When did you discover anime? As a six or seven-year-old kid in the early ’90s, with not much on Belgian television for kids, I watched the French “Club Dorothée.” It had a great line-up of great ’80s anime classics, like: Saint Seiya, Captain Tsubasa, High School! Kimengumi, Ranma 1/2, and even Dragon Ball Z. I didn’t understand anything of it (I don’t speak French), but I enjoyed watching it anyway.
With local TV-channels broadening their scope for kids and Club Dorothée stopped, I sadly enough forgot about anime even existing after a while. But later on, in the early 2000s, the Anime Boom that was happening in the US also blew over to Belgium and I was re-introduced to anime, with ’90s and early ’00s classics like Gundam Wing, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Rurouni Kenshin and once again: DBZ.
From there, with broadband internet finally being a thing in Belgium, I started my anime journey.
For your reintroduction, what was the TV block that was a part of? Was it in English or another language? Two TV channels had an anime block, airing on weekdays between 16-18 o’clock [4-6 PM] (if I remember correctly). Both channels relatively new, with a similar target demographic of kids, teens and young adults.
Due to those shows being aired on a (almost) daily basis, a lot of them had a lot of re-runs. I think I saw Gundam Wing like three or four times before it was swapped with another show.
I know VT4 had reruns of some of their weekday shows on the weekends (no, really!) + a few more, like Sailor Moon and Rurouni Kenshin (English).
In terms of dubs, think of it as follows: If the target demographic was young kids, the anime would be dubbed in Dutch. If not, it was English with Dutch subtitles. That’s basically what happens to Flemish/Dutch television overall.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The expressive animation, storytelling and action that was unheard of in most kids cartoons from the ’80s.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Saint Seiya, or as it was named in French: “Les chevaliers du zodiaque” (the knights of the zodiac).
What did your family think of your interest in anime? My parents knew that I was a fan of animated series overall but couldn’t tell the difference with me watching classic cartoons, “those yellow guys” (The Simpsons), or anime. Trying to explain the difference was like trying to talk to a wall. They accepted it as typical concerned parents who would rather have their kid spend more time studying instead of watching TV. My sister is seven years older than me and was more of a non-presence at home (either studying, spending time with her BF of going out), so I doubt she ever formed an opinion of my “watching habits”.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? No clue! Without internet available, I really had no idea what the fandom was like. And I only heard later on from other Belgian people my age that they discovered anime in exactly the same way as I did.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? No, so I didn’t talk to other fans for a while. Most kids from my town were either not interested in cartoons/anime, or only in the hype show of the moment: Transformers, TMNT, Power Rangers, etc. And those that were interested in more niche things just didn’t want to admit it, out of fear of being bullied.
Heck, when I was twelve and I said in class that I still enjoyed watching the Disney Afternoon block; a lot of kids just laughed at me and I even got reprimanded by teachers for “still watching cartoons at my age.”
Tell me about what it was like once you finally got broadband internet. How did you use it as an anime fan? A lot of the shows I watched were on endless reruns while waiting for new seasons, so first thing I did when I had internet was trying to find more of my favorite shows: Yu-Gi-Oh and Dragon Ball Z. I would download episodes and visit fan-sites to find out more info about the shows in general. Boy can you imagine my shock when I found out there was a better dub of DBZ, not to mention when finding out that Gundam Wing was just one of many Gundam series? Jaw-dropping moments.
I was a regular visitor (and later even a moderator) on a few anime forums that were focused on DBZ, like the “DeadZone Forums” and the Dutch “DBZ-Media.nl” (both now gone) where I got influenced to watch more and more anime and where I got the knack for writing fan fiction (first obviously DBZ related, then my own stories later on).
You said it was hard to make anime fan friends at first. Tell me about the first time you made friends with other fans. The first anime friends I made were on previously mentioned forums, especially the Dutch anime forum. It felt good to know that there were more people that spoke my language that were fans of anime. But while there were a few forum meet-ups in real life, they remained “far-off people”.
Real anime friends I started to make when I started playing Yu-Gi-Oh in real life in Ghent. Most players got into the game due to (one of) the anime series and most of them ended up being anime fans in general. That was the first time I started being friends with people that had the same interests as me and didn’t live on the other side of the country (in a matter of speaking).
Do you remember your first convention? Yes, that was back in 2006: F.A.C.T.S. in Ghent, Belgium. Back then, I didn’t even knew it was called a “convention”. It was a one-day “event” that happened and was advised to me by a friend.
There was a good amount of people, and I was surprised to see some people being dressed up in military outfits, storm troopers and even Xenomorphs. And I was most interested in the Guests: Anthony Daniels, and some of the cast of Allo Allo (Guy Siner, Richard Gibson and Kim Hartman).
I enjoyed it so much, I returned there pretty much every single year. And I’ve seen the yearly con grow and expand so much over the years: From small one-day event to the (self-proclaimed) “biggest con” in the BeNeLux.
When did you start blogging about anime, and why? That was back in 2012. I had been playing Yu-Gi-Oh for a few years now and was following other Yu-Gi-Oh related blogs at the time. And while I quit writing fanfiction at the time, there remained the “need to write stuff”. It’s hard to describe this feeling, but you’ll probably understand since you’re a writer yourself.
So I ended up creating a blog myself. And while it did start out solely focused on Yu-Gi-Oh, I slowly also started to write about anime in general.
Are your fanfics still online somewhere? Sadly enough, no. Since it was posted on forums that have been long gone, they’re no longer visible. One of the fanfics I co-wrote with others (based on Slayers/Record of Lodoss War and the Shining Force Games) had been archived by one of the co-writers shortly before it was shut down. He shared it with us afterwards so that we had some sort of “memory” to it. But the DBZ one is completely gone.
My main story was “Futuroscope”, about a kid who incidentally wished himself to the far future, where the earth is being attacked by aliens and he has to help defend the earth. Think of it as DBZ meets Stargate in a Futurama-type setting.
Sadly enough, also taken down when the forum it was posted on was shut down. I still have the drafts locally, but I need to rewrite the earliest chapters before I ever dare to publicize them again in any form.
In your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and now? I think the biggest difference is that today, fans have an appreciation for anime aimed at young kids. When I joined the anime community in the early 2000s, there was a hatred towards “kiddy anime” like Pokémon, Digimon, Beyblade, and many others. It got dismissed by most, and people that enjoyed watching those shows were often hated upon. Think of it as “hardcore gamers” hating on “casual gamers.”
But today, most people in the anime community and a lot of anime YouTubers have admitted that they got into anime thanks to those “kiddy anime.” Look around on the internet and you’ll see many people praise the shows that were hated on in the past, like Digimon or Pokémon. And I think the people that were part of the community back in those days have started to accept that this has been a good thing for the anime community in general.
Filip can be found on Twitter.