Age: I’m 26 now, finished my studies and am now working full-time.
Sadly this means I have a lot less time for anime. I went from 30+ shows a year to maybe 5-6 now. If you ever do a “time skip” follow up series, let me know because this is a real personal struggle for me.
Location: Karlsruhe, Germany
When did you discover anime? Like most German kids, I watched Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, etc. without realizing what it was. By 15 I thought I had grown out of it but my neighbor was really into Naruto. When I dragged a case of pneumonia around long enough to chain me to the bed for three weeks, I decided to try it out. Looking for more, I found the fansubbing communities online and with them, a whole new world for me.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The “shonen battle” trope. There is just nothing what could get a 15-year-old more hyped than that and you didn’t find it in any other medium. Funnily enough, this is now the trope I’m probably most tired off.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? DBZ was always big but at the time Naruto got all the good “kids show” spots. So I have to say Naruto.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The first two to three years, I wasn’t part of it. I just loved watching anime and sometimes I would visit a forum but discover that most other German anime fans were pretentious douchebags.
It wasn’t until I started fansubbing that I discovered how fun the community can be if you find your place in it.
What was your role in the fansubbing community? I actually got more or less “forced” into fansubbing. I was an author for the biggest German Naruto site (GermanNaruto.de* – clever, I know) and the site started a fansub group to deliver quality german fansubs for our beloved ninja. I was originally not part of the team but as with all group projects, people were unreliable and I more often than not ended up helping out with timesetting and proofreading subtitles to get the episode out in time. We actually existed out of the fansubbing community as we didn’t care about the craft itself but only about delivering an enjoyable Naruto experience for our users as German subs (even Crunchyroll ones) were mediocre at best at the time.
[*This fan site is no longer accessible at this address. Find it here.]
As anime has become more accessible, have you continued to be a part of fansubs? Why or why not? Even though I, to this day, would never want to join another fansub project, I really enjoyed being part of this team. I’m sad I lost contact with most of them but one of my best friends is a girl I met there.
The site itself fizzled out shortly after the manga finished but we continued to sub Naruto to the very end of the anime. I actually don’t know how this correlates with anime becoming more accessible since none of us did it for any other reason than because we liked doing it.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? It was mainly just a source for streams with some forum threads dedicated to certain shows. (Around 2010.) Since Germans never talked about anime as anime there were only small groups who were interested in it and those usually met in those threads.
When I finally started checking out English sites two years later, I discovered that I probably missed out on a lot of stuff. So it’s hard for me to say how the internet was involved in general.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?Aninite 2014. Hard to believe that it took me four years to visit a convention and on top of it it was one in Austria. I met up with my fansubbing group who I only contacted via Skype before. The convention was OK I guess, but I was too busy meeting people (which is always the best part of cons) to really evaluate it.
It probably had little programming apart from the main stage and focused a lot on selling merchandise and holding art workshops. But that didn’t matter much since I was there for my online friends.
On the other hand, Connichi two months later was a whole new world for me. I ran from panel to panel, meeting Atsuhiro Iwakami from ufotable and Studio Trigger’s Sushio who worked on two of my favorite shows of all time. I kinda regret not being as informed about the industry at the time, but I can’t help but smile when I see my posters with their autographs.
All the other panels were great too and I met a few longtime friends there.
The whole experience was a blast and is the reason I go every year: connecting with people, getting to meet my (now) idols, and finding out so many new things about anime and manga—these are some of the best feelings in the world.
What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? This is a really tough question. I’m not entirely sure what the first thing I bought was but if we are talking about the first thing that meant “buying into anime” for me then it’s definitely my Misaka Mikoto (Raildex) figurine. It’s too bad I don’t have a picture right now as she is still in a box from my move to the new house a couple of weeks ago. I actually bought her at Aninite and getting this figurine was a must for me. She and Gilgamesh (who I got shortly after and who is luckily standing behind me so you get a picture) are to this day constantly in my top five favorite characters. Both cost around 45€/$50/£38.
In hindsight, this was either a great or terrible idea, as I now have a hard time spending more on characters I don’t like quite as much while not really getting more expensive figurines of those two since I already have them.
Did you stay a fan the whole time up until today? If yes, what kept your interest? I did stay a fan the whole time and I hope to be one for the rest of my life. The reason I fell in love with it has a variety of reasons which I will spare you since I’m rambling way too much anyways but it boils down to that for me, it is the freest medium. There are no boundaries, the possibilities are endless, and every story looks like it feels to the characters. In this unlimited pool of ideas, I will always find something I enjoy.
You said you loved shonen battle anime when you discovered the medium. What types of anime do you like now and why? I’m not sure I have a “type”. Until two years ago I always said I’d watch everything except BL as long as it’s fun but having seen and loving Doukyuusei I can’t even exclude that anymore. If there is one thing I look out for then it’s well-drawn relationships. Those don’t need to be necessarily romantic but can be rivalries, friendships or feuds as well. White Album 2, Oregairu, Hibike Euphonium, and Shinsekai Yori are really good examples for this.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? For me, there are two big differences: The first one is that with the growing accessibility and mainstream drift that anime is getting, it’s getting harder to know someone through anime. When I started seven to eight years ago, the community was very small and anime watchers all had things and character traits in common. Finding out that a colleague/classmate watches anime meant that you would for sure get along. Today, all different kinds of people watch anime, which is great but drives out this feeling that you would like anyone who watches anime. Also, there are so many shows that if you both watch anime it’s not even likely you both watch/like the same things.
On the other hand, give it a few years and we’ll be able to recommend anime like any other show on Netflix.
The second contrast is me getting older and having less free time. I cannot really partake in the community anymore. I spent my whole time in college on /r/Anime, Twitter, Sakugabooru, and similar sites. After getting a consulting job, I maybe get to open Reddit for five minutes a day and haven’t read an (anime related) article in a year. And even if I had time to participate, the amount of seasonal anime I’d need to watch would mean sacrificing a lot of time I can otherwise spend with friends, hobbies, and family. So the contrast is that anime has become much more of a solitary activity for me. I do hope to change it but if I’m honest with myself, the chances aren’t too great.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I will separate this into three discovery periods: before I knew of the term “anime,” when I first learned about the term anime, and finally my rediscovery of anime and what it can really encompass.
Until I entered high school in America, I grew up in Hong Kong. When I was still an elementary schooler, one night I was watching TV and airing on the TV was some cartoon movie that enthralled me. It was in a Cantonese dub (of which I understood basically nothing) with rough English subtitles that would appear once every couple of lines. Eventually it was past my bed time and I had to submit to my parental overlords who would have just forcibly torn me away from the TV otherwise. It killed me that I had no idea what this movie was even called (much less that it was a Japanese cartoon) and I only realized much later after I had learned of the term anime that this movie was in fact Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. I went through the same experience again from half-watching Princess Mononoke, also presented with a Cantonese dub and shoddy English subtitles during those same childhood years.
I did not actually learn of the term anime until a friend of mine introduced me to Naruto during my middle school years. Today this is probably one of my marks of shame from my earlier days as an anime fan, but I rewatched the original Naruto TV series including filler at least three times. It didn’t take long after Naruto to check out the other Shonen Jump fare, and then I had a phase of watching a bunch of shoujo anime after getting a bit tired of shonen fighting stuff. After that I proceeded to much of the male otaku-pandering harem series. I began to watch most of the airing series that was being fansubbed at the time as I proceeded into high school until I reached major anime burnout. The show that really broke me was K-On. I had a revelation that the shows that otaku were hyping up as the “must check out” shows or the “best anime of the season” just did not really appeal to me anymore. Even those shows aside, after being burned too many times by anime with great beginning episodes that would then be completely unable to sustain their premise for their full running length (Gonzo anyone?), I was really questioning whether or not my heart was really in anime anymore.
My re-discovery of anime I have to credit 100% to the Anime World Order podcast. I very well may not be an anime fan today if I had not found their podcast during my high school burnout. It really opened my eyes up to just how many gems there were back in the ’70s/’80s/early ’90s and to get in the habit of just trying to learn more about who is actually involved in creating the anime I watch and love. It also really opened up my eyes to the fact that anime is not just Shonen Jump adaptations or a cesspool of otaku in-jokes and tropes, but it really does have the capacity to take on a much wider diversity of fictional material. Helen McCarthy summarized this well on the AWO interview with her (at the 5:58 mark):
“Anime is an adventure playground and like any adventure playground you’re only going to get out of it what you take in with you […] if you go looking to try new things, explore new genres, and look around for challenges, then anime is going to provide that.”
The pursuit of challenges is what keeps my anime passion alive. Every time I see a side of anime I’ve never seen before, my otaku expiration date pushes back even further. My hope is that I will never hit this expiration date, so long as I remember that watching anime does not have to be limited to the titles that trend with the anime fandom at large.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For my elementary school story, the main feeling I came away from having half-watched both movies was “Wow, I did not know a cartoon could portray such a compelling story.” My prior exposure to cartoons was things of the nature of some of the older Walt Disney cartoons, Tom and Jerry, CatDog, and Rocko’s Modern Life to name a few. While I enjoyed those as a kid, we can all see that these are comedic endeavors that completely unlike the aforementioned movies. Those movies imprinted upon me a much deeper, lingering feeling of fulfillment.
Although Naruto marked my initial foray into anime, I have actually fallen completely out of caring about it at all. That being said, when I first watched it I really thought it was a fresh breath of air from all the Western cartoons done in episodic format. I actually love a lot of the DCAU cartoons but I feel like there is a limit to how far or deep you can take a story when constrained by that format. The serialized nature of Naruto and other series like it grabbed my attention and I grew a much stronger attachment to characters from long running series like this. This is not to say I necessarily dislike anime that take an episodic format, but an anime series portraying a single story that runs for the length of one or more cours returns a particular feeling of immense satisfaction when done well. I can’t say the same for most of the Western cartoons I watched when I was younger. I was also fascinated by many of the cultural differences from Japan that were exhibited in some of the anime I watched during this time, and so there was definitely an appeal of adventuring into a culture very different from my mostly Western sensibilities.
The appeal of anime since my rediscovery of it has taken a much more fascinating turn. Prior to this point I did not really take to the cel-animated style of animation but I’ve grown exceedingly fond of it the more stuff I visit from the ’70s and ’80s. It saddens me to think that it practically a dead art at this point. (If I’m not mistaken Sazae-san was the last anime to use cel-animation and if the production for Sazae-san cannot keep it up… well nothing else can right?) The amount of artistic and narrative diversity that was possible during the ’80s due to the booming economy in Japan at the time is something that I have not really found in anime of recent times; with any luck crowdfunded anime will continue to carve out its own niche though. That aside, I also have bizarre theoretical nostalgia for the ’80s which my parents find both puzzling and amusing.
Just to clarify, even though I have primarily been focusing my attention on anime from the ’70s and ’80s since my rediscovery, I do think that currently anime is doing pretty well and when I do finally get around to watching some more recent anime it is not that hard for me to find something I would like. I am just in no rush to watch anime that everyone is talking about, and I am hesitant to watch shows as they air for fear of being let down by the end.
You grew up in Hong Kong and then Cambridge. Can you tell me how anime fandom was different in each city? I should clarify here. Until high school I grew up in Hong Kong. During high school I was in New Jersey. For undergraduate schooling onwards I was in Cambridge. So I’m not really sure I can say I “grew up” in Cambridge since I was already in college at that point.
As someone that cannot actually speak Cantonese (I can understand a very small amount), my experience is unlikely to be representative of actual fandom in Hong Kong. I also did not attempt to interact too much with fandom in Hong Kong. I think what stands out to me the most over there compared to the states are the sort of properties that were represented. I can remember walking in random malls and seeing illustrations and merchandise for Astro Boy casually in areas. Even more so for stuff like Doraemon. Doraemon would be broadcast dubbed on the Cantonese language channels. Basically you can clearly see representation of the set of anime or manga properties that are huge across East Asia but are virtually unheard of in the West. Many of these properties are popular to large audiences, not just self-proclaimed anime fans. As far as people at school (I went to a British private school taught entirely in English so again, possibly not representative), there were kids who were into those huge Shonen Jump titles like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and so forth. I do recall someone reading a localized (into written Chinese) Sgt. Frog manga volume. I wasn’t even aware that this was released in the states or that it had a following until checking just now. In my head I had thought of this as another “popular in East Asia but not in the West” property.
I went to a boarding high school in New Jersey and I didn’t leave campus much because I was lazy and going to town required more walking than I cared for at the time. So I can really only comment on the situation at school. I think besides what I’ve already said, it appeared to me that there wasn’t a lot of interest in an organized club setting for anime (although I feel like it could have been different if the school actually allowed for non-athletic and non-theater extra-curricular activities). There were however people with at least some kind of passing interest in anime; their presence was not very visible though so to this day I’m not entirely sure how many people actually cared about anime. This is when I really understood that there’s a whole population of people who consume anime but do not speak about it whatsoever.
College in Cambridge was a pretty huge letdown as far as anime fandom is concerned. Admittedly, if I was still the same fan I was when I was getting into this stuff I would have fit right at home. There were a lot of people to whom anime is essentially a bunch of memes. While I do actually think one great aspect about anime fandom is that people can celebrate it in so many different ways, it was a letdown for me that I had so much trouble finding people who would also want to take it seriously. I’m not gonna pretend like every anime is some kind of cinematic masterpiece, because that is not true at all. At the time it struck me as strange that anime fans had so little interest in seeking out things worthy of that kind of recognition. Stepping aside from my biases, there’s definitely a lot of that internet awareness of anime fandom that would be represented by anime fans at my school. So if you were the sort of person who was constantly on top of the zeitgeist of anime fandom, quickly jumping to one hot otaku property after the next, you would have had a great time.
You spent a lot of time gravitating toward much older anime. What appealed to you about those over more modern titles? When I first saw a non-Ghibli cel animated anime, I was still in my relative infancy as an anime fan and the aesthetic did not appeal to me at the time. It’s funny that since then I now tend to gravitate much more to older titles. Probably the biggest driving force during my transition to older titles is wanting to get away from the glut of moe titles that kept getting pumped out. Before that point most of what I was watching was that moe stuff and at first I thought it was quirky and fun but later on I realized I was just lying to myself about liking that stuff anymore. There can be shows with moe elements that can still be good provided other quality aspects (plot, characterization, etc.) are there. However, the balance wasn’t really there when I was really getting sick of it. Nowadays anime seems to be doing a lot better than simply completing a checklist designed to cater only to the moe fanbase.
So older anime had a lot less moe stuff crammed into it. On the other hand, there’s a ton more mecha stuff there which I previously did not care for. I no longer have any resistance to mecha shows now and do enjoy greatly the ones that I have seen. I still don’t think I would call myself a huge mecha person though. I do really like the level of detail you see with some illustrations of robots. It is a shame that the animators who can actually animate robots in 2D are dwindling out.
The hand-crafted feel of cel animation versus the technically cleaner aspects of digital animation is something that I enjoy greatly. It’s really great whenever some window shatters or a building gets demolished and you can see the individual bits of debris and rubble. People spent weeks painting cels for something that amounts to a gorgeous second long shot. Whenever the camera perspective switches I’m blown away because everything in the shot has to be redrawn each frame. The warmer color palette gives a different vibe than that of modern titles. In any case, for many of these aspects there’s not necessarily a technical reason you couldn’t do these things in digital animation. However, there is one thing that was certainly different in the ’80s and that was the economy in Japan.
The amount of money that got pumped into the anime industry as a consequence of the ’80s bubble economy would allow for these super detailed and time-intensive shots. Not all old anime is like this of course, but at least the possibility was there. Besides that, the crazy amounts of money that would get thrown around would enable the production of strange, extremely non-merchandisable titles such as Angel’s Egg, To-Y, and Bobby’s Girl. Success or not, there is something fascinating about creative output in anime unrestrained by commercial considerations. If you wanted to pick a single decade to look for as much anime that is unlike anime you’ve seen before, unquestionably the ’80s is the place to go.
Putting aside my preference for the aesthetics or the experimental stuff of the time, if I were to try and sell someone on the concept of going back and checking older anime it would be that titles that have withstood the test of time are worth checking out. It’s hard to identify if an anime title is going to have any staying power at the height of its popularity. So the only reasonable way to unbiasedly test this I think is to simply wait and see. Especially nowadays, fans move rapidly from one show to the next. Here’s are modern examples of things I don’t think pass the test of time. How many people honestly care about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anymore (well, they weren’t doing themselves any favors with that second season)? How about Lucky Star? On the other hand, people will still bring up Akira as one of these cinematic masterpieces. Somehow fandom over Legend of the Galactic Heroes has persisted for all this time despite only very recently getting an official release for the first time. Old school fans still talk about Bubblegum Crisis. A couple of years back Carl Gustav Horn cared enough to assemble writers and put together a gorgeous 25th anniversary fanzine for Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. To me, that is a strong signal that those particular titles are at least worth checking out. An argument could certainly be made that since so much less stuff made it to English speaking audiences back then, it was easier for fandom as a whole to rally and concentrate around a small subset of shows compared to now. But hey, people still care about this stuff more than 25 years later. Why not find out what all the fuss is about?
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I did not really try to connect with anime fans until high school. There did not seem to be a whole lot of interest in anime at my school when I tried asking around, and so I eventually started an anime club in hopes of finding other fans. Unfortunately basically any extracurricular activity that was not sports or theater was shafted because there were credit requirements related to these and so even though a bunch of people expressed interest in an anime club at my first administrative meeting, very few people could actually come to showings I held after school. To be honest I did not really have a good sense of direction for what I wanted to do with the club until I was a senior and had experienced my rediscovery of anime. It was also during this time I began nurturing my love of old anime. The goal I set that year was to try and break people’s preconceived notions of anime with every showing I did and try and make it a little educational by talking about some of the background details of how the titles came to be. So I would show titles like Royal Space Force, Project A-ko, Angel’s Egg, Gunbuster, and the early ’90s Black Jack OAVs to name a few. That being said, the anime club was really just one guy I had not met before I started it, and my friends most of whom were not really anime fans. The people that attended did tell me later after I had graduated that I showed them some really interesting stuff that they would never have associated with anime normally, so I guess I did achieve my goal in the end. I think there might have been more anime fans than I was originally led to believe but perhaps none of them were interested in going to an anime club. I say this because at a completely unrelated event I was talking to a friend about the unfortunate passing of Satoshi Kon and why this was a big deal, and someone I barely knew chimed in and said “Oh yeah I heard about that too!” I was shocked that someone else in my high school would even know of the name Satoshi Kon.
Then after that was college. Even though I went to a very nerdy college, I really did not connect much at all with anime fans I met there. It honestly was a really hard time for me as an anime fan to have to come to terms with the fact that I had so little in common with other anime fans in my age group. I am aware that what I am saying would probably anger some of the older fans who may have had to endure bullying for being into anime and would have killed to find any other anime fans. With the exception of one person (Hi Steve!), I basically did not meet any anime fans who really cared much about both old anime and the people who worked on them. Even putting aside old anime, people who went to the anime club in college were not particularly interested in having serious discussions about anime either. Apparently the club used to be open to the public but from what I hear, too many old folks being around turned off students from the showings so it was closed off by a previous club president who had graduated by the time I was attending. While I am sure this was done with good intentions for the students, I was pretty bummed out that had I only attended a few years earlier I would have been able to meet a bunch of older anime fans. The one time during those years I felt a really strong connection with other people about anime was during a summer internship in Tokyo when I was 20 years old; basically all the actual employees in my team were middle aged software engineers. That same summer I was again reminded how out of place I was and still am; I was cel shopping in Nakano Broadway and I realized that the only people that ever walked into the cel shops (I spent hours upon hours just looking at cels) that were younger than me were the kids of couples that were much older than me. It is not easy for me to be reminded frequently about my interests are quite out of place with other fans in my age group. I would love to meet other fans in-person that are into old anime regardless of their age but I do not really know of a way to do so easily. I think most people tend to socialize within their age groups so I am not sure there is an easy way.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was, but I did not really use the internet to try and find other fans during middle and high school. These days I follow a bunch of the Anitwitter folks though. I mostly gave up trying to connect with other fans in real life circles. Some of my college friends who watch anime have tried to appeal to me by claiming to me things of the nature “Miyazaki seems like he thinks he’s the only one who can save anime” or “I can see how Hunter x Hunter was influenced by Naruto.” When I respond “Oh that’s interesting I never heard of that” and then ask them for a citation source or how they know any of this eventually they admit that they were bullshitting me which I do not take kindly to at all. Experiences like this deter me from wanting trying to discuss anime seriously with the anime fans I currently know in person. As a result I now sort of just silently follow the tweetings of (to name a few) the Mike Toole, Dawn / Usamimi and 80s_anime folks of the world. My small (maybe dumb) hope is that perhaps writing all of this may help open up some avenues to connect with other anime fans into older anime.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first anime convention was actually only a little over a year ago, at Anime Boston 2016. Prior to that my entire knowledge of what actually happens at anime conventions was pretty much based the AWO podcast coverage of them. I only went on Sunday and I mostly just spent time in the dealers’ room, especially at the only vendor that was selling cels. Instead of cels, at that booth I ended up buying two Galaxy Express 999 posters, a Royal Space Force poster, and a Macross Do You Remember Love poster. I’m kind of kicking myself for not going for the whole weekend because Masao Maruyama was a guest that year.
Tell me how you got a summer internship in Tokyo. Where was it? Did you speak Japanese? So I actually did three summer internships in a row in Japan. The first in Hyogo Prefecture (near Osaka), the second in Tokyo, and the third in Tokyo. These were all arranged through my school which had a program that you where you could do summer internships abroad. All of these internships were software development related (I majored in Computer Science).
The first internship was for a startup which excluding me and another intern from my school, consisted of literally just my French boss and a Japanese student working there. At lunch sometimes we would use Japanese but for work stuff I would just speak to him in English.
The second internship was for a more traditional Japanese company called Secom, and took place at their research lab in Mitaka city (the same city where the Ghibli museum is located). They asked me what language I preferred to communicate with and I insisted on Japanese because I was trying to get more comfortable speaking it. They seemed relieved and happy to accommodate that request, although we would have once a week English lunch table events which I would go to so they could practice English. Those lunch tables were the only time I spoke English at the company. In the present day my spoken Japanese has atrophied very hard, although I’m still practicing reading and listening. As I mentioned earlier, most of the people in my team were essentially folks in their 40s to 50s who majored in Computer Science back in the day. In other words, the demographic of people who would likely enjoy the same kind of anime that I do. This was exactly the case. I could talk about how great Galaxy Express 999 is and people would respond with pleasant agreement instead of a blank face, wow! Forgive me for tooting my horn a little, but those guys were continually surprised by just how much I knew about older anime properties; actually I feel like I actually don’t know that much compared to the super fans that I follow online. For a presentation I did in front of an audience comprised of people from a bunch of different teams, I showcased some of the cels I bought that summer and invited people to stop by my desk if they wanted to take a look at the rest. One guy who came by was talking about Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise and referred to Hideaki Anno as the director. I gave him a weird look and corrected him, pointing out that the director was in fact Hiroyuki Yamaga. He still wasn’t quite convinced but my supervisor had my back and said “he actually knows a lot about anime.” Most of the people in my team weren’t necessarily hardcore anime fans so much as people who enjoyed anime when they were younger. It just so happens those anime titles were exactly what I was into. As a half-joke I would tell friends in the states that I was finally with my kind of people. It was the first (of very few) major experiences I’ve had offline where I felt like I really had an overlapping anime interest with another group of people.
The third internship was not an internship so much as a summer research experience I did at Tokyo University. I think most students (all of them were graduate students) in the lab could read English decently, which was probably a requirement given that most academia is published in English, but they were no one spoke it at all. It was kind of unfortunate since my Japanese speaking had gotten a lot worse at this point so it was hard to actually engage in conversations about stuff. During my introduction to the lab I did mention (in Japanese) “Hmmm, as far as hobbies I’m into ’80s anime in particular.” After processing what I had said, one of the students responded “… wait we weren’t even born then.”
This reminded me of an amusing experience during my first summer in Japan before my first internship started, where I was in a language exchange thing that was happening at Tokyo University with my Japanese class from school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently my bizarre interest in older anime left an impression on some people there. At the end of this language exchange thing, there was a closing event where on a whim they were someone should do karaoke. Prior to this I had used the opening to Gatchaman in a presentation for my Japanese class so everyone from my class wanted me to go sing the opening in front of a bunch of Tokyo University engineering staff and graduate students, which I did. I’m not even sure the graduate students knew what this was, and it must have been weird for some of the staff to get a flashback to their childhoods.
Was your interest in anime a contributing factor to you taking an internship in Tokyo? Maybe somewhat but honestly I don’t think it was that big of a factor prior to accepting the internship. Completely unrelated to my anime interest, I had read up a lot about lifestyle differences or social issues in Japan. So I was well aware that it isn’t some fantasy land where people casually walk down the street rocking Naruto headbands. Especially coming from Hong Kong and then living in the states, the culture shock wasn’t that big for me by the time I spent my first summer in Japan.
I also didn’t really have this anime fan obsession with Akihabara being the holy land nor did I feel like I absolutely had to make a pilgrimage over there to complete my anime fan journey. I did go a couple of times and at first it was a little overwhelming but honestly overall it was pretty boring for me. If you are down with all the hot anime merchandise and have tons of money, then they will very willingly accommodate that fan interest. But for someone like me whose mind was flooded with obsession over older anime, there wasn’t a lot that catered to me from there. Nakano Broadway on the other hand, THAT is where the old school anime fan stuff is at.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first got into it? This is a pretty boring answer because it could apply to anyone besides people that became fans after the rise of streaming as a anime delivery mechanism, but it has to be just the sheer amount of anime that is available via legal means. More accessibility is great but ironically the problem of legal accessibility being solved has lead to the problem of too much anime being available. The latter is not actually a problem because it’s as simple as choosing not to watch everything, but I think any long term fans can probably name a person or two that tried to watch everything available every season and burned out really fast. As far as how this relates to fandom specifically, I think an obsession with always trying to stay up to date has lead to overall anime fandom having a very short term memory. To be honest not long after I was getting into anime I think this was already starting to happen, but now it seems even worse. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t really see the modern equivalent of extreme concentrated pockets of fandom for older properties (whether that’s stuff from when I was getting into anime, or before). It would be a shame to lose that level of fan dedication. That being said, I’m still pretty optimistic that dedicated fandom will still thrive in some form.
When did you discover anime? It was sophomore year of high school (I think around 2006?) when I decided to try anime. Things like memes and imageboards were just starting to get popular. So my first anime was Rozen Maiden because I saw so much art of one of the characters.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was because it was so different from cartoons I’ve seen before. Sixteen-year-old me found it so cool watching animation made by a different culture: what stories they tell, the style of comedy, and what kind of characters they create.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first anime that made me go “alright, this is the best anime I’ve ever watched” is the Aria franchise, cumulating with Aria the Origination. It remains my favorite anime to this day. Fortunately, there isn’t that much merchandise or events related to this show, but I do have the art books, blu-rays, and manga. The day Kawakami Tomoko died in 2011 I was inconsolable. I still get emotional when I hear Athena’s voice.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Bleach and Death Note. I didn’t really pay attention to airing stuff until like 2008, and by then I distinctly remember Lucky Star being all the rage.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I had one or two friends who watched anime as well, but I mostly kept it to myself. I did try showing some stuff to other friends with mixed results.
What were those mixed results? It was more or less a learning experience that different people liked different genres—really, really early on. I showed a good friend Lucky Star and School Rumble, but he enjoyed the more cerebral shows like Serial Experiments Lain and Evangelion instead. I was still in that wonderful phase where I thought every anime was just the most incredible thing ever.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? The internet was a place where I could freely talk about anime because I was in the company of other anime fans. It was a godsend for someone like me, where I just have to share the ideas filling my head to the brim. I started really getting engaged when I joined the Saimoe community (those voting poll contests to democratically determine best girl popular a few years ago) which eventually led to me starting my own anime blog which eventually led to me making fake anime news.
I want to hear more about the origin of your “fake anime news” blog Anime Maru! I had my own blog that I had been writing for a few years. I was proud of my work and more or less did it for fun, and through blogging I virtually met many of my close acquaintances in the anime community (including you!). But over the years I started losing passion for and I was looking for some way to be different. I felt like everyone has an anime blog and while sometimes a great clever idea or unique insight pops into my head, in the end I was just doing what everyone else was doing. I wrote a few parody anime news articles and not only were they incredibly fun to write, the people I shared them with found them really entertaining. I knew I had a fresh new idea, but I had decently high ambitions so I would need a staff. I took some time off to really plan out my vision, do the groundwork for making a website, and finding a good staff of writers. While the first year was a bit rocky and had some growing pains, I finally found joy and passion in writing about anime again. I’m glad I can contribute to this community in my own unique way.
As a blogger, do you interact with newbie fans? If so, how do you think their perspectives are different than when you were a newbie fan? I think Anime Maru targets the hardcore anime crowd a bit more, as a lot of humor is meta-humor about the fanbase itself or oblique current events in the anime world. But outside of writing, I do enjoy talking about anime especially with new people. One trait newbie anime fans all share is being easily impressed by anime. I think this is because early in fandom they are recommended good shows by people trying to help them, and also by the fact they have not been “jaded” by tropes or cliche. To have that innocence back!
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was Anime Expo 2011, for which I flew into Los Angeles for. I never imagined having fun at an anime convention because I couldn’t find anyone interested in going. However, one of the blogs I wrote for at the time offered me press credentials and I just decided to go for it. Besides getting awesome access to guests and not having to stand in line, I was exposed to how fun it was to brush shoulders with “people from the internet” and be in a literal sea of individuals who share my passion. Now I am a regular convention goer.
You had press credentials. So you got paid to write about anime? How did you go from fan to pro? I’m really into anime music. Many years ago I was really into movie soundtracks, and that kind of bled into anime and I began researching anime soundtracks. I was invited by zzeroparticle to contribute on his anime music blog for a while because I could write moderately intelligently about anime soundtracks. His blog was a bit more successful and popular than my little shack at the time, and I got to go to some conventions! My fondest experiences with anime music include Yoko Kanno’s PIANO ME performance at Otakon and Kalafina at Anime Expo. For a soundtrack geek at the time like myself, it was an experience of a lifetime.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you found it and anime fandom today? The sheer size and organization of the fandom. Twelve years ago I could easily find a discussion board about anime or watch just about any show using the high seas, but now anime fandom is like a galaxy swirling around thanks to social media. Each fandom has huge rabid communities, and anime has never been more accessible. Anime has become far more mainstream and will only continue to do so.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I certainly remember watching broadcasts of shows like Voltron and Speed Racer and G-Force and (particularly) Star Blazers on TV when I was a kid. But some I was too young during some of them to differentiate them from Hanna Barbara or Herculoids, and others came about later but melded into Transformers and Thundercats and other shows as well. I don’t really count US broadcast dubs as “discovering anime” or as part of my “otaku origin.”
Robotech, I half-count. I think because I got into this show DEEP, discovered it right as it was hitting our shores, and followed it avidly the whole way. Also because it contained more elements “more stereotypically and uniquely anime” than the earlier broadcast dubs, and hit me at the right age to prime me for the rest. Transforming fighter jets that even a dink like Rick Hunter could learn to pilot hit my 10-year-old boy brain pretty damn hard, and developing a crush on Minmei just seemed to make perfect sense. Interestingly it wasn’t the animation itself which really dug me in, but the novelizations that started to drop when I was 12. I read feverishly at the time, and I had no enjoyment limitations (broadcast schedule, TV availability) with the novels like I did with the show, the story mapped out further, and it introduced more maturity to the overall story by End of the Circle than I ever got from the show. (Or that eventually watching the anime sources Robotech was based on would deliver.) I could share them, get other friends into them, and that played the largest part in priming me for “official anime” which would come to me in high school.
I’d started collecting comics only a few years before, so my comics habit introduced me to a few upperclassmen pretty quickly, to find the better comics store option they used. It also introduced me to someone who collected raw Japanese anime that was getting passed around in a college club he had access to. I’d hand him VHS tapes, and he would return them packed to the gills with anime.
This was the very best deal.
So I can tell exactly what my first “otaku exposure” was for me, since I still have my “Japanese Animation #1” VHS, carefully labeled and timecoded for ease of quickly advancing to the show I wanted to rewatch. The front label is getting sun-bleached to the point of illegibility now (as many others are fully) but the top label has always been protected by the case, so…
Bubblegum Crisis #1-2 (0-1230) Grey Digital Target (1283-2630) Dirty Pair: Project Eden (2631-3810) Megazone 23: Part 1 (3811-4800)
“Konya wa Hurricane” [the Bubblegum Crisis theme] haunts my soul to this day, because I consider it my very first “otaku exposure.”
I probably had about 6 “packed with random” tapes that I rewatched continuously. I don’t have the exact order of everything else, but I know Tape 2 had Dangiaoh, Dragon’s Heaven, Gunbuster (1-2), and Venus Wars. Project A-Ko and Devil Hunter Yohko would enter my life shortly. Vampire Hunter D and Demon City Shinjuku and Wind Ninja Chronicles would light up my supernaturalism and horror appreciation. Kimagure Orange Road would be my first introduction to “TV series anime,” and I Ayukawa Madoka became my first serious waifu before waifus were waifus, even though I only had episodes 5-8 to watch over and over again. (Though Minmei from Do You Remember Love was probably my first inkling of it.)
It would actually take me a few years to start getting any anime, subbed or dubbed. Prior to that I was rewatching the raw Japanese and getting everything I could from tone and scene context. It linked me pretty close to how the Japanese language sounds, even if I never committed to learning it. If I was lucky I could find translated scripts on BBSs [Bulletin Board Systems] and read those. When I DID get access to my first “modern dub” is was Warriors of the Wind, on the same tape as Nausicaa in raw Japanese. Eventually I would watch both to compare the vocals and scene edits, and would come out on the other side concluding that the English dub’s acting sucked horribly, and I disagreed vehemently with all the editing they did (something I did not know they were prone to, prior). As well on the same tape I gained access to my first official subtitled anime in MADOX-01. “Wait, so I can get the original work, without editing and horrible acting, and I just read the dialogue in English? SOLD!”
I officially had the sub/dub war on one VHS, and decided the victor, before I knew there was a war or a place to fight online.
I wouldn’t find TOO many people to convert to anime-appreciation in my early years, so mainly chatted with the upperclassman who introduced me to it and kept me fed, and otherwise… I rewatched. I stuck my stereo up to the TV’s mono speaker and recorded music for my own mix tapes. I rewatched some more.
I’d like to hear more about your older otaku friends. I was a freshman in high school, so 14 at the time. Started high school in ’89 and had been collecting comics for a couple years; wiki tells me Transformers #25 was February 1987, and it was “Megatron’s Last Stand!” that first got me to pay attention and start collecting. I’d mainly been picking comics off the newstand at grocery stores and book stores at the mall up until high school. I met a junior named Terry in choir who went to a specialty comic store a few towns over (older people who can drive!), and through him a sophomore named Tim who had a job working weekends at a local Diamond distribution warehouse. (Basically, they fed the comics TO the stores.) It was Tim who started getting me the anime tapes, after we started chatting about Robotech. I think his brother was at a local community college, and it was there that anime was making the club rounds. Terry was more of a general comic book enthusiast, and older enough that we didn’t hang out much outside of chatting before and after choir. With Tim I found the anime specialty, but also a fellow geek and gamer about other things, as over the high school years he would run Robotech RPG games (as would I), played a bunch of Games Workshop stuff with his friends, and such. (Tim also held back a quality Macross Super Veritech VF-1S for me that was sitting in the warehouse, but $25 was a lot for me back then, and I never snagged it. A decision I regret to this day.)
Terry I only knew for the two years we shared in high school, and Tim as well, though I’d still see him at various fine arts events my senior year and some years afterward. (I think he was the only one who knew how to properly use their ancient stage lighting board.) And while I tried out anime among some of my friends during high school, it didn’t really stick. Even with Tim we’d mainly chat about things after the fact, since he had already watched whatever he passed copied for me, and hanging out in a group was mainly for gaming rather than anime. So by and large ’89 to ’95 was much more of a “me doing my own thing” with anime, and would only come to change after college and new friends and convention-going. Some of them I am friends with to this day, go to Otakon with, and anime even reconnected me more strongly with my oldest-running friend (my grade, who I met in pre-school when we were four).
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’d like to say “maturity,” but in truth probably all manner of “otherness” appealed to me first, of which mature story and action were just a part. Japan at the time was fascinating, and had an aura of “nerd cool.” I knew things I particularly loved—Transformers and Robotech—originally CAME from Japan, even if I wasn’t fully on the process. So Japan was apparently pretty awesome, and this still was PURE Japan! I mean, they were speaking Japanese and ONLY Japanese!
It delivered animation that certainly was far and away more involved than American fare. Bloody, violent, grotesque, action-packed, and R-rated in all that represents. (Yes, I mean boobs. To a 14-15 year-old four-eyed geek, Priss was extremely risqué right from the first shots of her, appealing, and Mackie got to “sneak a peek” here and there at the whole gang. Grey Digital Target had a shower scene, casual toplessness, AND sex scenes! Gunbuster had casual and comedic toplessness of epic memorability. Ha… get it? “TOPless!” Look if Diebuster can make that joke, so can I.)
But it would eventually introduce me to “wait, THAT can be animated?” as well. Kimagure Orange Road was just… a high school romance? (Admittedly with a sci-fi twist.) They Were Eleven was a compelling sci-fi/adventure/mystery/romance? Can you even combine all those things?! Apparently, because it was great! I Can Hear the Sea was just… well, a sweet romance. No kung-fu, no laser beams, no psychic powers, no nothing. In a cartoon? No shit?
As much as I suppose I also cared about having my own special nerdiness to appreciate that most others knew nothing about or did not, and as much as “otherness” is attractive but usually doesn’t last long, it would be anime’s sheer depth and scope that would keep me tuned in for the next…
Wait, how many years? 1, 2, 3… 28?!?
*Captain Gloval gruble* Bozhe moi…
I don’t think fans today realize that back then fans had no translations at all sometimes. Can you talk more about this? Why wasn’t it boring to watch a show when you didn’t understand the dialogue? About what year or age do you recall first getting dubbed and subbed shows? As to “why wasn’t it boring,” I think this fed into the “otherness” I mentioned to begin with. It was… special. I mean, it was something you really couldn’t get any other way. (At least to my knowledge. And to any level of convenience.) I was learning where this stuff came from, including Robotech‘s source itself. And if that required a bit of effort, well… It was effort well worth giving! In many ways, it made it less boring. You could get a lot out of just the visuals and sound by itself, and piece together “what they’re saying” even when you don’t strictly-speaking know what’s being said. It added a tinge of… mystery to things, somehow. And it certainly made things amusingly to learn about later, when actually seeing the dialogue! I’d get the occasional scripts and synopses downloaded from BBSs, but that was infrequently enough as well. But you would be surprised how much continues to sink in just from repeat viewings!
The tape I mentioned with Warriors of the Wind and MADOX-01 on it were my first official sub and dub exposures, which was probably in ’92. But that didn’t mean “and after that, subs were broadly available!” Those were two of a very small number of exceptions throughout high school. In college that changed, but in a different way. It suddenly became easier for me to collect localized manga. Starting with Ranma 1/2 and picking up pretty much anything they or Dark Horse did, I finally got acclimated to translated works, but anime was expensive and my college clubs weren’t anime-related. Magic: the Gathering started to take up all my time and money, at that point.
It really wouldn’t be until the Sailor Moon DiC broadcasts that I picked up anything more commonplace (and even that would serve to cement my dislike of dubs). Anime East ’95 got me a “duffel bag of Ranma” that would be passed around among us (old school friends, new Magic: The Gathering friends, new college RPG friends), so even at that stage it was still access to raw Japanese content (this time full broadcasts, with commercials!) which was getting people into the habit. It was maybe not their first exposure, but it would prove to be the strongest exposure for them, too.
“Common access to subs” would probably come in ’96 and beyond. That comic shop I’d been going to since ’89 started expanding into anime, so I could rent quite a lot there. (And specifically he got subtitled tapes, whereas Blockbuster would only have a smattering of dubs.) And from there we would start making trips into NYC Chinatown, which was the bootlegger/importer’s paradise! Anime-wise that meant rampant distribution of fansubber’s content. $5/tape or cheaper when you bought enough. I really couldn’t afford the “two episodes for $35-40” which was still commonplace at that time. So I’d rent, or bootleg.
Did anime inspire you to be interested in Japan in other ways? Like, did you ever visit or study the language? It couldn’t help but to! I did take classes in college, but not too many. Much moreso, it made me interested in cultural aspects in general. And even more, it certainly affected my culinary exposure! Sometime in ’95 or ’96 I started going with that aforementioned pre-school friend (brought into vogue by the Duffel Bag of Ranma™ and the other friends it grabbed) to Yaohan supermarket in Edgewater, NJ (now a Mitsuwa Marketplace) where I would become somewhat permanently addicted to Japanese food of all sorts. Initially of course it was to pick up anything recognizable (Nuku Nuku loves eating taiyaki, give me some of that!), but that quickly turns into trying anything and everything. (Including regret when the taikayi/obanyaki vendor downsizes and no longer offers takoyaki or okonomiyaki. I still lack good okonomiyaki options, and it makes me sad.) I had only experimented with sushi prior to my otaku origin, but that became a lifeblood. Chopsticks turned from curiosity to requirement at any meal that offered them. Lately I’ve been burning through history podcasts in general, and Japan among them. Some art and literature collection outside of the anime-adjacent.
Visiting I desperately want to do, but have not had the opportunity–or rather the wherewithal–to do so. So on that front I continue to live vicariously through anime, and @Surwill.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I couldn’t even tell you. For years all I could judge by was the stuff my friend obtained for me, so it all mixed together. Everyone else were people I got into it myself.
I suppose the first inking I got from “outside” dudes I didn’t know were those who knew Fist of the North Star, Akira, Vampire Hunter D, and nothing else.
Well, maybe Ninja Scroll.
I would attend my first anime con in 1995, so at that point I started to get a view of the wider community in the US. But by that point I had a cadre of friends who all largely came to it through me, and otherwise came in from the Sailor Moon/DiC direction.
I did make a new friend who met someone at that con who had all of Ranma 1/2 broadcast dubs from Japan. So that become one of my larger “popular” assumptions. Those tapes would also become a huge entry point for a larger second wave of otaku friends.
Interested in your role as a member of an earlier wave of fandom introducing a younger generation to anime. Did you feel like a mentor? How did you introduce people to anime? That is an interesting thing to ponder. I don’t suppose I ever felt like a “mentor” to most of the folk I watched anime with, for a long time. That’s probably because my gaming and general geeky proclivities always made me search out above and below my age for anyone who’s interested, and can play with. I started BBSing in ’86 or so, and that was mostly an older-boys kind of activity, so when I would make friends with a sysp[ and was invited to their MERP/Rolemaster group… I was a 13-year-old hanging with high-schoolers and being GM’ed by a 30-year-old. So when it got to the point where I was 20+ and hanging with some 15-year-olds to play Magic… it didn’t feel out of place. Older or younger, if you’re always fighting to maintain a small group of friends to play what you enjoy, they’re all peers. Yes, peers who may not be able to drive yet, but… you’re getting them into games in hopes of all having fun and skilling up together. You’re role-playing with each other constantly as elfin wizards or hundred-year-old vampires… You’re all taking turns running games and playing in games, and shifting from one activity to another… It’s pretty much an equalizer.
So in that regard, while I had a lot more exposure for a lot longer than some, they’re “skilling up” the same way, at the same time. We’re all watching shows we newly gained access to together. I didn’t really feel like I was “mentoring” anyone, because a lot of us were exposed at the same time (phrasing!) to all the Tenchi rentals, all the Chinatown trips leading to Kenshin and Gundam Wing weekend marathons… “Thank Eru, more people to play Magic with!” turned into “Thank Eru, more people to buy tapes as well, which we can all watch!” Starting in ’89 vs starting in ’95 is small beans at that point. They may not have watched Gunbuster raw dozens of times, but they DID watch and love it when I picked up the legit tapes! But we were already all in the midst of so much other stuff. No mentor feelings in particular, just new friends to ride the waves with. Also they’d mostly had some original exposure on their own (Sailor Moon, Ghibli films) because anime started becoming more popular and nerd-adjacent. Our enthusiasm fed off each other, and went to more places.
I suppose the first genuine time I ever felt like a “mentor” was with my nephew. I was his source of the eclectic and weird, especially the Japanese, so I had fun trying out which movies to gift him and when… And while he still watches occasionally, he never felt the same kind of bite. (Not with anime, not with Magic. So rude.)
I felt a bit more with a friend I met on forums, who’s younger than me but got started early on a litany of kids. (I tried to name some, but sadly no takers on “Archimedes” or “Elanor.”) The forum was run by that pre-school friend. I’d actually been out of the anime habit for a while (’01 I stopped staffing at Otakon, through ’06) and he and a simple schoolgirl named Haruhi pulled me back in, more enthusiastic than ever. My eventually-having-six-kids friend had some Ghibli exposure, but I would eventually get her and her crew into watching a lot more. Cross-country mentoring, but… it stirs the heart to know that a 4-year-old can stare with rapt fascination at Nanba Mutta’s face along with the entire family.
But I suppose my MOST mentoring experience would be… with my mom.
She straight up HATED “those squeaky-voiced, huge-eyed kids” (her description of Star Blazers) when I watched any of that as a kid. She bought me Robotech novels, but that was alongside Tolkien and McCaffrey and the host of books she’d get me into, so I think that was more of a curiosity. And she’d occasionally peek in to check out some of the stuff I’d watch when I was older (alternately fascinated by the style and grossed out by the content of Vampire Hunter D, for instance), but outside of the usual “good Ghibli stuff” and some things that would escape our corner of the world to get some mainstream and critical attention (Millennium Actress, for instance), nothing in particular stuck. I brought a stuffed Ryo-Ohki back from a convention, which she likes. But that’s cheating, Ryo-Ohki is adorable.
But that changed after I became “a seasonal.” I’ve been a Crunchyroll member since 2010, and used it to rewatch old stuff, keep up with new and interesting stuff… It slowly picked up steam until the past few years turned into 10-20 titles minimum per season, and one show in particular I recommended to her while it was running. After Kaori’s performance in Your Lie in April #2, I found a YouTube video of it put up quickly and said “hey, watch this.” She wanted to know where it was from, so I gave her the Crunchyroll account as well. And we stated watching that show cross-country as well, texting about it after we’d watch. We kept that up the whole way through. And then after Erased #1, I again said “holy shit you need to watch this now” and THAT became its own simulwatch as well. Erased would prove to open the floodgates to seasonal watching as well. Last season she turned 76, and was watching 10 shows to completion! (Dropping a couple halfway through, and trialing a bunch more.)
I mean, it’s not ALL great news. She’ll rule out whole genres like mecha, doesn’t believe in giving shows three episodes, Midousuji [from Yowamushi Pedal] creeps her out, and she doesn’t think Space Brothers is the finest series ever created… (it’s probably closer to 4th). But her favorite show is probably Rakugo, she fangirls over Majime from The Great Passage, and got to love watching karuta, so… she’s a successful pupil!
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? My high-school years were pretty insular, just me and a friend to start, and a few underclassmen I got into it years later. I wouldn’t process it as anything approaching “fandom” in those days. Even on BBSs, I never found people to chat about anime with. I might pick up some scripts, but that was it. After it led to my first convention, message boards and MUD/MUCK/MUSEs and the internet… that’s when I could count anything as “anime fandom.”
I basically watched Anime Web Turnpike get created, and pursued that often to find these newfangled “websites” getting created which had cool low-res pictures which I would print out in black and white to appreciate at home! Oh, and lyrics! I still listened to a ton of anime songs, and wanted to sing them official-like. So I’d seek out lyric pages, print those, and learn to sing as many as I could. I discovered Hitoshi Doi’s seiyuu database early, and through that learned a whole bunch of names and got exposed to a whole bunch of series I hadn’t heard of.
Other than at cons, anime “fandom” still wasn’t very conversational for me. It was largely slow-moving websites. And occasionally an anime-themed MUCK where I’d role-play, map out “abcb” and attempt to create Megazone 23 underneath it that people could discover and explore.
So I’d watch new things with friends at home, but otherwise we were playing a lot of games. It was more of a personal/insular fandom, with occasional wide exposures by hitting a few conventions.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Anime East 1995. My friend “who converted me” knew one of the con staff, and became staff himself. So I also attended the con, as security, with one of my other friends. For a while Jackie Chan was rumored to be attending, so we fantasized a lot about “running security” for him. 😉
I didn’t get much of a feel for “what a con was about” because my first experience was staffing and being available for the higher-ups. So I had no feeling for the community or events. I thought I would do so by remaining staff in later years, but…! After 1995 it detonated and disappeared forever.
I remember the dealer’s room being miserable. MISERABLE! I was looking for T-shirts and music CDs. There were a smattering of Bubblegum Crisis T-shirts, of fairly poor quality, that were really expensive. Bootlegs had not invaded the show floor, so the official merch was sparse, unimaginative, and expensive. On the last day I remember learning about “Room 303” where someone was selling things… This hotel room was STUFFED TO THE GILLS with exactly what I wanted! I learned all about bootleg iron-on T-shirts this day, and went home with like eight of them. Also I picked up the KOR Sound Color 1-3 albums, which were amazingly cheaper than the CDs on the show floor! (It would take me until Chinatown runs to learn that SonMay was bootleg as well). Which I play first, every time I go to an anime convention, to this day. (I skip the last track on #3. It’s jarringly out-of-context, and a bad way to end it. “One More Yesterday” is the perfect clincher.)
I’m also pretty sure I signed up to pre-order AnimEigo’s KOR laserdiscs here.
Finally, for you what’s the biggest shift between your anime fandom back then and anime fandom today? I suppose it is two things. But two things that are largely everything born of and fostered by The Internet Age, which I preceded-but-anticipated (BBSing since ’86, and a permanent feature of computer labs in ’93).
The first: Access. My origin story involves “anything I count get” and that “anything” was raw Japanese and not at all of my own personal selection. (Not that I wouldn’t have, but that I literally had no choices.) Personally, I think very fondly of these days, and it’s quite possible that without the quirky nature of my exposure, I may not have ever picked it up to the degree I quickly immersed myself in, and continued for as long as I have. If I watched Pokemon as a kid, had friends who talked about the last episode of Naruto or Hunter x Hunter on Crunchyroll…? I don’t know whether I would have thought of it anywhere near as special, or as uniquely interesting to me. I still occasionally try to put myself in the mindset of 15 year-old-me but with access to dozens of shows, translated, and in my lap the day after they air in Japan… and I WAS getting them quicker by getting them raw! It is utterly mind-blowing. There are positives and negatives to how “fandom” and “access” interact with each other today, but it is certainly the most mind-blowing change.
The second: Community. Anime for me was a relentlessly insular thing for me when I started. As much as I got them from my friend, we didn’t watch together. We didn’t chat about it terribly much (since I was the only younger friend of his who was watching). I watched and I rewatched and I recorded music to listen to on my Walkman and I took special pleasure in random personal things like knowing just how to take a run in Ski Club so that “Over the Top” from the Dirty Pair movie would be timed perfectly. While _I_ was a fan, it certainly wasn’t a “fandom.” And while this would change majorly in the future, it was much of my first six years.
After my first convention, I could finally see what “fandom” was, including with my friends. The Duffel Bag of Ranma™ got more of my old school friends into it, and new Magic: The Gathering friends increased their habit alongside. Anime very much became a community thing for me. We’d play Street Fighter and Soulcalibur together. We’d play Magic together. We’d all jump down a Legend of the Five Rings hole together. We’d take trips to Chinatown together. We’d buy out series after series, go to someone’s house, and watch everything we just bought for the rest of the weekend. And that was the main reason I got out of the habit for a few years… Friends moved, or moved on. I restarted because an old-friend-still-hooked got a bunch of us on a forum to start watching together and chatting about it.
And today, we are part of a community that extends to Japan as well. While language and culture barriers are still there, we are watching the same shows ALL OVER THE WORLD together. We post snarky comments and and create instant memes of episodes broadcast the same week. We forum and we podcast and we Discord and we live-chat. I’d text with my mother about YLiA. I’d wake up at exactly the right time to watch Space Brothers the moment it started airing on Crunchyroll with a friend living in Japan. I’ll watch the same show with my friend in California and her kids later in the day from watching it with friends from three timezones. I have a Discord server with every damn airing show anyone wants to chat about in it, so we can spoil the shit out of it with each other which we can’t do on Twitter. Communities within communities, with the ability to build communities to make up for limitations in the other.
And while that TOO can have its downsides, it’s a staggering leap further down the road from “occasionally saw a fanzine.”
Some of us use it to compile stories of even the most long-winded dorks. 😉
It’s nice to be reminded that it’s a goddamn beautiful thing.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. While I am an ’80s kid and loved a lot of ’80s shows animated in Japan, I truly discovered anime in the early 1990s when I attended local comic book conventions with my dad and they advertised “Japanimation” on the flyers. A couple of the dealers there had fansub tapes for sale; one enterprising dealer had a small TV playing the tapes, where I stood mesmerized in front of his booth. Not too long after that, dubbed versions of Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (aka Ronin Warriors) and Sailor Moon aired on local stations and I was hooked.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Mostly the story-telling: while its settings and subject matter were a big change from typical American animation, the biggest thing that got me at first was continuity. Shows had definitive storylines, which kept me coming back for each episode!
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I was first getting into it, Sailor Moon was probably the biggest thing I remember but when I started surfing the ‘net, I most frequently saw a lot of people talk about Bubblegum Crisis (which I loved) and Ranma 1/2 (which I watched a lot of).
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I felt pretty detached—Atlanta has a history of anime clubs around the city but I was much younger than the college-and-older demographics. I had my immediate friend group, what we could rent or buy at the video store, and some sense of fandom 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? Yes, but not like it is now – where everyone is connected with Facebook groups, Twitter or follow their specific fandom on Tumblr. I was a member of a Samurai Troopers email group and used resources like Anime Web Turnpike to find other anime websites, which usually were about specific series, characters or actors. We also weren’t dominated by Google as far as searching the Internet, so I usually had to use multiple search engines to look for things that weren’t listed on AniPike.
Can you tell me about what you did online regarding anime at the time? The internet was primarily a tool to learn about anime: either going more in depth for a show I’d seen on TV or from a video store, or trying to find out about new shows. Even in the mid-1990s, anime we were getting broadcast on TV was still being edited and altered from its original Japanese source, so you could spend a whole afternoon reading websites that talked about what changed where in what show—whether it was just name changes all the way to plot points, episodes being cut, or other edits like that. The fan reaction to the changes were usually pretty negative—that much hasn’t changed in the fandom! But at this time, a resource like AniPike was super important. The concept today wouldn’t really fly—it’s just pages of organized links to *other* sites—but when I first watched a new anime, I could hop onto AniPike and find all of the sites other fans had created dedicated to a show. I spent a lot of time in various image galleries and media galleries (posting mp2 & mp3 tracks for download and eventually super short RealMedia video clips that took forever to download). AniPike was also how I found the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers Mailing List (YSTML). On the mailing list is where I started writing fanfiction and participating in role playing stories we had started. After a few years, I started learning HTML to start my own websites which were general sites about anime fandoms I was in—never going so deep as to have a character shrine site or anything like that.
Because you found other fans running these sites, you could reach out to them and talk about the show and get to know them as actual people. Not like now with Facebook groups and pages where you’ll see something posted and scroll past it. Consciously, I know there’s another person on the other side of that equation, but there isn’t the same desire to reach out and say, “Hey, I like this thing, too!”
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? My first convention was technically the comic book show where I really learned what anime was. That was a stark contrast of what comic cons are now: no one cosplayed. At all. It was a show centered around a dealer’s room; people came in, shopped, maybe met a few friends and left.
My first anime convention was when I was 15 at Anime Weekend Atlanta 4 in 1998. My sister, dad and a friend of mine got lost looking for registration and ran into a couple of girls dressed as Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. Not only were there cosplayers but as characters that weren’t on American TV yet!
I’d love to hear more about your first con! Anything you remember. My dad, sister, and I were used to comic book conventions; essentially a collector’s show that had vendors tables in a hotel ballroom and another cluster of tables that were essentially an artist alley—artist tables, fanzines, and publisher advertisements. It was a great way to kill a Saturday afternoon for a hobby we all enjoyed and my mom appreciated the peace and quiet of all of us gone. Through these shows was how I got exposed to anime outside of TV broadcasts and video rental shops. When I heard about an anime con, I kind of expected the same thing, so we went just for the one afternoon. The whole experience was a sensory overload: it was my first gathering of people who were into this Japanese cartoon thing and there were a couple hundred people there! Before the Pokemon and Toonami boom, fandom seemed small to me—consisting of either my immediate friends or web pages on the Internet—but this was a happy middle ground that made fandom seem a lot less lonely. There weren’t a lot of costumes—the Outer Senshi, a Lum (which was probably Ippongi BANG) a troupe of Inner Senshi & Tuxedo Mask, and a few others—which is probably the biggest difference from a convention now.
We went expecting there just to be this dealer’s show where we’d look around and shop but there was lots of stuff to do like video rooms and panel programming that was just so engrossing to me. We ended up staying and watching the AMV contest which was a part of fandom I didn’t even know existed. After watching that, I knew that the next year I’d want to go all three days of the convention and not miss a minute.
What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Early on in my fandom, the biggest shows I was a fan of were Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, and Dragon Ball Z. I expressed that fandom through talking to others, essentially evangelizing the shows, and doing quite a bit of fan art (some of it was alright, most of it was garbage) and writing some fanfiction. From there I grew into other shows—Bubblegum Crisis, Macross, Gundam, and Rurouni Kenshin being some other ones I am super-into – but expression of fandom became more about the creators and staff of the shows and looking at what else they did. Thanks to Gundam, I would up being a big fan of Sunrise studio, so often I would watch a show for no other reason than being animated at/by Sunrise. I also went down that road of “Let’s Learn Japanese for Anime & Manga,” and despite a couple of pit stops, I did okay with it but not quitting a day job any time soon. Now I prefer to express my fandom by sharing—whether writing in a blog or talking about a show on a podcast or hosting panels at conventions. I’ve moved away from fan art and fanfiction but still like connecting with other fans over a show by being able to have a conversation about it.
In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest shift I have seen in my experience is that anime fandom now is a part of an overall nerd culture. Parts of it have hit a mainstream stride—characters like Son Goku or Pikachu are recognized right along with Captain Kirk and Spiderman. Going to conventions now, the attendees are demonstrating equal love for all sorts of things—video games, American comics, television shows, etc.—right along with Japanese cartoons. In a way, it seems like anime has lost its specialness because it’s consumed just like everything else but on the other hand, it was kinda what we were hoping for all those decades ago. Anime needed its own unique place to get the word out and once it was out, it grew to be fairly mainstream and just another media to be consumed.
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 Za 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.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I discovered anime about four years ago when I was 19. It was right at the end of my freshman year of college. I had watched Pokémon and YuGiOh as a kid, but wasn’t into “anime” specifically (as a medium). So, the first series I saw that got me interested in anime was Soul Eater. I noticed it airing on Toonami and the title caught my eye, so I checked it out. I was really intrigued by it and how it was animated, but not a kid’s show. I had Netflix at the time and found it on there. I devoured the rest of it and then started searching through their catalogue to see what else they had.
I watched a bunch of other series there and got more and more interested in “this anime thing.” (One of the series I watched early on was Angel Beats!, which really got to me emotionally and remains my favorite anime to this day.) That summer was when I found Crunchyroll and Funimation and started realizing that anime was something I was really consistently interested in. I started learning more about different series and reading forums and engaging with anime culture more. Funny story: one of the first anime I watched on Crunchyroll was Oreimo, which I enjoyed, but is quite the anime to watch when you’re new to the world of anime… haha. Anyways, after that, I kept on seeking out more and more and started reading news sites like CR and ANN. That pretty much takes me to where I am today. I’ve seen thousands of episodes and it’s something I’m really passionate about 🙂
What was surprising about Oreimo for a brand new anime fan? I’d love if you could try to remember what surprised you back then that wouldn’t surprise you now. I think what surprised me about it was its take on a very taboo subject that is almost never portrayed in American TV and movies (which is all I ever knew before discovering anime). It isn’t a very good gateway anime, but I think that it helped show me the more niche side of anime early on. And I’m glad I got to see that side earlier on, rather than seeking out anime that I thought I would enjoy because they are more familiar and not “too anime.” If I were to watch it for the first time now, it probably would not surprise me as much, since I’m now a lot more familiar with the ability of anime to portray topics and themes not explored much in other forms of media.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
What really appealed to me about anime was that these series were animated, but told mature stories that weren’t “for kids.” And they were cool and funny and could evoke a strong emotional response from me. The aesthetic style of anime is something that really appeals to me. I love anime-style character designs (I’m a big fan of moe/bishoujo).
Has your interest in character design led to active participation? Do you draw or create anything because of anime? A few years ago, I was briefly inspired to try my hand at drawing anime characters. Drawing was never exactly my forte, and while I didn’t think they were bad for a beginner, I wasn’t passionate enough about it to keep it up. So now, I’m just a fan of other artists’ amazing anime illustrations on sites like Pixiv and Twitter…
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Honestly, if you had asked me this at the time, I couldn’t tell you. I wasn’t really aware of the greater context and community of anime when I first started. I was interested in the anime that I was watching specifically. I just checked to see what aired in the spring of 2013 when I started watching and so I’d say Attack on Titan, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, and The Devil Is a Part-Timer were probably really popular at that time (although I didn’t know about them back then.)
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Anime was already fairly popular and accessible in America when I joined, so I was joining thousands of other very passionate fans. It did take me a while before I started learning about the greater context and community of anime fandom outside of my personal experiences with it.
Did you feel like it was hard to be welcomed into anime fandom? Did you feel like people used words you didn’t understand? What was it like to slowly become an insider to the fandom? Although I wouldn’t necessarily say it was hard to become a real part of anime fandom, there was definitely a learning curve when I was first starting out. Originally, I only really knew about the anime on Netflix. And when I tried reading some forums online, I wasn’t familiar with the majority of the series and topics talked about there. Although, I feel like I caught up fairly quickly. This was probably thanks to reading news sites and forums a lot, and consistently finding new series to watch. Eventually it got to the point where I knew about a lot more than I had actually seen—where I could point out series at conventions, even though I hadn’t watched them. And as the amount of series I had seen increased, I became more and more of an “insider” to anime fandom.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes it was, but I didn’t engage very actively in the anime community, although I really enjoyed reading forums about other fans’ favorite series, etc. After a little while, I started showing and talking about anime with my family and friends.
How did your family and friends react? My parents are really supportive of my anime passion.. When I had just started watching my first anime, Soul Eater, I had to tell my mom how cool it was. She was happy to listen and even watched some episodes with me. Since then, we’ve watched a lot of series together, and she really appreciates the pretty art style and wonderful stories that anime can tell.
I also have friends who are into anime and we go to conventions and have a ton of fun sharing our love of anime together. Pretty much anytime I’ve told someone that I’m into anime, it’s always been a positive response. So, I’m grateful for that.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Yes! My first convention was Anime Weekend Atlanta 2013, and it was amazing. I ran around the Dealers’ Room, pointing out everything I recognized. “Look, they have this! No way, look at that!” It was a fantastic experience and I’ve gone back every year since.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first anime I really got invested in was Angel Beats! It was one of the first anime I saw and the emotional impact it had on me was unlike any other series or movie I had ever seen. That’s why, even after everything I’ve seen in the years since, it’s still my all time favorite. I bought the songs from the anime and had a wristband with the name of the in-series band on it (the first piece of anime merch I ever bought). And when that one faded, I bought another one!
Now, my room is filled with things like wall scrolls and figures from different series that I’ve collected over the years.
Finally, how is your anime fandom experience different today from when you first got started? I think one of the main things about my fandom today that is different from when I started is that I have friends who are super into it also to share my passion with. When I first started, I didn’t really talk about it much with many people, probably because I wasn’t sure if someone I knew/met was also interested in it. But now, it’s really awesome to be able to express myself and have friends who support that without judgement.
Another aspect that’s different now is my interest in the actual production and industry side of anime. I pay more attention now to aspects like voice actors and animation production studios (my favorites being KyoAni and Lerche). I’ve learned over the years of all the different facets of the anime world. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I watched my very first episode of Soul Eater years ago. And I mean that in the best possible way.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I watched some anime in Korea such as Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water when it was aired on TV or Ranma 1/2 from rented video tapes, but I believe Evangelion was the first anime series I completed and became a huge fan of. If I recall correctly, I picked up a copy of Animerica from the local Suncoast Video, and on the last page there was an advertisement for the release of the last VHS of the Evangelion TV series. I bought the first two episodes on VHS, and ended up owning the entire series and passed it around to friends at school.
How did your access to anime change once you moved to the US? When was that about? I moved from Korea in 1997, and my access to anime in the US were limited to either purchasing VHS/DVDs or watching whatever was on network or cable TV. Thinking back, those early weekend night/morning anime showings on Sci-Fi network and Toonami were game changers in making anime more mainstream. I have to say it might have been worse in Korea, especially as most mainstream Japanese media were not allowed in South Korea untill late 1990s-early 2000s. Kids in South Korea watched anime on network TV but it was heavily localized and removed any if not most traces of anything overtly Japanese. I did get some bootleg video CDs in Korea when that was a thing.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Complex story and its unique art direction. It definitely had more mature content and was visually different than what was on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. (This was right before Toonami began.)Even today, I prefer anime series with complex storylines, excellent production values, and captivating mise en scène: some of my favorite anime from the late ’90s to early ’00s are Ghost in the Shell, Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team, Cowboy Bebop, Record of Lodoss War, and Ninja Scroll.
However, while I had limited exposure to anime before, I was a voracious manga reader with Dragon Ball Z and Slam Dunk being some of my favorites at the time. To this day, I prefer manga over anime.
Evangelion was the first show you really got into. Why so? How did you express your fandom? I guess the angsty part? *rolls eyes* I mean, Evangelion have some great action sequences and cute characters, but in my high school years I definitely identified with the high drama of Evangelion. I still have a soft spot for it, though nowadays I would be like, “man up, Shinji.” Expressing my fandom materialized in many doodles of Evangelion, making those Bandai plastic kits, sharing my VHS collection with anybody interested, and sometime discussing it afterwards.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I think in the US anime was getting enough interest and there were enough anime releases to occupy a small section in stores like Suncoast Video and EB Games. I also remember catching some anime on Sci-Fi channel and MTV. However, most kids in high school did not know much about anime other than some series being aired over the TV, and even admitting your interest in anime could be seen as being nerdy- you had to tread carefully!
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes but way smaller and limited compared to the fandom today. It is amazing that people can follow the anime being aired in Japan and discuss individual episodes merely minutes after they were aired. I think I knew there were forums and chat rooms for discussing anime yet did not feel compelled to venture into them. My university also had an anime club, but I lost interest after a semester because I was not interested in what they were watching, and the fact that they were willing to watch something they already saw over and over!
So growing up, was anime a solitary thing for you or were there friends or siblings you could watch and discuss with? My sister and my brother all watched Evangelion. My brother actually volunteers for cons, though I don’t know if he watches many anime. Growing up, we were way more into manga, with Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z, Slam Dunk, and Monster being some of the favorites. I have to say in South Korea manga were more popular and accessible than anime, and I guess we followed suit. I later tried out an anime club at my university, but it seems pointless to watch something over and over—I love watching movies and TV shows, but the communal viewing of anime for 3-4 hours seemed too dull for me.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? I have never been to an anime convention, but I have been to the very first PAX East. While it was fun in small doses, I never liked the hours of waiting or the large crowd. However, Otakon is moving to downtown DC this year so I want to go and catch Jam Project as well.
It’s been a while since you sent this. Did you end up going to Otakon? No, I did not go to Otakon. I had a business trip early on Sunday morning! (God, I became a square.)
Were you always into anime, or did you dip in and out of interest in it? I definitely dip in and out. Nowadays if there is an anime film I heard good things about I would check it out, whereas for OVA/limited series or TV series I find it difficult to get hooked on. I watched a lot of anime during that couple of years during the late ’90s-early 2000s, but have not had that level of enthusiasm since then.
Finally, for you, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first discovered it? It is way more accessible and mainstream compared to when I was younger—but I guess media culture became more nerdier as corporations realized nerds are as likely to invest into their fandom as sports fans do, if not more. I remember when my younger colleagues at work asked if I watch anime, and if watching/following anime was a yardstick for being in tune with pop culture. As someone who was in art club/photo lab and art classes in high school, which was one of the few places you could discuss anime without any negative feedback, it has gone a long way. And it is so easy to follow new anime and discuss it about it! Now I have to go and tell the kids to get off my proverbial yard.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the back half of 1995—either the summer before high school or early in my freshman year. The father of one of my middle school friends was a huge audiophile, and he had a big TV with an amazing sound system in the basement, and my friends and I would hang there. Another friend brought subtitled VHS tapes of The Slayers, the first half of the first season, and we shotgunned them in one sitting. Anime was rare or non-existent on syndicated TV in DC at the time, and I didn’t have cable growing up, so it was my first time seeing anything like it.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The answer that makes me look good is that it was about characterization and serialization. This was just a couple of years after Twin Peaks, X-Files, and Babylon 5 had barely started, so (outside soap operas) serialization on American TV was still very rare and limited to SF shows. Character-driven drama within a genre setting was also pretty rare on American TV pre-Buffy, so Neon Genesis Evangelion (the next box set we marathoned in that basement) was a revelation.
There’s also just my lifelong love affair with animation. I moved from being a little kid watching the toy-driven dreck of the mid-80s to a slightly older kid watching Ducktales and Animaniacs, then a tween watching Batman: The Animated Series and early Simpsons. Becoming a teenaged anime fan was the next logical step.
The answer that makes me look less good: I was 14, in the process of discovering I have a thing for smart, ass-kicking redheads with strong opinions and nasty tempers, and my first two anime were The Slayers and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Add in that my crush for most of high school was a Japanophile and… yeah.
Tell me about your high school crush! Did anything come out of that? She was smart, shy, small, and cute, basically the classic nerd version of the girl next door. Brilliant with computers—I think she works for Microsoft now—and like I said, a major Japanophile. JRPGs, manga, anime, eventually language and culture, literature, food. As for what came out of it, a close friendship that lasted a decade or so before she moved out to the west coast and we lost touch. Never dated, but that’s probably for the best.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Like I said, the DC area didn’t really get anime on TV until Toonami. I never even heard of Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon until I started going to conventions in ’99. The gateway show for everyone—not just the half-dozen of us in that basement—was The Slayers. That was the thing EVERYONE watched and liked.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I’m not sure there was such a thing as anime fandom just yet. We were just nerds, and that meant you liked nerdy things. Someone who liked anime probably also liked tabletop RPGs, video games, science fiction, or science/tech–if not all of those things, at least most of them. So all of that would be in play when hanging out.
What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Definitely The Slayers. Like I said, we all watched it and all enjoyed it, then moved on to other anime. But Slayers stuck with me more than the others. I wrote fanfic, which fortunately never left my computer and no longer exists in any form. I found the fansite Inverse.org and devoured everything they had on the backstory, the world, how magic worked, gods and monsters. A lot of that was from stuff only published in Japan, so in our little circle I was (at least at first) the only one who knew any of it. One summer during college, maybe 2003 or so, I got the Slayers d20 rulebook and ran a weekly tabletop game set hundreds of years after the show. Then, when the show had its 20th anniversary a couple of years ago, I did a panel on it at a couple of cons.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? It was sort of in the process of becoming part of fandom. When I started, we all sort of got into anime together in that basement, and then met other people who were already into anime, or showed anime to other fans and got them into it. It was all in-person. The Internet had fansites and such, but that was one person or a small group posting up pictures and info, not really a social experience.
How did you get involved in this friend group? Did you all go to the same school or comic shop or something? Like I said, it started as a group of my middle school friends. Then I went to a different high school from most of them, and some of the friends I made there joined the group. We would all hang in one or another of our houses’ basements; sometimes we would watch anime, or play a tabletop RPG, or video games, depending on exactly who showed up and what mood we were in.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes, my first convention was Otakon in ’99. It was kind of overwhelming! I’d never encountered so many anime fans in one place, and it was hard to know what to do. I spent a lot of time in video rooms, sampling shows I hadn’t heard of before. That was what cons were for, for me–finding out what anime was out there. It wasn’t until years later when I had broadband and could download (or, later, stream) shows that cons became about seeing people.
How did you get into blogging about anime and doing media analysis? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started college, so I opened up the course guide and circled everything that sounded interesting. Then I added up the credits and figured out which degree that was closest to, and it turned out to be English. For shits and giggles, I decided that at least once a semester, I would do a paper that incorporated my nerdy interests, so already as an undergrad I was getting a little practice writing on things like religion in Final Fantasy, nonsense literature and webcomics, Milton and Lord of the Rings, that kind of thing. Somewhere in there, my friends and I watched a terrible-quality fansub of End of Evangelion, and they basically all turned to me and said, “Okay, Jen, you’re an English major. What the hell?” Being young and cocky, I said, “Give me a week.” I vaguely remembered some of the symbols that appeared in the movie from my Bar Mitzvah classes, which is a whole ‘nother story—Bar Mitzvah students are not supposed to be learning Kabbalah!—and I cobbled together a reading. More importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it!
Flash forward a decade. I was in a bit of a rut—I had a job, it was paying the bills, but I wanted to do something I cared about. One thing I did (and do!) really enjoy was presenting panels at conventions, because it was using the same mental muscles as those college papers and the End of Eva thing. Anyway, independently of that, I discovered this guy Phil Sandifer, and his amazing Doctor Who analysis—absolutely brilliant stuff. Through him, I discovered the world of media studies (he’s got a PhD in the field), which I hadn’t even known was a thing. I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Grad school wasn’t really an option, but with some gentle prodding from my then-girlfriend Viga—who also got me into doing panels—I went the “outsider academic” route. I started blogging about animation, mostly American cartoons at first, but then I noticed that BY FAR my most popular post was a review and analysis I did on the third Madoka Magica movie, Rebellion. So I did a series of posts on the show, and The Very Soil, my book on Madoka Magica(shameless plug) grew out of that. And I pretty much just haven’t stopped since!
In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say there are two really big changes. First is streaming. Anime is ridiculously easier to get—and get legally!—than it was back then. If I hear about a series, I can usually be watching it within minutes. But back then, well, we were lucky enough to have an anime-and-games store just a few blocks from our high school, and even then there’d be a lag of at least a year between the show airing in Japan and it showing up at Starland. And like I said, we were lucky—a lot of people had no way of getting anime at all, outside of the dealer’s room at a con or long chains of friends trading tapes with friends. The result, I think, is that things have sped up. New shows spread through the fandom faster, but they also fade faster. The hot new thing changes pretty much every season, where in the ’90s it would stay the same a lot longer because it just took longer until most people had seen it.
The other thing is, back in the ’90s and before, very few things actually made it to the U.S. With a few hilarious exceptions, that was usually the best of the best. And when we ’90s teens were kids, in the ’80s, American cartoons SUCKED. Nowadays we get basically every anime, including all the crap, and American animation has gotten massively, unfathomably better than it was when I was a kid. I write about this more in the “Secret History of Anime Fandom” section of my new book, Animated Discussions (shameless plug two), but basically I think the result is that there was a lot of hostility to American cartoons in anime fandom back then, and virtually none now. You especially see it with cosplay—some of the most popular cosplays of the last few years have been Steven Universe and Adventure Time characters. That would’ve been unthinkable at anime cons in 1999 or 2000.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It actually all began with an obscure Japanese-French production called The Mysterious Cities of Gold that aired on Nickelodeon in the late 1980s. Unlike almost all other cartoons and children’s programming at the time, it told an ongoing story, with each episode ending with a cliffhanger. It also mixed together history, science-fiction, and fantasy in a way I had never seen before, although I think I was a bit young to appreciate the historic setting. It came on TV right when I got home from school and I’d race to the basement every day to try and catch the opening (which I now find downright painful to listen to).
I didn’t know this was anime at the time, or even what that word meant. It was just another cartoon. It wasn’t until a friend in high school showed me a VHS dub of Samurai X (aka Rurouni Kenshin) that I became aware of animation from Japan as a separate thing. From there, I soon fell into the action shows being aired on Toonami and the rest is history.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was the serial nature of most of the shows I was exposed to that really intrigued me. Throughout most of the ’80s and ’90s, American television rarely told ongoing stories. With a few exceptions, most episodes hit a reset button and everything was back to normal next week. But anime told ongoing stories. A plot could be bigger than a 22 minute episode and continue onward, sometimes over the entire life of a show. I found the possibilities for this exciting.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I’m not even sure from when I first got into it. I was like 6 years old and it was 1989. I wasn’t exactly trading mail-order tapes. As I got older, there definitely was a period where everyone knew what Sailor Moon was, and then Pokemon got very big. Dragon Ball Z had this very slow burn of popularity where I thought I was the only one who knew about it, and then I got to college and everyone was saying “Oh, I love Goku.”
Was anime more of a solitary thing for you growing up, or were there friends or siblings you watched with? Anime has definitely always been more of a solitary interest. Up until my most recent job, which had an anime Slack room with about 12 or so people in it, I probably only knew a handful of other people who liked it.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I actually started my college’s anime club as a freshman. It never really went anywhere, garnering probably about six members at its height. But even with six members, I remember having a very difficult time putting together a schedule of events that would make everyone happy. Every person had a very specific type of anime that interested them, and it was hard to reconcile the person who wanted to screen a Slayers marathon with the person who only watched Street Fighter anime series and nothing else. Going in any one direction meant you would have an event where it would be literally only two or three people show up in a university room that could hold like 30, which was always awkward.
How does it feel to participated in this small anime fan group, and now to experience anime going mainstream? I mean, I think the main thing I’d say is never try to start a college club as a freshman, and also that maybe the best way to meet other people who share your interest isn’t to start a university-sanctioned club. Although I kind of wonder if the club would do better or worse today. Yes, anime is more mainstream, but does that also mean it’s less likely to be something someone is interested in enough to join a club about it? I don’t know.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The internet definitely helped expose me to anime series I would never have seen otherwise. When Gundam Wing first aired on Toonami, I went looking for more info online, which is how I found that there were almost a dozen other Gundam series, with Wing alone in its own continuity.
Netflix helped a lot too. I got Netflix’s DVD subscription service shortly after it launched when I was in college and suddenly all sorts of stuff became available to me. There used to be an anime review website called Anime Academy. I sorted their reviews by grade and just started going down the list via my Netflix queue. I’m looking at my Netflix DVD history now and I see stuff like Crest of the Stars, Princess Nine and Record of Lodoss War that I had kind of forgotten about until now.
Was your participation on the internet passive, or did you interact in the fandom in some way? It definitely was more passive. I remember spending a lot of time just looking at different fansites and just taking everything in. There was so much information online that you would never get from watching anime on TV, like that we rarely saw the opening and closing credit scenes that were attached to the shows in Japan. I never really got into any forums or communities either, although I definitely went through a Gundam Wing fan-fiction phase, which is how I first learned what yaoi is.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first one I really got into was probably Gundam Wing. There were other anime before that, but Gundam Wing just had so many details that you could do a deep dive into, whether it was the mobile suits or the political factions. It didn’t always makes sense, and it makes even less sense now, but there was just so much going on.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
I have never been to an anime convention! It sounds weird, but I’m not crazy about crowds and noisy places and am pretty socially awkward. I’ve been to other large conventions and found them to not be my favorite places in the world, so I’ve pretty much stayed away.
What did your family think of your interest in anime? I saw you just went to Japan (and the Gundam statue!) with your dad. I actually went to that Gundam statue alone! My dad was going to Japan on a business trip, and I crashed in his hotel room to save money. Neither he nor anyone else in my family is too interested in anime, although they’re not against trying it every now and then. We all went to see Your Name when it was in U.S. theaters in the spring and everyone really liked it. My dad sometimes asks me about different anime that are currently popular. He works for a Japanese company and I think he likes at least having a cursory knowledge of Japanese culture for no other reason than to have something to talk about at the water cooler.
Finally, in your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and when you first got into it? I remember watching a subtitled, bootleg VHS tape a friend brought back from Hong Kong of Evangelion four years after the show aired on Japanese TV and we were on the bleeding edge because we’d seen Evangelion subtitled. Now I stream new episodes of My Hero Academia like a day after they air in Japan through a site that has officially and legally licensed it. Everything’s faster now and I think that’s a good thing.