When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I don’t remember a specific point. The thing is, prior to my interest in anime, I had already been exposed to a lot of nerdier things. Partially because my dad worked with computers and I was always around them (thus becoming interested in them and the games I could play on them) and partially because I was a shy introverted kid who enjoyed stories more than the things typical little boys did (like sports, and the outdoors).
I remember very early on, I saw some Japanese animation early in the morning that came on the Sci-Fi channel. (One of them was Gigantor and the other was something I can’t remember enough of.) I didn’t really think a whole lot about it at the time due to the fact that I was usually half asleep (this was like 6 AM on a weekday) and my parents were trying their best to get me to go to school.
I guess the pivotal moment came somewhere in my early teens (around 1997 when I was 12) when I started getting into a lot of RPG video games. At the time they were the kind of games that scratched my need for a story. RPGs around that point were starting to become a lot more anime styled (thanks partially to improving technology and more stuff being brought over) So I started really becoming used to it.
Then one day my mom mentioned to me that there was a Japanese show on Cartoon Network around 3 PM. I checked it and discovered Sailor Moon, which I guess I would consider my first actual anime and the thing that cemented anime as something I wanted to pursue.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? My childhood was kind of rough. While I can’t say it was entirely miserable, there was a lot of bullying and isolation I went through. Partly because I was different (deaf in one ear, glasses, shy, uncoordinated, sensitive) and partly from being sick a lot (I got unbelievably bad migraines that would send me into puking spells)
At the time, I really latched onto my TV and video games to get me by. The problem was that video games were pretty expensive and the stuff I watched on TV (mainly Cartoons and Nick at Nite) had almost no continuity (except in limited cases, which I enjoyed the hell out of)
Which is why when I came across Sailor Moon (Toonami 1997-1998?), a show where what happened before actually mattered, I was spell bound. Well that, and I found I had a schoolboy crush on Sailor Moon herself. (Though I became more of a Sailor Mars guy as I got older.) Those were both really appealing factors in why I pursued anime.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon, although, I would probably say it was Dragon Ball Z a year or two later. (Though I remained more of a Sailor Moon fan despite liking both of them.)
What was it like being a male fan of Sailor Moon? Did you feel like you were watching a show for girls? I never felt like it was a show “for girls” but I knew almost instinctively that there were people out there that wouldn’t understand that no matter how I tried to explain it. I wasn’t talking to anyone in my physical world at that time, but even if I had been, I imagine that I probably wouldn’t have said anything to them in fear that I would be made fun of or bullied for it. (Based on some previous trauma I’ve had with people picking on and bullying me.)
I had crushes on both Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars. I guess that’s something probably more unique to male fans. (Though there might be bi/gay female fans who do, I don’t know enough about that.) Of course, I realized the characters weren’t real people, but there was a part of me that watched the show thinking that it could teach me what girls liked and give me ideas I could emulate towards dealing with them.
Fortunately, with how reserved and socially anxious I was during that time, it didn’t really lead to any moments of public embarrassment. Though I will sheepishly admit that I wanted to dress and look like Mamoru (or Darien as he was called in the bastardization that was DIC’s localization) and might have once ruined a green sweater of mine trying to recreate his jacket from the anime 😡
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Not great, to be honest. Like I really enjoyed anime, but no one in small town Wisconsin had ever even heard of it. The fact that I liked it and no one else around me was into that stuff, drove to look for companions on the internet.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet pretty much the center of all my hobbies. None of them were really known or understood in small town Wisconsin back then (and to some extent it’s not much different today) But on the internet, at least back then, you were guaranteed to find more people who were in a similar sort of situation.
In other words, the internet really drove people of that type together back then.
Tell me more about making friends on the internet. Where did you meet them? What do you remember about them? I met my first batch of internet friends from an IRC chatroom called #rpgmaker (which was ironic because the actual conversation of RPGmaking made up maybe 1% of the things talked about) From there I moved on to a Final Fantasy forum known as FFAlpha and I started keeping a Livejournal. After that was a long period where I was addicted to the online MMORPG Final Fantasy XI.
During the #rpgmaker days everyone I met was older than me. Some only a year or two, while others were legal adults and could even drink. My name back then was PWX which stood for Phantom Warrior X (I used to think the X was cool).
My very first friends, or at least who I considered friends back then, were actually two chat moderators named Default and Cassiopeia. They became my friends after I broke down crying after some jerk in the channel started picking on me for some reason (Keep in mind I was in 7th or 8th grade then and I had no friends for quite some time).
Klondike, whose real name was Eric, was another person I became friends with and the only one I still have any contact for. I was never quite able to get him into anime despite him liking JRPGs. We used to exchange games via the mail in order to play as many as we could on our limited teenager budgets.
There was a guy named Edge who pretended to be my friend but often gave my computer a lot of viruses. Yet, despite that, I actually hung out with him and defended him. Probably not the smartest thing, but I was desperate for friends. He always used to talk about his rap career and DBZ (which makes me laugh thinking about nowadays).
After about a year or so, I ended up becoming one of the many chatroom operators. Although at that point, the chat itself had started to die. People were getting busier with real life, and less and less new people were dropping in. Eventually, my friends Ryoko (who loved the Tenchi character almost as much as I did) and Kbro convinced me to come visit this site called FFAlpha. I had a similar experience with FFAlpha that I did with #rpgmaker, in that when I got there I had a lot of trouble finding my place. I wanted badly to be friends with everyone, but none of my prior relationships were really anything I could draw any sort of guidance from.
One thing that I tried that was popular back then was Livejournal (essentially the Tumblr of its day). I thought that if I wrote about myself and my life that would help people understand me and want to be my friend. I tried hard to be people’s friends through that, but only a few of which probably stand out.
I had two friends, both named Cassie. One was from California that I remember talking about all sorts of anime (but in particular Inuyasha) The other one was from Wisconsin like me, and we were friends for a fairly long time afterwards, but due to differing points of views (and life) we grew apart from each other. As is often the case with a lot of older internet friends 🙁
Eventually through the years, a point and time came that I worked my way up to a super moderator on the forums. I became passionate about improving the site because I believed somewhere that if I did, I’d be popular and people would like and open up to me more. Unfortunately, this led to me not seeing eye to eye with the administrators then, and it devolved into a lot of petty drama (most of which is embarrassing to really recount anymore).
At around that time, I was close to starting college (I believe) and that’s when I got addicted to the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI. There’s a lot of history there, but in relation to anime there’s not a whole to say. Most people I actually met on there weren’t really interested in anime at all, and a surprising number of them hadn’t even played Final Fantasy.
Whew, I hope that gives you an appropriate overview!
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? It was Anime Detour. Funny story about this actually.
At the time I was attending school in Moorhead Minnesota (about 7 hours away from where I live) It was 2007 I think. The anime club, of which I was a member but didn’t actually know anyone that well, decided to get a group together to go to this convention. They had you pay a fee, and with it they’d help register you and get hotel rooms. I think I would up paying between $80 and $100.
Thursday, the day before the convention. I crammed into a van with a bunch of almost strangers (I knew of them at club at least, there was about 6-7 people) which was pretty nerve racking (I suffer from social anxiety) We spent 4-5 hours on the road. Not doing great, but I figure it will soon be over.
We get to the hotel. I’m glad to be out of the cramped van. Getting ready to prepare myself for the prospect of rooming with 3-4 other dudes in a room. Meet up with my club (who all took separate rides to get there) Find out they only rented two rooms, one for the guys and one for the girls.
At first, I’m okay. Most of the people I had actually traveled with were girls. So I thought, naively, it’d probably be me, a guy I rode with, and maybe 2-3 other guys from club. NOPE. It was 7-8 other guys total aside from me.
I panicked hardcore. So much so I had to call my mom and I was melting down. Because there was no way I’d be able to sleep (both due to space and due to anxiety) in a room with all these other dudes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much my mom or family could do at the time, except suggest I try to get another room at the hotel.
Conventions being what they are. I was able to get a room that night before the convention but after that night, I would need to seek other lodgings or somehow learn to deal with the dude room for two more nights (which I was incredibly anxious about considering I had already spent a night away from and was worried about coming back and saying “Hey I know you all got settled in but I’m actually supposed to stay with you guys :I ” )
Fortunately, for me, at the time Anime Detour was hosted at a hotel near the Mall of America. Also near the mall was another hotel that offered free shuttles to the Mall. I ended up walking over there and being able to get another room for the weekend.
Far as the convention itself. I was really hoping that it would bring me closer to the club that I wasn’t really that great friends with or bring me in contact with someone cool. The one thing I didn’t count on was the fact that I would need to be proactively social, which pretty much kept me from really connecting with anyone there.
I did end up spending a ton of money in both the vendor room, and the bookstore at the mall. So in a way anime conventions have kind of cemented themselves as more of a place to splurge on my hobbies rather than meeting people (which I’m still always hopeful for in my attendance of conventions, but never really pans out).
It sounds like anime fandom played a major role in your social development and how you learned to make friends. Can you tell me more about anime, social anxiety, and learning to be social? Haha, well to be completely honest, I never did really figure out how to make friends. At least, not in the normal sense.
My social anxiety started when I was young. Partially because I was bullied for being disabled (I was deaf in my left ear and uncoordinated) and partially because I was into things that people in small town Wisconsin had no idea about. It got worse and worse as time went on, and eventually I stopped being able to deal with anything that involved people being around.
Which is why I turned to the internet. I thought it could bring me relief to my loneliness and solve my scoial problems. For a time, it was a reasonable substitute, but when I started hitting the later end of high school, I started to understand the limitations of online only friendships and started to wish I could have what I had online in the real world.
During college I started using Facebook to search up people who went to my school and liked anime (back when FB allowed you do that). It wound up not working for the first college I went to because I stupidly chose a school in a place that was similar to my hometown (ick). At the next college, I was introduced to some of the people in the local anime club as well as a few people outside of it, but despite my limited efforts, I could never really establish anything real with them, even when I managed to work myself up into attending Anime Detour with them.
It wasn’t until I attended college in 2008 (after many years with different schools) that I eventually found someone on FB that was as interested in me as I was them. Josh, who would later become one of my best friends, invited me down almost immediately to play Super Smash Brothers Brawl in his room. I accepted his invitation with some trepidation and blind courage, and it turned out to be one of those rare turning points in my life.
It was him that I owe most of the credit for helping me get over some of the awkward social hurdles that I had. Before I met him, I couldn’t even eat in a campus cafeteria or do a whole lot of anything involving people. After I got used to hanging out with him and the people who sometimes tagged along, I became more confident in doing everyday sorts of tasks. I eventually got to the point where I could somewhat function around people (even if I had no idea of how to actually engage with them).
Unfortunately, the anime club for the University where I met Josh wasn’t quite as engaging as my prior university. Where my previous university would plan fun events and go to anime conventions (like the one I mention in my first convention story) this one would only sit and watch anime. While both Josh and I tried to connect there, we found it very unwelcoming and decided to essentially do our own thing.
Our “own thing” was a group that we commonly referred to it as “the group.” We started it in our second year when we became roommates, and its where we showed a bunch of freshmen (and a few other people) our favorite anime (Gurren Lagann, Code Geass, Eureka Seven, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, I can go on and on). Not only that, but we also spent a lot of time with them doing other things like going out to eat, attending the local convention, and going on long walks around the city.
Unfortunately, as time went on, more people from the group started getting interested in other groups on campus and even started making their own splinter groups. In our prime we had as many as ten people that were always willing to hang out and talk, and then by the end it had dwindled down to just myself, Josh, and our friend Mike.
Then we pretty much hit today. I’m wiser but still not really sure how to make friends. The anime fandom along with the internet has changed a lot, and I can’t help but feel lost. Especially as I grow older and it becomes harder for younger generations to want to relate to me. (Even though I feel I can pretty much keep up with most ages.)
I suppose if there’s anything specific I took from anime during the years, it would be that I always wanted to have a group of close friends. I guess good example would be One Piece and its concept of nakama (comrades). Josh and I had always been annoyed at casual friendships that didn’t mean much and we were always on the lookout for people who wanted to be something deeper. Unfortunately (I know I’m saying that a lot) neither of us are as charismatic as Luffy or other anime protagonists are with making friends 😡
Oh and I guess I learned that women weren’t much like Sailor Moon characters, to both my joy and disappointment. 😛
Aside from watching anime, how did you express your anime fandom? Did you create anything, like fan fic or websites, or roleplay in forums? I did try to write one Tenchi fanfic (technically an adult fanfic) when I was a teen. There’s not a whole lot I can say about that (other than it would probably be pretty embarrassing if it still existed). I also tried to make a Tenchi RPG, but that never got anywhere past making a few sprites for it (apparently a friend told me later that someone else had stolen them and claimed them as his own work, but I was past the point of caring about it at that point).
For the most part, the way I expressed my fandom was online. I would either use character names from series I liked (I think I used Keitaro from Love Hina once) or pictures when I designed my Livejournal (and later blogs).
Finally, what’s the biggest contrast between your life as an anime fan then and now? When I was young, being an anime fan was an identity for me. It was something that set me apart, and sort of gave me a place to belong. While I still had difficulty making friends, it felt like people in the community were the same and that if I tried I could meet people.
Today anime is a lot bigger and more diverse. While I’m happy about that for some reasons (more stuff coming to the west, less stigma about liking anime,) it also sort of brings with it a kind of identity crisis. How do I use anime to find the people who I’m capable of connecting with? It’s not as simple as just shared experiences or having watched mostly the same anime anymore. You’ve got plenty of people who had no problems making friends in high school or have only seen a fraction of the hundreds of anime you’ve seen.
I don’t know age might be a factor. I might also be making it more complicated than it needs to be. Though regardless of the many disappointments I’ve had, I still hold onto anime as one of my few outlets with potential to introduce me to people like myself. I still go to anime conventions despite not seeing the appeal to a lot of them anymore. I do whatever I can to express that part of my own identity.
Adam can be reached on Twitter.