#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

#88: Samantha F

Age: 32

Location: Rhode Island

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I first discovered anime when I was eight years old. I was visiting family, and my uncle knew that I loved Robotech, Transformers, and shows that that “futuristic” vibe. He invited me to check out a new cartoon. It was on VHS, the video was grainy and warped – like it had been transferred to other tapes a bunch of times, but I was intrigued.

I sat, entranced, as the C6250’s whistle blared through the TV’s mono speakers, as the wheels began to turn and the camera shifted to a view of train tracks stretching into an endless blackness.

Then the logo appeared: “Galaxy Express 999.”

Honestly, at the time, I had no clue as to what I was getting into. And, really, who would? I was freakin’ eight! The cast didn’t speak English, might as well have been moon speak for my mind at the time. Then the subtitles popped up: they were hasty, rife with misspellings, and flashed by so fast. But I got a few words, and I could get the gist.

That said, it wasn’t the words that mattered. The characters said mountains through their visual language and their tone. Maetel’s distinct knowing sadness, Tetsuro’s desperation to leave everything behind… it spoke volumes.

It became sort of our monthly thing. I’d visit, and we’d watch more Galaxy Express 999. By the time we finished, I was hooked. I had been to a few anime club meetings, and I just wanted more, and more, and more.

By the time I turned twelve, I was ready to begin buying my own anime. I actually picked up my first tape—which contained two whole episodes of Ranma 1/2at the flea market in Taunton, MA.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Honestly, it’s hard to really state what it was. There was just so much that was different from the norm. The visual language, the characters, the general setup were so unique, so different from other cartoons. They didn’t talk down to you, and they expected that you’d be able to understand concepts that just did not exist in western cartoons. People died and mourned, people didn’t always find that happy ending, and sometimes, the best path of action was that which would bring real pain.

Yes, there were silly shows like Dirty Pair, but it just felt like there was so much more to the world, so many places to explore and discover.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I can’t say for certain, as this is going back about twenty-four years now. But, at the clubs, we’d watch a lot of titles like Dirty Pair, Patlabor, and Devil Hunter Yohko. The last meeting I went to was in 1994-ish – I was about ten, and the group was in the middle of Sailor Moon R and Ghost Sweeper Mikami.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Dear lord, where do I start? I was in a bit of a weird spot, being a kid who was jumped in. But that never really seemed to matter. It was always a welcoming community‚we’d watch, we’d talk—and yeah, they’d tell me to “shut the fuck up” when I started saying something stupid, but they still let me, an eight-year-old kid, weigh in on things with an equal voice. It was just a welcoming, super supportive group of geeks and social misfits, who were united in the search for awesome anime.

Wait, this was with your uncle and his anime club? Tell me more about this dynamic. That it was! Basically, my uncle was an… “interesting” person. He introduced my brother to Star Wars, and me to anime. Not long after we started watching Galaxy Express 999 together, he decided it was a good idea to introduce me to his club. It was, well, a group of adults, all guys in their 20s and 30s, and they gathered at one of the members’ homes. A couple of people had tapes—sometimes they were taped off of TV (like Voltron, Star Blazers, and Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs). Others, they were whatever could be rented from CJ’s Video (a little mom ‘n’ pop shop in Bristol, RI – now defunct). Other times, though, one of the tape-bringers had a treat. “Newest shit, straight from Japan!” In 1992, this meant that we were watching titles like Sailor Moon, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Tekkaman Blade. Mind-blowing stuff. Kind of hard to comprehend when you’re eight years old and there’s no subtitles, though. (heh)

Now, after watching the day’s episodes, the group would sit around, and basically bullshit about the shows they’d watch. I wish I could tell you what about, exactly, but we’re going back 25 years now. I remember that they basically did go talk about what they really dug about the episodes, and what didn’t work. We’d talk about favorite characters and how shows stacked up to other titles that we saw at the time.

And, well, as someone who was part of the club, I was given a pretty equal voice. If I liked watching Sailor Mars kick butt, then I could say it. If I thought that Cyber Formula GPX felt like Speed Racer, I could bring it up. At the same time if I was saying something stupid that wasted valuable meeting time, they’d be quick to call it out like anybody else—with a quick “shut the fuck up, Mike.”

It was a strangely liberating experience for someone who grew up in a pretty strict household—to be treated as an equal among people far older than I was, and to actually be able to discuss something I genuinely adored without being blown off as “just a kid going through a phase.” Nowadays, I wonder if they were humoring me, but if they were, I still appreciate it greatly.

Also, what did your parents and siblings think about your interest in anime? At the time, my brother really didn’t give a rat’s butt. He was 10, and he was just starting to find his own passion in music—particularly the drums. And, for many years, it stayed that way. He’d be the charismatic musician, I’d be the gawky anime and gamer geek. It wasn’t until about 2005? when he asked for a few examples of anime for a college course he was taking. I loaded him up with the essentials for newcomers—Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Afro Samurai, and so on. And, while it didn’t ignite a passion in him, he did come out to say, “I get it. I see why you like this so much—and I’m behind ya, 100%.”

My parents, on the other hand… they weren’t too thrilled.

My uncle was my dad’s brother. The two really didn’t have a good relationship to begin with. In one of my father’s anecdotes from his childhood, he tied my uncle up to a tree with a leash and left a bowl of food and water like a dog. He called my uncle “Tree Boy.” No word of a lie.

But anyway. He saw the whole fascination in anime as a bit creepy, because, to quote him: “My loser brother watches that queer shit and he amounted to nothing.” He tried to dissuade me whenever he could.

My mom, on the other hand, thought it was a phase—something I’d grow out of, and just outright abandon by the time I hit puberty.

Yeaaaaah, about that. Didn’t happen. In high school, I and a few other classmates started our own little tape trade—we’d make copies of shows we had, and trade them among ourselves.

Does your uncle still watch anime? What does he think of your work in the fandom? Sadly, I haven’t talked to my uncle since my grandfather passed away in 2002. Don’t even know where he lives anymore.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The internet as we know it didn’t exist! We had clubs—gatherings of like-minded fans, where we’d watch shows on VHS that were brought in by a lead member. The tapes were grainy, often fifth or sixth generation copies, but they were our lifeline as fans of a medium that was pretty much underground.

Do you remember your first convention? I do! Mikkakan in 2001 was held at Merrimack, New Hampshire’s Radisson Hotel. This was the definition of a tiny convention. Only 33 people attended the event, including guests and staff. Still, it was an eye-opening experience—to walk the halls of the Radisson, and see people milling about, talking about shows like One Piece or Hellsing like it was nothing.

That said, I think Neil Nadelman’s panel at the event was something truly transformational. Sure, it was just a talk about localization. But, for some reason, his passion and adoration for the medium spoke to me. It told me that I wanted to be involved in this industry for as long as I could manage.

Sixteen years later, and I’m still at it, writing away night after night. 🙂

When and why did you start Anime HeraldI started Anime Herald on September 19, 2010. I originally launched the Herald because, well, [the place I wrote for before,] Anime Dream was starting to slow down. Matt (Brown—former Anime Dream Editor-in-Chief) was losing steam, and I was still churning out content on a near-daily basis. I saw the writing on the wall, but I didn’t want to stop writing about anime. So, I broke off.

Anime Herald actually began as a bit of an amorphous blob—anything that came through, I’d try it—and believe me. Some of the earlier content got weird at times, while I was trying to figure out what would stick. But, anyway! It slowly took shape—first as a repository of personal essays, editorials, and reviews.

Eventually, things started to solidify as I found formats that worked. I started learning which article formats that would pull in readers, and which were just becoming dead air. And, eventually, it just kind of took shape to the format you see today. Met some amazing people along the way, many of whom I’m proud to call my friends, and it’s just been a crazy seven-year ride.

How has being an anime reporter changed the way you watch anime? How has it changed the way you interact in the fandom? Honestly, becoming an anime reporter was both the best and worst thing that could happen as a fan. I say this jokingly, of course, but there’s a nugget of truth beneath the humor.

I started my formal anime career (not counting the little fan sites I ran in 2000-2001) at Anime Dream, as a reviewer. At the time, I had a pair of fantastic mentors: Matt, and and editor that I only knew as “Elfshadow.” They both taught me a lot about how to approach a show from a more critical lens—to spot elements like mise-en-scene and color usage to sell a mood. They taught me about narrative and dialogue tropes, as well as things like “bank shots” (shots used repeatedly through the course of a show to save money on animation) and sakuga (sequences of noticeably higher quality, used to highlight a particularly important scenes).

Matt and Elf also taught me how to tell when those seams that hold a show together were starting to slowly unravel. After reviewing shows about four or five years, you start to just take on that mindset—that analytical bent, where you’re slowly tearing down a show or film, silently noting what works and what doesn’t while you form your opinions.

Right now, I live my life in the news feeds. I pop open J-Blogs like Otakomu and Comic Natalie while I’m drinking my morning coffee, and I cruise through sites like Animate Times, Crunchyroll, and Anime News Network from the time I get home from work, to the time I go to bed at night. I’ve been doing the beat for 6-ish hours a day, seven days a week, 360-ish days a year since 2008.

And, really, that adds another layer to your approach to anime—I’ve found that, more often than not, I’m dissecting not just the nuts and bolts, but the people who make the shows. Suddenly, I’m thinking about who made the show, which studio put it out, and so on and so forth. So it’s started to factor in that calculus as I watch.

Honestly, as for interactions? I’ve always been a private person by nature. This isn’t on purpose; I’m just a bit of an introvert. Working as an anime reporter, managing our social media accounts and the like, has really allowed me to open up a bit. I’m still an awkward, gawky tech geek, but I’m someone who can talk more openly, and who can throw down in a good conversation.

Heck—if not for Anime Herald, I don’t think I’d have the guts to even attempt—let alone host a panel at Anime Boston each year. It’s been a great way to kind of lean into the challenges of talking with people.

Since you discovered anime, how do you think you’ve grown as an anime fan? Oh wow… I don’t even know how to answer this one! For about as long as I can remember, I’ve been an anime fan. So, I mean… it’s very much a part of who I am, and what I do.

As a fan, though, I think being jumped in that early, being able to see that little slice of a community at an early age, is something that stuck with me. Though I stopped going to the club meetings, it was a super special time in my life. I was able to see amazing things, and experience incredible shows with people who were genuinely passionate about anime. If I hadn’t met them, I probably wouldn’t be watching anime today.

And, to be honest, I always wanted to bring that feeling of camaraderie and community to the world, somehow. Still not sure how to really do that.

That said, it’s inspired me to really take an interest in helping new fans, spreading the good word, and to generally helping to make this fandom a better place whenever possible.

Samantha can be reached on Twitter and her blog

#81: Lauren

Age: 25

Location: Southeastern USA

When did you discover anime? I (or rather my mom with my input) rented My Neighbor Totoro as a VHS from blockbuster when I was a little kid in the ’90s and didn’t know what anime was.

Then I became obsessed with Pokémon around the time that Yellow Version was released (I think I was in 2nd grade). Pikachu and Bulbasaur have been faves since the beginning. My interest in Pokémon waned (though I got back into the games later).

I was in 6th grade when I learned the terms anime/manga from a friend. She and most of the friend circle loved YuGiOh. I initially watched it to fit in, but ended up crushing on Seto Kaiba. This was the horrible 4 kids dub because if legal sub streaming existed at the time I didn’t know about it and DVDs for series were expensive.

I watched Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke on DVD and got hooked on Miyazaki. Fruits Basket was my gateway into manga. I would occasionally read scanlations or purchase volumes of other manga. I would also watch anime on websites where you just clicked play—since I was scared to actually download episodes illegally after the one time my cousin did and my computer got a virus.

I discovered Crunchyroll and Funimation during my senior year of college when I took a class on Japanese pop culture—with that I was able to get into so many more shows.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I loved the sense of magic and wonder in Totoro as a child and it still captivated me when I learned what anime was. Similarly, the idea of a world filled with adventure and cute, powerful critters drew me to Pokémon. The pretty boys of shojo were a revelation for teenage me—romance stories that cater to girls’ tastes, dudes that were hot but not Manly!Beefcake!TM and lots of feels instead of the western romcom’s “pervasive bickering is love” trope.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The Pokémon fans who I traded cards with as a child were like me, they didn’t know what anime was. At time I learned the word “anime” in middle school, it felt like a niche interest shared by fellow nerds at my school, people on the Internet who I couldn’t meet and people in Japan – who I also couldn’t meet. So anime fandom was both a bond I shared with my friends and another marker that I wasn’t part of the popular crowd.

Tell me about making friends in anime fandom. Amanda is the friend I met in middle school who introduced me to “anime” as a term. Before I just knew I was a fan of Pokémon. Amanda showed me YuGiOh and taught me the terms “anime” and “manga.” Her influence is the reason I sampled manga in book stores and started identifying as a manga/anime fan. We haven’t kept up with each other but are friends on Facebook.

After Amanda introduced me to TV anime and manga, I didn’t make friends with fellow fans until college. I went to a few anime club meetings. It felt refreshing to meet lots of people who shared my love of anime.

In college anime club, I made friends with a fellow Death Note fan named Katie. We talked about which characters were our favs and who should star in a US movie. We decided Cilllian Murphy would be a good fit for Mikami. I have learned that whitewashing is a bad idea since that time so I’m embarrassed of how excited that fantasy casting made me.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Fanfic was huge for me in middle school. I read fanfic on fanfiction.net . I wrote some in a notebook and shared it with my friend Amanda.

Tell me about the fanfiction in the notebook! I don’t have the notebook full of fanfic that I kept during middle school. I often wrote about idealized versions of myself dating anime boys. Talking with Amanda about our favorite “bishies” (bishonen or pretty boys) was a nice escape during the awkward adolescent years.

How is your participation in anime fandom different now? I now read more analysis of anime, things like Anime Feminist. When I got into fandom, I couldn’t find that thoughtful perspective of fans who are genuinely in love with series/creators but will point out flaws too. It seems like the old days had super fans who gushed over everything vs. haters of certain shows.

#80: Helen

Age: 26

Location: Washington DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was in the 8th grade my mom told one of her coworkers that my brother and I (11 and 13) were still watching Pokemon, which her coworker thought was silly, and sent her home with a copy of Spirited Away. My brother and I found her watching it on our huge old Mac, squished in, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Also that coworker is now my step-dad and really regrets giving me my anime start.

Why did he say that? He came to regret it because of how big of a nerd I turned out to be (although my mom is sure I’d be an anime fan regardless). They still watch some Miyazaki films and such, and although I like to joke that even my parents saw Attack on Titan before me, I think they only watched an episode or so (you can thank my step-sister for that)!

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender around the same time as anime, and the AvatarSpirit forums would lead me to anime as well, and one thing that stunned me about ATLA and later anime was that holy crap, you can tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end in a cartoon TV series! No one had ever told me you could do that! I was already a huge book reader so the idea of a having an actual, connected story really drew me in.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I have absolutely no idea. The first anime TV series I watched week-to-week was Romeo X Juliet which I know wasn’t super popular, I’d have to guess Naruto.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wouldn’t really join the anime fandom for a bit later, I was actually reading more manga before I started watching more anime and I read manga through an elaborate system of book-trading between me and my friends who all belonged to different library systems in high school (we all literally looked at each other one day, realized we all liked manga, and that’s when it really got going).

It was fun, everyone had different things to bring and you had to occasionally rescue a book from a teacher’s trashcan!

What happened that time? One of my friends was, very ill-advisedly, reading a manga during presentations in class (while paying attention, she could practically recite all of the presentations we had just heard) and, while she shouldn’t have been reading in class, this teacher was, like many in my Catholic schools, a bit crazy. So she just snatched the volume out of my friend’s hand, tossed it in the garbage, and we asked a friend of ours in the next period to get it back for us (apparently the teacher never noticed).

Also, tell me more about meeting these friends. How did you all realize you liked manga? I joke that I have a nerd-dar but I really do! I was able to suss out that one girl in my homeroom, one girl in my math/following gym class, and another girl I sat with at lunch which kinda nerdy and since it was such a small school we eventually convalesced into a group (which would grow a tiny bit over the years but the four of us were the center of it). A few of them eventually ended up taking over the Book Club at school and turning it into a secret manga club IIRC, this happened after at least one of them was elected Dictator For Life, but I wasn’t a member of the Book Club so I can’t remember all of those details!

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Totally, I started spending more time on the AnimeSuki forums and ANN forums as I got more into anime since I loved chatting with people about currently airing shows.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Animazement 2008! I’d been looking for an anime convention in North Carolina for YEARS and somehow only found out about Animazement just a few weeks before the 2007 show. I actually did go to a small, one day con in September 2007 first (LibariCon in Fayetteville, NC) but Animazement felt like my first “proper” con. I did two cosplays, cosplaying is an integral part of conventions for me now, had a bunch of friends come along with me, saw the masquerade, met up with a bunch of people from the Animazement forums, did the secret Animazement forum member scavenger hunt, and generally had a pretty great time!

What was the secret Animazement forum member scavenger hunt like? Do they still have that? The secret scavenger hunt was funnily bizarre. These were things you would take photos of and then upload after the con for points to be tallied up, I remember things like “a photo of you in an Animazement t-shirt from any year”, “wearing a school girl outfit”, “wearing cosplay on the toilet”, and “video of you proclaiming your loyalty to [name redacted so my friend doesn’t kill me] of the cookie faction in the cookies vs milk war”.

It must sound really bizarre but it was fun and didn’t hurt anyone which is my own litmus test of if you should go along with something strange and silly or not. And they don’t have it anymore, when I was in college some of the con heads got super pissy that the staff who were also mods on the forums were becoming popular with the con goers (since we talked with them and hung out grabbing food at cons, y’all, we’re all people here and make friends…) so they completely changed the forums one weekend while the main mod was on vacation, locked them out, and that was the end of that. (Well, for at least a few years there was a secretly saved duplicate of the forums elsewhere that was linked to some of us were we heard this explained all in detail, ain’t no drama like con drama!)

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I guess the first fandom I got invested in in general was Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m not sure if any other anime/manga/etc I’ve enjoyed has ever had the same scope and size to generate a large, stable fandom. And it was a combination of both the show and fandom that got me into sewing actually, I really wanted an Appa plushie but this was when they were only sold at the theme parks and not year round so I was out of luck in December. So, since I did know how to sew, I made my own plushie, posted it on the AvatarSpirit forums, and got so much of a response back that I went hey, I bet I could do more of these and get more praise, which has spiraled into my deep obsession of making plushies today.

When and why did you start blogging about anime and manga? For someone who hated book reports I found out that I kinda liked talking about what I was reading/watching/listening to? I was trying really hard to keep my Livejournal like a real daily journal so of course anime came up sometimes and I really managed to keep it up first there and then on my own blog for years. I only fell behind in December last year and still just can’t muster the energy to devote time again into it.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest difference I see between the anime fandom of 2007-ish and 2017 is the size. This is almost certainly partially due to the fact that I went to a high school of only 600 people and none of my friends lived in the same county as me so I was frustratingly alone in general outside of school hours (I wouldn’t get on social media in a big way until I got my college laptop) but even with that I feel like it’s not just my world that’s grown bigger, anime and manga has grown bigger too. It’s strange since technically 2007 should’ve been the end of the “bubble” years, fandom should be smaller! And yet I see even more references all over the place, from daily newspaper cartoons to themed restaurants, today and that tells me that anime and its assorted fandoms are here to stay.

Helen can be reached on Twitter

#78: Chiaki

Age: 29

Location: San Francisco Bay Area

When did you discover anime? I don’t have a specific memory of when I first discovered anime. I would guess that the first ever anime I ever did watch was something like Folktales from Japan back in the early ’90s. It was either that or watching a copy of My Neighbor Totoro on an Beta tape.

I will say I have a distinct memory of getting manga though, which was when I was 5=five years old. My dad dressed up as Santa Claus for a house party and gave me my first ever comic book, which was the first volume of Dragon Ball, but I know I was aware of manga and anime before then.

I still have the beta tapes and the manga, actually.

Really? Could I have a photo? Sure.

The first photo is of the requested Beta and Super8 tapes along with the first manga I ever read. Clockwise from top left, Sunset on Third Street: Song of the Sunset by Ryohei Saigan, Nonsense Company by Sansei Sato (these manga were my dad’s), Beta tapes of Moomin and Folktales from Japan, a 8mm video of My Neighbor Totoro (the other tapes I had weren’t anime), and the first four volumes of Dragon Ball. This would be what I would have been watching or reading around 1992-1995.

The second photo  features what I would have been reading about 1995-2000ish when I started really getting into anime and manga. Clockwise from top left, I feature vol. 16 of Case Closed particularly because that was the first volume I ever bought (because I thought the cover looked cool); the first two volumes of Ah! My Goddess, which I instantly fell in love with the aesthetics; Evangelion, which I watched on PBS on Sundays in the San Francisco Bay Area; Slayers, which I think also aired on PBS; and the Pocket Monsters gag manga, which I read in elementary school because it was about the only age appropriate thing I was reading back then.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For me, as a kid, it was entertainment. I grew up with the TV raising me for the most part. I liked anime because it was more fun than a lot of shows that were on TV. Growing up in America but in a Japanese speaking household, the tapes with anime and children’s programming tended to be a nice opportunity for me to enjoy something in Japanese so I was always on the lookout for that stuff.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I remember going to Japan and seeing Dragon Ball Z‘s Cell saga was on TV? I remember this because I thought it was boring and I really wished I could watch something better… like City Hunter (which I caught reruns of). Sailor Moon was also on TV but that was for girls. (I know, right?)

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t really part of a fandom so much as I was taking part of my culture? I was the youngest person in my circle of Japanese expats living an hour east of San Francisco. The older kids had more manga than me and I would often go over to their place to read their collection. My parents typically only bought me one manga a year at the time, so I recall reading the same copy of the Pokemon gag comic over and over again.

Same with anime. I grew up really loving Ghibli movies because Nausicaa, Laputa, Porco Rosso, and Totoro were the only movies I had easy access to when I was really little.

You said, “I wasn’t really part of a fandom so much as I was taking part of my culture?” This is fascinating. What would you say is the difference between participating in anime fandom and participating in your heritage? I feel when anime and manga weren’t as popular in the United States, the charm for a lot of fans were how exotic the medium was. A lot of people said manga and anime were “different” or “more deep” than American works.

For me, though, it was more something I consumed because it was stuff I would have been reading and watching if I lived in Japan. I went to a Japanese hoshuko, a supplemental Saturday school for Japanese nationals living in America. My classmates and I lent each other manga and video games all the time. So this stuff wasn’t so exotic.

It actually felt a little jarring sometimes because I didn’t see myself as an “otaku” growing up. If anything, I was taught being an otaku isn’t something to brag about, so I often felt a little attacked when someone asked if I am one. When Hayao Miyazaki got the Berkeley Japan Prize in 2009, I was on assignment to cover the award ceremony for the English section of my paper. I was with another reporter from the Japanese section of the paper and she casually asked me, a pony-tailed guy covering an anime director, “so are you one of those anime otaku?” and I must have given the most distressed face she had ever seen because she immediately tried to console me that “otaku are totally hip these days.” (My long hair was more out of me being a closeted trans woman than being a nerd)

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Again, at the time it was going over to my friends’ places and borrowing their comics. One friend had all of Dragon Ball, another had Dragon Quest and Slam Dunk.

I was actually not on the Internet until about 1998 and I didn’t really discover the “anime fandom” until I found those “web rings” and “shrines” people had for certain characters. I think I Yahoo searched for anime and eventually stumbled upon them.

God, wow, that actually happened.

I did become part of the American anime fandom after joining a webcomic forum back in 2003 or so? I’d peg that as my first time I really started talking to people and interacting with them over anime and manga.

On finding web rings and shrines, you wrote, “God, wow, that actually happened.” Could you elaborate? What was so weird and hard to believe about early web fandom? When you think about these characters that people made shrines for, you realize a lot of the shows they came from were only around for one or two seasons, yet they were powerful enough to get someone to make a website. Like, Outlaw Star aired for six months in Japan in 1998 and yet there I was 4-5 years later, finding myself at the cg shrines (http://ironmouse.za.org/dragon/index.html) to look at Aisha Clan Clan art.

I guess I feel it seems a little corny looking back at it too, and the fact I was into it myself is a thing I’m a little embarrassed to admit. Like, wow, people really liked these characters enough to put in the effort to make a website dedicated to them.

Do you remember your first convention? The first anime convention I ever went to was Fanime 2005. I went on Monday, the last day of the con and I wore a business suit to be a “random 4Kids henchman,” I pointed at people in lieu of having a gun. It was weird and Fanime was much smaller then. I saw some cosplayers, thought dealers hall was full of rare and amazing merchandise and most of the people there were incredibly thirsty.

“Thirsty.” Once again, could you elaborate? I do recall going to things like the yaoi bingo at the behest of friends. The annual tradition is run by YaoiCon and features things like two guys in lingerie giving each other lap dances on stage. I hear they’re still doing it now, but I feel it’s become less central to what I see promoted during the con. And then there was that “dating for otaku” panel featuring a panel of three women giving sex advice in lingerie. Overall, the late night programming was much more raunchy than what I hear about in recent years. I also felt there were more skeevy people back then in general. Personally, I’m kinda glad the culture of “glomping” has since fallen out of favor and that Fanime instituted “Cosplay is not Consent” policies like several other cons have done.

This might be partly because the con itself has grown to attract a larger, more general audience over the years, as well as my own change in how I spend my time at Fanime. (I lately spend my late nights at Fanime in my hotel room with friends instead of attending 18+ panels).

What was it like to meet American anime fans who are not Japanese? Was it weird? Did it feel like they were encroaching on your culture? I didn’t think they were encroaching on my culture. If anything, I feel excited and happy when someone says they enjoy something I thought was great or fun. I’ll still roll my eyes when someone tries to argue that anime as a medium is somehow philosophically or artistically superior to Western animation, but that perspective is no longer that popular.

If anything, when I was a freshman in high school, my school’s anime club (mostly run by white kids), introduced me to stuff like Trigun, Hellsing, Interstella 555, and Samurai X. I was grateful for that.

Even before that, I felt like I had some bragging rights when Pokemon became big in the late ’90s. I knew about the games, anime and manga a good year or two before it came to America.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I’m more of a lone wolf and I have trouble getting excited about things with people. I can read about people giving effusive praise for a series and think, “oh, I want to read that series too,” but I have a hard time geeking out about things with other people.

The first fandom I did take part in is the Pokemon fandom. I played through Pokemon Red, Gold, Sapphire and Leaf Green versions religiously when they came out. With friends, I traded Pokemon cards, battled with them and spent time watching the anime when we went over to each others’ houses after school. Online, I got involved in writing fanfiction and chat role-plays around 2003 through 2006. 

I started to drift away around the fourth generation of Pokemon because I didn’t own a Nintendo DS and the monster designs weren’t as appealing to me.

Did you stay a fan the whole time up until today? If yes, what kept your interest? If no, what got you back into anime again? I’d like to say I’ve been a fan without pause since I was little. I’ve never looked at anime as a medium and earnestly said “this is stupid.” I’ve also never quit collecting manga. I don’t recall if I mentioned in the initial response, but I have more than 1,300 volumes of manga, including 92 volumes of Case Closed. I’m still buying manga today, though my taste in what I read has radically changed over the years.

I will note, however, that I stopped watching anime after graduating college in 2010. I just didn’t have time to sit and watch shows and my work was taking me away from pop culture (I stopped watching American shows too so it’s not just anime). I kept active on Twitter to keep up with friends and I kept up with anime gossip there, but I actually didn’t watch anything except Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine in 2012. I literally didn’t watch anything after that until around summer of 2016 when I saw a screen cap of Felix Argyle from Re:Zero. I then marathoned Re:Zero because I have a thing for gender-ambiguous characters and cat people. While I was on the Crunchyroll website, I figured I should check out some of the other shows and also watched Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju too. Since then, I felt I should start watching more anime again.

Here’s a screencap of my inventory Google Sheet of my manga:

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think it’s the ubiquity of its aesthetics in America. For sure, it’s easier than ever to read and watch anime and manga in America, but I think what’s cooler is that it plays a huge role in media made in America.

For example, I watched Doraemon and Rocko’s Modern Life when I was little. Rocko is undeniably American and Doraemon is undeniably Japanese. Its setting, situations and aesthetics have almost no crossover whatsoever. Yet here we are in 2017, the kids that grew up watching Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Digimon, Tenchi Muyo, Gundam Wing are now making the cartoons kids watch on TV in America. Anime and manga is now an undeniable inspiration for Western cartoons and comics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvks9zNnNHc). So, I guess to put it another way, the anime fandom is much more broader and undeniably intertwined with mainstream American pop culture now.

Chiaki can be reached on Twitter

#71: Sara

Age: 22

Location: Folsom, CA, USA

When did you discover anime? The first anime I ever remember watching was Inuyasha on Adult Swim; I was probably in 6th grade at the time.

I can’t remember the first time I saw it exactly, although I think it was just an accidental glimpse of part of an episode, but I clearly remember spending the night at one of my friends’ houses hoping that we would stay up late enough to catch episodes of the show and being very disappointed when said friend wasn’t interested in watching it. I also tried to sneakily watch episodes on one of the many, many illegal streaming aggregator sites with my terrible dial-up AOL internet when my parents weren’t home. My interest ebbed and flowed all throughout high school until around my senior year and my first years of college—I met friends who were also interested in anime, became a little obsessed with BL manga (which I read voraciously through less than ethical means) and developed an academic, as well as fannish, interest in the medium.

How did your interest in anime lead to an interest in BL manga? Kind of hilariously, I…honestly can’t remember the first time I discovered BL manga. It may have had something to do with Hetalia. Slash shipping was obviously huge in that fandom, and this was ~2010 when “yaoi” was understood as encompassing pretty much any m/m ship from an anime/animated Japanese pop culture in general. (I was never really involved in video game fandoms but I feel very sure that m/m Final Fantasy ships also got ‘yaoi’d.) From there I think it’s very easy to stumble onto BL manga, especially when you’re a very ignorant teenager spending a lot of time on scanlation aggregator sites, some of which often host dojinshi as well as manga (they’re really unconscionable on so many levels.) Actually, when I first made my current tumblr account around 2011/2012, I modeled myself as a romance manga review blog—my url was ‘closetfangirlreviews.’ Looking through my archives, I think I reviewed… two BL manga before diving headfirst down the fandom rabbit hole and realizing I didn’t have the self-discipline to keep up a review blog.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’m honestly not sure! Inuyasha just seemed very cool—it wasn’t a story I had encountered before—and a little illicit due to its time slot. It was also something that, for better or worse, I could access for free online. The specific stories definitely engaged me, and considering some of my first interests (Inuyasha, Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club) I may have been drawn to romances with female leads, but I don’t remember that being a conscious draw.

I thought Fruits Basket may have also been my first manga, but I realized later that I’m pretty sure the first book I bought myself was Volume 1 of the manga First Love Sisters, which I furtively hid in the bottom of my nightstand drawer. (I was in middle school and, uh, in denial about some things.)

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I had no idea what was popular when I first got into anime. It was probably in the late ’00s, so Sailor Moon and DBZ may have still been popular, but I was pretty isolated from anime fandom at large. The friends I had who were interested in anime were all really excited about Hetalia, if I remember correctly, and I was pretty involved in that fandom for a few years despite never watching more than one or two episodes of the actual anime.

This is so interesting! How did you stay involved in the fandom beyond actually watching the show? Fanfic, fanart, something else? Oh yeah, this has been a huge thing in my experience in anime fandom! I think Hetalia and Katekyo Hitman Reborn were the worst offenders, but I also participated in Kuroko no Basket, Yowamushi Pedal, and I think Haikyuu!! fandom for a while before actually reading them, and for a while after falling behind. I think my experiences with Hetalia taught me to have a very, uh, lassiez-faire? Attitude toward canon. But to actually answer your question, definitely fanart and fic, but also headcanons/meta—I was more of a fandom consumer than a creator, but I had (and still have, tbh) a huge appetite for fanfiction and quite a few online friends who wrote fic, so we were all very inclined toward focusing on character analysis and relationship dynamics and, in Hetalia, real-world history, so most of our discussion about the fandom revolved around that, with canon taking a backseat. This was all online, specifically on tumblr, though–I believe my irl friends did actually watch and enjoy the anime.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Again, I was pretty isolated from anime fandom at large, but among my very small anime-inclined IRL friend group and my social circles online (primarily tumblr) there was a lot going on! My IRL friends would goof around, singing “Caramelldansen” and doing the accompanying dance, do impressions of Hetalia characters, and I think even did cosplay, whereas the fans I hung around online were mostly fanfic writers—I read so many Hetalia AUs I wouldn’t even know where to start describing them! Although I primarily hung around on tumblr, Livejournal and FFN [Fanfiction.net] were still fairly active, and ao3 [Archive of our Own] was active, but more exclusive than it is now.

You seem to have had a lot of IRL anime-fan friends. Did you meet them because of anime? Or were they into anime already and got you into it? Oh I wouldn’t say a lot, I had like, six friends total and three of them were into anime in some capacity—although I did admittedly go to a couple meetings of my high school anime club. They got me into Hetalia (and then moved on to Homestuck fairly quickly) but I was so excited by the idea of nations as people and all the amazing fic I found that I just got hooked on that fandom. The anime club may have introduced me to some series, too (Ouran?) but I don’t have very strong memories of it.

Did you write fanfic yourself? I have posted one fanfic in my entire time in fandom (which technically was supposed to be chapter 1 of an ongoing fic, but the rest of the fic just…never happened.) It was a genderswapped Hetalia high school AU with Spain/South Italy and FWB!Spain/France. It didn’t get much response, although I do think my friends read it and liked it; it wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t terrible, and looking back it was kind of delightful that those were my, uh, artistic priorities. I’ve drafted a few other half-finished fics, one for My Hero Academia and one for Yuri!!! on Ice most recently, but I’ve never published anything else.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes, the internet was a huge part of my fandom experience. There was an anime club at my high school that I had some friends in and sometimes spent time at, but I primarily got to know other fans through the internet.

Do you still know the friends you made when you were getting into anime? I do still know quite a few of my online friends! I actually met my best friend of six years on tumblr because of their France/Canada ficlets. I’m only super close with them out of all the people I talked to during that period, but several of us do still follow each other on twitter.

Do you remember your first convention? I still haven’t been to an anime convention, actually! In high school I was too geographically isolated and in college I was too broke. Hopefully I’ll get to go to one in the next couple years.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think there are still a lot of similarities depending on where you look, and many of the differences in my fandom experience now as opposed to when I was in high school are just the result of being older and knowing different people. That said, I do think something that’s changed is that fandom is kind of undergoing a crisis of ethics right now–there’s a lot of conversation happening about artists’ rights (both fanartists and anime creators), social justice, callout culture, how minors/teenagers should be treated and what they should be exposed to in fandom, etc. These conversations can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting, and there are definitely times where I get defensive of my tastes and want to be like ‘please shut up and leave me alone,’ but ultimately I think talking about this issues (as well as how to talk about these issues) is better than engaging with fandom uncritically and letting the ethics and sexual politics of what we create and enjoy as fans go unquestioned.

Sara can be reached on Twitter here and Tumblr here