#46: Jeffrey Wu

Age: 31

Location: California

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. In a mix of unsorted memories, I have big Tom Toonami, bootlegs of Inuyasha, setting timers for Adult Swim to catch .hack//sign and Cowboy Bebop, and waking up early to try to watch Pokemon but getting dragged to school. DVDs of Tenchi in Tokyo and random bits of El Hazard from the Chinese video rental place as well.

You gave me a big mix of unsorted memories! Could you give this to me in a timeline, maybe?  These memories take place during my middle school years,—1996 to 2000—when my family had cable TV for the first time. From there I would discover Toonami and Adult Swim.

I think in that era started with Sailor Moon, and looking it up I remember bits of Robotech and Dragon Ball Z. During this time there was a video rental place in a Hong Kong market my mom would take us to rent movies. They had Sailor Moon LD if I remember correctly, and a limited list of anime titles. Since I did not have anyone to reference these titles off of, I pretty much picked up what was on the shelf. There were no complete runs so I didn’t really watch any show to completion. The place has long since closed down with the downturn of all home rental businesses, so I can’t really pull up everything I have ever seen from there. Tenchi Muyo and El Hazard ended up sticking in my mind the most, though I think I only saw three episodes of El Hazard off of their one DVD. I think the Escaflowne movie was there as well.

When Pokemon first came out I heard how popular it was from school, which got me to try to watch it. I think I had to look up its air time in the TV guide book that got delivered. I remember the show’s first run was on channel 13, weekdays at 6:30 am. But my parents weren’t very hot on me wasting time in the morning before school watching TV. I only caught a few episodes before I had to stop. Both my parents worked so I had more time during the afternoon runs of shows.

I think around 1999 I finally learned how to set our VCR to tape shows, and I used this to record normal Saturday morning cartoons because I took Chinese classes that started during these show times and I really liked cartoons back in the day. This carried over to recording the Adult Swim stuff at night as well. This is where I remember Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and .hack//Sign came up.

My younger sister at some point, probably around ’98 or later, brought home Inuyasha DVDs from a friend of hers. Actually I think this was during Toonami’s run of Inuyasha, because I remember watching dubs of the first season, and then subs for a bit from these DVD’s. They were bad subs, that I remember.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
I think first was the more serious tones compared to the Nicktoons were showing at the time. Action and animation were big parts of it. I also found myself a “slice of life” genre fan and really only anime had these stories. I think shows with a slow pace to them was a stark contrast to the mile-a-minute activity American cartoons had, which kind of stuck with me.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Doraemon. I think that series is Simpsons-old.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The high school anime scene was disjointed. Someone tried to get something going for the lunch hour, but it was way too short for anything to happen. I got more into IRC groups, 4chan, and the Adult Swim anime forums at that time. Never really connected well due to that online nature. Only really got somewhere in college with a proper anime club.

What was college anime club like? I went to UCI for my college, right out of high school, and the club there was Cal Animage Epsilon. There I met a few people who had a good history of anime going back to the tape sharing days. They showed pretty much all pirated stuff, except for a quarter or two of working with Funimation’s Anime Club program, which I remember watching Kiddy Grade and answering their questionnaire. For the first three years the club president was really driven to show things we could not normally see, and then also show things that were just freaky. Sexy Commando was one thing he brought on us. Anything with 12 episodes worked great so we could finish the series within the quarter. One interesting thing he got us to watch was Densha Otoko, which got me to look into Jdrama for a while. I’m looking through the club page of shows and they really covered quite a gamut.

At this time I really got the hang of pirating anime and manga. I made use of IRC while on the college campus, and branched to bittorrent when I moved off campus. My second run of roommates were folks I met at the club, and since they didn’t have TV, more entertainment came from the internet.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Anime Expo while it was still in Anaheim. I volunteered for a free badge for a Saturday and a Sunday I believe. Missed the nice panels cause I was working and was too young to have money to shop, and no real way to record the experience.

Did you go back to Anime Expo or did your volunteer experience sour you on it? Up until their second time at the Los Angeles Convention Center, I would more or less make it to the Expo for a day of volunteering. I believe their first year at LACC I went with a full time position, and shacked up with others for the entire convention. I think for the early years, while it was at Anaheim, being able to catch bits of the Cosplay Masquerade was interesting enough. About that time the video rooms were showing things I could find online, but missing panels was neither here nor there, since I was mostly drawn to one by their subject matter. I never really planned for a panel; only seeing them on the schedule when I got there. I stopped volunteering when they made the change to not providing badges for people who volunteered, and I got my own job. I still went for each year since then, think I missed one and I’m not going to this year’s either. They’ve been getting even more crowded and your ability to attend things on a whim is really hurting.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I feel like I got into the fandom just as this most recent iteration was taking place. 4chan was the bulk of what propagated anime talk, and everything seemed to derive from that. I definitely felt separate from the legal community as that wasn’t what I was doing for my viewings, since the other two other places I knew talking about anime, ANN and Adult Swim, had restrictions on talking about unreleased stuff. I myself have pivoted for being more legit, and putting off some of the dumber arguments around piracy, but I still feel there’s an argument in putting a priority on how much you’re spending to live. As for contrast, it feels small going from the short period of bittorrent to this run of streaming when right before that was the intricate network of tape trading existed. 2008 seemed to have really changed things though, pushing the kind of experience pirates had up to then to a legit platform. Its definitely a big contrast from getting three-episode DVDs months apart.

Jeffrey can be reached on Twitter

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