#80: Helen

Age: 26

Location: Washington DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was in the 8th grade my mom told one of her coworkers that my brother and I (11 and 13) were still watching Pokemon, which her coworker thought was silly, and sent her home with a copy of Spirited Away. My brother and I found her watching it on our huge old Mac, squished in, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Also that coworker is now my step-dad and really regrets giving me my anime start.

Why did he say that? He came to regret it because of how big of a nerd I turned out to be (although my mom is sure I’d be an anime fan regardless). They still watch some Miyazaki films and such, and although I like to joke that even my parents saw Attack on Titan before me, I think they only watched an episode or so (you can thank my step-sister for that)!

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender around the same time as anime, and the AvatarSpirit forums would lead me to anime as well, and one thing that stunned me about ATLA and later anime was that holy crap, you can tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end in a cartoon TV series! No one had ever told me you could do that! I was already a huge book reader so the idea of a having an actual, connected story really drew me in.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I have absolutely no idea. The first anime TV series I watched week-to-week was Romeo X Juliet which I know wasn’t super popular, I’d have to guess Naruto.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wouldn’t really join the anime fandom for a bit later, I was actually reading more manga before I started watching more anime and I read manga through an elaborate system of book-trading between me and my friends who all belonged to different library systems in high school (we all literally looked at each other one day, realized we all liked manga, and that’s when it really got going).

It was fun, everyone had different things to bring and you had to occasionally rescue a book from a teacher’s trashcan!

What happened that time? One of my friends was, very ill-advisedly, reading a manga during presentations in class (while paying attention, she could practically recite all of the presentations we had just heard) and, while she shouldn’t have been reading in class, this teacher was, like many in my Catholic schools, a bit crazy. So she just snatched the volume out of my friend’s hand, tossed it in the garbage, and we asked a friend of ours in the next period to get it back for us (apparently the teacher never noticed).

Also, tell me more about meeting these friends. How did you all realize you liked manga? I joke that I have a nerd-dar but I really do! I was able to suss out that one girl in my homeroom, one girl in my math/following gym class, and another girl I sat with at lunch which kinda nerdy and since it was such a small school we eventually convalesced into a group (which would grow a tiny bit over the years but the four of us were the center of it). A few of them eventually ended up taking over the Book Club at school and turning it into a secret manga club IIRC, this happened after at least one of them was elected Dictator For Life, but I wasn’t a member of the Book Club so I can’t remember all of those details!

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Totally, I started spending more time on the AnimeSuki forums and ANN forums as I got more into anime since I loved chatting with people about currently airing shows.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Animazement 2008! I’d been looking for an anime convention in North Carolina for YEARS and somehow only found out about Animazement just a few weeks before the 2007 show. I actually did go to a small, one day con in September 2007 first (LibariCon in Fayetteville, NC) but Animazement felt like my first “proper” con. I did two cosplays, cosplaying is an integral part of conventions for me now, had a bunch of friends come along with me, saw the masquerade, met up with a bunch of people from the Animazement forums, did the secret Animazement forum member scavenger hunt, and generally had a pretty great time!

What was the secret Animazement forum member scavenger hunt like? Do they still have that? The secret scavenger hunt was funnily bizarre. These were things you would take photos of and then upload after the con for points to be tallied up, I remember things like “a photo of you in an Animazement t-shirt from any year”, “wearing a school girl outfit”, “wearing cosplay on the toilet”, and “video of you proclaiming your loyalty to [name redacted so my friend doesn’t kill me] of the cookie faction in the cookies vs milk war”.

It must sound really bizarre but it was fun and didn’t hurt anyone which is my own litmus test of if you should go along with something strange and silly or not. And they don’t have it anymore, when I was in college some of the con heads got super pissy that the staff who were also mods on the forums were becoming popular with the con goers (since we talked with them and hung out grabbing food at cons, y’all, we’re all people here and make friends…) so they completely changed the forums one weekend while the main mod was on vacation, locked them out, and that was the end of that. (Well, for at least a few years there was a secretly saved duplicate of the forums elsewhere that was linked to some of us were we heard this explained all in detail, ain’t no drama like con drama!)

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I guess the first fandom I got invested in in general was Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m not sure if any other anime/manga/etc I’ve enjoyed has ever had the same scope and size to generate a large, stable fandom. And it was a combination of both the show and fandom that got me into sewing actually, I really wanted an Appa plushie but this was when they were only sold at the theme parks and not year round so I was out of luck in December. So, since I did know how to sew, I made my own plushie, posted it on the AvatarSpirit forums, and got so much of a response back that I went hey, I bet I could do more of these and get more praise, which has spiraled into my deep obsession of making plushies today.

When and why did you start blogging about anime and manga? For someone who hated book reports I found out that I kinda liked talking about what I was reading/watching/listening to? I was trying really hard to keep my Livejournal like a real daily journal so of course anime came up sometimes and I really managed to keep it up first there and then on my own blog for years. I only fell behind in December last year and still just can’t muster the energy to devote time again into it.

For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The biggest difference I see between the anime fandom of 2007-ish and 2017 is the size. This is almost certainly partially due to the fact that I went to a high school of only 600 people and none of my friends lived in the same county as me so I was frustratingly alone in general outside of school hours (I wouldn’t get on social media in a big way until I got my college laptop) but even with that I feel like it’s not just my world that’s grown bigger, anime and manga has grown bigger too. It’s strange since technically 2007 should’ve been the end of the “bubble” years, fandom should be smaller! And yet I see even more references all over the place, from daily newspaper cartoons to themed restaurants, today and that tells me that anime and its assorted fandoms are here to stay.

Helen can be reached on Twitter

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