Location: United States
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was 2009, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, and I was barely sixteen years old. At the time, Hulu provided my main TV source and online escape from reality—and with my mental health the way it was at the time, that escape was much valued. This was in the good old days when you could have a free Hulu account and only get thirty-second commercials. Naruto popped up as a recommended show, likely because of my interest in action-adventure and fantasy shows. The description caught my attention, so I watched the first episode. And the next. And the next. The first Naruto OP still fills me with nostalgia, transporting me back to where I sat on (not at) my parents’ kitchen counter, watching my first anime late at night. With Hulu’s help, I discovered similar anime, like Inuyasha. Before long, I was hooked on anime as a medium.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The continued storylines. I felt like most American TV shows were very episodic, whereas anime would continue with the same complex storyline for dozens—or even hundreds—of episodes. I hadn’t seen these layers of conflict and character development in more than a couple other shows. Plus, the scenarios captured my attention and characters captured my heart in ways that, again, few American shows had ever managed.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Naruto. I didn’t talk much with other fans during my first year of anime viewing—in fact, I can only think of three or four off the top of my head—but I remember the sites with illegal streaming often had something Naruto-related in their titles, and Naruto and Shippuden were nearly always at the top of any list sorted by popularity.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Again, I can’t comment on much that has to do with other fans for my first year of watching. But after about a year and a half, I started getting involved in fandom online, primarily on Anime-Planet. In the A-P forums, I got to know a wonderful mix of people from all over the world, folks who knew how to be welcoming and have fun—but many of whom were also willing to engage in deep discussions about things like religion. We’d play forum games, talk about anime, participate in forum signature competitions, discuss religion…
This community propelled me into aniblogging, a hobby I continue to this day. I barely know how to start telling you what it was like to be a part of this community of anime fans. I can say that Anime-Planet and the aniblogosphere encouraged me and gave me a sense of companionship during one of the loneliest, hardest times of my life.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes. In addition to the forums and blogging I mentioned above, Twitter quickly became a center part of my anime experience—for me, that part started 2011, over a year and a half after I first found Naruto.
You imply that mental illness was a major part of your early anime fandom. If you’re comfortable discussing it, how did anime help you during this time? I did struggle a lot with anxiety and depression before and during my first couple years of anime fandom—and these issues exasperated ADHD symptoms that had barely bothered me before. At first, anime wasn’t exactly a help. It was an escape, and an unhealthy one at that. I would easily watch an entire 12-episode anime on a school night… multiple school nights in a row. There were times when I’d be watching anime in bed, then suddenly notice light coming in my window, alerting me that I had to be at school in just a few hours. This resulted from my lack of time management, my hyperfocus, my struggle with switching tasks, and, again, my need to escape anxiety.
When I discovered Anime-Planet, I found other fans who had similar or worse anime habits, and who pretty much boasted about how much anime they consumed at a furious rate, and about how addicted they were. I started to absorb that attitude and feel sort of proud of my anime habits—while still feeling a bit guilty.
But if it wasn’t anime, I’d have used American TV shows and books to escape the world. My anime binging habits were definitely a symptom, not a cause, of my troubles.
And anime did help. At first it was only in more shallow ways. It could make me giggle and squeal even in the depths of my depression. It stopped my racing thoughts—a temporary relief, sure, but a relief nonetheless. It provided my scattered, tangled brain with something it could actually focus on for hours at a time.
As I started blogging, anime became a help in bigger ways. Or rather, I believe God used what began as unhealthy anime and internet habits and turned them into something wonderful. I started using concepts from anime to help me process my own life. The football anime Eyeshield 21, for example, resulted in an excellent journaling-turned-blogging session on perseverance and effort. I saw how Sena (the main character) overcame repeated failure and pummeling, and I concluded that I could do the same—that I must do the same.
The online community helped, too. One of the initial triggers for my depression was loneliness, though it took me a while to figure that out.
How did the community you found at Anime-Planet make you feel less alone? Oh boy. I wrote a 2,000-word essay on this—and that’s the word count after significant pruning. Let’s see if I can give a shorter answer than that…
First of all, I could drop my mask online, among anime fans. Or rather, I could start fresh. People in real life knew me from before my mental health issues. I felt like I had to continue being that put-together, smart, hardworking good girl. That distanced me from people IRL. Online, though, I had no mask. I knew my anime habits wouldn’t cause judgment or disappointment, but the opposite. The people I met actually had similar interests and faults. And as I aniblogged more, I was determined to be open about everything except personally identifiable info (like location, name, and birthdate). That was the only way I knew to keep my mask from re-forming. I shared my anime habits, my anxiety, my depression—and because of that, I was able to truly connect with people. I probably could have connected more deeply with people offline if I’d been more open about my brokenness… but I was clumsy about relationships. And shy. Offline openness would become much easier later, after I practiced online.
On Anime-Planet, I found people who valued what I had to say in my blog posts and recommendations. We had common ground, connection—and goodness, those comments lit up my world, especially at first. People cared about what I wrote. They watched what I recommended. They heard me.
An even bigger breakthrough happened in the forums, starting in January 2011. I’d been lurking around the forums for a while, still too shy and unsure of myself to contribute to conversations about anime or daily life. But then a new thread in the “General Discussion” section caught my eye. It was titled “General Religion Thread.” Long story short, this had two effects on me: First, it got me started in the forums, where I found a whole bunch of welcoming people to play forum games with, discuss religion with, and who even got me started on making forum signatures. This was my main social interaction outside of school. But second, and more importantly, this is where I met TWWK—or Charles, as I’d later start calling him.
Charles and I checked out each other’s blogs. His blogging approach at Beneath the Tangles, a blog dedicated to the connections between anime and spirituality, would inspire me. His comments on my posts and his requests that I guest post at BtT encouraged me in my writing. And connection with him would lead to connection with other bloggers. Through blogging, I would find other anime fans who struggled with anxiety and depression, who resonated with what I wrote. I’d exchange opinions with others about anime and religion. I’d learn to overcome shyness about commenting on others’ blog posts… I’d grow, I’d have fun, and I’d learn, in a way that was much less stressful than interacting with people IRL. And somehow, the beginning of this managed to overlap with the same months I’d say were my worst, as far as depression and anxiety goes. Anime and fellow anibloggers were often the bright spots in my dark days—though, of course, there were still stretches where even online interactions and blogging were too much for me.
How did becoming an anime blogger change the way you interacted in the fandom? I’m currently blogging at Beneath the Tangles, and my posts can all be found here. Or rather, I’m on hiatus now, but I’ll return there soon! I’ve been blogging at BtT since early 2015, and I was even on the leadership team for a time. I’ve came a long way since 2011, when I felt too insecure to accept Charles’s invitation to guest post.
If you’d like to check out my old blog, you can find it here. But it’s very much retired now—I’ve closed comments and everything.
Becoming an aniblogger kept me inspired and involved in the fandom in a new way. I’ve mentioned much of its significance above. But I’ll add that it’s the reason I first joined Twitter—I thought that would be a good place to network with other anibloggers and perhaps get more blog traffic. Now, my involvement on anitwitter has a life of its own.
How was/is your Twitter fandom participation different than Anime-Planet? My Twitter participation is decidedly more sustainable than my Anime-Planet participation was. Anime-Planet forums took a lot of time and energy. Because of the anxiety I had at the time and my introverted nature, the discussions—both on the discussion boards and in private messages—were sometimes more involved than I could handle. When that happened, I’d drop off the face of the earth… and eventually, I reached the point where I never returned to A-P. On Twitter, however, such involved discussions are rarer. 140-character Tweets are less likely to overwhelm me than a long forum post. I’m less likely to procrastinate on replying—though I still do.
In some ways, Twitter has become more personal than A-P, simply because I’ve been there longer. I share many aspects of my life, and so do others. But I also interact with a wider range of people, especially when I’m tweeting about a show. We all get excited about it together, and that’s a delight!
What’s the biggest contrast between fandom when you discovered it and now? For me, the biggest contrast is how I am involved. I started off as a newbie on the sidelines, trying to contribute to the A-P community by adding recommendations, reviews, and blog posts—but still too shy to comment on others’ blog posts or participate in forum discussions until I was practically invited to do so. I didn’t know much about how community could transcend a single site, spreading out across various blogs and social media. In the months that followed, though, I did gain confidence, and blog comments would become one of my chief ways to interact with fellow fans.
Six and a half years after joining Anime-Planet (so, eight years after watching ep 1 of Naruto), I’m no longer a newbie. I can confidently use “tsundere,” “yandere,” or “yuri” in a sentence. I’ve given advice to younger fans and bloggers. I don’t hesitate to comment on others’ blogs, since I fully understand how comments can encourage bloggers and promote community. But my primary interactions with fellow fans tend to be either on Twitter or with other Beneath the Tangles writers—still online, though in a more private setting. And I’m trying to figure out how the blazes anime fandom and aniblogging fit into an adult, post-college life. Especially the adult, post-college life of an ADDer with two jobs and time management issues.
Basically, I am the the biggest contrast between my fandom experience six years ago and my fandom experience now. As I’ve changed, my experience of fandom has changed immensely, and I’m still sorting it out.
If fandom outside of my personal experience has changed much, I’ve barely noticed. I do think it’s shifted more and more to social media like Twitter and Tumblr, rather than blog comments and websites. But I’ll leave further speculation to the more observant.
Annalyn can be reached on Twitter.