Location: Baltimore, Maryland
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Mornings before school, probably in ’95 or ’96, I watched the Sailor Moon dub on TV. Sometimes only the last half of the episode depending when I woke up. The style and action grabbed me immediately when compared to US cartoons I saw.
Then came Toonami and an increased awareness of what I was watching. Sailor Moon was included in that lineup at some point in 5th grade and I remembered it from two or three years previously.
The tail end of 5th grade also saw me begin playing a little game called Pokemon. Everything was starting to really make sense, all these super cool things I liked came from Japan. And then the big wave hit me.
It was called Gundam Wing. I was just old enough where I could “get” the storyline. I set the VCR to tape every episode on Toonami in case I missed it. I was obsessed. A store in my local mall sold merchandise and I spent my allowance on as much of it as I could.
The summer after my obsession with Gundam Wing began, I got internet at my house. As a quick learner I found out how to find anime websites, you know the old Geocities ones. My resource was Anipike. I am so nostalgic about this site; it opened my eyes to everything. Before I knew it, I was obsessed with anime.
The ups and downs followed—this was an expensive hobby. For a number of years my fandom was obsessing over shows I wanted to watch. But soon enough Adult Swim happened and I was able to finally watch Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. That same spring, I sanded and then repainted the ceiling my parents’ front porch in exchange for the Evangelion box set. For those wondering, that job is as rough as it sounds. You try holding a power sander above your head for hours!
All told, I’m fast approaching my 20th year as an anime fan, and each year with this hobby is more fun than the last.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was the art style. It was like nothing else I had ever seen. And there were these series-spanning stories. If I missed an episode I would have no idea what was going on.
Tell me about your Gundam Wing obsession. What kind of stuff did you buy at the mall? I bought multiple t-shirts and I’m sure more than one poster. I couldn’t tell you how much they cost but I do know my allowance back then was about $10-15 every week roughly. I definitely paid market price, whatever that was in 2000 and 2001. It’s wild looking back at it from today’s perspective, where I’m buying merch from shows I got into years ago.
With Gundam Wing, this entire obsession lasted about a year at most. Your interests move a whole lot faster when you’re a kid. But as a result I didn’t wind up with as much stuff as I could have. I remember also getting a small Wing Zero model as a kid, already assembled. I have that in a box somewhere. My T-shirts, which numbered three or maybe four back in the day, are all gone I believe. I assume they got donated to charity or in the case of my beloved Deathscythe shirt destroyed by wearing it at Blizzard Beach and letting the chlorine in the water do a number on it. It’s probably for the best. I’m 5’4″ and 135 pounds now at age 29, so age 13 me definitely wouldn’t have looked good in those size large T-shirts if I don’t look good in them now.
However, I do still have the “silk” (these things were always 100% polyester) Dragon Ball Z shirt I bought around that time from Another Universe. I also still have one Gundam Wing poster that inexplicably has survived the pre-high school throwing everything away purge, pre-college purge, post-college purge, and moving out of my parents’ house. I’ve attached pictures of each.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was weird. My fandom was heavily rooted in shows I couldn’t afford and would never watch. The fandom was younger then though, a lot of us wound up growing up together in it and are still talking about anime 20 years on.
What was that like to be a fan of shows you couldn’t watch? (BTW I totally understand. I used to print out Fushigi Yugi screenshots for my school binder even though I couldnt watch it). It is so fascinating looking back on it. I was too young to participate in VHS trading and certainly too young to afford much of anything. So if it wasn’t on Toonami or one of the other anime blocks popping up on cable I couldn’t see it, except for maybe on the TV at my mall’s Suncoast or Another Universe.
However I had a huge interest in anything CLAMP did. I tried to read about their various works, look at websites covered in their art, and watch Cardcaptors on TV when I could. Fushigi Yugi was another show that interested me greatly, in part because of the massive fan community it had online. I remember finding a script for one of the manga chapters and printing it out, putting it in a binder, but never actually finding the corresponding untranslated manga chapter to read with it.
But the biggest one was Evangelion, in part because I caught most of an episode at the mall. Coming from Gundam, this just seemed like an incredible step. As it came to be, the first series I actually came to own was Evangelion. My 8th grade binder was decorated almost entirely with Evangelion pictures I printed off my computer.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes. There were fansites, role playing communities, message boards, and the conventions scene was exploding. Though I didn’t participate in cons at the time, I was heavily active on the internet in every way I could be.
Could you tell me about some of those early sites? I couldn’t tell you the name of any of those websites or shrines besides Anime News Network and Animenation. They were probably a little later on as well. I would say my first foray into and first year or so of fandom was basically devoted to whatever websites and shrines Anipike linked me to. Obviously a lot of Gundam sites first jumped out, but from there I branched out. It’s cool thinking about all the people I’ve crossed paths with in fandom since then and how many of them probably visited the same goofy little shrines and fan pages I did. Even cooler is to think about how many of them might have made one of those sites.
Can you tell me about role playing, message boards, and stuff like that at the time? How did you participate? Through Neopets, another bastion of early 2000s internet life, I found people who were also interested in anime and especially Gundam Wing. I found Yahoo! role playing groups for Gundam Wing and jumped right in. I think I wound up playing Treize—poorly. I did better when I branched out and just found fan groups. I spent a lot of time on one that had a focus on more shojo-targeted shows. None loomed larger there than Sailor Moon. But this group opened my eyes to the art of CLAMP, which needless to say is a good group of artists to be exposed to when you’re just starting out in anime fandom. I also spent a lot of time with a group of Final Fantasy fans a lot older than me who kind of took me under their wing. We had chat rooms and everything, it was a real formative experience since I got to talk about a ton of things with them that none of my friends in school knew anything about.
As Yahoo! Groups died down, or at least my interest did, I branched over into message boards. Merging my love of anime with longer-standing love of JRPGs I found GameFAQs boards a great outlet to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about. I was also relatively active on Animenation a few years later. Unfortunately I have lost contact with everyone from my pre-Animenation days.
Do you remember your first convention? Otakon 2004.
I was anxious, at the time I didn’t handle large crowds of strangers well. I barely did anything that weekend—my mom had to pick me up early as I hadn’t gotten my license yet. The presence of 18+ panels naturally made her uncomfortable as well. I remember more about my excitement of finally going and waiting in line for my badge than anything else.
Also I drank more Red Bull that weekend than I had in my entire life up until then. Yuck.
What did your parents think of your interest in anime? They would sometimes wind up watching whatever was on Toonami with my brother and I. They never said much since I’m sure they weren’t overly focused on what was on TV. However I remember one time I was sick and my parents were taking care of me, helping me eat, and my dad eye-rolled so hard at whatever was happening in Outlaw Star. I suspect there was a point they assumed it was cartoons, and it was just kids’ stuff.
We also are from Baltimore, the now-former home of Otakon. So they started to make the connection that a lot of people of all ages, but especially skewing older, came to town for this convention. Cosplay was a brand new concept. My mom was unfortunately a bit too on the controlling end to let me go when I was in middle school. I know she didn’t get what anime was at all in part because my generation were more or less prime adapters. So when she heard they played adult entertainment at conventions she made the connection the entire thing must have been adult entertainment. I don’t want to throw her under the bus but at one Otakon she drove down there to pick my younger brother up, still in middle school, when she found out they showed hentai and such after dark. This despite the obvious fact, to us at least, you need ID and wristband to get in.
After talking her off that ledge I got to attend my first Otakon the next year, but had to leave before it got too dark. She still tells that story about my brother’s first Otakon whenever the name of the convention comes up. I barely talk about anime, conventions, or anything similar with my parents. They, my mom especially, never truly made an effort to understand it. I am very close with them otherwise so things are good. It’s a bit unfortunate since it’s a huge part of who I am though.
Since discovering anime, how do you think you’ve grown as a fan? I’ve gone through a lot phases and even waves of fandom. A handful of times I drifted off the scene, usually for a few months and then I came back discovering a new slate of shows people were interested in. I had one big break right after college. This honestly lasted around two years where I barely watched any anime. In hindsight that was the best thing that happened to me because since I came back, barely a day has gone by where I haven’t watched anime or at least discussed anime.
I think most of my early fan years were built on discovering what anime meant to me, and then after not having it in my life for a few years I realized it’s a huge part of who I am. It’s certainly my favorite form of entertainment. I’ve become much more critical, but deliberately not negative, in the past few years. I notice things now I never noticed before. Beyond just bad animation or being bored by a show, I’m more perceptive of themes and messages. I was really forced to develop as an early anime fan completely on my own. And while I had a lot of great friends online I didn’t have any at first in school. So I was often prone to needing to be “in the discussion” and feel that sense of belonging.
But that’s changed too, and now I’m happy to watch shows in a vacuum without all the surrounding hype. Overall, I feel like I still have a long ways to go in my fandom, there’s so much out there to explore and I still am at the tip of the iceberg in understanding it all.
Chris can be reached on Twitter.