#38: Tommy Phillips

Age: 32

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Technically the first anime I saw was Speed Racer in the middle of the night on Cartoon Network. And like all kids, I watched Pokémon. But in 2001 I got into Cardcaptors, Sailor Moon, and Tenchi Universe. I was a big fan for a while, but then I turned 17 and was “too cool for anime.”

Fast-forward to 2007. I drove by an anime convention in Pittsburgh (Tekko) and proceeded to make fun of all the cosplayers. My mom called me out on my hypocrisy—I had cosplayed Darth Vader to the premiere of Episode III. So I took a closer look at this anime thing. Seeing how much fun all the cosplayers had at the con melted my heart, and my now-soft heart was ready for anime.

On the night of May 14, 2007, I watched InuYasha for the first time—the episode “Mistakes of the Past”—and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve been to approximately 35 cons in the last 10 years. I’m an otaku now, and I’m never looking back.

Your mom sounds like a classy lady. My mom was a first-grade teacher for about 20 years up until her forced retirement due to various health problems. She always looked out for the kids who were getting bullied. Her ability to help the children who were not as popular made her very popular with her parents as well as her students. So it only seemed natural when she pointed out my hypocrisy in making fun of cosplayers when I had in reality cosplayed just a couple years earlier. Thanks to her, I gave up my “eminence front” of being too cool for cosplay, and eventually fell in love with the art myself.

Why do you think your first reaction toward cosplayers was judgement? I was bullied from my very first day of first grade. There was definitely a pecking order in my class, and I was at the bottom. As the years went on, and I got older, and other kids left my school, I moved up in the hierarchy. Eventually I became the bully, making fun of others. That included the cosplayers I saw. It was wrong, but I never realized it until that day my mom called me out on it. I became the very thing that I had suffered from, but my mom set me straight and I’ve been a different person ever since. Becoming an otaku literally changed me from being a bully to being a friend to those who are bullied. The best lesson I learned from my experience is, don’t give into hate.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It had to be the fact that female characters were strong, especially in stuff like Sailor Moon, Tenchi Universe, and InuYasha. Strong female characters seemed so new to me, growing up with only American male-oriented cartoons. It was characters like Sailor Mars, Ayeka and later Sango who won me over.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Bleach at the time of my renaissance in 2007. Fullmetal Alchemist was big too.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a much more relaxed atmosphere than it is now. Instead of all the political crap that has popped up within convention communities, people were much more accepting of everyone.

How has anime fandom gotten more political over time? I think the defining moment for me was at Colossalcon this past year, when a skit involved beating up a Trump cosplayer with a baseball bat and the masquerade hosts chiding the audience if they weren’t for Bernie Sanders. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Trumpster, but there seems to be so many political causes these days in Facebook groups that receive hundreds of likes while actual discussion of con activity gets pushed to the bottom. I guess my best answer is that the transition from anonymous discussion on message board forums to putting your name out there on Facebook groups in the past five years has led to people feeling the obligation to push their political views in places where it really doesn’t belong.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes, I found fellow fans on a website called “Christian Anime Alliance.” At the time, the forums were active and helpful. Also, I’d use YouTube to look up videos from Tekko to see what I missed at the con in which I made fun of people at first (then recanted).

Has your religion continued to figure strongly in your anime fandom? While the Christian Anime Alliance is practically dead, my Christian views still heavily affect the way I watch anime. Over the years, I’ve found many links between my faith and what I watch. It may not be intentional, or it may very well be so, but I’ve seen connections between various characters and Biblical figures. My favorite has to be the connection between Kuniko Hojo from Shangri-La and Moses. Not many people have seen Shangri-La, which is a shame, because it is an utter masterpiece. Kuniko runs away from her people, before having that “burning bush” moment that brought her back as their leader, and after many trials she ends up leading them into their “promised land.” It’s a beautiful parallel that helps me enjoy the series more, and definitely cements Shangri-La as one of my all-time favorites.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Erie Anime Experience 2007—a tiny con but with great cosplayers, a friendly guest (Kyle Hebert), and a video game tournament where I recorded my one and only win at Super Smash Bros. Melee. It was an amazing experience for a con virgin.

What inspired you to begin blogging about anime? I honestly can’t remember the exact reason I decided to start blogging, whether it was something I thought long and hard about, or whether it was just a whim. In any case, I began my blogging journey in February 2008, and while it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, I feel as if I’m better off now than I ever was before. I’ve found my niche and I’ve crawled into it nicely. While my original goal of blogging was to blog both anime and sports, I’ve discovered that my true blogging passion is for anime, and I now only blog about American football seasonally.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think the biggest difference between fandom when I first became a fan and now is the way we interact online. In 2007, everything was still on message board forums. You’d have specific categories to make your posts, and you’d have to make sure you played by the rules. Now everything is social media. There’s Facebook, where you have to make a splash or otherwise your post gets buried, Twitter, where hashtagging is key to get anyone to notice, and there’s Tumblr, which is meme city. The best example I can give is the IchiHime fandom. For those who aren’t familiar, IchiHime is the abbreviation for fans of the romantic relationship between Ichigo and Orihime from Bleach. In the late 2000s, IchiHime had its own message board where fans could post to their heart’s content, and moderators made sure to keep the site free from needless bickering. By 2016, when “we won” (IchiHime is canon now), the Tumblr wars were overwhelming. Opponents of IchiHime purposely tagged their vicious anti-IchiHime posts with “pro ichihime” in order to start fights. Obviously there’s a big difference between then and now, and it’s obvious what I prefer. What will fandom look like in the 2020s? That might be up to Mark Zuckerberg to decide.

Tommy can be reached on Twitter

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