Location: Atlanta, Georgia
When did you discover anime? As a kid I watched all the standard stuff like Pokemon, but the first show of which I was truly aware as “anime” would most likely be G-Gundam. That’s the first I remember, at least. From there I picked up Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements’ Anime Encyclopedia, which I found to be a valuable resource despite all the excessive and unnecessary vitriol it hurls at shows I’ve come to adore. Tech TV’s Anime Unleashed block also helped enable me, most specifically Betterman and Vandread, and STARZ would occasionally run OVAs like 3×3 Eyes and Gunsmith Cats which were just thrilling to see on my TV listings. I still love all the series I just listed, too. In my quest for variety while consuming as much anime as I could, I ended up with a somewhat different list of favorite anime that skewed just slightly older than other fans my age. It made making anime friends a little hard at first.
But eventually it worked out and now I’m wota garbage. And happy about it!
How did your interest in anime lead to your interest in idols/wota fandom? It’s Ranko Kanzaki from [email protected]’s fault. I’d been peripherally aware of the idol industry for a about a decade, and somehow, I discovered that Ranko was excruciatingly adorable in exactly my sort of way. When I first saw her base art from the Cinderella Girls mobile game, I screamed and showed all my friends. This was the push I needed to dive right into the deep end of the idol industry, and now I’m quite invested in not just [email protected], but also Aikatsu, Dempagumi.inc, ’80s idols like Shizuka Kudou, and too many more for my own good.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Western animation was (and still is, really) so limited in what it tries to do. It’s almost all comedy, and when it’s not it’s usually either a long-form toy commercial or just not very good. Even when I was 11 or so, I just wanted more than that. Animation has the potential to tell stories that are impossible with live action, and anime was (and often still is) the only segment of it that actually DOES that. It was just nice to see the creators of the shows themselves taking their work as seriously as I took it.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I don’t remember that well, but I want to say Inuyasha. My own “awakening” came a bit before it even premiered (a friend of mine had even been downloading fansubs of it on Kazaa for a few months before Adult Swim got it), but I wasn’t actually all that aware of a greater anime community until the show’s American popularity was already in full swing.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? As stated earlier, for a very long time after I got into anime my relevant activities were confined to my group of friends from school, so I don’t actually know what it was like being part of the “fandom” at the time. Honestly, I would say I’m still mostly disengaged from the Western aspect of it—I try to interact with the Japanese end of things and keep my local activities confined to my own social groups. I started going to conventions when I was twelve, but most of what I’ve always done at those pertains to my particular niche, the guests, or the merchandise.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I’m well aware that it was, but I didn’t get my own computer until a few years later and so most of my real online interaction began with, unfortunately, Gaia Online. Around the time I actually got into anime, my anime-centric internet usage was confined to downloading hentai on my friend’s computer after he fell asleep. Middle school was wild.
Was your friend aware of this? Was it a prank? Did you guys actually watch hentai? I don’t ever remember sitting down and actually watching hentai together, but if that particular friend wasn’t so possessive I’m sure he’d have at least shared a bit more of the stuff he was telling me about. But he was possessive, and his room was nightmarishly filthy, so when he fell asleep far earlier than the term “sleepover” usually implies, I was left with nothing to do since I was most definitely not going to sleep in the flatulently-scented, heavily stained blanket he’d prepared for me. Sometimes I’d download old Family Guy episodes and watch those, but if you give a twelve-year-old boy a magical box that offers the choice between animated comedy and animated boobs, he’s usually going to pick the latter. I don’t think the friend ever found out, but thanks to the combined forces of boredom and puberty, I would stay up until dawn watching hentai just about every time I went to his disgusting house.
Also, would love to hear more about Gaia Online. What did you do there? How did anime fans use the service? This is embarrassing to admit, but I started off doing some roleplaying there, though eventually I became more active in the “Clubs” section where a lot of anime-centric discussion took place. More specifically, I mostly frequented a yuri club and a Guilty Gear club. I was disillusioned with the place pretty quickly after that, though – some of the grossest people I’ve ever encountered were from Gaia – so when I was fourteen I just took to tricking people out of their accounts for fun until I finally quit. I have almost no fond memories of Gaia, but it was a large presence in my life for a year or two.
Do you remember your first convention? My first convention was Anime Weekend Atlanta 9 in 2003, and not knowing what it really was, my brother, our friend, and I were dropped off on Sunday at around noon. Just about everything was closing, but I was given money to burn so the dealer’s room really blew me away. The most memorable part of my time there was a Decipher, Inc. employee desperately trying to sell us on the just-released .hack card game that obviously never took off. We each bought a pack; I still have the cards in my drawer. Anyway, despite a very minimal convention experience, we were so excited that we all went back the next year for much longer. I’ve actually been to every AWA since then.
What were your favorite parts or some interesting moments? I really don’t remember much from my first convention. Since then I’ve typically attended with either friends from school or friends met at previous conventions. There are far too many memories to go into much detail, but I can give a few. I’ve hosted a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure posing panel a few times, blown hundreds of dollars in the dealers’ room, met some Japanese guests, and even worked with some as an interpreter. My brother and I used to hold unofficial Cereal Parties late at night at our regular conventions, too. They’re exactly what they sound like; we just bring a bunch of cereal and eat it with friends and passing strangers. So, if I had to give one favourite thing, I guess I’d say conventions have allowed me to expand my social circle beyond what my normal surroundings would allow.
For you personally, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom then and now? I’d definitely have to say the availability of the material. What was popular then was what was being shown on American T.V. As a middle school kid with very little spending money, I simply didn’t have the means or even the chance to get into fansubs. What I saw in those days amounted to whatever was on Cartoon Network or TechTV, along with the occasional rental from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. I remember my aforementioned slovenly friend telling me about Inuyasha before Cartoon Network picked it up, but he never did actually show it to me, so beyond hentai he wasn’t much of a resource. These days, though, I can watch any anime I want almost instantly. For older series a lack of torrent seeds is sometimes an issue, but even then, most things can be found streaming somewhere, often instantly after broadcast in the case of newer shows. A few times I’ve even seen a new episode of something before my brother in Japan has, which to my middle school self would sound impossible. Additionally, I’m someone who prefers to own physical copies of things, so the fact that I’m now able to get just about any anime or related thing from Japan and have it sent to my house is pretty incredible.
Victor can be reached on Twitter.