Location: San Antonio, Texas
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My first experience was actually with manga. A friend of mine in middle school was reading Fruits Basket and thought I would enjoy it. I made note of it and a few months later made time to read a volume (I don’t think it was volume one). I believe this was around 8th grade. I was fascinated with the differences in the education system and culture and was hooked. I started reading tons of series and one of them lead me to watching my first anime. I think it was Ouran High School Host Club but I’m not 100% positive. (Technically my first anime was Sailor Moon or Pokemon but they did not register as anime at the time I was watching.) I went to high school and started watching more series with new friends such as Samurai Champloo.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The difference of culture between Japan and America fascinated me and lead me to focus on study international business law for a class in my senior year of high school. (I went to a business high school intending to pursue business law as a career which quickly shifted as I began reading more manga and watching more series of anime.) I have always been a very avid reader so manga played a larger part of the start of my fandom experience than anime. As I began to read more, my interests in the world at a global level began to grow because it made me view things through a different cultural lens.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I actually started getting into watching more anime in high school, the most popular title on campus with my friends was Hetalia. Season One had just finished airing and I was told it was something I had to watch and would enjoy. So I did and they were right. Naruto, Bleach, and Fullmetal Alchemist were also all popular at the time. (Of those three, the only one I watched was Fullmetal Alchemist).
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It wasn’t until I went to undergrad that I started interacting more with the fandom community. I joined my first anime club and got to know more fans. Our president at the time was from what she considered an older generation or the golden generation of fans. She prided herself on having been around fandom for a while. Her meetings were lecture-styled and provided an interesting perspective from a fan who had been around much longer. Unfortunately, she had an elitist tone and it was off-putting for a lot of people.
That same year I got to know some other people previously from the club and got to experience lots of different types of fans. Some were casual fans that lived by, “yeah it’s a thing I sometimes enjoy but if I didn’t have it it would be fine,” and others threw themselves wholeheartedly into their passions, creating elaborate cosplay costumes and attending conventions.
This was the first time I attended a convention. It was out of the city in Dallas, Texas and called Yule-Con. (I believe that it may have been the last year it was held). I meet fanfic writers and artists and enjoyed the convention. At the end of the year the president graduated and I became VP and Risk Manger of the organization and my soon-to-be roommate became president. That summer we attended A-kon in Dallas (my second convention). My now former president mentioned that she would one day like to see our college host an anime convention and I tucked that away to think on. At this point both conventions I had been to had been treated like shopping trips.
Once college started back up, we started running our meetings more like discussions than lectures and made sure the atmosphere was never one of discomfort or superiority. (Neither my roommate nor I were overly fond of the way the previous president had imposed or flaunted her superiority and we wanted our members to be comfortable sharing what they liked with us). Towards the end of the semester the convention was brought back up as a goal and I looked at my roommate and shrugged telling her if she wanted to do it we could make it happen now not one day in the future. So we asked our club members if that would be something they would be interested in hosting (most of them had never been to a convention) and when they said yes we got to work. We made reservations on campus and did a few hours of research to figure out where fandom people hung out in the city. We went out and met people (most slightly older than us) and started talking to them. The community was very relaxed, friendly and open to helping us host our first convention.
We held our first convention after planning for a bit less than a year and had about 200 people show up. The next year we did it again and had around 400 people show up. The weather was awful that day with severe rain and the community was used to college conventions being held outside so our attendance wasn’t as high as it could have been. Those that did come loved it both years and our school loved the event as well. We graduated that year and sadly the convention did not happen again after we had left. (Side note: we only spent money operating the con the first year, probably between $1,000-$1,500. It made enough to sustain itself the second year and had enough to pay for the third year, which unfortunately never happened.)
My former roommate, best friend, and I continued to go to conventions in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. We just attended Sakura-Con in Seattle last weekend and what I can say is that every city has a unique feel to fandom. San Antonio is open about where to find fandoms and fandom related things both big and small; Dallas and some of the people from there (the president before us was from the area) held a feel of elitism in some aspects; Houston was harder to find fandom things in outside of the larger events.
We didn’t get to experience much of Seattle’s scene since we were only there a handful of days but we did notice a huge difference in the Lolita scene there (not anime I know but a small portion of the community still). The Lolitas from the Seattle area were much more open and friendly to experimenting with the fashion, making things yourself and not having to have name brand clothes to fit in. As opposed to the Lolita community we found in Texas, which is difficult to become involved in if you don’t have the money or figure to fit into a brand name or nearly brand name cord [Lolita speak for “coordinated outfit.”]
Fandom is very much what you make of it. My experience started off small where I would watch some shows illegally and read many things illegally (translations where slow to come out). Now we have so many ways to legally watch shows as they come out (paid or unpaid for a week delay) and translations and dubs are coming out at rapid speeds. Fandom access is definitely increasing and more fandom specific spaces are being created such as Ao3 [Archive of our Own, a fan-run, non-profit fanfiction archive.] Technology allows us to follow and filter through massive amounts of data easily to create our desired experience. At this point my biggest issue is I can’t actively visit an cafes [restaurants with anime themes] without a plane ticket to Japan. I use a forwarding service to order most of the products I want including Blu Rays for Yuri!!! on Ice and ACCA from Animate [Japan’s largest anime retail chain] for all the lovely exclusives. (Which, in retrospect, if I wasn’t spending thousands of dollars on merch, I’d have enough to spend a few weeks in Japan.)
My fandom experience is rather short lived as I only dabbled a little in high school and didn’t actively get involved until college. So if you count active involvement it’s been about 6 years, about 11 years since I first started reading manga, and 9 since I started fanning over things with groups of people.
Your early fandom experience was influenced by an anime club president who was a bit of a gatekeeper. In which ways did this inspire you to treat other fans better when you were in her position? Could you name some of the ways you worked to keep your club intentionally welcoming? I was raised to treat everyone equally, listen fairly to what they say, and judge based on their actions, not what they liked and disliked. Seeing people shut down because they were told they had bad taste didn’t sit very well with me or my now best friend so we decided that we would make sure nobody felt bad about what series they liked even if we didn’t care for them ourselves.
We made sure to let everyone have a chance to speak and let the club members decide some of the topics they wanted covered. We also made sure to ask them if they wanted parties for holidays and what kind of foods they wanted. We had some vegan club members so I made sure there were things they could eat and would bake a lot of things from scratch or adapt box mixes to leave out ingredients they couldn’t eat.
We would let them vote on what series they wanted to watch and ask their opinions about things and even held a couple of Socratic style discussions where we provided materials before the meeting for them to look over and form opinions about so we could discuss the effects it had on fandom. (One of these was the Aurora Colorado Batman movies shooting) we always made sure to have an open door policy if they needed to talk to us about anything at almost anytime (the biggest exception being when we were in class).
We made sure they could use us as both a resource and a support system and would invite club members to have dinner with us occasionally when we cooked. There would be nights when I made dinner for about 10 people or so depending on who was available and wanted to come.
Amazing to hear about the format of your college anime club (mine just watched anime, no discussion at all)! Can you tell me more about that and whether your alma mater still does it that way? I haven’t been back in about two years and leadership has changed. I think discussion-wise they are still doing things the same way but I think the way the club is managed has changed to reflect the current leadership. One of the club members at least ended up leaving due to the effects of the new leadership because she didn’t feel as welcome. The person we left in charge had a very different style than we did and I believe she should have graduated this year. I didn’t end undergrad on the best of terms with her because of a personal matter and the way she treated my best friend, the club member that ended up leaving the organization and myself after we were already making the transitional process.
I think it’s fascinating that you found different regional “pockets” of fandom with different vibes. Do you think the internet has made fandom more homogenous, why or why not? I think the internet has made it easier to find people with the same tastes and opinions but it hasn’t made it homogenous. People will always have different opinions based on their own experiences. What the internet has done is made it easier for people to attack things they don’t like or agree with. Your experiences very much depend on how you navigate your own online browsing. Some people have very diverse social media profiles while others fall into a very homogenous pool. It’s very easy to filter your online experience to be what you want it to be. Things like this depend on the person, the platform the use and how they control their viewing experiences.
How did you discover Lolita subculture? Was it related to your interest in anime? It was definitely connected to anime and manga. I probably read something or saw something and started looking into the fashion. I haven’t invested yet because it costs a fair amount to buy most of the dresses and it’s difficult to find things that will fit properly over the internet. Most likely I will need to buy things in person or make them myself and that’s a little advanced for where my skills currently sit.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think there is a much bigger push to support things legally now. Crunchyroll and Funimation have worked really hard to make a large number of series available to people outside of Japan. You can find things easier now than you used to be able to and they are working to bring things even quicker. We still have problems getting more of the anime movies brought over but series aren’t as hard to find. You don’t have to settle for what’s airing on tv because now we have 20+ series being done every season. Streaming has made life easier in a lot of ways and also helps support creators.
Britanee can be reached on Twitter.