When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I don’t think I “discovered” anime at all – when I was growing up, it seemed pretty normal, and the defining line between anime and cartoon wasn’t defined at all since I was raised with both types of animation from an early age. Both of my parents saw some anime when they were growing up as well, and there generally isn’t any sort of stigma or ostracizing of anime as a medium here. I’d argue it’s pretty normal to know a few anime on hand for any one person! I can’t even recall the very first anime I watched. It could’ve been Digimon, Pokemon, Dragonball Z, or Voltes V. Again, tons of it being broadcasted on TV, with parents that grew up with it being pretty normal as well blur the early lines quite a fair bit.
Can you tell me about some of the ways anime is more normalized in the Phillippines compared to in other parts of the world? For one thing, anime is frequently shown on our local channels, with localized dubs! Even way back when I remember one of our primary channels, either a channel called ABS-CBN or GMA, broadcasted Pokemon and Digimon in Filipino. I know that this practice is still there, and I think it goes as far back as to the era of stuff like Dragonball Z and Voltes V even! So with that localization being there, anime definitely has a broader and much more mainstream reach here—at least with the popular, easy-to-watch stuff!
Also, in a culture where anime is something that everyone has seen a little of, including Mom and Dad, do you think it’s lost its “coolness?” Is it unusual to identify as an anime fan, spend a lot of time watching only anime, and being really involved in the fandom? I don’t think anime’s lost its coolness. It’s not too unusual to find someone really into anime, digging through every season of shows, and being part of meet up groups or local expos. I know that its far more common in Manila compared to my hometown of Davao, but even then, I’d say its fairly accepted to like anime—the usually overly otaku stuff does get a bit of a reaction though, like say, dakimakuras or speaking in what you would identify as “weeb talk” in a serious manner I suppose.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The main thing that appealed to me is the concept and story that each anime carried: it’s drastically different from cartoons, especially so from that period in the ’90s to the early ’00s. Cartoons tended to be fully marketed and produced for a younger audience, with a lot of emphasis on comedy and slapstick: not much focus on action, or drama, or plots as zany and over the top as stuff like DBZ would bring.
One could argue that a lot of anime at the time was also targeted towards children—but the approach just seemed very different. It wouldn’t be as full-on comedy as cartoons would be, and animes tended to be less self-contained within an episode – there is an overarching plot that flows along as the season progresses, whereas cartoons tended to not have any macro progression in plot, and were pretty-much disconnected episodes that didn’t need much if any context at all to watch each one. I enjoyed the progression of anime and the fact that things would change—albeit slowly, in the case of a lot of long-running series (DBZ and its filler!)
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Absolute toss-up: Dragonball Z was for sure the most consistently popular, but so many anime were flowing in and out of my local environs collective consciousness. Often times, Pokemon would be the talk as well, but a lot of anime-based-around-toys would be talked about as well throughout the years – Beyblade, Let’s & Go 4WD, YuGiOh, Zoids, and lots of Gundam as well. You’d have a lot of pop in with Digimon in that mix too. But there were other shows that far less, but more “dedicated” people saw: Cooking Master Boy, Super Fishing Grander Musashi, Flame of Recca, and a few others come into mind.
It wasn’t until I was in about 5th or 6th grade where tastes started to mature. Haruhi Suzumiya popped up, Naruto was growing ever more popular, and a lot of people started gravitating towards those kinds of titles. Granted, most people still stayed on fairly approachable and wide-appeal anime, but a majority still kept up with different shows.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was normal! It didn’t feel like we were into anything different as kids. Just like talking about different Simpsons episodes, you’d talk about what happened in DBZ or Pokemon or Digimon last night, or you go play some YuGiOh with the other kids at recess or have a little Beyblade fight at lunch. It was fun, really innocent and wholesome. Not to say that people I know now are judgmental about likes and dislikes, but it was certainly much more lighthearted before the internet became a big thing.
Was the internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? No, not quite—even though a lot of my early period was between ’99 and ’06, landline modem internet and DSL weren’t ubiquitous yet, and so most people weren’t spending much time on various forums and all, at least for my own circle.
Tell me about how the availability of the internet changed your anime fandom experience when it did arrive. The internet opened up so much when it came into my household! It got me to meet like-minded people online, and helped expose me to more anime! Before then, I’d have to rely on what was broadcasting on TV, so it was fairly limited. With the internet, I managed to find people that were really into specific anime, such as Mega Man Star Force stuff (I was a kid, gimme a break!) and Haruhi Suzumiya fan forums when everyone was waiting for the 2nd season! It really helped broaden horizons, and helped make friends from across the globe with common interests—I still keep in touch with a few members I made friends with at around 2010 from haruhisuzumiya.net to this day! A lot of them are from all around too: a whole lot of Americans, a few Canadians, and a couple of Malaysian and Vietnamese friends from those few sites!
You seem to have a strong awareness of how your experience differs on a global scale and I’d love to know where that came from. The awareness of the strangeness of my own experience comes from talking with all those awesome people online! They always mentioned not having anyone in their immediate area being into anime, or not even having anyone near them aware of what anime is! So they always found it a bit awesome that there could be places where some anime is commonplace that isn’t Japan.
What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? My first anime-related purchase… would toys count? It should be a Zoids kit but I’m not sure which was the first one I bought myself. I think it was the Cannon Tortoise. It probably costed me between ₱200 to ₱500 PHP in, say the early ’00s, which is about $3 to $9 USD—which is a lot as a kid from a third world country! My first non-merch or non-toy buy was a physical copy of Bloom Into You translated into English. No regrets!
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Unfortunately never been to a convention! Despite the large and common following of anime here, my city, in particular, doesn’t get many conventions at all. I haven’t considered traveling to Manila for the conventions in my country, and even though I lived in Singapore, I’ve never attended conventions there either, as there’s a lack of representation of genres I am personally interested in. Also the cost and travel time even in Singapore while living there was kind of a deal-breaker.
Do you think you’d ever be interested in attending an anime convention one day? Why or why not? Sure as heck would be! I never got to attend Anime Festival Asia while I was living in Singapore for over eight years, but I’d love to go at some point in the future! I’d be nice seeing people interested in the same genres I am, and I’d love to meet people from the industry: animators, VAs, producers, and distributors! Besides the joy of it, I’m an animator myself, so that exposure would be great for potential contacts in the distant future too!
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? The biggest contrast would have to be in how combative the fanbase can be now. You see it range from “ship wars” with people’s pairings in shows to outright fights between different fandoms of shows. And then the elitism present from liking certain anime, or disliking certain anime as well. Way back when, it was much more open, and people were excited to share and spread each anime they enjoyed with others! But nowadays you see so much fighting, it’s hard to remember that in the end, we’re all in the same niche together, not smaller niches split down arbitrary lines!
John can be reached on Twitter.