#117: N’Donna

Age: 37

Location: Victoria, BC, Canada

When did you discover anime? The first anime I ever really saw and connected with was Sailor Moon, when it first aired in the US in 1995. I’d seen anime like Speed Racer and a few Christian titles (like Superbook and the Flying House) beforehand, but Sailor Moon is the one I really connected with.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The mature storylines and the emotional weight of the story. Before I watched anime, many American animated tv shows followed a “monster of the week” formula—it was all about defeating the bad guy while looking both pure of heart and strong. Anime was the first instance in which characters were portrayed with shades of grey. Plus, the animation techniques used were completely different from the ones American shows used.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon definitely had its fan base in 1995. It gained further popularity when it aired on Toonami several years later. Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z were also very popular.

Tell me more about getting into Sailor Moon, your first fandom. Why did you like it so much? To be very honest, when Sailor Moon hit the airwaves for the first time in 1995, it was exciting because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Serena/Usagi was this high school girl with meatballs/odangos in her head who fought the bad guys while being clumsy and imperfect, dealing with an annoying sibling, and hanging out with her friends. She was special but she was just like me—she was a teenager than dealt with the things teenagers dealt with. Furthermore, the narrative was very compelling. Unlike other shows at the time, which were monster-of-the-week good guy/bad guy shows, Sailor Moon featured characters that weren’t perfect and quiet flawed. Sailor Moon didn’t always win at the end of the day. You could see her emotionally react to things and even have a breakdown. Even though the original airing was limited to half of the Sailor Moon R season, I still kept watching because it was just so dang addictive!

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Back then, you had to be in the know when it came to anime. This was before Tokyopop made anime infinitely more popular and mainstream. I didn’t know a lot of people who knew about anime. Just my friend and I at the time were into it. Anime conventions were just starting up—they weren’t as popular as they are now.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Anipike [Anime Web Turnpike] was the go-to site for anime information at the time. This was before Facebook, so I connected to other fans via mail groups and Java chats.

What are mail groups and what are java chats? Describe to younger fans reading this who may have never heard of these before. Back when I first started really using the internet, mail groups were the best way to connect to other fans. On Anime Turnpike, the most comprehensive website related to anime (at the time), there were listing for groups related to various series. You’d visit the website to opt-in to the mailing list, and then you’d have to confirm that you wanted it via an email. Then you’d send messages to the group via a special email address.

Java chats were just that—chats that operated on Javascript. You’d just create a name for yourself and log in. WBS Chat was pretty popular because you could have a dedicated account and use pictures in the chat. It was kind of like Facebook communities before Facebook in a way.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first ever convention was Anime Central 2005 in Rosemont, Illinois. It was the most exhilarating experience. It was the first time I ever saw cosplay and I was amazed at how people spent so much time on looking like their favorite character. Because it was a 24-hour con, I didn’t get any sleep all three days. My friends and I all went together, and we had an amazing time.

N’Donna cosplaying as a Team Rocket grunt from ‘Pokemon.’

You saw cosplay for the first time at ACen 2005. How much time elapsed before you started doing cosplay yourself? Oh, a good ten years! Honestly, as a plus-size woman, I didn’t think cosplay was for me. I had no sewing skills whatsoever and I was just happy going to events. Also, back then, only a few people would cosplay at events. You could tell that they’d work hard and make it all themselves. And I loved that. The culture wasn’t as visual as it is now. A majority of people were dressed in fan/brand shirts and maybe wigs with cosplayers being a cherished minority. It’s not like that now, is it?

As for myself, I didn’t cosplay until my son was older (about four). I felt like by getting him to dress up for cons gave me carte blanche to do the same. Little did I realize that we’d run with it three years later. Every cosplay we create seems to be more elaborate than the one before it.

How does cosplay allow you to express your anime fandom? It allows me to use a costume to embody and perform a moment that meant a lot to me or carries emotional significance for me. For example, the first elaborate cosplay I ever did was Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro. I watched the film with my son when he was just two and we loved the film. Even though this little toddler had no understanding of the Japanese language, it still managed to connect to him. As for myself, it made me feel like a child, imaginative and whimsy, all over again. When I cosplay as Totoro, it helps me to muster those feelings again and it helps me to connect with others who may have felt the same way watching the film. Because my local convention (Tsukino-con at the University of Victoria) takes place on a college campus, I encounter both con attendees and university students. Even if they may not be attending the convention, both groups know who Totoro is! It warms my heart when people want to hug me or take a picture of me because of their love for Totoro.

N’Donna wearing her Princess 9 cosplay.

Can you tell me about an experience you had while you were cosplaying at a con that made you want to keep doing it? Oh geez, I think that would be cosplaying as Mistress 9 [from Sailor Moon] last summer. My friend was kind enough to make the cosplay for me but I still wasn’t convinced that I could pull it off because we look so vastly different (anime-slender body aside). Lucky for me, my friend and I were sharing a room for the event so she was right there to encourage me and be my biggest cheerleader. As I transformed myself bit by bit—foundation, contouring, make-up—I could see myself transforming in the Messiah of Silence bit by bit. People my scoff when its suggested that cosplayers have the ability to transform into a certain character, but it’s true. Little by little, I saw less of myself and more of Mistress 9. When I finally have everything on, my friend gasped and said to me “You’re really Mistress 9!” And I struggled because I wasn’t about to cry and ruin my make-up! Not everyone knew who I was, but that didn’t matter. I knew who I was and I saw myself transform into that character. Now, every time I cosplay, it’s kind of like a challenge of who I can transform into this time!

In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and anime fandom when you first discovered it? Hmm… that’s an interesting question. I think back then, anime was this low-key, under the radar thing that only people who were in the know knew about. Like, if you liked a show and someone who was a fan of the same show found out you liked it, it was a positive thing. Anime was an underground thing back in the mid-to-late 1990s, even if it was becoming more visual. Like, Toonami is credited with bringing anime to the mainstream masses, but anime cons and events were still relatively small compared to now. It was like a treasure hunt – you had to really work hard to find out more about your favorite shows which made you appreciate it even more. My friends and I would pour our resources together and piece the puzzle of various anime series. It was very much a community-based culture back then. I guess what I’m trying to say is that back then, it was more of a subculture and fans treated it as such. Nowadays, it’s everywhere. You don’t have to send money in the mail to get a fan sub tape that has humorous translator notes. I mean, Sailor Moon is such a prominent series that I got to write my master’s thesis about it! People from all walks of like attend anime cons, it’s not just a one-off celebrate created by nerds for other nerds. Parents may have wondered why you were watching animation in another language, but now, parents and their families go to anime cons. It’s good to see that so many people like anime now, but the small community feel is for the most part gone. A good way of saying it is “Anime Con? We e-sports now!” or something like that.

N’Donna can be reached on Facebook and Twitter.

#115: Kristen

Age: 35

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was 11, I stumbled onto a movie called Project A-ko on the Sci-Fi channel’s Saturday animation block. It was an action-comedy film where the hero, a teenage girl who wants to make a good impression in school, is forced into these crazy fights because a classmate wants the hero’s friend to be with her. During the commercial breaks, they would promote other anime movies including Robot Carnival, Akira, and Lily C.A.T.

It was a while later when I found out shows like Samurai Pizza Cats, Maya the Bee, and Hello Kitty were anime. Around that time, I saw Sailor Moon on syndicated TV.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For the most part, it was the animation style. It wasn’t as fluid as say a Don Bluth or a Disney film. In fact, the characters’ mouths weren’t in sync with the dialogue and that piqued my interest.

In sci-fi animated films like Project A-ko and Akira, the fight scenes, the technology, and the overworld were so over-the-top, they looked like expensive blockbuster films.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Samurai Pizza Cats. Keep in mind this was before Toonami existed and many anime were aired on either syndicated or Nickelodeon.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I didn’t even know about fandoms period, let alone a fandom for anime. Not many kids my age at the time were talking about anime. In fact, I don’t think they knew what “anime” was. But then again, I didn’t ask.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The Internet was fairly new when I got into anime. I didn’t discover message boards until a couple years later, and back then, people were discussing episodes of Sailor Moon Stars and Dragon Ball GT.

Could you tell me about when you did discover message boards? I learned about message boards around mid-90s through American Online. Back then, I would spend little time online as the only way I could connect was through the landline, so if I was online, no one else in my house could talk on the phone. I didn’t actually post back then, just read.

However, I jumped into posting on message boards around 2003, while I was in college. I used a few screen names, mostly Anikiki, which is a combination of ‘Anime’ and ‘Kiki’, a name I called my sister’s cat at the time (the cat’s name was ‘Akira’). I made a few online acquaintances, but we would only see each other at conventions.

I joined a variety of websites including Cosplay.com, AMV.org, Nintendo.com, and DeviantArt, just to name a few. On Cosplay.com, mostly I just shared photos and asked for advice on how to make a great costume. On AMV.org, I mostly talked about anime conventions since I don’t usually make AMVs. I made one AMV for a panel at Anime USA my friend and I did about anime in the 1980s, mainly used as an introduction to the panel. On Nintendo.com, I talked about upcoming Nintendo games, Nintendo-related events, did some role playing (I made a shop and an inn called Star Haven Resort (inspired by a place in “Paper Mario”), and chatted with people at Nintendo of America. On Deviantart, I shared my art and ask for advice about art. I don’t usually post on forums anymore as now social media like Facebook and Twitter exist.

Kristen as Suzuka from ‘Outlaw Star.’

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? It was Katsucon 2003. I didn’t even know what to expect when my college buddies from the anime club suggested I come. We didn’t stay long, since there was a blizzard coming. But during the Saturday I did stay, it was a lot to take in. For the most part, I watched some anime and AMVs and played video games in the game room.

Cosplay was the biggest attraction and seeing people having fun, I’d figure I would try dressing in costume in the next convention I attended (Otakon 2003).

Did you? I cosplayed as Suzuka from Outlaw Star, Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog, Ishizu Ishtar from Yu-Gi-Oh, and Marisa Kirisame from Touhou Project. Suzuka and Tails were the first ones I cosplayed at Otakon 2003. Marisa was the latest one, and compared to my other costumes, I felt I had to step up my skills in construction quality and use fewer store-bought items. It is still my favorite costume.

Tell me about the first friend or friends you made through anime fandom. Was it an online or IRL friend? First friends I made through anime fandom were in college. I was very lonely in my first semester in college. It wasn’t until the second semester when I overheard my neighbor in the dorms playing Super Smash Brothers Melee. I joined for a few matches and soon we learned we both liked anime. We watched a few episodes of Slayers Next and Ranma 1/2. In fact, he was the one who got me into watching subs, as he was not much into English dubs. We didn’t talk much after the end of the semester because he was heavily focused on his studies in music and getting into the music fraternity.

However, I did get to meet a few more people, who are still friends with me today, in the college’s anime club. Every week, we would spend the day playing video games, watching anime, and having dinner at the college hangout. Sometimes, we would go to a friend’s house and watch anime, play games, and socialize. It was through them I had learned about anime conventions and we would spend time together at those events.

What was the first anime you really got into? How did you express your fandom? If we were talking about obsessing over a franchise that I would browse through fansites, make fan fiction and fan art, compile a Windows desktop theme, and even build a fansite (filled with my reviews, photos, and fan pieces I’ve done), it would be Mario. My Twitter handle, @starhavenstudio, came from my current website, starhavenstudios.com, which was inspired from my Mario website, “Star Haven Resort”, from my days on the Nintendo forums.

But if we’re talking about an anime that made almost as much as a fan as I was Mario, I probably would say Yu-Gi-Oh. I bought the cards (sadly never played them), cosplayed Ishizu from the show, and joined group photoshoots. At Katsucon 2004, when I premiered the costume, a little girl asked me for my autograph. At the time, I didn’t know what to sign, so I signed my character’s name and my Internet handle.

Finally, can you tell me how your anime fandom is different now than it was then? When I was in high school, not many people other than “geeks” would talk about anime. But when I got to college, I learned I wasn’t alone. There were clubs and conventions people would gather to share their love for anime, video games, and Japanese culture. Because of the club, I did some things I didn’t even dreamed of doing. I didn’t even think about learning Japanese when I entered college, but since a lot of my fellow anime buddies were learning Japanese, or have learned Japanese, I figured I would take a few courses in the language.

I even took some risks by having one of my friends and I do a panel (it was mostly his idea). I was very nervous presenting the panel, even going a little over the time limit. But people stuck around and we even had a discussion, so there were some people who seemed interested.

And with all the times I post anime-related stuff on Facebook, people reading began to get curious about anime and conventions. They were interested in my adventures in conventions and the anime I watched. I will admit it is difficult for me to explain the feeling of my love for anime and the fandom, but I try. I mean, how does one explain subjects like Hatsune Miku, Touhou Project, and some of the popular Internet memes without getting strange reactions? I remember trying to explain Food Wars and its appeal to a co-worker who was curious while looking through the manga. Yeah, it was difficult.

Kristen can be reached on Twitter.

#113: Jeanne Morningstar

Age: 32

Location: Indiana

When did you discover anime? My first exposure to anime was actually those Robotech novelizations by Brian Daley. I ran across them in the late ’90s at that college bookstore we have whose owner will never get rid of anything if he can help it. I was an avid reader of weird obscure science fiction books and this seemed like something intriguingly different, so I jumped in. (This was also how I discovered Doctor Who via the Target novelizations.)

Eventually I started finding out more about anime. I got into Ranma 1/2 via Doctor Who crossover fanfic. (Unfortunately I don’t think the Doctor fell into the Spring of Drowned Girl.) I learned I was supposed to hate Robotech. I learned about Sailor Moon, something that would one day have an enormous transformative impact on my life, via fan pages.

Due to the nature of ’90s anime fandom where the source material was scarce and hard to get ahold of, I didn’t watch actual anime for a long time. I watched my first anime at a high school anime club; I’m pretty sure it was either Nausicaa or Cowboy Bebop. I fell in love with a bunch of shows via fan pages and fanfic that I never actually watched until much later. Even when Toonami started I didn’t get into it because we had only one TV in the house and I was worried what my parents would think of it; I didn’t watch anime regularly until college.

At the time, why were fans against Robotech Most of it was due to the changes that Macek made to the material. (The TVtropes name for unnecessary dub changes was “Macekre.”) There was also I think the desire for “real” anime fans to distinguish themselves from the casuals. There’s always been the issue of Robotech blocking the Macross license, though when anime was kind of an underground-ish thing even among officially licensed works that was less of a big deal.

Of course, there were genuine Robotech fans too, who enjoyed the Macek lore and the novels and comics that built on that. There was actually some excitement when the abortive CGI revival, Robotech 3000, was
announced. There’s a Geocities fan page for Robotech 3000 which I find weirdly poignant now.

You visited fanpages for anime you didn’t watch until much later. How did you understand fan pages for shows you didn’t watch? It was interesting because I wound up developing a lot of emotional investment in things I never saw and still haven’t seen. Then again, sometimes that still happens today. There are a number of shows I’ve never seen but know extensively through shitposts and memes. Back then, the issue was scarcity—anime was hard to get ahold of if you didn’t have the right channels. Now it’s the opposite problem. There are a million series available online and no one can watch them all. (You’d have to eat eventually.)

You were worried about your parents finding out about anime. What did your parents think of your interest in anime when they found out? Initially I think they were a little leery of anime—I had to be careful to distinguish the anime I watched from the hentai, as there was still an aura of perversion and creepiness around anime/manga in the popular consciousness up to the late ’90s. When the mid-’00s manga boom took hold, that lessened, and I started having more conversations about anime and manga with them. This decade, they actually started watching it themselves. At first they were interested only in more “respectable” Ghibli-ish stuff but then got into more otaku-y things
like Fairy Tail. Of course, maybe that’s not so surprising now that we live in a world where influential middle-aged centrist pundits watch hentai.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’ve always been predisposed to like things that are weird and colorful and energetic—that’s why, as a comics fan, the Silver Age stuff I could find reprints of was always my favorite, even deep in the heart of the Image ’90s. (Though that could be like that too, in other ways.) I liked a lot of the motifs and themes that cropped up in anime that was big at the time—giant robots, Blade Runner-style cyberpunk android stuff, magical girls, cool machines, tough women who blew things up.

And gender was definitely a big part of it. I was nonbinary and had no idea at the time. I never questioned consciously whether or not I was a boy but I gravitated toward things that involved female protagonists, and there was a lot of that in anime. Sailor Moon was a story by and for girls and it helped me experience the world in a different way. (I had a tremendous crush on Rei, BTW.) And then there’s Ranma 1/2—one of the first things I came into contact with that made me think about gender fluidity and such. I was intensely fascinated with the concept without quite knowing why.

Can you tell me more about how anime figured into your nonbinary identity? Anime has always been a space that allows for more exploration of
gender variance even as it’s often frustrating in not fully committing
to queerness and transness. Ranma 1/2 helped me think about the
concept of gender fluidity, in a half-articulated sort of way. Sailor
Moon helped make femininity feel more accessible to me and also played
with gender through characters like the Starlights.

Anime has been a hugely important factor in queer and trans culture in
the US among people in my generation and later. (Probably other
countries too—I’d really like to know more about the international
reception of Sailor Moon!) I feel like a lot of trans and nonbinary
people identify with magical girls because it presents femininity
through a lens of transformation-fantasy, where you get the power to
become your best and most fabulous self. I’ve come over the years to
identify more with Usagi, as someone who’s just starting to feel their
way into femininity. She’s not cool and elegant and struggles to keep
up with all the expectations society places on her, but she’s deeply
loved by people around her and has the potential to become a goddess.
Maybe someday I can be a Moon Princess too.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Ranma 1/2 was huge. Huge. It dominated anime fandom in the same way that Naruto, Death Note and such do now. There was an everliving crapton of fanfic. Sailor Moon was big too, and drew in a lot of fic, fanpages, passionate fan investment of all kinds.

Dirty Pair was a series that had a pretty substantial following which I really got into even though I never saw it. I still have a lot of fondness for that concept and characters to this day, even though I’ve only seen like one episode and read a couple of the Adam Warren comics.

Other popular series included Slayers, Evangelion, Tenchi Muyo, and Utena. Dragon Ball Z was the #1 shonen anime back in the ’90s and very early ’00s, but I never really warmed up to that. I do remember that my family used to stay in a vacation house in North Carolina with another family, and we would watch some anime on the Cartoon Network, and they showed the same episodes of Dragon Ball every time we went there. They involved Vegeta turning into a were-monkey. I remember those episodes really well.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Most of how I related to anime was through fanfic and fan pages. That was true of a lot of people back then, I think. There was a ton of fanfic written by people who never actually saw the show, who were basing it on other fanfic they’d read. It was pretty wild.

The fanfic often went in some really weird directions, as fanfic does. There were Ranma 1/2 fics that were slice-of-life comedy like the show, but also ones that were epic dramatic stories, sweet or and tragic relationship-based stories. People got really invested in who was the Best Girl for Ranma and wrote stories that wrote whatever love interest they liked as perfect and demonized the ones they didn’t like. (Polyamory was not really on the table.) There were some really ambitious Sailor Moon stories that created new mythologies. Evangelion attracted a lot of fix-it fic from people who wanted the characters to be happy or wanted it to “make sense.”

There were also original anime-inspired stories, sort of OEL before the age of webcomics. And there were crossovers—just about everything was crossed over at some point with Ranma, Sailor Moon and/or Evangelion. The Sailor Moon/Hellblazer crossover was probably my favorite. There was one mega-crossover series that brought in just about every anime under the sun, and a lot of other fandoms too—Undocumented Features. I think it’s still going on. It started with a bunch of self-insert college students bringing the Dirty Pair to life via a computer program. They blow up the campus, of course, and then the authors each marry one of them and then go off to explore the universe. It eventually crossed over with a million other things, as other authors joined in the universe and married their own anime girlfriends.

And that’s another thing—anime fandom was a lot more straight and cis than it is now. There were a lot of selfinsert-y fics by male writers where they dated their favorite characters. Yaoi was not discussed much, until it made a sudden surge around the beginning of the ’00s, which seemed to be a crucial point for teenage girl fandom activity. There wasn’t a lot of femslash/yuri even though Sailor Moon is extremely conducive to that and Utena was pretty popular. (And Dirty Pair for that matter—there would be a lot more Kei/Yuri if that were a thing now.)

Sometimes people made an effort to scrub queerness out of series that were extremely queer. Like the whole Prince Uranus thing–when some people were claiming Haruka/Michiru wasn’t really gay because Haruka was the reincarnation of a man, and claimed to have sources from [Sailor Moon creator] Naoko Takeuchi to back it up.

That said, I am sure there were a lot of queer people out there running into this stuff in anime and forming their own identities, like I was. We just didn’t have a community and context for that the way we do now.

At the time, how did you connect with other fans? Online? I didn’t really interact with people much on the anime internet. I passively read a lot of fan stuff and lurked on a couple usenet newsgroups. Weirdly I didn’t go much into the Sailor Moon groups, where my future partner was a prolific poster. We were like sailors passing in the night, or something.

Tell me about meeting your partner! Points if the story is related to anime. We met through a small writing group/shared universe we’ve been part
of a long time which originated on Usenet. We both wrote stuff that drew influence from both Western sueprhero comics and animanga. We started collaborating and throwing around ideas and turned out to have a lot of really specific interests in common, like Doctor Who novels. We’re both interested in taking apart and analyzing pop culture and genre fiction so we had a lot of great conversations, and then we eventually both independently realized we were genderfluid, and then that we were in love.

How is your anime fandom experience different today than it was back then? Anime has never been my primary focus but always been a consistent thing in my life. There are particular series I get intensely
into—Yuri!!! on Ice helped me through some difficult times earlier this
year. Nowadays, I learn about new series through Twitter and Tumblr. I
don’t necessarily go out of my way to follow people who post about
anime and manga, but it comes up a lot in queer contexts.

Jeanne can be reached on Twitter

#111: Ryan Elizabeth

Age: 31

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. The earliest anime I ever remember watching are Cardcaptors and Pokemon because my little brother liked them. It’s weird but I pretty much have no memory at all of seeing the anime that fans my age typically started with like Dragon Ball or Sailor Moon. I had very little interest in cartoons at all as a child, I do remember Power Rangers but of course that’s not anime hah.

I didn’t start to become interested in anime until years later when I started watching Adult Swim with my little brother in my later years of high school. At first I kind of made fun of Inuyasha but I ended up really getting in to it and Rurouni Kenshin. From there I started getting in to manga, especially CLAMP and I started learning about and watching fansubs.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I really liked the art style, I love cute things! I also found the stories interesting.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I felt like Inuyasha was fairly popular at the time but in general probably still Pokemon.

Your little brother got you into anime. Is he still into anime? Do you still watch any anime together? He’s still very into anime but we don’t usually watch shows together because we’re not interested in the same things. He likes dubs and I’m subs only 😝

Recently we did watch the Rurouni Kenshin live action movie together though.

Also, what did your parents think of your and your brother’s interest in anime? My parents don’t mind it too much even though they aren’t interested in it at all. We all go and stay at the hotel for Anime Boston together every year. My mother does really hate that we collect figures tough and she calls our collections her retirement fund…

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Right around the time I really got in to anime our local anime convention had just moved to a bigger venue and I saw signs for it on the subway so that was kind of cool. Other than that most of my interaction with fandom was online and mostly on 4chan. At the time I felt like 4chan was a really special place but it’s different now.

The only major difference I can really think of between then and now is the rise in legal streaming sites. When I started I had to get pretty much all my anime in torrents but now it’s all really easy to get (for people in the US) and there’s a much wider selection and you no longer have to wait for the fansubbers to decide to sub something.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes, I pretty much only connected with people online and mostly on 4chan. I also was on a few different forums and livejournal communities but the truth is I don’t really remember any of them!

We know what 4chan is like today, but what was it like back then? For me from time to time I’d meet someone on 4chan who liked exactly the same things I liked and felt exactly the same way that I felt and we were able to talk more openly and honestly about things then we would if we weren’t anonymous, it was just a real cool feeling but at the same time I’m sad that I didn’t know who any of those people were.

I also liked finding and posting fanart there because back then it was so much harder to find Japanese fanart back then, pixiv changed that.

There were always bad parts of 4chan but I used to feel like it was worth it to put up with them for the good parts but now I don’t feel like that anymore. I really don’t know if it got that much worse or if I just finally out grew it.

Do you remember your first convention? Yes. It was Anime Boston 2005. It was exciting. During my first conventions I really loved to go to the English VAs panels and the industry panels.

One thing I clearly remember from one of the first Anime Bostons I went to was that on the last day we had to share the convention center with another convention and it was pretty funny. It’s grown so much since then that they don’t have to do that anymore.

Can you share a little more about what Anime Boston was like when it was tiny? Anime Boston was already getting big when I started going because it had moved to the Hynes. I want to say I remember less lines but actually what I remember is waiting in the longest, slowest lines ever getting my badge on Friday morning. I to remember it being easier to check out the masquerade and not having to go through security 😞

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference in your anime fandom today compared to back then? For me personally it’s maybe my willingness to watch streaming video. Also I used to be really big on buying and collecting DVDs and manga but I’ve cut down a lot. In general I’ve moved away from being just an anime fan and I’m really big in to other Japanese media like music and live action.

Ryan can be reached on Tumblr and Twitter.

#110: Drew

Age: 34

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. While I am an ’80s kid and loved a lot of ’80s shows animated in Japan, I truly discovered anime in the early 1990s when I attended local comic book conventions with my dad and they advertised “Japanimation” on the flyers. A couple of the dealers there had fansub tapes for sale; one enterprising dealer had a small TV playing the tapes, where I stood mesmerized in front of his booth. Not too long after that, dubbed versions of Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (aka Ronin Warriors) and Sailor Moon aired on local stations and I was hooked.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Mostly the story-telling: while its settings and subject matter were a big change from typical American animation, the biggest thing that got me at first was continuity. Shows had definitive storylines, which kept me coming back for each episode!

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I was first getting into it, Sailor Moon was probably the biggest thing I remember but when I started surfing the ‘net, I most frequently saw a lot of people talk about Bubblegum Crisis (which I loved) and Ranma 1/2 (which I watched a lot of).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt pretty detached—Atlanta has a history of anime clubs around the city but I was much younger than the college-and-older demographics. I had my immediate friend group, what we could rent or buy at the video store, and some sense of fandom on the Internet.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes, but not like it is now – where everyone is connected with Facebook groups, Twitter or follow their specific fandom on Tumblr. I was a member of a Samurai Troopers email group and used resources like Anime Web Turnpike to find other anime websites, which usually were about specific series, characters or actors. We also weren’t dominated by Google as far as searching the Internet, so I usually had to use multiple search engines to look for things that weren’t listed on AniPike.

Can you tell me about what you did online regarding anime at the time? The internet was primarily a tool to learn about anime: either going more in depth for a show I’d seen on TV or from a video store, or trying to find out about new shows. Even in the mid-1990s, anime we were getting broadcast on TV was still being edited and altered from its original Japanese source, so you could spend a whole afternoon reading websites that talked about what changed where in what show—whether it was just name changes all the way to plot points, episodes being cut, or other edits like that. The fan reaction to the changes were usually pretty negative—that much hasn’t changed in the fandom! But at this time, a resource like AniPike was super important. The concept today wouldn’t really fly—it’s just pages of organized links to *other* sites—but when I first watched a new anime, I could hop onto AniPike and find all of the sites other fans had created dedicated to a show. I spent a lot of time in various image galleries and media galleries (posting mp2 & mp3 tracks for download and eventually super short RealMedia video clips that took forever to download). AniPike was also how I found the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers Mailing List (YSTML). On the mailing list is where I started writing fanfiction and participating in role playing stories we had started. After a few years, I started learning HTML to start my own websites which were general sites about anime fandoms I was in—never going so deep as to have a character shrine site or anything like that.

Because you found other fans running these sites, you could reach out to them and talk about the show and get to know them as actual people. Not like now with Facebook groups and pages where you’ll see something posted and scroll past it. Consciously, I know there’s another person on the other side of that equation, but there isn’t the same desire to reach out and say, “Hey, I like this thing, too!”

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was technically the comic book show where I really learned what anime was. That was a stark contrast of what comic cons are now: no one cosplayed. At all. It was a show centered around a dealer’s room; people came in, shopped, maybe met a few friends and left.

My first anime convention was when I was 15 at Anime Weekend Atlanta 4 in 1998. My sister, dad and a friend of mine got lost looking for registration and ran into a couple of girls dressed as Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. Not only were there cosplayers but as characters that weren’t on American TV yet!

I’d love to hear more about your first con! Anything you remember. My dad, sister, and I were used to comic book conventions; essentially a collector’s show that had vendors tables in a hotel ballroom and another cluster of tables that were essentially an artist alley—artist tables, fanzines, and publisher advertisements. It was a great way to kill a Saturday afternoon for a hobby we all enjoyed and my mom appreciated the peace and quiet of all of us gone. Through these shows was how I got exposed to anime outside of TV broadcasts and video rental shops. When I heard about an anime con, I kind of expected the same thing, so we went just for the one afternoon. The whole experience was a sensory overload: it was my first gathering of people who were into this Japanese cartoon thing and there were a couple hundred people there! Before the Pokemon and Toonami boom, fandom seemed small to me—consisting of either my immediate friends or web pages on the Internet—but this was a happy middle ground that made fandom seem a lot less lonely. There weren’t a lot of costumes—the Outer Senshi, a Lum (which was probably Ippongi BANG) a troupe of Inner Senshi & Tuxedo Mask, and a few others—which is probably the biggest difference from a convention now.

We went expecting there just to be this dealer’s show where we’d look around and shop but there was lots of stuff to do like video rooms and panel programming that was just so engrossing to me. We ended up staying and watching the AMV contest which was a part of fandom I didn’t even know existed. After watching that, I knew that the next year I’d want to go all three days of the convention and not miss a minute.

What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Early on in my fandom, the biggest shows I was a fan of were Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, and Dragon Ball Z. I expressed that fandom through talking to others, essentially evangelizing the shows, and doing quite a bit of fan art (some of it was alright, most of it was garbage) and writing some fanfiction. From there I grew into other shows—Bubblegum Crisis, Macross, Gundam, and Rurouni Kenshin being some other ones I am super-into – but expression of fandom became more about the creators and staff of the shows and looking at what else they did. Thanks to Gundam, I would up being a big fan of Sunrise studio, so often I would watch a show for no other reason than being animated at/by Sunrise. I also went down that road of “Let’s Learn Japanese for Anime & Manga,” and despite a couple of pit stops, I did okay with it but not quitting a day job any time soon. Now I prefer to express my fandom by sharing—whether writing in a blog or talking about a show on a podcast or hosting panels at conventions. I’ve moved away from fan art and fanfiction but still like connecting with other fans over a show by being able to have a conversation about it.

In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest shift I have seen in my experience is that anime fandom now is a part of an overall nerd culture. Parts of it have hit a mainstream stride—characters like Son Goku or Pikachu are recognized right along with Captain Kirk and Spiderman. Going to conventions now, the attendees are demonstrating equal love for all sorts of things—video games, American comics, television shows, etc.—right along with Japanese cartoons. In a way, it seems like anime has lost its specialness because it’s consumed just like everything else but on the other hand, it was kinda what we were hoping for all those decades ago. Anime needed its own unique place to get the word out and once it was out, it grew to be fairly mainstream and just another media to be consumed.

Drew can be reached on Twitter

#109: Adam A

Age: 32

Location: Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Not great, to be honest. Like I really enjoyed anime, but no one in small town Wisconsin had ever even heard of it. The fact that I liked it and no one else around me was into that stuff, drove to look for companions on the internet.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet pretty much the center of all my hobbies. None of them were really known or understood in small town Wisconsin back then (and to some extent it’s not much different today) But on the internet, at least back then, you were guaranteed to find more people who were in a similar sort of situation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew, I hope that gives you an appropriate overview!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam can be reached on Twitter

#107: Harry K

Age: 33

Location: Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#106: Rebecca

Age: 31

Location: Bronx, NY

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. From what I remember it was as Pokemon was catching on right around the time I started middle school (late 1998). The anime had started airing so my friends and I were watching that and one of us found Sailor Moon had been running on Cartoon Network. So those were my first two. Somehow I found my way into looking up information online about both of those when I learned about how edited/changed the versions I was watching on TV were. (Somewhere along the way I discovered Usenet newsgroups.) That lead me to try to seek out more information and try to get my hands on what I felt I was missing out on. By summer of 1999 I had started downloading fansubs, and the rest, as they say (cliche I know), is history.

Rebecca says: “ca. June 2001: Part of my collection including manga that I bought in Japanese that I could in no way read beyond maybe making out the title.”

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? In retrospect: I was a sullen almost-teen who had started to grow disillusioned with the newer US cartoons that started airing around that time (basically, if my little brother liked it I found a way to not like it) and it was certainly different than anything else I had watched up to that point.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was eye opening in several ways. I was in middle school and couldn’t do much on my own, but I could go online and it was exciting to learn about all these things going on in a medium I was just discovering. Plus, at least one of my friends was doing that too (with the help of her older brother and his friends) so we would swap information we found among ourselves, too.

Rebecca says: “I don’t know how I missed this: I left out the fact that I was involved with a webcomic from ~2001 until the start of 2005… which was, not surprisingly, anime-themed. Our characters cosplayed and many of the jokes were anime-related. I helped with the writing, did all of the coloring/effects, and ran the website for it. It was called Bishi Hunters. I guess this was an inside joke from that year’s Otakon? I wasn’t the main artist and I for the life of me don’t remember why my friend was the ‘Yaoi Destroyer.'”

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Oh, without the internet I would have never probably fully entered into the fandom. My seeking information out about what I was watching lead me to an entire community of people. I spent SO MUCH TIME on groups like alt.fan.sailor-moon reading posts (occasionally posting myself, though I feel like those are probably super cringey to go back to now) and reading fansites. I mean, I remember when the newsgroups I was on were freaking out over the coming Card Captor Sakura dub and its many changes/edits and the excitement/caution expressed when Sailor Moon S and Super S were picked up for English dub. (Cousins, really?)

Through the online communities I found, I discovered so many other series, some of which I hold dear to this day, because of recommendations people made online back when I was in middle school. Plus, that’s to say nothing of the fact that once I discovered downloadable fansubs there was no going back.

Rebecca says: “ca. 2000: My desktop w/ wallpaper I edited together myself.”

I know it’s cringey but could you tell me about the stuff you posted about? Did you draw fan art or write fanfic? Did you have any favorite sites, or make your own site? So I actually decided to look and see how bad it was. (Google Groups apparently has the full archive, and apparently there are still active posters?) I vaguely remembered being one of those annoying teenage fangirls (back in the [something]-no-Miko days) but seeing the actual posts makes it so much more painful. I must have been the weebiest weeb before “weeb” was a word, based on my random use of honorifics and random Japanese words. I found at least one post where I “chased [someone] with a piko hammer” IN THE POST! Though at least to my credit I did just find a post I wrote criticizing the whole concept of editing out the gay-aspects of LGBT characters back when that was common practice. (So maybe 14-year-old me wasn’t entirely cringey and terrible?)

I didn’t really do fanart as much one weird cringey thing I would do was colorize other people’s black-and-white fanart (and manga scenes too). I think I may have gotten permission from the original artists and I know I would credit them, but I’d totally spend hours coloring and reposting to, I want to say, alt.binary.sailor-moon? Or somewhere else where all the fanart tended to get posted.

I did also run a website (my first one!) which started off as a rehash of other people’s Pokemon secrets and tips and then turned into a repost art gallery. Clearly I didn’t understand things like content ownership back then? (That also makes me cringe thinking about it.) I used Homestead at first and that was where I started learning how to edit HTML when I wanted to edit how things looked in the WYSIWYG editor, which later did come in handy when I started working after grad school and had to edit pages at work.

As for sites I liked, (and that I remember) I spent a lot of time on Sailormoon.org and Hitoshi Doi’s Seiyuu database. (I was really amazed with how the same actors were in so many series voicing such different characters.)

Rebecca at Otakon. She says: “ca. 2003: I’m 2nd from the right in an attempt to cosplay as Fuu from Rayearth. On my left were my friend and her brother, on my right was another friend of ours.”

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? I somehow talked my parents into letting me go with a friend, her brother, and parents to Otakon down in Baltimore in the summer of 2002. I spent the con with my friend and her brother plus a few other friends-of-friends. I bought lots of random (but also cheap) goods like pencil boards and enamel pins (some of which I still have) and *may* have splurged on a Gackt album (as I had recently discovered him). I basically blew all of my money from my crappy summer job on it, and it kind of stuck with me for some reason.

Do you still have this? How did you discover Gackt and how did that tie to online anime fandom? Oh, I totally still have that CD (and the others I bought in that era). “Vanilla” is still one of my favorite songs ever. For the life of me I don’t remember how I found out about him, only that I have video clips from his first tour DVD dating back to the summer of 2001 floating around on my hard drive. I don’t know if it was a picture I saw or what, but I must have been super taken (and still am, that sent me down a whole visual kei music hole). I’m sure that live performance of Vanilla may have played a part in hooking me further after I first discovered him. There’s actually pictures of me in my high school yearbook wearing a Gackt shirt that I somehow got from the official Gackt shop. (I think a friend got it for me as a gift?)

Rebecca says: “ca. 2003: This was the wall above my desk, decorated in pencil boards, images I printed from the internet, a Hamtaro(!) calendar, and art from the webcomic I was involved with”

What did your family think of your interest in anime, considering how young you were when you got into it? I don’t know if they super minded. I think the main rule was I wasn’t allowed to share my full name or meet up with people from online in person (the regular online safety stuff). They were also skeptical about buying things online (because I needed them to pay for them) when it wasn’t from like, Amazon or something large and well-known. Other than that I think it was just a “this is a weird thing our kid is into” thing. They didn’t go out of their way to support my interest, but they didn’t actively discourage it either. I would have never gotten most of the anime DVDs I ended up with in that era if my parents hadn’t bought them for me as birthday or Christmas presents.

After Sailor Moon, what was the first anime you got really into, and how did you express your fandom? I went through a couple of other series that I was really into (Card Captor Sakura, Kodomo no Omocha, Hana Yori Dango) but the next one I got really big into was probably Magic Knight Rayearth. My friends and I got so into it that we adopted the characters’ names as our own nicknames and would use them in public regularly. It went as far as “Fuu” being embroidered on my badminton team sweatshirt when I got to high school. Around the same time my friends and I also got pretty into Utena to the point where we had an exchange diary thing going. (At that point we had only seen the first 13 episodes as the others hadn’t been released here yet…)

Rebecca says: “ca.2003: Rocking my enamel pins I definitely bought at Otakon on my school bag (yes, I still have most of these floating around in my apartment.)”

In your personal experience, how is anime fandom different now than it was when you first discovered it? Well, the biggest and most amazing change is just the mere existence of near-simulcast streaming and the near-extinction of fansubs. At 13 it amazed me if I could see something within a year of coming out that would be super amazing. Of course, because so few titles seemed to be licensed back then and there was such a lag, fansubs were everything. Nowadays I only see them pop up for the rare title that doesn’t get picked up by any of the streaming services and some of the dramas. A lot of my favorite series ever are ones that I saw as fansubs as a kid. And as those series have come out in (at this point) remastered editions I’ve been picking up official releases.

Rebecca can be reached on Twitter

#105: Jed A. Blue

Age: 35

Location: Washington, DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the back half of 1995—either the summer before high school or early in my freshman year. The father of one of my middle school friends was a huge audiophile, and he had a big TV with an amazing sound system in the basement, and my friends and I would hang there. Another friend brought subtitled VHS tapes of The Slayers, the first half of the first season, and we shotgunned them in one sitting. Anime was rare or non-existent on syndicated TV in DC at the time, and I didn’t have cable growing up, so it was my first time seeing anything like it.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The answer that makes me look good is that it was about characterization and serialization. This was just a couple of years after Twin Peaks, X-Files, and Babylon 5 had barely started, so (outside soap operas) serialization on American TV was still very rare and limited to SF shows. Character-driven drama within a genre setting was also pretty rare on American TV pre-Buffy, so Neon Genesis Evangelion (the next box set we marathoned in that basement) was a revelation.

There’s also just my lifelong love affair with animation. I moved from being a little kid watching the toy-driven dreck of the mid-80s to a slightly older kid watching Ducktales and Animaniacs, then a tween watching Batman: The Animated Series and early Simpsons. Becoming a teenaged anime fan was the next logical step.

The answer that makes me look less good: I was 14, in the process of discovering I have a thing for smart, ass-kicking redheads with strong opinions and nasty tempers, and my first two anime were The Slayers and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Add in that my crush for most of high school was a Japanophile and… yeah.

Tell me about your high school crush! Did anything come out of that? She was smart, shy, small, and cute, basically the classic nerd version of the girl next door. Brilliant with computers—I think she works for Microsoft now—and like I said, a major Japanophile. JRPGs, manga, anime, eventually language and culture, literature, food. As for what came out of it, a close friendship that lasted a decade or so before she moved out to the west coast and we lost touch. Never dated, but that’s probably for the best.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Like I said, the DC area didn’t really get anime on TV until Toonami. I never even heard of Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon until I started going to conventions in ’99. The gateway show for everyone—not just the half-dozen of us in that basement—was The Slayers. That was the thing EVERYONE watched and liked.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I’m not sure there was such a thing as anime fandom just yet. We were just nerds, and that meant you liked nerdy things. Someone who liked anime probably also liked tabletop RPGs, video games, science fiction, or science/tech–if not all of those things, at least most of them. So all of that would be in play when hanging out.

What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Definitely The Slayers. Like I said, we all watched it and all enjoyed it, then moved on to other anime. But Slayers stuck with me more than the others. I wrote fanfic, which fortunately never left my computer and no longer exists in any form. I found the fansite Inverse.org and devoured everything they had on the backstory, the world, how magic worked, gods and monsters. A lot of that was from stuff only published in Japan, so in our little circle I was (at least at first) the only one who knew any of it. One summer during college, maybe 2003 or so, I got the Slayers d20 rulebook and ran a weekly tabletop game set hundreds of years after the show. Then, when the show had its 20th anniversary a couple of years ago, I did a panel on it at a couple of cons.

Oh, and my latest book starts with a quote from it!

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? It was sort of in the process of becoming part of fandom. When I started, we all sort of got into anime together in that basement, and then met other people who were already into anime, or showed anime to other fans and got them into it. It was all in-person. The Internet had fansites and such, but that was one person or a small group posting up pictures and info, not really a social experience.

How did you get involved in this friend group? Did you all go to the same school or comic shop or something? Like I said, it started as a group of my middle school friends. Then I went to a different high school from most of them, and some of the friends I made there joined the group. We would all hang in one or another of our houses’ basements; sometimes we would watch anime, or play a tabletop RPG, or video games, depending on exactly who showed up and what mood we were in.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes, my first convention was Otakon in ’99. It was kind of overwhelming! I’d never encountered so many anime fans in one place, and it was hard to know what to do. I spent a lot of time in video rooms, sampling shows I hadn’t heard of before. That was what cons were for, for me–finding out what anime was out there. It wasn’t until years later when I had broadband and could download (or, later, stream) shows that cons became about seeing people.

How did you get into blogging about anime and doing media analysis? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started college, so I opened up the course guide and circled everything that sounded interesting. Then I added up the credits and figured out which degree that was closest to, and it turned out to be English. For shits and giggles, I decided that at least once a semester, I would do a paper that incorporated my nerdy interests, so already as an undergrad I was getting a little practice writing on things like religion in Final Fantasy, nonsense literature and webcomics, Milton and Lord of the Rings, that kind of thing. Somewhere in there, my friends and I watched a terrible-quality fansub of End of Evangelion, and they basically all turned to me and said, “Okay, Jed, you’re an English major. What the hell?” Being young and cocky, I said, “Give me a week.” I vaguely remembered some of the symbols that appeared in the movie from my Bar Mitzvah classes, which is a whole ‘nother story—Bar Mitzvah students are not supposed to be learning Kabbalah!—and I cobbled together a reading. More importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it!

Flash forward a decade. I was in a bit of a rut—I had a job, it was paying the bills, but I wanted to do something I cared about. One thing I did (and do!) really enjoy was presenting panels at conventions, because it was using the same mental muscles as those college papers and the End of Eva thing. Anyway, independently of that, I discovered this guy Phil Sandifer, and his amazing Doctor Who analysis—absolutely brilliant stuff. Through him, I discovered the world of media studies (he’s got a PhD in the field), which I hadn’t even known was a thing. I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Grad school wasn’t really an option, but with some gentle prodding from my then-girlfriend Viga—who also got me into doing panels—I went the “outsider academic” route. I started blogging about animation, mostly American cartoons at first, but then I noticed that BY FAR my most popular post was a review and analysis I did on the third Madoka Magica movie, Rebellion. So I did a series of posts on the show, and The Very Soil, my book on Madoka Magica (shameless plug) grew out of that. And I pretty much just haven’t stopped since!

In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say there are two really big changes. First is streaming. Anime is ridiculously easier to get—and get legally!—than it was back then. If I hear about a series, I can usually be watching it within minutes. But back then, well, we were lucky enough to have an anime-and-games store just a few blocks from our high school, and even then there’d be a lag of at least a year between the show airing in Japan and it showing up at Starland. And like I said, we were lucky—a lot of people had no way of getting anime at all, outside of the dealer’s room at a con or long chains of friends trading tapes with friends. The result, I think, is that things have sped up. New shows spread through the fandom faster, but they also fade faster. The hot new thing changes pretty much every season, where in the ’90s it would stay the same a lot longer because it just took longer until most people had seen it.

The other thing is, back in the ’90s and before, very few things actually made it to the U.S. With a few hilarious exceptions, that was usually the best of the best. And when we ’90s teens were kids, in the ’80s, American cartoons SUCKED. Nowadays we get basically every anime, including all the crap, and American animation has gotten massively, unfathomably better than it was when I was a kid. I write about this more in the “Secret History of Anime Fandom” section of my new book, Animated Discussions (shameless plug two), but basically I think the result is that there was a lot of hostility to American cartoons in anime fandom back then, and virtually none now. You especially see it with cosplay—some of the most popular cosplays of the last few years have been Steven Universe and Adventure Time characters. That would’ve been unthinkable at anime cons in 1999 or 2000.

Jed can be reached on Twitter

#104: Patrick Hogan

Age: 33

Location: New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It actually all began with an obscure Japanese-French production called The Mysterious Cities of Gold that aired on Nickelodeon in the late 1980s. Unlike almost all other cartoons and children’s programming at the time, it told an ongoing story, with each episode ending with a cliffhanger. It also mixed together history, science-fiction, and fantasy in a way I had never seen before, although I think I was a bit young to appreciate the historic setting. It came on TV right when I got home from school and I’d race to the basement every day to try and catch the opening (which I now find downright painful to listen to).

I didn’t know this was anime at the time, or even what that word meant. It was just another cartoon. It wasn’t until a friend in high school showed me a VHS dub of Samurai X (aka Rurouni Kenshin) that I became aware of animation from Japan as a separate thing. From there, I soon fell into the action shows being aired on Toonami and the rest is history.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was the serial nature of most of the shows I was exposed to that really intrigued me. Throughout most of the ’80s and ’90s, American television rarely told ongoing stories. With a few exceptions, most episodes hit a reset button and everything was back to normal next week. But anime told ongoing stories. A plot could be bigger than a 22 minute episode and continue onward, sometimes over the entire life of a show. I found the possibilities for this exciting.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I’m not even sure from when I first got into it. I was like 6 years old and it was 1989. I wasn’t exactly trading mail-order tapes. As I got older, there definitely was a period where everyone knew what Sailor Moon was, and then Pokemon got very big. Dragon Ball Z had this very slow burn of popularity where I thought I was the only one who knew about it, and then I got to college and everyone was saying “Oh, I love Goku.”

Was anime more of a solitary thing for you growing up, or were there friends or siblings you watched with? Anime has definitely always been more of a solitary interest. Up until my most recent job, which had an anime Slack room with about 12 or so people in it, I probably only knew a handful of other people who liked it.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I actually started my college’s anime club as a freshman. It never really went anywhere, garnering probably about six members at its height. But even with six members, I remember having a very difficult time putting together a schedule of events that would make everyone happy. Every person had a very specific type of anime that interested them, and it was hard to reconcile the person who wanted to screen a Slayers marathon with the person who only watched Street Fighter anime series and nothing else. Going in any one direction meant you would have an event where it would be literally only two or three people show up in a university room that could hold like 30, which was always awkward.

How does it feel to participated in this small anime fan group, and now to experience anime going mainstream? I mean, I think the main thing I’d say is never try to start a college club as a freshman, and also that maybe the best way to meet other people who share your interest isn’t to start a university-sanctioned club. Although I kind of wonder if the club would do better or worse today. Yes, anime is more mainstream, but does that also mean it’s less likely to be something someone is interested in enough to join a club about it? I don’t know.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The internet definitely helped expose me to anime series I would never have seen otherwise. When Gundam Wing first aired on Toonami, I went looking for more info online, which is how I found that there were almost a dozen other Gundam series, with Wing alone in its own continuity.

Netflix helped a lot too. I got Netflix’s DVD subscription service shortly after it launched when I was in college and suddenly all sorts of stuff became available to me. There used to be an anime review website called Anime Academy. I sorted their reviews by grade and just started going down the list via my Netflix queue. I’m looking at my Netflix DVD history now and I see stuff like Crest of the Stars, Princess Nine and Record of Lodoss War that I had kind of forgotten about until now.

Was your participation on the internet passive, or did you interact in the fandom in some way? It definitely was more passive. I remember spending a lot of time just looking at different fansites and just taking everything in. There was so much information online that you would never get from watching anime on TV, like that we rarely saw the opening and closing credit scenes that were attached to the shows in Japan. I never really got into any forums or communities either, although I definitely went through a Gundam Wing fan-fiction phase, which is how I first learned what yaoi is.

What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first one I really got into was probably Gundam Wing. There were other anime before that, but Gundam Wing just had so many details that you could do a deep dive into, whether it was the mobile suits or the political factions. It didn’t always makes sense, and it makes even less sense now, but there was just so much going on.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
I have never been to an anime convention! It sounds weird, but I’m not crazy about crowds and noisy places and am pretty socially awkward. I’ve been to other large conventions and found them to not be my favorite places in the world, so I’ve pretty much stayed away.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? I saw you just went to Japan (and the Gundam statue!) with your dad. I actually went to that Gundam statue alone! My dad was going to Japan on a business trip, and I crashed in his hotel room to save money. Neither he nor anyone else in my family is too interested in anime, although they’re not against trying it every now and then. We all went to see Your Name when it was in U.S. theaters in the spring and everyone really liked it. My dad sometimes asks me about different anime that are currently popular. He works for a Japanese company and I think he likes at least having a cursory knowledge of Japanese culture for no other reason than to have something to talk about at the water cooler.

Finally, in your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and when you first got into it? I remember watching a subtitled, bootleg VHS tape a friend brought back from Hong Kong of Evangelion four years after the show aired on Japanese TV and we were on the bleeding edge because we’d seen Evangelion subtitled. Now I stream new episodes of My Hero Academia like a day after they air in Japan through a site that has officially and legally licensed it. Everything’s faster now and I think that’s a good thing.

Patrick can be reached on Twitter