#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.

#53: Jackson Wyndow

Age: 18

Location: New Zealand

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Well, depends how you describe “discover.” I of course watched Pokemon, YuGiOh!, Gundam, Naruto and other mainstream anime, but when I got into it seriously and began critically thinking about it was in 2015, my parents were on a holiday, I had a house all to myself and restarted with Soul Eater.

Well there’s also RWBY if you wanna count that.

What resonated with you about Soul Eater? What does “critically thinking” about anime mean to you? I’d always been interested in anime, but mostly in Pokemon and Naruto. After my parents disapproved of my watching Naruto, I kind of stopped for a while, mostly out a shame for all the shonen tropes. But when they were out of the house for a week and I had the whole week to do whatever I want, I decided I wanted to get back into anime. I’d learned about Soul Eater with a friend I’d met online in a community about RWBY (Which means RWBY is potentially the reason I write about anime). As for the critically thinking part, I didn’t just want to watch long-running shonen any more, but I wanted to watch anime that could be considered artistic in its own way. I did eventually write about Soul Eater, in what I consider to be one of the edgiest posts I’ve ever written.

Why did your parents disapprove of Naruto? The violence, mostly. I remember I watched it once when every one was in the main room and they said they didn’t want me watching it any more because of the violence. Also the fanservice. They still dislike me watching it. (The amount of time I spent to get a license was blamed on all the anime I watched).  But they mostly put up with it, as I tend to keep my hobbies to myself.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was something new and different. At the time I was home schooled and had just moved to a new country, so I didn’t have that many friends. Talking with people online about anime, something I liked and had a cool community that seemed to like me, was a big part of my life.

What country did you move from? What was your new town like? I moved from Australia, where I lived the first 15 years of my life, to New Zealand just after my 15th birthday.

It was tiny. I went from Perth, where the shops were close and anything you wanted to do was within walking distance to a town where there was only one shop that closed at 2pm at the latest. The next town was half an hour away through sharp bends and high hills. It was designed for trucks, not walking. The town also had no one else my age in it, which is why I suspect I spent so much time watching anime.

First you talked with friends online about anime. Did you eventually meet other anime fans in person? Yes and no. There was no one at school who watched it with the passion I did, but I did manage to convince one of my friends to watch some of the more action packed series like Hellsing Ultimate and Black Lagoon, and he eventually got into it. A few others also watched Space Dandy (dubbed, the heretics), but I don’t know if they watched any other series. I started university this year and joined the anime club, but my natural shyness, tests and assignments (Engineering student >.<), and disinterest with the shows they were watching made me stop going. However, one guy at my dorm enjoys it, and another reads Berserk, so I have some people to discuss it with in real life. Continuing the trend I started at school, most of my friends dislike anime, but they have to deal with me.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?Kind of? I’ve never been to a full on anime con, but the anime sections of the cons I’ve been to—Supernova and Armageddon—have always been fun.

I haven’t been to Supernova since I was 12, so I don’t really remember it. But in Armageddon there was a decent section of anime in the main area, with Gunpla, Fate/Stay Night figurines, popular manga, and smaller, slightly more niche shops (ex: one that sold dakimakura) hidden away from the front.

How did you participate in fandom online? Did you write on forums, or blog, or draw fan art, or something? I can’t draw to save my life, so I write about anime with conviction. I took a writing paper for my first semester of university, and I wrote a 2,500 word research essay into why people watch hentai, going 500 words over the limit. However my lecturer loved it, saying that some of the material I was getting into was postgraduate level and I had natural talent for more journalistic writing. I conducted a survey online, and got a lot of support and responses to pursuing this topic even further.

What’s the biggest change between how you participated in fandom then and how you participate in fandom now? I suppose I’m more active on anitwitter in a way, being active in the community of the site I write for, Fighting For Nippon. I’ve also started to get my own ideas of things I would like to write about. As I said above, the sheer volume of responses I got in response to my hentai survey makes me want to take it much further, as I could not find any real writing on the topic that was from a fans perspective, as opposed to a university professor. Gotta get known as a writer somehow, right?

Jackson can be reached on Twitter

#37: Hag

Age: 27

Location: Australia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was eight years old, I lived in a house that was pretty huge and in the countryside. It was very strange, with different family members living at far ends of the building, so my mother would sleep with me in my room and we’d watch TV together in the dark, with light-loving moths and bugs fluttering around the CRT [a type of older TV].

Back in those days, SBS Australia, the multi-cultural government-funded channel, aired Evangelion. My mum, who is admittedly a bit strange, watched it every Saturday. I would have been asleep at that point, but I was of course lying on my mattress, eyes glued to the screen. Naturally I didn’t understand much of it, but several specific scenes and images stuck in my head. The surprise when Unit 01 moves, the strange Angel that invaded the computer systems. The giant eyes in the sky, the shadow that eats the city. Rei talking to herself. The sound of the automatic system as it plunges Eva 01’s arms into the body of the berserk Unit. Asuka’s ride going under Kaworu’s control, and of course, congratulations. I have vivid mental pictures of the scenes, the structures, the gigantic machines themselves. Then, the show was gone, my life took a turn for the worse, and I never got into anime beyond kid stuff like Pokemon until the 2000s. But those robots. Those Eva units will always be beautiful to me, and they coloured me as a mecha fan even without knowing anime as a medium.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think the directorial approach. If you look at western cartoons, they’re very much done in a “flatter” style. Meanwhile anime is constructed like it’s a 3D set. It makes the show feel like an actual place rather than, say, a comic book or a drawing. Naturally not all of either medium is like that but that’s what originally struck me with Eva and the reason I came back into anime.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? As a child it changed over the years, but we got Pokemon, Digimon and, strangely, a straight Animax dub of Cardcaptor Sakura I was rather enamored with. All the kids liked Dragon Ball Z, but I wasn’t into it. I remember the merchandise littering the schools and sports centers though. When I was forced to live in China I encountered different anime series, where dubs of Nadia [the Secret of Blue Water] rubbed shoulders with Jura-Tripper and Hikarian. I quite liked those, they were very different from what I saw in the west. I didn’t really cotton onto their Japanese origins though.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? There really wasn’t one in Australia I could find. I lived in a place that could best be described as plains of sugar cane and bug-infested forest ringing spread-out future development zones and tourist-laden beaches. My mother would rent VHS tapes of “cartoons” at the video rental store, so I found the anime section for my Sakura Wars video and Slayers occasionally, but they were just movies to me.

Why did you take a break from anime? What brought you back? I kind of didn’t have any strong way to keep up with it, I guess? The way my life twisted around was that I ended up living in foreign countries and the television was always useless, there was no time to establish broadband so no downloading or fansubs, and when I made it back to my home in Australia we had what was colloquially known as “third world internet” for a long time. Television took ages to even cycle in American cartoons, so my focus was on things I could actually get: videogames. Naturally I encountered anime-styled characters and Japanese games and became aware of it, but it was only really when I started searching for gamers on the internet that I became aware of people talking about it. A few arguments later, I had broadband, and watching Lucky Star on youtube after seeing someone’s slow-loading forum banner gif of the intro. The limit was 12GB so naturally I burned that out in a week.

What was the first show’s fandom you really invested yourself in? I mean, consuming/creating fanworks, buying merch, etc. Well I found a Lucky Star imageboard, but I just read the doujins [doujinshi] posted as I sampled other shows. The first time I REALLY got into something was Gundam 00, which led to the rest of the franchise and me buying model kits and even DVDs. I joined the forums over at MAHQ, realized I hated these people, and instead followed the show from Random Curiosity instead. There were fansub wars, arguments in the comments, and I fell hard into the drama. I eventually found other places as I watched through Gundam, a lot of them actually small groups of specialty fans on unrelated forums for toys or mecha or sci-fi. I didn’t really get the fujoshi thing until I was in the middle of Gundam Wing though, and it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. Not that I’m big on that sort of thing but I can enjoy it as a part of culture. I think it’s actually necessary for modern Gundam fans to get some joy out of flirty gay-tinged stuff because the nasty “fans” won’t let you enjoy anything else.

How did you begin connecting with other fans? Mostly internet forums. I’d just play around in comment sections on fansub sites and blogs. Instead I connected with people on forums over other interests like games or purely on the basis of friendship born from familiarity, then get them into anime by bullying them into watching it. We’d be relatively insulated on our opinions, then the inevitable march of social media and internet memes dragged into the gravitational pull of places like 4Chan and much later Twitter, where I’m at my most comfortable.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Probably the fansub wars. Back then there was constant drama, name-calling, nitpicking and bullying. With Lucky Star it was A.F.K. or Guerrand, with Gundam 00 it was Nyoro~n or Conclave Mendoi [all names of fansub groups]. The drama and possessiveness was amazing and half the people seemed to care more about the subs than the show. These days proper simulcasting has completely destroyed most of that, and the only people who fansub are ones who really want to do a specific show out of interest. It’s a lot more peaceful, though naturally there’s still plenty of bastards who rant and complain about the lightning-fast subtitles they get (sometimes for free, not like piracy has gone anywhere), forgetting when it took days or weeks to get a show subtitled. Keeping everyone happy is impossible.

Hag can be reached on Twitter

#16: Gary M

Age: 18

Location: Canberra, Australia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Back in 2011 or 2012, I was given a copy of Hyper Magazine [an Australian video game magazine] and the back cover was dedicated to anime reviews. This issue had come with a DVD with a two-episode sampler of High School of the Dead as well as a couple of trailers.

I had also been a big fan of the One Piece manga without knowing that it was related to anime for a couple of years by this point.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Well at first it was violence and tits, but in the series shortly after discovering it, I found that there were cool stories When I was 12, I discovered Deltora Quest and enjoyed it for this reason.

What did you think about High School of the Dead? How was it different than anything else you’d seen? I thought High School of the Dead was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Mostly because of the ecchi elements of it, but also the fusion with the action oriented elements of the series. Nothing that I had seen before it had looked or sounded like this show, nothing had a similar subject matter and nothing had shocked me as much as when I saw that first episode. It was really surprising to me to see it as something that could exist and that I had never heard of something like it.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I think at the time it was Blue Exorcist.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? In the area I lived at the time (a small town in the countryside), I was the only person who was watching anime online. Other people around me were watching whatever the local DVD store had or what was on TV (mostly 4Kids).

How did you connect with other fans?  For a while, I didn’t. But eventually I found the forums of the sites that I was using to stream and this was in a period where I had extremely inconsistent Internet speeds, so on weekends or after school I would lay on my bed and just refresh the tab the forum was in while I waited for the episode to load in another tab. Eventually I found out about 4chan and I started using that as my main contact with other anime fans.

What was fandom like online? Were there certain sites people who were into anime congregated at? From my memory, the only places people were really talking about anime where 4chan and YouTube. I do remember some shows having their own forums or having a discussion section on their wiki. The fandom surrounding anime was really fractured from the way I remember it. People would stick to the things they liked and not really branch out that much.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? Excluding things like YuGiOh and Pokemon cards, it would have been a figure of Charlotte Dunois from Infinite Stratos. She was wearing her piloting suit. It was a Sega Arcade figure so it was really low quality—I think it cost like $10 [Australian dollars] + shipping from AmiAmi.

Do you remember your first anime convention? It would have been Gammacon 2014. It was on the second floor of a hotel. It was more of a split between anime and gaming, not just an anime con. There was a small merchant area which had all these tables set up and it was mostly bootleg merchandise.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? I think the community has become more focused on the here and now of anime. While there are still people who are talking about older works (especially in the academic research area), they are much less common and people are in a way forgetful of past anime. Back when I started getting into anime discussions I saw active discussion about Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and I don’t see that kind of thing today.

Ultimately, I think I was lucky with the time I got into anime because it let me experience two generations of anime discussion and culture—the new stuff, plus the old stuff people were still discussing. Now I think the culture is more and more based around the transience of anime as entertainment.

Gary can be reached on Twitter and YouTube.