When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Anime was first introduced to me in the early 1990s. My grandfather was a fan of black-and-white monster films, which led to us watching kaiju films. From Godzilla and Mothra came animated versions of monsters and robots fighting to save the universe/galaxy/planet/reincarnation of the peacock buddha. I was hooked immediately, but I had no idea what I was really watching.
Were you introduced to anime by the same grandpa who showed you kaiju films? If not, who? After my grandfather opened my eyes to transnational cinema, I was always looking for something different. When I was in middle school, a friend of mine from a few houses down the street (name omitted by request) acquired a VHS tape and some photocopied papers with a script printed on them. He invited me over, because I was better and faster at reading than he was. Between myself, and the few friends that gathered, we watched Ranma 1/2 each taking turns reading the script out loud as we watched the show in its original Japanese language. We got tapes mailed to us, and each box came with scripts for some, and they always contained a piece of paper with the name and address of the next person we were mailing them to. These were not even fansubs, and they had commercials from early 1990s Japanese television stations during the episodes.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? In the late 1990s and I was introduced to some titles that have great cultural significance. Most notable, Ranma 1/2 and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Another series that I was given to watch was titled Martian Successor Nadesico, and this is the show that forever changed my life.
Tenkawa Akito, the main character of Nadesico, is a chef and gun-shy pilot of the mecha within the sci-fi series. He is also a fan of a faux classic giant robot anime, Gekigangar III, which he enjoys with the mechanics and other pilots. One of his lines in the final episode hooked me, more on that in just a moment.
I watched to the final episode of Nadesico. I got to 25 out of 26, and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of watching the last episode. I was too attached, I felt empathy with the characters, and my form of escapism would be over if I watched it. My heart couldn’t take it, and I didn’t want to watch it for months.
Akito’s line from that episode? Well, it translates oddly. But the general premise is that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the final episode of Gekigangar III because he couldn’t bear to have his friends leave him. The Gekigangar that lived in his heart would not last if he finished the show, so he didn’t.
I resonated with a character in a way that I never had before. Not in live action, not in film or TV, not in any of the books I had read. That bond that I shared with him became the reason that I am a lifelong fan.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? We all knew each other back then. Everyone in the Seattle area knew our brick and mortar anime stores, and where to find shirts, wallscrolls, DVDs, and figures. It was a tight knit and massive community.
Can you tell me about this community? Who did it consist of? How did you associate with one another? Our Seattle community was largely comprised of those who knew about our brick-and-mortar anime shop called Anime Kingdom (now defunct). Since it was the only place to get wallscrolls, T-shirts, and general anime merchandise, it was usually occupied by several fans from the area. Over time, we all exchanged phone numbers, and some of the more affluent kids had email addresses.
Beyond the store, the anime club at the University of Washington was very large. At its peak, over 100 students would gather for weekly screenings of episodes acquired from some means or another. The club was known as Anime Discovery Project (ADP). ADP was the core of Seattle otaku for many years. They had the manga and VHS library, opportunities for viewing, gatherings outside of the college just to hang out with one another. Sadly, after a few years, the students graduated and their replacements could not keep up with the advancement of technology. ADP still exists, but in name only.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was, in a way. Through IRC clients and malware infested file sharing software, we all upgraded from VHS tapes and photocopied scripts to digital copies of our shows. Most of the people we spoke to, we had met through anime themed events at local stores.
You mentioned downloading digital copies of shows online, but was there a social aspect to internet fandom for you? I did not engage the social side of the online anime community back then. Truthfully, my family was broke and I didn’t have access to the internet at home until I moved out. Being limited to computers at college was very difficult.
I’d love to hear more about these anime themed events! Anime Kingdom and ADP would hold events throughout Seattle for fans. A day that I recall was when we all travelled to Kicks Hobby Japan in the North part of the city. We visited with the owner, set up tables outside, someone was handing out posters with Gundam models featured prominently. The shop was known for models and figures, and so this day was spent painting, sharing techniques, displaying creations, and sharing favorite moments in Gundam. It is worth noting that this event was before Gundam Wing was airing in Japan, so these fans were very dedicated to their classic franchise. Passing people would stop in to ask why there were so many people gathered, then people saw the models. An older gentleman returned to his home, and brought some model planes he had built and wanted to share with us. We gave him lots of table space, asked about his painting methods, and in the end he went home with a few mobile suit models.
These type of events brought us together as fans of individual shows and franchises. But sometimes it was even more personal. A house in Seattle was known as the hachiroku house, home of the webmasters of hachi-roku.net. Their yard had several cars up on blocks, and parts were even available if you were willing to take them off the cars. They were always around to talk about Initial D, drifting, itasha, or anything car and anime related. When my friends and I were building a Tofu shop style ’86, we visited the house and took a few trim pieces to be repainted. We had our gatherings all over the state, but it was the local groups that overlapped that really kept us all connected.
Do you remember your first convention? Sakuracon 2003. It was like standing between a wardrobe and a looking glass, and seeing my dreams coming true. Cosplays, music videos, people I didn’t know being accepting and kind and having fun. I was there all weekend, and I have not missed a year since.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? My first fandom was Ranma 1/2. It is a show that holds the best memories for me, and gives me a desire to share anime with others. Like most fans, I showed my interest by cosplaying. As with many first cosplays, it was comprised of clothes I already owned and a hope that someone would recognize me. I dressed as Genma, Ranma’s father. I shaved my head, wore a white gi and blue bandana, and walked proudly into my first convention in 2003 wearing my first cosplay. Within SECONDS I heard a young woman yell “DADDY!!” and looked over just in time to see a female Ranma cosplayer charging towards me with her arms outstretched. I opened my arms, we hugged, and I shouted “My long lost son!” The hallway of people laughed, and I was in the hallway for several minutes doing poses of us fighting or arguing or her standing on my back as I laid facedown on the floor. First cosplay, first convention, first photoshoot, first ten minutes I was in the building. It was a great experience that I will always remember.
For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Anime fandom now lacks a quality that past fans had. Formerly, we connected at conventions or events, by word of mouth, or by mailing each other things we found. When one person owned a DVD set of a show, that person got invited everywhere, never paid for food, and was always welcome. Once everyone had seen the show, it would rotate to the next person who bought something, and the cycle repeated. We would call one another to ask for DVDs or VHS copies. Soundtrack purchases were worthy of a listening party at someone’s house.
Now…I texted a friend after seeing Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) in theaters. She saw it twice the next day, the second time with her husband. He texted me the link to iTunes to buy the soundtrack shortly after the film got out. Within 24 hours, three people saw a film and bought a soundtrack and then… nothing. That was it, that’s the whole story. While Your Name spread like wildfire, it still did not touch us all in the way anime used to. It would connect dozens of people across social and economic spaces.
Our connections are simultaneously more abundant and nonexistent. My friends and I all watched Yuri!!! on Ice as it aired. Some people lasted a few episodes, some became obsessed. None of us communicated about the show until long after it was done airing. We watched it alone, and at the same time.
It is an extremely odd experience to watch My Hero Academia weekly with my roommate. He watches English language only, I watch the show in Japanese. He watches on Funimation, I watch on Crunchyroll. I use a PS4, he has a laptop. I live in Washington, he currently works in Alabama. We watch this show on the same day, at the same time, and yet everything about our experience with the episodes is completely different.
We’re connected, but we somehow manage to stay separated.
I think that is the biggest contrast. The level of connected that we do and don’t have.
Ian can be reached on Twitter.