Location: United Kingdom
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. We got a Digibox [a UK satellite TV receiver] for the first time when I was around six years old. Cartoon Network was a channel we had and it had its Toonami blocks. I used to really enjoy watching Dragon Ball Z on there. Because of that, and a few episodes of Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyo (neither of which I really understood), I looked for similar shows elsewhere.
Toonami didn’t last long, but Fox had stuff like Digimon, Sailor Moon, and Hamtaro. I didn’t get into any of these as much as Dragon Ball but I still super enjoyed them. My mum took notice of this and at some point discovered a super minor early DVD release of Princess Mononoke. It would proceed to be my favourite movie from my childhood through even my teen years. Ghibli movies kept me interested even as, for various reasons, TV anime phased away from me.
But because of Ghibli being so important to me, in secondary school, I eventually became friends with people super into it. It is from them I discovered Angel Sanctuary, and the wonderful teenage crazes of Death Note and Code Geass. From there I was pretty much set. I started airing anime when Dragon Ball Kai came out. And when Attack on Titan exploded I discovered Crunchyroll, and its catalogue led to my current interests today.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was cool. I was a young kid, seeing the magic and explosions in all the stuff on Toonami and Fox was intoxicating. Gohan was around my age fighting aliens and flying. And even though I didn’t catch much of it, even the ads for Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon seemed, well, magical and fun. I liked colourful cartoons.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
Dragon Ball Z when I was a kid. When I came back definitely Death Note. (Though Dragon Ball never stopped being that huge well-known icon.)
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I cant really speak about when I was a very young kid, but when I came back via Death Note and stuff it was nice. I never really had a consistent friendship group growing up so connecting with nerds over cartoons was nice. I was a troubled kid who joined the school quite late through second year. I felt very isolated before then.
Afterwards, I had a whole world of teens being silly. Forum roleplaying, chatting about Light and L during lunch. Even cosplay and con stuff was nice. My teenage social life basically revolved around people I met due to anime.
So you were a pretty isolated kid, but anime fandom changed that. Tell me about your first time meeting other fans and bonding with them over anime. I first really started meeting people through a friend. I met her at sports day and just ended up spending the whole day chatting with her. I didn’t really know much about anime and manga outside of Toonami stuff, but I guess we just immediately started getting along? She even lent me some volumes of Angel Sanctuary to read. Which I guess was quite different to the only manga I’d read at that time, Rurouni Kenshin, to say the least! She was in the year above me so hanging out with her, and her friends, introduced me to a friendship circle it was otherwise doubtful I would’ve been in. I now had people to chill out with at lunch and at weekends. We didn’t do much anime watching together or anything, but just chatting about characters from Death Note and Bleach and just enjoying each other’s company formed the basis of my social life from that point onwards.
How did you and your friends express your fandom?
For the most part we just chatted. Which character’s we liked, which we didn’t, whether they were hot or not, usual teenage stuff. But also this friendship group did involve some creative people. One of my friends did GCSE art and as part of their workload drew Ryuk from Death Note from instance. Fanart, fanfic, and roleplaying were big parts of most of that group’s self expression. I dabbled a bit. Never really getting into fanart outside of forum signatures, never really getting into reading or writing fanfic either. But I did do some roleplaying, and I also became a moderator for a friend’s website.
What was roleplaying like? I dabbled in the IMVU [2004 instant messaging client] scene for a bit? Which if I remember correctly was huuuge. Like there were huge roleplaying groups with hundreds of members roleplaying being ninjas from Naruto for instance.
That first friend I mentioned was either part of or helped run a pretty major roleplaying group. By the time I got to know her, she’d moved off of IMVU and had made her own website. It was called ‘akiko.net,’ though I don’t believe it’s up anymore. It primarily consisted of people who knew that friend, either IRL or from her IMVU roleplaying days. It wasn’t strictly speaking a roleplaying site. It had a roleplaying section but it was more or less just a small anime themed forum where a bunch of teens hung out. There were classic forum games and a sort of chat room section at the top.
Honestly I can’t really remember much of the roleplaying there. Like it definitely happened but that entire website was probably closer to how I use Twitter these days. It was just a bunch of teens from around the world who’d found people to chat to about stuff that may or may not have been related to some anime.
Tell me about the first time you cosplayed. I think the first time I cosplayed was at school come to think of it. To raise money for charity, sometimes my school put on fancy dress days. That friend who I keep mentioning because she was really quite the person to know, encouraged me to join her cosplaying from Angel Sanctuary. She was far more experienced than I and had done far more ‘proper’ cosplay before. So we decided that she’d dress as Michael and I’d dress as Raphael (I think I had to Google these to remind myself lol). So she had some charity shop fake leather and a fake arm prop come to think of it and I cobbled together some casual clothes that looked a little like Raphael would wear and used some tinfoil to make a cross.
Looking back I guess it could be a bit embarrassing, but it was fun. I liked the manga, I liked doing stuff with my friends. Dressing up is fun on its own even if I was heavily restricted, and had to explain to everyone who asked who I was cosplaying as. Which, understandably, didn’t help them.
Do you remember your first anime con? My first anime con was a small UK one called J-Con! It’s a little bit bigger now, but I believe when I first went it was only its third year running and it was much smaller. We went with half of us sorta cosplaying casual Bleach—I was covered in green eyeliner and face makeup—and half of us cosplaying Naruto, a bit less casually. And it was just, really exciting? I’d never been to anything like that before, certainly not without my family there, so I definitely remember bouncing in line waiting to get in, even though I must have been quite cold given the wind and me not wearing much.
There wasn’t really much to the con itself. There were some stalls dotted down a hallway, an artist’s room, and the stage. The main things I really remember from that was how I sort of ditched my group at one point to chill with a Maka from Soul Eater cosplayer. Pretty certain I spent most of the con just playing and chatting with her. (God I was one of those annoying teens running around a convention badly pretending to be in character). Never actually got her name or spoke to her again, but I do remember that she had fallen asleep the night before when felt-tipping her Death Scythe.
Also for some reason a bunch of people who totally shouldn’t have been dancing on stage were dancing on stage and I for some reason joined them. No staff actually told us off in person for that but there later was an announcement warning people not to do that or they’d be kicked out.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? I don’t think that much has changed from a socialising aspect? At least what little I see of what teens are getting up to in fandoms is more or less the same. Though everything is much bigger nowadays. It’s easier than ever to watch anime, and there’s even legal streams of it! That was not something I even thought would begin to exist when I was first getting into airing anime. Yet nowadays I can open up Crunchyroll and have a sizable portion of everything that’s airing in Japan right now, and a back-catalogue that’s bigger than the sites I was using as a teen. Like Crunchyroll has all of Naruto and all of Bleach. I know as a teen I had to go to separate sites for each of those, and those sites were only interested in those shows.
Word of mouth was all I really had to go on back then. If I wanted to watch a show it’s because I knew someone who was watching the show. Now, even overlooking my knowledge of anime writers and stuff, Crunchyroll exists with recommended anime bits? Like sure, it’s a tad messy. But when I first discovered CR when Attack on Titan aired I sure as hell followed those chains of recommendations. So yeah. I guess legal streaming and more visibility are the key differences I see between nowadays and almost a decade ago.
Louis can be reached on Twitter.