#81: Lauren

Age: 25

Location: Southeastern USA

When did you discover anime? I (or rather my mom with my input) rented My Neighbor Totoro as a VHS from blockbuster when I was a little kid in the ’90s and didn’t know what anime was.

Then I became obsessed with Pokémon around the time that Yellow Version was released (I think I was in 2nd grade). Pikachu and Bulbasaur have been faves since the beginning. My interest in Pokémon waned (though I got back into the games later).

I was in 6th grade when I learned the terms anime/manga from a friend. She and most of the friend circle loved YuGiOh. I initially watched it to fit in, but ended up crushing on Seto Kaiba. This was the horrible 4 kids dub because if legal sub streaming existed at the time I didn’t know about it and DVDs for series were expensive.

I watched Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke on DVD and got hooked on Miyazaki. Fruits Basket was my gateway into manga. I would occasionally read scanlations or purchase volumes of other manga. I would also watch anime on websites where you just clicked play—since I was scared to actually download episodes illegally after the one time my cousin did and my computer got a virus.

I discovered Crunchyroll and Funimation during my senior year of college when I took a class on Japanese pop culture—with that I was able to get into so many more shows.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I loved the sense of magic and wonder in Totoro as a child and it still captivated me when I learned what anime was. Similarly, the idea of a world filled with adventure and cute, powerful critters drew me to Pokémon. The pretty boys of shojo were a revelation for teenage me—romance stories that cater to girls’ tastes, dudes that were hot but not Manly!Beefcake!TM and lots of feels instead of the western romcom’s “pervasive bickering is love” trope.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The Pokémon fans who I traded cards with as a child were like me, they didn’t know what anime was. At time I learned the word “anime” in middle school, it felt like a niche interest shared by fellow nerds at my school, people on the Internet who I couldn’t meet and people in Japan – who I also couldn’t meet. So anime fandom was both a bond I shared with my friends and another marker that I wasn’t part of the popular crowd.

Tell me about making friends in anime fandom. Amanda is the friend I met in middle school who introduced me to “anime” as a term. Before I just knew I was a fan of Pokémon. Amanda showed me YuGiOh and taught me the terms “anime” and “manga.” Her influence is the reason I sampled manga in book stores and started identifying as a manga/anime fan. We haven’t kept up with each other but are friends on Facebook.

After Amanda introduced me to TV anime and manga, I didn’t make friends with fellow fans until college. I went to a few anime club meetings. It felt refreshing to meet lots of people who shared my love of anime.

In college anime club, I made friends with a fellow Death Note fan named Katie. We talked about which characters were our favs and who should star in a US movie. We decided Cilllian Murphy would be a good fit for Mikami. I have learned that whitewashing is a bad idea since that time so I’m embarrassed of how excited that fantasy casting made me.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Fanfic was huge for me in middle school. I read fanfic on fanfiction.net . I wrote some in a notebook and shared it with my friend Amanda.

Tell me about the fanfiction in the notebook! I don’t have the notebook full of fanfic that I kept during middle school. I often wrote about idealized versions of myself dating anime boys. Talking with Amanda about our favorite “bishies” (bishonen or pretty boys) was a nice escape during the awkward adolescent years.

How is your participation in anime fandom different now? I now read more analysis of anime, things like Anime Feminist. When I got into fandom, I couldn’t find that thoughtful perspective of fans who are genuinely in love with series/creators but will point out flaws too. It seems like the old days had super fans who gushed over everything vs. haters of certain shows.

#80: Helen

Age: 26

Location: Washington DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was in the 8th grade my mom told one of her coworkers that my brother and I (11 and 13) were still watching Pokemon, which her coworker thought was silly, and sent her home with a copy of Spirited Away. My brother and I found her watching it on our huge old Mac, squished in, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Also that coworker is now my step-dad and really regrets giving me my anime start.

Why did he say that? He came to regret it because of how big of a nerd I turned out to be (although my mom is sure I’d be an anime fan regardless). They still watch some Miyazaki films and such, and although I like to joke that even my parents saw Attack on Titan before me, I think they only watched an episode or so (you can thank my step-sister for that)!

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender around the same time as anime, and the AvatarSpirit forums would lead me to anime as well, and one thing that stunned me about ATLA and later anime was that holy crap, you can tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end in a cartoon TV series! No one had ever told me you could do that! I was already a huge book reader so the idea of a having an actual, connected story really drew me in.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I have absolutely no idea. The first anime TV series I watched week-to-week was Romeo X Juliet which I know wasn’t super popular, I’d have to guess Naruto.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wouldn’t really join the anime fandom for a bit later, I was actually reading more manga before I started watching more anime and I read manga through an elaborate system of book-trading between me and my friends who all belonged to different library systems in high school (we all literally looked at each other one day, realized we all liked manga, and that’s when it really got going).

It was fun, everyone had different things to bring and you had to occasionally rescue a book from a teacher’s trashcan!

What happened that time? One of my friends was, very ill-advisedly, reading a manga during presentations in class (while paying attention, she could practically recite all of the presentations we had just heard) and, while she shouldn’t have been reading in class, this teacher was, like many in my Catholic schools, a bit crazy. So she just snatched the volume out of my friend’s hand, tossed it in the garbage, and we asked a friend of ours in the next period to get it back for us (apparently the teacher never noticed).

Also, tell me more about meeting these friends. How did you all realize you liked manga? I joke that I have a nerd-dar but I really do! I was able to suss out that one girl in my homeroom, one girl in my math/following gym class, and another girl I sat with at lunch which kinda nerdy and since it was such a small school we eventually convalesced into a group (which would grow a tiny bit over the years but the four of us were the center of it). A few of them eventually ended up taking over the Book Club at school and turning it into a secret manga club IIRC, this happened after at least one of them was elected Dictator For Life, but I wasn’t a member of the Book Club so I can’t remember all of those details!

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Totally, I started spending more time on the AnimeSuki forums and ANN forums as I got more into anime since I loved chatting with people about currently airing shows.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Animazement 2008! I’d been looking for an anime convention in North Carolina for YEARS and somehow only found out about Animazement just a few weeks before the 2007 show. I actually did go to a small, one day con in September 2007 first (LibariCon in Fayetteville, NC) but Animazement felt like my first “proper” con. I did two cosplays, cosplaying is an integral part of conventions for me now, had a bunch of friends come along with me, saw the masquerade, met up with a bunch of people from the Animazement forums, did the secret Animazement forum member scavenger hunt, and generally had a pretty great time!

What was the secret Animazement forum member scavenger hunt like? Do they still have that? The secret scavenger hunt was funnily bizarre. These were things you would take photos of and then upload after the con for points to be tallied up, I remember things like “a photo of you in an Animazement t-shirt from any year”, “wearing a school girl outfit”, “wearing cosplay on the toilet”, and “video of you proclaiming your loyalty to [name redacted so my friend doesn’t kill me] of the cookie faction in the cookies vs milk war”.

It must sound really bizarre but it was fun and didn’t hurt anyone which is my own litmus test of if you should go along with something strange and silly or not. And they don’t have it anymore, when I was in college some of the con heads got super pissy that the staff who were also mods on the forums were becoming popular with the con goers (since we talked with them and hung out grabbing food at cons, y’all, we’re all people here and make friends…) so they completely changed the forums one weekend while the main mod was on vacation, locked them out, and that was the end of that. (Well, for at least a few years there was a secretly saved duplicate of the forums elsewhere that was linked to some of us were we heard this explained all in detail, ain’t no drama like con drama!)

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I guess the first fandom I got invested in in general was Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m not sure if any other anime/manga/etc I’ve enjoyed has ever had the same scope and size to generate a large, stable fandom. And it was a combination of both the show and fandom that got me into sewing actually, I really wanted an Appa plushie but this was when they were only sold at the theme parks and not year round so I was out of luck in December. So, since I did know how to sew, I made my own plushie, posted it on the AvatarSpirit forums, and got so much of a response back that I went hey, I bet I could do more of these and get more praise, which has spiraled into my deep obsession of making plushies today.

When and why did you start blogging about anime and manga? For someone who hated book reports I found out that I kinda liked talking about what I was reading/watching/listening to? I was trying really hard to keep my Livejournal like a real daily journal so of course anime came up sometimes and I really managed to keep it up first there and then on my own blog for years. I only fell behind in December last year and still just can’t muster the energy to devote time again into it.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest difference I see between the anime fandom of 2007-ish and 2017 is the size. This is almost certainly partially due to the fact that I went to a high school of only 600 people and none of my friends lived in the same county as me so I was frustratingly alone in general outside of school hours (I wouldn’t get on social media in a big way until I got my college laptop) but even with that I feel like it’s not just my world that’s grown bigger, anime and manga has grown bigger too. It’s strange since technically 2007 should’ve been the end of the “bubble” years, fandom should be smaller! And yet I see even more references all over the place, from daily newspaper cartoons to themed restaurants, today and that tells me that anime and its assorted fandoms are here to stay.

Helen can be reached on Twitter

#78: Chiaki

Age: 29

Location: San Francisco Bay Area

When did you discover anime? I don’t have a specific memory of when I first discovered anime. I would guess that the first ever anime I ever did watch was something like Folktales from Japan back in the early ’90s. It was either that or watching a copy of My Neighbor Totoro on an Beta tape.

I will say I have a distinct memory of getting manga though, which was when I was 5=five years old. My dad dressed up as Santa Claus for a house party and gave me my first ever comic book, which was the first volume of Dragon Ball, but I know I was aware of manga and anime before then.

I still have the beta tapes and the manga, actually.

Really? Could I have a photo? Sure.

The first photo is of the requested Beta and Super8 tapes along with the first manga I ever read. Clockwise from top left, Sunset on Third Street: Song of the Sunset by Ryohei Saigan, Nonsense Company by Sansei Sato (these manga were my dad’s), Beta tapes of Moomin and Folktales from Japan, a 8mm video of My Neighbor Totoro (the other tapes I had weren’t anime), and the first four volumes of Dragon Ball. This would be what I would have been watching or reading around 1992-1995.

The second photo  features what I would have been reading about 1995-2000ish when I started really getting into anime and manga. Clockwise from top left, I feature vol. 16 of Case Closed particularly because that was the first volume I ever bought (because I thought the cover looked cool); the first two volumes of Ah! My Goddess, which I instantly fell in love with the aesthetics; Evangelion, which I watched on PBS on Sundays in the San Francisco Bay Area; Slayers, which I think also aired on PBS; and the Pocket Monsters gag manga, which I read in elementary school because it was about the only age appropriate thing I was reading back then.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For me, as a kid, it was entertainment. I grew up with the TV raising me for the most part. I liked anime because it was more fun than a lot of shows that were on TV. Growing up in America but in a Japanese speaking household, the tapes with anime and children’s programming tended to be a nice opportunity for me to enjoy something in Japanese so I was always on the lookout for that stuff.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I remember going to Japan and seeing Dragon Ball Z‘s Cell saga was on TV? I remember this because I thought it was boring and I really wished I could watch something better… like City Hunter (which I caught reruns of). Sailor Moon was also on TV but that was for girls. (I know, right?)

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t really part of a fandom so much as I was taking part of my culture? I was the youngest person in my circle of Japanese expats living an hour east of San Francisco. The older kids had more manga than me and I would often go over to their place to read their collection. My parents typically only bought me one manga a year at the time, so I recall reading the same copy of the Pokemon gag comic over and over again.

Same with anime. I grew up really loving Ghibli movies because Nausicaa, Laputa, Porco Rosso, and Totoro were the only movies I had easy access to when I was really little.

You said, “I wasn’t really part of a fandom so much as I was taking part of my culture?” This is fascinating. What would you say is the difference between participating in anime fandom and participating in your heritage? I feel when anime and manga weren’t as popular in the United States, the charm for a lot of fans were how exotic the medium was. A lot of people said manga and anime were “different” or “more deep” than American works.

For me, though, it was more something I consumed because it was stuff I would have been reading and watching if I lived in Japan. I went to a Japanese hoshuko, a supplemental Saturday school for Japanese nationals living in America. My classmates and I lent each other manga and video games all the time. So this stuff wasn’t so exotic.

It actually felt a little jarring sometimes because I didn’t see myself as an “otaku” growing up. If anything, I was taught being an otaku isn’t something to brag about, so I often felt a little attacked when someone asked if I am one. When Hayao Miyazaki got the Berkeley Japan Prize in 2009, I was on assignment to cover the award ceremony for the English section of my paper. I was with another reporter from the Japanese section of the paper and she casually asked me, a pony-tailed guy covering an anime director, “so are you one of those anime otaku?” and I must have given the most distressed face she had ever seen because she immediately tried to console me that “otaku are totally hip these days.” (My long hair was more out of me being a closeted trans woman than being a nerd)

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Again, at the time it was going over to my friends’ places and borrowing their comics. One friend had all of Dragon Ball, another had Dragon Quest and Slam Dunk.

I was actually not on the Internet until about 1998 and I didn’t really discover the “anime fandom” until I found those “web rings” and “shrines” people had for certain characters. I think I Yahoo searched for anime and eventually stumbled upon them.

God, wow, that actually happened.

I did become part of the American anime fandom after joining a webcomic forum back in 2003 or so? I’d peg that as my first time I really started talking to people and interacting with them over anime and manga.

On finding web rings and shrines, you wrote, “God, wow, that actually happened.” Could you elaborate? What was so weird and hard to believe about early web fandom? When you think about these characters that people made shrines for, you realize a lot of the shows they came from were only around for one or two seasons, yet they were powerful enough to get someone to make a website. Like, Outlaw Star aired for six months in Japan in 1998 and yet there I was 4-5 years later, finding myself at the cg shrines (http://ironmouse.za.org/dragon/index.html) to look at Aisha Clan Clan art.

I guess I feel it seems a little corny looking back at it too, and the fact I was into it myself is a thing I’m a little embarrassed to admit. Like, wow, people really liked these characters enough to put in the effort to make a website dedicated to them.

Do you remember your first convention? The first anime convention I ever went to was Fanime 2005. I went on Monday, the last day of the con and I wore a business suit to be a “random 4Kids henchman,” I pointed at people in lieu of having a gun. It was weird and Fanime was much smaller then. I saw some cosplayers, thought dealers hall was full of rare and amazing merchandise and most of the people there were incredibly thirsty.

“Thirsty.” Once again, could you elaborate? I do recall going to things like the yaoi bingo at the behest of friends. The annual tradition is run by YaoiCon and features things like two guys in lingerie giving each other lap dances on stage. I hear they’re still doing it now, but I feel it’s become less central to what I see promoted during the con. And then there was that “dating for otaku” panel featuring a panel of three women giving sex advice in lingerie. Overall, the late night programming was much more raunchy than what I hear about in recent years. I also felt there were more skeevy people back then in general. Personally, I’m kinda glad the culture of “glomping” has since fallen out of favor and that Fanime instituted “Cosplay is not Consent” policies like several other cons have done.

This might be partly because the con itself has grown to attract a larger, more general audience over the years, as well as my own change in how I spend my time at Fanime. (I lately spend my late nights at Fanime in my hotel room with friends instead of attending 18+ panels).

What was it like to meet American anime fans who are not Japanese? Was it weird? Did it feel like they were encroaching on your culture? I didn’t think they were encroaching on my culture. If anything, I feel excited and happy when someone says they enjoy something I thought was great or fun. I’ll still roll my eyes when someone tries to argue that anime as a medium is somehow philosophically or artistically superior to Western animation, but that perspective is no longer that popular.

If anything, when I was a freshman in high school, my school’s anime club (mostly run by white kids), introduced me to stuff like Trigun, Hellsing, Interstella 555, and Samurai X. I was grateful for that.

Even before that, I felt like I had some bragging rights when Pokemon became big in the late ’90s. I knew about the games, anime and manga a good year or two before it came to America.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I’m more of a lone wolf and I have trouble getting excited about things with people. I can read about people giving effusive praise for a series and think, “oh, I want to read that series too,” but I have a hard time geeking out about things with other people.

The first fandom I did take part in is the Pokemon fandom. I played through Pokemon Red, Gold, Sapphire and Leaf Green versions religiously when they came out. With friends, I traded Pokemon cards, battled with them and spent time watching the anime when we went over to each others’ houses after school. Online, I got involved in writing fanfiction and chat role-plays around 2003 through 2006. 

I started to drift away around the fourth generation of Pokemon because I didn’t own a Nintendo DS and the monster designs weren’t as appealing to me.

Did you stay a fan the whole time up until today? If yes, what kept your interest? If no, what got you back into anime again? I’d like to say I’ve been a fan without pause since I was little. I’ve never looked at anime as a medium and earnestly said “this is stupid.” I’ve also never quit collecting manga. I don’t recall if I mentioned in the initial response, but I have more than 1,300 volumes of manga, including 92 volumes of Case Closed. I’m still buying manga today, though my taste in what I read has radically changed over the years.

I will note, however, that I stopped watching anime after graduating college in 2010. I just didn’t have time to sit and watch shows and my work was taking me away from pop culture (I stopped watching American shows too so it’s not just anime). I kept active on Twitter to keep up with friends and I kept up with anime gossip there, but I actually didn’t watch anything except Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine in 2012. I literally didn’t watch anything after that until around summer of 2016 when I saw a screen cap of Felix Argyle from Re:Zero. I then marathoned Re:Zero because I have a thing for gender-ambiguous characters and cat people. While I was on the Crunchyroll website, I figured I should check out some of the other shows and also watched Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju too. Since then, I felt I should start watching more anime again.

Here’s a screencap of my inventory Google Sheet of my manga:

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think it’s the ubiquity of its aesthetics in America. For sure, it’s easier than ever to read and watch anime and manga in America, but I think what’s cooler is that it plays a huge role in media made in America.

For example, I watched Doraemon and Rocko’s Modern Life when I was little. Rocko is undeniably American and Doraemon is undeniably Japanese. Its setting, situations and aesthetics have almost no crossover whatsoever. Yet here we are in 2017, the kids that grew up watching Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Digimon, Tenchi Muyo, Gundam Wing are now making the cartoons kids watch on TV in America. Anime and manga is now an undeniable inspiration for Western cartoons and comics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvks9zNnNHc). So, I guess to put it another way, the anime fandom is much more broader and undeniably intertwined with mainstream American pop culture now.

Chiaki can be reached on Twitter

#77: Jay

Age: 22

Location: Phillippines

When did you discover anime? My anime experience stemmed from shows such as Slam Dunk and Yu Yu Hakusho in the turn of the millennium; but I was only hooked hard into anime after watching Mai-HiME.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Slam Dunk and Yu Yu Hakusho were among the series that kept me glued to the screen every afternoon. Mai-HiME kept me glued as well, but to a point that I kept (day)dreaming of Mai in slice-of-life situations.

Sounds like you really got hooked on Mai-HiME. What was it about the show that hooked you, and how did you express your interest in it? I remember writing a poem about Arika Yumemiya and Nina Wang (Mai-Otome) and a slice-of-life story starring Mai (I forgot this one). I even tried to draw a comic strip (I almost forgot this, too). As for forums, the most memorable Mai-HiME-related forum I got into was the Mai-Universe forum at Gaia Online.

I was writing slice-of-life fanfics on paper as I keep daydreaming, like, what if Mai resembles the average Filipina who loves to cook and likes to sing? Those kinds of daydreams lightened my heart. I aimed for a lighthearted slice-of-life where I’d see a Mai Tokiha that is ready to cheer me up.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It gave me a window of opportunity to connect with fellow fans, and in turn it led to me blogging about the community.

Tell me about how you went from watching anime to blogging about fandom. How did that opportunity arise? The ZEN Otaku Honbu forums was my gateway anime forum where I learned about local anime events. I already had a website and a blog at that time, so I took the opportunity to share my experience about it. The fondest memory that I had was when I was detailing my route and sharing how much it will cost to get to venues such as the SMX Convention Center in Pasay or at Megatrade Hall in Mandaluyong, two of the most common destinations for anime- and otaku- related events.

We were paying to get inside events to cover it at first, but we got the opportunity to actually be a media partner for an event called “Otomonogatari” in 2012, where local cover bands gather to hold one night of music.

The rest was history—we applied for media partnerships for major and community events, were accepted, and we covered it either on our website or on video. That’s what I’ve been doing frequently with my friends while I was in college, but I still find time to do it while I have a job.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes. I was almost finishing high school when I was taught about 4chan. We connected through Facebook as it is a common point, though forums were still the hype back then.

Today 4chan kind of has a reputation. But it sounds like you spent a lot of time there early in your anime fandom. What was it like? It was there that I learned memes, just like most of us who dabbled on either 4chan or Reddit or so. Nowadays, you can see memes on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, but nothing beat the likes of 4chan. I laughed at the anime memes there (especially the “Consider the Following” meme).

Do you remember your first convention? Anime Overload Festival 2009. It was my first time visiting south of Metro Manila, and if I had a decent camera back then, I’m sure I’d be getting photos of cosplayers.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? 

  1. Yaoi fans were not as expressive way back then. There were events related to Yaoi before, yes, but it was only around the 2010’s when I realized that the Yaoi fandom got expressive. From Tumblr, then to Free! and eventually to Yuri!!! on Ice.
  2. Idol anime such as Love Live! and THE [email protected] gave birth to the concept of “Primus.” It’s a bit hard to explain this in a nutshell, but I can describe Primus as someone who loves a specific anime idol character so much that he/she tries his/her best to get all the stuff of the said character, which then increases how the fan loves that character so much, therefore having the bragging rights to be called “____ Primus.” I think it’s staying in the community for good.
  3. In relation to #2. I am happy that more anime-related movies are coming to the country at present. We’ve also had the opportunity to screen μ’s Final Love Live, Aqours’ First Love Live! and other live events.
  4. In my circle of friends online, I can see some of them saving up money to go to lives in Japan or other parts of the world. Some of them even went to Anime Expo’s Anisong World Matsuri.
  5. May I also include “memes” in this list?

Jay can be reached on Twitter

#74: Kory

Age: 27

Location: Iowa

When did you discover anime? As I’m sure like a million other respondents also said, I saw it on Toonami and Fox Kids back in the ’90s watching stuff Pokemon and YuGiOh! I wasn’t sure what it was at the time, besides cartoons that I liked. I recall a buddy of mine saying Gohan and Videl had a kid named Pan and I had NO IDEA how he obtained this magical information, but it was because it had already happened in Japan.

I first became aware that these were anime in the later 90s or early 2000s, especially with the Toonami block of the era. Dragon Ball Z, YuYu Hakusho, and other anime really got me interested and, more importantly, clamoring for their nostalgia come 2007 or so, when I delved back into anime of that time.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I just wanted to watch cool cartoons, man. And these were cool cartoons.

Though the intellectual answer is that they’re Asian and I’m Asian and I was craving representation beyond the… yellow power ranger.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I dunno if I was ever part of an anime fandom until Twitter. There were anime clubs in high school and college, but I never joined them. My fandom was isolated and sad.

What was that like? Did you have friends you just didn’t talk about anime with? Did you have other hobbies that took priority? High school was a little weird for me. In elementary and junior high, I was a pretty big nerd; I played YuGiOh! and watched all the anime that was interesting to me on TV.

But around high school, I got super into sports. Probably because the White Sox and Bears were doing really well at the time, which helps enthusiasm. Anime and stuff was part of my past at that time, and I had no interest in revisiting it.

It wasn’t until I met some other friends in high school, who were also into this kind of stuff back when, that I wanted to get back into it. I voraciously rewatched all the “classics” of my youth, like Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Yu Yu Hakusho. I talked about it with my friend group, and some individual members of the anime club, but I didn’t see a need to join the club proper. I also wasn’t watching club anime yet, so there’s no influence on wanting to do the thing I saw upon rewatching all these series. I just wanted to shoot Spirit Guns.

Tell me about when you did meet other anime fans. I kinda covered this above, but I didn’t really know these other dudes I was talking to were anime fans.  We were just friends and reminiscing about various things, playing games together or walking around school shooting the shit when anime came up as the cartoons we used to watch. I don’t remember if we knew it was anime at the time, but we did know we liked it.

Actually, this is an unrelated story and going to be a huge digression, but I met this girl from the anime club (though I had no idea she was in it) and we kind of became friends because we both liked anime. She’s the one that got me into shojo manga through Arina Tanimura, Otomen, and many other manga (and thus further into manga over anime). I only found out later that my parents knew her parents because we were both adopted Koreans with heart conditions. Our parents met each other in some group that taught how to take care of your kid with a heart condition, but they moved away. It was very coincidental that we met 15-odd years later in high school.

Was the internet a part of fandom at the time? I mean, almost definitely, but I didn’t participate in internet fandom at all.

Tell me about when you did finally log on. Like probably a lot of other folks, the internet allowed me to revisit these old shows I used to know. First, because we could google vague terms (cartoon shot spirit energy from finger show, or whatever) and actually find the shows we could never remember. But more importantly, we could pirate them… which we did, because we didn’t know any better. Pirating led me to spending thousands on anime and manga, and their tangential merchandise, which may have never happened without the internet. Not that that forgives it.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes, AnimeIowa 2009. My friend forced me into going to the con with her, her friend, her sister, and my buddy because I had never gone to an anime con before and I was the biggest anime fan of the bunch. The con is only ~3,000 people, so it was small and chill and almost no one of note was there. I didn’t know anime cons did cool things like panels without voice actors and teach you things or whatever.

How did you qualify as the “biggest” fan of the bunch? I was the dude who knew all the shows, and at the time I was super into dubs. So I could hear a voice and spout off whoever was speaking in most dubs at the time. Everyone else knew anime, and liked a lot of their own respective shows, but haven’t dug much deeper than “anime is cool.”

In your experience, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? Twitter, at least for me. Twitter obviously existed in the early years of my fandom, but Twitter as well was in its infancy. In high school and college, having never joined an anime club, anime was always a niche thing that not too many people were into. I ran into a few that liked it in various classes, but it was never more than that. With Twitter, I can talk to a bunch of folks about shows we all love. Or hate, I guess.

Kory can be reached on Twitter

#72: Siddharth G

Age: 21

Location: Minnesota

When did you discover anime? I initially wasn’t aware of anime as a concept, but I had singled out Toonami programming as “action cartoons” as a kid, and I wasn’t interested in those for the longest time. While I had gotten into some shows like Pokemon, Hamtaro, YuGiOh!, Mega Man, and Kirby, I don’t think those shows opened the door to the rest of anime in the same way that Dragon Ball did.

My introduction to Dragon Ball was strange, since I actually got into it, as unbelievable as it may sound, through Dragon Ball GT. I was at a party of one of my dad’s friends in the June of 2004, and being bored, I decided to watch whatever I could find on tv. The only channel with anything on that remotely interested me was Cartoon Network, and Toonami came on. I didn’t intend to watch DBGT, but since that was all that was on I watched it anyway. The episode in question was #40 – “Piccolo’s Decision” – the episode where Piccolo sacrifices himself alongside the earth to save Goku and destroy the Black Star Dragon Balls. I knew nothing about the series, but the relationships between Piccolo, Goku, and Gohan seemed like a big deal, as did Piccolo’s sacrifice, and in the span of that episode he appealed to me a lot as a character.

I attempted to watch more GT off and on for a couple weeks after that, but wasn’t really grabbed by it. That is until early January 2005 when I randomly caught the end of episode #61, when the 4-Star Dragon Ball manifests from Goku’s forehead. I don’t know why exactly that piqued my interest, but I tuned in the next week for episode #62, when Nova Shenron is revived and teams up with Goku to fight Omega Shenron, only to sacrifice himself in vain. This episode struck me because it told a redemption story of a formerly evil villain now fighting alongside a hero to fight a greater foe that I really hadn’t seen before, as well as connecting him to Goku through the legacy and connection they share through the four star Dragon Ball. The apologetic tone Nova has before he crumbles to death was a tragic turn I wasn’t expecting. The situation in the show in general seemed really dire, and that made me want to see how the fight with Omega Shenron would end.

Episode #63 really blew me away with the sense of stakes. Goku pulls power from the entire universe, all the people who he’s helped in the series prior, in this one last ditch attempt to defeat Omega Shenron that nearly kills him. Again, I was blown away by the sense of scale, the larger than life stakes, and the legacy presented of the show – how big this moment felt as a culmination of everything Goku had gone through until this point. I wasn’t expecting the show to end the next week, and it hit me hard. I actually, literally cried for days after watching the ending. A show I had just fallen in love with was now over – I felt I had missed my chance to watch it and now never would.

Then I was sadly looking at the Cartoon Network schedule one night trying to see if they’d be playing any reruns, and I learned that there WERE still new episodes — the LOST EPISODES! That reinvigorated me, and from there I began a year-long binge of anything and everything Dragon Ball. It also made watching Toonami every week a necessity to me, and I slowly was introduced to more anime through what was introduced to the block that year – namely Zatch Bell, One Piece, Naruto, and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo. By the end of 2005, or maybe early 2006, I had developed an awareness of anime as a concept through looking up information on what was airing on Toonami online and discovering there were hundreds of more shows in their vein. From then on I actively sought out more anime to watch and enjoy.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The sense of scope in their worlds, the complexity of the action choreography, the more detailed character designs, and the long-form serialized storytelling. No American shows were doing what Dragon Ball did—devoting multiple episodes to a single fight—and that kind of storytelling really made anime stories feel grander in scope than other cartoons on tv at the time.

Sounds like you were really into Dragon Ball. How did you express your fandom? I drew Dragon Ball fan-art almost every day for a year after I got into it. I essentially learned how to draw by trying to replicate images from the manga. I even made my own fan-comics, usually about Cell and Buu, who were my favorite characters to draw because of how unique their designs were. Artistically I’d say I was even more inspired by Dr. Slump though. Toriyama’s art was at its peak in that series, and even as a kid I could recognize his genius and tried to copy his mecha and character design sensibilities. It also inspired two characters who I’d use in my own comics as a kid, one of them basically being Dr. Mashirito except taller and skinnier, and another being King Nikochan but with a flatter design and minimalist facial features. I still make use of these characters in projects I do to this day, though their designs are a lot more distinct now. Aside from art projects I’d also write fan-fiction and what-if stories about characters I liked, mainly underutilized ones like Zarbon and Captain Ginyu. I also tried planning out how a faithful-to-the-manga Dragon Ball anime would be paced like years before Dragon Ball Kai came out. My version was shorter.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? My first manga and first anime purchases occurred in March 2005 and were both related to each other. The first manga I bought was Dragon Ball Z volume 18 at Barnes&Noble, which cost $9.99. This was the latest volume at the time, and it was also the volume where Gohan transforms into Super Saiyan 2 to fight Cell, which I hadn’t seen yet but knew was a big moment in the series from it being referenced so heavily in the Buu saga anime episodes I’d already seen. I remember being confused how to read it at first, turning the pages right to left but reading them left to right, but eventually I figured out that I needed to read the pages right to left too.

A week or so later my family dragged me along to Best Buy to pick up something, and I found my way to the DVD section and saw they had anime DVDs there. There was a lot of stuff I was interested in, like a Dragon Ball boxset that had a Goku action figure included with it, but I was mainly debating whether to get a Dragon Ball Z dvd or a Hamtaro dvd, which was a tough decision because Hamtaro was off tv by this point and I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Eventually, I decided to buy the DBZ dvd “Cell Games – Awakening,” because that contained the episode of the anime where Gohan transforms into SSJ2 and having read the scene in the manga I wanted to see the animated version. I remember being shocked at how expensive the dvd was, around $29.99, which might be an overestimate but it definitely cost more than $20 and buying it used up all my allowance for two months. The episodes included on that disc were great, and I also got to experience the Japanese version of the show for the first time since it was included, and was how I found out that DBZ was originally a Japanese show in the first place. But in retrospect, considering how easy and cheap it is to watch DBZ now, I really wish I’d picked up that Hamtaro DVD after all.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? To be honest, I didn’t get into the larger anime fandom until around 2012. For the longest time, I was pretty alone in my interest in anime. People would know Dragon Ball and Naruto, sometimes even One Piece, but I didn’t know anyone else who was really interested in watching anime until the later years of high school. That’s when someone started an anime club at my school, which showed pretty mainstream-y stuff like Black Butler, Hetalia, Ouran High School Host Club, etc.

I also started meeting people, who weren’t necessarily anime fans, who had watched stuff like Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Soul Eater. I started really getting into the community after the Toonami 2012 April Fools Stunt, mainly ToonZone and Animation Revelation, and talking with other serious anime fans on there helped me deepen my anime knowledge and I started watching and reading more anime and manga in the next year or two than I had ever in the seven or eight years prior.

Could you tell me more about your high school anime club? My high-school anime club was started in my junior year by two sophomore girls. I remember flyers promoting it using art from Ouran High School Host Club and Fullmetal Alchemist and being excited at the prospect at finally meeting and making friends with fellow anime fans. It didn’t pan out that way. Most of the club was segmented into their own factions most of the time and did other things while whatever anime of the day was playing. My tastes didn’t really align much with anybody else’s, so I couldn’t really find common ground to talk with many people. A lot of them would also play annoying pranks and generally act mean-spirited towards me, making fun of my artwork during the art contests or outright lying to me to make me do something embarrassing, so I stopped visiting the club before too long. I briefly returned the week after the Toonami April Fools stunt because I was hoping to find other people there who had watched it and wanted to discuss what happened, but nobody there even knew what Toonami was. That was the last time I visited the club. My younger brother would later visit it when he attended high school, and according to him the club became really unfocused and unpleasant after the original founders graduated, and without strong leadership or a sense of camaraderie, the club was eventually disbanded.

Even though I don’t have many fond memories of the club, it did introduce me to a couple shows like Black Butler and a few Ghibli movies like Princess Mononoke that I really liked, so I did get something out of it. It’s just a shame I couldn’t make any friends there like I wanted to.

Can you tell me about the first time you made friends with another fan? It was a long and strange journey to make friends who liked anime. Most didn’t even know what it was, and I had to try and introduce it to them. In elementary school I could easily talk about Pokemon and YuGiOh! and other shows that aired on Kids WB!, but no one had seen any of the stuff on Toonami, not even Dragon Ball. I would bring Dragon Ball books to school occasionally and sometimes I would describe to people what I was reading. I distinctly remember explaining the fight between Mr. Satan and Android 18 to a classmate and making him laugh so hard that he spat all over my book. Later on when I had my friends or cousins over to my house I’d show them Dragon Ball episodes and movies, but I never could convert anyone into being more than a casual fan of just that series and not anime as a whole. One of the cousins I introduced to Dragon Ball did get into anime more deeply a few years later, but I stopped visiting him regularly by that point.

In middle school I never talked about anime with anyone my age, but I showed my English teacher the “Holmes Freak Murder Case” two-parter of Case Closed once and she liked it. I also managed to show another episode of the series during an art class, specifically episode 60 “Illustrated Murder,” using some flimsy justification that it was relevant to “art.” I never gave up trying to introduce people to anime I liked, but looking back the only people who were ever willing to give it a chance were adults, and even then Case Closed was the only show they’d enjoy.

I was still trying to get people into anime in high school. When we had to give a PowerPoint presentation in my Intro to Business class, I gave a 10-minute presentation about One Piece. It actually went over pretty well and got a few people into it, though none of them became my friends. I would often reference Dragon Ball in class projects and show clips to people whenever I had the chance. In ski club I kept trying to pitch anime movies for us to watch on bus trips, but they would laugh off every suggestion, and the one time I managed to get them to play the Trigun movie the chaperone interrupted and replaced it because he hated anime. So with every success came a set-back.

But because I never hid my interest in anime people knew I liked it, and would ask me questions sometimes. At first they only asked me about Dragon Ball and Naruto, but eventually they began to talk to me about other shows too. My anime fandom became a huge part of my identity in high school, but rather than ostracize me, it made me stand out and interesting to people. I think the culmination of it all was when I gave a very anime-heavy presentation in my IB Theory of Knowledge class that used clips from Dragon Ball, One Piece, Trigun, and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo to illustrate animation’s various merits as an art form. The examples I showed, particularly Wolfwood’s death scene in Trigun and the “dysfunctional wooden spoon family drama” from Bobobo episode 6, were well-received even though few had seen these shows before. The presentation was such a huge hit that people became so interested in discussing animation as art and asked me so many questions about it that I managed to talk for the entire hour-long runtime of the class.

Eventually, whether it was thanks to my references and recommendations, or because anime was easier to find and consume than ever before, by the time I was a senior most people in my class were watching anime to some degree. I made friends with two guys in my classes who I’d often collaborate with on school projects, and we’d talk about all sorts of shows ranging from the in-vogue hits like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Soul Eater to classics like Cowboy Bebop and Lupin the Third. We’d also reference anime heavily in our class presentations, like quoting verbatim Wolfwood’s dying words, or making an elaborate fourth-wall breaking parody of the End of Evangelion in Shakespearean dialect. My love for anime ending up becoming the basis for a lot of my friendships in high school, and that has held true for most of the friendships I’ve made throughout college, both on and off the net.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I mainly read discussions on Toonzone and other Dragon Ball and Toonami fansites in the early days. I didn’t join the forums myself until 2007, but I didn’t really have any meaningful conversations except those about Dragon Ball and the Toonami block itself.

Do you remember your first convention? My first convention was pretty recent. It was the 2015 New York Comic Con. I didn’t go for just for anime content—I just wanted to attend NYCC while I was still in New York for college, having missed out on it during the previous two years. I was blown away by the sheer amount of people there and how crowded it was. Masashi Kishimoto was invited to Comic Con that year and while I was thinking of attending I didn’t realize that not only did I need to reserve a spot beforehand, but I had to wait for over an hour in a massive line. I learned from my mistake when Yusei Matsui came over last year. The only other anime-specific memory I can remember is attending the Yokai Watch dub premiere screening, which was a disaster. The episode froze up mid-way through and they couldn’t fix it, disappointing all the kids and making their parents very upset. The room they were showing it in was a comfy place to relax for 20 minutes though.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I see the biggest difference in how I’ve gone from having no friends who are into anime to all my friends being into anime. It’s so much easier to meet new fans and make friends than it was ten years ago. Anime being more easily accessible and the ability to connect with people on social media has definitely helped the community expand. I never had a sense of there being an anime community where I lived for years, and now I regularly attend local theatrical screenings of anime films and conventions and see that there are thousands if not tens of thousands of fans living close by. Anime might not yet be “mainstream,” but when Your Name gets played for five weeks straight at an AMC theater in a small suburban town, I think it’s a sign people have become more welcoming of it. So I’d say the anime fandom is way bigger and way more accessible now, and not seen as such a strange a thing to be into as it was even a decade ago.

Siddarth can be reached on Twitter

#71: Sara

Age: 22

Location: Folsom, CA, USA

When did you discover anime? The first anime I ever remember watching was Inuyasha on Adult Swim; I was probably in 6th grade at the time.

I can’t remember the first time I saw it exactly, although I think it was just an accidental glimpse of part of an episode, but I clearly remember spending the night at one of my friends’ houses hoping that we would stay up late enough to catch episodes of the show and being very disappointed when said friend wasn’t interested in watching it. I also tried to sneakily watch episodes on one of the many, many illegal streaming aggregator sites with my terrible dial-up AOL internet when my parents weren’t home. My interest ebbed and flowed all throughout high school until around my senior year and my first years of college—I met friends who were also interested in anime, became a little obsessed with BL manga (which I read voraciously through less than ethical means) and developed an academic, as well as fannish, interest in the medium.

How did your interest in anime lead to an interest in BL manga? Kind of hilariously, I…honestly can’t remember the first time I discovered BL manga. It may have had something to do with Hetalia. Slash shipping was obviously huge in that fandom, and this was ~2010 when “yaoi” was understood as encompassing pretty much any m/m ship from an anime/animated Japanese pop culture in general. (I was never really involved in video game fandoms but I feel very sure that m/m Final Fantasy ships also got ‘yaoi’d.) From there I think it’s very easy to stumble onto BL manga, especially when you’re a very ignorant teenager spending a lot of time on scanlation aggregator sites, some of which often host dojinshi as well as manga (they’re really unconscionable on so many levels.) Actually, when I first made my current tumblr account around 2011/2012, I modeled myself as a romance manga review blog—my url was ‘closetfangirlreviews.’ Looking through my archives, I think I reviewed… two BL manga before diving headfirst down the fandom rabbit hole and realizing I didn’t have the self-discipline to keep up a review blog.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’m honestly not sure! Inuyasha just seemed very cool—it wasn’t a story I had encountered before—and a little illicit due to its time slot. It was also something that, for better or worse, I could access for free online. The specific stories definitely engaged me, and considering some of my first interests (Inuyasha, Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club) I may have been drawn to romances with female leads, but I don’t remember that being a conscious draw.

I thought Fruits Basket may have also been my first manga, but I realized later that I’m pretty sure the first book I bought myself was Volume 1 of the manga First Love Sisters, which I furtively hid in the bottom of my nightstand drawer. (I was in middle school and, uh, in denial about some things.)

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I had no idea what was popular when I first got into anime. It was probably in the late ’00s, so Sailor Moon and DBZ may have still been popular, but I was pretty isolated from anime fandom at large. The friends I had who were interested in anime were all really excited about Hetalia, if I remember correctly, and I was pretty involved in that fandom for a few years despite never watching more than one or two episodes of the actual anime.

This is so interesting! How did you stay involved in the fandom beyond actually watching the show? Fanfic, fanart, something else? Oh yeah, this has been a huge thing in my experience in anime fandom! I think Hetalia and Katekyo Hitman Reborn were the worst offenders, but I also participated in Kuroko no Basket, Yowamushi Pedal, and I think Haikyuu!! fandom for a while before actually reading them, and for a while after falling behind. I think my experiences with Hetalia taught me to have a very, uh, lassiez-faire? Attitude toward canon. But to actually answer your question, definitely fanart and fic, but also headcanons/meta—I was more of a fandom consumer than a creator, but I had (and still have, tbh) a huge appetite for fanfiction and quite a few online friends who wrote fic, so we were all very inclined toward focusing on character analysis and relationship dynamics and, in Hetalia, real-world history, so most of our discussion about the fandom revolved around that, with canon taking a backseat. This was all online, specifically on tumblr, though–I believe my irl friends did actually watch and enjoy the anime.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Again, I was pretty isolated from anime fandom at large, but among my very small anime-inclined IRL friend group and my social circles online (primarily tumblr) there was a lot going on! My IRL friends would goof around, singing “Caramelldansen” and doing the accompanying dance, do impressions of Hetalia characters, and I think even did cosplay, whereas the fans I hung around online were mostly fanfic writers—I read so many Hetalia AUs I wouldn’t even know where to start describing them! Although I primarily hung around on tumblr, Livejournal and FFN [Fanfiction.net] were still fairly active, and ao3 [Archive of our Own] was active, but more exclusive than it is now.

You seem to have had a lot of IRL anime-fan friends. Did you meet them because of anime? Or were they into anime already and got you into it? Oh I wouldn’t say a lot, I had like, six friends total and three of them were into anime in some capacity—although I did admittedly go to a couple meetings of my high school anime club. They got me into Hetalia (and then moved on to Homestuck fairly quickly) but I was so excited by the idea of nations as people and all the amazing fic I found that I just got hooked on that fandom. The anime club may have introduced me to some series, too (Ouran?) but I don’t have very strong memories of it.

Did you write fanfic yourself? I have posted one fanfic in my entire time in fandom (which technically was supposed to be chapter 1 of an ongoing fic, but the rest of the fic just…never happened.) It was a genderswapped Hetalia high school AU with Spain/South Italy and FWB!Spain/France. It didn’t get much response, although I do think my friends read it and liked it; it wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t terrible, and looking back it was kind of delightful that those were my, uh, artistic priorities. I’ve drafted a few other half-finished fics, one for My Hero Academia and one for Yuri!!! on Ice most recently, but I’ve never published anything else.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes, the internet was a huge part of my fandom experience. There was an anime club at my high school that I had some friends in and sometimes spent time at, but I primarily got to know other fans through the internet.

Do you still know the friends you made when you were getting into anime? I do still know quite a few of my online friends! I actually met my best friend of six years on tumblr because of their France/Canada ficlets. I’m only super close with them out of all the people I talked to during that period, but several of us do still follow each other on twitter.

Do you remember your first convention? I still haven’t been to an anime convention, actually! In high school I was too geographically isolated and in college I was too broke. Hopefully I’ll get to go to one in the next couple years.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think there are still a lot of similarities depending on where you look, and many of the differences in my fandom experience now as opposed to when I was in high school are just the result of being older and knowing different people. That said, I do think something that’s changed is that fandom is kind of undergoing a crisis of ethics right now–there’s a lot of conversation happening about artists’ rights (both fanartists and anime creators), social justice, callout culture, how minors/teenagers should be treated and what they should be exposed to in fandom, etc. These conversations can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting, and there are definitely times where I get defensive of my tastes and want to be like ‘please shut up and leave me alone,’ but ultimately I think talking about this issues (as well as how to talk about these issues) is better than engaging with fandom uncritically and letting the ethics and sexual politics of what we create and enjoy as fans go unquestioned.

Sara can be reached on Twitter here and Tumblr here

#70: Gregory F

Age: 26

Location: New York

When did you discover anime? I had my first brush with anime (other than whatever was on Saturday morning TV) in the 7th grade. It was about 2002 and I was a bit of an outsider at my school for standing out too much. (Partially because I was too smart for my own good and partially because I didn’t belong to the predominant demographic of students.) As a result, I often got in to fights with people and was bullied.

That eventually lead me to a small group of seemingly neutral people (since every day was a “battle”) who were really chill. Somehow we became friends and I found out they were into this thing called “anime” and the girls of the group really liked something called “yaoi“. Eventually they tried to indoctrinate me with Ranma 1/2 but I was a little weirded out. To be fair though, I was literally 12 and my reaction was “what is this?” Eventually we become pretty good friends and they managed to get me interested in anime with Yu Yu Hakusho.

What was the predominant demographic that you didn’t fit into? And does that mean that where you’re from, anime was for outsiders? My school was in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where most people were from the same country. If I wanted to fit in, I either had to have that shared cultural / national identity or get really in to sports. Unfortunately neither option was feasible so I encountered quite a bit of friction. I’m only half-Hispanic (but not from that country in particular) and was the first mixed-race person most of those kids had ever met. On top of that, I’ve never been interested in sports and used to be fairly clumsy. As the saying goes, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.

I wouldn’t say anime was for outsiders. At the time anime wasn’t really taken in to account in the social pecking order.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first I was actually a bit put off because my first exposure was at the hands of die-hard fujoshi. (As the second guy in their group… the look in their eyes signaled they had dark plans.) But over time as I was exposed to different genres and different stories I started to become enamored with how exciting the plots and fights could be. Also it was so different from the cartoons I was used to seeing on TV.

Do you still know any of those fans? Do you still hang out with fans who have a sub-interest, the way fujoshi do? I lost touch with that group after I graduated middle school unfortunately. Right now I hang out with fans of all sorts and most people have a number of interests. The most common ones I see are magical girls, sports and yuri though.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? It might have been YuGiOh! I remember a lot of the kids would duel each other after school around that time.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t really a part of the fandom then, I wound up getting in to it two or three years down the line. But at the time it was really really niche. Even the term “anime” wasn’t something most of my classmates were familiar with. And since I only had a group of three people to judge the fandom from at the time, I found it a bit jarring.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It might have been but I was too young to know. I mean… I was still getting AOL dial-up CDs in the mail.

What was your first anime purchase? My first purchase was the premium edition of Toradora Vol 2 on DVD. (I wanted to buy both volumes as a reward for getting my first real professional job but Vol 1 was sold out at the time.)

Do you remember your first convention? My first convention was New York Anime Fest (NYAF) 2009, in my freshman year of college. A friend had scored some free one-day tickets and so we went as a group for a few of hours.

It was probably one of the most significant events in my anime fandom (career?). Before then it hadn’t dawned on me the how massive the breadth and scope of anime truly was, not to mention just how many fandoms overlapped, intersected and fell under the umbrella of the anime fandom. It was also my first exposure to cosplay, stage events and convention centers in general.

It was a loud and fast blur but exhilarating. Seeing so many different people come together and be excited about the same thing while simultaneously expressing that excitement in so many different ways left me with a feeling I can’t forget. The icing on the cake though was that thing everyone was so excited about, anime, was something that I could relate to for a change. Before that the only similar unified enthusiasm I had seen for something was about sports, but I never could get in to that.

NYAF would wind up changing my destiny. It was the event that made me realize that conventions were something I wanted to be a part of some how.

Change your destiny? I wasn’t really sure how to get involved with conventions at that point. I just knew that I wanted to go to more of them. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that there were people who made conventions run, but as chance would have it, schoolwork would steer me towards convention staffing.

My final project for one of the classes I was taking that year was to build a website from scratch. I decided to build a blog about anime, music and games called leetNEET. On a whim I decided to actually host it online where one of my closest friends used to keep finding new ways to break the site. We’d go back and forth between me adding new features and him breaking things. Eventually the site became pretty decent in terms of functionality but lacking any content.

The following fall, I attended NYAF again having more time to look around and talk to people. It dawned on me that there were people who blogged about anime and conventions walking around with press badges. Since I was already a a broke college student by this point, I decided that if I wanted to go to more conventions I could try and do the same thing. (Similar to how Destructoid was originally founded so that they could get in to E3.)

I gathered a bunch of my friends from high school and some my new friends from college to take a stab at it. Somehow that actually worked out… I received my first press pass in 2010! Meanwhile, as I met more and more people at my school I fell in with the anime club crowd. There I learned that they had been running a small anime convention every year during spring break. I started both attending and covering that convention for my blog. Knowing a lot of the people on staff gave me the freedom I needed to get great coverage but as a result I’d also get dragged in to help resolve convention issues as they arose. By the next year I was a de facto volunteer and also writing their press releases for them

Then one day, I happened to be bumming around campus when one of the anime club’s members (who also was writing for my site at the time) passed by on his way to a con planning meeting. He told me to tag along and by the end of that meeting I was appointed to be a department head. It was then that I really got my first taste of what makes conventions tick and I was hooked.

Unfortunately, as of 2013 and 2015 respectively, both leetNEET and that convention no longer exist. I’d return to staffing conventions again eventually but in the interim I formed a panel group (Hen Tie Cake) with some of my convention friends and now we host panels and game shows at several conventions a year.

I’m still involved in staffing cons today. I’m currently on staff at both AnimeNEXT and Otakon.

For you, what’s the biggest difference between your anime fandom then and now? The biggest difference between when I first got in to anime and now is that before I used to be a passive consumer of both anime and fandom. Now, I’m in the thick of it. I attend way too many conventions. I talk to strangers about anime in real life as a panelist and online via twitter. On very rare occasions I’ll even still write about anime. I’m definitely way more involved and engaged now.

Greg can be reached on Twitter

#69: Jamie T

Age: 22

Location: Arizona, USA

When did you discover anime? I discovered anime through my long distance best friend James’s blog when he watched and reviewed Death Note in 2013. I watched it that week, but I wasn’t sold on anime. After a year of reading his reviews as he slowly got into it, he convinced me to try Studio Ghibli. The Secret World of Arrietty amazed me, followed by Whisper of the Heart. I madly watched Studio Ghibli, then Satoshi Kon’s films upon James’ recommendation and loved them. I began trying TV series with English dubs (Fate/Zero, Spice and Wolf, Ouran High School Host Club, Psycho-Pass, etc.) Princess Jellyfish sold me even further. Then Gugure! Kokkuri-san sold me on subs late 2014 and I’ve been faithfully watching seasonal anime since then!

How did you meet James? We actually met through each other’s blogs as teenagers; I was looking for other Star Wars fans, I found his blog, and we struck up an online friendship! We commented frequently for years, then started skyping to discuss Marvel films, and then when he finally got me into anime we skyped almost weekly to discuss new episodes of seasonal shows.

Not only are we are still friends; we are actually long-distance dating now! He’s been my boyfriend now for over a year. We have met in person three times, at about two weeks time, and have made many plans for the future! He actually does not blog anymore, for personal reasons, but we are in communication all the time and we still watch and talk about anime! We always look forward to our next visit because we enjoy watching anime in person together.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Death Note was addictive and strange, I couldn’t stop watching. Everything else about it was odd; the art style, the eyes, etc. But like any well-told story, if the story and characters are well-written, you can’t look away.

What was it about Death Note in particular that made you such a fan? I have a hard time understanding why Death Note grabbed my attention like it did, as I never marathoned shows in a couple days like I did it. I just remember I COULDN’T STOP haha! I think it’s because it felt so mature compared to the content I’d seen in American animation and how well the psychology and suspense was executed. It just grabbed me and didn’t let go.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I wasn’t super aware at the time what was very popular. But most likely Attack on Titan.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I actually don’t have much comment on that, outside of my best friend, I wasn’t very involved in the anime community online. I wanted to experience anime without much outside input besides general recommendations and the like.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time?  Oh yes. Internet is how I found out about anime in the first place, through reading blog reviews.

Could you elaborate on which blogs? It was primarily through my friend-now-boyfriend’s blog that I learned about anime. I had never heard of it before. He reviewed movies and TV shows on his blog, so when he discovered anime, he began frequently writing and posting reviews for the shows he watched. As his best friend, I read them all out of politeness and pure curiosity haha! I read his thoughts on different anime shows for a year before jumping on board with him—I was stubborn in my thinking anime was odd. XD It took a while, but he sold me on it!

Do you remember your first convention? I’ve yet to go to an official anime convention. I have attended the Phoenix Comic-con before and after being an anime fan. The last time I went, 90 percent of what I bought was anime-related posters and merchandise. I would love to attend an anime convention in the future though.

Can you tell me about your first anime-related purchase, what it was, and how much it cost? My first anime purchases included two 11×16 inch posters, one of Kise from Kuroko’s Basketball and a manga cover of Fate/Zero. They were eight dollars for each unless you bought two, in which case both were for $10. I remember thinking that was kinda a silly bargain and spent a good fifteen minutes going through the massive stack finding a second poster I liked, which was the Kise poster. I also bought a 13×22 inch poster of the boys from Free! all clothed and sitting on the edge of a pool with sunflowers looking just adorable. I don’t remember what I paid for that one. I also bought my first wall scroll, featuring the power players from Kuroko’s Basketball. It was around 20 dollars I believe. I’m a huge poster girl so I still have all of these on my walls, along with about eight new additions!

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between your anime fandom then and now? I think the biggest difference is that I’m learning that it’s ok to put it on hold when I need to. I used to start crappy seasonal shows and feel like I had to finish them. Now with my life being a bit busier, I’m learning to control the fandom, not let the fandom control me. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching all kinds of good and bad anime anymore, it just means I’ve grown up a little bit. So I guess my fandom is little less obsessive and now more hobby-like, if that makes any sense at all.

Jamie can be reached on Twitter

#68: Victor

Age: 27

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

When did you discover anime? As a kid I watched all the standard stuff like Pokemon, but the first show of which I was truly aware as “anime” would most likely be G-Gundam. That’s the first I remember, at least. From there I picked up Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements’ Anime Encyclopedia, which I found to be a valuable resource despite all the excessive and unnecessary vitriol it hurls at shows I’ve come to adore. Tech TV’s Anime Unleashed block also helped enable me, most specifically Betterman and Vandread, and STARZ would occasionally run OVAs like 3×3 Eyes and Gunsmith Cats which were just thrilling to see on my TV listings. I still love all the series I just listed, too. In my quest for variety while consuming as much anime as I could, I ended up with a somewhat different list of favorite anime that skewed just slightly older than other fans my age. It made making anime friends a little hard at first.

But eventually it worked out and now I’m wota garbage. And happy about it!

How did your interest in anime lead to your interest in idols/wota fandom? It’s Ranko Kanzaki from [email protected]’s fault. I’d been peripherally aware of the idol industry for a about a decade, and somehow, I discovered that Ranko was excruciatingly adorable in exactly my sort of way. When I first saw her base art from the Cinderella Girls mobile game, I screamed and showed all my friends. This was the push I needed to dive right into the deep end of the idol industry, and now I’m quite invested in not just [email protected], but also Aikatsu, Dempagumi.inc, ’80s idols like Shizuka Kudou, and too many more for my own good.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Western animation was (and still is, really) so limited in what it tries to do. It’s almost all comedy, and when it’s not it’s usually either a long-form toy commercial or just not very good. Even when I was 11 or so, I just wanted more than that. Animation has the potential to tell stories that are impossible with live action, and anime was (and often still is) the only segment of it that actually DOES that. It was just nice to see the creators of the shows themselves taking their work as seriously as I took it.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I don’t remember that well, but I want to say Inuyasha. My own “awakening” came a bit before it even premiered (a friend of mine had even been downloading fansubs of it on Kazaa for a few months before Adult Swim got it), but I wasn’t actually all that aware of a greater anime community until the show’s American popularity was already in full swing.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? As stated earlier, for a very long time after I got into anime my relevant activities were confined to my group of friends from school, so I don’t actually know what it was like being part of the “fandom” at the time. Honestly, I would say I’m still mostly disengaged from the Western aspect of it—I try to interact with the Japanese end of things and keep my local activities confined to my own social groups. I started going to conventions when I was twelve, but most of what I’ve always done at those pertains to my particular niche, the guests, or the merchandise.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I’m well aware that it was, but I didn’t get my own computer until a few years later and so most of my real online interaction began with, unfortunately, Gaia Online. Around the time I actually got into anime, my anime-centric internet usage was confined to downloading hentai on my friend’s computer after he fell asleep. Middle school was wild.

Was your friend aware of this? Was it a prank? Did you guys actually watch hentai? I don’t ever remember sitting down and actually watching hentai together, but if that particular friend wasn’t so possessive I’m sure he’d have at least shared a bit more of the stuff he was telling me about.  But he was possessive, and his room was nightmarishly filthy, so when he fell asleep far earlier than the term “sleepover” usually implies, I was left with nothing to do since I was most definitely not going to sleep in the flatulently-scented, heavily stained blanket he’d prepared for me.  Sometimes I’d download old Family Guy episodes and watch those, but if you give a twelve-year-old boy a magical box that offers the choice between animated comedy and animated boobs, he’s usually going to pick the latter.  I don’t think the friend ever found out, but thanks to the combined forces of boredom and puberty, I would stay up until dawn watching hentai just about every time I went to his disgusting house.

Also, would love to hear more about Gaia Online. What did you do there? How did anime fans use the service? This is embarrassing to admit, but I started off doing some roleplaying there, though eventually I became more active in the “Clubs” section where a lot of anime-centric discussion took place. More specifically, I mostly frequented a yuri club and a Guilty Gear club. I was disillusioned with the place pretty quickly after that, though – some of the grossest people I’ve ever encountered were from Gaia – so when I was fourteen I just took to tricking people out of their accounts for fun until I finally quit. I have almost no fond memories of Gaia, but it was a large presence in my life for a year or two.

Do you remember your first convention? My first convention was Anime Weekend Atlanta 9 in 2003, and not knowing what it really was, my brother, our friend, and I were dropped off on Sunday at around noon. Just about everything was closing, but I was given money to burn so the dealer’s room really blew me away. The most memorable part of my time there was a Decipher, Inc. employee desperately trying to sell us on the just-released .hack card game that obviously never took off. We each bought a pack; I still have the cards in my drawer. Anyway, despite a very minimal convention experience, we were so excited that we all went back the next year for much longer. I’ve actually been to every AWA since then.

What were your favorite parts or some interesting moments? I really don’t remember much from my first convention. Since then I’ve typically attended with either friends from school or friends met at previous conventions. There are far too many memories to go into much detail, but I can give a few. I’ve hosted a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure posing panel a few times, blown hundreds of dollars in the dealers’ room, met some Japanese guests, and even worked with some as an interpreter. My brother and I used to hold unofficial Cereal Parties late at night at our regular conventions, too. They’re exactly what they sound like; we just bring a bunch of cereal and eat it with friends and passing strangers. So, if I had to give one favourite thing, I guess I’d say conventions have allowed me to expand my social circle beyond what my normal surroundings would allow.

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? I’d definitely have to say the availability of the material.  What was popular then was what was being shown on American T.V.  As a middle school kid with very little spending money, I simply didn’t have the means or even the chance to get into fansubs.  What I saw in those days amounted to whatever was on Cartoon Network or TechTV, along with the occasional rental from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video.  I remember my aforementioned slovenly friend telling me about Inuyasha before Cartoon Network picked it up, but he never did actually show it to me, so beyond hentai he wasn’t much of a resource.  These days, though, I can watch any anime I want almost instantly.  For older series a lack of torrent seeds is sometimes an issue, but even then, most things can be found streaming somewhere, often instantly after broadcast in the case of newer shows.  A few times I’ve even seen a new episode of something before my brother in Japan has, which to my middle school self would sound impossible.  Additionally, I’m someone who prefers to own physical copies of things, so the fact that I’m now able to get just about any anime or related thing from Japan and have it sent to my house is pretty incredible.

Victor can be reached on Twitter