Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I first got into anime watching Toonami on Cartoon Network. Like any ’90s kid, Sailor Moon, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z took my anime virginity, but I lost contact with the genre as school and reality television took over. I rediscovered anime when I moved away from home and all of my friends after college. Looking for some solace for my lonely nights, I found myself rewatching Gundam Wing and posted about it on social media. My cousin, who has always been into anime culture, suggested another anime to watch, and I’ve been working my way through the greats — and not so greats — ever since.
What was the anime your cousin suggested? I’m pretty sure it was Sword Art Online. They all blur together because I had just moved out of my parents’ place and had a lot of free time at night after work. It was quickly followed by Gundam 00, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Black Butler, Black Lagoon, Ouran High School Host Club, Kaze no Stigma, and I’m sure I’m missing a few.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think I was at the age where I considered it just another cartoon. But unlike the other cartoons of the ’90s which were goofy and silly, anime held a seriousness akin to an action movie so it was more engaging. That’s probably the same reason I could rewatch a series like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing in my 20s. The kid Aleda saw battles and cool technology while the adult Aleda saw political intrigue.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Well I wanted to be a sailor scout when I grew up and loved how Selena didn’t need Tuxedo Mask to succeed, so Sailor Moon was the first. Then I would “fight” with my sister like we Super Saiyans from Dragon Ball Z. But the first way I monetarily expressed a fandom was buying Sword Art Online and Attack on Titan shirts and keychains. Just little things. I guess I’m not as hardcore as some. I also read a lot of the comments on the dub sites to see if people had suggestions about similar shows.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I definitely thought I was a solo watcher, and I was a girl. It was very “uncool” for me to like watching it, so no one knew I did, and I didn’t search out other fans.
What made anime uncool? This was back in the early ’00s, and I was already a little geeky because I was in the top classes in school, but was also an athlete. Watching anime was something that only the hardcore nerds did openly. So some of it was shame (which I regret as I couldn’t care less now, but you know how school was) and some of it was that the rest of my friends didn’t watch, so I had no one to talk about it with.
Also, why was it weird for girls in particular to like anime? It was still very much a time when things were heavily gendered. Boys wore camo and girls wore sparkles (yuck!). The boys looked at me funny because I liked playing with mechs with my barbies or could talk about Dragon Ball Z better than the latest Lizzie McGuire episode. And none of my other girl friends broke the mold until at least late high school, so again I was encouraged to not express my interest in it. I never felt bullied; I was just aware of the slight social pressure to conform to what a girl should like. School was rough, wasn’t it?
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Dude, my internet was still dial-up at the time.
But in college, did you explore fandom online? Where? I read through a lot of comments about shows, take in reviews and watch YouTube Top 10 videos to find new shows that might be a little less mainstream. It’s also cool watching YouTube videos about cosplayers at anime conventions. They’re so creative! But I’m not much of an active participant. Answering questions on your site was the first time I felt like contributing. Sometimes I feel that getting caught up in fan theories or “shipping” certain characters ruins the integrity of the show. I don’t want to change it or over-watch it because I don’t want to ever get sick of it. Nothing against people who do all those things. Just not my cup of tea.
Since you first discovered anime, how have you grown as an anime fan? I definitely like more adult anime that make me self-evaluate. It’s the reason I never pull anime out of my rotation of entertainment. I don’t know how many American shows can make me really think about how fine a line there is between good and evil (think Psycho Pass) or monsters and men (think Ergo Proxy). I’m cool with a little more action and gore (like in Attack on Titan and Berserk), but the shows have to keep my attention. I can’t really sit down and watch long, episodic shows like Fairy Tail because I can follow more going on at one time than that. I need to be fully engaged in a way most anime aimed at children can’t do (like with all the story lines in Baccano).
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’m also a hopeless romantic. I love how anime can capture the depth of love and heartbreak (I’ve bawled watching shows like Your Lie in April and Clannad), show the dark side of infatuation (like in The Future Diary), make me laugh (like in Ouran and Full Metal Panic) and leave me all warm and fuzzy (like in Say I Love You). And the beautiful animation just strengthens each story. People sometimes forget that each second of a live-action movie is perfectly framed by a good director to produce a cinematic masterpiece (Citizen Kane or The Godfather), so we take it for granted. But quality anime makes it harder to forget because it’s drawn. Like looking at a painting.
Aleda can be reached on Twitter.