#126: Gwynevere

Age: 26

Location: Rochester, NY

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. This is a difficult question for me because I feel like there are 2 distinct points when I “discovered” anime. I watched Pokemon VHS tapes my Mom got from the library because we didn’t have cable, but I had no idea what “anime” was. I really learned about an anime when I discovered Naruto in junior high and was so enthralled with it that I binge watched it on YouTube (Yes, in 360p resolution and each episode split into 3 videos). I got far enough into the series that only subbed episodes existed and had the epiphany that this series about ninjas with Japanese names for everything was Japanese. I could be oblivious at times.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? That they were different from American cartoons in the right ways. American cartoons were/are pigeonholed into being either comedies for kids or comedies for adults. Even the most generic shonen anime shows had more thematic and emotional variety. Plus, I’m a sucker for long narratives.

Also, perhaps just as important, anime was a space for people who are different. I was a “weird kid” even before I discovered that I was transgender and anime has helped me through my life journey the whole way.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I don’t think I really joined the “anime community” until late high school/early college years. Attack on Titan soon became the new hotness, but I recall Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Monogatari, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Sword Art Online, and K-ON being also popular.

I tend to seek out shows based on topic and recommendations more than popularity, so I rarely watch things when they come out and do really keep track of trends.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I don’t know if I would call myself obsessed, but I basically only read/watch Naruto for the entirety of junior high/ high school. I realized pretty early on in my life that my hobbies were niche and no one wanted to listen to me talk about them, so I mostly just read a lot of fanfiction at the time but expressed no outward interest in it. It wasn’t until college that I actually met other people who were interested.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was great at the time, at least as a consumer. I started buying anime DVDs in the early 2010s and the access and pricing were so much better than in the ’00s or ’90s. If there was something I wanted to watch, it was only a few clicks away either via an online retailer. It’s even better now with all of the legal streaming sites, but it was still very convenient.

Reddit wasn’t the world encompassing behemoth that it is now, so anime focused forum boards and fansites still had some life in them. I still fondly remember some of the WordPress anime reviewer sites I’d frequent and wish that they hadn’t moved on.

Can you tell me more about the WordPress blogs you used to read? Do you remember any of their names? Some of my readers might, too! Mainichi Anime Yume was one that I read for a while, although she started slowing down output when I started really reading. I forget its name, but there was a blog that “Arkada” from Glass Reflection and Jacob Chapman from ANN used to write on (I think). It’s been many years since they were associated with it, but I recall reading a little on it. I don’t know if it was WordPress or not, but I barely remember the exact format. [Editor note: I think this is That Guy With The Glasses, now known as Channel Awesome. This is the DesuDes Brigade, thanks to Brainchild for figuring it out! ] Oh yeah, and Anime Maru. I was writing for our college’s satire magazine regularly at the time, so I appreciated an anime version of the Onion.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet was a massive source of information about anime, but I’m generally shy online, so my fandom experience was deeply tied to my college’s small anime club. The club itself usually only had 15-20 people show up on a good night, so it was small enough to be its own social circle. More specifically, it was functionally another LGBT club, except half the people there didn’t know it (myself included).

The LGBT-friendly themes and tropes drew us all together, and lacking another space to be ourselves, we turned it into our own socializing space, where Friday night anime viewings led to late night partying. It was pretty clear, especially in my later college years, that this was a massive turn-off to a large number of potential recruits who wanted a more traditional viewing experience. I recall that another anime watching group popped up at the time and we joked about it being the “straight-people anime club”.

My experience with a post-college local anime club has turned out much the same way, so if anything I owe anime a debt for like 90% of social life.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
The first convention I ever went to was GeneriCon at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. It’s a tiny convention mostly focused on anime and our anime club organized a day trip there. I was only a college freshman and didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed shopping at the artists’ alley and seeing the cosplay.

My second convention, the following year’s trip to GeneriCon, overshadowed the first year’s. I was anime club treasurer and, for some reason, in charge of both funding and chaperoning the whole thing. The club mitigated to cost of hiring a bus by splitting the cost with the Japanese culture club, but despite being only a sophomore, I was put in charge of keeping track of a dozen other college students because the rest of the club’s leadership had no interest in going.

The cosplay I had chosen, Kyoko Sakura from Madoka Magica only added to the stress. It was only the second time in my life I had worn women’s clothes and I was still extremely nervous around strangers because of it.

Thankfully, anime conventions are generally tolerant and everything went smoothly otherwise. Most of my convention memories blend together but finding another Madoka Magica cosplayer there who took a picture with me and complimented my outfit still sticks out. It was a very validating moment.

Gwynevere as Kyoko from Madoka Magica.

I’m interested in hearing about your anime fan timeline as lined up against your transition timeline. How did anime fandom figure into your transition? Were there any shows in particular that helped you define your identity? I think videogames were more directly influential (Thanks, character creation screens!), but Madoka Magica was definitely something I was into very much in college. Like I watched it 10 times across 3 years. It’s not really trans but there are lesbian undertones and I identified with the characters. Like me and my (also trans) best friend got Kyouko/Sayaka cosplays with the intent of being a pair. If anything, I’d wanna go back and tell myself (and everyone) else to watch other magical girl shows because they’re also good in similar ways.

Wandering Son is the only LGBT specific one I watched before I came out and I definitely enjoyed it, even as someone who wasn’t aware of their own feelings. I still remember basically begging the anime club people when I presented it one night to not make crude jokes or riff on it like they did with other shows. Even then, I knew it was important to myself and knew that the LGBT community was valuable to me. LGBT anime is something I seek out much more now that I’m aware of my own gender, but I think just hanging out with a bunch of LGBT people all the time in the anime club was a strong push in the right direction.

Did you find support within the anime community during your transition, and if so, could you tell me how? I’d like to know how your anime club reacted. I was one of the last people in our group to figure out I was LGBT in our group (I was just an ally who cross-dressed for a while), so they were all super supportive of me. It was just sort of a natural shift and I don’t think anyone was that surprised.

Gwynevere as Hungary from Hetalia.

In general, I find many parts of the anime community to be accepting and I don’t think I’ve faced too much transphobia at cons and the like. Cross-dressing cosplay makes my wearing women’s clothing perfectly acceptable, but I get misgendered more often because everyone thinks I’m a cross-dressing man. It’s a frustrating trade-off.

I’ve found that many trans women find solace in anime because of the differences in what is culturally acceptable in the medium. I used to and many other trans women still do think of some anime characters as “transitioning goals”, which can give us hope, but I also think instills some unrealistic and harmful ideas about what one’s body should look like.

Much worse are the negative portrays we get, especially in hentai. I still hear people at cons saying the word “trap” and “futa” to refer to trans women and it’s very hurtful and reveals that we’re simply a fetish for a lot of people.

I think that a lot of LGBT anime/manga suffers from being made primarily by cishet people and they bring a lot of (sometimes unintentional) shitty attitudes towards us that I find off-putting. Toxic relationship and “forbidden romance” elements stain many otherwise enjoyable works. There’s definitely good stuff out there, but it takes a lot of work to wade through the dreck.

Open transphobia exists, especially in the more unsavory parts of the community, but there are plenty of allies and comrades in the greater community who I’m thankful for. It’s definitely a safe place in my life.

Gwynevere as Gardevoir.

I would love photos of your Kyoko cosplay (or any others) if you would like to share! I cosplayed as Kyouko from Madoka Magica, an alternate costume version of Hungary from Hetalia, and a DIY Shiny Mega Gardevoir [from Pokemon]. They’re… God I look so bad in those shots. Let the record show that I’m way hotter now.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? The switch from DVDs to Streaming as the primary way of legally watching anime. Like I think it brings in a much wider audience and keeps fans from leaving because of restrictive DVD costs. What I’m able to cue up on streaming sites strongly influences what I watch, fortunately and unfortunately.

The switch to Reddit for anime discussion, along with every other hobby and topic, is super noticeable and it displaced at least a couple forums. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not really in a place to challenge it, so I just have to come to terms with it.

Gwynevere is not on social media. You can leave a comment for her here.

 

#125: Lynzee – “My ‘Anime Origin Story’ Is #MeToo”

Note from the editor: this project’s 125th installment is formatted differently than previous posts. Unlike the interviews that I conduct with most participants, this submission is published in the essay format in which I received it. 

Why the break in routine? Because this project doesn’t simply aspire to be a celebration of anime fandom, but an archive of fan narratives. Lynzee’s account is graphic and at times, difficult to read. However, it’s an important reminder that while we all love anime, the circumstances that brought us to seek it as a solace are not always ideal. I’m honored that Lynzee has chosen Anime Origin Stories as the platform to share her essay. 

Content warning for sexual abuse. The essay published is below the cut. 

Continue reading “#125: Lynzee – “My ‘Anime Origin Story’ Is #MeToo””

#123: JJ Kelley

Age: 48

Location: Wiltshire, UK

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was a kid, most of my friends were watching Scooby Doo, but I was crazy about a show called Battle of the Planets. I think it was the first cartoon where the good guys had setbacks and suffered. I noticed that the 7-Zark-7 bit was weirdly out of place, but ignored it. It wasn’t until years later that I found out it had been a severely edited anime show called Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman.

Years later, during my first semester at Virginia Tech in the US, there was a thing on campus called AnimeFest. I was bored and curious. I opened the door to a dark video room, and the guy in charge nearly fainted at my feet… literally, because he hadn’t eaten in 24 hours as he was getting everything prepared. I helped his roommate get him to the car… and found myself in charge. First anime I watched there was Tonari no Totoro. Age 17, and it stuck.

Two years later, I was president of VTAS, the anime club there.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Bad guys sometimes win, and good guys get to suffer a bit in order to reverse that. Blew my mind as a kid.

By the time I hit university, though, it was the amazing visuals of the Miyazaki films that really caught me.

Still, I can’t deny that it’s the whole darkest before the dawn trope that still works for me.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Ranma 1/2 was big, well, anything that was Rumiko Takahashi, really. Not really my thing, as I wasn’t really into farce.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Totally different from now. Utterly. Back then, we’d trek up to Washington DC to meet with another club, and daisy chain dozens of VCRs together to get unsubbed anime from either tapes made by US military guys in Osaka or wildly expensive laser discs. Our club had a gigantic suitcase full of tapes.

During my year as VTAS president (1990-91), I managed to, ah, persuade Virginia Tech to buy us an Amiga and a genlock for subtitling. Nearly talked them into getting us a set-up to make our own cel animation. If this sounds crazy, it was mostly due to the fact that we had 300+ club members and were the largest non-sports related club on campus. Our Tuesday meetings had a minimum of 200 people. This was all people willing to watch raw untranslated anime.

So, once we had the machines, during my term and the next year, I subbed shows for the club meetings and our twice yearly Animefest weekends. Taught myself Japanese just to know when to hit the enter key for dialogue. That first year, the subs made the club explode even larger, but then the titles I was subbing were Record of Lodoss War and Gundam 0083. I managed to con the club into watching Legend of Galactic Heroes as well with selective edits of the cool ship battles. By the time people realised it was a “talking heads” show, they didn’t care.

“Subtitling whilst barefoot, probably in 92′, maybe 93′. The tapes with the orange stickers are the club’s rental tapes. You can see the two VCRs (both with the VTAS labels) linked for subtitling. On the floor next to my right foot is the massive kanji dictionary. I’m working on the Amiga 2000, the genlock is on the left side of the table. And awwww, my old NES. I have no idea why I was using a Christmas biscuit tin as a seat.”

We had one AnimeFest in 91′ where we fan-premiered the Silent Möbius film that I subtitled for the event. What a nightmare. I worked for two weeks timing the subs for it, even bought the CD so I could translate the ending song, and still, somehow the whole thing was lost hours before the event. We hacked the auditorium set-up, and I subtitled the damn thing live in front of 500+ people. (Seriously glad the fire marshal didn’t show up. We definitely had more people that we should have in there.) I made two mistakes, and one was during the ending song. I can’t listen to “Sailing” without twitching.

I stopped fan-subbing once companies like ADV and Animego started doing some seriously good stuff. As I’d only subbed for my college club, not for sale at cons or even in the post, it wasn’t a big thing. Viz did some nasty saber-rattling at that time as well, but their Ranma subs were pretty horrible back then.

It was during one of the VTAS AnimeFests that Larry Drews and Chris Impink started making noises about starting an East Coast anime convention. AnimeFest already had a huge audience coming from out of state as well as from Tech, we had a guy selling bootleg Chinese knock-off CDs, a bunch of fan art on display under the stairs, people wearing stuff, a program book… And that’s how Katsucon started, really.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? There was email, and basic stuff, but this was before Mosaic introduced all the pretty pictures to the Web. So we’d get some subtitling scripts from other clubs, or swap timings, but most of our interactions with other clubs were face-to-face at either SF cons or by attending their meetings. I drove up to DC for weekend taping marathons, drove down to Raleigh NC a few times for the UNC’s club anime weekends (where I had to console a Japanese expat who had no idea about how Minky Momo died.)

[Editor’s Note: After the show’s toy manufacturer sponsor backed out, the animators had Minky Momo get hit by a toy truck. It was brutal.]

“The Katsucon Ichi (I think). I’m talking to Jan Scott Frasier (Director Studio IG at the time, worked on Evangelion) in front of the dealers’ room in the Virginia Beach hotel. “

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Katsucon Ichi, where I was Head of Art Show. (The first three years or so, we used the Japanese numbers for the con, but I think after San/3 we stopped as it was just confusing people.)

I ran the Art Show for the first few years there. Back then, the Art Show was huge. Now it seems to be an afterthought, with most fan artists being in the Artist Alley. For Katsucon 3, I had so many artist submissions that I had to choose whose work to hang. Biggest artist influencer during those years was Clamp Studio due to X. We had a small sectioned-off Hentai area, which I nixed after the third year because no-one would hang anything, the chickens. I used Magic the Gathering cards clipped in half for the baggage check and nearly made Bob Woodhead of Animego cry. (He wandered around that first year with a deck just to flash his damned Black Lotus card around.)

Artist Alley didn’t exist back then, so you’d find me, Rob DeJesus, Fred Perry and a bunch of others hanging about outside the art show drawing on tables placed there for water coolers. One friend of mine who shall remain nameless handed over a sketchbook to DeJesus and, when asked what he’d like drawn, replied “Whatever!” Mistake. Sleep-deprived and punch-drunk artists granted carte blanche means a whole sketchbook full of anime-style porn with an increasingly outrageous use of Pocky.

“Katsucon Ni, 1996. All the main female staff for the con. We couldn’t be in the Masquerade (aka, Cosplay contest), so we intro’d the groups as the Sailor Scouts. I was Mars. I managed to run in those heels during some con chaos that needed senior staff. Nothing better than dealing with hotel management in a sailor fuku to be a real pro.”

Being con staff in the ’90s was incredibly different. No corporation, just a bunch of fans. So much more casual. I looked in on a meeting for Katsucon a few years back, as an alumnus. It was insanely complicated. The early cons, Japanese guests were easy to get. The idea of US cons was new to them and the publishers. Katsucon got Masakazu Katsura [manga artist for Video Girl Ai, character designer for Tiger & Bunny] as a guest by offering time at a gun firing range. Staff couldn’t be in the Masquerade (the term from the SF cons, we hadn’t started using cosplay then), so a bunch of female staff dressed as the Sailor Scouts for fun. I was Sailor Mars if you find the photos online. We made all our own costumes and props. Either the second or third Katsucon, I made two life-size Azaka and Kamidake, the Jurai guardians from Tenchi Muyo, out of free-standing lamps and hula hoops. They became the big photo-op prop that year.

Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z had started airing on TV, so we had a bunch more small kids than we’d expected. Lots of bewildered parents being dragged around by pre-teens then. The dealers’ room was a bit caught off guard that first year, but then so were we.

“… And then the damn Con Dance guys showed up and totally outdid us. Somewhere I have a photo of me and Rob Lantz striking the Mars pose together. We still refer to each other as ‘My Twin.'”

You’ve spent a lot of your time as a fan in leadership roles, as a club president, a convention founder, and convention staffer. Do you continue to seek out roles like this today, why or why not? I’ve moved back to the UK, and did join a club in Bath for a while. It was very small and met in the skittles room in the basement of a pub. Having a pint and watching anime was rather fun. But I wasn’t anything more than a fan there. Now I work in the comics industry (DC and Marvel, not manga), I’ve mostly slid out of anime fandom. I keep up to date to some degree, and whenever I visit the US and the timing is right, I go to Katsucon.

Because of your roles, did you mainly interact with fandom in person? How did the internet change that, if at all? Fandom for me was almost entirely in person, other than getting translated scripts for subtitles back in the early ’90s. Most of us subbers were at university, so we all had college email. Still, really no social interaction that way, mostly just swapping scripts and timings. Now, all my interactions with anime fandom are online and not in person. Bit sad, really.

Also regarding the internet, do you remember any of the old sites or forums you frequented in the early days, and could you tell me about them? I did do a bit of BBS stuff, friend of mine ran one,  but not much. Later in the ’90s, past my subbing days but well into the Katsucon years, I did a fair bit of chatting with Jan Scott Frazier over ICQ, mostly chatting about anime soundtracks. Cowboy Bebop in particular. But I can’t recall much more.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Age 9: Battle of the Planets. I was absolutely nuts about that show. Had the lunch box. Made a watch and a helmet out of tinfoil and cling film. Did a lot of jumping off high things. I’m surprised I lived through it. Later found out about APAs and was sad that I’d been too young for it. (probably just as well, or I’d have had an early encounter with slash/yaoi.)

In my university years… Might be odd to say, but I never went crazy mad about any particular show. Plenty of shows I’d press on others, especially with the VTAS voting tapes. I was desperate to get people to watch more than Maison Ikkoku, which I seriously loathed. First show I was genuinely surprised by liking was Marmalade Boy. Everything I hated in an anime. Sports, miscommunication, slice of life, high school drama? Ugh. Yet not only did I watch the entire series, I kept the tapes for ages. In fact, wouldn’t be surprised if they’re upstairs somewhere still. I’m looking around my office, and other than a book on the art of Studio Ghibli and a bunch of ancient NewType mags, I’m oddly anime fandom free.

Another photo of the Sailor group from Katsucon Ni.

Wait, what’s an APA? Stands for Amateur Press Association. There’s a Wiki page on it, but look at it as a Tumblr post for the pre-internet geeks. They were started by amateur press owners in the 1870s, and many still run today. A number of the SF ones led some big authors down the path to writing professionally.

By the time I first saw one, BBS had more or less killed them off (despite the lack of art, which was one of the pluses for an APA.) Friend of mine showed me her collection of Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets APAs, which were amazing. Fanart, fanfic, and of course, slash, because Berg Katse [from Gatchaman] and his makeup were just too much temptation. Anime-oriented APAs provided synopses for anime (pre-subbing, so these were like gold), information on upcoming series, news about toys. Friend of mine managed a brilliant prank in one, where he gave a loving synopsis for a series called Hoi Polloi, art and album info included… and the thing never existed. I don’t have any personally.

Oh, and APAs are still a thing here in the UK. I’ve seen them at Gosh Comics in London.

Today you live in the UK. How do your experiences of the US and UK anime fandom communities differ? Mmm, I should explain. My mum is British, my dad is American. I’m very transatlantic. I think I’ve now lived equal time in both countries. Until my mid-twenties, I came over to the UK mostly for either summer or Xmas holidays.

I didn’t meet the UK fandom until I was subbing in the 90s. Can’t recall how it came to be, but I did end up meeting a crew of Londoners because of the internet. I first met Helen McCarthy back in the days of Anime UK. Managed to watch the UK dubbing of All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku because of her, which was hands-down one of the oddest anime experiences ever. They really stretched to get as many UK regional accents in as possible, and I nearly died at the one they chose for Nuku Nuku. Later on, we showed it at Katsucon (something that would be so illegal now, oops, but we were really clueless that first year). I brought over a lot of UK animated work, including the first Aardman Studio film, A Grand Day Out, as well. A clay animation called The Trap Door was a huge hit with VTAS. Many of the older UK fandom are just as intense about Gerry Anderson as they are about anime.

The UK anime fandom, as I’ve experienced it, are a tight bunch. Might be because one of the first anime introduced to the UK was Urutsukudoji, followed by Akira. It sort of cemented the idea of anime being porn and violence in the mainstream. But again, I’ve really not been involved with it much.

“Otakon 1 or 2.”

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? We were idiots. No, seriously. It was so casual back then. No pressure for perfect photos or costumes. It was all home-made. You had to go to tremendous lengths just to see new stuff, and subtitles were an amazing bonus if you could find them. There was one show that we thought aired in black and white, but we found out was in colour, only our copy was so many generations down the line that the colour had warped. Then we got the final episode of Gunbuster, and thought it had happened again. We’d get tapes from friends, from army bases, from strangers in trenchcoats, and some times we had no idea what the show was before we’d put it in the VCR. It was like anime Gatcha. Sometimes you’d find that a show with a weird title was something utterly amazing, other times you’d find you’d been given tentacle porn. My poor roommate. She was cataloging the tape library, and after watching Creamy Mami, she stumbled across Cream Lemon [NSFW]. Oh so very not the same thing. But you just didn’t know. Friend of mine created a spoof anime synopsis for an APA, and I think it spread across the US as a rare hard-to-find show. We’d go through all the NewType issues, trying to figure out what was airing.

Today, no mystery. Advance info for every show coming and going. Easy access to everything with Hulu and Crunchyroll, all in mint quality. (Dubs are still a mixed bag though.) I’m a mix of envious and sad. I do think that if I was the same age I was when I first stumbled into that Animefest right now, I would have only stepped shallowly into the fandom. The sheer flood of it, the high pressure at the cons… I’d have kept to myself. I think it was easier for introverts back then.

JJ Kelley can be reached on Twitter

#122: Daisy

Age: 64

Location: New York, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daisy can be reached on Twitter

#120: Kara

Age: 38

Location: Newport News, VA, USA

When did you discover anime? Anime has always been part of my life in some form—I watched Unico as a kid and a little bit of Sailor Moon when it boomed—but I really became interested in college, after a high school friend had spent ages telling me how great Slayers was.

I joined my college’s anime club, the William & Mary Anime Society (WMAS), sight unseen, with no knowledge of it whatsoever. I enjoyed our viewings of Revolutionary Girl Utena and The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, but it was a viewing of Castle of Cagliostro that finally roped me in and made me fall in love with anime as an art form.

It’s incredible that you joined “sight unseen.” Did you have any preconceived notions about what anime was going into it that made you want to join a club? So I was born in ’81 and had cable, which means I got a steady diet of anime-I-didn’t-know-was-anime in my childhood. Mostly that was Unico and the Grimms’ Fairy Tale series with the little green-haired girl in the opening. (You know. “Hey, come along and join the fun!”) I still had no context for “anime” until Sailor Moon got big, and then my only knowledge of it was Dave Barry writing an article about how he didn’t understand it. So my exposure was more limited and biased than nonexistent. Really, I just knew I had a friend who was into it and I kind of dug the art, so I wanted to see what it was beyond the look.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first, it was a whole new source of animation I’d yet to discover. But when I made friends with the local anime geezers who loaded me up on things like Macross and Bubblegum Crisis, I started getting a better idea of how much the animators cared. With the shows I tended to gravitate toward, there was an obvious love for the product that went into it: detailed backgrounds you only saw for the space of a few seconds, mechanical designs that invoked realism when I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief, things like that.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Right when I was getting face-first into anime, Utena and Cowboy Bebop were still relatively fresh. In that span of college years when I made my way from knowing nothing to being relatively versed, the “gateway drugs” were Bebop and Fruits Basket. The live-action Sailor Moon also ran its course, so the entire fandom sort of had its toe in tokusatsu without really realizing it.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I have two slightly different answers to this. The first anime I was ever REALLY a fan of was Unico, but I didn’t know what anime was, so it’s hard to call that “anime fandom.” But I did make myself a little cardboard cutout Unico I’d take places with me because I liked to imagine he was my friend and I’d go on adventures with him.

I think my first anime fandom, KNOWING what anime was, was Utena. I did some cosplay much further down the road, but while I was still in WMAS I headed up a parody dub of episode 3 called “Utena: Dance Dance Revolution.” I thought I was really quite funny and launching off things like “Voltron: Hell-Bent for Leather” and “Dirty Pair Does Dishes” and that whole scene. We had a good group, though. Shannon Granville (still a friend I see occasionally) was a very deadpan Utena, I did Anthy a la Molly in the original Sailor Moon dub… we had people’s roommates coming in and doing voices. I think one character spoke in fake Klingon. Something tells me it’s not aged well in a lot of ways, and there were a lot of club in-jokes, but I’ll bet people can find it if they dig around enough.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Anime cons were still relatively small, and clubs and conventions were where you went to see things. So there was a camaraderie there that was more than just cosplay meet-ups. (Not to put down cosplay meet-ups—I still love them!) But like, we were just at the end of the sub vs. dub era when you had to choose which to buy. You couldn’t get pocky at World Market. It was sort of the “last hurrah” of anime as a subculture [as opposed to popular culture], which I don’t consider a “hurrah” at all because I like it being easily accessible. It was strange, jumping on in a time when it was gathering steam and getting big, but I kind of feel like I ended up being a product of two generations of fandom. Which means I love both generations, honestly.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? We were JUST on the edge of going digital. Like my first junior year of college (I took a medical withdrawal for a year), I distinctly remember both sending out for Lupin III fansubs on green VHS tapes AND downloading Neighborhood Story and Mahoromatic fansubs on Limewire.

The year or so I was on medical leave was when torrenting really became a thing, so it’s sort of like my college career is split into two chapters, and right along that chapter split is where the fandom started to become what it is today. Legal streaming was still several years away—even after I graduated, I was still working with fansub groups on obscure stuff (which you can now watch legally on Hulu). So I came in during the shift from “You can find maybe half of anything but you have to work for it” to “You can find things right after they come out but not legally.”

Did you participate in early internet fandom? Were there particular sites or forums you visited? I was actually into the late ’90s/early ’00s fandub community more than anything else: a bunch of people dubbing ten-second clips from SailorStars and whatever else, and sometimes doing actual audio dramas. I did a few longer-form projects (which shall remain nameless since, you know, that was copyright infringement). I did cross paths with a lot of people who ended up going pro, though—Cristina Vee notable among them. I had this sort of wild fifth-dimensional moment during the Crunchyroll Awards, doing live news updates while she was on camera and sort of mentally interposing that over our stuff 15 years ago.

The voice acting community was rough sometimes, as any online community can be, but it was some of the best stuff I ever did. I met a lot of friends and collaborators I still work with (like Mike Dent and Aron Toman), and I still do some voice acting (Toman’s Chronicles of Oz). It helped improve my range, too. And it gave us this whole crop of ready-to-go voice actors.

[Editor’s note: Kara is one of the professionals I interviewed for a Forbes article about transitioning from the piracy era to the legal anime industry. To read more about her story in this context, check here.]

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first con wasn’t an anime con, but my first anime con was only like a month after. It was Katsucon 6 and I went with WMAS (my anime club). My memories of it are extremely blurry, but I remember we were in the cosplay and we did “Anime Family Feud” with the Ikaris (Evangelion) vs. the Mishimas (Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku) hosted by Captain Tylor. I’d seen zero Eva, they just spray-painted my hair blue and said to act emotionless. I did get the biggest laugh of the night, though:

“So, Rei, how are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t know.”

Funnily enough, apparently WMAS got REALLY known for its skits after that because we did ridiculous parodies. A River Song cosplayer I met more than a decade later (who’s now a good friend) actually recognized me for those skits. Wild.

Would you mind sharing a photo of this cosplay, or any photos you have from Katsucon 6? Sadly, those photos are lost to the sands of time. I checked back on my college anime club’s site and a few other places but no joy. I can describe it, though. It was all closet cosplay with bits chopped up: Peter Pan collar shirt, a light blue dress I’d just cut chunks out of to imitate the shape of the front, and a frayed red ribbon for the collar. From onstage it looked fine. Up close it was a hot mess.

Today you are a professional in an anime-related field. How did your early anime fandom experience shape your career today? One of the most valuable things about my early fandom is I had friends of all ages: college friends, yes, but also older friends who had been into the anime scene literal DECADES longer than any of us. That was great because it brought us insight into the fandom before our time and encouraged us to watch older shows, but it was also a matter of leading by example.

Everyone has their “obnoxious time” as a new fan, especially if you’re a teen when you get into it. It’s just part of the maturing process. I was fortunate that I had older friends that understood it, guided me through it (occasionally with “tough love”), but didn’t write me off just because I was an annoying newbie who didn’t know as much as they did. They saw that as an opportunity to share what they loved and watch someone be enchanted by it for the first time.

If it weren’t for those people, I would have fled the fandom, rather than digging deeper into it to the point that I ended up working in multiple facets of the industry. Specific people like Mike Griffith, Rob Lantz, the late Dan Taraschke, are all people who were (and in some cases still are) my positive examples. And I work with more positive examples daily. Preserving the history of our fandom is such a big deal, but not to the point of keeping it “pure” or whatever. I hope in some way, what I do can help another new fan digging in for the first time feel welcome.

Kara can be reached on Twitter and her blog.

#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