Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I grew up in Indonesia, where we were introduced to Doraemon on national television in the 1990s. Early in elementary school, I remember waking up on Sundays in time to watch the 8 a.m. broadcasts. (See Quora for further reading.) I don’t think I knew it as “anime” at the time, but at some point I came to learn that it was a Japanese cartoon. Over the next several years, other anime series began airing dubbed in the local language. During days when I attended private English classes, I also remember that many of the students would be watching Sailor Moon on the school television after their class ended in the afternoon.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? As a child, I don’t think I really considered why Doraemon or other anime series were appealing. At the time, Indonesia was undergoing a transformation in its broadcasting industry. Private television networks began to emerge following deregulation, and the amount of children’s programming exploded. As children, we just consumed what was available to us and eventually that shared experience lived on as a form of nostalgia.
When I moved to the United States in middle school, that nostalgic feeling continued and I began to discover other anime series such as Digimon Adventure on Fox Kids. I also discovered Pokémon as a trading card game through friends in middle school.
When you came to the U.S. in middle school, how did you find anime fandom there to be different from fandom in Indonesia? Pokémon was all the rage when I first arrived in the U.S. That series had not yet caught on in Indonesia when I left. At that time, children’s interest in Japanese media was mainly around manga rather than anime or video games. Because Pokémon did not start as a manga series, its arrival in Indonesia came much later.
To be honest, children aren’t that much different from country to country. There isn’t much difference between Indonesian elementary schoolers talking about their favorite manga during class breaks and American middle schoolers trading Pokémon cards during lunch time. They share the same enthusiasm for what was popular. It’s just the works that were popular were different between the two countries.
But it was probably around this time that I started exploring more anime geared toward older audiences. Eventually this led to my discovering Digimon Tamers on Fox Kids, as the series had a markedly different tone compared to Pokémon.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Doraemon was and remains a cultural phenomenon in Indonesia. If you ask anyone who grew up in the 1990s about the Indonesian-language opening theme song to Doraemon, they will be able to recite most of its lines by heart. As boys became older, they were drawn into Saint Seiya and, to a lesser extent, Dragon Ball. For girls, Sailor Moon was quite popular, as well as Cardcaptor Sakura toward the end of the decade.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Manga had an important role in spreading the popularity of anime, to the point that the most popular manga series often sold more than local fiction novels. (See Quora for more.) Doraemon in manga form was just as popular as the anime series on television. At one point, my family owned all volumes of the Doraemon manga. My siblings and I would read them over and over, and the pages and covers became worn and torn. At school, friends would exchange their recent manga purchases and show off their school supplies featuring their favorite characters. Gadgets from Doraemon such as the Bamboo Copter and the Anywhere Door became part of the Indonesian pop culture lexicon. Children were soon able to imitate the form for throwing the Kamehameha attack from Dragon Ball.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The Internet did not reach the general Indonesian populace until the mid 2000s. As fans of Japanese cartoons, children could only connect with each other at school when they were growing up. Around 5th grade, acting on a suggestion from my parents, I built a small business renting my own manga and comics collection to other students. At first, it was only to my own classmates, but soon students from other classes began coming to me to rent my collection. Unfortunately, the school forced me to stop my renting business when teachers started to learn about it.
Do you remember your first convention? I only became a modern fan of anime around 2009 and 2010, quite late compared to other fans in the United States from my generation. As such, I only attended my first convention in 2013 at Sakura-Con in Seattle. I was a fan of Sword Art Online, having been a fairly dedicated player of MMORPGs, and was enticed by the line-up of Sword Art Online guests. Being able to meet industry professionals and anisong artists was an eye-opening experience as someone who was learning about this side of the fandom for the first time. When I moved back to Southeast Asia later that year, I began attending regional conventions and events such as Anime Festival Asia more regularly. There, I connected with other fans and learned about how the anime industry has changed in the 15 years of my absence from Southeast Asia.
Today you work for an anime company, MyAnimeList. How did you go from fan to pro? Renting out manga since little might make you think I’ve been a professional since little, but that’s not the case at all. At the time, it was still a child’s hobby, and my parents just thought it was a way to put that hobby to good use. (Even today they encourage me to think about how I can make money from my anime hobby.)
When I started exploring more anime after college, I was already a fairly active editor on Wikipedia. As I began to discover new anime and manga I enjoyed, I poured my energy toward improving the Wikipedia articles of these titles. Last Exile (https://en.wikipedia.org/
I lost interest in Wikipedia at some point and started submitting modifications to the MyAnimeList database to improve the accuracy of information there. MyAnimeList’s database moderating team is always shorthanded, and recruitment drives are held every few years to replenish the moderator ranks after they thin out due to attrition. During one such drive in 2012, I was invited to submit an application to become an anime database moderator. I initially had no intention in applying until one of the database administrators reached out to me after she noticed my meticulous submissions.
As a database moderator, I came to learn more about the industry and eventually renewed my interest in writing again. I began writing occasional industry news stories for MyAnimeList. When we were acquired by DeNA in 2015, we decided to formalize a news team structure to create consistency in our reporting. Based on the objectives we discussed with DeNA, it was decided that my experience as a Wikipedia editor would be useful in creating a MyAnimeList standard of reporting. I was made news managing editor and am still in that role today, while still moderating the anime database on the side.
How did becoming a professional in the industry change how you watch anime and participate in fandom? My watching habits have changed pretty dramatically. I used to be a more prolific watcher, sometimes watching 10 to 15 shows a season. Today, however, I will admit that I haven’t watched a single anime while it’s airing in more than a year. I probably watch one show in any given season now. You might wonder how I can remain an active member of the industry if I haven’t been watching anything, but I will say that this is definitely possible. I’m still aware of all the trends and what titles are popular, but after a while you actually don’t have to watch that much to still stay in the loop with the fandom.
The timing of my joining the MyAnimeList team was rather fortunate. About a year after I joined the staff, I was able to relocate to Southeast Asia for a few years thanks to my day job. This helped me explore the fandom in entirely different ways from the fandom experience in North America. I was able to visit anime conventions in different countries, and travel to Japan was also within reach. The influence of Japan in Southeast Asia is more prevalent than in North America, so it was easier to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, such as attending events by the Japan Foundation, going to concerts by Japanese artists, etc.
It was easier to get carried away by the abundance of Japanese culture events. I convinced myself to attend concerts by anime idols Wake Up, Girls! and THE [email protected] in Japan. I traveled to Singapore to watch EGOIST and vocalist chelly perform live overseas for the first time. After becoming a professional, I became a much more active consumer of the anime culture rather than of anime itself.
In your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The fandom today is a lot more fragmented, but in a good way. There are a lot more options in how one person can enjoy being a part of the anime fandom. Some will limit their enjoyment to just watching anime, but others may be more inclined to attend events and meet creators and artists directly, or even supporting a peripheral industry such as the anisong market.
However, as English becomes the dominant language of the fandom, I feel that the discourse on anime and manga has become less diverse. As North America becomes an important overseas market for the industry, I am concerned about over-representation of North American viewpoints in the English-speaking fandom. We have a term for this in the Wikipedia editor community: systemic bias. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Personally, I’ve grown tired of the generic narrative of an American fan discovering anime through Cowboy Bebop. There is not enough international coverage of fans at overseas events such as Japan Expo in Paris or Anime Festival Asia in Singapore. There is no discussion of how a series like Alps no Shoujo Heidi became popular in apartheid South Africa, or how Doraemon became a cultural phenomenon in Asia.
Global stories like these are the ones I would like to help uncover at MyAnimeList in the near future in order to help the fandom understand itself better and connect with other members in other parts of the world.