When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I discovered anime about four years ago when I was 19. It was right at the end of my freshman year of college. I had watched Pokémon and YuGiOh as a kid, but wasn’t into “anime” specifically (as a medium). So, the first series I saw that got me interested in anime was Soul Eater. I noticed it airing on Toonami and the title caught my eye, so I checked it out. I was really intrigued by it and how it was animated, but not a kid’s show. I had Netflix at the time and found it on there. I devoured the rest of it and then started searching through their catalogue to see what else they had.
I watched a bunch of other series there and got more and more interested in “this anime thing.” (One of the series I watched early on was Angel Beats!, which really got to me emotionally and remains my favorite anime to this day.) That summer was when I found Crunchyroll and Funimation and started realizing that anime was something I was really consistently interested in. I started learning more about different series and reading forums and engaging with anime culture more. Funny story: one of the first anime I watched on Crunchyroll was Oreimo, which I enjoyed, but is quite the anime to watch when you’re new to the world of anime… haha. Anyways, after that, I kept on seeking out more and more and started reading news sites like CR and ANN. That pretty much takes me to where I am today. I’ve seen thousands of episodes and it’s something I’m really passionate about 🙂
What was surprising about Oreimo for a brand new anime fan? I’d love if you could try to remember what surprised you back then that wouldn’t surprise you now. I think what surprised me about it was its take on a very taboo subject that is almost never portrayed in American TV and movies (which is all I ever knew before discovering anime). It isn’t a very good gateway anime, but I think that it helped show me the more niche side of anime early on. And I’m glad I got to see that side earlier on, rather than seeking out anime that I thought I would enjoy because they are more familiar and not “too anime.” If I were to watch it for the first time now, it probably would not surprise me as much, since I’m now a lot more familiar with the ability of anime to portray topics and themes not explored much in other forms of media.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
What really appealed to me about anime was that these series were animated, but told mature stories that weren’t “for kids.” And they were cool and funny and could evoke a strong emotional response from me. The aesthetic style of anime is something that really appeals to me. I love anime-style character designs (I’m a big fan of moe/bishoujo).
Has your interest in character design led to active participation? Do you draw or create anything because of anime? A few years ago, I was briefly inspired to try my hand at drawing anime characters. Drawing was never exactly my forte, and while I didn’t think they were bad for a beginner, I wasn’t passionate enough about it to keep it up. So now, I’m just a fan of other artists’ amazing anime illustrations on sites like Pixiv and Twitter…
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Honestly, if you had asked me this at the time, I couldn’t tell you. I wasn’t really aware of the greater context and community of anime when I first started. I was interested in the anime that I was watching specifically. I just checked to see what aired in the spring of 2013 when I started watching and so I’d say Attack on Titan, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, and The Devil Is a Part-Timer were probably really popular at that time (although I didn’t know about them back then.)
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Anime was already fairly popular and accessible in America when I joined, so I was joining thousands of other very passionate fans. It did take me a while before I started learning about the greater context and community of anime fandom outside of my personal experiences with it.
Did you feel like it was hard to be welcomed into anime fandom? Did you feel like people used words you didn’t understand? What was it like to slowly become an insider to the fandom? Although I wouldn’t necessarily say it was hard to become a real part of anime fandom, there was definitely a learning curve when I was first starting out. Originally, I only really knew about the anime on Netflix. And when I tried reading some forums online, I wasn’t familiar with the majority of the series and topics talked about there. Although, I feel like I caught up fairly quickly. This was probably thanks to reading news sites and forums a lot, and consistently finding new series to watch. Eventually it got to the point where I knew about a lot more than I had actually seen—where I could point out series at conventions, even though I hadn’t watched them. And as the amount of series I had seen increased, I became more and more of an “insider” to anime fandom.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes it was, but I didn’t engage very actively in the anime community, although I really enjoyed reading forums about other fans’ favorite series, etc. After a little while, I started showing and talking about anime with my family and friends.
How did your family and friends react? My parents are really supportive of my anime passion.. When I had just started watching my first anime, Soul Eater, I had to tell my mom how cool it was. She was happy to listen and even watched some episodes with me. Since then, we’ve watched a lot of series together, and she really appreciates the pretty art style and wonderful stories that anime can tell.
I also have friends who are into anime and we go to conventions and have a ton of fun sharing our love of anime together. Pretty much anytime I’ve told someone that I’m into anime, it’s always been a positive response. So, I’m grateful for that.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Yes! My first convention was Anime Weekend Atlanta 2013, and it was amazing. I ran around the Dealers’ Room, pointing out everything I recognized. “Look, they have this! No way, look at that!” It was a fantastic experience and I’ve gone back every year since.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first anime I really got invested in was Angel Beats! It was one of the first anime I saw and the emotional impact it had on me was unlike any other series or movie I had ever seen. That’s why, even after everything I’ve seen in the years since, it’s still my all time favorite. I bought the songs from the anime and had a wristband with the name of the in-series band on it (the first piece of anime merch I ever bought). And when that one faded, I bought another one!
Now, my room is filled with things like wall scrolls and figures from different series that I’ve collected over the years.
Finally, how is your anime fandom experience different today from when you first got started? I think one of the main things about my fandom today that is different from when I started is that I have friends who are super into it also to share my passion with. When I first started, I didn’t really talk about it much with many people, probably because I wasn’t sure if someone I knew/met was also interested in it. But now, it’s really awesome to be able to express myself and have friends who support that without judgement.
Another aspect that’s different now is my interest in the actual production and industry side of anime. I pay more attention now to aspects like voice actors and animation production studios (my favorites being KyoAni and Lerche). I’ve learned over the years of all the different facets of the anime world. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I watched my very first episode of Soul Eater years ago. And I mean that in the best possible way.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I watched some anime in Korea such as Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water when it was aired on TV or Ranma 1/2 from rented video tapes, but I believe Evangelion was the first anime series I completed and became a huge fan of. If I recall correctly, I picked up a copy of Animerica from the local Suncoast Video, and on the last page there was an advertisement for the release of the last VHS of the Evangelion TV series. I bought the first two episodes on VHS, and ended up owning the entire series and passed it around to friends at school.
How did your access to anime change once you moved to the US? When was that about? I moved from Korea in 1997, and my access to anime in the US were limited to either purchasing VHS/DVDs or watching whatever was on network or cable TV. Thinking back, those early weekend night/morning anime showings on Sci-Fi network and Toonami were game changers in making anime more mainstream. I have to say it might have been worse in Korea, especially as most mainstream Japanese media were not allowed in South Korea untill late 1990s-early 2000s. Kids in South Korea watched anime on network TV but it was heavily localized and removed any if not most traces of anything overtly Japanese. I did get some bootleg video CDs in Korea when that was a thing.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Complex story and its unique art direction. It definitely had more mature content and was visually different than what was on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. (This was right before Toonami began.)Even today, I prefer anime series with complex storylines, excellent production values, and captivating mise en scène: some of my favorite anime from the late ’90s to early ’00s are Ghost in the Shell, Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team, Cowboy Bebop, Record of Lodoss War, and Ninja Scroll.
However, while I had limited exposure to anime before, I was a voracious manga reader with Dragon Ball Z and Slam Dunk being some of my favorites at the time. To this day, I prefer manga over anime.
Evangelion was the first show you really got into. Why so? How did you express your fandom? I guess the angsty part? *rolls eyes* I mean, Evangelion have some great action sequences and cute characters, but in my high school years I definitely identified with the high drama of Evangelion. I still have a soft spot for it, though nowadays I would be like, “man up, Shinji.” Expressing my fandom materialized in many doodles of Evangelion, making those Bandai plastic kits, sharing my VHS collection with anybody interested, and sometime discussing it afterwards.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I think in the US anime was getting enough interest and there were enough anime releases to occupy a small section in stores like Suncoast Video and EB Games. I also remember catching some anime on Sci-Fi channel and MTV. However, most kids in high school did not know much about anime other than some series being aired over the TV, and even admitting your interest in anime could be seen as being nerdy- you had to tread carefully!
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes but way smaller and limited compared to the fandom today. It is amazing that people can follow the anime being aired in Japan and discuss individual episodes merely minutes after they were aired. I think I knew there were forums and chat rooms for discussing anime yet did not feel compelled to venture into them. My university also had an anime club, but I lost interest after a semester because I was not interested in what they were watching, and the fact that they were willing to watch something they already saw over and over!
So growing up, was anime a solitary thing for you or were there friends or siblings you could watch and discuss with? My sister and my brother all watched Evangelion. My brother actually volunteers for cons, though I don’t know if he watches many anime. Growing up, we were way more into manga, with Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z, Slam Dunk, and Monster being some of the favorites. I have to say in South Korea manga were more popular and accessible than anime, and I guess we followed suit. I later tried out an anime club at my university, but it seems pointless to watch something over and over—I love watching movies and TV shows, but the communal viewing of anime for 3-4 hours seemed too dull for me.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? I have never been to an anime convention, but I have been to the very first PAX East. While it was fun in small doses, I never liked the hours of waiting or the large crowd. However, Otakon is moving to downtown DC this year so I want to go and catch Jam Project as well.
It’s been a while since you sent this. Did you end up going to Otakon? No, I did not go to Otakon. I had a business trip early on Sunday morning! (God, I became a square.)
Were you always into anime, or did you dip in and out of interest in it? I definitely dip in and out. Nowadays if there is an anime film I heard good things about I would check it out, whereas for OVA/limited series or TV series I find it difficult to get hooked on. I watched a lot of anime during that couple of years during the late ’90s-early 2000s, but have not had that level of enthusiasm since then.
Finally, for you, what’s the biggest difference between anime fandom today and anime fandom when you first discovered it? It is way more accessible and mainstream compared to when I was younger—but I guess media culture became more nerdier as corporations realized nerds are as likely to invest into their fandom as sports fans do, if not more. I remember when my younger colleagues at work asked if I watch anime, and if watching/following anime was a yardstick for being in tune with pop culture. As someone who was in art club/photo lab and art classes in high school, which was one of the few places you could discuss anime without any negative feedback, it has gone a long way. And it is so easy to follow new anime and discuss it about it! Now I have to go and tell the kids to get off my proverbial yard.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. From what I remember it was as Pokemon was catching on right around the time I started middle school (late 1998). The anime had started airing so my friends and I were watching that and one of us found Sailor Moon had been running on Cartoon Network. So those were my first two. Somehow I found my way into looking up information online about both of those when I learned about how edited/changed the versions I was watching on TV were. (Somewhere along the way I discovered Usenet newsgroups.) That lead me to try to seek out more information and try to get my hands on what I felt I was missing out on. By summer of 1999 I had started downloading fansubs, and the rest, as they say (cliche I know), is history.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? In retrospect: I was a sullen almost-teen who had started to grow disillusioned with the newer US cartoons that started airing around that time (basically, if my little brother liked it I found a way to not like it) and it was certainly different than anything else I had watched up to that point.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was eye opening in several ways. I was in middle school and couldn’t do much on my own, but I could go online and it was exciting to learn about all these things going on in a medium I was just discovering. Plus, at least one of my friends was doing that too (with the help of her older brother and his friends) so we would swap information we found among ourselves, too.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Oh, without the internet I would have never probably fully entered into the fandom. My seeking information out about what I was watching lead me to an entire community of people. I spent SO MUCH TIME on groups like alt.fan.sailor-moon reading posts (occasionally posting myself, though I feel like those are probably super cringey to go back to now) and reading fansites. I mean, I remember when the newsgroups I was on were freaking out over the coming Card Captor Sakura dub and its many changes/edits and the excitement/caution expressed when Sailor Moon S and Super S were picked up for English dub. (Cousins, really?)
Through the online communities I found, I discovered so many other series, some of which I hold dear to this day, because of recommendations people made online back when I was in middle school. Plus, that’s to say nothing of the fact that once I discovered downloadable fansubs there was no going back.
I know it’s cringey but could you tell me about the stuff you posted about? Did you draw fan art or write fanfic? Did you have any favorite sites, or make your own site? So I actually decided to look and see how bad it was. (Google Groups apparently has the full archive, and apparently there are still active posters?) I vaguely remembered being one of those annoying teenage fangirls (back in the [something]-no-Miko days) but seeing the actual posts makes it so much more painful. I must have been the weebiest weeb before “weeb” was a word, based on my random use of honorifics and random Japanese words. I found at least one post where I “chased [someone] with a piko hammer” IN THE POST! Though at least to my credit I did just find a post I wrote criticizing the whole concept of editing out the gay-aspects of LGBT characters back when that was common practice. (So maybe 14-year-old me wasn’t entirely cringey and terrible?)
I didn’t really do fanart as much one weird cringey thing I would do was colorize other people’s black-and-white fanart (and manga scenes too). I think I may have gotten permission from the original artists and I know I would credit them, but I’d totally spend hours coloring and reposting to, I want to say, alt.binary.sailor-moon? Or somewhere else where all the fanart tended to get posted.
I did also run a website (my first one!) which started off as a rehash of other people’s Pokemon secrets and tips and then turned into a repost art gallery. Clearly I didn’t understand things like content ownership back then? (That also makes me cringe thinking about it.) I used Homestead at first and that was where I started learning how to edit HTML when I wanted to edit how things looked in the WYSIWYG editor, which later did come in handy when I started working after grad school and had to edit pages at work.
As for sites I liked, (and that I remember) I spent a lot of time on Sailormoon.org and Hitoshi Doi’s Seiyuu database. (I was really amazed with how the same actors were in so many series voicing such different characters.)
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? I somehow talked my parents into letting me go with a friend, her brother, and parents to Otakon down in Baltimore in the summer of 2002. I spent the con with my friend and her brother plus a few other friends-of-friends. I bought lots of random (but also cheap) goods like pencil boards and enamel pins (some of which I still have) and *may* have splurged on a Gackt album (as I had recently discovered him). I basically blew all of my money from my crappy summer job on it, and it kind of stuck with me for some reason.
Do you still have this? How did you discover Gackt and how did that tie to online anime fandom? Oh, I totally still have that CD (and the others I bought in that era). “Vanilla” is still one of my favorite songs ever. For the life of me I don’t remember how I found out about him, only that I have video clips from his first tour DVD dating back to the summer of 2001 floating around on my hard drive. I don’t know if it was a picture I saw or what, but I must have been super taken (and still am, that sent me down a whole visual kei music hole). I’m sure that live performance of Vanilla may have played a part in hooking me further after I first discovered him. There’s actually pictures of me in my high school yearbook wearing a Gackt shirt that I somehow got from the official Gackt shop. (I think a friend got it for me as a gift?)
What did your family think of your interest in anime, considering how young you were when you got into it? I don’t know if they super minded. I think the main rule was I wasn’t allowed to share my full name or meet up with people from online in person (the regular online safety stuff). They were also skeptical about buying things online (because I needed them to pay for them) when it wasn’t from like, Amazon or something large and well-known. Other than that I think it was just a “this is a weird thing our kid is into” thing. They didn’t go out of their way to support my interest, but they didn’t actively discourage it either. I would have never gotten most of the anime DVDs I ended up with in that era if my parents hadn’t bought them for me as birthday or Christmas presents.
After Sailor Moon, what was the first anime you got really into, and how did you express your fandom? I went through a couple of other series that I was really into (Card Captor Sakura, Kodomo no Omocha, Hana Yori Dango) but the next one I got really big into was probably Magic Knight Rayearth. My friends and I got so into it that we adopted the characters’ names as our own nicknames and would use them in public regularly. It went as far as “Fuu” being embroidered on my badminton team sweatshirt when I got to high school. Around the same time my friends and I also got pretty into Utena to the point where we had an exchange diary thing going. (At that point we had only seen the first 13 episodes as the others hadn’t been released here yet…)
In your personal experience, how is anime fandom different now than it was when you first discovered it? Well, the biggest and most amazing change is just the mere existence of near-simulcast streaming and the near-extinction of fansubs. At 13 it amazed me if I could see something within a year of coming out that would be super amazing. Of course, because so few titles seemed to be licensed back then and there was such a lag, fansubs were everything. Nowadays I only see them pop up for the rare title that doesn’t get picked up by any of the streaming services and some of the dramas. A lot of my favorite series ever are ones that I saw as fansubs as a kid. And as those series have come out in (at this point) remastered editions I’ve been picking up official releases.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the back half of 1995—either the summer before high school or early in my freshman year. The father of one of my middle school friends was a huge audiophile, and he had a big TV with an amazing sound system in the basement, and my friends and I would hang there. Another friend brought subtitled VHS tapes of The Slayers, the first half of the first season, and we shotgunned them in one sitting. Anime was rare or non-existent on syndicated TV in DC at the time, and I didn’t have cable growing up, so it was my first time seeing anything like it.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The answer that makes me look good is that it was about characterization and serialization. This was just a couple of years after Twin Peaks, X-Files, and Babylon 5 had barely started, so (outside soap operas) serialization on American TV was still very rare and limited to SF shows. Character-driven drama within a genre setting was also pretty rare on American TV pre-Buffy, so Neon Genesis Evangelion (the next box set we marathoned in that basement) was a revelation.
There’s also just my lifelong love affair with animation. I moved from being a little kid watching the toy-driven dreck of the mid-80s to a slightly older kid watching Ducktales and Animaniacs, then a tween watching Batman: The Animated Series and early Simpsons. Becoming a teenaged anime fan was the next logical step.
The answer that makes me look less good: I was 14, in the process of discovering I have a thing for smart, ass-kicking redheads with strong opinions and nasty tempers, and my first two anime were The Slayers and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Add in that my crush for most of high school was a Japanophile and… yeah.
Tell me about your high school crush! Did anything come out of that? She was smart, shy, small, and cute, basically the classic nerd version of the girl next door. Brilliant with computers—I think she works for Microsoft now—and like I said, a major Japanophile. JRPGs, manga, anime, eventually language and culture, literature, food. As for what came out of it, a close friendship that lasted a decade or so before she moved out to the west coast and we lost touch. Never dated, but that’s probably for the best.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Like I said, the DC area didn’t really get anime on TV until Toonami. I never even heard of Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon until I started going to conventions in ’99. The gateway show for everyone—not just the half-dozen of us in that basement—was The Slayers. That was the thing EVERYONE watched and liked.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I’m not sure there was such a thing as anime fandom just yet. We were just nerds, and that meant you liked nerdy things. Someone who liked anime probably also liked tabletop RPGs, video games, science fiction, or science/tech–if not all of those things, at least most of them. So all of that would be in play when hanging out.
What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Definitely The Slayers. Like I said, we all watched it and all enjoyed it, then moved on to other anime. But Slayers stuck with me more than the others. I wrote fanfic, which fortunately never left my computer and no longer exists in any form. I found the fansite Inverse.org and devoured everything they had on the backstory, the world, how magic worked, gods and monsters. A lot of that was from stuff only published in Japan, so in our little circle I was (at least at first) the only one who knew any of it. One summer during college, maybe 2003 or so, I got the Slayers d20 rulebook and ran a weekly tabletop game set hundreds of years after the show. Then, when the show had its 20th anniversary a couple of years ago, I did a panel on it at a couple of cons.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? It was sort of in the process of becoming part of fandom. When I started, we all sort of got into anime together in that basement, and then met other people who were already into anime, or showed anime to other fans and got them into it. It was all in-person. The Internet had fansites and such, but that was one person or a small group posting up pictures and info, not really a social experience.
How did you get involved in this friend group? Did you all go to the same school or comic shop or something? Like I said, it started as a group of my middle school friends. Then I went to a different high school from most of them, and some of the friends I made there joined the group. We would all hang in one or another of our houses’ basements; sometimes we would watch anime, or play a tabletop RPG, or video games, depending on exactly who showed up and what mood we were in.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes, my first convention was Otakon in ’99. It was kind of overwhelming! I’d never encountered so many anime fans in one place, and it was hard to know what to do. I spent a lot of time in video rooms, sampling shows I hadn’t heard of before. That was what cons were for, for me–finding out what anime was out there. It wasn’t until years later when I had broadband and could download (or, later, stream) shows that cons became about seeing people.
How did you get into blogging about anime and doing media analysis? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started college, so I opened up the course guide and circled everything that sounded interesting. Then I added up the credits and figured out which degree that was closest to, and it turned out to be English. For shits and giggles, I decided that at least once a semester, I would do a paper that incorporated my nerdy interests, so already as an undergrad I was getting a little practice writing on things like religion in Final Fantasy, nonsense literature and webcomics, Milton and Lord of the Rings, that kind of thing. Somewhere in there, my friends and I watched a terrible-quality fansub of End of Evangelion, and they basically all turned to me and said, “Okay, Jen, you’re an English major. What the hell?” Being young and cocky, I said, “Give me a week.” I vaguely remembered some of the symbols that appeared in the movie from my Bar Mitzvah classes, which is a whole ‘nother story—Bar Mitzvah students are not supposed to be learning Kabbalah!—and I cobbled together a reading. More importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it!
Flash forward a decade. I was in a bit of a rut—I had a job, it was paying the bills, but I wanted to do something I cared about. One thing I did (and do!) really enjoy was presenting panels at conventions, because it was using the same mental muscles as those college papers and the End of Eva thing. Anyway, independently of that, I discovered this guy Phil Sandifer, and his amazing Doctor Who analysis—absolutely brilliant stuff. Through him, I discovered the world of media studies (he’s got a PhD in the field), which I hadn’t even known was a thing. I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Grad school wasn’t really an option, but with some gentle prodding from my then-girlfriend Viga—who also got me into doing panels—I went the “outsider academic” route. I started blogging about animation, mostly American cartoons at first, but then I noticed that BY FAR my most popular post was a review and analysis I did on the third Madoka Magica movie, Rebellion. So I did a series of posts on the show, and The Very Soil, my book on Madoka Magica(shameless plug) grew out of that. And I pretty much just haven’t stopped since!
In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say there are two really big changes. First is streaming. Anime is ridiculously easier to get—and get legally!—than it was back then. If I hear about a series, I can usually be watching it within minutes. But back then, well, we were lucky enough to have an anime-and-games store just a few blocks from our high school, and even then there’d be a lag of at least a year between the show airing in Japan and it showing up at Starland. And like I said, we were lucky—a lot of people had no way of getting anime at all, outside of the dealer’s room at a con or long chains of friends trading tapes with friends. The result, I think, is that things have sped up. New shows spread through the fandom faster, but they also fade faster. The hot new thing changes pretty much every season, where in the ’90s it would stay the same a lot longer because it just took longer until most people had seen it.
The other thing is, back in the ’90s and before, very few things actually made it to the U.S. With a few hilarious exceptions, that was usually the best of the best. And when we ’90s teens were kids, in the ’80s, American cartoons SUCKED. Nowadays we get basically every anime, including all the crap, and American animation has gotten massively, unfathomably better than it was when I was a kid. I write about this more in the “Secret History of Anime Fandom” section of my new book, Animated Discussions (shameless plug two), but basically I think the result is that there was a lot of hostility to American cartoons in anime fandom back then, and virtually none now. You especially see it with cosplay—some of the most popular cosplays of the last few years have been Steven Universe and Adventure Time characters. That would’ve been unthinkable at anime cons in 1999 or 2000.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It actually all began with an obscure Japanese-French production called The Mysterious Cities of Gold that aired on Nickelodeon in the late 1980s. Unlike almost all other cartoons and children’s programming at the time, it told an ongoing story, with each episode ending with a cliffhanger. It also mixed together history, science-fiction, and fantasy in a way I had never seen before, although I think I was a bit young to appreciate the historic setting. It came on TV right when I got home from school and I’d race to the basement every day to try and catch the opening (which I now find downright painful to listen to).
I didn’t know this was anime at the time, or even what that word meant. It was just another cartoon. It wasn’t until a friend in high school showed me a VHS dub of Samurai X (aka Rurouni Kenshin) that I became aware of animation from Japan as a separate thing. From there, I soon fell into the action shows being aired on Toonami and the rest is history.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was the serial nature of most of the shows I was exposed to that really intrigued me. Throughout most of the ’80s and ’90s, American television rarely told ongoing stories. With a few exceptions, most episodes hit a reset button and everything was back to normal next week. But anime told ongoing stories. A plot could be bigger than a 22 minute episode and continue onward, sometimes over the entire life of a show. I found the possibilities for this exciting.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I’m not even sure from when I first got into it. I was like 6 years old and it was 1989. I wasn’t exactly trading mail-order tapes. As I got older, there definitely was a period where everyone knew what Sailor Moon was, and then Pokemon got very big. Dragon Ball Z had this very slow burn of popularity where I thought I was the only one who knew about it, and then I got to college and everyone was saying “Oh, I love Goku.”
Was anime more of a solitary thing for you growing up, or were there friends or siblings you watched with? Anime has definitely always been more of a solitary interest. Up until my most recent job, which had an anime Slack room with about 12 or so people in it, I probably only knew a handful of other people who liked it.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I actually started my college’s anime club as a freshman. It never really went anywhere, garnering probably about six members at its height. But even with six members, I remember having a very difficult time putting together a schedule of events that would make everyone happy. Every person had a very specific type of anime that interested them, and it was hard to reconcile the person who wanted to screen a Slayers marathon with the person who only watched Street Fighter anime series and nothing else. Going in any one direction meant you would have an event where it would be literally only two or three people show up in a university room that could hold like 30, which was always awkward.
How does it feel to participated in this small anime fan group, and now to experience anime going mainstream? I mean, I think the main thing I’d say is never try to start a college club as a freshman, and also that maybe the best way to meet other people who share your interest isn’t to start a university-sanctioned club. Although I kind of wonder if the club would do better or worse today. Yes, anime is more mainstream, but does that also mean it’s less likely to be something someone is interested in enough to join a club about it? I don’t know.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The internet definitely helped expose me to anime series I would never have seen otherwise. When Gundam Wing first aired on Toonami, I went looking for more info online, which is how I found that there were almost a dozen other Gundam series, with Wing alone in its own continuity.
Netflix helped a lot too. I got Netflix’s DVD subscription service shortly after it launched when I was in college and suddenly all sorts of stuff became available to me. There used to be an anime review website called Anime Academy. I sorted their reviews by grade and just started going down the list via my Netflix queue. I’m looking at my Netflix DVD history now and I see stuff like Crest of the Stars, Princess Nine and Record of Lodoss War that I had kind of forgotten about until now.
Was your participation on the internet passive, or did you interact in the fandom in some way? It definitely was more passive. I remember spending a lot of time just looking at different fansites and just taking everything in. There was so much information online that you would never get from watching anime on TV, like that we rarely saw the opening and closing credit scenes that were attached to the shows in Japan. I never really got into any forums or communities either, although I definitely went through a Gundam Wing fan-fiction phase, which is how I first learned what yaoi is.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first one I really got into was probably Gundam Wing. There were other anime before that, but Gundam Wing just had so many details that you could do a deep dive into, whether it was the mobile suits or the political factions. It didn’t always makes sense, and it makes even less sense now, but there was just so much going on.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
I have never been to an anime convention! It sounds weird, but I’m not crazy about crowds and noisy places and am pretty socially awkward. I’ve been to other large conventions and found them to not be my favorite places in the world, so I’ve pretty much stayed away.
What did your family think of your interest in anime? I saw you just went to Japan (and the Gundam statue!) with your dad. I actually went to that Gundam statue alone! My dad was going to Japan on a business trip, and I crashed in his hotel room to save money. Neither he nor anyone else in my family is too interested in anime, although they’re not against trying it every now and then. We all went to see Your Name when it was in U.S. theaters in the spring and everyone really liked it. My dad sometimes asks me about different anime that are currently popular. He works for a Japanese company and I think he likes at least having a cursory knowledge of Japanese culture for no other reason than to have something to talk about at the water cooler.
Finally, in your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and when you first got into it? I remember watching a subtitled, bootleg VHS tape a friend brought back from Hong Kong of Evangelion four years after the show aired on Japanese TV and we were on the bleeding edge because we’d seen Evangelion subtitled. Now I stream new episodes of My Hero Academia like a day after they air in Japan through a site that has officially and legally licensed it. Everything’s faster now and I think that’s a good thing.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. The year was 1999, and I was 13. I’d fallen in love with the Pokemon (Red) video game, and one day discovered that there was a cartoon version of the story. From the first episode I caught on TV, I was hooked. It was my gateway. I drew fanart, and my very first comic (I’m a professional cartoonist now) was a jagged and messy Pokemon fancomic about my adventures with my favorite Pokemon, Dragonair. My repertoire expanded almost immediately to any anime I could find information about on the internet, aired on late-night Cartoon Network (carefully time-recorded on VHS), or otherwise appeared on TV or in my local comic shops. Animerica Magazine was pretty integral to my keeping updated and immersed in anime. Having my fan art printed in Animerica and in Animerica Extra gave me the ego boost I would ride into an actual art career.
How did your interest in anime factor into your journey as an artist? Did you go through a manga-style angular chin drawing phase? Anime was alllllways at the core of my artistic journey. A good number of people in comics today who are my age remember the struggle of fighting teachers when they told you not to “draw anime style.” And I understand why, now, they put up that fight. “Anime style” is a visual language that makes sense to someone who watches it, but doesn’t to those who never have. So of course the giant eyes and sweatdrops and pointy chins seem baffling to them, and it turn, to your college admissions portfolio reviewers. I get it. But it felt crummy! Other cartoonists are influenced by the comics and cartoons they idolized, and you can see the influence of Archie Comics or Powerpuff Girls in a lot of folks’ comics today too! But since our influences were foreign, because the visual language we aped was not native, we we told to cut it out. Often with no suggestion of where to look instead. So when I tried to fight that fight, I pulled from “traditional” or classical illustration, and spent a long time, as many of my peers did, being sure I was drawing “more correctly” to “realistically” but always being asked if “it was anime,” anyway! It was tough! And it’s not like anyone was having conversations with us ABOUT the cultural exchange, or even the bigger colonial implications around the dialogue that WAS happening. Anyway, yes. I drew lots of pointy chins.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Watching Pokemon as a freshly-minted teenager, I was excited by the way the narrative carried across episodes. Each episode had a fight of the day, but it was part of a journey. It lacked the reset button of The Simpsons, but was more structurally engaging than The Little Mermaid (TV.) It seemed unique. And it felt like a bridge into a new world, because it was foreign and because there was a community around it. I was posting Ash/Misty romantic fanfiction on message boards online before I understood that fanfiction was a /thing./ Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z followed, and by the time I’d sunk my claws into Gundam Wing, Slayers, Tenchi Muyo, and Utena, I was gone! The western anime-loving community was my place. No small part of my fascination was in the subtextual and sometimes textual queer themes. I was a budding /something/ at the time (lesbian? transboy? time would tell-) and the genderqueer/tomboy/lesbian in Sailor Uranus, longing gay love of Utena‘s Juri, and extensive slashability of the Gundam Wing boys gave my needs a home, my desires validation, my expressions an outlet.
Could you expand on this over the course of your fandom? How did anime factor into your exploration of sexuality? After the initial blossoming into a queer butch because of shoujo manga, anime didn’t factor a whole lot into my sexuality until I wrestled with my love of yaoi later on in my mid-20s. The community was always there and part of its actualization, of course; my first online girlfriend was a fellow Utena roleplayer, and one summer-fling boyfriend was someone I met at an anime convention in Maine, who wooed me by singing that impossibly fast Gravitation song at karaoke. But it wasn’t until around 25 or so that I looked at myself, on the cusp of coming out as trans, and the fact that I’d basically only consumed yaoi/slash since I got to college, and realized the complicated sexual sociology of it. As an afab person, I’d appreciated a medium by which I could explore sexual imagery without seeing sex /done/ to a female body. Porn and hentai all established women as objects that sex was done /to/, often violently. While yaoi in general wasn’t necessarily /better/ in that regard, it at least allowed me to separate /my/ body from sexual violence. My current identity as a bi enby doesn’t give as much credit to anime as it does the webcomics community, but the transition from one family to the other was smooth, since there is plenty of overlap there. That I now draw the trans-inclusive adult comics I wished I had as a teen and young adult probably owes to that yaoi legacy directly, though.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I “discovered” anime, the most popular thing was probably Dragon Ball Z. Even though shoujo (Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yuugi) was more my thing, I still understood what a force and presence the DBZ fandom was. I could never be sure because my perception was affected by whatever I was most obsessed with at the time, but Sailor Moon was big, as was CLAMP as an entire entity and force. Evangelion was also very present. But nothing would be like DBZ.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was like stepping to the garden of eden. Or being on a rewarding treasure expedition. Me, a tiny art-making teen, discovering a world where people expanded and reimagined narratives (fanfic,) examined fictional relationships (ship manifesto,) multiplied content through art (doujinshi, fanart,) shared- OH how they SHARED- their passion… and it was the wild west of internet, too. Navigating the community was an adventure. You had to participate to find what you were looking for. It made that rare piece of Evangelion merch, 3rd generation VHS Kodocha fansub copy, or perfectly-aligned-with-your-interests Card Captor Sakura fanfic absolutely like earning treasure. It was rich with discovery.
What were you usually looking for, then? Where did you participate? Did you make any lasting friendships, or discover new shows that way? I was looking for all of the above. Fanart, doujinshi, fanfic, Evangelion dissertations. For example, if I was looking for Touya x Yukito (Cardcaptor Sakura) fanfic, I couldn’t hop on Ao3 and click the Touya/Yukito tag. I have to either web-search (Google was not yet the standard) or ask around for a Touya/Yukito fansite (one Geocities or Angelfire, probably) that would then host or link to fanfics. Instead of collections, you usually found a fansite that featured the site’s owner’s own fanfiction. You really had to work for that reward. I can’t remember the names of those fansites anymore, they were so all over the place. I vaguely remember the transition to Livejournal as a new standard for communities and roleplaying, but I don’t think I could name any of those, either.
I don’t think I’ve maintained any friendships from those days! We’re talking 15 years ago, when I was a teenager and a very different person. We’ve all grown up and found new spaces to occupy … as much as I still value Utena, I don’t really need to be on an Utena RP board anymore, and I think everyone else has established new identities since then too. I can’t think of anyone from those days that I’m still close to. In college I made friends with folks in the Ookiku Furikabutte community that helped me through hard times and are still close friends of mine today, but no one from those early days. Every once and a while I’ll get a message from someone who will be like , “Woah, are you Shirono from the Pokemon Boards back in 1999?” and we will reminisce for a whole five seconds, but that’s it.
Finding new anime, at least for me, didn’t happen in communities, because they weren’t “anime” communities, they were show-specific communities. Pokemon boards talked about Pokemon, Utena LJ talked about Utena. Discovering new anime came through some specific channels, like Animerica magazine, which reported on both stateside releases as well as what was coming out in Japan. There was also fansubs, which I credit with exposing me to A LOT of new anime. See, when you bought a fansub, the two or three episodes on the tape might not take up the entire tape. So some fansubbers would fill the extra space with anime openings. So at the end of my Kodocha tape, there would be opening themes for Fushigi Yuugi, Mamono Hunter Yohko, and City Hunter. I proceeded to pursue each of those shows. Why did fansubbers do that, though, I always wondered. Was it purely to spread the gospel of new anime?
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes, internet and fandom were inextricable in the early aughts. Fansites were your source for news, eBay your source for rare merch, group sites for your mail-in-fansubs, message boards for your discussion. It was an exciting time; despite the burgeoning attempts Real Player made at establishing itself as a way to watch video, we still had dial-up internet and relied on the community access to get our fix. I took chances sending physical dollars and checks to strangers on the internet and was never let down, getting copied CDs and VHS tapes in the mail, weeks or months later, every time. Message boards and fansites were where I spent most of my time, role-playing, reading fanfic, dissecting episodes, characters, relationships, and story arcs.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Shoujocon 2001, in East Brunswick, New Jersey. It was magical. It was more accessible to me in Pennsylvania than any other convention at the time, and my parents could drive my friends and I there. I cosplayed Yuzuriha Nekoi from X/1999. I met a CLAMP messageboard crush. I returned in 2002 with different high-school friends and a preparedness to take advantage of what I now knew a convention could give me. The two years blur a bit in my memory. That second year, I cosplayed in a Kare Kano group. I sang in and won the karaoke contest. I bought Gundam Wing doujinshi, sneaking an 18+ wristband over my little teen fist to get into the restricted section of the dealers’ room. I met up with people I’d met on Utena message boards. I shared home-printed copies of my first scrawled doujinshi (also Utena.) I bought a $40 JPOP CD (expensive now, but imagine THEN!) I still have the printed photos from these experiences. It blew my mind.
What was meeting your messageboard crush like? Worth it, or never meet your heroes sort of thing? It was uneventful! I had a little baby forum crush on them but they didn’t on me. We took a picture together and I never heard from them again! We weren’t close in the first place, I just thought they were cute and looked like Kamui.
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The biggest differences, I think, are the means to access content, the availability of content, and the discourse.
As I mentioned before, you couldn’t just google “Sailor Uranus x Sailor Neptune doujinshi” or “Tamahome x Chichiri fanfic” and FIND IT, let alone just click through tags on Ao3. You had to hunt and you often had to establish human connections to get to what you were looking for. Today you can access content for your very specific shipping interests almost immediately and definitely without interacting with anyone. It’s not like recc lists aren’t still valuable and we don’t make connections these days! But the work you /needed/ to put in to find your goods was different in nature!
It’s so EASY to watch anime now. All of it! Any of it! It’s so great, now, with both legal avenues for the big stuff (Crunchyroll, Amazon, etc.) and less-legal avenues for the obscure stuff. More manga is published in English and more quickly, and scanlations are available for more weird and independent stuff than ever. There’s basically no way to NOT find what you’re looking for instantly these days. Before it was buying fansubs off the internet, downloading a third of an episode on dial-up, or saving $60 to buy a tape with 2 episodes on it at Suncoast. 0_0
Finally, wow, both good and bad has come from the global discourse on anime and manga and fan communities. I absolutely do not want to get into the specifics, but we are having good conversations about appropriation and problematic content (to the benefit of POC, women, and queer people, but we are also having very BAD conversations about appropriation and problematic content (to the detriment of POC, women, and queer people!) Before, we went by the motto “don’t like, don’t read,” which meant problematic ideas were not challenged, but also, it meant that people weren’t harassed for exploring ideas in fiction. Progress resists binary reduction, so it’s messy, but I wouldn’t go back in time either.
When did you discover anime? 1995 I would guess. It was at this time that shows like Sailor Moon and Samurai Pizza Cats were starting to show up on TV before elementary school.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? They looked completely different, and had a very different style and storytelling to them.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t much involved in fandom until I got a bit older and entered high school where I started going to my first few conventions.
At this time, it was a lot of in-person interactions. I didn’t have much in terms of internet (28.8k dial-up), so when I did I would look up Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon (especially Dragon Ball Z uncensored), and I’m sure some forums existed.
What was the difference? Why was uncensored better? At the time, I think the difference was just that I wanted to see “what people were keeping from me.” I wanted to see the “real” version, but also a lot of the differences were just cultural or required to air on North American television. It wasn’t so much that the “uncensored was better” as some of anime wasn’t available in North America yet.
You said you discovered anime in elementary school in 1995. But you’re still a fan today. Did you watch anime continuously that whole time? Or did you take a break? Over the years, there has definitely been a huge difference in my intake levels of anime. I watched a lot of anime (probably 5-10 series per year?) up until 2008 or 2009 (from elementary school to university). After I graduated, intake probably dropped to 1-2 series a year, and is now probably somewhere in between. Manga intake has been pretty continuous.
You said you didn’t start talking to other fans until high school. Can you tell me about what that was like? Was there a club? There wasn’t a club in high school, but through a variety of other clubs and classes, I managed to find people who were fans. I remember it being easy, because I wasn’t really afraid of showing off what I am afraid of like I am now. In elementary school, we had to compose a music piece, and I transcribed the Pokemon theme for flute… and a lot of meeting other fans was like that. It was a lot of bringing up different fandom-related things in casual conversation, or doing class activities that revealed people with similar interests.
Do you remember your first convention? Anime North 2003. It was an anime convention, and it was amazing. There were viewing rooms, and games, and people and goods. I remember going to tons of different panels to learn about different things like the Japanese language and fanthropology.
Did you get inspired to learn more about those topics? How so? I was inspired to learn more about those topics! As a result of some of those panels, I ended up buying books on Japanese, and later (in University) taking some classes on the language. As well, I ended up following a bunch of blogs on Fanthropology for a while, and making friends with one of the panelists who is pretty involved in a lot of fannish activities. I also now do a podcast, Fanthropological, where we try to dig into different fandoms every week.
When did you discover anime? My earliest recollection of what I would later come to recognize as anime was re-runs of Robotech that played early in the mornings before I went to school. There was something else that played alongside it but I don’t remember if it was another anime. What little I do remember is that my brother and I made sure my father woke us up in time to watch the hour of programming before school. We would watch and he would make us breakfast. This tradition kept up over the years as new shows aired. This is how, for example, I first watched Zoids amongst other things.
By the time I came to understand that anime was different from other cartoons, I had graduated from watching it in the mornings to also watching anime every afternoon on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. At this time, my interest in military history drew me to samurai which, in turn, led me to the realization that these cartoons I was watching were Japanese and had their own unique term to describe them, “anime.”
It was during these early Toonami years that I really “discovered” anime. I became a forever fan of anime from all genres and I became acquainted with what would become my favorite franchise: Gundam. New Mobile Report Gundam Wing on Toonami got me into Gundam despite my distinct memory of disliking the first episode. My friend, Andrew, continued to nourish my interest as he knew more about the franchise and had better access to other Gundam material from the internet and elsewhere.
I also credit my discovery of anime to the blossoming of my interest in other areas such as collecting and Japanese culture as a whole so I’m very happy that I became a devotee.
I’d love to hear about these additional interests and how you expressed them over the years. Collecting and Japanese cultural studies were the two main tangential interests that influenced my interest in anime and subsequently molded me into the anime fan I am today. The earlier of these other interests was in collecting. I’m not sure what the catalyst for this was but I suspect that Pokémon had a lot to do with it. The mythos surrounding the game always encouraged you to “Catch ‘em All” and so that’s what me and my friends did; we always ensured that we got every single Pokémon in our games. When the card game came out and my brother and I got into that, it wasn’t merely a card game for us. The goal was to get one of each card to scuttle away before ever considering playing with them. When we discovered that these cards also came in a “1st Edition,” it was a disaster. It was no longer about just getting every card but about getting all of them in the right edition. This trend continued into the emergence of the Yu-Gi-Oh card game but that eventually tapered off in college when I lost interest in the game. I also treated the brief Gundam War card game with the same collector’s spirit but those cards proved to be so elusive that I never finished my set.
An important part of my collecting spirit was encouraged by my mother and that was the safe-keeping of my collection. She always bought my brother and me acid-free plastic pages to keep our cards in at additional cost to herself so that they would survive in the long run. We still have the books of cards and I can say proudly that they are almost all still in mint condition. Things went even further when I got into college and took a museum conservation course. In this space, I learned that if I valued my collections, there were a number of factors that I must always keep under consideration such as light damage, skin-oil degradation, etc. As a result, I am very careful these days with all my art whether it is anime-related or not; everything is handled with museum-grade cotton gloves, the room they are stored in has light-blocking curtains, storage materials are researched before use, and the list goes on and on.
These days, the items I collect vary quite widely. I collect folk art pieces, ceramics, and a number of anime-related items. In the realm of anime, my collecting includes limited-edition physical media releases, various Gundam-related items, film and promotional posters, and animation cels. On my recent month-long trip to Japan, art was definitely my number one expense.
The later of these two interests was Japanese culture as a whole. My interest in Japan actually pre-dated my knowledge that anime was anything more than really cool cartoons. As I began to get into history in middle school, military history became my favored topic. I don’t remember the particular details of how it happened, but during these early years, my exploration into samurai history somehow led me to the realization that all these cartoons I watched so feverishly were Japanese. I feel that I was somewhat privy to this beforehand but this time the revelation stuck and I began to think of anime not merely as a selection of shows that I liked but as machinations of a particular culture.
Nowadays, I’m just generally interested in everything. I enjoy learning about a little bit of everything whether it’s history, culinary traditions, politics, or anything you can think of. Anime is very special to me in this regard as my impetus to research a topic is often related to my observance of it in a show. To give you an idea of how broadly it can work for me, I’ll discuss some examples that stick out in my recollection. From the main character of Princess Mononoke being Emishi, I did some research on this now extinct culture which has given me a much better concept of things like early state formation in Japan and the origins of the shape of Japanese swords. Other shows like Natsume’s Book of Friends challenged my preconceived notions on the nature of yokai which has led me to discover how much more fluid, fleeting, and mysterious the world of the supernatural is in Japan. Even shows that don’t really involve Japan can drive me to learn new things. Sound of the Sky’s unique setting led me to seek out the origins for it and led me to the Spanish city of Cuenca. Reading more about the city and its architecture led me to get better acquainted with aspects of Spanish history that I may have never come across if it weren’t for a Japanese cartoon about cute soldier girls.
So, interestingly for me, my discovery of anime from other aspects of Japanese culture has almost been flipped around and, in the present, anime has become a vehicle by which I can broaden my horizons about both Japanese culture and the world more broadly.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At this point, I don’t even remember what drew me to anime at first. My best guess is that, in my earliest years, it was action scenes and vibrant colors all under the guise of cartoons.
As I grew up and watched other shows like Sailor Moon, I became entranced by the depth of the stories contained within these cartoons. This was something completely foreign to me when it came to American programming and I ate it up voraciously.
When it came to shows like Gundam, it was not only the quality of the tale but the technology that drew me in. When I discovered Gundam, I had already developed a fascination with military history and the associated technology that goes along with it.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Gundam was undoubtedly my first and still primary anime love. Early on in our middle school days, my buddy Andrew was also a big Gundam fan and so our fan expression almost exclusively centered around one of us getting a hold of Gundam DVDs, games, etc. and devouring those wholesale. With the internet becoming easily available to us at around the time Gundam became popular, we also used the internet to gather as much information about the franchise as we could. We would share links to pages with each other that had Gundam information and we’d read them over and over to try and absorb it all. It was a great time to be a Gundam fan because it was still within the anime zeitgeist and knowing more about it than other folks made us feel good about it.
By the time we hit high school, Gundam’s popularity had dwindled but Andrew and I still continued to love it unconditionally. We continued to express our fandom through learning as much as we could on Gundam, attending Gundam events at the conventions we could make it to, and Andrew even began to build the occasional model. I never have gotten into Gunpla myself which I know is somewhat unusual for a Gundam fan.
Heading off to college didn’t dwindle my interest in the slightest. If anything, this is when my collecting bug began to really sprout with Gundam. I began picking up some smaller figures for display, limited edition media sets, random Gundam knick-knacks, and even some vintage Gundam posters. These latter items were, as you might expect, a little beaten up and so near the end of college, I actually took them to the campus museum’s conservation department to have them tell the best way to preserve them in the future. They now hang proudly in my room in custom-made frames.
Nowadays, Gundam continues to be my central anime interest and the focus of my anime collectibles spending. On my recent trip to Japan, I went to major Gundam places such as Joshin Super Kids Land in Nipponbashi in Osaka, the Gundam Café in Osaka with the Gundam vs. Char’s Zaku II statue, and the Gundam Café in Akihabara. Between these three locations and some others, I acquired over 45 pounds of Gundam merchandise!
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? During the time in which anime took hold of me, popularity in my cadre of acquaintances was divided along gender lines. For guys, it was a pretty even split between Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing. For girls, Sailor Moon was, by far, the most popular anime property.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? As someone who became a fan in late elementary to middle school, things were relatively simple. At the beginning, approximately half the class would watch Toonami in the afternoon and we would gather throughout the day in the classroom and on the playground to discuss the previous day’s episode.
Towards the end of middle school, more people began to lose interest so those of us who continued to enjoy anime became excluded into our own clique of nerds. This trend stuck around throughout high school but, luckily for me, the group of friends I developed was strong so I never had to experience major isolation due to anime.
Did liking anime limit who would be friends with you? Are you still friends with any of the group you referred to here? I suppose the answer here would be “in a way”. The core group of friends I developed in high school consisted of three schoolmates and another guy who was a friend of one of them. Only two of them liked anime beyond a fleeting interest in a single show at a time and, even then, my interest in anime was farther flung than even the two who were into anime. We connected based off other interests but the important thing was that my love of anime didn’t bother them. I could talk about something I was watching and enjoying and, as long as I didn’t harp on it too much and get bothersome—which I used to occasionally—they were fine with it. I’m still friends with all of these guys and, having moved back to Orlando after college, they remain my central social group.
For other acquaintances in high school, the response was twofold. Often, my interest in anime meant that I was kept at arm’s length as they didn’t want to poison their standing within the hierarchy of school popularity. For a smaller group of acquaintances who formed the group of kids I was always in classes with, they didn’t much care one way or another; class work remained the focus of our connection for the most part. I’ve reconnected with some of these folks since high school and even discovered that a few have become rather active anime fans up to and including cosplaying around the country.
How did you usually make friends with other fans? Almost exclusively, connecting with other fans was always through physical introduction at parties or at the local card shop with one of my friends acting as an intermediary of sorts. With the advent of Facebook during college, I began making friends through the internet and, now that I’ve started using Twitter, making anime acquaintances has become even more centered in the online sphere. These days, with my expanding presence giving panels at conventions, I’m finally starting to meet more and more people at events for the first time.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I now know that the internet did exist for fandom when I was beginning my journey but I was completely aloof from it. I connected to other fans almost solely through school friends and, on occasion, friends of those friends.
Do you remember your first convention? I cannot remember the year, but my first convention was Megacon in Orlando, FL sometime during high school with my brother and my aforementioned pal, Andrew. Megacon began as a convention for American comic and sci-fi properties but, by the time we went, they had fully delved into the world of anime (anime fandom, I would later discover, was integral to reinvigorating this convention at this time of my first visit). Having enjoyed Star Trek, Star Wars, and the occasional superhero comic during my youth, this type of convention was great for me. I don’t remember much about the convention guests but I recall being overwhelmed with the rows of shops and the flurry of costumes passing by me. Two things do stick out to me, however.
My first particular memory I have regarding the convention was sitting down on an upper level to eat lunch. The old design of the convention center allowed people on this upper level to look down onto the dealer’s room floor. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time eating but I had an incredible time just sitting there and watching the organic movements of the masses through the crowded hall. I had never seen this kind of thing before and it was incredibly interesting to see. To this day, standing above crowds at conventions and watching how groups of people move about and interact with one another is something I love to do.
My second memory is less particular but it involves panels. I don’t recall the topics, but I really enjoyed sitting in presentations and learning from guests about the background of how my favorite shows and books were created. Megacon didn’t do fan paneling, as I recall, but this interest led me to seek out panels whenever I went to conventions. Over the years, this finally evolved into Andrew and I putting together our own group—originally called NoS Gundam—to give presentations about our favorite show, Gundam. It’s been four years now and our group, NoS Anime, has spread its tendrils beyond Gundam to panels on everything from Evangelion to iyashikei. Were it not for the seed planted at my first Megacon, I’m not sure if I ever would have taken this new and intriguing route into fandom.
Would love to hear about the panels you give. Our group began as “NoS Gundam” in 2014 after my aforementioned buddy Andrew and I kept experiencing a flurry of poorly constructed Gundam panels during the 2013 convention season. We decided that we could do better and so we put together our first panel, “Gundam 101” for Anime Festival Orlando 2014. The panel was a Gundam introduction that went over the breadth of the franchise, its repeated themes, history, and, finally, some recommendations; we even ended the panel with a silly “Identify that Mobile Suit” game which we cut pretty quickly after a few conventions. Overall, however, giving the panel was both fun and successful. I crafted the script and did the speaking while Andrew crafted the accompanying PowerPoint and ran it during the presentations. This has remained our style to this day.
The original intention of this group was to stick to Gundam themes and maybe create a Gundam panel or two each year for conventions. For the following 2015 convention scene, however, we not only produced a presentation on Gundam mecha but also on Evangelion. This Eva panel really began to set the tone for what would eventually coalesce into our panel style. The Eva presentation, “Evangelion’s Religion: You Can (Not) Reference”, looked at the original series’ use of religious references to see how much care the creative team behind Evangelion put into matching their creations to the things that inspired the names. The level of detailed research and the slightly more academic style to this panel have become hallmarks of how our group works.
The work we did for this 2017 convention season has been even more ambitious and rewarding. We got Andrew’s artist girlfriend to make us a proper logo, my brother officially joined the group, and we jumped from three to four panels for our lineup. The original “Gundam 101” panel was completely re-written and a new corresponding PowerPoint presentation created to go along with it. We thought we had created an incredible panel but, having reworked it, we were both just embarrassed by our old work and we were glad to update it to our more refined, current style.
This is also the first year that we’ve been invited to a convention as guests; our first will be WasabiCon in Jacksonville, FL this October. So things are going pretty well for us.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember.
My childhood best friend introduced it to me during a sleepover! I had watched Pokémon and stuff before but this was the first time I watched something knowing it was from Japan.
Tell me about your childhood best friend! How did THEY discover anime? Are you still in touch? She’s great! She still watches anime occasionally. She is East Asian, so she was casually exposed to anime and manga pretty early on. We’re still in touch and we’re still close.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
I think the cool superpowers, the pretty boys, the potential to make self-insert characters…
Tell me about self-insert characters! Did you write fanfic? Role-play? Cosplay? I briefly wrote fanfic and tried roleplaying, but I was a snob and hating roleplaying with people who were bad writers, haha. I made lots of original characters though, and some of them are still alive in the writing I do today.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
I think Naruto was just starting then! Fruits Basket was really popular in my school too.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was only heavily into fandom in middle school and it was wild, honestly. My friend group fought and split up over some anime related thing… We would bring manga to school for each other or watch stuff at birthday parties. We wrote fanfiction… it was pretty similar to modern day fandom except I think we wrote in notebooks and read physical comics.
I need to hear about what this anime-related thing was that was so wild it caused a split. Oh my god, I don’t really even remember what the issue was… I think one friend was into anime in kind of a cringe-y way (using broken Japanese, acting cute, eating rice balls and stuff…) and another understandably couldn’t deal with this, so they stopped being friends, and then people picked sides.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? A little! The other fans were my friends so most of my memories are from school. I also wasn’t really an internet kid ’til college. I was in an RP group on a forum briefly but strangers freaked me out so I didn’t stay in touch with them.
You talk about anime in middle school and then again in college. Did you take a break from anime in high school? If so, what brought you back into the fandom? Yeah, I took a break! I was still reading manga and watching shows occasionally, but my friend’s interests changed and it was considered childish to be openly into anime. In college I started catching up on some series I used to like and some popular ones that were coming out at the time, and then I met folks who liked anime and were super cool about it.
How have you grown as an anime fan? For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think I appreciate it in a totally different way now! As a kid, I got super into anything I was exposed to because I simply had less access to a variety of shows and comics. Now I can pick and choose what to watch (and I have less time to get invested in a show that’s kind of bad). I also think that’s helped anime fandom become more discerning!
For the last 99 days, I have been posting a daily interview with a member of the international anime community about what first interested them in anime.
We have heard from:
65 men, 32 women, and two people who identify as neither.
Seven teenagers, 46 twenty-somethings, 38 thirty-somethings, six people in their 40s, and two people age 50 or older.
78 North Americans, two South Americans, 13 people from Europe, four people from Australia, and one person from Asia.
It has been extremely enlightening to read so many diverse stories, to see early cosplay and anime merchandise photos, and to realize that no matter our differences, we all have this one, amazing hobby in common.
And it’s not over yet.
The Anime Origin Stories submission form has received 191 entries. Out of those, I have reviewed and sent follow-up questions to 120 people. Out of those 120, only 99 have responded so far. If you have a follow-up email from me sitting in your inbox, now would be a great time to write back!
In the meantime, I will be reviewing and responding to the remaining 71 entrants, though I will not be posting their stories on a daily schedule, which has proved quite grueling but (I hope) fun to check out each day.
What’s next? Due to personal reasons, I am moving more slowly than I planned on a potential book that would add context to the project. I am also considering an in-person Anime Origin Storytelling meet-up at Otakon. If you want to stay updated on the project, join my list:
Thank you for reading, submitting, or both and helping to make this project a success. Our fandom history is a rich one, and it’s certainly worth making an effort to preserve it for future generations.