#117: N’Donna

Age: 37

Location: Victoria, BC, Canada

When did you discover anime? The first anime I ever really saw and connected with was Sailor Moon, when it first aired in the US in 1995. I’d seen anime like Speed Racer and a few Christian titles (like Superbook and the Flying House) beforehand, but Sailor Moon is the one I really connected with.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The mature storylines and the emotional weight of the story. Before I watched anime, many American animated tv shows followed a “monster of the week” formula—it was all about defeating the bad guy while looking both pure of heart and strong. Anime was the first instance in which characters were portrayed with shades of grey. Plus, the animation techniques used were completely different from the ones American shows used.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon definitely had its fan base in 1995. It gained further popularity when it aired on Toonami several years later. Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z were also very popular.

Tell me more about getting into Sailor Moon, your first fandom. Why did you like it so much? To be very honest, when Sailor Moon hit the airwaves for the first time in 1995, it was exciting because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Serena/Usagi was this high school girl with meatballs/odangos in her head who fought the bad guys while being clumsy and imperfect, dealing with an annoying sibling, and hanging out with her friends. She was special but she was just like me—she was a teenager than dealt with the things teenagers dealt with. Furthermore, the narrative was very compelling. Unlike other shows at the time, which were monster-of-the-week good guy/bad guy shows, Sailor Moon featured characters that weren’t perfect and quiet flawed. Sailor Moon didn’t always win at the end of the day. You could see her emotionally react to things and even have a breakdown. Even though the original airing was limited to half of the Sailor Moon R season, I still kept watching because it was just so dang addictive!

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Back then, you had to be in the know when it came to anime. This was before Tokyopop made anime infinitely more popular and mainstream. I didn’t know a lot of people who knew about anime. Just my friend and I at the time were into it. Anime conventions were just starting up—they weren’t as popular as they are now.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Anipike [Anime Web Turnpike] was the go-to site for anime information at the time. This was before Facebook, so I connected to other fans via mail groups and Java chats.

What are mail groups and what are java chats? Describe to younger fans reading this who may have never heard of these before. Back when I first started really using the internet, mail groups were the best way to connect to other fans. On Anime Turnpike, the most comprehensive website related to anime (at the time), there were listing for groups related to various series. You’d visit the website to opt-in to the mailing list, and then you’d have to confirm that you wanted it via an email. Then you’d send messages to the group via a special email address.

Java chats were just that—chats that operated on Javascript. You’d just create a name for yourself and log in. WBS Chat was pretty popular because you could have a dedicated account and use pictures in the chat. It was kind of like Facebook communities before Facebook in a way.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first ever convention was Anime Central 2005 in Rosemont, Illinois. It was the most exhilarating experience. It was the first time I ever saw cosplay and I was amazed at how people spent so much time on looking like their favorite character. Because it was a 24-hour con, I didn’t get any sleep all three days. My friends and I all went together, and we had an amazing time.

N’Donna cosplaying as a Team Rocket grunt from ‘Pokemon.’

You saw cosplay for the first time at ACen 2005. How much time elapsed before you started doing cosplay yourself? Oh, a good ten years! Honestly, as a plus-size woman, I didn’t think cosplay was for me. I had no sewing skills whatsoever and I was just happy going to events. Also, back then, only a few people would cosplay at events. You could tell that they’d work hard and make it all themselves. And I loved that. The culture wasn’t as visual as it is now. A majority of people were dressed in fan/brand shirts and maybe wigs with cosplayers being a cherished minority. It’s not like that now, is it?

As for myself, I didn’t cosplay until my son was older (about four). I felt like by getting him to dress up for cons gave me carte blanche to do the same. Little did I realize that we’d run with it three years later. Every cosplay we create seems to be more elaborate than the one before it.

How does cosplay allow you to express your anime fandom? It allows me to use a costume to embody and perform a moment that meant a lot to me or carries emotional significance for me. For example, the first elaborate cosplay I ever did was Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro. I watched the film with my son when he was just two and we loved the film. Even though this little toddler had no understanding of the Japanese language, it still managed to connect to him. As for myself, it made me feel like a child, imaginative and whimsy, all over again. When I cosplay as Totoro, it helps me to muster those feelings again and it helps me to connect with others who may have felt the same way watching the film. Because my local convention (Tsukino-con at the University of Victoria) takes place on a college campus, I encounter both con attendees and university students. Even if they may not be attending the convention, both groups know who Totoro is! It warms my heart when people want to hug me or take a picture of me because of their love for Totoro.

N’Donna wearing her Princess 9 cosplay.

Can you tell me about an experience you had while you were cosplaying at a con that made you want to keep doing it? Oh geez, I think that would be cosplaying as Mistress 9 [from Sailor Moon] last summer. My friend was kind enough to make the cosplay for me but I still wasn’t convinced that I could pull it off because we look so vastly different (anime-slender body aside). Lucky for me, my friend and I were sharing a room for the event so she was right there to encourage me and be my biggest cheerleader. As I transformed myself bit by bit—foundation, contouring, make-up—I could see myself transforming in the Messiah of Silence bit by bit. People my scoff when its suggested that cosplayers have the ability to transform into a certain character, but it’s true. Little by little, I saw less of myself and more of Mistress 9. When I finally have everything on, my friend gasped and said to me “You’re really Mistress 9!” And I struggled because I wasn’t about to cry and ruin my make-up! Not everyone knew who I was, but that didn’t matter. I knew who I was and I saw myself transform into that character. Now, every time I cosplay, it’s kind of like a challenge of who I can transform into this time!

In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and anime fandom when you first discovered it? Hmm… that’s an interesting question. I think back then, anime was this low-key, under the radar thing that only people who were in the know knew about. Like, if you liked a show and someone who was a fan of the same show found out you liked it, it was a positive thing. Anime was an underground thing back in the mid-to-late 1990s, even if it was becoming more visual. Like, Toonami is credited with bringing anime to the mainstream masses, but anime cons and events were still relatively small compared to now. It was like a treasure hunt – you had to really work hard to find out more about your favorite shows which made you appreciate it even more. My friends and I would pour our resources together and piece the puzzle of various anime series. It was very much a community-based culture back then. I guess what I’m trying to say is that back then, it was more of a subculture and fans treated it as such. Nowadays, it’s everywhere. You don’t have to send money in the mail to get a fan sub tape that has humorous translator notes. I mean, Sailor Moon is such a prominent series that I got to write my master’s thesis about it! People from all walks of like attend anime cons, it’s not just a one-off celebrate created by nerds for other nerds. Parents may have wondered why you were watching animation in another language, but now, parents and their families go to anime cons. It’s good to see that so many people like anime now, but the small community feel is for the most part gone. A good way of saying it is “Anime Con? We e-sports now!” or something like that.

N’Donna can be reached on Facebook and Twitter.

#115: Kristen

Age: 35

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was 11, I stumbled onto a movie called Project A-ko on the Sci-Fi channel’s Saturday animation block. It was an action-comedy film where the hero, a teenage girl who wants to make a good impression in school, is forced into these crazy fights because a classmate wants the hero’s friend to be with her. During the commercial breaks, they would promote other anime movies including Robot Carnival, Akira, and Lily C.A.T.

It was a while later when I found out shows like Samurai Pizza Cats, Maya the Bee, and Hello Kitty were anime. Around that time, I saw Sailor Moon on syndicated TV.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For the most part, it was the animation style. It wasn’t as fluid as say a Don Bluth or a Disney film. In fact, the characters’ mouths weren’t in sync with the dialogue and that piqued my interest.

In sci-fi animated films like Project A-ko and Akira, the fight scenes, the technology, and the overworld were so over-the-top, they looked like expensive blockbuster films.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Samurai Pizza Cats. Keep in mind this was before Toonami existed and many anime were aired on either syndicated or Nickelodeon.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I didn’t even know about fandoms period, let alone a fandom for anime. Not many kids my age at the time were talking about anime. In fact, I don’t think they knew what “anime” was. But then again, I didn’t ask.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The Internet was fairly new when I got into anime. I didn’t discover message boards until a couple years later, and back then, people were discussing episodes of Sailor Moon Stars and Dragon Ball GT.

Could you tell me about when you did discover message boards? I learned about message boards around mid-90s through American Online. Back then, I would spend little time online as the only way I could connect was through the landline, so if I was online, no one else in my house could talk on the phone. I didn’t actually post back then, just read.

However, I jumped into posting on message boards around 2003, while I was in college. I used a few screen names, mostly Anikiki, which is a combination of ‘Anime’ and ‘Kiki’, a name I called my sister’s cat at the time (the cat’s name was ‘Akira’). I made a few online acquaintances, but we would only see each other at conventions.

I joined a variety of websites including Cosplay.com, AMV.org, Nintendo.com, and DeviantArt, just to name a few. On Cosplay.com, mostly I just shared photos and asked for advice on how to make a great costume. On AMV.org, I mostly talked about anime conventions since I don’t usually make AMVs. I made one AMV for a panel at Anime USA my friend and I did about anime in the 1980s, mainly used as an introduction to the panel. On Nintendo.com, I talked about upcoming Nintendo games, Nintendo-related events, did some role playing (I made a shop and an inn called Star Haven Resort (inspired by a place in “Paper Mario”), and chatted with people at Nintendo of America. On Deviantart, I shared my art and ask for advice about art. I don’t usually post on forums anymore as now social media like Facebook and Twitter exist.

Kristen as Suzuka from ‘Outlaw Star.’

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? It was Katsucon 2003. I didn’t even know what to expect when my college buddies from the anime club suggested I come. We didn’t stay long, since there was a blizzard coming. But during the Saturday I did stay, it was a lot to take in. For the most part, I watched some anime and AMVs and played video games in the game room.

Cosplay was the biggest attraction and seeing people having fun, I’d figure I would try dressing in costume in the next convention I attended (Otakon 2003).

Did you? I cosplayed as Suzuka from Outlaw Star, Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog, Ishizu Ishtar from Yu-Gi-Oh, and Marisa Kirisame from Touhou Project. Suzuka and Tails were the first ones I cosplayed at Otakon 2003. Marisa was the latest one, and compared to my other costumes, I felt I had to step up my skills in construction quality and use fewer store-bought items. It is still my favorite costume.

Tell me about the first friend or friends you made through anime fandom. Was it an online or IRL friend? First friends I made through anime fandom were in college. I was very lonely in my first semester in college. It wasn’t until the second semester when I overheard my neighbor in the dorms playing Super Smash Brothers Melee. I joined for a few matches and soon we learned we both liked anime. We watched a few episodes of Slayers Next and Ranma 1/2. In fact, he was the one who got me into watching subs, as he was not much into English dubs. We didn’t talk much after the end of the semester because he was heavily focused on his studies in music and getting into the music fraternity.

However, I did get to meet a few more people, who are still friends with me today, in the college’s anime club. Every week, we would spend the day playing video games, watching anime, and having dinner at the college hangout. Sometimes, we would go to a friend’s house and watch anime, play games, and socialize. It was through them I had learned about anime conventions and we would spend time together at those events.

What was the first anime you really got into? How did you express your fandom? If we were talking about obsessing over a franchise that I would browse through fansites, make fan fiction and fan art, compile a Windows desktop theme, and even build a fansite (filled with my reviews, photos, and fan pieces I’ve done), it would be Mario. My Twitter handle, @starhavenstudio, came from my current website, starhavenstudios.com, which was inspired from my Mario website, “Star Haven Resort”, from my days on the Nintendo forums.

But if we’re talking about an anime that made almost as much as a fan as I was Mario, I probably would say Yu-Gi-Oh. I bought the cards (sadly never played them), cosplayed Ishizu from the show, and joined group photoshoots. At Katsucon 2004, when I premiered the costume, a little girl asked me for my autograph. At the time, I didn’t know what to sign, so I signed my character’s name and my Internet handle.

Finally, can you tell me how your anime fandom is different now than it was then? When I was in high school, not many people other than “geeks” would talk about anime. But when I got to college, I learned I wasn’t alone. There were clubs and conventions people would gather to share their love for anime, video games, and Japanese culture. Because of the club, I did some things I didn’t even dreamed of doing. I didn’t even think about learning Japanese when I entered college, but since a lot of my fellow anime buddies were learning Japanese, or have learned Japanese, I figured I would take a few courses in the language.

I even took some risks by having one of my friends and I do a panel (it was mostly his idea). I was very nervous presenting the panel, even going a little over the time limit. But people stuck around and we even had a discussion, so there were some people who seemed interested.

And with all the times I post anime-related stuff on Facebook, people reading began to get curious about anime and conventions. They were interested in my adventures in conventions and the anime I watched. I will admit it is difficult for me to explain the feeling of my love for anime and the fandom, but I try. I mean, how does one explain subjects like Hatsune Miku, Touhou Project, and some of the popular Internet memes without getting strange reactions? I remember trying to explain Food Wars and its appeal to a co-worker who was curious while looking through the manga. Yeah, it was difficult.

Kristen can be reached on Twitter.

#114: Destiny

Age: 21

Location: Port Saint Lucie Florida

When did you discover anime? I was in Queens, New York visiting my aunt for the summer. She was at work most of the day so I went on the computer looking up different manga (I was a HUGE Case Closed fan) and I stumbled upon the anime Peach Girl. I was hooked ever since!

Destiny as a teenage fan.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
I was 14 or 15 at the time and I was interested in teenage stuff: boys, falling in love, friends, drama at school. Then I find this anime about a girl who looks kind of like me going through the same thing! All I knew before that were American cartoons so I couldn’t believe how real it was.

I’d love to hear more about anime and identity. Was it hard to find American shows featuring people who looked like you or liked things you liked? When I was 14, it was hard to be black girl who liked anime and listened to rock music. It was completely taboo, and if anyone found out, you were either made fun for not being black enough or looked at like a weirdo. Believe it or not my nickname all the way through middle school was Oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside).  In American shows the black character, male or female never dabbled beyond the generic stereotypical interests like sports, fashion, singing, etc. In Peach Girl, although the main character wasn’t  black, she was constantly judged. Because her skin was tan from swimming so much, they assumed she was “easy.” I resonated with her; just because I liked different things, didn’t make me any less black. Watching her deal with that struggle as well as the day to day drama of growing up, really made things easier.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
Naruto, One Piece, Vampire Knight.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Honestly it was difficult . No one in my immediate circle of friends even knew what anime was,  and social media wasn’t really a thing yet.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Without social media thriving yet, I met other fans from my local anime shop or from hanging around the manga section at Borders.

Can you tell me more about meeting people early on? Were you in an anime club? I live in a small town in Florida, so meeting people usually came from school and the local mall. I do remember meeting a couple of  girls in school who loved anime and were judgement free. When I would meet people at Borders, it usually consisted with us trading manga recommendations, and talking about shows we liked. But that was pretty much it. There was an anime club in high school I was too scared to join. I would see them yell anime sayings and one girl even wore her cosplay wig to school. I remember going up and wanting to join them but I heard people talking about how weird it was and chickened out the last minute. I wish I could go back and tell her, “who cares what people say” and at least give it a chance.

Do you remember your first convention? Ah my first convention was actually two years ago! I can’t remember the name but it was in Orlando and it was small. There wasn’t much to do but I was so happy that there were so many people who like the same things I did. There were so many amazing cosplayers.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first fandom I got interested in was Case Closed, later known as Detective Conan. I have always loved Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys so when found this anime I was completely infatuated. I would go online and write fan fiction, make scrapbooks, and try to buy every manga I could get my hands on. My mom was such a huge supporter,  that I found something that made me so happy. She would take me to Borders when they had the “buy 7 get the 8th free” sale and let me fangirl out.

Were you always interested in anime since discovering it, or did you fall in and out of interest over the years? When I first discovered anime it was the only thing I could think about. I wanted to do nothing else but watch anime and read manga. But as I got older, although my interest for anime didn’t die, I rarely found myself any shows.  Since the people I hung out with never even watched anime, I decided to let it be a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I fully merged myself back into the otaku lifestyle.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? To me the difference between fandom from back then and now is, now there’s no social pressure to love what you love. With the Rick & Morty sauce fiasco, Crunchyroll hitting a million paid subscribers, and Star Wars hitting theaters again, it’s okay to be a “nerd.” I talk to people everyday in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older who love anime, and I’ve even learned about older anime that I didn’t even know existed. Everyone has grown up and wants the younger generation to know its okay to be to be yourself.

Destiny can be reached on Twitter or her podcast.

#111: Ryan Elizabeth

Age: 31

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. The earliest anime I ever remember watching are Cardcaptors and Pokemon because my little brother liked them. It’s weird but I pretty much have no memory at all of seeing the anime that fans my age typically started with like Dragon Ball or Sailor Moon. I had very little interest in cartoons at all as a child, I do remember Power Rangers but of course that’s not anime hah.

I didn’t start to become interested in anime until years later when I started watching Adult Swim with my little brother in my later years of high school. At first I kind of made fun of Inuyasha but I ended up really getting in to it and Rurouni Kenshin. From there I started getting in to manga, especially CLAMP and I started learning about and watching fansubs.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I really liked the art style, I love cute things! I also found the stories interesting.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I felt like Inuyasha was fairly popular at the time but in general probably still Pokemon.

Your little brother got you into anime. Is he still into anime? Do you still watch any anime together? He’s still very into anime but we don’t usually watch shows together because we’re not interested in the same things. He likes dubs and I’m subs only 😝

Recently we did watch the Rurouni Kenshin live action movie together though.

Also, what did your parents think of your and your brother’s interest in anime? My parents don’t mind it too much even though they aren’t interested in it at all. We all go and stay at the hotel for Anime Boston together every year. My mother does really hate that we collect figures tough and she calls our collections her retirement fund…

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Right around the time I really got in to anime our local anime convention had just moved to a bigger venue and I saw signs for it on the subway so that was kind of cool. Other than that most of my interaction with fandom was online and mostly on 4chan. At the time I felt like 4chan was a really special place but it’s different now.

The only major difference I can really think of between then and now is the rise in legal streaming sites. When I started I had to get pretty much all my anime in torrents but now it’s all really easy to get (for people in the US) and there’s a much wider selection and you no longer have to wait for the fansubbers to decide to sub something.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes, I pretty much only connected with people online and mostly on 4chan. I also was on a few different forums and livejournal communities but the truth is I don’t really remember any of them!

We know what 4chan is like today, but what was it like back then? For me from time to time I’d meet someone on 4chan who liked exactly the same things I liked and felt exactly the same way that I felt and we were able to talk more openly and honestly about things then we would if we weren’t anonymous, it was just a real cool feeling but at the same time I’m sad that I didn’t know who any of those people were.

I also liked finding and posting fanart there because back then it was so much harder to find Japanese fanart back then, pixiv changed that.

There were always bad parts of 4chan but I used to feel like it was worth it to put up with them for the good parts but now I don’t feel like that anymore. I really don’t know if it got that much worse or if I just finally out grew it.

Do you remember your first convention? Yes. It was Anime Boston 2005. It was exciting. During my first conventions I really loved to go to the English VAs panels and the industry panels.

One thing I clearly remember from one of the first Anime Bostons I went to was that on the last day we had to share the convention center with another convention and it was pretty funny. It’s grown so much since then that they don’t have to do that anymore.

Can you share a little more about what Anime Boston was like when it was tiny? Anime Boston was already getting big when I started going because it had moved to the Hynes. I want to say I remember less lines but actually what I remember is waiting in the longest, slowest lines ever getting my badge on Friday morning. I to remember it being easier to check out the masquerade and not having to go through security 😞

For you personally, what’s the biggest difference in your anime fandom today compared to back then? For me personally it’s maybe my willingness to watch streaming video. Also I used to be really big on buying and collecting DVDs and manga but I’ve cut down a lot. In general I’ve moved away from being just an anime fan and I’m really big in to other Japanese media like music and live action.

Ryan can be reached on Tumblr and Twitter.

#106: Rebecca

Age: 31

Location: Bronx, NY

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. From what I remember it was as Pokemon was catching on right around the time I started middle school (late 1998). The anime had started airing so my friends and I were watching that and one of us found Sailor Moon had been running on Cartoon Network. So those were my first two. Somehow I found my way into looking up information online about both of those when I learned about how edited/changed the versions I was watching on TV were. (Somewhere along the way I discovered Usenet newsgroups.) That lead me to try to seek out more information and try to get my hands on what I felt I was missing out on. By summer of 1999 I had started downloading fansubs, and the rest, as they say (cliche I know), is history.

Rebecca says: “ca. June 2001: Part of my collection including manga that I bought in Japanese that I could in no way read beyond maybe making out the title.”

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? In retrospect: I was a sullen almost-teen who had started to grow disillusioned with the newer US cartoons that started airing around that time (basically, if my little brother liked it I found a way to not like it) and it was certainly different than anything else I had watched up to that point.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was eye opening in several ways. I was in middle school and couldn’t do much on my own, but I could go online and it was exciting to learn about all these things going on in a medium I was just discovering. Plus, at least one of my friends was doing that too (with the help of her older brother and his friends) so we would swap information we found among ourselves, too.

Rebecca says: “I don’t know how I missed this: I left out the fact that I was involved with a webcomic from ~2001 until the start of 2005… which was, not surprisingly, anime-themed. Our characters cosplayed and many of the jokes were anime-related. I helped with the writing, did all of the coloring/effects, and ran the website for it. It was called Bishi Hunters. I guess this was an inside joke from that year’s Otakon? I wasn’t the main artist and I for the life of me don’t remember why my friend was the ‘Yaoi Destroyer.'”

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Oh, without the internet I would have never probably fully entered into the fandom. My seeking information out about what I was watching lead me to an entire community of people. I spent SO MUCH TIME on groups like alt.fan.sailor-moon reading posts (occasionally posting myself, though I feel like those are probably super cringey to go back to now) and reading fansites. I mean, I remember when the newsgroups I was on were freaking out over the coming Card Captor Sakura dub and its many changes/edits and the excitement/caution expressed when Sailor Moon S and Super S were picked up for English dub. (Cousins, really?)

Through the online communities I found, I discovered so many other series, some of which I hold dear to this day, because of recommendations people made online back when I was in middle school. Plus, that’s to say nothing of the fact that once I discovered downloadable fansubs there was no going back.

Rebecca says: “ca. 2000: My desktop w/ wallpaper I edited together myself.”

I know it’s cringey but could you tell me about the stuff you posted about? Did you draw fan art or write fanfic? Did you have any favorite sites, or make your own site? So I actually decided to look and see how bad it was. (Google Groups apparently has the full archive, and apparently there are still active posters?) I vaguely remembered being one of those annoying teenage fangirls (back in the [something]-no-Miko days) but seeing the actual posts makes it so much more painful. I must have been the weebiest weeb before “weeb” was a word, based on my random use of honorifics and random Japanese words. I found at least one post where I “chased [someone] with a piko hammer” IN THE POST! Though at least to my credit I did just find a post I wrote criticizing the whole concept of editing out the gay-aspects of LGBT characters back when that was common practice. (So maybe 14-year-old me wasn’t entirely cringey and terrible?)

I didn’t really do fanart as much one weird cringey thing I would do was colorize other people’s black-and-white fanart (and manga scenes too). I think I may have gotten permission from the original artists and I know I would credit them, but I’d totally spend hours coloring and reposting to, I want to say, alt.binary.sailor-moon? Or somewhere else where all the fanart tended to get posted.

I did also run a website (my first one!) which started off as a rehash of other people’s Pokemon secrets and tips and then turned into a repost art gallery. Clearly I didn’t understand things like content ownership back then? (That also makes me cringe thinking about it.) I used Homestead at first and that was where I started learning how to edit HTML when I wanted to edit how things looked in the WYSIWYG editor, which later did come in handy when I started working after grad school and had to edit pages at work.

As for sites I liked, (and that I remember) I spent a lot of time on Sailormoon.org and Hitoshi Doi’s Seiyuu database. (I was really amazed with how the same actors were in so many series voicing such different characters.)

Rebecca at Otakon. She says: “ca. 2003: I’m 2nd from the right in an attempt to cosplay as Fuu from Rayearth. On my left were my friend and her brother, on my right was another friend of ours.”

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? I somehow talked my parents into letting me go with a friend, her brother, and parents to Otakon down in Baltimore in the summer of 2002. I spent the con with my friend and her brother plus a few other friends-of-friends. I bought lots of random (but also cheap) goods like pencil boards and enamel pins (some of which I still have) and *may* have splurged on a Gackt album (as I had recently discovered him). I basically blew all of my money from my crappy summer job on it, and it kind of stuck with me for some reason.

Do you still have this? How did you discover Gackt and how did that tie to online anime fandom? Oh, I totally still have that CD (and the others I bought in that era). “Vanilla” is still one of my favorite songs ever. For the life of me I don’t remember how I found out about him, only that I have video clips from his first tour DVD dating back to the summer of 2001 floating around on my hard drive. I don’t know if it was a picture I saw or what, but I must have been super taken (and still am, that sent me down a whole visual kei music hole). I’m sure that live performance of Vanilla may have played a part in hooking me further after I first discovered him. There’s actually pictures of me in my high school yearbook wearing a Gackt shirt that I somehow got from the official Gackt shop. (I think a friend got it for me as a gift?)

Rebecca says: “ca. 2003: This was the wall above my desk, decorated in pencil boards, images I printed from the internet, a Hamtaro(!) calendar, and art from the webcomic I was involved with”

What did your family think of your interest in anime, considering how young you were when you got into it? I don’t know if they super minded. I think the main rule was I wasn’t allowed to share my full name or meet up with people from online in person (the regular online safety stuff). They were also skeptical about buying things online (because I needed them to pay for them) when it wasn’t from like, Amazon or something large and well-known. Other than that I think it was just a “this is a weird thing our kid is into” thing. They didn’t go out of their way to support my interest, but they didn’t actively discourage it either. I would have never gotten most of the anime DVDs I ended up with in that era if my parents hadn’t bought them for me as birthday or Christmas presents.

After Sailor Moon, what was the first anime you got really into, and how did you express your fandom? I went through a couple of other series that I was really into (Card Captor Sakura, Kodomo no Omocha, Hana Yori Dango) but the next one I got really big into was probably Magic Knight Rayearth. My friends and I got so into it that we adopted the characters’ names as our own nicknames and would use them in public regularly. It went as far as “Fuu” being embroidered on my badminton team sweatshirt when I got to high school. Around the same time my friends and I also got pretty into Utena to the point where we had an exchange diary thing going. (At that point we had only seen the first 13 episodes as the others hadn’t been released here yet…)

Rebecca says: “ca.2003: Rocking my enamel pins I definitely bought at Otakon on my school bag (yes, I still have most of these floating around in my apartment.)”

In your personal experience, how is anime fandom different now than it was when you first discovered it? Well, the biggest and most amazing change is just the mere existence of near-simulcast streaming and the near-extinction of fansubs. At 13 it amazed me if I could see something within a year of coming out that would be super amazing. Of course, because so few titles seemed to be licensed back then and there was such a lag, fansubs were everything. Nowadays I only see them pop up for the rare title that doesn’t get picked up by any of the streaming services and some of the dramas. A lot of my favorite series ever are ones that I saw as fansubs as a kid. And as those series have come out in (at this point) remastered editions I’ve been picking up official releases.

Rebecca can be reached on Twitter

#100: A.P.

Age: 24

Location: New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember.
My childhood best friend introduced it to me during a sleepover! I had watched Pokémon and stuff before but this was the first time I watched something knowing it was from Japan.

Tell me about your childhood best friend! How did THEY discover anime? Are you still in touch? She’s great! She still watches anime occasionally. She is East Asian, so she was casually exposed to anime and manga pretty early on. We’re still in touch and we’re still close.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
I think the cool superpowers, the pretty boys, the potential to make self-insert characters…

Tell me about self-insert characters! Did you write fanfic? Role-play? Cosplay? I briefly wrote fanfic and tried roleplaying, but I was a snob and hating roleplaying with people who were bad writers, haha. I made lots of original characters though, and some of them are still alive in the writing I do today.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
I think Naruto was just starting then! Fruits Basket was really popular in my school too.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was only heavily into fandom in middle school and it was wild, honestly. My friend group fought and split up over some anime related thing… We would bring manga to school for each other or watch stuff at birthday parties. We wrote fanfiction… it was pretty similar to modern day fandom except I think we wrote in notebooks and read physical comics.

I need to hear about what this anime-related thing was that was so wild it caused a split. Oh my god, I don’t really even remember what the issue was… I think one friend was into anime in kind of a cringe-y way (using broken Japanese, acting cute, eating rice balls and stuff…) and another understandably couldn’t deal with this, so they stopped being friends, and then people picked sides.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time?  A little! The other fans were my friends so most of my memories are from school. I also wasn’t really an internet kid ’til college. I was in an RP group on a forum briefly but strangers freaked me out so I didn’t stay in touch with them.

You talk about anime in middle school and then again in college. Did you take a break from anime in high school? If so, what brought you back into the fandom? Yeah, I took a break! I was still reading manga and watching shows occasionally, but my friend’s interests changed and it was considered childish to be openly into anime. In college I started catching up on some series I used to like and some popular ones that were coming out at the time, and then I met folks who liked anime and were super cool about it.

How have you grown as an anime fan? For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think I appreciate it in a totally different way now! As a kid, I got super into anything I was exposed to because I simply had less access to a variety of shows and comics. Now I can pick and choose what to watch (and I have less time to get invested in a show that’s kind of bad). I also think that’s helped anime fandom become more discerning! 

#99: Trystan

Age: 22

Location: Indiana

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. This has always been a hard question for me to answer. When I was young (talking five-ish here) I had the habit of staying up until 3 AM, and although I shared my room with at least one sibling during this point, we had the luxury of having a TV. What we watched as we went to sleep was a big debate. We had to pick something we agreed upon and for me and my brother it was always Cartoon Network. This meant I was exposed to anime for really as long as I can remember and I have vivid memories of watching Sailor Moon while my mother prepared dinner. Toonami was a great source of entertainment but I was also present when Adult Swim came on. Sure I was way too young to be watching those shows but things like Big O, Blue Gender, Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Inuyasha had a huge impact on my life.

However, there is a single moment in time when I went from watching cartoons as a child to knowing it was something called anime and I owe this moment all to Inuyasha. While in elementary school I got along with those around me but I wasn’t close to many people and I often didn’t really have friends. Early fifth grade was especially hard for a variety of reasons and I wasn’t super friendly with those in my home room class. This meant I often had to find something to do at recess be it asking a group if I could join them (which gave me anxiety) or swinging for an entire recess period. Soon I became fed up having to do this and my laziness lead me to actions I will never be sorry for. There was a girl in my grade who used forearm crutches. Since I had never shared a class with her I didn’t understand what made her different (though I later learned she has cerebral palsy) but I did know that her disability allowed her and her friends to do something no one else could do: sit beside the door which was shaded and had concrete. At this point in my life all I wanted was to sit alone at recess and not be bothered. I should mention that the girl (who will be referred to as A) was allowed to bring a chair outside since her legs don’t really work and sitting on concrete can be hard on her.

Somehow in my 11-year-old mind I figured out the best plan: sit close enough to the group allowed by the door to look like I belong so I don’t get in trouble. And it worked. I set beside A’s chair on the outskirts of the group for months. At a certain point I became comfortable enough with my position to actually follow the group when they would move out into other parts of the playground. Of course it turns out the ringleader (Lets say, S) was doing it to get rid of me and one day started berating me. This is when A, someone I had never even spoken to and who wasn’t assertive in the least, yelled, “She’s my friend,” essentially giving me privilege enough to stay there. It is important to note that my town is small (about 5,000) people and our class was tiny. I knew all of these people and had even been friendly with S prior to this moment. But nonetheless from that moment on I felt easier about my position and free enough to talk to the other members of the group, be it infrequently. Then one day A and another girl were talking about Inuyasha and mentioned a kiss scene. I quickly butted in that I didn’t want spoilers. This interaction along with rotating classrooms finally brought A and I into the same circle and through her, and a very lovely public library, I came to know what anime and manga was and I fell in love with several manga that year. I started reading Fruits Basket, Tokyo Babylon, Chobits, Kare Kano, and other great series. This is a personal journey that means so much more to me than just anime or manga because by meeting A I gained what I believe to be my first real friend in my life and through our connection to anime we’ve managed to stay friends for the last 12 years. Learning what anime was really opened the world to me and helped me forge a lasting friendship I could never (and would never) replace.

Trystan (as Anthy) and A.

What an amazing story! Do you and A go to cons together? Cosplay together? How did your relationship evolve over the years? Like many relationships we’ve drifted but somehow we always manage to get back together before completely drifting apart. Being able to watch anime and discuss it is a huge reason why our friendship has lasted. Until 2015 I had never been to a convention but A had been to many so when I was invited to go to Anime Midwest with them I jumped at the opportunity. We spent most of that convention together and it’s still my favorite con we’ve gone to. Cosplay is something else I hadn’t done until recently while A had been doing for years. For Anime Central 2016 we cosplayed together, something we had each really wanted to do and come to the conclusion separately. With each other there the idea finally came to fruition and was cosplayed Anthy and Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I was Anthy. I’ve always loved dresses like these but I stopped wearing them when I was a kid because I often got made in of. Anthy’s Rose Bride outfit is something I’ve loved since I first came into contact with RGU in middle school and while cosplay isn’t something I’ll do a lot the experience was a special one, especially since I had an important friend there by my side.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? (Especially since it sometimes gave you nightmares!) My mom is probably my biggest supporter. Sure she may not always get why I put so much money into it but she used to watch shows on Toonami and is in general a very accepting person. Her favorite anime are Trigun and Cowboy Bebop and we each them together every few years. She’s also a fan of Lupin III and we just started the newest series. As for my father, well, he doesn’t get it at all. It used to bother me, how one parent could be so nice and supportive while the other is completely dismissive but I’ve grown and my father, in his defense, stopped discussing my hobby in general and since then we’ve had a better relationship. As for my extended family, my dad’s parents were even worse than he was. They’re mostly sports people and my interests didn’t align. Their tendency to pick on me for liking anime and manga is actually what led to me asking for money rather than gifts. I couldn’t stand the way they responded when I wrote down manga titles. They would ask about it but the second you tried to explain it you could watch them zone out. My mom’s mom on the other hand is also supportive. She’s always tried to give us presents we like and so she would take me shopping and let me pick it out or in recent times I’ve emailed her things I want from Right Stuf. She also used to let me use her on demand to watch anime which was one of the few ways I got exposed to new anime in my early years as a fan.

Also, does your brother still watch anime? Actually yes, my brother does still watch anime. Not that much because he’s pretty busy but he still does from time to time. In fact rather recently he borrowed my Naruto omnibus and was enjoying reading that. It made me happy because we used to spend a lot of time watching Naruto.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? As a kid when I watched Toonami and Adult Swim I was often captured by the worlds and story’s that were so different from most cartoons. I’ve also always been drawn to things that scared me which is why I watched a lot of Blue Gender and Big O both of which gave me nightmares. When I learned what anime was in fifth grade my fascination with the worlds and craziness hat often ensued was still in my heart but finding out some of my favorite shows all originated from one place was really interesting. Suddenly having a name for these things made me want to find more, expand the shows I’ve seen, the books I’ve read, and learn more and more about Japan, the place that started it all. I guess by the time I knew what anime was I had already been exposed to so much of it I never had any of the hesitation that many of my classmates had when they saw me with manga or talking about anime. They thought it was weird in one way or another and couldn’t get past their own prejudices, while for me this form of animation already held an important spot in my heart and it meant a lot to finally give it a name. Learning the word anime was kind of like those “it all clicked” moments for me except I didn’t have the luxury we do today of googling things and had to learn by exploration of the manga at the library, these old ADV magazines the library had, and anime we found in the on-demand section.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In fifth grade when I really entered the world of anime I would have to say Naruto. It was late 2005 (the beginning of fifth grade for me) and its popularity exploded. It’s always interesting to me how popular it got because at the time lots of people knew Naruto but didn’t really know, or care about One Piece which had already been coming out for awhile. I would also have to say that Yu-Gi-Oh! still had quite a standing. People in my grade remembered the original series so we often tuned in when they brought out GX.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Well in fifth grade I wasn’t part of the larger world. The anime fandom consisted of me, A, and a couple other people in our grade. In fact liking anime and manga got us bullied and picked on all throughout our school career and when I was in middle school plenty of kids thought all manga was porn and so clearly we were a group of perverts. As for me it was a time of exploration and I remember when I finally got my own computer and could go on the internet I delved into a lot of shows. I finally got to see the last season of sailor moon, I watched Mew Mew Power and Magical Doremi (yes the 4kids dubs) and I actually remember when Haruhi [Suzumiya] had just come out in America plus I watched both Ouran High School Host Club and Soul Eater while they were airing (before I really understood what I was doing was not only illegal but harmful). When I got my own computer in 6th grade I notably got into AMV [Anime Music Video] making on YouTube and this was a huge thing at the time. There weren’t a lot of people using fancy editors just people exploring Windows movie maker and having fun. I had a YouTube account that I won’t say is popular but I was always proud of the fact that it had existed since like 2005/06 and was one of the older accounts on the site. Sadly Sasuke10271994 was eventually banned for copyright reasons and I lost a lot of the videos I was really proud of. Still this is how I spent a lot of my formative years as an anime fan and it helped me learn a lot about both the anime out there and general editing skills (which have come in handy since then).

I’m guessing that was your username. Oh no! Do you have any of your AMVs left? Would love to link one. Haha, yes Sasuke10271994 was my username. I still have quite a few AMVs on my computer but none of those are online anymore.  The last AMV I made however is available:

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? The internet was definitely there but not for me until 2006. I could use computers but it wasn’t until I got my own, in my room, that I started looking at anime online. I spent a lot of time watching anime illegally uploaded to YouTube because I didn’t know any better (I mean, I was like 12 and it was a new platform) but I won’t say I really connected with other fans. I did make some friends but I’ve mostly fallen out of contact with them. I used the internet to learn about anime rather than connect with others. My connections were with my few friends who shared my hobby and we talked a lot about the anime we watched on Adult Swim an Toonami.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? This is easy. While I’ve been into anime pretty much my entire life I didn’t go to my first convention until 2015. Anime Midwest 2015 was an amazing convention and I’ve never had an experience that has lived up to it. I’ve been to quite a few in the couple years since then but nothing has lived up to the pure joy of seeing so many people gathered in one place who all like anime. As a small town kid who got made fun of for liking anime this was a huge moment for me. Plus prior to this if I met someone else who liked anime chances are they were a guy (and I’m not trying to be mean or call guys rude or anything) and they tended to “mansplain” things to me. What hurt about it is that you could see them talking to another guy just fine but the second you, a girl, liked anime they tried to, I don’t know, impress you with their knowledge but it always made me feel like a kindergartener and I didn’t like it. This is probably why I stayed away from conventions for so long but I was very pleased with my first convention experience.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I think the first fandom I got really invested in was Sailor Moon. I wouldn’t say I’ve spent a lot of time in fandoms but I was big on Sailor Moon when I first got my own computer and so I did a lot with it. The only other fandom I’ve really interacted with has been the Precure fandom. I spent a lot of time on MyAnimeList with fans of Precure shows. When I was younger the easiest way I connoted to others was in YouTube through my AMV making. This really helped me start talking to other people who enjoyed the same things as me. I was a huge fan of the old communities YouTube had and it made it easy to collaborate with other people and share what we liked. Since I stopped making AMVs I’ve gotten into figure collecting and blogging which has helped me learn how to express myself more.

Finally, for you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Anime is a lot more widespread today than it was when I first got into it (or rather when I learned what it was and immersed myself in it). This means more and more people are watching and consuming the media and you can have more conversations than ever about anime. But I feel this has also led to more negativity. Maybe it’s because I was so young, around 12, but it didn’t feel like people were so heavily criticizing anime. I’m not saying that all criticism is bad, I myself review anime, but it’s less of a discussion nowadays. Finding a place to really express yourself has become a must to survive in the online world of anime. However conventions still seem to be a rather happy place where people are just glad to be around others that like the medium.

Trystan can be reached on Twitter

#98: Micchy

Age: 19

Location: Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was in seventh grade that my best friend showed me Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan. Trashy as it was, I somehow found it entertaining enough to watch the entire thing. I didn’t start looking for more anime until a year later, though. When a particular Avatar: The Last Airbender YouTube guy mentioned Inuyasha in one of his videos, I started watching that show just for the hell of it (in three parts on Youtube, as the kiddos were wont to do in 2011). From there I started taking my friends’ recommendations of Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist ’03, Ouran High School Host Club, and Soul Eater. It all went downhill from there.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Around 2008, I discovered Avatar: The Last Airbender and got really into it. But if you’ll remember, that was the year it concluded. For several years I contented myself with watching ATLA reruns on Nicktoons, but eventually I started craving more animated serials. Anime was the closest thing to that, so I ran with it. And there was no shortage of anime fans in ATLA fandom to give me recommendations (some better than others, of course). That was how I wound up watching Cowboy Bebop and Baka and Test basically concurrently.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Among my friends, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was all the rage. It might have just been my particular friend group, but that was the show most often recommended to me. (Also: there was one girl who was Extremely Into Death Note, and another who was Diehard Hetalia. Boy, middle school 2011 sure was something.) Poking around Avatar fan forums I’d catch bits of seasonal anime discussion. I think it was mostly Madoka Magica talk, since that show was nearing its conclusion (and hiatus?) just then.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Most of my exposure to anime fandom was through my friends, all of whom were chuuni as heck. We were a bit behind in adopting weeb memes, so I’d imagine it was more akin to the con scene circa ’07 than anything else. “Cake is a lie,” Hare Hare Yukai, that sort of thing. Not a far cry from current anime fandom. Pretty sure there were more anime blogs around then, though.

Would love to hear a chuuni story from middle school. (For example, I only responded to “Ren-chan” in middle school. I’m sorry.) At some point I got a few friends to call me Micchan, but I think the most embarrassing thing I did was do the Hare Hare Yukai in public at a school dance. This was in 2011 or so, a while after Haruhi Suzumiya stopped being a huge deal iirc. I blame its extensive TVTropes documentation for making me believe otherwise.

I also waxed poetic a LOT about the three-act tragedy I was writing. (Inspired by FMA and Black Butler, naturally.) It was mostly an excuse for me to make strange dying-cow noises at lunch, being little more than a string of hopelessly tryhard “emo” cliches. For the record though, I never had a Linkin Park phase or anything similar.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I was part of the “three parts on YouTube” generation of anime fans, so yeah, absolutely. It was just a bit before legal streaming got really ubiquitous, so I got all my anime through sketchy pirate sites. There was no real shortage of people to talk to about anime, though. The trouble was finding a forum that didn’t hella suck.

Back in your middle school days, did you find out about anime mostly from YouTube or from anime blogs? You mentioned both and I am wondering if the landscape was transitioning more to vloggers by then. Vlogging wasn’t as much of a thing circa 2010 as it got to be a few years later. Instead, I found out about “must-see” anime by (lol) reading comments on the three-part YouTube videos. Most notably I remember getting into an argument with somebody over the merits of FMA ’03 vs. Brotherhood, during which somebody yelled at me to watch Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, and Ghost in the Shell already. (I wound up watching and loving the first two, after which I went back to reevaluate my hardline pro-Brotherhood stance. To this day I still haven’t watched Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, though. Sue me.)

After getting a little experience with said “essentials” I started looking to TVTropes (lol) and a bunch of anime blogs for “Top [x] Anime” lists, paying most attention to people who seemed to share my pretentious-ass taste.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
My first con was a tiny local con in the Detroit area. It was mostly a day of my friends and I wandering around the dealer’s hall and goofing off in really awkward FMA cosplay. I don’t remember much besides going home in the early afternoon because there was nothing to do there.

I wound up going to Youmacon 2012 the year after that. I remember going to a few panels, but mostly I wandered around like the clueless 14-year-old I was. Bought a few tchotchkes, that sort of thing. There was lots of Slenderman cosplay. Also, a pair of Mawaru Penguindrum HHH cosplayers whom I later wound up following on Tumblr. That’s about all that sticks out in my memory.

What was your first anime-related purchase and why did you get it? If it’s bizarre I’d love a photo. The first thing I ever got was a keychain with the Death Note inscription on it. Like, it was this steel rectangle with the logo stamped on one side and the Death Note instructions on the other. Completely cheap and useless, but I remember freaking the shit out over just finding merch of a thing I liked. Any way to show my enthusiasm, I guess? Of course, I strung it up on a chain and wore it around my neck like the nerd I was, showing it off to anyone who recognized it. Now that I think of it though, that thing was probably a bootleg; there were at least two typos on it.

The second thing I bought was a trading figure of Mari from the second Rebuild of Evangelion movie, in part to show off my snobbish nerd cred (“look, I like smart anime like EVA!”) but in truth, mostly to look at her underwear, not that I would’ve admitted it. It came in a little box with all of its parts individually wrapped in plastic: torso, skirt, legs, arm, and stand. I probably took a bit longer to put her together than I should have (goddang queer denial) despite being mildly disappointed that her underpants were plain white (“it’s ironic, I swear!”). I kept her anyway, and to this day Mari Shikinami remains on my desk judging the crimes of 14-year-old me.

Today your shitposts are such a big part of the anisphere. How did you first discover Twitter, especially Anitwitter, and decide to start using it? While some folks start out as normal Twitter users that slowly get sucked into the Anitwitter black hole, I was born smack dab in the middle of it. I first got on Twitter to follow @ANNJakeH‘s streams and started using it extensively when I realized some of the anibloggers I liked were far more active there than on their own sites. Surrounded by constantly shitposting anime-likers, I inevitably became one myself. Since then it’s been a gradual devolution of my typing skills. And inhibitions, frankly. In 2013, I had no idea that in four years I would become known primarily for watching bad children’s cartoons and bragging about licking exploding puppets, but here I am. I’m sorry, 2013-Micchy. You deserve a better future than me.

You have a column with Nick on Anime News Network. How did becoming an anime reviewer/writer change the way you interact in the fandom? Honestly, it didn’t! I’ve been shying away from hardcore property-specific fandom in favor of being an anime fan in general for years now, so that hasn’t changed at all. The column in question is really relaxed and casual for “anime journalism,” so to speak, so in practice it’s more an extension of what I do on Twitter (i.e. occasionally make observations between the terrible jokes) than anything else. I imagine that might change if I ever decide to do more formal(ish) long-form anime writing, but right now it’s pretty chill. The only thing that’s really changed is that I occasionally feel remorse for retweeting disgusting memes, because professionalism or something. (Then I decide I don’t really care and go back to retweeting unholy Minion/Heybot fanart crossovers.)

Since you’re one of the community’s prominent queer voices, I’d like to know if anime fandom had anything to do with you exploring your sexuality? Pretty early on, I started chatting with a friend of a friend about anime. One of our favorite activities was to share cute anime fanart with each other for each other’s approval. Over time said images got more and more risque (as a joke, of course!) until eventually I realized, shoot, this wasn’t actually ironic? Girls were… really cute? It took following several queer people on Anitwitter (@composerose in particular) and talking it through to get fully comfortable with the idea of being queer, but after I figured out I wasn’t weird for really liking Sayo Yamamoto’s version of Fujiko Mine it kinda started to make sense. Not that it all clicked instantly! It took a while for me to figure it out. But now that I think about it, I wish I could go back and tell teenage me to quit stressing about it and just enjoy whatever the hell I wanted. After all, who cares about labels when there are cute anime boys and girls to retweet? That’s my biggest takeaway from it all, to chill and be whomever I want with these heaps of fellow anime weirdos. Anime fandom can be great that way.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom back then and anime fandom today? It’s so much bigger! Thanks to Crunchyroll (and other services, but mostly Crunchyroll, shoutout to my boi Miles) it seems like everyone and their dog is at least vaguely familiar with anime now. Plus, now that I’ve found a nice pocket of people who share my artsy-fartsy taste, it feels a lot easier to connect with and hang out with people who like discussing the stuff. It’s so easy to share my favorite new shows with people and go, “Hey, you know you can watch all this stuff for free and then scream about it with me afterwards?” Whereas even five or six years ago it was a pain in the rear to get people to watch anime like Mononoke without going, “Okay, it’s hard to find on most sketchy pirate sites but keep looking!”

Micchy can be reached on Twitter

#96: Anthea

Age: 24

Location: Switzerland

When did you discover anime? When I was around seven or eight years old. I think it started with Sailor Moon reruns on a TV channel I watched often. I bought magazines and other Sailor Moon merchandise, created my OCs [original characters] etc. Later, I started reading manga when I found a volume of Dragon Ball lying around at my cousin’s place. I borrowed all of them from a classmate. Around the same time, there was an anime afternoon on a German channel that I watched quite often.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For Sailor Moon, I liked that it was a team of heroes, not just one. In general, I would say that the first anime and manga I consumed were just different than anything I’d seen before. I cannot pinpoint exactly what it was, it was just… different, for lack of a better word.

Could you tell me about your Sailor Moon OCs? The Sailor Moon OCs I created were based on the original Sailor Scouts, especially Sailor Jupiter, who was my favourite.

I was very frustrated that at some point the focus of the show seemed to be solely on Usagi, so I invented characters that would interact more with the rest of the team.

Since I also wanted them to draw their powers from planets, I did not change that much. So maybe they don’t exactly qualify as OCs, but more as my versions of the characters or “evolutions” or something like that.

I believe I called them “Sailor Super Jupiter/Mars/etc…” (very creative). They mostly had the same colour-scheme, but their clothes were more ornamental and I distinctly remember drawing their sceptres/staffs. I don’t think I spent a lot of time thinking about their powers, I probably thought of them as more powerful versions of the Scouts’ attacks.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Rather below the radar of most people, I think. I participated in online discussions on a German anime site, but did not know many people who were into anime IRL. There was a convention just starting out in the area where I live around that time. Back then, it was very small. Today, it has grown considerably and makes the news regularly. So I would say anime fandom was not obscure exactly, but certainly less visible than today.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes. As I mentioned above, I joined a big German fanpage, where there were discussion boards about a lot of different anime and manga. The page also hosted fanart, fanfiction and cosplay pictures. I still visit it from time to time, but kind of drifted away from it. I do not put a high emphasis on the communal aspect of fandom anymore, but having the opportunity was (and is) great.

What was that “big German fanpage” called? What were the discussions about? Did you meet people that way? The site is called Animexx. I still have an account there, but I don’t log in that often. I mainly participated in discussions about Inuyasha, which was my favourite anime and manga at the time. Discussions were about favourite characters, OTPs and thoughts about how it would end. I think the anime (the original 160ish episodes anyway) were about to end, but the manga was still going and there were discussions about what would become of the characters (would Kagome return to her time etc.) I was also in a group of fellow Swiss anime fans where we talked about how to find shops that sold manga and anime-DVDs and if we had friends IRL who were into otaku-related things. I believe this group also organised meet-ups, but I never attended one, I think I was too shy.

I did have a pen pal back then who was a huge otaku, but I met her through the letter page of a Swiss youth-magazine and not over the internet. The girl I exchanged letters with was a big Inuyasha fan as well and we were in contact for about 4 years; I even met her once. The letters eventually stopped, I think it was because our interests started diverging (I started having an “anime-slump” around age 15 and she gravitated more towards J-Pop and J-Rock which I was not really into), but I have fond memories of our exchanges.

You said the page also hosted fanart, fanfiction and cosplay pictures. Did you participate, and if so, how? I read fanfiction and went through fanart galleries, though I did not actively participate. I did draw a lot of fanart back then (between ages 10 and 18), but I never uploaded anything. Frankly, my drawings were not very good and I did not really feel an incentive to share them with the online world. Same goes for fanfiction, although I did publish some on Animexx when I was around 17-19. They were about Harry Potter however (Animexx is mainly for anime, but there are other fandoms represented as well), since I was more into HP and similar books/movies then and less into anime. I did not cosplay, but I loved looking at the pictures other users uploaded. Apart from participating in discussions, I was more of a lurker.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
It was the one in my hometown (it’s hosted in a different city since 2015, I think), JapAniMangaNight. I attended for the first time in 2012. It was a very intense experience. So far, I had of course been aware that other anime fans exist (even in Switzerland), but seeing so many of them at the same time at the same place (a lot of them in costume!) was somewhat of a revelation. I went two more times and then to another convention last year and I still enjoyed it, but that first time was truly special.

What made your first con so special? This sounds like such a cliche, but I was so moved to see so many people who were also into anime (and other nerdy things) in one place. I of course knew that I was not the only otaku around, but seeing so many of them assembled (most of them in costume!) was sort of a revelation. The first time I attended a convention I was hardcore into Hetalia and there were some Hetalia cosplayers. This made me very happy and I asked every one I saw whether I could take their picture. After that first time and since I started spending more time around online fans, the novelty of seeing so many anime-fans has worn off a little, but I still enjoy going to cons.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? They were/are accepting. My mother especially has been on the receiving end of a lot of enthusiastic tirades about my current anime-obsessions, but since we often discussed different media (books, TV shows etc.), this was not out of the ordinary. My father always remained somewhat baffled I think, but he encouraged me, not least because my initial interest in anime and manga evolved into an interest in Japanese culture in general. He does not get the concept of fandom at all, but since I learned other things through that initial interest in anime and manga, he was never really bothered.

How have you grown and changed as an anime fan since you discovered anime? I have grown and changed a lot. For one, my genres of choice have changed and I have become more picky. When I first got into anime around age 11, I loved action/shonen shows. In my teens, I was a shojo enthusiast (especially high school romances, I adored those). Today, at age 24, I don’t have one genre, but I tend to watch shows aimed at older fans. I tried rewatching some of the shows I loved when I was younger (Case Closed, Inuyasha, DBZ) and despite the nostalgia, I couldn’t get back into it. I don’t mean that these shows are bad, I have just outgrown most of what I watched back when I was in middle school/early high school.

Right now, I also don’t feel very motivated to check out many new shows. Until last winter, I followed at least two shows each season, but I think right now I just want to take a break and maybe rewatch some older stuff or finally get around to seeing shows I’ve meant to watch for ages.

Overall, I would say that I have settled down somewhat. I still get very enthusiastic about certain shows (Yuri!!! on Ice being a prime example, I barely shut up about it!), but in general, I have a more measured approach and tend to enjoy anime more in solitude or discuss it with some people I know personally.

Anthea can be reached on Twitter

#91: Aleda J

Age: 25

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I first got into anime watching Toonami on Cartoon Network. Like any ’90s kid, Sailor Moon, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z took my anime virginity, but I lost contact with the genre as school and reality television took over. I rediscovered anime when I moved away from home and all of my friends after college. Looking for some solace for my lonely nights, I found myself rewatching Gundam Wing and posted about it on social media. My cousin, who has always been into anime culture, suggested another anime to watch, and I’ve been working my way through the greats — and not so greats — ever since.

What was the anime your cousin suggested? I’m pretty sure it was Sword Art Online. They all blur together because I had just moved out of my parents’ place and had a lot of free time at night after work. It was quickly followed by Gundam 00, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Black Butler, Black Lagoon, Ouran High School Host Club, Kaze no Stigma, and I’m sure I’m missing a few.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think I was at the age where I considered it just another cartoon. But unlike the other cartoons of the ’90s which were goofy and silly, anime held a seriousness akin to an action movie so it was more engaging. That’s probably the same reason I could rewatch a series like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing in my 20s. The kid Aleda saw battles and cool technology while the adult Aleda saw political intrigue.

What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Well I wanted to be a sailor scout when I grew up and loved how Selena didn’t need Tuxedo Mask to succeed, so Sailor Moon was the first. Then I would “fight” with my sister like we Super Saiyans from Dragon Ball Z. But the first way I monetarily expressed a fandom was buying Sword Art Online and Attack on Titan shirts and keychains. Just little things. I guess I’m not as hardcore as some. I also read a lot of the comments on the dub sites to see if people had suggestions about similar shows.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I definitely thought I was a solo watcher, and I was a girl. It was very “uncool” for me to like watching it, so no one knew I did, and I didn’t search out other fans.

 What made anime uncool? This was back in the early ’00s, and I was already a little geeky because I was in the top classes in school, but was also an athlete. Watching anime was something that only the hardcore nerds did openly. So some of it was shame (which I regret as I couldn’t care less now, but you know how school was) and some of it was that the rest of my friends didn’t watch, so I had no one to talk about it with.

Also, why was it weird for girls in particular to like anime? It was still very much a time when things were heavily gendered. Boys wore camo and girls wore sparkles (yuck!). The boys looked at me funny because I liked playing with mechs with my barbies or could talk about Dragon Ball Z better than the latest Lizzie McGuire episode. And none of my other girl friends broke the mold until at least late high school, so again I was encouraged to not express my interest in it. I never felt bullied; I was just aware of the slight social pressure to conform to what a girl should like. School was rough, wasn’t it?

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Dude, my internet was still dial-up at the time.

But in college, did you explore fandom online? Where? I read through a lot of comments about shows, take in reviews and watch YouTube Top 10 videos to find new shows that might be a little less mainstream. It’s also cool watching YouTube videos about cosplayers at anime conventions. They’re so creative! But I’m not much of an active participant. Answering questions on your site was the first time I felt like contributing. Sometimes I feel that getting caught up in fan theories or “shipping” certain characters ruins the integrity of the show. I don’t want to change it or over-watch it because I don’t want to ever get sick of it. Nothing against people who do all those things. Just not my cup of tea.

Since you first discovered anime, how have you grown as an anime fan? I definitely like more adult anime that make me self-evaluate. It’s the reason I never pull anime out of my rotation of entertainment. I don’t know how many American shows can make me really think about how fine a line there is between good and evil (think Psycho Pass) or monsters and men (think Ergo Proxy). I’m cool with a little more action and gore (like in Attack on Titan and Berserk), but the shows have to keep my attention. I can’t really sit down and watch long, episodic shows like Fairy Tail because I can follow more going on at one time than that. I need to be fully engaged in a way most anime aimed at children can’t do (like with all the story lines in Baccano).

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’m also a hopeless romantic. I love how anime can capture the depth of love and heartbreak (I’ve bawled watching shows like Your Lie in April and Clannad), show the dark side of infatuation (like in The Future Diary), make me laugh (like in Ouran and Full Metal Panic) and leave me all warm and fuzzy (like in Say I Love You). And the beautiful animation just strengthens each story. People sometimes forget that each second of a live-action movie is perfectly framed by a good director to produce a cinematic masterpiece (Citizen Kane or The Godfather), so we take it for granted. But quality anime makes it harder to forget because it’s drawn. Like looking at a painting.

Aleda can be reached on Twitter