). While they are fun, it’s not really in our family budget for me to go to conventions, especially as I’d be going alone. Honestly, I’m not sure when I’d be interested in going back—but possibly when my kids are old enough that they’d be both interested and appreciative of attending a con.
What do your wife and kids think of your anime fandom? Do they ever watch with you? My wife doesn’t really get the draw to anime. She’ll watch it with me periodically, but it’s not really her thing. Her and I do not always have the same interests in media, however we still share them with each other. My kids, however, I do watch some anime with. It started with introducing them to Chi’s Sweet Home. I’d read them the dialogue, they’d sit there and watch it with me. This led to other shows and now them watching a few shows they’ve gotten into on their own that we’ve found together on Crunchyroll’s catalog (Cardcaptor Sakura in particular, my 7-year-old son absolutely loves it). The good folks at Yatta-Tachi have given me an opportunity to talk about this in particular at their site.
How did you make the leap from reading anime blogs to writing your own Beneath the Tangles column? It honestly started with me writing about anime on my personal site. What I began as an overtly political website shifted overtime into a catch-all blog about everything I’m interested in. From my little corner of the internet, I began to write about anime, in particular where it intersects with my faith. I started sharing these articles (at times obnoxiously) on Twitter and it got the attention of the editors at Beneath the Tangles. During a transition period on the blog, they asked if I would be interested in writing a column for them. I agreed and have been writing “Newman’s Nook” since.
How is fandom different when you’re participating as well as consuming? I feel the biggest difference that I’ve found in participating is that everything isn’t quite inside a vacuum. When you’re a lone wolf consumer, you are just watching it, forming your opinion, and moving on. Participating within the fandom helps in learning what others see in anime, sharing what you see, finding new recommendations, and, frankly, it’s fun to share. I don’t have a lot of local friends who are into anime, so participating in the the online fandom serves as that social outlet for discussion.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The biggest difference is how much easier it is to get into anime now than it was then. In 2001, I could basically see what little was available on television or through what others I knew personally owned (through legal or less-than-legal means). Now? There are many streaming options, it’s on cable, you can buy anime off the shelf in stores, and you can buy it on Amazon or from other online retailers. And with the easier availability comes an increased visibility of different options, different series. Before it was mostly whatever my friends were into or what was super popular. Now, I have access to everything from the super popular to anime about the relationship between male figure skaters or a family of anthropomorphic mushrooms. It’s a good time to be an anime fan.
Matthew can be reached on Twitter.