Location: New Jersey
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My earliest recollection of anime, not that I knew it as such at the time, was watching Star Blazers on Saturday morning. It was the one of the first shows scheduled for that broadcast day, and my six-year-old self loved it. Ultimately, however, it was just another cartoon to me back then.
In my teens, my hormones brought me to the likes of La Blue Girl on the animation shelf at the local video rental store. I laughed off “anime” like most of my peers back then for its ridiculousness, and stayed with American cartoons for the most part.
In college, I roomed with the inner-city youths from the worst parts of Camden, Philadelphia, and Newark (NJ). I came back to our apartment one day to find all three sitting on the couch watching some brightly colored nonsense. When I asked what it was they were watching, all three enthusiastically turned around and said some variant of, “Oh shit, you’ve never seen Pokemon? You gotta watch this!” I declined and left.
After moving into my first apartment in Pennsylvania, a new friend showed me some VHS tapes he had of a ridiculous show called Dragon Ball Z. We’d hang out and drink and watch it. Fun times were had. He also had a VHS of Maison Ikkoku, which is when my thoughts on anime started to shift. During the same period, Cowboy Bebop started airing on Toonami, and when I saw that, I officially came around to respecting anime. (My friend didn’t initially take to CB as I did, but he came around.)
When I moved back to New Jersey, my mother died shortly thereafter. Shortly after that, Fullmetal Alchemist started airing on Adult Swim. This was what harpooned my loyalty to Japanese cartoons. The breadth of genres and stories I sporadically encountered over 30-some years made me realize that my love for cartoons and anime’s fearlessness for subject matter were perfect for one another.
I’m sorry for your loss. Was the focus in FMA on Ed and Al’s mom part of what endeared you to it? How so? The mother’s death and her sons’ desperation was absolutely what endeared me to that show. Until then, I’d not seen (or at least remembered seeing) anything that dark in anime, and the plot was just sort of a right place/right time sorta thing. I actually wrote this piece for Ani-Gamers detailing my connection with the original series after Brotherhood finished its simulcast. Every year since watching it the first time (once I owned the DVDs), I watch the last three episodes and the movie on October 3. FMA is more a part of my life than any other anime though there are definitely better and more mature titles out there. It’s almost like watching bittersweet home movies.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? When I saw it as a child, anime was just another cartoon. Bright colors, cool explosions, fun stories.
When I discovered anime as “anime,” it was the maturity of (some of) the stories that were being told as well as the art styles behind them.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Respective to my stages of anime discovery: Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato), Cowboy Bebop, and Fullmetal Alchemist.
To rewind just a bit, you watched La Blue Girl at a time when you didn’t watch other anime. How did you even find out about hentai in that case? At the time, I really wasn’t watching many cartoons at all actually. My teenage friends and I were just renting whatever R-rated fare we could get away with at the video store when we came across that… which had a 13+ sticker on it (as I recall) and was in the very front of the store on the regular animation shelf. I remember laughing like mad at the plot and the mechanics involved, but my mind’s forever scarred from lines like “I will now thoroughly and violently penetrate you.” I honestly can’t actually recall when I contextualized hentai as Japanese porn cartoons, but at some point it came to be the thing from which I had to (and still have to) explain to people as “not the norm” for anime.
After you rediscovered anime, how did you interact in the fandom? How did you make friends with other fans? What really got me into the fandom, and not just liking the anime I was watching, was spending more time with fellow fans. I owe my initial dive into the deep end to my friend Ben, who decided we should go to Otakon one year. There, I felt connected but also like an outsider for my ignorance of the medium. It was great to know so many people loved the same thing I had come to, and it filled me with a desire to learn more about it.
Although Ben’s more of a cosplayer than a panel freak, like me, I would had never discovered panels and the infinite fun through learning they bring without, frankly, being bored waiting for him to move for all the people requesting his picture. (He makes a damned good Episode 1-3 Obi Wan.) It was in a panel at the first con I went to by myself, the very first Castle Point Anime Con (CPAC), where I met Evan of Ani-Gamers, and I’ve been contributing to that site (and others) ever since. That exposure has led to interacting with many great people online via twitter and podcasts. Cons tend to deepen those ties from all of us gathering together, and now when I give panels, I love hanging out afterwards and talking with possible new friends!
My mind’s memory is that of a dying fly, so you’ll have to forgive the fact that all I really remember about the first Otakon I attended was being absolutely shocked how balls-to-the-wall forward people were regarding wearing their fandom on their sleeves…literally; I felt so out of place wearing normal clothes that my heart for fandom grew three sizes that day. It’s a feeling I would always like to remember.
Could you elaborate on feeling like an outsider? Early on in fandom, I felt like an outsider for just not knowing enough, not showing enough. It felt like my liking of these cool foreign cartoons was not worthy of being around people so fervent in their liking of “anime.” I didn’t know the lingo, and I could only speak to the few shows I’ve seen. I remember thinking, “Oh, god, there’s a history to all of this?!” and kinda freaking out. That was entirely in my own head though, and I’m kinda glad it was. Attending panels is where I learned my love for this fandom as well as what its obsessed with, and I’ve come to see anime fans as some of the most accepting fans out there.
Today you’re on staff at Ani-Gamers, a blog about anime. How did that start? As of this moment in time, I contribute articles and columns to, co-host a podcast (Oldtaku no Radio) on, and perform editorial tasks for Ani-Gamers. It was Evan Minto who started and still runs that blog, and it was he who handed me a business card at the end of a CPAC edition of C.R.A.Z.Y. O.T.A.K.U. to solicit writers. He said he was looking for academic takes on anime, video games, and manga. I said I’m an aimless English major with penchant for overly elaborate analyses. He said, “Welcome.”
How has going from passive consumer to active fan creator changed your fandom? Poetic! I really love the term “active fan creator,” because that’s honestly what I hope I’ve become. To that end, evolving “from passive consumer to active fan creator” has given me social media nightmares (literally dreams where my Twitter feed starts attacking me for the degree of naiveté or incompetence in my reviews/opinions). But dealing with the anxiety is way more than worth it for the payoff of hearing someone say that they read your piece and comment on how it affected them or their views on whatever you reviewed. Creating content that engages while being informative is tantamount to what I aim to do, and to that effect, my fandom has changed to one of bittersweet toil. It’s like being in the marketing department to some degree—a creative job but one with time cards nonetheless. I often feel burnt out for speaking with such passion and craft into a very large void, but those scattered comments, like stars, keep me going further into and along with the fandom.
What’s the biggest contrast between fandom then and now? When I was watching cartoons I didn’t know as anime, those much more intense than I were subbing tapes to spread the love. Now most anime are simulcast legally, supported by a relatively huge fanbase, and dissected/lauded/jeered by the same. This is a wonderful time to be an anime fan. We’ve almost got it all, including creators visiting domestic conventions in person and answering questions about their work. This is high-level stuff! It doesn’t get much better. We should count ourselves lucky and contribute in any way possible to further anime exposure and appreciation.
Ink can be reached on Twitter.