#87: Mudakun

Age: 50s

Location: Southwestern Ontario, Canada

When did you discover anime? How many exposures did it take?

First infection: Tobor the 8th Man. My first impressions: “Wow, good story, but really low budget cartoons. Johnny Quest is kewler but this is still fun…”

/years go by/

“Must study, study, study reading for next class, revise next chapter major paper. if up before 7:30am can watch Star Blazers every weekday. Holy Shyte, that’s some elaborate plotting. Music is cheesy but catchy…”

/Again, infection clears, years go by/

Hanging with friends, one of them has an older sister who puts on a movie night for everyone, with food. Seems one of her friends was originally from Japan and a relative sent a VHS of this kid’s cartoon called Totoro

“OK, in Japanese, no biggie, friend provides sotto vocce commentary.
A bit later… “Oh, by the same studio, dubbed, here’s something about a princess called Mononoke.”

(“Oh fuck… doomed now… What’s this Kiki thing?”)

/Two months later/

“Amazing what one can do with usenet groups and Free Agent/ Xnews, even with dial-up… overnight… every night…”

“CHECK OUT THE FANSUBS on this thing called Spirited Away! The subs have explanatory footnote subs!”

/Infection now chronic but manageable/

/Fast-forward to the present/

“Aww snap, nothing I can rouse myself to blog about this month…”

Conclusion: No Anime club, no Genshiken analogue… Despite repeated prior infections, Ghibli Anime Moms were to blame.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Its storylines.

Could you elaborate? Contemporary Japanese visual culture and its diaspora instances offer both narrative density and layered complexity. That the stories also wander into schmex, attraction and (ulp!) romance turns out to be a side-benefit that I had no idea that I would later enjoy.

As a kid, while it was obvious that 8th Man was poorly “English-ified,” and bits of its “Japanese-ness” would bleed through. Skip forward to watching Star Blazers every weekday morning at 7:30 AM from 1979 to 1980. Wow. Long, continuous story. I missed large chunks, so I watched it through again; TV stations back then would just loop episodes after a full season or run. Rocky and Bullwinkle was notorious for this in North American practice. Another fun thing: the “English-ification” (remember, I’m not yet a fan, so terms like “localization,” “dubs,” etc. miss something) had clearly removed some things and glossed over others. What exactly was that WWII battleship? No Google back then. Oh my! Those layers were interesting but not yet seductive.

Star Blazers might have been the second to last dub I ever tolerated. Mononoke was the last.

I can’t stand dubs. Worst offender ever: New Dominion Tank Police. My ears! My ears!

In 1989 I was very into international cinema. When I saw Akira at a rep cinema, it wasn’t as a fan of Japanese animation—hence my sotto voce droning out of “Koy-aani-squat-si” during the slow-mo office tower window shattering scene—and yes, enough other film snobs in the theatre laughed too at the obvious reference. Otherwise, my only other take on it was “only adults are allowed to kill” as a rule governing the action.

Fast forward to studio Ghibli products. When I snagged a grey copy of Spirited Away, I found that the fansub group on that version had gone full footnote-cray-cray, with running explanatory top-subs to supplement the dialog subs on the bottom. Obsessive subtitles and then obsessive scanlations of complex, long-running manga like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei added a few more layers to the feast.

More layers:

Stories that were not afraid of sexuality, longing and romance as well as loss and regret and were not handled in the usual US-style “comic code”/ Hollywood keep-it-simple-because-the-audience-is-bored-and-stupid manner. Somewhat closer to European practice, but uniquely Japanese.

Their manner of cultural appropriation of anglo and euro/ western cultural artifacts, settings and mythologies—which the naive took as mimicry was what was what “the west” had been doing with “exotic cultures” since 1800 at least. It is jarring and then fascinating to see the full Adrian Piper Cultural Appropriation model being done back to us by a parallel, late high modernist mass culture that does not share our Judeo-Christian cutural underpinnings.

They don’t care a toss if we are miffed about how they use our stuff. Santa Claus and machine-gun toting miniskirted exorcist “girl-priests” fighting vampires? Sure, why not? All part of the same crazy gaijin culture bag along with German layer cakes. Grab the surface forms, ignore as much of the “lore” as you please. Suddenly WE are the spear-waving “natives” in the Johnny Quest intro. We get drafted to be Hadji.

“To recognize an alien cultural practice as different from one’s own, and as inaccessible to understanding with respect to content, is implicitly to recognize one’s own cultural practice as a cultural practice, with its own rules and constraints.”

—The Logic of Modernism, Adrian Piper

A final style point about Japanese anime and manga: their makers assume you will re-watch and re-read multiple times with obsessive attention to detail if you get hooked. They won’t hold your hand but they pack a heck of a lot into a single page or a short scene. It’s hard to explain, but if you read Korean Naver-derived manwha, you can immediately “feel” how thin it is in comparison—all while it is far more cinematographically dynamic, in a minimalist way. (PEAK was a great exception to this, then it vanished)

So, hmmmm, yup; the storylines.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? USENET leeches!

Do you remember your first convention? I was a lapsed science fiction fan, and I started attending Worldcon in the early ’70s. Haven’t done any anime manga cons, except: Comiket special 2015 and Comiket winter 2015. As my Japanese is non-existent, it was more of a cultural field trip than a con experience. My internal monologue: “I am illiterate and my feet hurt… Great cosplay… Oh, I can’t smoke out by this dumpster? Embarrassment…”

How did you end up blogging about anime and manga? How has blogging
changed the way you participate in the fandom? The immediate effect was to stop bothering senior bloggers with insanely long wander-off-into-left-field 3 AM insights dropped into their comment sections.

I started blogging because I got hooked on Genshiken, as author Kio Shimoku re-activated it for its “second generation.” I had enough university critical theory, as well as deep suspicions about the roots of some of its sloppier applications, but I also knew that you could misunderstand it creatively to jury-rig bits into an art form or a story. I saw that happening with Genshiken and then with Genshiken Nidaime. That eventually dragged me into “the old straight pale euroethnic guy watches the Japanese married with kid(s?) mangaka cut and paste fan studies and Lacanian cultural analysis, then (OMFG !!!!) gender studies detritus into a university club ensemble manga.

Let’s see: Cultural anthropology themes in the first few chapters of the original then Dr. Saito Tamaki’s Beautiful Fighting Girl cut-n-paste-ins. What of the new version? The club is taken over by fujoshi and then you create a cross-dressing boy who wants to be a fujoshi, but isn’t, etc… Google is your friend.

What? Why are characters repeating signature lines from a prominent Japanese (studied in America) academic who is an activist lesbian fujoshi? This odd “theory moe” approach went on to land me a place at an obscure fan-studies related academic conference. That was fun, even when it turned out to be 98% rotten.

Currently I watch from the sidelines as different groups nudge and elbow their ways, concerns and their stories into weird little anime episodes and manga chapters. Unlike academic/ social media posturing fights, at least you get an anime or manga out of the debates.

In your experience, how is anime fandom different today than it was back then? “Then” in my case must include my first brush with early 1970s Star Trek “hard’ science fiction fandoms. The local Star Trek fandom in my neck of the woods was, in retrospect an occult pit of university age slash fen who barely tolerated the geeky high-school guys and kept “those fanzines” away from our eyes. In retrospect I was so clueless it hurts to remember it. Larger sci-fi fandom was a lot more of a geek guy thing with far more cheesecake and fun binge-drinking. The convention arguments were just as “talk-louder-than-you” but the subjects under discussion were a tad more interesting than “this starship can whomp that starship.”

I kept away from the usenet fan discussions of the late ’90s and early 2000s. Wasting bandwidth on convention ego displays while on a dial-up modem seemed pointless. I was mooching the early electronic music alt-binaries groups where the culture was: ‘I am nym [early Internet speech for “anonymous”], this is neat, I post it as a gift.” Holy crap! my PC is now a music studio. Oddly enough many of these folks liked to sample anime theme songs, which led to the discovery that a few newsgroups over…

Today I find that Web 2.0 and 2.x innovations have allowed all manner of fannish affinity-interaction models to flourish. Some I find convenient, like WordPress blogs and Twitter. Others less so and still others opaque. Tumblr is work for me; Instagram, huh??? Different fans and groups interact differently. Some are not my thing, other even toxic but I can always close the tab and never return. What I now prize is not the illusion of a “social” spread across the net but the tone of a blog or a series of posts.

Mudakun can be reached on Twitter and his blog.

#54: John

Age: 50

Location: Canberra

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Initially through Robotech on Saturday morning TV in Perth in the mid-’80s, then as part of the early members of JAFWA.

What was it like to be part of the JAFWA in the early days? How often did you meet? How did you participate? In the very earliest days JAFWA met in a Church hall and screened on 3 TVs hooked together to one VCR. In the earliest days we sometimes didn’t even have fansubs, and would watch with a synopsis someone wrote up and handed out. I watched a chunk of Gall Force that way, and also Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. We met weekly, except for the first Saturday of the month, and eventually got big enough to hire a lecture theatre at the University of Western Australia. I basically went most weeks, and helped out by running the loaner library.

A former JAFWA fansub in John’s collection. This loaner video was pulled from circulation when Fushigi Yuugi got an official US release.

Later on as JAFWA grew in size to about 100 or more attending every week, I helped the group incorporate and drafted the constitution for doing so. Well, for values of “drafted” equal to “stole the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation’s Constitution and filed the serial numbers off.” Not that WASFF minded; they even helped me do it. 😄

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Continuity: when things happened, they mattered. There wasn’t the Big Red Reset switch of Star Trek.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In the west? Robotech or Star Blazers. In Japan I’m not sure—Patlabor was getting started then, Dirty Pair had finished, Urusei Yatsura would probably have been close to its peak.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Challenging. When you’re looking at a 6-12 month wait to get a 5th generation VHS fansub you learn to be patient.

Could you elaborate on this entire VHS situation? Was a 5th gen VHS tape still watchable? Did you trade tapes? Once there were enough fansubs coming through, and people wanted to catch up on previously screened material, JAFWA started running a loaner library of fansubs using converted videos. Australia uses the PAL system, and most of the fansub supply coming through was on NTSC (Never Twice Same Colour). We needed to do the conversions because NTSC-capable VCRs were pretty rare in Australia in the early 90s, and pretty pricey. I think mine cost around $1,000 then. After that I’d run a simple card system to check the copies in and out.

I did a lot of the copies/conversions for these—I had custody of an NTSC-PAL converter and a couple of VCRs that I would use to run yet another generation of copy, and then another member would print labels for the boxes. We’d pull the tapes from circulation once a title got licensed, we were pretty big on encouraging the commercial market and stopping fansub distribution at that point. So I ended up with a lot of the old loaner library tapes, and I’ve attached a couple of quick images to show how we were presenting them.

A warning on a JAFWA fansub.

As for whether the copies were watchable, well, that was debatable. 😄 It did tend to encourage support for the commercial market even at the brutal prices of $60 US for a couple of episodes, and I even ended up buying commercial laser discs long before I had a player. A lot of local fans were in the same boat, so that converter I mentioned earlier got a fairly heavy workout making PAL copies of NTSC commercial tapes for local playback.

There was some tape trading going on, but I wasn’t involved in that, I was mostly supporting the committee in other ways.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Not really. A couple of the JAFWA founders went to AnimeCon ’91 and established fan sub group connections but that was most of it.

How big was AnimeCon ’91? I’m honestly not sure, but I vaguely recall it being well over a 1,000 attendees. It did have a really cool opening video set to Dvorak’s 9th Symphony “From the New World” and it’s been one of my favourite pieces ever since.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first convention was SwanCon ’11 in Perth. I go back to Perth every year for SwanCon but that’s mostly for the gaming room and to catch up with old friends. That’s what SwanCon is like, and has been like for me for, well, decades now. 😄

How big was SwanCon back then? What kinds of activities were there? 
SwanCon’s been pretty stable in size over the years, figure on attendance in the 2-300 range each year. It can get bigger if we get a major name guest like Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman, but that’s where it usually sits. SwanCon was a pretty strict literary SF convention in the mid-80s when I started going, but started evolving after that. By the 90s there was a fairly decent gaming stream (that I ran in 1991 on the SwanCon 16 committee), and it started branching out into other media. This included running a video stream that ran 24 hours at some conventions. This introduced a lot of people to anime, particularly the standards like Ranma ½ or Vampire Princess Miyu. At a couple of these the Video Committee would each take a midnight to dawn slot to program as they saw fit. I did “Not all dubs are Evil” that way one year, which must have been in the mid to late 90s since I would have relied on El Hazard for a lot of that. Meanwhile the regular SF con activities of panel discussions, banquets, and masquerades continued on their merry way. These days I mostly go to SwanCon to catch up with old friends and hang out in the gaming room, the video streams died off a while back because of copyright issues.

I found your blog and it said you originally blogged on LiveJournal. Were you part of the anime fan community on LJ? I actually didn’t start blogging because of anime at all—it was initially a journal to keep track of a cycling trip from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. So I wasn’t really part of the anime fan community on LJ at all. In fact it took a month and a half for my first ever anime review—Kamui no Ken—to appear on the blog.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between fandom then and now? Obviously the instant gratification of Crunchyroll is the biggest change, noting that CR doesn’t get Australian licenses for everything, and that AnimeLab doesn’t always fill the gaps. I’ve been hearing interesting things about Re:CREATORS, but it’s not streaming anywhere in Australia as far as I can tell, so I’m kind of out of luck there. On a secondary level is the still fairly successful DVD/BD markets with Australia having no less than three publishers going: Madman, Hanabee, Siren.

Between the two I mostly don’t bother with fansubs anymore, and certainly don’t download any. About the only exceptions are those hard to get shows that I might pick up occasionally when I visit a friend in Perth.

I try to buy local, but there are still times when I need to order overseas. I’m still dithering over it, but I’ll probably have to order the BDs for the Patlabor TV series in from the US because the market here isn’t big enough for Madman to do them (they did DVDs but I want BDs if I can get them). And, yes, I have a multiregion DVD/BD player, that was an essential requirement when I upgraded from the creaky old DVD/LD player (which I need to get repaired again).

Another difference is that I’m probably more involved in pure anime fandom now than I have been in a while. I’m only at the edges of Anitwitter but I’m doing panels regularly at GammaCon in Canberra, did a couple at SwanCon this year, and I’m doing one at Continuum this month.

John can be reached on Twitter.