#124: Michael

Age: 50

Location: Raleigh, NC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I’d been a fan of Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets since I was a pre-teen, but the first anime I knew was anime was Robotech. I would have been 18 when I saw it, and I soon learned it was assembled from three unrelated animated series from Japan, which apparently had all kinds of this stuff.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Macross captivated me. This show had a storyline that didn’t talk down to its audience; complicated protagonists and antagonists; a grand space opera backdrop; and transforming vehicles that managed physical and logical plausibility. Honestly, the last one probably was the biggest influence.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In the mainstream, Robotech was probably most recognized as an anime series. Sailor Moon hadn’t hit yet; one could sometimes find heavily-edited and oddly-translated anime videotapes at Blockbuster, but few people realized they were anything more than stylized kids’ cartoons. Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato) had been extremely popular, but only a few older fans knew it was anime.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Once you discovered imported anime, you almost always had to watch it untranslated. Sometimes a Japanese-speaking fan would provide Xeroxed synopsis handouts, but we spent a lot of time working out our own ideas of what was happening. Also, a lot of it was hard on the eyes, since we were generally watching 5th- or 6th-generation VHS videotape copies. Which is another point: back then, if you wanted to watch anything but a very few dubbed shows, you pirated your anime. I won’t defend the practice, but that was the reality.

Can you tell me more about the untranslated or synopsis provided days of anime? Who did you watch it with? Where did you have these watch parties? Where did people find anime to watch, and how did they decide if it was worth watching? Most of what I had the chance to watch at the time came via the Virginia Tech Anime Society in Blacksburg. They had a steadily-growing library of videotapes provided by other fan groups (such as the Baltimore-area JASFA), by Japanese exchange students who would bring tapes back from vacation, and by friends with military and business contacts in Japan. I got to know VTAS people through friends in overlapping fandoms, and many of them are good friends to this day. We would watch in one of the auditoriums at Tech using their AV equipment—not a problem as it was a sanctioned club and besides, half the AV department were members. As far as “worth watching,” that was mainly a matter of “I just got this and it was cool and I think you will agree!” Personally, sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t, but that was fine, it was the nature of the club.

You said that back then piracy was the reality. When did that shift? When did the prevailing attitude around anime piracy change? Piracy is still rampant, of course; back then, the copyright holders seemed not to be very concerned. Perhaps they felt they were building a market for future exploitation (accurate, if true) or perhaps they believed the American market was not large enough to justify enforcement. I believe attitudes shifted in the late ’90s and 2000s as viewership matured, and anime became available by more legal means. An attitude I still hear is, “I will quite honestly pay money to see Series X the moment I’m given the chance to.”

Interestingly, I personally know at least two people who now have legitimate jobs in the anime subtitling industry due to the strength of their work on pirated fansubs. It’s a strange business.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Well… the Internet didn’t exist yet. I am sure there were AOL message boards and Usenet newsgroups, but at the time I didn’t even know where to look for such. All my interactions with other anime fans were In Real Life, at general science-fiction cons, where we’d spend our time debating exactly how you pronounced Nausicaa.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first fan convention was in 1986, and didn’t involve anime. My first anime convention was Katsucon 1, where I helped with the Opening Ceremonies; after that, if memory serves it was NekoCon in 2011. I wore my Sailor Mars cosplay, which went over very well or very poorly depending on the observer. I remember the huge crowds, and incredible quality of some of the costumes, and feeling a bit lost because I’d been away from the fandom for a while and didn’t recognize a lot of what was popular.

Can you tell me about cons back when anime was grouped into sci-fi cons? I really want to hear about the 1986 con (since that’s the year I was born!) My first con in 1986 was a small 200-300 person convention in Roanoke, VA called RoVaCon. I was there for the Star Trek and Star Wars fandoms, and there was a strong literary sci-fi contingent represented there as well. There may have been bootleg anime tapes there—I remember a bootleg of Star Wars—but I did not notice them if there were.

Now, in 1987 I went to Technicon 4 in Blacksburg and was first exposed to untranslated anime in the form of the 1984 Macross movie (quite confusing to a Robotech viewer), Urusei Yatsura, and Captain Harlock. I may not have understood everything that was going on, but I was hooked. This was also my first introduction to anime cosplay: two young ladies I would later befriend cosplayed the Dirty Pair, and one of them cosplayed Lum. I was still a young man and will try not to sound like a creep when I say those images are permanently etched in my memory.

Can you tell me about helping to launch Katsucon 1? Why did you and the founders decide to start this con? I was little involved with the actual production – I just knew through VTAS several of the “First Ones,” as the original staff became known. They knew I was happy to appear on stage and run my mouth, so I was tagged to MC the opening ceremonies. Sadly, I was ill that weekend and remember little of the con. I can even remember if I was a good MC, but I obviously did not wreck the franchise!

You helped with Katsucon and then attended Nekocon years later. What caused the gap in between. Did you fall out of fandom for a while? If so, what drew you back in? I fell out of anime fandom for several years, simply because I had no means of keeping up. It became impractical for me to attend VTAS meetings held weeknights at a venue 90 minutes from my house, and so I didn’t have much access to new shows. Bootlegged tapes were disappearing from convention tables as holders began to enforce their copyrights, and Star Trek fandom was keeping me pretty busy. I attended NekoCon because I moved into the area where it was held, I needed more conventions in my life, I’d never stopped liking anime, and I wanted to get more involved with cosplay. I figured there would be enough “old-school” anime fandom there to give me a foundation from which I could catch up, and that proved to be the case!

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? While some young intensely-serious fans will still try to claim it as theirs alone, anime fandom is now widespread in geek circles and even outside. Almost everyone I interact with has heard of Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Dragonball Z. My first partner had a passing familiarity with anime, while my current partner and I trade showings of favorite work the other hasn’t seen yet. Of course, it’s far easier to watch anime legally, and both imported and American-produced merchandise is all over the internet for all. Cosplay has become an industry all its own; and relatedly, it’s now much easier to be an openly transgender or genderqueer fan in 2019 than it could possibly have been in 1987.

I’d love any photos you can give me of old cons or even VHS tapes from the fansubbing days! My VHS tapes are gone, because with the advent of streaming HD it’s become almost painful to watch blurry 4th-generation SuperLongPlay mode media. But I’ll share some of my pictures – you can find more of them at my Cosplay.com page.

My friends Telf and Denise as the Dirty Pair at Technicon. A life-altering moment.

Me (center) in ElfQuest cosplay, that same year.

Heather and my girlfriend Sonoko as the Dirty Pair, with Paul and myself in the background as Starfleet Vice. (Long story.)

Denise with me as a gender-swapped Daicon IV bunny in 1990. (I had just been in a car accident, thus the crutches.)

Tuxedo Mask for Halloween a couple years later. My friends JJ and Kim joined Telf and Denise.

Sailor Mars a few years after that. For a while I tried to look as feminine as I could when cosplaying such characters.

Me with Kara and Celia as Macross Frontier’s Sheryl Nome, Ranka Lee, and Klan Klang. This was the last time I shaved for a cosplay, as I was getting feedback from partners that a genderqueer look was cuter on me.

Kagami from Lucky*Star, Kotoko from Chobits (the second costume I made myself!) and me with an unknown cosplayer as Mako and Gamagoori from Kill la Kill. By this point, the beard was back to stay.

Michael can be reached on Twitter

#122: Daisy

Age: 64

Location: New York, New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. As the age outlier for your project, I hope my tale will prove amusing. My first experience with anime was in 1967, with Astro Boy. Growing up on a balanced diet of Disney and 1930s cartoons, there was something about this little robot with the squeaky feet that captivated me. There was quite the hiatus between that initial moment and the 1980s, when I was again able to connect with anime.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The character of Astro Boy was appealing, but the sci-fi setting completed the deal. The whole package was so different from the anthropomorphous animals or traditional folktale villains from “regular” cartoons! And, perhaps, being at the liminal stage of entering adolescence may have made me more vulnerable to Astro Boy‘s quest for identity.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? None other [than Astro Boy]—he reigned supreme.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? There was no real fandom, as you can imagine. This was the Dawn of Time, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and watched mostly The Flintstones.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Internet? Computers? Those were part of the sci-fi stories we all loved to read and daydream about.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My generation, alas, was not much for conventions. I also did not grow up in the U.S., so another strike against being part of that subculture.

Where did you grow up, and when did you come to the US? I was born in the Dominican Republic, but after a civil war there my family moved temporarily to Puerto Rico, where I came across anime in the form of Astroboy. As I said, that was 1967.

I first came to the US in 1978, to work on my B.A. in Latin American Studies.

There was a gap between your interest in Astro Boy in 1967, and rediscovering anime in the ’80s. Can you talk about rediscovering anime? The gap between 1967 and the 1980s was due to my going back to the DR for several years, then going to college (a couple of years in the DR, then a couple more in the US), and then taking some time to start a family. Once my daughter was a toddler, I went back to anime as a source of “comfort food” for my soul. In the ’80s all forms of visual culture became more accessible through VHS/Beta tapes, and even some laser discs.

I started attending film school (Columbia College in Chicago), taking animation classes, hanging out with animators. This was the crowd that introduced me to fandom, a concept that had not existed when I was growing up in the Caribbean. Back then it was mostly an individual viewing experience; by the 1980s it had become more of a network if only because no single person could afford to find/own the tapes that were available either through legitimate or under-the-table means. You really needed a group of people who would travel, exchange, copy, invest so as to have a “lending library” that all of us could enjoy.

Back then we survived on strong helpings of Miyazaki, Matsumoto, and more Tezuka. Monster movies would fill in the gaps.

Some of my friends in that crowd would attend comic-cons and other cons, but unfortunately I was too busy and too strapped for cash to be able to take the time to do so. Internet didn’t become a reality until much later, so chatrooms were not part of the picture. Everything was more of a socializing in small group structure – we would have viewing parties, especially when someone from the group would travel to Japan (or Europe) and bring back new tapes and discs. Often we would rely on a couple of Japanese friends to roughly translate as we were watching, since these were not subbed titles.

How would you characterize your experience as an anime fan today? My current day experience as an anime fan is rather peculiar. I am now in my sixties, but I continue to watch inordinate amounts of anime. I follow favorite directors, keep a hawk eye on Anichart to figure out my seasonal viewing schedule, read reviews (Anime Feminist first, then ANN – no others), and am always ready to blather on about anime to anyone who’ll put up with me. I am fortunate that there are enough fans where I work (at a university with an Asian Studies program), so there’s always fresh blood. Many of my students are fans and they get a thrill from being able to talk about their favorites with one of their professors, who takes them seriously! Plus, they will sometimes alert me to titles I might have dissed at first glance (Xam’d Lost Memories, looking right at you).

While I have your attention, I wanted to share my beautiful fandom experience in Cuba. One would not expect a poor, socialist country to have any such outlet – but they do!!! Some of my students there (I’ve been going every year, couple of times a year, for over two decades now) love anime (One Piece, Naruto, but also some of the short-run series) even though it’s devilishly hard to get. There’s this thing called “The Package,” which is nothing more than an external hard drive that gets circulated every Wednesday with hours of content from Florida TV. You can also request content from “providers” – people who travel or have family in the U.S. and download entire series.

And there’s cosplay nights at some night clubs! Capitalism has won the battle, alas, but when it comes to anime I feel less bad.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? I think the biggest difference has come about in the way people interact because of the changes in technology. Obviously, duh, we didn’t have so much as videotapes back in the mid-sixties, much less the internet. Being able to tweet, having access to so much streaming content, podcasts, blogs, connecting to fans all around the globe – these are things that would have smacked of science fiction (sorry, alternate reality or whatever) Back In My Day, as any good grandma should say. I mean, look at how Cubans have formed a solid fandom network in spite of all the drawbacks in their economy! They were not able to do that up until five years ago, when the government allowed some access to the internet. Yeah, technology has made a huge difference in fandom over the decades as far as I can see.

The other aspect that I think has changed a great deal is in the gender relations within fandom. I don’t have to establish cred as a fan just because I’m female, which I got a lot back then (up to the early 1980s).

Were there always female fans, but they just weren’t accepted? Or are there more female anime fans now? I can’t make claims for the number of female fans having increased. I have no way of knowing that, really, since I’m not attending cons and I don’t have a group of friends who can be considered fans who might give me that insight. I was thinking more along the lines of (back in the 1970s and 1980s) female fans in my crowd not being considered “hard-core” because we had other interests, not just anime. If you only cosplayed for Halloween or Mardi Gras, you weren’t a “true” fan; if you only dressed up as certain characters, if you didn’t own figurines or make models, that sort of thing, you would be part of the group but just not accepted as one of the guys.

The same group that I hung out with for watching anime or going to cons back then was also the group that I would play a made-up variation of D&D with, and god forbid that one of us “girls” wanted to create some original character! There would be grumbling, and the “Master” would verbally pat us on the head and tell us to be content with being Emeraldas or Maeter or some such.

Anyway, these same guys slowly came around as we women just did as we pleased or made their lives difficult!

BTW, my daughter grew up around all of this and is to this day a huge anime nerd. I’m so proud of her.

Did you introduce your daughter to anime? Do you watch anime together now, and if so, which shows? Yes, I introduced her to anime. The first things she watched were, obviously, Nausicaä and Totoro. But we went from there to all sorts of other shows: Ranma 1/2, Fushigi Yugi, Bubblegum Crisis, Unico, etc. We both loved watching Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon when she was older.

Nowadays we both work a lot, so we tend to have less time to watch together. But most recently we’ve watched Tamako Market, Nozaki-kun, Tonari no Seki-kun, we rewatched Inuyasha, and I forget what all else!

We sometimes will watch stuff independently and just exchange impressions, but whatever she sees and likes will be a sure hit with me – and vice versa. Our tastes dovetail perfectly.

Daisy can be reached on Twitter

#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.