When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was eight years old, I lived in a house that was pretty huge and in the countryside. It was very strange, with different family members living at far ends of the building, so my mother would sleep with me in my room and we’d watch TV together in the dark, with light-loving moths and bugs fluttering around the CRT [a type of older TV].
Back in those days, SBS Australia, the multi-cultural government-funded channel, aired Evangelion. My mum, who is admittedly a bit strange, watched it every Saturday. I would have been asleep at that point, but I was of course lying on my mattress, eyes glued to the screen. Naturally I didn’t understand much of it, but several specific scenes and images stuck in my head. The surprise when Unit 01 moves, the strange Angel that invaded the computer systems. The giant eyes in the sky, the shadow that eats the city. Rei talking to herself. The sound of the automatic system as it plunges Eva 01’s arms into the body of the berserk Unit. Asuka’s ride going under Kaworu’s control, and of course, congratulations. I have vivid mental pictures of the scenes, the structures, the gigantic machines themselves. Then, the show was gone, my life took a turn for the worse, and I never got into anime beyond kid stuff like Pokemon until the 2000s. But those robots. Those Eva units will always be beautiful to me, and they coloured me as a mecha fan even without knowing anime as a medium.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think the directorial approach. If you look at western cartoons, they’re very much done in a “flatter” style. Meanwhile anime is constructed like it’s a 3D set. It makes the show feel like an actual place rather than, say, a comic book or a drawing. Naturally not all of either medium is like that but that’s what originally struck me with Eva and the reason I came back into anime.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? As a child it changed over the years, but we got Pokemon, Digimon and, strangely, a straight Animax dub of Cardcaptor Sakura I was rather enamored with. All the kids liked Dragon Ball Z, but I wasn’t into it. I remember the merchandise littering the schools and sports centers though. When I was forced to live in China I encountered different anime series, where dubs of Nadia [the Secret of Blue Water] rubbed shoulders with Jura-Tripper and Hikarian. I quite liked those, they were very different from what I saw in the west. I didn’t really cotton onto their Japanese origins though.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? There really wasn’t one in Australia I could find. I lived in a place that could best be described as plains of sugar cane and bug-infested forest ringing spread-out future development zones and tourist-laden beaches. My mother would rent VHS tapes of “cartoons” at the video rental store, so I found the anime section for my Sakura Wars video and Slayers occasionally, but they were just movies to me.
Why did you take a break from anime? What brought you back? I kind of didn’t have any strong way to keep up with it, I guess? The way my life twisted around was that I ended up living in foreign countries and the television was always useless, there was no time to establish broadband so no downloading or fansubs, and when I made it back to my home in Australia we had what was colloquially known as “third world internet” for a long time. Television took ages to even cycle in American cartoons, so my focus was on things I could actually get: videogames. Naturally I encountered anime-styled characters and Japanese games and became aware of it, but it was only really when I started searching for gamers on the internet that I became aware of people talking about it. A few arguments later, I had broadband, and watching Lucky Star on youtube after seeing someone’s slow-loading forum banner gif of the intro. The limit was 12GB so naturally I burned that out in a week.
What was the first show’s fandom you really invested yourself in? I mean, consuming/creating fanworks, buying merch, etc. Well I found a Lucky Star imageboard, but I just read the doujins [doujinshi] posted as I sampled other shows. The first time I REALLY got into something was Gundam 00, which led to the rest of the franchise and me buying model kits and even DVDs. I joined the forums over at MAHQ, realized I hated these people, and instead followed the show from Random Curiosity instead. There were fansub wars, arguments in the comments, and I fell hard into the drama. I eventually found other places as I watched through Gundam, a lot of them actually small groups of specialty fans on unrelated forums for toys or mecha or sci-fi. I didn’t really get the fujoshi thing until I was in the middle of Gundam Wing though, and it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. Not that I’m big on that sort of thing but I can enjoy it as a part of culture. I think it’s actually necessary for modern Gundam fans to get some joy out of flirty gay-tinged stuff because the nasty “fans” won’t let you enjoy anything else.
How did you begin connecting with other fans? Mostly internet forums. I’d just play around in comment sections on fansub sites and blogs. Instead I connected with people on forums over other interests like games or purely on the basis of friendship born from familiarity, then get them into anime by bullying them into watching it. We’d be relatively insulated on our opinions, then the inevitable march of social media and internet memes dragged into the gravitational pull of places like 4Chan and much later Twitter, where I’m at my most comfortable.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Probably the fansub wars. Back then there was constant drama, name-calling, nitpicking and bullying. With Lucky Star it was A.F.K. or Guerrand, with Gundam 00 it was Nyoro~n or Conclave Mendoi [all names of fansub groups]. The drama and possessiveness was amazing and half the people seemed to care more about the subs than the show. These days proper simulcasting has completely destroyed most of that, and the only people who fansub are ones who really want to do a specific show out of interest. It’s a lot more peaceful, though naturally there’s still plenty of bastards who rant and complain about the lightning-fast subtitles they get (sometimes for free, not like piracy has gone anywhere), forgetting when it took days or weeks to get a show subtitled. Keeping everyone happy is impossible.
Hag can be reached on Twitter.