#119: Austin

Age: 23

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I will separate this into three discovery periods: before I knew of the term “anime,” when I first learned about the term anime, and finally my rediscovery of anime and what it can really encompass.

Until I entered high school in America, I grew up in Hong Kong. When I was still an elementary schooler, one night I was watching TV and airing on the TV was some cartoon movie that enthralled me. It was in a Cantonese dub (of which I understood basically nothing) with rough English subtitles that would appear once every couple of lines. Eventually it was past my bed time and I had to submit to my parental overlords who would have just forcibly torn me away from the TV otherwise. It killed me that I had no idea what this movie was even called (much less that it was a Japanese cartoon) and I only realized much later after I had learned of the term anime that this movie was in fact Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. I went through the same experience again from half-watching Princess Mononoke, also presented with a Cantonese dub and shoddy English subtitles during those same childhood years.

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

I did not actually learn of the term anime until a friend of mine introduced me to Naruto during my middle school years. Today this is probably one of my marks of shame from my earlier days as an anime fan, but I rewatched the original Naruto TV series including filler at least three times. It didn’t take long after Naruto to check out the other Shonen Jump fare, and then I had a phase of watching a bunch of shoujo anime after getting a bit tired of shonen fighting stuff. After that I proceeded to much of the male otaku-pandering harem series. I began to watch most of the airing series that was being fansubbed at the time as I proceeded into high school until I reached major anime burnout. The show that really broke me was K-On. I had a revelation that the shows that otaku were hyping up as the “must check out” shows or the “best anime of the season” just did not really appeal to me anymore. Even those shows aside, after being burned too many times by anime with great beginning episodes that would then be completely unable to sustain their premise for their full running length (Gonzo anyone?), I was really questioning whether or not my heart was really in anime anymore.

My re-discovery of anime I have to credit 100% to the Anime World Order podcast. I very well may not be an anime fan today if I had not found their podcast during my high school burnout. It really opened my eyes up to just how many gems there were back in the ’70s/’80s/early ’90s and to get in the habit of just trying to learn more about who is actually involved in creating the anime I watch and love. It also really opened up my eyes to the fact that anime is not just Shonen Jump adaptations or a cesspool of otaku in-jokes and tropes, but it really does have the capacity to take on a much wider diversity of fictional material. Helen McCarthy summarized this well on the AWO interview with her (at the 5:58 mark):

“Anime is an adventure playground and like any adventure playground you’re only going to get out of it what you take in with you […] if you go looking to try new things, explore new genres, and look around for challenges, then anime is going to provide that.”

The pursuit of challenges is what keeps my anime passion alive. Every time I see a side of anime I’ve never seen before, my otaku expiration date pushes back even further. My hope is that I will never hit this expiration date, so long as I remember that watching anime does not have to be limited to the titles that trend with the anime fandom at large.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For my elementary school story, the main feeling I came away from having half-watched both movies was “Wow, I did not know a cartoon could portray such a compelling story.” My prior exposure to cartoons was things of the nature of some of the older Walt Disney cartoons, Tom and Jerry, CatDog, and Rocko’s Modern Life to name a few. While I enjoyed those as a kid, we can all see that these are comedic endeavors that completely unlike the aforementioned movies. Those movies imprinted upon me a much deeper, lingering feeling of fulfillment.

Although Naruto marked my initial foray into anime, I have actually fallen completely out of caring about it at all. That being said, when I first watched it I really thought it was a fresh breath of air from all the Western cartoons done in episodic format. I actually love a lot of the DCAU cartoons but I feel like there is a limit to how far or deep you can take a story when constrained by that format. The serialized nature of Naruto and other series like it grabbed my attention and I grew a much stronger attachment to characters from long running series like this. This is not to say I necessarily dislike anime that take an episodic format, but an anime series portraying a single story that runs for the length of one or more cours returns a particular feeling of immense satisfaction when done well. I can’t say the same for most of the Western cartoons I watched when I was younger. I was also fascinated by many of the cultural differences from Japan that were exhibited in some of the anime I watched during this time, and so there was definitely an appeal of adventuring into a culture very different from my mostly Western sensibilities.

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

The appeal of anime since my rediscovery of it has taken a much more fascinating turn. Prior to this point I did not really take to the cel-animated style of animation but I’ve grown exceedingly fond of it the more stuff I visit from the ’70s and ’80s. It saddens me to think that it practically a dead art at this point. (If I’m not mistaken Sazae-san was the last anime to use cel-animation and if the production for Sazae-san cannot keep it up… well nothing else can right?) The amount of artistic and narrative diversity that was possible during the ’80s due to the booming economy in Japan at the time is something that I have not really found in anime of recent times; with any luck crowdfunded anime will continue to carve out its own niche though. That aside, I also have bizarre theoretical nostalgia for the ’80s which my parents find both puzzling and amusing.

Just to clarify, even though I have primarily been focusing my attention on anime from the ’70s and ’80s since my rediscovery, I do think that currently anime is doing pretty well and when I do finally get around to watching some more recent anime it is not that hard for me to find something I would like. I am just in no rush to watch anime that everyone is talking about, and I am hesitant to watch shows as they air for fear of being let down by the end.

You grew up in Hong Kong and then Cambridge. Can you tell me how anime fandom was different in each city? I should clarify here. Until high school I grew up in Hong Kong. During high school I was in New Jersey. For undergraduate schooling onwards I was in Cambridge. So I’m not really sure I can say I “grew up” in Cambridge since I was already in college at that point.

As someone that cannot actually speak Cantonese (I can understand a very small amount), my experience is unlikely to be representative of actual fandom in Hong Kong. I also did not attempt to interact too much with fandom in Hong Kong. I think what stands out to me the most over there compared to the states are the sort of properties that were represented. I can remember walking in random malls and seeing illustrations and merchandise for Astro Boy casually in areas. Even more so for stuff like Doraemon. Doraemon would be broadcast dubbed on the Cantonese language channels. Basically you can clearly see representation of the set of anime or manga properties that are huge across East Asia but are virtually unheard of in the West. Many of these properties are popular to large audiences, not just self-proclaimed anime fans. As far as people at school (I went to a British private school taught entirely in English so again, possibly not representative), there were kids who were into those huge Shonen Jump titles like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and so forth. I do recall someone reading a localized (into written Chinese) Sgt. Frog manga volume. I wasn’t even aware that this was released in the states or that it had a following until checking just now. In my head I had thought of this as another “popular in East Asia but not in the West” property.

I went to a boarding high school in New Jersey and I didn’t leave campus much because I was lazy and going to town required more walking than I cared for at the time. So I can really only comment on the situation at school. I think besides what I’ve already said, it appeared to me that there wasn’t a lot of interest in an organized club setting for anime (although I feel like it could have been different if the school actually allowed for non-athletic and non-theater extra-curricular activities). There were however people with at least some kind of passing interest in anime; their presence was not very visible though so to this day I’m not entirely sure how many people actually cared about anime. This is when I really understood that there’s a whole population of people who consume anime but do not speak about it whatsoever.

College in Cambridge was a pretty huge letdown as far as anime fandom is concerned. Admittedly, if I was still the same fan I was when I was getting into this stuff I would have fit right at home. There were a lot of people to whom anime is essentially a bunch of memes. While I do actually think one great aspect about anime fandom is that people can celebrate it in so many different ways, it was a letdown for me that I had so much trouble finding people who would also want to take it seriously. I’m not gonna pretend like every anime is some kind of cinematic masterpiece, because that is not true at all. At the time it struck me as strange that anime fans had so little interest in seeking out things worthy of that kind of recognition. Stepping aside from my biases, there’s definitely a lot of that internet awareness of anime fandom that would be represented by anime fans at my school. So if you were the sort of person who was constantly on top of the zeitgeist of anime fandom, quickly jumping to one hot otaku property after the next, you would have had a great time.

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

You spent a lot of time gravitating toward much older anime. What appealed to you about those over more modern titles? When I first saw a non-Ghibli cel animated anime, I was still in my relative infancy as an anime fan and the aesthetic did not appeal to me at the time. It’s funny that since then I now tend to gravitate much more to older titles. Probably the biggest driving force during my transition to older titles is wanting to get away from the glut of moe titles that kept getting pumped out. Before that point most of what I was watching was that moe stuff and at first I thought it was quirky and fun but later on I realized I was just lying to myself about liking that stuff anymore. There can be shows with moe elements that can still be good provided other quality aspects (plot, characterization, etc.) are there. However, the balance wasn’t really there when I was really getting sick of it. Nowadays anime seems to be doing a lot better than simply completing a checklist designed to cater only to the moe fanbase.

So older anime had a lot less moe stuff crammed into it. On the other hand, there’s a ton more mecha stuff there which I previously did not care for. I no longer have any resistance to mecha shows now and do enjoy greatly the ones that I have seen. I still don’t think I would call myself a huge mecha person though. I do really like the level of detail you see with some illustrations of robots. It is a shame that the animators who can actually animate robots in 2D are dwindling out.

The hand-crafted feel of cel animation versus the technically cleaner aspects of digital animation is something that I enjoy greatly. It’s really great whenever some window shatters or a building gets demolished and you can see the individual bits of debris and rubble. People spent weeks painting cels for something that amounts to a gorgeous second long shot. Whenever the camera perspective switches I’m blown away because everything in the shot has to be redrawn each frame. The warmer color palette gives a different vibe than that of modern titles. In any case, for many of these aspects there’s not necessarily a technical reason you couldn’t do these things in digital animation. However, there is one thing that was certainly different in the ’80s and that was the economy in Japan.

The amount of money that got pumped into the anime industry as a consequence of the ’80s bubble economy would allow for these super detailed and time-intensive shots. Not all old anime is like this of course, but at least the possibility was there. Besides that, the crazy amounts of money that would get thrown around would enable the production of strange, extremely non-merchandisable titles such as Angel’s Egg, To-Y, and Bobby’s Girl. Success or not, there is something fascinating about creative output in anime unrestrained by commercial considerations. If you wanted to pick a single decade to look for as much anime that is unlike anime you’ve seen before, unquestionably the ’80s is the place to go.

Putting aside my preference for the aesthetics or the experimental stuff of the time, if I were to try and sell someone on the concept of going back and checking older anime it would be that titles that have withstood the test of time are worth checking out. It’s hard to identify if an anime title is going to have any staying power at the height of its popularity. So the only reasonable way to unbiasedly test this I think is to simply wait and see. Especially nowadays, fans move rapidly from one show to the next. Here’s are modern examples of things I don’t think pass the test of time. How many people honestly care about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anymore (well, they weren’t doing themselves any favors with that second season)? How about Lucky Star? On the other hand, people will still bring up Akira as one of these cinematic masterpieces. Somehow fandom over Legend of the Galactic Heroes has persisted for all this time despite only very recently getting an official release for the first time. Old school fans still talk about Bubblegum Crisis. A couple of years back Carl Gustav Horn cared enough to assemble writers and put together a gorgeous 25th anniversary fanzine for Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. To me, that is a strong signal that those particular titles are at least worth checking out. An argument could certainly be made that since so much less stuff made it to English speaking audiences back then, it was easier for fandom as a whole to rally and concentrate around a small subset of shows compared to now. But hey, people still care about this stuff more than 25 years later. Why not find out what all the fuss is about?

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

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I did not really try to connect with anime fans until high school. There did not seem to be a whole lot of interest in anime at my school when I tried asking around, and so I eventually started an anime club in hopes of finding other fans. Unfortunately basically any extracurricular activity that was not sports or theater was shafted because there were credit requirements related to these and so even though a bunch of people expressed interest in an anime club at my first administrative meeting, very few people could actually come to showings I held after school. To be honest I did not really have a good sense of direction for what I wanted to do with the club until I was a senior and had experienced my rediscovery of anime. It was also during this time I began nurturing my love of old anime. The goal I set that year was to try and break people’s preconceived notions of anime with every showing I did and try and make it a little educational by talking about some of the background details of how the titles came to be. So I would show titles like Royal Space Force, Project A-ko, Angel’s Egg, Gunbuster, and the early ’90s Black Jack OAVs to name a few. That being said, the anime club was really just one guy I had not met before I started it, and my friends most of whom were not really anime fans. The people that attended did tell me later after I had graduated that I showed them some really interesting stuff that they would never have associated with anime normally, so I guess I did achieve my goal in the end. I think there might have been more anime fans than I was originally led to believe but perhaps none of them were interested in going to an anime club. I say this because at a completely unrelated event I was talking to a friend about the unfortunate passing of Satoshi Kon and why this was a big deal, and someone I barely knew chimed in and said “Oh yeah I heard about that too!” I was shocked that someone else in my high school would even know of the name Satoshi Kon.

Then after that was college. Even though I went to a very nerdy college, I really did not connect much at all with anime fans I met there. It honestly was a really hard time for me as an anime fan to have to come to terms with the fact that I had so little in common with other anime fans in my age group. I am aware that what I am saying would probably anger some of the older fans who may have had to endure bullying for being into anime and would have killed to find any other anime fans. With the exception of one person (Hi Steve!), I basically did not meet any anime fans who really cared much about both old anime and the people who worked on them. Even putting aside old anime, people who went to the anime club in college were not particularly interested in having serious discussions about anime either. Apparently the club used to be open to the public but from what I hear, too many old folks being around turned off students from the showings so it was closed off by a previous club president who had graduated by the time I was attending. While I am sure this was done with good intentions for the students, I was pretty bummed out that had I only attended a few years earlier I would have been able to meet a bunch of older anime fans. The one time during those years I felt a really strong connection with other people about anime was during a summer internship in Tokyo when I was 20 years old; basically all the actual employees in my team were middle aged software engineers. That same summer I was again reminded how out of place I was and still am; I was cel shopping in Nakano Broadway and I realized that the only people that ever walked into the cel shops (I spent hours upon hours just looking at cels) that were younger than me were the kids of couples that were much older than me. It is not easy for me to be reminded frequently about my interests are quite out of place with other fans in my age group. I would love to meet other fans in-person that are into old anime regardless of their age but I do not really know of a way to do so easily. I think most people tend to socialize within their age groups so I am not sure there is an easy way.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was, but I did not really use the internet to try and find other fans during middle and high school. These days I follow a bunch of the Anitwitter folks though. I mostly gave up trying to connect with other fans in real life circles. Some of my college friends who watch anime have tried to appeal to me by claiming to me things of the nature “Miyazaki seems like he thinks he’s the only one who can save anime” or “I can see how Hunter x Hunter was influenced by Naruto.” When I respond “Oh that’s interesting I never heard of that” and then ask them for a citation source or how they know any of this eventually they admit that they were bullshitting me which I do not take kindly to at all. Experiences like this deter me from wanting trying to discuss anime seriously with the anime fans I currently know in person. As a result I now sort of just silently follow the tweetings of (to name a few) the Mike Toole, Dawn / Usamimi and 80s_anime folks of the world. My small (maybe dumb) hope is that perhaps writing all of this may help open up some avenues to connect with other anime fans into older anime.

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

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first anime convention was actually only a little over a year ago, at Anime Boston 2016. Prior to that my entire knowledge of what actually happens at anime conventions was pretty much based the AWO podcast coverage of them. I only went on Sunday and I mostly just spent time in the dealers’ room, especially at the only vendor that was selling cels. Instead of cels, at that booth I ended up buying two Galaxy Express 999 posters, a Royal Space Force poster, and a Macross Do You Remember Love poster. I’m kind of kicking myself for not going for the whole weekend because Masao Maruyama was a guest that year.

Tell me how you got a summer internship in Tokyo. Where was it? Did you speak Japanese? So I actually did three summer internships in a row in Japan. The first in Hyogo Prefecture (near Osaka), the second in Tokyo, and the third in Tokyo. These were all arranged through my school which had a program that you where you could do summer internships abroad. All of these internships were software development related (I majored in Computer Science).

The first internship was for a startup which excluding me and another intern from my school, consisted of literally just my French boss and a Japanese student working there. At lunch sometimes we would use Japanese but for work stuff I would just speak to him in English.

The second internship was for a more traditional Japanese company called Secom, and took place at their research lab in Mitaka city (the same city where the Ghibli museum is located). They asked me what language I preferred to communicate with and I insisted on Japanese because I was trying to get more comfortable speaking it. They seemed relieved and happy to accommodate that request, although we would have once a week English lunch table events which I would go to so they could practice English. Those lunch tables were the only time I spoke English at the company. In the present day my spoken Japanese has atrophied very hard, although I’m still practicing reading and listening. As I mentioned earlier, most of the people in my team were essentially folks in their 40s to 50s who majored in Computer Science back in the day. In other words, the demographic of people who would likely enjoy the same kind of anime that I do. This was exactly the case. I could talk about how great Galaxy Express 999 is and people would respond with pleasant agreement instead of a blank face, wow! Forgive me for tooting my horn a little, but those guys were continually surprised by just how much I knew about older anime properties; actually I feel like I actually don’t know that much compared to the super fans that I follow online. For a presentation I did in front of an audience comprised of people from a bunch of different teams, I showcased some of the cels I bought that summer and invited people to stop by my desk if they wanted to take a look at the rest. One guy who came by was talking about Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise and referred to Hideaki Anno as the director. I gave him a weird look and corrected him, pointing out that the director was in fact Hiroyuki Yamaga. He still wasn’t quite convinced but my supervisor had my back and said “he actually knows a lot about anime.” Most of the people in my team weren’t necessarily hardcore anime fans so much as people who enjoyed anime when they were younger. It just so happens those anime titles were exactly what I was into. As a half-joke I would tell friends in the states that I was finally with my kind of people. It was the first (of very few) major experiences I’ve had offline where I felt like I really had an overlapping anime interest with another group of people.

The third internship was not an internship so much as a summer research experience I did at Tokyo University. I think most students (all of them were graduate students) in the lab could read English decently, which was probably a requirement given that most academia is published in English, but they were no one spoke it at all. It was kind of unfortunate since my Japanese speaking had gotten a lot worse at this point so it was hard to actually engage in conversations about stuff. During my introduction to the lab I did mention (in Japanese) “Hmmm, as far as hobbies I’m into ’80s anime in particular.” After processing what I had said, one of the students responded “… wait we weren’t even born then.”

This reminded me of an amusing experience during my first summer in Japan before my first internship started, where I was in a language exchange thing that was happening at Tokyo University with my Japanese class from school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently my bizarre interest in older anime left an impression on some people there. At the end of this language exchange thing, there was a closing event where on a whim they were someone should do karaoke. Prior to this I had used the opening to Gatchaman in a presentation for my Japanese class so everyone from my class wanted me to go sing the opening in front of a bunch of Tokyo University engineering staff and graduate students, which I did. I’m not even sure the graduate students knew what this was, and it must have been weird for some of the staff to get a flashback to their childhoods.

Was your interest in anime a contributing factor to you taking an internship in Tokyo? Maybe somewhat but honestly I don’t think it was that big of a factor prior to accepting the internship. Completely unrelated to my anime interest, I had read up a lot about lifestyle differences or social issues in Japan. So I was well aware that it isn’t some fantasy land where people casually walk down the street rocking Naruto headbands. Especially coming from Hong Kong and then living in the states, the culture shock wasn’t that big for me by the time I spent my first summer in Japan.

I also didn’t really have this anime fan obsession with Akihabara being the holy land nor did I feel like I absolutely had to make a pilgrimage over there to complete my anime fan journey. I did go a couple of times and at first it was a little overwhelming but honestly overall it was pretty boring for me. If you are down with all the hot anime merchandise and have tons of money, then they will very willingly accommodate that fan interest. But for someone like me whose mind was flooded with obsession over older anime, there wasn’t a lot that catered to me from there. Nakano Broadway on the other hand, THAT is where the old school anime fan stuff is at.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? This is a pretty boring answer because it could apply to anyone besides people that became fans after the rise of streaming as a anime delivery mechanism, but it has to be just the sheer amount of anime that is available via legal means. More accessibility is great but ironically the problem of legal accessibility being solved has lead to the problem of too much anime being available. The latter is not actually a problem because it’s as simple as choosing not to watch everything, but I think any long term fans can probably name a person or two that tried to watch everything available every season and burned out really fast. As far as how this relates to fandom specifically, I think an obsession with always trying to stay up to date has lead to overall anime fandom having a very short term memory. To be honest not long after I was getting into anime I think this was already starting to happen, but now it seems even worse. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t really see the modern equivalent of extreme concentrated pockets of fandom for older properties (whether that’s stuff from when I was getting into anime, or before). It would be a shame to lose that level of fan dedication. That being said, I’m still pretty optimistic that dedicated fandom will still thrive in some form.

Austin can be reached on Twitter and his blog.

#118: Kevin

Age: 26

Location: Chicago, USA

When did you discover anime? It was sophomore year of high school (I think around 2006?) when I decided to try anime. Things like memes and imageboards were just starting to get popular. So my first anime was Rozen Maiden because I saw so much art of one of the characters.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was because it was so different from cartoons I’ve seen before. Sixteen-year-old me found it so cool watching animation made by a different culture: what stories they tell, the style of comedy, and what kind of characters they create.

What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first anime that made me go “alright, this is the best anime I’ve ever watched” is the Aria franchise, cumulating with Aria the Origination. It remains my favorite anime to this day. Fortunately, there isn’t that much merchandise or events related to this show, but I do have the art books, blu-rays, and manga. The day Kawakami Tomoko died in 2011 I was inconsolable. I still get emotional when I hear Athena’s voice.

Kevin’s anime figure collection.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Bleach and Death Note. I didn’t really pay attention to airing stuff until like 2008, and by then I distinctly remember Lucky Star being all the rage.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I had one or two friends who watched anime as well, but I mostly kept it to myself. I did try showing some stuff to other friends with mixed results.

What were those mixed results? It was more or less a learning experience that different people liked different genres—really, really early on. I showed a good friend Lucky Star and School Rumble, but he enjoyed the more cerebral shows like Serial Experiments Lain and Evangelion instead. I was still in that wonderful phase where I thought every anime was just the most incredible thing ever.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet was a place where I could freely talk about anime because I was in the company of other anime fans. It was a godsend for someone like me, where I just have to share the ideas filling my head to the brim. I started really getting engaged when I joined the Saimoe community (those voting poll contests to democratically determine best girl popular a few years ago) which eventually led to me starting my own anime blog which eventually led to me making fake anime news.

I want to hear more about the origin of your “fake anime news” blog Anime Maru! I had my own blog that I had been writing for a few years. I was proud of my work and more or less did it for fun, and through blogging I virtually met many of my close acquaintances in the anime community (including you!). But over the years I started losing passion for and I was looking for some way to be different. I felt like everyone has an anime blog and while sometimes a great clever idea or unique insight pops into my head, in the end I was just doing what everyone else was doing. I wrote a few parody anime news articles and not only were they incredibly fun to write, the people I shared them with found them really entertaining. I knew I had a fresh new idea, but I had decently high ambitions so I would need a staff. I took some time off to really plan out my vision, do the groundwork for making a website, and finding a good staff of writers. While the first year was a bit rocky and had some growing pains, I finally found joy and passion in writing about anime again. I’m glad I can contribute to this community in my own unique way.

Kevin meeting up with Anime Maru fans.

As a blogger, do you interact with newbie fans? If so, how do you think their perspectives are different than when you were a newbie fan? I think Anime Maru targets the hardcore anime crowd a bit more, as a lot of humor is meta-humor about the fanbase itself or oblique current events in the anime world. But outside of writing, I do enjoy talking about anime especially with new people. One trait newbie anime fans all share is being easily impressed by anime. I think this is because early in fandom they are recommended good shows by people trying to help them, and also by the fact they have not been “jaded” by tropes or cliche. To have that innocence back!

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was Anime Expo 2011, for which I flew into Los Angeles for. I never imagined having fun at an anime convention because I couldn’t find anyone interested in going. However, one of the blogs I wrote for at the time offered me press credentials and I just decided to go for it. Besides getting awesome access to guests and not having to stand in line, I was exposed to how fun it was to brush shoulders with “people from the internet” and be in a literal sea of individuals who share my passion. Now I am a regular convention goer.

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

You had press credentials. So you got paid to write about anime? How did you go from fan to pro? I’m really into anime music. Many years ago I was really into movie soundtracks, and that kind of bled into anime and I began researching anime soundtracks. I was invited by zzeroparticle to contribute on his anime music blog for a while because I could write moderately intelligently about anime soundtracks. His blog was a bit more successful and popular than my little shack at the time, and I got to go to some conventions! My fondest experiences with anime music include Yoko Kanno’s PIANO ME performance at Otakon and Kalafina at Anime Expo. For a soundtrack geek at the time like myself, it was an experience of a lifetime.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you found it and anime fandom today? The sheer size and organization of the fandom. Twelve years ago I could easily find a discussion board about anime or watch just about any show using the high seas, but now anime fandom is like a galaxy swirling around thanks to social media. Each fandom has huge rabid communities, and anime has never been more accessible. Anime has become far more mainstream and will only continue to do so.

Kevo can be reached on Twitter

#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.

#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

#101: Andrew M

Age: 28

Location: Orlando, Florida

When did you discover anime? My earliest recollection of what I would later come to recognize as anime was re-runs of Robotech that played early in the mornings before I went to school. There was something else that played alongside it but I don’t remember if it was another anime. What little I do remember is that my brother and I made sure my father woke us up in time to watch the hour of programming before school. We would watch and he would make us breakfast. This tradition kept up over the years as new shows aired. This is how, for example, I first watched Zoids amongst other things.

By the time I came to understand that anime was different from other cartoons, I had graduated from watching it in the mornings to also watching anime every afternoon on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. At this time, my interest in military history drew me to samurai which, in turn, led me to the realization that these cartoons I was watching were Japanese and had their own unique term to describe them, “anime.”

It was during these early Toonami years that I really “discovered” anime. I became a forever fan of anime from all genres and I became acquainted with what would become my favorite franchise: Gundam. New Mobile Report Gundam Wing on Toonami got me into Gundam despite my distinct memory of disliking the first episode. My friend, Andrew, continued to nourish my interest as he knew more about the franchise and had better access to other Gundam material from the internet and elsewhere.

I also credit my discovery of anime to the blossoming of my interest in other areas such as collecting and Japanese culture as a whole so I’m very happy that I became a devotee.

I’d love to hear about these additional interests and how you expressed them over the years. Collecting and Japanese cultural studies were the two main tangential interests that influenced my interest in anime and subsequently molded me into the anime fan I am today. The earlier of these other interests was in collecting. I’m not sure what the catalyst for this was but I suspect that Pokémon had a lot to do with it. The mythos surrounding the game always encouraged you to “Catch ‘em All” and so that’s what me and my friends did; we always ensured that we got every single Pokémon in our games. When the card game came out and my brother and I got into that, it wasn’t merely a card game for us. The goal was to get one of each card to scuttle away before ever considering playing with them. When we discovered that these cards also came in a “1st Edition,” it was a disaster. It was no longer about just getting every card but about getting all of them in the right edition. This trend continued into the emergence of the Yu-Gi-Oh card game but that eventually tapered off in college when I lost interest in the game. I also treated the brief Gundam War card game with the same collector’s spirit but those cards proved to be so elusive that I never finished my set.

An important part of my collecting spirit was encouraged by my mother and that was the safe-keeping of my collection. She always bought my brother and me acid-free plastic pages to keep our cards in at additional cost to herself so that they would survive in the long run. We still have the books of cards and I can say proudly that they are almost all still in mint condition. Things went even further when I got into college and took a museum conservation course. In this space, I learned that if I valued my collections, there were a number of factors that I must always keep under consideration such as light damage, skin-oil degradation, etc. As a result, I am very careful these days with all my art whether it is anime-related or not; everything is handled with museum-grade cotton gloves, the room they are stored in has light-blocking curtains, storage materials are researched before use, and the list goes on and on.

These days, the items I collect vary quite widely. I collect folk art pieces, ceramics, and a number of anime-related items. In the realm of anime, my collecting includes limited-edition physical media releases, various Gundam-related items, film and promotional posters, and animation cels. On my recent month-long trip to Japan, art was definitely my number one expense.

Cels from ‘Evangelion’ and ‘Gundam’ in Andrew’s collection.

The later of these two interests was Japanese culture as a whole. My interest in Japan actually pre-dated my knowledge that anime was anything more than really cool cartoons. As I began to get into history in middle school, military history became my favored topic. I don’t remember the particular details of how it happened, but during these early years, my exploration into samurai history somehow led me to the realization that all these cartoons I watched so feverishly were Japanese. I feel that I was somewhat privy to this beforehand but this time the revelation stuck and I began to think of anime not merely as a selection of shows that I liked but as machinations of a particular culture.

Nowadays, I’m just generally interested in everything. I enjoy learning about a little bit of everything whether it’s history, culinary traditions, politics, or anything you can think of. Anime is very special to me in this regard as my impetus to research a topic is often related to my observance of it in a show. To give you an idea of how broadly it can work for me, I’ll discuss some examples that stick out in my recollection. From the main character of Princess Mononoke being Emishi, I did some research on this now extinct culture which has given me a much better concept of things like early state formation in Japan and the origins of the shape of Japanese swords. Other shows like Natsume’s Book of Friends challenged my preconceived notions on the nature of yokai which has led me to discover how much more fluid, fleeting, and mysterious the world of the supernatural is in Japan. Even shows that don’t really involve Japan can drive me to learn new things. Sound of the Sky’s unique setting led me to seek out the origins for it and led me to the Spanish city of Cuenca. Reading more about the city and its architecture led me to get better acquainted with aspects of Spanish history that I may have never come across if it weren’t for a Japanese cartoon about cute soldier girls.

So, interestingly for me, my discovery of anime from other aspects of Japanese culture has almost been flipped around and, in the present, anime has become a vehicle by which I can broaden my horizons about both Japanese culture and the world more broadly.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At this point, I don’t even remember what drew me to anime at first. My best guess is that, in my earliest years, it was action scenes and vibrant colors all under the guise of cartoons.

As I grew up and watched other shows like Sailor Moon, I became entranced by the depth of the stories contained within these cartoons. This was something completely foreign to me when it came to American programming and I ate it up voraciously.

When it came to shows like Gundam, it was not only the quality of the tale but the technology that drew me in. When I discovered Gundam, I had already developed a fascination with military history and the associated technology that goes along with it.

Andrew at Joshin Super Kids in Osaka, Japan.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Gundam was undoubtedly my first and still primary anime love. Early on in our middle school days, my buddy Andrew was also a big Gundam fan and so our fan expression almost exclusively centered around one of us getting a hold of Gundam DVDs, games, etc. and devouring those wholesale. With the internet becoming easily available to us at around the time Gundam became popular, we also used the internet to gather as much information about the franchise as we could. We would share links to pages with each other that had Gundam information and we’d read them over and over to try and absorb it all. It was a great time to be a Gundam fan because it was still within the anime zeitgeist and knowing more about it than other folks made us feel good about it.

By the time we hit high school, Gundam’s popularity had dwindled but Andrew and I still continued to love it unconditionally. We continued to express our fandom through learning as much as we could on Gundam, attending Gundam events at the conventions we could make it to, and Andrew even began to build the occasional model. I never have gotten into Gunpla myself which I know is somewhat unusual for a Gundam fan.

Heading off to college didn’t dwindle my interest in the slightest. If anything, this is when my collecting bug began to really sprout with Gundam. I began picking up some smaller figures for display, limited edition media sets, random Gundam knick-knacks, and even some vintage Gundam posters. These latter items were, as you might expect, a little beaten up and so near the end of college, I actually took them to the campus museum’s conservation department to have them tell the best way to preserve them in the future. They now hang proudly in my room in custom-made frames.

Nowadays, Gundam continues to be my central anime interest and the focus of my anime collectibles spending. On my recent trip to Japan, I went to major Gundam places such as Joshin Super Kids Land in Nipponbashi in Osaka, the Gundam Café in Osaka with the Gundam vs. Char’s Zaku II statue, and the Gundam Café in Akihabara. Between these three locations and some others, I acquired over 45 pounds of Gundam merchandise!

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? During the time in which anime took hold of me, popularity in my cadre of acquaintances was divided along gender lines. For guys, it was a pretty even split between Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing. For girls, Sailor Moon was, by far, the most popular anime property.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? As someone who became a fan in late elementary to middle school, things were relatively simple. At the beginning, approximately half the class would watch Toonami in the afternoon and we would gather throughout the day in the classroom and on the playground to discuss the previous day’s episode.

Towards the end of middle school, more people began to lose interest so those of us who continued to enjoy anime became excluded into our own clique of nerds. This trend stuck around throughout high school but, luckily for me, the group of friends I developed was strong so I never had to experience major isolation due to anime.

Did liking anime limit who would be friends with you? Are you still friends with any of the group you referred to here? I suppose the answer here would be “in a way”. The core group of friends I developed in high school consisted of three schoolmates and another guy who was a friend of one of them. Only two of them liked anime beyond a fleeting interest in a single show at a time and, even then, my interest in anime was farther flung than even the two who were into anime. We connected based off other interests but the important thing was that my love of anime didn’t bother them. I could talk about something I was watching and enjoying and, as long as I didn’t harp on it too much and get bothersome—which I used to occasionally—they were fine with it. I’m still friends with all of these guys and, having moved back to Orlando after college, they remain my central social group.

For other acquaintances in high school, the response was twofold. Often, my interest in anime meant that I was kept at arm’s length as they didn’t want to poison their standing within the hierarchy of school popularity. For a smaller group of acquaintances who formed the group of kids I was always in classes with, they didn’t much care one way or another; class work remained the focus of our connection for the most part. I’ve reconnected with some of these folks since high school and even discovered that a few have become rather active anime fans up to and including cosplaying around the country.

How did you usually make friends with other fans? Almost exclusively, connecting with other fans was always through physical introduction at parties or at the local card shop with one of my friends acting as an intermediary of sorts. With the advent of Facebook during college, I began making friends through the internet and, now that I’ve started using Twitter, making anime acquaintances has become even more centered in the online sphere. These days, with my expanding presence giving panels at conventions, I’m finally starting to meet more and more people at events for the first time.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I now know that the internet did exist for fandom when I was beginning my journey but I was completely aloof from it. I connected to other fans almost solely through school friends and, on occasion, friends of those friends.

Do you remember your first convention? I cannot remember the year, but my first convention was Megacon in Orlando, FL sometime during high school with my brother and my aforementioned pal, Andrew. Megacon began as a convention for American comic and sci-fi properties but, by the time we went, they had fully delved into the world of anime (anime fandom, I would later discover, was integral to reinvigorating this convention at this time of my first visit). Having enjoyed Star Trek, Star Wars, and the occasional superhero comic during my youth, this type of convention was great for me. I don’t remember much about the convention guests but I recall being overwhelmed with the rows of shops and the flurry of costumes passing by me. Two things do stick out to me, however.

My first particular memory I have regarding the convention was sitting down on an upper level to eat lunch. The old design of the convention center allowed people on this upper level to look down onto the dealer’s room floor. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time eating but I had an incredible time just sitting there and watching the organic movements of the masses through the crowded hall. I had never seen this kind of thing before and it was incredibly interesting to see. To this day, standing above crowds at conventions and watching how groups of people move about and interact with one another is something I love to do.

My second memory is less particular but it involves panels. I don’t recall the topics, but I really enjoyed sitting in presentations and learning from guests about the background of how my favorite shows and books were created. Megacon didn’t do fan paneling, as I recall, but this interest led me to seek out panels whenever I went to conventions. Over the years, this finally evolved into Andrew and I putting together our own group—originally called NoS Gundam—to give presentations about our favorite show, Gundam. It’s been four years now and our group, NoS Anime, has spread its tendrils beyond Gundam to panels on everything from Evangelion to iyashikei. Were it not for the seed planted at my first Megacon, I’m not sure if I ever would have taken this new and intriguing route into fandom.

NoS Anime’s logo

Would love to hear about the panels you give. Our group began as “NoS Gundam” in 2014 after my aforementioned buddy Andrew and I kept experiencing a flurry of poorly constructed Gundam panels during the 2013 convention season. We decided that we could do better and so we put together our first panel, “Gundam 101” for Anime Festival Orlando 2014. The panel was a Gundam introduction that went over the breadth of the franchise, its repeated themes, history, and, finally, some recommendations; we even ended the panel with a silly “Identify that Mobile Suit” game which we cut pretty quickly after a few conventions. Overall, however, giving the panel was both fun and successful. I crafted the script and did the speaking while Andrew crafted the accompanying PowerPoint and ran it during the presentations. This has remained our style to this day.

The original intention of this group was to stick to Gundam themes and maybe create a Gundam panel or two each year for conventions. For the following 2015 convention scene, however, we not only produced a presentation on Gundam mecha but also on Evangelion. This Eva panel really began to set the tone for what would eventually coalesce into our panel style. The Eva presentation, “Evangelion’s Religion: You Can (Not) Reference”, looked at the original series’ use of religious references to see how much care the creative team behind Evangelion put into matching their creations to the things that inspired the names. The level of detailed research and the slightly more academic style to this panel have become hallmarks of how our group works.

The work we did for this 2017 convention season has been even more ambitious and rewarding. We got Andrew’s artist girlfriend to make us a proper logo, my brother officially joined the group, and we jumped from three to four panels for our lineup. The original “Gundam 101” panel was completely re-written and a new corresponding PowerPoint presentation created to go along with it. We thought we had created an incredible panel but, having reworked it, we were both just embarrassed by our old work and we were glad to update it to our more refined, current style.

This is also the first year that we’ve been invited to a convention as guests; our first will be WasabiCon in Jacksonville, FL this October. So things are going pretty well for us.

Andrew can be reached on Twitter

#100: A.P.

Age: 24

Location: New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember.
My childhood best friend introduced it to me during a sleepover! I had watched Pokémon and stuff before but this was the first time I watched something knowing it was from Japan.

Tell me about your childhood best friend! How did THEY discover anime? Are you still in touch? She’s great! She still watches anime occasionally. She is East Asian, so she was casually exposed to anime and manga pretty early on. We’re still in touch and we’re still close.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
I think the cool superpowers, the pretty boys, the potential to make self-insert characters…

Tell me about self-insert characters! Did you write fanfic? Role-play? Cosplay? I briefly wrote fanfic and tried roleplaying, but I was a snob and hating roleplaying with people who were bad writers, haha. I made lots of original characters though, and some of them are still alive in the writing I do today.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
I think Naruto was just starting then! Fruits Basket was really popular in my school too.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was only heavily into fandom in middle school and it was wild, honestly. My friend group fought and split up over some anime related thing… We would bring manga to school for each other or watch stuff at birthday parties. We wrote fanfiction… it was pretty similar to modern day fandom except I think we wrote in notebooks and read physical comics.

I need to hear about what this anime-related thing was that was so wild it caused a split. Oh my god, I don’t really even remember what the issue was… I think one friend was into anime in kind of a cringe-y way (using broken Japanese, acting cute, eating rice balls and stuff…) and another understandably couldn’t deal with this, so they stopped being friends, and then people picked sides.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time?  A little! The other fans were my friends so most of my memories are from school. I also wasn’t really an internet kid ’til college. I was in an RP group on a forum briefly but strangers freaked me out so I didn’t stay in touch with them.

You talk about anime in middle school and then again in college. Did you take a break from anime in high school? If so, what brought you back into the fandom? Yeah, I took a break! I was still reading manga and watching shows occasionally, but my friend’s interests changed and it was considered childish to be openly into anime. In college I started catching up on some series I used to like and some popular ones that were coming out at the time, and then I met folks who liked anime and were super cool about it.

How have you grown as an anime fan? For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think I appreciate it in a totally different way now! As a kid, I got super into anything I was exposed to because I simply had less access to a variety of shows and comics. Now I can pick and choose what to watch (and I have less time to get invested in a show that’s kind of bad). I also think that’s helped anime fandom become more discerning! 

#99: Trystan

Age: 22

Location: Indiana

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. This has always been a hard question for me to answer. When I was young (talking five-ish here) I had the habit of staying up until 3 AM, and although I shared my room with at least one sibling during this point, we had the luxury of having a TV. What we watched as we went to sleep was a big debate. We had to pick something we agreed upon and for me and my brother it was always Cartoon Network. This meant I was exposed to anime for really as long as I can remember and I have vivid memories of watching Sailor Moon while my mother prepared dinner. Toonami was a great source of entertainment but I was also present when Adult Swim came on. Sure I was way too young to be watching those shows but things like Big O, Blue Gender, Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Inuyasha had a huge impact on my life.

However, there is a single moment in time when I went from watching cartoons as a child to knowing it was something called anime and I owe this moment all to Inuyasha. While in elementary school I got along with those around me but I wasn’t close to many people and I often didn’t really have friends. Early fifth grade was especially hard for a variety of reasons and I wasn’t super friendly with those in my home room class. This meant I often had to find something to do at recess be it asking a group if I could join them (which gave me anxiety) or swinging for an entire recess period. Soon I became fed up having to do this and my laziness lead me to actions I will never be sorry for. There was a girl in my grade who used forearm crutches. Since I had never shared a class with her I didn’t understand what made her different (though I later learned she has cerebral palsy) but I did know that her disability allowed her and her friends to do something no one else could do: sit beside the door which was shaded and had concrete. At this point in my life all I wanted was to sit alone at recess and not be bothered. I should mention that the girl (who will be referred to as A) was allowed to bring a chair outside since her legs don’t really work and sitting on concrete can be hard on her.

Somehow in my 11-year-old mind I figured out the best plan: sit close enough to the group allowed by the door to look like I belong so I don’t get in trouble. And it worked. I set beside A’s chair on the outskirts of the group for months. At a certain point I became comfortable enough with my position to actually follow the group when they would move out into other parts of the playground. Of course it turns out the ringleader (Lets say, S) was doing it to get rid of me and one day started berating me. This is when A, someone I had never even spoken to and who wasn’t assertive in the least, yelled, “She’s my friend,” essentially giving me privilege enough to stay there. It is important to note that my town is small (about 5,000) people and our class was tiny. I knew all of these people and had even been friendly with S prior to this moment. But nonetheless from that moment on I felt easier about my position and free enough to talk to the other members of the group, be it infrequently. Then one day A and another girl were talking about Inuyasha and mentioned a kiss scene. I quickly butted in that I didn’t want spoilers. This interaction along with rotating classrooms finally brought A and I into the same circle and through her, and a very lovely public library, I came to know what anime and manga was and I fell in love with several manga that year. I started reading Fruits Basket, Tokyo Babylon, Chobits, Kare Kano, and other great series. This is a personal journey that means so much more to me than just anime or manga because by meeting A I gained what I believe to be my first real friend in my life and through our connection to anime we’ve managed to stay friends for the last 12 years. Learning what anime was really opened the world to me and helped me forge a lasting friendship I could never (and would never) replace.

Trystan (as Anthy) and A.

What an amazing story! Do you and A go to cons together? Cosplay together? How did your relationship evolve over the years? Like many relationships we’ve drifted but somehow we always manage to get back together before completely drifting apart. Being able to watch anime and discuss it is a huge reason why our friendship has lasted. Until 2015 I had never been to a convention but A had been to many so when I was invited to go to Anime Midwest with them I jumped at the opportunity. We spent most of that convention together and it’s still my favorite con we’ve gone to. Cosplay is something else I hadn’t done until recently while A had been doing for years. For Anime Central 2016 we cosplayed together, something we had each really wanted to do and come to the conclusion separately. With each other there the idea finally came to fruition and was cosplayed Anthy and Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I was Anthy. I’ve always loved dresses like these but I stopped wearing them when I was a kid because I often got made in of. Anthy’s Rose Bride outfit is something I’ve loved since I first came into contact with RGU in middle school and while cosplay isn’t something I’ll do a lot the experience was a special one, especially since I had an important friend there by my side.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? (Especially since it sometimes gave you nightmares!) My mom is probably my biggest supporter. Sure she may not always get why I put so much money into it but she used to watch shows on Toonami and is in general a very accepting person. Her favorite anime are Trigun and Cowboy Bebop and we each them together every few years. She’s also a fan of Lupin III and we just started the newest series. As for my father, well, he doesn’t get it at all. It used to bother me, how one parent could be so nice and supportive while the other is completely dismissive but I’ve grown and my father, in his defense, stopped discussing my hobby in general and since then we’ve had a better relationship. As for my extended family, my dad’s parents were even worse than he was. They’re mostly sports people and my interests didn’t align. Their tendency to pick on me for liking anime and manga is actually what led to me asking for money rather than gifts. I couldn’t stand the way they responded when I wrote down manga titles. They would ask about it but the second you tried to explain it you could watch them zone out. My mom’s mom on the other hand is also supportive. She’s always tried to give us presents we like and so she would take me shopping and let me pick it out or in recent times I’ve emailed her things I want from Right Stuf. She also used to let me use her on demand to watch anime which was one of the few ways I got exposed to new anime in my early years as a fan.

Also, does your brother still watch anime? Actually yes, my brother does still watch anime. Not that much because he’s pretty busy but he still does from time to time. In fact rather recently he borrowed my Naruto omnibus and was enjoying reading that. It made me happy because we used to spend a lot of time watching Naruto.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? As a kid when I watched Toonami and Adult Swim I was often captured by the worlds and story’s that were so different from most cartoons. I’ve also always been drawn to things that scared me which is why I watched a lot of Blue Gender and Big O both of which gave me nightmares. When I learned what anime was in fifth grade my fascination with the worlds and craziness hat often ensued was still in my heart but finding out some of my favorite shows all originated from one place was really interesting. Suddenly having a name for these things made me want to find more, expand the shows I’ve seen, the books I’ve read, and learn more and more about Japan, the place that started it all. I guess by the time I knew what anime was I had already been exposed to so much of it I never had any of the hesitation that many of my classmates had when they saw me with manga or talking about anime. They thought it was weird in one way or another and couldn’t get past their own prejudices, while for me this form of animation already held an important spot in my heart and it meant a lot to finally give it a name. Learning the word anime was kind of like those “it all clicked” moments for me except I didn’t have the luxury we do today of googling things and had to learn by exploration of the manga at the library, these old ADV magazines the library had, and anime we found in the on-demand section.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In fifth grade when I really entered the world of anime I would have to say Naruto. It was late 2005 (the beginning of fifth grade for me) and its popularity exploded. It’s always interesting to me how popular it got because at the time lots of people knew Naruto but didn’t really know, or care about One Piece which had already been coming out for awhile. I would also have to say that Yu-Gi-Oh! still had quite a standing. People in my grade remembered the original series so we often tuned in when they brought out GX.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Well in fifth grade I wasn’t part of the larger world. The anime fandom consisted of me, A, and a couple other people in our grade. In fact liking anime and manga got us bullied and picked on all throughout our school career and when I was in middle school plenty of kids thought all manga was porn and so clearly we were a group of perverts. As for me it was a time of exploration and I remember when I finally got my own computer and could go on the internet I delved into a lot of shows. I finally got to see the last season of sailor moon, I watched Mew Mew Power and Magical Doremi (yes the 4kids dubs) and I actually remember when Haruhi [Suzumiya] had just come out in America plus I watched both Ouran High School Host Club and Soul Eater while they were airing (before I really understood what I was doing was not only illegal but harmful). When I got my own computer in 6th grade I notably got into AMV [Anime Music Video] making on YouTube and this was a huge thing at the time. There weren’t a lot of people using fancy editors just people exploring Windows movie maker and having fun. I had a YouTube account that I won’t say is popular but I was always proud of the fact that it had existed since like 2005/06 and was one of the older accounts on the site. Sadly Sasuke10271994 was eventually banned for copyright reasons and I lost a lot of the videos I was really proud of. Still this is how I spent a lot of my formative years as an anime fan and it helped me learn a lot about both the anime out there and general editing skills (which have come in handy since then).

I’m guessing that was your username. Oh no! Do you have any of your AMVs left? Would love to link one. Haha, yes Sasuke10271994 was my username. I still have quite a few AMVs on my computer but none of those are online anymore.  The last AMV I made however is available:

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? The internet was definitely there but not for me until 2006. I could use computers but it wasn’t until I got my own, in my room, that I started looking at anime online. I spent a lot of time watching anime illegally uploaded to YouTube because I didn’t know any better (I mean, I was like 12 and it was a new platform) but I won’t say I really connected with other fans. I did make some friends but I’ve mostly fallen out of contact with them. I used the internet to learn about anime rather than connect with others. My connections were with my few friends who shared my hobby and we talked a lot about the anime we watched on Adult Swim an Toonami.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? This is easy. While I’ve been into anime pretty much my entire life I didn’t go to my first convention until 2015. Anime Midwest 2015 was an amazing convention and I’ve never had an experience that has lived up to it. I’ve been to quite a few in the couple years since then but nothing has lived up to the pure joy of seeing so many people gathered in one place who all like anime. As a small town kid who got made fun of for liking anime this was a huge moment for me. Plus prior to this if I met someone else who liked anime chances are they were a guy (and I’m not trying to be mean or call guys rude or anything) and they tended to “mansplain” things to me. What hurt about it is that you could see them talking to another guy just fine but the second you, a girl, liked anime they tried to, I don’t know, impress you with their knowledge but it always made me feel like a kindergartener and I didn’t like it. This is probably why I stayed away from conventions for so long but I was very pleased with my first convention experience.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I think the first fandom I got really invested in was Sailor Moon. I wouldn’t say I’ve spent a lot of time in fandoms but I was big on Sailor Moon when I first got my own computer and so I did a lot with it. The only other fandom I’ve really interacted with has been the Precure fandom. I spent a lot of time on MyAnimeList with fans of Precure shows. When I was younger the easiest way I connoted to others was in YouTube through my AMV making. This really helped me start talking to other people who enjoyed the same things as me. I was a huge fan of the old communities YouTube had and it made it easy to collaborate with other people and share what we liked. Since I stopped making AMVs I’ve gotten into figure collecting and blogging which has helped me learn how to express myself more.

Finally, for you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Anime is a lot more widespread today than it was when I first got into it (or rather when I learned what it was and immersed myself in it). This means more and more people are watching and consuming the media and you can have more conversations than ever about anime. But I feel this has also led to more negativity. Maybe it’s because I was so young, around 12, but it didn’t feel like people were so heavily criticizing anime. I’m not saying that all criticism is bad, I myself review anime, but it’s less of a discussion nowadays. Finding a place to really express yourself has become a must to survive in the online world of anime. However conventions still seem to be a rather happy place where people are just glad to be around others that like the medium.

Trystan can be reached on Twitter

#97: Inksquid

Age: 23

Location: North America

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the summer of 1st year undergrad and somehow I wanted to rewatch Danny Phantom and Avatar: the Last Airbender. I guess I had seen snippets of them as a kid and wanted to experience them properly. So I did that, and the (*cough cough*) torrents I used included a text file of cartoon recommendations, which praised Cowboy Bebop to high heaven. From Cowboy Bebop, I went on to explore other top anime lists, both on the internet and shared with me by a classmate who was into anime. This led me to Evangelion (which went over my head), Steins;Gate (which I really liked) and Madoka Magica—and from there I was hooked.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I had a phase in high school where I read a lot of classic novels in an attempt to “be mature and enjoy refined literature.” I’ll have to admit I went into it with the mindset of “cartoons are not just for kids; they contain deep themes of literary significance.” And with the anime I watched, I think I was able to justify my decision. Nowadays, I’ve learnt to watch anime just for brainless fun, and I think I continue to watch because I’m too used to the art style, the visual language, the style of storytelling, and everything about it, that I’d feel weird if I watched non-anime shows.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I did not (and still don’t really) closely follow pop culture trends… so.. .this was 2013? Was that the Attack on Titan year?

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was (and still am) a huge lurker. I do not like sharing stuff about myself. (It’s scary to be vulnerable!) This Inksquid character is like my anime-watching personality split from myself. So… I wasn’t really “part of the fandom.” I just lurked a lot and watched YouTube vids and read blogs.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes. However, I lurked for the longest time, watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts (sometimes commenting under random pseudonyms). They actually inspired me to write a few articles for my university’s geek-related blog. However, after I graduated, I felt less connected to the blog, so I started the Inksquid persona to share my thoughts and opinions to the public through blogging and Twitter.

Why did you decide to create a new persona for this? The blog I used to write for was essentially a club where members wrote posts for each other and for a wider audience. After I graduated from the university, I moved to a different city and eventually no longer knew the people running the blog. It felt weird for me to be publishing there when they didn’t even know me. Moreover, I wanted a fresh start, a personal creative outlet, or maybe an escape into the anonymity of the internet. To be able to write whatever random things I wanted to without people I knew recognizing me.

When did you start blogging about anime? How did writing about anime change the way you watched it and interacted with the fandom? When I first got into anime I lurked among the anime community. Later, I graduated from university and, for the above-mentioned reasons, felt like I a) needed a creative outlet of my own, and b) wanted to actually interact with the community. So in June of 2016 I created the Twitter account and wrote my first blog post. I’m glad I’ve been able to find like-minded people and eloquent writers on Twitter and WordPress, with whom I can goof off or gush about anime. The section of the fandom in which I’ve taken root is incredibly tolerant and supportive, and has made me reflect a lot on engaging with media. Some of the greatest insights this community has given me, which I always try to keep in mind, include:

  • There are a ton of streaming services where you can watch anime for free and legally
  • It’s OK to like problematic media; likewise, it’s OK that others enjoy problematic media. Don’t judge them for what they watch; judge them for how they treat others.
  • Not everyone has to engage with media looking for profound themes or literary merit (that was, admittedly, my sole criterion for watching anime when I started)
  • There’s no point forcing yourself to keep watching shows you don’t enjoy just because the rest of the community loves it.

I noticed your blog and Twitter are multilingual. Did anime dubs or subtitles help with any of those? For sure. Anime helped with Japanese and Spanish, the two non-native languages for which I never took formal classes.

I started learning Japanese before I got into anime, so it worked out that listening to Japanese dubs was a great opportunity to learn. If you pay attention to what the voice actors are saying, you can often pick out and refresh the vocabulary you’ve already learned from other places (manga, songs, etc). It helps too that the voice actors usually enunciate everything clearly. If you want to challenge yourself, you can right-click Crunchyroll’s web player and turn off the subs: keep an online dictionary open, be liberal with the pause and rewind button, and you may be surprised by how much you can understand from the dialogue, visuals, and context!

I started learning Spanish two years after I got into anime (it helps that I learned French in school). After learning a bit of the basics (bless Michel Thomas) I decided to watch anime with Spanish subs. That forced me to learn to read the subtitles really fast. Only recently did I discover through a Twitter mutual that there are Spanish dubs of anime on Netflix, so I’m glad I can now practice listening comprehension too.

However, there’s an extent to how much anime can help with learning a language, because you’re never forced to speak to anyone, and nobody is correcting your mistakes. At this point I’m only comfortable reading in Japanese and Spanish: I don’t think I can hold a decent conversation or write a good blog post. Nevertheless, I think anime played an important role in getting me this far. Since I enjoy watching anime, tying language learning to this hobby made it fun.

Do you remember your first convention? Never been to one. Still too shy for that. Orz

But you seem pretty active online. How does the internet free you up to be less shy as a fan and share your opinions? I think it’s the perceived anonymity of the internet that lets me open up about my tastes and views. More importantly, though, I think what the internet offers is an easy way to connect with people who share my tastes. Since anime and anime fandom are so incredibly vast, it’s not easy finding people offline who enjoy the same type of anime I do and appreciate the anime I do. Most anime fans I encounter grew up with long-running shonen series and/or enjoy the characters’ special powers or power levels, which, while those are perfectly valid reasons for enjoying media, give me nothing to relate to.

Inksquid can be reached through Twitter and their blog.

#96: Anthea

Age: 24

Location: Switzerland

When did you discover anime? When I was around seven or eight years old. I think it started with Sailor Moon reruns on a TV channel I watched often. I bought magazines and other Sailor Moon merchandise, created my OCs [original characters] etc. Later, I started reading manga when I found a volume of Dragon Ball lying around at my cousin’s place. I borrowed all of them from a classmate. Around the same time, there was an anime afternoon on a German channel that I watched quite often.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For Sailor Moon, I liked that it was a team of heroes, not just one. In general, I would say that the first anime and manga I consumed were just different than anything I’d seen before. I cannot pinpoint exactly what it was, it was just… different, for lack of a better word.

Could you tell me about your Sailor Moon OCs? The Sailor Moon OCs I created were based on the original Sailor Scouts, especially Sailor Jupiter, who was my favourite.

I was very frustrated that at some point the focus of the show seemed to be solely on Usagi, so I invented characters that would interact more with the rest of the team.

Since I also wanted them to draw their powers from planets, I did not change that much. So maybe they don’t exactly qualify as OCs, but more as my versions of the characters or “evolutions” or something like that.

I believe I called them “Sailor Super Jupiter/Mars/etc…” (very creative). They mostly had the same colour-scheme, but their clothes were more ornamental and I distinctly remember drawing their sceptres/staffs. I don’t think I spent a lot of time thinking about their powers, I probably thought of them as more powerful versions of the Scouts’ attacks.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Rather below the radar of most people, I think. I participated in online discussions on a German anime site, but did not know many people who were into anime IRL. There was a convention just starting out in the area where I live around that time. Back then, it was very small. Today, it has grown considerably and makes the news regularly. So I would say anime fandom was not obscure exactly, but certainly less visible than today.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes. As I mentioned above, I joined a big German fanpage, where there were discussion boards about a lot of different anime and manga. The page also hosted fanart, fanfiction and cosplay pictures. I still visit it from time to time, but kind of drifted away from it. I do not put a high emphasis on the communal aspect of fandom anymore, but having the opportunity was (and is) great.

What was that “big German fanpage” called? What were the discussions about? Did you meet people that way? The site is called Animexx. I still have an account there, but I don’t log in that often. I mainly participated in discussions about Inuyasha, which was my favourite anime and manga at the time. Discussions were about favourite characters, OTPs and thoughts about how it would end. I think the anime (the original 160ish episodes anyway) were about to end, but the manga was still going and there were discussions about what would become of the characters (would Kagome return to her time etc.) I was also in a group of fellow Swiss anime fans where we talked about how to find shops that sold manga and anime-DVDs and if we had friends IRL who were into otaku-related things. I believe this group also organised meet-ups, but I never attended one, I think I was too shy.

I did have a pen pal back then who was a huge otaku, but I met her through the letter page of a Swiss youth-magazine and not over the internet. The girl I exchanged letters with was a big Inuyasha fan as well and we were in contact for about 4 years; I even met her once. The letters eventually stopped, I think it was because our interests started diverging (I started having an “anime-slump” around age 15 and she gravitated more towards J-Pop and J-Rock which I was not really into), but I have fond memories of our exchanges.

You said the page also hosted fanart, fanfiction and cosplay pictures. Did you participate, and if so, how? I read fanfiction and went through fanart galleries, though I did not actively participate. I did draw a lot of fanart back then (between ages 10 and 18), but I never uploaded anything. Frankly, my drawings were not very good and I did not really feel an incentive to share them with the online world. Same goes for fanfiction, although I did publish some on Animexx when I was around 17-19. They were about Harry Potter however (Animexx is mainly for anime, but there are other fandoms represented as well), since I was more into HP and similar books/movies then and less into anime. I did not cosplay, but I loved looking at the pictures other users uploaded. Apart from participating in discussions, I was more of a lurker.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
It was the one in my hometown (it’s hosted in a different city since 2015, I think), JapAniMangaNight. I attended for the first time in 2012. It was a very intense experience. So far, I had of course been aware that other anime fans exist (even in Switzerland), but seeing so many of them at the same time at the same place (a lot of them in costume!) was somewhat of a revelation. I went two more times and then to another convention last year and I still enjoyed it, but that first time was truly special.

What made your first con so special? This sounds like such a cliche, but I was so moved to see so many people who were also into anime (and other nerdy things) in one place. I of course knew that I was not the only otaku around, but seeing so many of them assembled (most of them in costume!) was sort of a revelation. The first time I attended a convention I was hardcore into Hetalia and there were some Hetalia cosplayers. This made me very happy and I asked every one I saw whether I could take their picture. After that first time and since I started spending more time around online fans, the novelty of seeing so many anime-fans has worn off a little, but I still enjoy going to cons.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? They were/are accepting. My mother especially has been on the receiving end of a lot of enthusiastic tirades about my current anime-obsessions, but since we often discussed different media (books, TV shows etc.), this was not out of the ordinary. My father always remained somewhat baffled I think, but he encouraged me, not least because my initial interest in anime and manga evolved into an interest in Japanese culture in general. He does not get the concept of fandom at all, but since I learned other things through that initial interest in anime and manga, he was never really bothered.

How have you grown and changed as an anime fan since you discovered anime? I have grown and changed a lot. For one, my genres of choice have changed and I have become more picky. When I first got into anime around age 11, I loved action/shonen shows. In my teens, I was a shojo enthusiast (especially high school romances, I adored those). Today, at age 24, I don’t have one genre, but I tend to watch shows aimed at older fans. I tried rewatching some of the shows I loved when I was younger (Case Closed, Inuyasha, DBZ) and despite the nostalgia, I couldn’t get back into it. I don’t mean that these shows are bad, I have just outgrown most of what I watched back when I was in middle school/early high school.

Right now, I also don’t feel very motivated to check out many new shows. Until last winter, I followed at least two shows each season, but I think right now I just want to take a break and maybe rewatch some older stuff or finally get around to seeing shows I’ve meant to watch for ages.

Overall, I would say that I have settled down somewhat. I still get very enthusiastic about certain shows (Yuri!!! on Ice being a prime example, I barely shut up about it!), but in general, I have a more measured approach and tend to enjoy anime more in solitude or discuss it with some people I know personally.

Anthea can be reached on Twitter

#93: Joe

Age: 26

Location: Just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I think it all started back in elementary school, when Pokemon was becoming popular. I never was the type of person to follow the trends and fads, but my cousins managed to get me into Pokemon, which has now become a lifelong obsession of mine.

I watched the Pokemon anime on TV, though at the time, I didn’t know it was anime, or what anime was. And this eventually led me to watch other shows.

I eventually started watching Yu-Gi-Oh!, which was the most addictive show I’d seen yet. It wasn’t until it was in its final seasons that I really discovered it was anime, and what anime was.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first, a lot of it was the art style, and the character designs, especially creatures. But what really stuck with me is the complexity of some of the characters and stories, and the fact that it’s just darn addictive to watch.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Dragon Ball Z, but I never had a chance to watch it myself until much later.

What was the first anime you got really into? How did you express your passion for it? Well, I am a lifelong Pokemon fan.  But I’d say the anime that really made me a fan was Yu-Gi-Oh! I collected the cards extensively (and still do to a degree), and maintained a massive database of them.  I used to try and put together some of the character’s decks and tell some of my own stories by arranging some mock duels with them (and of course, making some of my own cards too).  I remember when I found out it was the last season, and was disappointed.  Then I heard rumors of a spin-off/sequel series, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, and for a time, was crazy obsessed with trying to find a way to watch it, despite the fact that it aired only on a cable channel I didn’t have at the time.  So I spent lots of time looking up episode summaries and trying to track down DVDs of GX that I could watch—I was so excited when I first found one.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The thing is, I don’t feel like I was.

My father was cheap. He never invested in cable television or good internet. Because I didn’t have cable, for the longest time, I was only able to watch anime that aired on network television, usually alongside Saturday morning or after-school cartoons. Because of this, I felt like I was watching shows meant for younger kids.

While there were some otaku at my school, I didn’t feel I would fit in with them, because I hadn’t seen Inuyasha or Fullmetal Alchemist or Naruto or Dragon Ball Z, or any of the other well-known more mature anime at the time.

On top of that, I had an interest in costumery, and in secret, I put together makeshift costumes based on some of my favorite characters (a lot of Pokemon). I felt this was weird too, especially given that I wasn’t a fan of Halloween when I was younger. I didn’t know cosplay was a thing at the time either.

The other kids at my school were not very tolerant of people who were different. They found ways to twist more mundane things into something they could use against me. I had to keep this interest a secret—it was a matter of survival. Unfortunately, keeping secrets took a toll on me—in my case, it caused me to develop social anxiety.

Can you tell me more about the ways anime fandom caused (and later helped) your social anxiety? Well, the people at my school proved to me that they aren’t very tolerant of people who are the slightest bit different, taking something that’s just a simple difference of opinion, and escalating it, basically rubbing it in my face how their opinion is the only right one. If I gave these people the slightest bit of information, they would use it to make my life miserable. I felt that something like my anime fandom, which was a major part of who I am, would be used against me in a big way—especially as I’d heard some people talking negatively about some of the anime I loved. So I pretty much just kept to myself. For me, that was a matter of survival. And when you fall into that habit for long enough, it’s difficult to break—even when I got into college, which was a much more tolerant environment.

It was really my convention experiences and finding other fans on the internet that helped me start to recover from this. Just realizing that there were more people like me, being around them, and basically being accepted, though it did take some time for that feeling to truly sink in. I had the idea of doing a panel last year, and when I first presented, it was in many ways a liberating experience—just being able to talk in front of a large group of people about what I love and not feeling like I’ll be judged for it. I mean, I do still have a ways to go—I can still be a bit nervous when talking off the stage.

Was the internet a part of fandom at the time? Well, like I said before, I was stuck with cheap internet as a child, so I didn’t have a reliable way to connect to the internet until I was a senior in high school.

But this also meant I didn’t grow up with the internet the way most millennials did. I was distrustful of social media and afraid to post anything, and remained largely a lurker online for years. But despite that, the internet did reveal the existence of the anime community, the cosplay community, and conventions to me.

Do you remember your first convention? Sadly, there weren’t a lot of good conventions in the Philadelphia area, and being that I first learned about them when I was a college student with low income, I couldn’t afford a trip to someplace like Otakon until much more recently.

But eventually, I found a small local event at a college over in New Jersey, Kotoricon. It was an amazing experience, I felt like I could freely be myself, though I was also having difficulty processing it, so I remained very shy.

Joe in cosplay.

When I went back for the second year, I was actually able to cosplay. The first three hours I spent cosplaying was pure bliss. I remember seeing a picture somebody took of me online. My hood was up, I couldn’t see most of my face, but I could see my smile. I don’t think I’d smiled like that in years.

I’m still an avid convention-goer and cosplayer to this day, though now I also go as a panelist (I was a presenter at Otakon last year), which gives me the chance to share my passion with others, and has helped me with my social anxiety.

Tell me about making friends with other anime fans for the first time. The first time I remember was a convention panel I attended. One of the panelists approached me after the panel, having liked a comment I made during the panel. She handed me her card, asking me to contact her after the convention.  I tried to do this, but the email on the card she provided wasn’t working (and I didn’t have Facebook at the time). I eventually was able to get a message to her through her co-panelist, but didn’t hear anything more back from her. I thought that was the end of it, but I was at one of her other panels at the convention next year, and she remembered me. Some time after that, I did get a Facebook page, and finally reached out.

Aside from that, there were a few people I meet after they get my picture in cosplay, and sent me a copy, or I found and commented, or they found a picture I got. Though most of these are just one-off chats.

More recently, I made a lot more friends when I discovered a group that holds regular meetups for cosplayers and anime fans in the Philadelphia area. I quickly became a regular at their meetups, and a lot of the other regulars know me. And I’m currently in talks to become a staff member in this group, or at the very least help arrange a few activities for a future meetup.

What kinds of topics did you present panels on? My big panel right now is on papercraft, or more specifically, a somewhat lesser-known form of papercraft called Pepakura. With this artform, somebody can make a physical paper model out of a 3D model from the computer, so it can be a cheap and fun way to get a collection of your favorite characters.  I’ve done this panel at five different conventions so far, including both AnimeNEXT and Otakon. If you want to learn more, you can check out my website or my corresponding DeviantArt or Facebook galleries. I have a few other panel ideas in the works, but don’t think they’ll be ready for presenting anytime soon.

How do you think you’ve grown as an anime fan since first discovering the medium? Well, today, I feel like I have so much more opportunity to express my fandom. Like I said, back in the day, I felt like I had to be secretive about it, today, I feel like I can be quite a bit more open about it. Back then, I felt a bit weird because of it, but I don’t anymore. Today, I have access to online streaming services, that I’ve been using to catch up on some of the anime I missed out on when they first aired.  I have the money needed to commission better cosplays, and I’m making friends in the community. And I feel like having more opportunity to express my fandom has made me overall a bigger fan.

Joe can be reached on Twitter and DeviantArt