#116: Cthellis

Age: 42

Location: New Jersey

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember.
I certainly remember watching broadcasts of shows like Voltron and Speed Racer and G-Force and (particularly) Star Blazers on TV when I was a kid. But some I was too young during some of them to differentiate them from Hanna Barbara or Herculoids, and others came about later but melded into Transformers and Thundercats and other shows as well. I don’t really count US broadcast dubs as “discovering anime” or as part of my “otaku origin.”

Robotech, I half-count. I think because I got into this show DEEP, discovered it right as it was hitting our shores, and followed it avidly the whole way. Also because it contained more elements “more stereotypically and uniquely anime” than the earlier broadcast dubs, and hit me at the right age to prime me for the rest. Transforming fighter jets that even a dink like Rick Hunter could learn to pilot hit my 10-year-old boy brain pretty damn hard, and developing a crush on Minmei just seemed to make perfect sense. Interestingly it wasn’t the animation itself which really dug me in, but the novelizations that started to drop when I was 12. I read feverishly at the time, and I had no enjoyment limitations (broadcast schedule, TV availability) with the novels like I did with the show, the story mapped out further, and it introduced more maturity to the overall story by End of the Circle than I ever got from the show. (Or that eventually watching the anime sources Robotech was based on would deliver.) I could share them, get other friends into them, and that played the largest part in priming me for “official anime” which would come to me in high school.

I’d started collecting comics only a few years before, so my comics habit introduced me to a few upperclassmen pretty quickly, to find the better comics store option they used. It also introduced me to someone who collected raw Japanese anime that was getting passed around in a college club he had access to. I’d hand him VHS tapes, and he would return them packed to the gills with anime.

This was the very best deal.

One of the tapes in Cthellis’ early collection.

So I can tell exactly what my first “otaku exposure” was for me, since I still have my “Japanese Animation #1” VHS, carefully labeled and timecoded for ease of quickly advancing to the show I wanted to rewatch. The front label is getting sun-bleached to the point of illegibility now (as many others are fully) but the top label has always been protected by the case, so…

Bubblegum Crisis #1-2 (0-1230)
Grey Digital Target (1283-2630)
Dirty Pair: Project Eden (2631-3810)
Megazone 23: Part 1 (3811-4800)

“Konya wa Hurricane” [the Bubblegum Crisis theme] haunts my soul to this day, because I consider it my very first “otaku exposure.”

I probably had about 6 “packed with random” tapes that I rewatched continuously. I don’t have the exact order of everything else, but I know Tape 2 had Dangiaoh, Dragon’s Heaven, Gunbuster (1-2), and Venus Wars. Project A-Ko and Devil Hunter Yohko would enter my life shortly. Vampire Hunter D and Demon City Shinjuku and Wind Ninja Chronicles would light up my supernaturalism and horror appreciation. Kimagure Orange Road would be my first introduction to “TV series anime,” and I Ayukawa Madoka became my first serious waifu before waifus were waifus, even though I only had episodes 5-8 to watch over and over again. (Though Minmei from Do You Remember Love was probably my first inkling of it.)

Another of Cthellis’ tapes.

It would actually take me a few years to start getting any anime, subbed or dubbed. Prior to that I was rewatching the raw Japanese and getting everything I could from tone and scene context. It linked me pretty close to how the Japanese language sounds, even if I never committed to learning it. If I was lucky I could find translated scripts on BBSs [Bulletin Board Systems] and read those. When I DID get access to my first “modern dub” is was Warriors of the Wind, on the same tape as Nausicaa in raw Japanese. Eventually I would watch both to compare the vocals and scene edits, and would come out on the other side concluding that the English dub’s acting sucked horribly, and I disagreed vehemently with all the editing they did (something I did not know they were prone to, prior). As well on the same tape I gained access to my first official subtitled anime in MADOX-01. “Wait, so I can get the original work, without editing and horrible acting, and I just read the dialogue in English? SOLD!”

I officially had the sub/dub war on one VHS, and decided the victor, before I knew there was a war or a place to fight online.

I wouldn’t find TOO many people to convert to anime-appreciation in my early years, so mainly chatted with the upperclassman who introduced me to it and kept me fed, and otherwise… I rewatched. I stuck my stereo up to the TV’s mono speaker and recorded music for my own mix tapes. I rewatched some more.

I’d like to hear more about your older otaku friends. I was a freshman in high school, so 14 at the time. Started high school in ’89 and had been collecting comics for a couple years; wiki tells me Transformers #25 was February 1987, and it was “Megatron’s Last Stand!” that first got me to pay attention and start collecting.  I’d mainly been picking comics off the newstand at grocery stores and book stores at the mall up until high school.  I met a junior named Terry in choir who went to a specialty comic store a few towns over (older people who can drive!), and through him a sophomore named Tim who had a job working weekends at a local Diamond distribution warehouse.  (Basically, they fed the comics TO the stores.)  It was Tim who started getting me the anime tapes, after we started chatting about Robotech.  I think his brother was at a local community college, and it was there that anime was making the club rounds. Terry was more of a general comic book enthusiast, and older enough that we didn’t hang out much outside of chatting before and after choir.  With Tim I found the anime specialty, but also a fellow geek and gamer about other things, as over the high school years he would run Robotech RPG games (as would I), played a bunch of Games Workshop stuff with his friends, and such.  (Tim also held back a quality Macross Super Veritech VF-1S for me that was sitting in the warehouse, but $25 was a lot for me back then, and I never snagged it. A decision I regret to this day.)

Terry I only knew for the two years we shared in high school, and Tim as well, though I’d still see him at various fine arts events my senior year and some years afterward.  (I think he was the only one who knew how to properly use their ancient stage lighting board.)  And while I tried out anime among some of my friends during high school, it didn’t really stick.  Even with Tim we’d mainly chat about things after the fact, since he had already watched whatever he passed copied for me, and hanging out in a group was mainly for gaming rather than anime.  So by and large ’89 to ’95 was much more of a “me doing my own thing” with anime, and would only come to change after college and new friends and convention-going.  Some of them I am friends with to this day, go to Otakon with, and anime even reconnected me more strongly with my oldest-running friend (my grade, who I met in pre-school when we were four).

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’d like to say “maturity,” but in truth probably all manner of “otherness” appealed to me first, of which mature story and action were just a part. Japan at the time was fascinating, and had an aura of “nerd cool.” I knew things I particularly loved—Transformers and Robotech—originally CAME from Japan, even if I wasn’t fully on the process. So Japan was apparently pretty awesome, and this still was PURE Japan! I mean, they were speaking Japanese and ONLY Japanese!

It delivered animation that certainly was far and away more involved than American fare. Bloody, violent, grotesque, action-packed, and R-rated in all that represents. (Yes, I mean boobs. To a 14-15 year-old four-eyed geek, Priss was extremely risqué right from the first shots of her, appealing, and Mackie got to “sneak a peek” here and there at the whole gang. Grey Digital Target had a shower scene, casual toplessness, AND sex scenes! Gunbuster had casual and comedic toplessness of epic memorability. Ha… get it? “TOPless!” Look if Diebuster can make that joke, so can I.)

But it would eventually introduce me to “wait, THAT can be animated?” as well. Kimagure Orange Road was just… a high school romance? (Admittedly with a sci-fi twist.) They Were Eleven was a compelling sci-fi/adventure/mystery/romance? Can you even combine all those things?! Apparently, because it was great! I Can Hear the Sea was just… well, a sweet romance. No kung-fu, no laser beams, no psychic powers, no nothing. In a cartoon? No shit?

No shit.

As much as I suppose I also cared about having my own special nerdiness to appreciate that most others knew nothing about or did not, and as much as “otherness” is attractive but usually doesn’t last long, it would be anime’s sheer depth and scope that would keep me tuned in for the next…

Wait, how many years? 1, 2, 3… 28?!?

*Captain Gloval gruble* Bozhe moi…

I don’t think fans today realize that back then fans had no translations at all sometimes. Can you talk more about this? Why wasn’t it boring to watch a show when you didn’t understand the dialogue? About what year or age do you recall first getting dubbed and subbed shows? As to “why wasn’t it boring,” I think this fed into the “otherness” I mentioned to begin with.  It was…  special.  I mean, it was something you really couldn’t get any other way.  (At least to my knowledge.  And to any level of convenience.)  I was learning where this stuff came from, including Robotech‘s source itself.  And if that required a bit of effort, well…  It was effort well worth giving!  In many ways, it made it less boring.  You could get a lot out of just the visuals and sound by itself, and piece together “what they’re saying” even when you don’t strictly-speaking know what’s being said.  It added a tinge of…  mystery to things, somehow.  And it certainly made things amusingly to learn about later, when actually seeing the dialogue!  I’d get the occasional scripts and synopses downloaded from BBSs, but that was infrequently enough as well.  But you would be surprised how much continues to sink in just from repeat viewings!

The tape I mentioned with Warriors of the Wind and MADOX-01 on it were my first official sub and dub exposures, which was probably in ’92.  But that didn’t mean “and after that, subs were broadly available!”  Those were two of a very small number of exceptions throughout high school.  In college that changed, but in a different way.  It suddenly became easier for me to collect localized manga.  Starting with Ranma 1/2 and picking up pretty much anything they or Dark Horse did, I finally got acclimated to translated works, but anime was expensive and my college clubs weren’t anime-related. Magic: the Gathering started to take up all my time and money, at that point.

It really wouldn’t be until the Sailor Moon DiC broadcasts that I picked up anything more commonplace (and even that would serve to cement my dislike of dubs).  Anime East ’95 got me a “duffel bag of Ranma” that would be passed around among us (old school friends, new Magic: The Gathering friends, new college RPG friends), so even at that stage it was still access to raw Japanese content (this time full broadcasts, with commercials!) which was getting people into the habit.  It was maybe not their first exposure, but it would prove to be the strongest exposure for them, too.

“Common access to subs” would probably come in ’96 and beyond.  That comic shop I’d been going to since ’89 started expanding into anime, so I could rent quite a lot there. (And specifically he got subtitled tapes, whereas Blockbuster would only have a smattering of dubs.) And from there we would start making trips into NYC Chinatown, which was the bootlegger/importer’s paradise! Anime-wise that meant rampant distribution of fansubber’s content. $5/tape or cheaper when you bought enough.  I really couldn’t afford the “two episodes for $35-40” which was still commonplace at that time.  So I’d rent, or bootleg.

Did anime inspire you to be interested in Japan in other ways? Like, did you ever visit or study the language?  It couldn’t help but to!  I did take classes in college, but not too many.  Much moreso, it made me interested in cultural aspects in general.  And even more, it certainly affected my culinary exposure!  Sometime in ’95 or ’96 I started going with that aforementioned pre-school friend (brought into vogue by the Duffel Bag of Ranma and the other friends it grabbed) to Yaohan supermarket in Edgewater, NJ (now a Mitsuwa Marketplace) where I would become somewhat permanently addicted to Japanese food of all sorts.  Initially of course it was to pick up anything recognizable (Nuku Nuku loves eating taiyaki, give me some of that!), but that quickly turns into trying anything and everything.  (Including regret when the taikayi/obanyaki vendor downsizes and no longer offers takoyaki or okonomiyaki.  I still lack good okonomiyaki options, and it makes me sad.)  I had only experimented with sushi prior to my otaku origin, but that became a lifeblood. Chopsticks turned from curiosity to requirement at any meal that offered them. Lately I’ve been burning through history podcasts in general, and Japan among them.  Some art and literature collection outside of the anime-adjacent.

Visiting I desperately want to do, but have not had the opportunity–or rather the wherewithal–to do so.  So on that front I continue to live vicariously through anime, and @Surwill.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I couldn’t even tell you. For years all I could judge by was the stuff my friend obtained for me, so it all mixed together. Everyone else were people I got into it myself.

I suppose the first inking I got from “outside” dudes I didn’t know were those who knew Fist of the North Star, Akira, Vampire Hunter D, and nothing else.

Well, maybe Ninja Scroll.

I would attend my first anime con in 1995, so at that point I started to get a view of the wider community in the US. But by that point I had a cadre of friends who all largely came to it through me, and otherwise came in from the Sailor Moon/DiC direction.

I did make a new friend who met someone at that con who had all of Ranma 1/2 broadcast dubs from Japan. So that become one of my larger “popular” assumptions. Those tapes would also become a huge entry point for a larger second wave of otaku friends.

Interested in your role as a member of an earlier wave of fandom introducing a younger generation to anime. Did you feel like a mentor? How did you introduce people to anime? That is an interesting thing to ponder.  I don’t suppose I ever felt like a “mentor” to most of the folk I watched anime with, for a long time. That’s probably because my gaming and general geeky proclivities always made me search out above and below my age for anyone who’s interested, and can play with.  I started BBSing in ’86 or so, and that was mostly an older-boys kind of activity, so when I would make friends with a sysp[ and was invited to their MERP/Rolemaster group…  I was a 13-year-old hanging with high-schoolers and being GM’ed by a 30-year-old.  So when it got to the point where I was 20+ and hanging with some 15-year-olds to play Magic…  it didn’t feel out of place.  Older or younger, if you’re always fighting to maintain a small group of friends to play what you enjoy, they’re all peers.  Yes, peers who may not be able to drive yet, but…  you’re getting them into games in hopes of all having fun and skilling up together.  You’re role-playing with each other constantly as elfin wizards or hundred-year-old vampires…  You’re all taking turns running games and playing in games, and shifting from one activity to another…  It’s pretty much an equalizer.

So in that regard, while I had a lot more exposure for a lot longer than some, they’re “skilling up” the same way, at the same time. We’re all watching shows we newly gained access to together. I didn’t really feel like I was “mentoring” anyone, because a lot of us were exposed at the same time (phrasing!) to all the Tenchi rentals, all the Chinatown trips leading to Kenshin and Gundam Wing weekend marathons… “Thank Eru, more people to play Magic with!” turned into “Thank Eru, more people to buy tapes as well, which we can all watch!”  Starting in ’89 vs starting in ’95 is small beans at that point.  They may not have watched Gunbuster raw dozens of times, but they DID watch and love it when I picked up the legit tapes!  But we were already all in the midst of so much other stuff. No mentor feelings in particular, just new friends to ride the waves with. Also they’d mostly had some original exposure on their own (Sailor Moon, Ghibli films) because anime started becoming more popular and nerd-adjacent. Our enthusiasm fed off each other, and went to more places.

I suppose the first genuine time I ever felt like a “mentor” was with my nephew. I was his source of the eclectic and weird, especially the Japanese, so I had fun trying out which movies to gift him and when… And while he still watches occasionally, he never felt the same kind of bite. (Not with anime, not with Magic. So rude.)

I felt a bit more with a friend I met on forums, who’s younger than me but got started early on a litany of kids. (I tried to name some, but sadly no takers on “Archimedes” or “Elanor.”) The forum was run by that pre-school friend.  I’d actually been out of the anime habit for a while  (’01 I stopped staffing at Otakon, through ’06) and he and a simple schoolgirl named Haruhi pulled me back in, more enthusiastic than ever. My eventually-having-six-kids friend had some Ghibli exposure, but I would eventually get her and her crew into watching a lot more. Cross-country mentoring, but…  it stirs the heart to know that a 4-year-old can stare with rapt fascination at Nanba Mutta’s face along with the entire family.

But I suppose my MOST mentoring experience would be… with my mom.

She straight up HATED “those squeaky-voiced, huge-eyed kids” (her description of Star Blazers) when I watched any of that as a kid. She bought me Robotech novels, but that was alongside Tolkien and McCaffrey and the host of books she’d get me into, so I think that was more of a curiosity. And she’d occasionally peek in to check out some of the stuff I’d watch when I was older (alternately fascinated by the style and grossed out by the content of Vampire Hunter D, for instance), but outside of the usual “good Ghibli stuff” and some things that would escape our corner of the world to get some mainstream and critical attention (Millennium Actress, for instance), nothing in particular stuck. I brought a stuffed Ryo-Ohki back from a convention, which she likes. But that’s cheating, Ryo-Ohki is adorable.

But that changed after I became “a seasonal.”  I’ve been a Crunchyroll member since 2010, and used it to rewatch old stuff, keep up with new and interesting stuff…  It slowly picked up steam until the past few years turned into 10-20 titles minimum per season, and one show in particular I recommended to her while it was running.  After Kaori’s performance in Your Lie in April #2, I found a YouTube video of it put up quickly and said “hey, watch this.”  She wanted to know where it was from, so I gave her the Crunchyroll account as well.  And we stated watching that show cross-country as well, texting about it after we’d watch.  We kept that up the whole way through.  And then after Erased #1, I again said “holy shit you need to watch this now” and THAT became its own simulwatch as well.  Erased would prove to open the floodgates to seasonal watching as well.   Last season she turned 76, and was watching 10 shows to completion!  (Dropping a couple halfway through, and trialing a bunch more.)

I mean, it’s not ALL great news.  She’ll rule out whole genres like mecha, doesn’t believe in giving shows three episodes, Midousuji [from Yowamushi Pedal] creeps her out, and she doesn’t think Space Brothers is the finest series ever created…  (it’s probably closer to 4th).  But her favorite show is probably Rakugo, she fangirls over Majime from The Great Passage, and got to love watching karuta, so…  she’s a successful pupil!

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? My high-school years were pretty insular, just me and a friend to start, and a few underclassmen I got into it years later. I wouldn’t process it as anything approaching “fandom” in those days. Even on BBSs, I never found people to chat about anime with. I might pick up some scripts, but that was it. After it led to my first convention, message boards and MUD/MUCK/MUSEs and the internet… that’s when I could count anything as “anime fandom.”

I basically watched Anime Web Turnpike get created, and pursued that often to find these newfangled “websites” getting created which had cool low-res pictures which I would print out in black and white to appreciate at home! Oh, and lyrics! I still listened to a ton of anime songs, and wanted to sing them official-like. So I’d seek out lyric pages, print those, and learn to sing as many as I could. I discovered Hitoshi Doi’s seiyuu database early, and through that learned a whole bunch of names and got exposed to a whole bunch of series I hadn’t heard of.

Other than at cons, anime “fandom” still wasn’t very conversational for me. It was largely slow-moving websites. And occasionally an anime-themed MUCK where I’d role-play, map out “abcb” and attempt to create Megazone 23 underneath it that people could discover and explore.

So I’d watch new things with friends at home, but otherwise we were playing a lot of games. It was more of a personal/insular fandom, with occasional wide exposures by hitting a few conventions.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Anime East 1995. My friend “who converted me” knew one of the con staff, and became staff himself. So I also attended the con, as security, with one of my other friends. For a while Jackie Chan was rumored to be attending, so we fantasized a lot about “running security” for him. 😉

I didn’t get much of a feel for “what a con was about” because my first experience was staffing and being available for the higher-ups. So I had no feeling for the community or events. I thought I would do so by remaining staff in later years, but…! After 1995 it detonated and disappeared forever.

I remember the dealer’s room being miserable. MISERABLE! I was looking for T-shirts and music CDs. There were a smattering of Bubblegum Crisis T-shirts, of fairly poor quality, that were really expensive. Bootlegs had not invaded the show floor, so the official merch was sparse, unimaginative, and expensive. On the last day I remember learning about “Room 303” where someone was selling things… This hotel room was STUFFED TO THE GILLS with exactly what I wanted! I learned all about bootleg iron-on T-shirts this day, and went home with like eight of them. Also I picked up the KOR Sound Color 1-3 albums, which were amazingly cheaper than the CDs on the show floor! (It would take me until Chinatown runs to learn that SonMay was bootleg as well). Which I play first, every time I go to an anime convention, to this day. (I skip the last track on #3. It’s jarringly out-of-context, and a bad way to end it. “One More Yesterday” is the perfect clincher.)

I’m also pretty sure I signed up to pre-order AnimEigo’s KOR laserdiscs here.

Finally, for you what’s the biggest shift between your anime fandom back then and anime fandom today? I suppose it is two things.  But two things that are largely everything born of and fostered by The Internet Age, which I preceded-but-anticipated (BBSing since ’86, and a permanent feature of computer labs in ’93).

The first:  Access. My origin story involves “anything I count get” and that “anything” was raw Japanese and not at all of my own personal selection. (Not that I wouldn’t have, but that I literally had no choices.) Personally, I think very fondly of these days, and it’s quite possible that without the quirky nature of my exposure, I may not have ever picked it up to the degree I quickly immersed myself in, and continued for as long as I have. If I watched Pokemon as a kid, had friends who talked about the last episode of Naruto or Hunter x Hunter on Crunchyroll…? I don’t know whether I would have thought of it anywhere near as special, or as uniquely interesting to me. I still occasionally try to put myself in the mindset of 15 year-old-me but with access to dozens of shows, translated, and in my lap the day after they air in Japan… and I WAS getting them quicker by getting them raw!  It is utterly mind-blowing. There are positives and negatives to how “fandom” and “access” interact with each other today, but it is certainly the most mind-blowing change.

The second: Community. Anime for me was a relentlessly insular thing for me when I started. As much as I got them from my friend, we didn’t watch together.  We didn’t chat about it terribly much (since I was the only younger friend of his who was watching). I watched and I rewatched and I recorded music to listen to on my Walkman and I took special pleasure in random personal things like knowing just how to take a run in Ski Club so that “Over the Top” from the Dirty Pair movie would be timed perfectly.  While _I_ was a fan, it certainly wasn’t a “fandom.” And while this would change majorly in the future, it was much of my first six years.

After my first convention, I could finally see what “fandom” was, including with my friends. The Duffel Bag of Ranma got more of my old school friends into it, and new Magic: The Gathering friends increased their habit alongside.  Anime very much became a community thing for me. We’d play Street Fighter and Soulcalibur together.  We’d play Magic together. We’d all jump down a Legend of the Five Rings hole together.  We’d take trips to Chinatown together.  We’d buy out series after series, go to someone’s house, and watch everything we just bought for the rest of the weekend.  And that was the main reason I got out of the habit for a few years… Friends moved, or moved on. I restarted because an old-friend-still-hooked got a bunch of us on a forum to start watching together and chatting about it.

And today, we are part of a community that extends to Japan as well. While language and culture barriers are still there, we are watching the same shows ALL OVER THE WORLD together. We post snarky comments and and create instant memes of episodes broadcast the same week. We forum and we podcast and we Discord and we live-chat. I’d text with my mother about YLiA.  I’d wake up at exactly the right time to watch Space Brothers the moment it started airing on Crunchyroll with a friend living in Japan. I’ll watch the same show with my friend in California and her kids later in the day from watching it with friends from three timezones. I have a Discord server with every damn airing show anyone wants to chat about in it, so we can spoil the shit out of it with each other which we can’t do on Twitter. Communities within communities, with the ability to build communities to make up for limitations in the other.

And while that TOO can have its downsides, it’s a staggering leap further down the road from “occasionally saw a fanzine.”

Some of us use it to compile stories of even the most long-winded dorks.  😉

It’s nice to be reminded that it’s a goddamn beautiful thing.

Cthellis can be reached on Twitter

#62: Emily

Age: 42

Location: San Francisco Bay Area

When did you discover anime? I grew up watching anime on TV, and while I could tell it was Japanese from all the names in the credits, I didn’t know it was a specific thing called “anime.” I watched stuff like Captain Harlock, Battle of the Planets, Tranzor Z, Macron 1, Robotech, and all those animated versions of fairytales they’d show on Nickelodeon.

I first got into anime (or “Japanimation”) as a specific thing in high school in 1991. The movie theater at the nearby university was showing a double feature of Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Vampire Hunter D. Both were subtitled. While I actually laughed more at D than Lupin, I thought both were great, and from that point on, I made an effort to find and watch whatever anime I could. The pickings were slim. I could find stuff like Clash of the Bionoids and Warriors of the Wind at local video stores, along with random tentacle things. I also found some anime for rent at a local comic shop, where I managed to watch stuff like Gall Force and later on, Ranma 1/2. I even rented random raw anime from a local Japanese video store.

When I started college in 1992, I saw flyers for the University Anime Club, and I finally managed to join in in 1993. I stayed in the club as a full time member and later as an officer through 1997, and then returned as a regular member again from 2001-2007.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I liked how a lot of it had fantasy and sci-fi elements. Fun stories with young characters. Things I couldn’t really find much of in the fiction and US comics I was reading at the time. (These days, the YA fiction boom covers a lot of what I was missing at the time.)

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Akira or Ranma 1/2.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt a bit odd at first because there weren’t really many girls into it at the time. I’d go to a convention in 1995, and it was definitely mostly guys.

Also, my university’s club was huge. In its heyday in the mid-late ’90s, we’d have 200+ people show up for weekly screenings because the Club was really the only place to see anime beyond the same half-dozen tapes at the video store.

And screenings were different because much of the time in the early days, things were not subtitled so we’d watch with a flyer that had a description of the action. Eventually more things were fansubbed, and Club members with connections got their hands on them and shared the loot. The Club had a huge library of VHS tapes, both raw and fansubbed, that members could check out for a week. So the Club was the place to be, even for all the unsocial nerds, lol. I could chat with people who liked the same things and learn about new shows. As time went on, and the anime selection at video stores increased and the internet made anime more freely available, Club attendance decreased because it wasn’t the only option anymore.

Being a girl in a mostly male space—what was that like? did you ever feel like an outsider? Why do you think anime fandom was so male? I don’t think I really felt like an outsider. Maybe an oddity occasionally at first, but female fandom sort of exploded once Sailor Moon hit, so things changed after that.

A reason the fandom at the time might have skewed more male is because, at least for me locally, the only place I could really find anime stuff at first was my local comic shop, which already skewed male. And a lot of early titles we got were pretty violent: wholesome things like Urotsukidoji, Wicked City, and whatnot. But things like Rumiko Takahashi series had a wider appeal, and then anime started appearing in regular video stores, and then manga started appearing in regular book stores, and so the audience expanded.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was a part of fandom in the form of newsgroups like rec.arts.anime or bulletin boards. Later on there were chat rooms and IRC . Eventually, web pages appeared, and anime fans made tons of fan sites (myself included!) on places like Geocities and you could find all of them through the Anime Web Turnpike. General fansites connected via webrings and top site lists, then collective web pages, then blogs. I think Wikipedia probably killed the concept of the anime fan site, since I don’t see passionate fans really making those sites anymore. Now it’s mostly Wikipedia, news sites, and review blogs.

Tell me about your sites! Are any still up? I made a bunch of anime and manga fan sites, starting in around 1996 or so. I have kept several of them online, though they are kind of painful to look at now, and I only make sporadic attempts to update them.

Currently some of my fansites are for:

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first anime convention was Project Z-kon in January 1995. It was an attempt at making a winter version of A-Kon, but I guess it never took off. It was tiny, maybe only a couple hundred people attended. I had fun though. I went for one day. The dealer’s room had about 6 tables, but I still managed to get a P-chan plush from Ranma 1/2, Macross Plus OST 1, and a Dragon Half CD, so I was happy! It was my first time seeing anime merchandise for sale! My fist big convention was A-Kon 6, later that summer. Maybe 1500 people attended that time, and it was also great fun. The masquerade had entertaining skits, and I was just so amazed to see all the anime merchandise for sale. Lots of bootleg CDs though. I learned quickly how to spot an SM bootleg CD!

There were screening rooms showing things I hadn’t seen, and while there were some people in costume, the focus back then really was more about ANIME than it seems to be these days. My impression of cons now is that they are more about showing off cosplay and repeating memes than the actual act of watching and enjoying anime. But that’s probably because again, anime is so easily available at home now, and everyone is connected on the internet, you don’t really need a club or convention to find other fans.

What’s an SM bootleg CD? SM CDs are “Son May” CDs. Son May was a bootleg company from Taiwan that produced copies of anime CDs—direct copies of existing soundtracks with lesser quality printing on the packaging, as well as their own compilation CDs, like ‘Polling Best Anime Themes of 1996,’ etc. Many anime conventions were not so strict about what kind of merchandise was in the dealers room. So, while we’d always see legit anime music retailers like Mikado selling real CDs for at least $30 a pop, some other dealers would have the Son May CDs for $14-16 each. For broke college students with not too many scruples (or just ignorant about bootlegs), these were amazing lol. Heck, if you had enough friends chipping in, you could order CDs in bulk direct from SM in Taiwan and it would average out to about $6 per CD. I eventually grew out of that phase and realized I should support the industry, and switched to buying real stuff from Mikado, but I still have a bunch of SM CDs from the early days.

In your opinion and personal experience, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? The quantity and easy availability of anime now. It’s staggering how much is out there, and how the internet has made things so much easier to find. The idea that we can watch stuff within hours of Japan is mind-boggling. And that we get almost all of it, the good stuff and the dregs. So fandom feels so spoiled now, hahaha. There are complaints if a show is delayed a few hours or days, or complaints about stuff like Little Witch Academia being delayed a few months for binge streaming here. I want to shake my nth-generation bad-tracking EP mode raw VHS tapes at you spoiled whippersnappers, hahaha.

Emily can be reached on Twitter.

#59: Chris Adamson

Age: 49

Location: Grand Rapids, MI

When did you discover anime? I remember watching Speed Racer in 1974 when I would have been like seven. I also had some Shogun Warrior toys from when I was 10 because I thought they looked cool (still have them, BTW). But for anime as something with a specific aesthetic and history, that would be watching Robotech in 1985 when I was 17. I found it on afternoon TV in the weeks between finishing a summer job and going off to college. When I got to college, I found it on the San Francisco station and it was just wrapping back around to episode one, so a small crowd of dormmates started watching it in my room every weekday afternoon at 4. One of my roommates joined in enthusiastically; the other went on to become a literal billionaire. So, remember kids: don’t watch anime, go be evil and rich instead.

When you discovered Robotech in high school, did you recognize it as the same medium that the Speed Racer of your childhood was? I knew it was related, because the visual style was obviously different from American TV cartoons. But I didn’t get a full understanding until I found written sources I could learn from. They did a coffee table book for Robotech, available at comic book shops, and its last chapter was an entire history of manga and anime, so that’s where I first learned about Osamu Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto, and big titles like Gundam that hadn’t come over yet, etc.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The storytelling, without a doubt. There was little continuity in 1980s TV, and only anime (and miniseries) had the novelistic approach that’s so popular in scripted TV today. In a way, Robotech was kind of like our animated soap opera, as we were all on pins and needles about whether Rick would end up with Minmay or Lisa, or if Dana would get Zor’s head put back together before it was too late. But it was better than a soap opera because it didn’t just go on forever: things changed, people died, and each chapter of the series came to a solid conclusion.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Well, I’ve said enough about Robotech. Rich, a guy down the hall, also told us about having seen Star Blazers a few years earlier where he grew up, but I’d never seen it (I guess we didn’t get it in Detroit?). As I started getting exposed to the early fandom (see next few questions), I found out about stuff that was popular in fan circles in the late ’80s like Kimagure Orange Road and Urusei Yatsura, though I had no access to it at the time. And when I’d go to hobby shops that imported model kits, I learned the names of other mech franchises of the day: Gundam, Orguss, Dunbine, and the rest.

Your story is different from others about the ’90s because it sounds like you were able to watch stuff legally on American TV. Do you remember what channel? As you got more into anime, how did you find stuff that wasn’t on TV? As the saying goes, “ANIME DEMANDS SUFFERING!” It was actually a little better in the ’80s, because in a big city (I grew up in Detroit and went to college in the Bay Area, then came back to Michigan), you’d have three network affiliates (ABC, NBC, CBS) and then some independent stations. The network stations had game shows and soap operas for their daytime schedules, and the independents would run cartoons. Usually, there’d be an obvious pecking order among the independents: like in Detroit, channel 50 would have the best stuff, then 20, and then 62. Anime, being cheaper than first-run syndication like GI Joe or Transformers, would show up on the lesser independents. So if you really dug deep, and looked at TV Guide listings for 6AM on the crappiest channels, you’d find stuff like Macron One, Tranzor Z, or Teknoman. And remember, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball both got their American start as syndicated shows on these stations. When I was out of grad school and living in an apartment with my girlfriend in Lansing, MI, I found that if I moved the TV and carefully re-pointed the antenna, I could pick up the Grand Rapids station that played Exo-Squad, an US cartoon that was explicitly an attempt to make an American anime-style space opera (in recent years, its creators have straight up said they were inspired by Gundam). In the ’90s, these independents became the Fox, WB, and UPN stations, and the cheap anime got replaced by the Fox and WB kids’ blocks.

Sometimes you could find video rental stores that would go deep on anime. Not Blockbusters or Hollywoods, but in Lansing we had a store called “Video To Go” that went deep in many categories, and they had all of Bubblegum Crisis along with Project A-ko and the Dirty Pair movies, plus a generous selection of hentai of course (it’s hard to overstate how the mere existence of that stuff helped compartmentalize anime as its own distinct thing, if only to help separate it from the cartoons for the kiddies).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Only a few people knew that there was a fandom or what to call it, and I wasn’t really in that group. It wasn’t until Carl Macek gave over the last 30 pages of his Robotech coffee table book to praising the rest of anime and manga that I could get a sense of what was out there and what I could seek out, at which point I’d get into stuff like Trish Ledoux’s “Animag” magazine at the comics shop. So, for me, it was a personal journey to learn more about this stuff, not so much an engagement with a fandom.

Was anime fandom something you could share openly? From what you told me, it sounds like all your college dormmates were fans, too. Except that there were only one or two other clearly anime things around in the mid-’80s (Star Blazers and Voltron), so anime wasn’t quite enough to identify as its own form or genre and merit a lot of discussion. So the small group of us following Robotech were mostly only into Robotech, and it was just one of many interests we had. Also, I did have one friend who got so obsessed with it, seeking out model kits and comics, that he neglected his studies and failed out of school, so that was kind of a black mark that put our enthusiasm in check.

Anime kind of crossed over with comic book culture too, most prominently through Marvel publishing a colorized version of the Akira manga, so some of my comic-book fans went with me to the Akira movie when that hit the local independent theater, though they weren’t interested in anime much beyond that.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Only for super nerds. I was doing computer science at Stanford, and it wasn’t until my junior year until I could get access to Usenet and rec.arts.anime, which was the English-speaking anime world’s most significant online presence for a time. This was also right around the time of the American animation renaissance — at one point, people wanted to post about American cartoons on rec.arts.anime because there wasn’t a better place for it, at least not until rec.arts.animation and alt.tv that groups for those movies and TV shows emerged. I got really into the American renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Tiny Toons, etc.) so around 1990 or so, I drifted away from anime for a while and into these online communities.

Do you remember your first convention? Anime Weekend Atlanta in like 1997 or something. I only found out about it because they happened to be running their early website on the same server as something else I was into (I think the Gundam site from one of the editors of MacAddict magazine?). So that would have been like AWA 4 or something. I’d never been to a pop culture convention, so I didn’t do much the first time, just bought a bunch of Final Fantasy VII stuff in the dealer’s room and attended the Cartoon Network panel (which had the voice actors from Space Ghost Coast to Coast, like George Lowe, who were a total blast but of course had nothing to do with anime). In returning to AWA in later years, I’d get more into watching shows in viewing rooms, learned about AMVs, etc.

What did your family think about your interest in anime? (And what do they think about it now?) In both directions, zero interest. My parents are still alive, and when I mention I’m speaking at an anime con, they politely change the subject, so I don’t stick with it. I once mentioned anime to my wife’s grandmother and she started in on a Pearl Harbor rant, so that was fun. I have kids of my own (ages 15 and 12), but they’re not into anime at all, and it’s not something I’ve pushed; I’m happier they find their own stuff. My wife watched a little anime with me over the years, and she liked some of it (Project A-ko, His and Her Circumstances), but it’s not something she’d ever watch on her own.

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and anime fandom now? Mostly that it’s identifiably its own thing. Anime in the ’80s was largely attached to other fandoms. It was another source of sci-fi action, since there was only so much of that available domestically, even after the “Star Wars” boom. So a lot of where I’d learn about anime was from a comic books store where they had the American comics of Robotech, Lum, and Ranma 1/2, and then import toys and model kits. The store I went to in Palo Alto, CA (“Comics And Comix”), would show random videos on a tiny TV on the counter on Fridays, usually American stuff like the terrible Pryde of the X-Men pilot, but sometimes anime—they had a tape (unsubbed) of the Akira movie before it came out in theaters here, and Char’s Counterattack, which was surely the first fansub I’d ever seen.

Today, you also have all these other genres of anime that even if they had existed back then, wouldn’t have been brought over. The economics of broadcast TV and even for-sale VHS tapes demanded more fans than you’d get for unconventional genres like moé or BL.

The other role anime served at the time was as something for people generally interested in animation. The late ’70s and early ’80s were the nadir of American animation, so some people interested in animation found anime compelling if only because anime directors knew what an over-the-shoulder shot was (because clearly nobody at Hanna-Barbera or DiC did). Along with anime, I was digging into stuff like Ralph Bakshi’s movies and the UPA cartoons from the 1950s, just because I was so frustrated with how plan bad US animation was, at least until we got the renaissance with Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Tiny Toons and all that stuff.

Chris can be reached on Twitter

#57: Serdar

Age: 45

Location: Florida

When did you discover anime? (Note: Not long ago, I wrote an essay that contains many of the answers to these questions. I’ll be quoting parts of that essay here as my response.)

For a while, I didn’t even know the name of the first anime series I ever watched. I didn’t even know it was “anime”. It was merely this curious-looking TV show that appeared in one of the leased-time programming blocks on a UHF station that reached my house in northern New Jersey in the early 1980s. Most animated shows were about cartoon animals beating each other into bloodless submission; this one was about a boy with a shaved head living in Japan’s distant past.

The show was called Ikkyu-san, and its sheer oddity (at the time, anyway) made me go back to the leased-time programming block to see what else might turn up. Sure enough, later on, other shows also from Japan appeared: Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999. All of them, including Ikkyu-san, aired with English subtitles. (Between those and the foreign films that aired on PBS, the idea of reading my movies was something I got comfortable with at an early age.) But again, the idea that I was watching something special called “anime” hadn’t entered my mind yet.

In a way, I got into anime backwards. The idea of Japan being a place of interesting things had lodged in my mind early enough that at the tender age of ten, I found myself spending one of my last dollars on a Yukio Mishima novel that proved too tough for me to plow through at the time. A little later came Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, just then in theaters for the first time, and the impact of that sent me scurrying back to the library with a whole passel of names to research: Kurosawa himself, composer Toru Takemitsu, actor Tatsuya Nakadai. The books I unearthed about Japan’s live-action film industry dated from too far back and were too narrow in scope to say anything substantive about animation. There had to be more.

It wasn’t until six years later, when Akira got fairly dropped on my head by a friend, that I was reminded in a full-blown way that yes, Japan did animation too. Boy, did they ever. With far more ambition and enormity of purpose than most anything in this side of the Pacific, too, from what I’d seen. That touched off the second phase of my “Japan thing”, punctuated not only by buying up anime itself, but back issues of the late lamented Mangajin and remaindered copies of Anime UK. A whole culture of others existed who were as curious as I was.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Some of it was the thrill of discovering something that, at the time, seemed like completely undiscovered territory. It wasn’t until I was into my college years that I realized the material in question had a specific label. That made it all the more mysterious, and for that reason all the more inviting.

The other thing that appealed to me was how it presented the absolute flipside, as it were, of everything I’d come to know about Japan through its literature and its cinema. Much of that material had been staid, sober, straight-laced. This stuff was anything but. The contrast between the two made me feel like I had been given a privileged glimpse at Japan—at least until it became a relatively mainstream phenomenon in the West.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? At the time of my first exposure, there wasn’t one, as anime hadn’t yet become a thing of any kind in the U.S.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time?
As I was to later understand it, there was essentially no fandom in the U.S. worth speaking of at the time. There were people scattered here and there who had stumbled across this stuff and were spreading enthusiasm about it essentially by word of mouth between peers. But no fandom as we currently know it.

Where and how did you access anime? Were you able to buy it at stores? Most access was by way of whatever was available at the local video rental store. Very occasionally, I picked up an import LaserDisc (albeit with no English subs); occasionally, bootlegs as well. Sometimes I’d go to the Tower Records Bargain Annex in downtown NYC and pick up cheap stuff from the cut-out bin. (I also found many back issues of “Animage” there, which only fueled my curiosity all the more.) But it wasn’t until DVD came along—and until I had more disposable income generally!—that I could really begin to satisfy my curiosity properly.

In such an early time for fandom, what did your family and friends think of your interest in anime? When they did know about it, they understood it mostly as an adjunct to my existing interest in Japan. That impression was doubled when I started buying the now-defunct magazine “Mangajin”, which I wrote briefly for just before they went bust. My other friends who were fans saw it as being essentially the same kind of thing as being a fan of, say, European comics/BD: a niche taste.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I had to wait until the Internet came along before I became fully aware of the breadth and depth of anime fandom. The fans had been out there waiting all along for something like that to help them find each other. Before that, there were U.S. and U.K.-based publications like “Anime UK”, and publishers like Dark Horse Comics, but they were very few and far between. My only connections with other fans until the Internet really took off was almost entirely by accident.

What kind of accident? Most of how I bumped into other anime/manga fans during that time period was by way of other things—role-playing games, for instance, or meetings at conventions that didn’t really have an anime theme track. I was always surprised by the mere fact that they knew about anime or manga at all. They also almost always had some novel facet of it to share that I’d never been aware of before, again because access to any information at all about such stuff was so hard to come by.

How did you first get Internet and discover over fans that way? I was an early adopter. In the early ’90s, I was an avid dial-up BBS user, and from there I gravitated to online services that were the precursor of modern Internet connectivity. A key one was CompuServe, which had SIGs (Special Interest Groups) that covered a great many subjects. As weird as this sounds, I never thought to look specifically for anything anime/manga related in such SIGs, in big part because I always believed the whole thing was still too obscure to merit that kind of documentation! Eventually, when my CompuServe account became an actual Internet account (by way of another early dial-up provider), I bumped into the first web sites put up by anime fans.

Do you remember your first convention? The first convention, period, that I attended was not specifically anime-themed—it was a general SF/fantasy con with some minor anime track programming. The folks in the anime track were a lot more welcoming than those in the general SF track. Later, when I attended my first general anime con, I found that feeling to have been spot-on.

Tell me how you started writing about anime for About.com. It happened twice, actually! I started back in the late ’90s, when they first appeared under the moniker “The Mining Company” (as in, mining the web for useful information), and managed their anime subsite for several months. I left mainly because I was having trouble juggling the workload, and because I was able to make more money doing freelance work in other venues.

Some years later, in 2010, I circled back and saw they needed an anime guide once again, re-applied, and was accepted. I kept that position for three years, but I didn’t like the format constraints imposed on my work, struggled with their toolset, and grew annoyed with the general lack of guidance. After three years of declining traffic they elected not to renew my contract, and I didn’t shed any tears. One month later I launched Ganriki.org.

Tell me about your anime-inspired novels, and anime-inspired writing in general. In the spirit of this project, how did that start? The first project I did that really fit in that category was probably my 2007 novel Summerworld, which was as much an outgrowth of my general studies of Japan as it was an attempt to do something that had an anime flavor or theme to it. The same went for Tokyo Inferno, which stemmed from me wanting to write something that was set in the Taishō Era, and that had a strong horror/supernatural flavor to it. A third such project in that vein was The Four-Day Weekend, a sort-of love letter to the fandom/convention scene, although that was more about the culture around anime/manga (and the ways people create substitute families through appreciation for such things) than the subject itself.

After that, though, I made a conscious effort to move further way from doing explicit homage to anime/manga in my work. (Another book from this period that did have such things in it, The Underground Sun, remains unfinished, and I don’t know if I’ll ever complete it at this rate.) But a lot of what I took away from the experience of creating those books continues to influence the work I do now, even if my current work isn’t explicitly influenced by anime/manga

What I wanted to keep was not any one particular set of elements or aesthetic sensibilities—it didn’t have to be set in Japan, or employ tropes familiar to anime fans, or what have you. Rather it was about the narrative energy, the thematic fearlessness, the thrill of encountering something unfamiliar but at the same time immediate and accessible. Watching and reading anime and manga sparked those feelings in me, and I wanted to find any way I could to create them on my own for my audience, in a way that only I could.

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between being an anime fan then and now? The biggest thing I can think of is the ease of access and entry. It used to be appallingly difficult to learn *anything* at all about anime or manga; now, it’s more a question of which of a dozen different competing venues to choose from and be flooded with.

But that also means there’s that much less curation going on. Once, a given label could only license a handful of properties for U.S. distribution, and so they had to pick wisely. Now, you have access to every show airing in Japan within hours of it debuting over there. That means more of the burden of making choices falls on your shoulders. And let’s face it—a lot of what was released back in the day wasn’t “classic”; it was crap, too, and some of it really only got elevated to the level of classic because there was so little of the stuff available in the first place that you tended to latch onto whatever was offered.

There’s so much anime and manga out there right now that it’s difficult for people just coming in the door to know where to start or how to proceed. Sometimes they walk in, look around, feel lost, and walk right back out again. The usual tactics of marketing for a given demographic only go so far, especially as people find that good properties defy demographic boundaries. (I can’t *only* recommend Revolutionary Girl Utena or Princess Jellyfish to women, but I know they will find them especially heartening.) So the biggest difference between then and now is, where before we had to learn how not to die of thirst, now we have to learn how now to drown.

Serdar can be reached on Twitter and his blog

#56: Jennifer

Age: 44

Location: Durham, North Carolina

When did you discover anime? In the olden days of the 1970s, there existed Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets, but they never hooked me. In college in the early 1990s, a vampire-loving friend acquired VHS tapes of Vampire Hunter D and Vampire Princess Miyu (OVA) at a science fiction convention; in a fit of nostalgia in 1997 I bought Miyu through Suncoast video, but the clerk gave me such grief for requesting anything as uncool as Japanese cartoons that I resolved to purchase future tapes from some new online vendor called Amazon. Fast forward to the 2000s, when I caught a glimpse of Inuyasha on Adult Swim, and I was hooked. After Inuyasha was Ghost in the Shell, and while it wasn’t to my taste necessarily, the voice actor who played the Major had a phenomenal voice. I bought a TiVo so that I could capture both shows. In 2007 the twenty-something in my lab introduced me to online fan-subbed, and this was back in the day before YouTube videos played longer than ten minutes. To have accessible material was a dream. I’m now a subscriber to legitimate anime stations, and I consume print and digital manga.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Two things: it filled a hole left behind when Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. I will always be a sucker for Scooby-Doo crossed with Days of Our Lives shows. Secondly, the on demand aspect of online fan-subs: all I wanted to do was watch television while eating dinner after a long day at work, and the only thing on cable TV at that time was news or garbage.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was a working professional, so I was only confiding with close friends.

How did being a working professional make fandom prohibitive? Working for a large corporation, there was a lot of pressure to not stand out. It was a very competitive environment. The only safe topics of conversation were traffic, sports, or weather; admitting to liking anything unusual might give your coworkers something sticky with which to label you or otherwise undermine you. It took me years to realize somebody the next lab over watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, too, because we just couldn’t admit it aloud.

Is it different today? Are things easier now? In the workplace, it really depends on the folks in your micro environment. In my mid-forties I mind less about my reputation. If my manager gives me grief because I slapped a Hello Kitty magnet on my car, so be it. What is easier is accessing other fans online.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? I only connected by word of mouth with other fans I knew through work: the twenty-something recent graduate, and the friend practicing her hiragana with names from an anime during a company safety meeting.

When did you first begin participating online, and what form did that take? I had no idea that an online fandom existed until relatively recently. (A couple of years ago?) I found Anime News Network through internet searches and followed the handles of contributors to Twitter. I read more than I write or post, because at the end of an exhausting day, I just want to be informed and entertained. I had no clue that other fans were out there or that I could search for them.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
2009(?) Animazement in Raleigh, NC. I hear that it’s a very well-run convention, and the participants have a reputation for enthusiasm and good behavior. It was overwhelming and fun!

Why did you decide to go to a con? I knew a family who were volunteering, and they encouraged me to go.  They also gave me advice as to which panels to go to, and that helped me from becoming overwhelmed.  It helped that I had been to my own professional conventions before, so I didn’t mind the noise or the crowds.  It also has helped that Animazement has earned a reputation for being a very well-run event, and the crowds are generally well-mannered and cheerful.  I love the  shopping, the energy, and the many creative cosplayers.

For you, what’s the biggest change between anime fandom when you discovered it and anime fandom now? My perception of fandom has changed.  I used to think that fans were all young adults, and while that is who mostly goes to cons, I have found writers online who represent much more diversity in age and experience.

Jennifer can be reached on Twitter.

#51: Edward

Age: 45

Location: Austria

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. That’s sort of complicated. I’ve been watching anime all my life. In the early ’70s, the Austrian children’s TV programming included lots of World Masterpiece Theatre shows. There were co-productions (Maya) and some classics (SinbadKimba the White Lion). I was always aware that these cartoons came from Japan. Japan and America dominated on TV; I enjoyed both, and had no clear preference. (There were some British shows, and some from all over Europe.)

In the early ’80s, TV broadcast Captain Future. I don’t remember which stations broadcast the show, but I know it ran in the afternoon. I didn’t know back then, but it was censored for violence, and had a completely new soundtrack written by a German. What fascinated me the most about this show as a teen was a recurring villain team. I was used to incompetent henchmen, and little teamwork. The villains here cared for each other every bit as much the protagonists, and they were equally competent.

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard the term “anime.” My gut tells me it must have been the late ’80s or the early ’90s. Early ’90s would make most sense, since that’s when music stations such as MTV or the German Viva started airing anime, and late night TV started broadcasting subbed anime.

The first subtitled anime show I ever saw was Silent Möbius, which has a special place in my heart for this reason alone. Other shows that aired were better or worse. One notable show is The Irresponsible Captain Tylor. They also occasionally had marathon weekends (an entire season in two nights) and best of nights (lots of recent first episodes in one night—this was my first encounter with Evangelion). There’s an anime magazine in Germany that debuted in late 1994, which sort of supports my gut feeling and dates the term “anime” to the early ’90s.

A milestone in children TV programming was the first anime set in Japan I can remember: a ’60s sports show, Attack No. 1, about a female volleyball team. I remember being fascinated with publicised exam results. Similarly, also in the early ’90s, came the first fanservice culture shock: Agent Aika. They push you into the deep waters first, don’t they! This show is a weapon of mass panty exposure. I understood nudity, but that fascination with underwear was mystifying. It felt perverted and innocent at the same time. I watched pretty much any anime I could find, so I watched that, too. It wasn’t all bad, either, and the follow up—Najika Blitz Tactics—was a little better, and I got used to the odd fanservice, too.

I didn’t have a VCR for a long time, so the only anime I own in VHS is Princess Mononoke. Not many new shows came out later, and VHS died, and once again, I was a late adopter to the next technology, and I didn’t really have a DVD player for a long time. The next thing I bought was Haruhi Suzumiya in, I think, 2008. I’d buy a lot of DVDs from then on.

A writing friend recommended Elfen Lied based on my writing. She said she was fascinated with the combination of innocence and violence. I hadn’t ever heard of that show, but I replied that I was used to that sort of thing, although I couldn’t remember specific examples. I looked for the show online and found it on youtube, which in turn led me to fansubs. I started watching anime as they aired near the end of 2009. I never really participated much in the community. I’m a registered member at animesuki (for the forums), and I follow a couple of blogs, and I talk about anime on a writing site, and that’s about it. Nobody around me in real life shares my hobby, although I got my mum to watch Usagi Drop (and also the Heidi reference scene in episode one of Kuragehime [Princess Jellyfish]).

So, now maybe you can answer the question: when did I discover anime? As a child? In the ’80s with Captain Future (an adult show censored for children)? In the ’90s boom, when the term “anime” started being used? In 2009 when I was discovering fansubs? I don’t feel like I discovered anime. It’s always been sort of there, though for half the time not under that name.

What did your mom think of the anime you showed her? I think she thought Usagi Drop was cute and was looking forward to the weekly episodes, though I’m sure to some degree she was humouring me. Still, I tried other shows (such as Shirokuma Café, and I could tell they didn’t work). I do show my mum certain scenes I think she would enjoy, most recently the opening scene of episode one of Classicaloid (which I overheard her telling Dad about later).

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? In a sense, anime was a huge influence on forming my taste in the first place. It’s not that I discovered anime as an alternative to anything. I simply grew into it.

As an example: When I started watching Ghibli movies (starting with Princess Mononoke), I soon learned I preferred Takahata to Miyazaki. Later I learned Takahata is responsible for the WMT shows I remember most fondly: Heidi and 3000 Leagues. Coincidence? I doubt it. I saw them early in life and that’s just what stuck with me. Takahata may be part of the reason I like slice of life so much.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
I’ve never been to such a thing, and I’m not sure any exist. I don’t know if I wanted to go, since I dislike crowds. I am curious, though. I did spend three days in Vienna once, because an independent cinema had an anime theme day (around the time Spirited Away was new). It was an old cinema, with an old and noisy projector and uncomfortable seats. The most memorable show I saw was Perfect Blue. They also showed Roujin Z—an OVA dubbed English with German subtitles. (Even the cinemas seemed to show whatever they could get their hands on.)

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t part of the anime fandom, and I’m still really only a marginal figure. I enjoy talking about anime now and then, so I occasionally reply to blog post or forum threads, but not very often. The reason I reply here is because the project interests me. (As an aside: I hold a degree in sociology.)

Have you used your degree to studied subculture before, or participate in other projects like this one?  I’ve never actually done any research. I got my degree, but never did anything with it after finishing. Still, the interest is still there. For what it’s worth, I was writing my thesis about the letter section in an American comic book (Sam Keith’s The Maxx). My interest was theoretical: I was mostly interested in how interaction across space-time could be viewed theoretically (the relationship between real space/time and social space/time was surprisingly understudied, considering the rise of the internet). I was only secondarily interested in fan culture.

#2: Mark D

Age: 43

Location: Lansing, Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark D. can be reached on Twitter