#71: Sara

Age: 22

Location: Folsom, CA, USA

When did you discover anime? The first anime I ever remember watching was Inuyasha on Adult Swim; I was probably in 6th grade at the time.

I can’t remember the first time I saw it exactly, although I think it was just an accidental glimpse of part of an episode, but I clearly remember spending the night at one of my friends’ houses hoping that we would stay up late enough to catch episodes of the show and being very disappointed when said friend wasn’t interested in watching it. I also tried to sneakily watch episodes on one of the many, many illegal streaming aggregator sites with my terrible dial-up AOL internet when my parents weren’t home. My interest ebbed and flowed all throughout high school until around my senior year and my first years of college—I met friends who were also interested in anime, became a little obsessed with BL manga (which I read voraciously through less than ethical means) and developed an academic, as well as fannish, interest in the medium.

How did your interest in anime lead to an interest in BL manga? Kind of hilariously, I…honestly can’t remember the first time I discovered BL manga. It may have had something to do with Hetalia. Slash shipping was obviously huge in that fandom, and this was ~2010 when “yaoi” was understood as encompassing pretty much any m/m ship from an anime/animated Japanese pop culture in general. (I was never really involved in video game fandoms but I feel very sure that m/m Final Fantasy ships also got ‘yaoi’d.) From there I think it’s very easy to stumble onto BL manga, especially when you’re a very ignorant teenager spending a lot of time on scanlation aggregator sites, some of which often host dojinshi as well as manga (they’re really unconscionable on so many levels.) Actually, when I first made my current tumblr account around 2011/2012, I modeled myself as a romance manga review blog—my url was ‘closetfangirlreviews.’ Looking through my archives, I think I reviewed… two BL manga before diving headfirst down the fandom rabbit hole and realizing I didn’t have the self-discipline to keep up a review blog.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’m honestly not sure! Inuyasha just seemed very cool—it wasn’t a story I had encountered before—and a little illicit due to its time slot. It was also something that, for better or worse, I could access for free online. The specific stories definitely engaged me, and considering some of my first interests (Inuyasha, Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club) I may have been drawn to romances with female leads, but I don’t remember that being a conscious draw.

I thought Fruits Basket may have also been my first manga, but I realized later that I’m pretty sure the first book I bought myself was Volume 1 of the manga First Love Sisters, which I furtively hid in the bottom of my nightstand drawer. (I was in middle school and, uh, in denial about some things.)

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I had no idea what was popular when I first got into anime. It was probably in the late ’00s, so Sailor Moon and DBZ may have still been popular, but I was pretty isolated from anime fandom at large. The friends I had who were interested in anime were all really excited about Hetalia, if I remember correctly, and I was pretty involved in that fandom for a few years despite never watching more than one or two episodes of the actual anime.

This is so interesting! How did you stay involved in the fandom beyond actually watching the show? Fanfic, fanart, something else? Oh yeah, this has been a huge thing in my experience in anime fandom! I think Hetalia and Katekyo Hitman Reborn were the worst offenders, but I also participated in Kuroko no Basket, Yowamushi Pedal, and I think Haikyuu!! fandom for a while before actually reading them, and for a while after falling behind. I think my experiences with Hetalia taught me to have a very, uh, lassiez-faire? Attitude toward canon. But to actually answer your question, definitely fanart and fic, but also headcanons/meta—I was more of a fandom consumer than a creator, but I had (and still have, tbh) a huge appetite for fanfiction and quite a few online friends who wrote fic, so we were all very inclined toward focusing on character analysis and relationship dynamics and, in Hetalia, real-world history, so most of our discussion about the fandom revolved around that, with canon taking a backseat. This was all online, specifically on tumblr, though–I believe my irl friends did actually watch and enjoy the anime.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Again, I was pretty isolated from anime fandom at large, but among my very small anime-inclined IRL friend group and my social circles online (primarily tumblr) there was a lot going on! My IRL friends would goof around, singing “Caramelldansen” and doing the accompanying dance, do impressions of Hetalia characters, and I think even did cosplay, whereas the fans I hung around online were mostly fanfic writers—I read so many Hetalia AUs I wouldn’t even know where to start describing them! Although I primarily hung around on tumblr, Livejournal and FFN [Fanfiction.net] were still fairly active, and ao3 [Archive of our Own] was active, but more exclusive than it is now.

You seem to have had a lot of IRL anime-fan friends. Did you meet them because of anime? Or were they into anime already and got you into it? Oh I wouldn’t say a lot, I had like, six friends total and three of them were into anime in some capacity—although I did admittedly go to a couple meetings of my high school anime club. They got me into Hetalia (and then moved on to Homestuck fairly quickly) but I was so excited by the idea of nations as people and all the amazing fic I found that I just got hooked on that fandom. The anime club may have introduced me to some series, too (Ouran?) but I don’t have very strong memories of it.

Did you write fanfic yourself? I have posted one fanfic in my entire time in fandom (which technically was supposed to be chapter 1 of an ongoing fic, but the rest of the fic just…never happened.) It was a genderswapped Hetalia high school AU with Spain/South Italy and FWB!Spain/France. It didn’t get much response, although I do think my friends read it and liked it; it wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t terrible, and looking back it was kind of delightful that those were my, uh, artistic priorities. I’ve drafted a few other half-finished fics, one for My Hero Academia and one for Yuri!!! on Ice most recently, but I’ve never published anything else.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes, the internet was a huge part of my fandom experience. There was an anime club at my high school that I had some friends in and sometimes spent time at, but I primarily got to know other fans through the internet.

Do you still know the friends you made when you were getting into anime? I do still know quite a few of my online friends! I actually met my best friend of six years on tumblr because of their France/Canada ficlets. I’m only super close with them out of all the people I talked to during that period, but several of us do still follow each other on twitter.

Do you remember your first convention? I still haven’t been to an anime convention, actually! In high school I was too geographically isolated and in college I was too broke. Hopefully I’ll get to go to one in the next couple years.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think there are still a lot of similarities depending on where you look, and many of the differences in my fandom experience now as opposed to when I was in high school are just the result of being older and knowing different people. That said, I do think something that’s changed is that fandom is kind of undergoing a crisis of ethics right now–there’s a lot of conversation happening about artists’ rights (both fanartists and anime creators), social justice, callout culture, how minors/teenagers should be treated and what they should be exposed to in fandom, etc. These conversations can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting, and there are definitely times where I get defensive of my tastes and want to be like ‘please shut up and leave me alone,’ but ultimately I think talking about this issues (as well as how to talk about these issues) is better than engaging with fandom uncritically and letting the ethics and sexual politics of what we create and enjoy as fans go unquestioned.

Sara can be reached on Twitter here and Tumblr here

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