Location: Brooklyn, New York
When did you discover anime? In 1994, I was over at a friend’s place and he had a VHS tape of Dragon Ball Z (Cantonese-dubbed). He told me that we should watch it. I said “sure” and it was one of the episodes from the Frieza arc. That’s how it all began.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The fact that people actually died and bled during fights. I grew up on series like X-Men, Power Rangers, TMNT, Transformers, etc. where the bad guys all got away and good guys didn’t really die (well, Optimus Prime did die in the TF movie). Seeing how different it was from American cartoons got me interested. The character, Vegeta, fascinated me because I learned that he was a villain but turned reluctant hero (albeit slowly during the time). I didn’t think bad guys could change, so that drew me more into the world of anime.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I can tell you from my experience that Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were EVERYWHERE in Chinese-related neighborhoods in NYC. The Chinatowns in NY had merchandise related to both series.
What kind of stores did you go to for anime and how much did it cost? Did you watch anime in Chinese? There were a few stores in Chinatown. I remember fansubs/original JP VHS tapes were sold in big shops and small ones. I bought fansubs from a tiny kiosk in the basement of a little mall called Elizabeth Center in Chinatown. I got tapes of DBZ/DBGT that contained two to three episodes each and a couple of anime movies for $3-$5 each. There was another kiosk in Elizabeth Center that sold Chinese-dubbed episodes of anime. I got some Dragon Ball GT Chinese-dubs for about $3, but the thing was that each tape was one episode.
I also forgot to mention that I rented Chinese-dubbed episodes of GTO, Rurouni Kenshin, and Initial D from a small Japanese stationery store in Chinatown right near Elizabeth Center. I signed up for some program and I think it was $1-$2 per tape and each tape had multiple episodes. This was about 15-16 years ago. All those places are now gone though thanks to how things changed in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I never thought I was a part of the fandom at the time because I was only like 12-13 and there was no internet accessible to the public yet. No one I knew at school was into anime because of the lack of access to VHS fansubs around my area. You had to go to places like Chinatown to get them. You know how some of the elder statesmen proclaim how lucky today’s kids are. It was like that.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Was IRC even around in 1994? I never connected with fans while getting deeper into anime. I kept to myself mostly.
Tell me about the first time you DID make an anime fan friend. My first actual anime friend was one of my little cousins actually! I used to hate him at first when I was a kid, but I invited him over to my place to play PlayStation games when he was about 9-10. I let him play all the PS Final Fantasy games. At the time, he started watching Dragon Ball Z when it appeared on Cartoon Network. Over time, he came over a lot to do homework, play games, have fun, and talk about geek stuff. He’s going to be 25 this year and we still keep in touch over anime/manga (he told me his boss at his current job is obsessed with watching anime and reading manga on Crunchyroll). I guess you can say that a relative was my first anime friend. 🙂
Do you remember your first convention? My first anime convention was in 2003. It was the Big Apple Anime Fest. I remember watching Initial D: 3rd Stage and attending a few panels by myself. I also met one of my best friends who I still talk to today. I also got some goodies there too, so it was a fun experience. Yet I didn’t go to a con again until 2008 for New York Anime Festival.
Why did you start blogging about anime? I blogged about anime because I wanted to share how anime/manga shaped my life and what lessons it’s taught me. I had some success blogging about Japanese music, so why not shift it to something I know more about? Granted, I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert on the subjects, but I take joy and pride in learning new ideas and talking about them with an audience that’s interested.
How did blogging about anime change the way you interacted in anime fandom? Blogging introduced me to the anime and manga industries. I’ve gotten to meet a variety of interesting people that I thought I would never get to meet.
However, I do feel that there’s too much going on in terms of conversations on anime and I can’t handle all of it. It feels like you have to know so much about this series and that one to the point that you have to prove something to someone or a group of people. Maybe I feel that some anime fans are chasing some kind of status that doesn’t mean much in the end. I tried to join an anime club back in college, but I went one day and never came back afterwards.
That’s probably why a relative was my first anime friend because I was a mentor to someone who didn’t know much. Also, I realized over time that anime fandom and manga fandom are two totally different types of groups. They don’t always intertwine. I’ve met manga bloggers who don’t watch much anime and I’m okay with those folks. These days, I follow mostly manga as I grew up reading a lot when I was a kid. I will still have conversations with anime fans, but I do wish I can talk about certain manga (i.e. My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, Complex Age, I Am A Hero, Vinland Saga, Golden Kamuy) regardless if they get anime adaptations. Books are powerful.
In your experience, what’s the biggest difference for you between anime fandom when you discovered it and fandom today? This is a very tough question for me to answer because I never hung around anime fandom as I never went into IRC to chat with other anime fans back in the day. Yet if I take the time when I first attended my first anime con in 2003 and compare it to 2017, I do suppose the biggest difference is acceptance.
I was teased for being so into anime when I was a senior in high school. Those same kids today probably won’t be teased as much. This generation and our generation as well are a lot more expressive about being anime fans because of Western culture’s continued mindset of encouraging the self. Granted, we still have a ways to go. I still get comments about anime being “sexual” because of nuances in Japanese culture.
Also I feel that with anime/manga being mostly relegated to the Internet, it creates an isolation effect on fans, which ties into what I just mentioned about Western culture’s influence. It’s depressing to hear things like anxiety/depression/suicide being associated with anime fandom. I’m glad that Crunchyroll wants to do events like CR Expo because right now, we need a united community of anime fans that will be there for each other despite whatever differences we have.
Tony can be reached on Twitter.