#99: Trystan

Age: 22

Location: Indiana

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. This has always been a hard question for me to answer. When I was young (talking five-ish here) I had the habit of staying up until 3 AM, and although I shared my room with at least one sibling during this point, we had the luxury of having a TV. What we watched as we went to sleep was a big debate. We had to pick something we agreed upon and for me and my brother it was always Cartoon Network. This meant I was exposed to anime for really as long as I can remember and I have vivid memories of watching Sailor Moon while my mother prepared dinner. Toonami was a great source of entertainment but I was also present when Adult Swim came on. Sure I was way too young to be watching those shows but things like Big O, Blue Gender, Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Inuyasha had a huge impact on my life.

However, there is a single moment in time when I went from watching cartoons as a child to knowing it was something called anime and I owe this moment all to Inuyasha. While in elementary school I got along with those around me but I wasn’t close to many people and I often didn’t really have friends. Early fifth grade was especially hard for a variety of reasons and I wasn’t super friendly with those in my home room class. This meant I often had to find something to do at recess be it asking a group if I could join them (which gave me anxiety) or swinging for an entire recess period. Soon I became fed up having to do this and my laziness lead me to actions I will never be sorry for. There was a girl in my grade who used forearm crutches. Since I had never shared a class with her I didn’t understand what made her different (though I later learned she has cerebral palsy) but I did know that her disability allowed her and her friends to do something no one else could do: sit beside the door which was shaded and had concrete. At this point in my life all I wanted was to sit alone at recess and not be bothered. I should mention that the girl (who will be referred to as A) was allowed to bring a chair outside since her legs don’t really work and sitting on concrete can be hard on her.

Somehow in my 11-year-old mind I figured out the best plan: sit close enough to the group allowed by the door to look like I belong so I don’t get in trouble. And it worked. I set beside A’s chair on the outskirts of the group for months. At a certain point I became comfortable enough with my position to actually follow the group when they would move out into other parts of the playground. Of course it turns out the ringleader (Lets say, S) was doing it to get rid of me and one day started berating me. This is when A, someone I had never even spoken to and who wasn’t assertive in the least, yelled, “She’s my friend,” essentially giving me privilege enough to stay there. It is important to note that my town is small (about 5,000) people and our class was tiny. I knew all of these people and had even been friendly with S prior to this moment. But nonetheless from that moment on I felt easier about my position and free enough to talk to the other members of the group, be it infrequently. Then one day A and another girl were talking about Inuyasha and mentioned a kiss scene. I quickly butted in that I didn’t want spoilers. This interaction along with rotating classrooms finally brought A and I into the same circle and through her, and a very lovely public library, I came to know what anime and manga was and I fell in love with several manga that year. I started reading Fruits Basket, Tokyo Babylon, Chobits, Kare Kano, and other great series. This is a personal journey that means so much more to me than just anime or manga because by meeting A I gained what I believe to be my first real friend in my life and through our connection to anime we’ve managed to stay friends for the last 12 years. Learning what anime was really opened the world to me and helped me forge a lasting friendship I could never (and would never) replace.

Trystan (as Anthy) and A.

What an amazing story! Do you and A go to cons together? Cosplay together? How did your relationship evolve over the years? Like many relationships we’ve drifted but somehow we always manage to get back together before completely drifting apart. Being able to watch anime and discuss it is a huge reason why our friendship has lasted. Until 2015 I had never been to a convention but A had been to many so when I was invited to go to Anime Midwest with them I jumped at the opportunity. We spent most of that convention together and it’s still my favorite con we’ve gone to. Cosplay is something else I hadn’t done until recently while A had been doing for years. For Anime Central 2016 we cosplayed together, something we had each really wanted to do and come to the conclusion separately. With each other there the idea finally came to fruition and was cosplayed Anthy and Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I was Anthy. I’ve always loved dresses like these but I stopped wearing them when I was a kid because I often got made in of. Anthy’s Rose Bride outfit is something I’ve loved since I first came into contact with RGU in middle school and while cosplay isn’t something I’ll do a lot the experience was a special one, especially since I had an important friend there by my side.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? (Especially since it sometimes gave you nightmares!) My mom is probably my biggest supporter. Sure she may not always get why I put so much money into it but she used to watch shows on Toonami and is in general a very accepting person. Her favorite anime are Trigun and Cowboy Bebop and we each them together every few years. She’s also a fan of Lupin III and we just started the newest series. As for my father, well, he doesn’t get it at all. It used to bother me, how one parent could be so nice and supportive while the other is completely dismissive but I’ve grown and my father, in his defense, stopped discussing my hobby in general and since then we’ve had a better relationship. As for my extended family, my dad’s parents were even worse than he was. They’re mostly sports people and my interests didn’t align. Their tendency to pick on me for liking anime and manga is actually what led to me asking for money rather than gifts. I couldn’t stand the way they responded when I wrote down manga titles. They would ask about it but the second you tried to explain it you could watch them zone out. My mom’s mom on the other hand is also supportive. She’s always tried to give us presents we like and so she would take me shopping and let me pick it out or in recent times I’ve emailed her things I want from Right Stuf. She also used to let me use her on demand to watch anime which was one of the few ways I got exposed to new anime in my early years as a fan.

Also, does your brother still watch anime? Actually yes, my brother does still watch anime. Not that much because he’s pretty busy but he still does from time to time. In fact rather recently he borrowed my Naruto omnibus and was enjoying reading that. It made me happy because we used to spend a lot of time watching Naruto.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? As a kid when I watched Toonami and Adult Swim I was often captured by the worlds and story’s that were so different from most cartoons. I’ve also always been drawn to things that scared me which is why I watched a lot of Blue Gender and Big O both of which gave me nightmares. When I learned what anime was in fifth grade my fascination with the worlds and craziness hat often ensued was still in my heart but finding out some of my favorite shows all originated from one place was really interesting. Suddenly having a name for these things made me want to find more, expand the shows I’ve seen, the books I’ve read, and learn more and more about Japan, the place that started it all. I guess by the time I knew what anime was I had already been exposed to so much of it I never had any of the hesitation that many of my classmates had when they saw me with manga or talking about anime. They thought it was weird in one way or another and couldn’t get past their own prejudices, while for me this form of animation already held an important spot in my heart and it meant a lot to finally give it a name. Learning the word anime was kind of like those “it all clicked” moments for me except I didn’t have the luxury we do today of googling things and had to learn by exploration of the manga at the library, these old ADV magazines the library had, and anime we found in the on-demand section.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In fifth grade when I really entered the world of anime I would have to say Naruto. It was late 2005 (the beginning of fifth grade for me) and its popularity exploded. It’s always interesting to me how popular it got because at the time lots of people knew Naruto but didn’t really know, or care about One Piece which had already been coming out for awhile. I would also have to say that Yu-Gi-Oh! still had quite a standing. People in my grade remembered the original series so we often tuned in when they brought out GX.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Well in fifth grade I wasn’t part of the larger world. The anime fandom consisted of me, A, and a couple other people in our grade. In fact liking anime and manga got us bullied and picked on all throughout our school career and when I was in middle school plenty of kids thought all manga was porn and so clearly we were a group of perverts. As for me it was a time of exploration and I remember when I finally got my own computer and could go on the internet I delved into a lot of shows. I finally got to see the last season of sailor moon, I watched Mew Mew Power and Magical Doremi (yes the 4kids dubs) and I actually remember when Haruhi [Suzumiya] had just come out in America plus I watched both Ouran High School Host Club and Soul Eater while they were airing (before I really understood what I was doing was not only illegal but harmful). When I got my own computer in 6th grade I notably got into AMV [Anime Music Video] making on YouTube and this was a huge thing at the time. There weren’t a lot of people using fancy editors just people exploring Windows movie maker and having fun. I had a YouTube account that I won’t say is popular but I was always proud of the fact that it had existed since like 2005/06 and was one of the older accounts on the site. Sadly Sasuke10271994 was eventually banned for copyright reasons and I lost a lot of the videos I was really proud of. Still this is how I spent a lot of my formative years as an anime fan and it helped me learn a lot about both the anime out there and general editing skills (which have come in handy since then).

I’m guessing that was your username. Oh no! Do you have any of your AMVs left? Would love to link one. Haha, yes Sasuke10271994 was my username. I still have quite a few AMVs on my computer but none of those are online anymore.  The last AMV I made however is available:

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? The internet was definitely there but not for me until 2006. I could use computers but it wasn’t until I got my own, in my room, that I started looking at anime online. I spent a lot of time watching anime illegally uploaded to YouTube because I didn’t know any better (I mean, I was like 12 and it was a new platform) but I won’t say I really connected with other fans. I did make some friends but I’ve mostly fallen out of contact with them. I used the internet to learn about anime rather than connect with others. My connections were with my few friends who shared my hobby and we talked a lot about the anime we watched on Adult Swim an Toonami.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? This is easy. While I’ve been into anime pretty much my entire life I didn’t go to my first convention until 2015. Anime Midwest 2015 was an amazing convention and I’ve never had an experience that has lived up to it. I’ve been to quite a few in the couple years since then but nothing has lived up to the pure joy of seeing so many people gathered in one place who all like anime. As a small town kid who got made fun of for liking anime this was a huge moment for me. Plus prior to this if I met someone else who liked anime chances are they were a guy (and I’m not trying to be mean or call guys rude or anything) and they tended to “mansplain” things to me. What hurt about it is that you could see them talking to another guy just fine but the second you, a girl, liked anime they tried to, I don’t know, impress you with their knowledge but it always made me feel like a kindergartener and I didn’t like it. This is probably why I stayed away from conventions for so long but I was very pleased with my first convention experience.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? I think the first fandom I got really invested in was Sailor Moon. I wouldn’t say I’ve spent a lot of time in fandoms but I was big on Sailor Moon when I first got my own computer and so I did a lot with it. The only other fandom I’ve really interacted with has been the Precure fandom. I spent a lot of time on MyAnimeList with fans of Precure shows. When I was younger the easiest way I connoted to others was in YouTube through my AMV making. This really helped me start talking to other people who enjoyed the same things as me. I was a huge fan of the old communities YouTube had and it made it easy to collaborate with other people and share what we liked. Since I stopped making AMVs I’ve gotten into figure collecting and blogging which has helped me learn how to express myself more.

Finally, for you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Anime is a lot more widespread today than it was when I first got into it (or rather when I learned what it was and immersed myself in it). This means more and more people are watching and consuming the media and you can have more conversations than ever about anime. But I feel this has also led to more negativity. Maybe it’s because I was so young, around 12, but it didn’t feel like people were so heavily criticizing anime. I’m not saying that all criticism is bad, I myself review anime, but it’s less of a discussion nowadays. Finding a place to really express yourself has become a must to survive in the online world of anime. However conventions still seem to be a rather happy place where people are just glad to be around others that like the medium.

Trystan can be reached on Twitter

#97: Inksquid

Age: 23

Location: North America

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the summer of 1st year undergrad and somehow I wanted to rewatch Danny Phantom and Avatar: the Last Airbender. I guess I had seen snippets of them as a kid and wanted to experience them properly. So I did that, and the (*cough cough*) torrents I used included a text file of cartoon recommendations, which praised Cowboy Bebop to high heaven. From Cowboy Bebop, I went on to explore other top anime lists, both on the internet and shared with me by a classmate who was into anime. This led me to Evangelion (which went over my head), Steins;Gate (which I really liked) and Madoka Magica—and from there I was hooked.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I had a phase in high school where I read a lot of classic novels in an attempt to “be mature and enjoy refined literature.” I’ll have to admit I went into it with the mindset of “cartoons are not just for kids; they contain deep themes of literary significance.” And with the anime I watched, I think I was able to justify my decision. Nowadays, I’ve learnt to watch anime just for brainless fun, and I think I continue to watch because I’m too used to the art style, the visual language, the style of storytelling, and everything about it, that I’d feel weird if I watched non-anime shows.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I did not (and still don’t really) closely follow pop culture trends… so.. .this was 2013? Was that the Attack on Titan year?

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was (and still am) a huge lurker. I do not like sharing stuff about myself. (It’s scary to be vulnerable!) This Inksquid character is like my anime-watching personality split from myself. So… I wasn’t really “part of the fandom.” I just lurked a lot and watched YouTube vids and read blogs.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes. However, I lurked for the longest time, watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts (sometimes commenting under random pseudonyms). They actually inspired me to write a few articles for my university’s geek-related blog. However, after I graduated, I felt less connected to the blog, so I started the Inksquid persona to share my thoughts and opinions to the public through blogging and Twitter.

Why did you decide to create a new persona for this? The blog I used to write for was essentially a club where members wrote posts for each other and for a wider audience. After I graduated from the university, I moved to a different city and eventually no longer knew the people running the blog. It felt weird for me to be publishing there when they didn’t even know me. Moreover, I wanted a fresh start, a personal creative outlet, or maybe an escape into the anonymity of the internet. To be able to write whatever random things I wanted to without people I knew recognizing me.

When did you start blogging about anime? How did writing about anime change the way you watched it and interacted with the fandom? When I first got into anime I lurked among the anime community. Later, I graduated from university and, for the above-mentioned reasons, felt like I a) needed a creative outlet of my own, and b) wanted to actually interact with the community. So in June of 2016 I created the Twitter account and wrote my first blog post. I’m glad I’ve been able to find like-minded people and eloquent writers on Twitter and WordPress, with whom I can goof off or gush about anime. The section of the fandom in which I’ve taken root is incredibly tolerant and supportive, and has made me reflect a lot on engaging with media. Some of the greatest insights this community has given me, which I always try to keep in mind, include:

  • There are a ton of streaming services where you can watch anime for free and legally
  • It’s OK to like problematic media; likewise, it’s OK that others enjoy problematic media. Don’t judge them for what they watch; judge them for how they treat others.
  • Not everyone has to engage with media looking for profound themes or literary merit (that was, admittedly, my sole criterion for watching anime when I started)
  • There’s no point forcing yourself to keep watching shows you don’t enjoy just because the rest of the community loves it.

I noticed your blog and Twitter are multilingual. Did anime dubs or subtitles help with any of those? For sure. Anime helped with Japanese and Spanish, the two non-native languages for which I never took formal classes.

I started learning Japanese before I got into anime, so it worked out that listening to Japanese dubs was a great opportunity to learn. If you pay attention to what the voice actors are saying, you can often pick out and refresh the vocabulary you’ve already learned from other places (manga, songs, etc). It helps too that the voice actors usually enunciate everything clearly. If you want to challenge yourself, you can right-click Crunchyroll’s web player and turn off the subs: keep an online dictionary open, be liberal with the pause and rewind button, and you may be surprised by how much you can understand from the dialogue, visuals, and context!

I started learning Spanish two years after I got into anime (it helps that I learned French in school). After learning a bit of the basics (bless Michel Thomas) I decided to watch anime with Spanish subs. That forced me to learn to read the subtitles really fast. Only recently did I discover through a Twitter mutual that there are Spanish dubs of anime on Netflix, so I’m glad I can now practice listening comprehension too.

However, there’s an extent to how much anime can help with learning a language, because you’re never forced to speak to anyone, and nobody is correcting your mistakes. At this point I’m only comfortable reading in Japanese and Spanish: I don’t think I can hold a decent conversation or write a good blog post. Nevertheless, I think anime played an important role in getting me this far. Since I enjoy watching anime, tying language learning to this hobby made it fun.

Do you remember your first convention? Never been to one. Still too shy for that. Orz

But you seem pretty active online. How does the internet free you up to be less shy as a fan and share your opinions? I think it’s the perceived anonymity of the internet that lets me open up about my tastes and views. More importantly, though, I think what the internet offers is an easy way to connect with people who share my tastes. Since anime and anime fandom are so incredibly vast, it’s not easy finding people offline who enjoy the same type of anime I do and appreciate the anime I do. Most anime fans I encounter grew up with long-running shonen series and/or enjoy the characters’ special powers or power levels, which, while those are perfectly valid reasons for enjoying media, give me nothing to relate to.

Inksquid can be reached through Twitter and their blog.

#96: Anthea

Age: 24

Location: Switzerland

When did you discover anime? When I was around seven or eight years old. I think it started with Sailor Moon reruns on a TV channel I watched often. I bought magazines and other Sailor Moon merchandise, created my OCs [original characters] etc. Later, I started reading manga when I found a volume of Dragon Ball lying around at my cousin’s place. I borrowed all of them from a classmate. Around the same time, there was an anime afternoon on a German channel that I watched quite often.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? For Sailor Moon, I liked that it was a team of heroes, not just one. In general, I would say that the first anime and manga I consumed were just different than anything I’d seen before. I cannot pinpoint exactly what it was, it was just… different, for lack of a better word.

Could you tell me about your Sailor Moon OCs? The Sailor Moon OCs I created were based on the original Sailor Scouts, especially Sailor Jupiter, who was my favourite.

I was very frustrated that at some point the focus of the show seemed to be solely on Usagi, so I invented characters that would interact more with the rest of the team.

Since I also wanted them to draw their powers from planets, I did not change that much. So maybe they don’t exactly qualify as OCs, but more as my versions of the characters or “evolutions” or something like that.

I believe I called them “Sailor Super Jupiter/Mars/etc…” (very creative). They mostly had the same colour-scheme, but their clothes were more ornamental and I distinctly remember drawing their sceptres/staffs. I don’t think I spent a lot of time thinking about their powers, I probably thought of them as more powerful versions of the Scouts’ attacks.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Rather below the radar of most people, I think. I participated in online discussions on a German anime site, but did not know many people who were into anime IRL. There was a convention just starting out in the area where I live around that time. Back then, it was very small. Today, it has grown considerably and makes the news regularly. So I would say anime fandom was not obscure exactly, but certainly less visible than today.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes. As I mentioned above, I joined a big German fanpage, where there were discussion boards about a lot of different anime and manga. The page also hosted fanart, fanfiction and cosplay pictures. I still visit it from time to time, but kind of drifted away from it. I do not put a high emphasis on the communal aspect of fandom anymore, but having the opportunity was (and is) great.

What was that “big German fanpage” called? What were the discussions about? Did you meet people that way? The site is called Animexx. I still have an account there, but I don’t log in that often. I mainly participated in discussions about Inuyasha, which was my favourite anime and manga at the time. Discussions were about favourite characters, OTPs and thoughts about how it would end. I think the anime (the original 160ish episodes anyway) were about to end, but the manga was still going and there were discussions about what would become of the characters (would Kagome return to her time etc.) I was also in a group of fellow Swiss anime fans where we talked about how to find shops that sold manga and anime-DVDs and if we had friends IRL who were into otaku-related things. I believe this group also organised meet-ups, but I never attended one, I think I was too shy.

I did have a pen pal back then who was a huge otaku, but I met her through the letter page of a Swiss youth-magazine and not over the internet. The girl I exchanged letters with was a big Inuyasha fan as well and we were in contact for about 4 years; I even met her once. The letters eventually stopped, I think it was because our interests started diverging (I started having an “anime-slump” around age 15 and she gravitated more towards J-Pop and J-Rock which I was not really into), but I have fond memories of our exchanges.

You said the page also hosted fanart, fanfiction and cosplay pictures. Did you participate, and if so, how? I read fanfiction and went through fanart galleries, though I did not actively participate. I did draw a lot of fanart back then (between ages 10 and 18), but I never uploaded anything. Frankly, my drawings were not very good and I did not really feel an incentive to share them with the online world. Same goes for fanfiction, although I did publish some on Animexx when I was around 17-19. They were about Harry Potter however (Animexx is mainly for anime, but there are other fandoms represented as well), since I was more into HP and similar books/movies then and less into anime. I did not cosplay, but I loved looking at the pictures other users uploaded. Apart from participating in discussions, I was more of a lurker.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
It was the one in my hometown (it’s hosted in a different city since 2015, I think), JapAniMangaNight. I attended for the first time in 2012. It was a very intense experience. So far, I had of course been aware that other anime fans exist (even in Switzerland), but seeing so many of them at the same time at the same place (a lot of them in costume!) was somewhat of a revelation. I went two more times and then to another convention last year and I still enjoyed it, but that first time was truly special.

What made your first con so special? This sounds like such a cliche, but I was so moved to see so many people who were also into anime (and other nerdy things) in one place. I of course knew that I was not the only otaku around, but seeing so many of them assembled (most of them in costume!) was sort of a revelation. The first time I attended a convention I was hardcore into Hetalia and there were some Hetalia cosplayers. This made me very happy and I asked every one I saw whether I could take their picture. After that first time and since I started spending more time around online fans, the novelty of seeing so many anime-fans has worn off a little, but I still enjoy going to cons.

What did your family think of your interest in anime? They were/are accepting. My mother especially has been on the receiving end of a lot of enthusiastic tirades about my current anime-obsessions, but since we often discussed different media (books, TV shows etc.), this was not out of the ordinary. My father always remained somewhat baffled I think, but he encouraged me, not least because my initial interest in anime and manga evolved into an interest in Japanese culture in general. He does not get the concept of fandom at all, but since I learned other things through that initial interest in anime and manga, he was never really bothered.

How have you grown and changed as an anime fan since you discovered anime? I have grown and changed a lot. For one, my genres of choice have changed and I have become more picky. When I first got into anime around age 11, I loved action/shonen shows. In my teens, I was a shojo enthusiast (especially high school romances, I adored those). Today, at age 24, I don’t have one genre, but I tend to watch shows aimed at older fans. I tried rewatching some of the shows I loved when I was younger (Case Closed, Inuyasha, DBZ) and despite the nostalgia, I couldn’t get back into it. I don’t mean that these shows are bad, I have just outgrown most of what I watched back when I was in middle school/early high school.

Right now, I also don’t feel very motivated to check out many new shows. Until last winter, I followed at least two shows each season, but I think right now I just want to take a break and maybe rewatch some older stuff or finally get around to seeing shows I’ve meant to watch for ages.

Overall, I would say that I have settled down somewhat. I still get very enthusiastic about certain shows (Yuri!!! on Ice being a prime example, I barely shut up about it!), but in general, I have a more measured approach and tend to enjoy anime more in solitude or discuss it with some people I know personally.

Anthea can be reached on Twitter

#93: Joe

Age: 26

Location: Just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I think it all started back in elementary school, when Pokemon was becoming popular. I never was the type of person to follow the trends and fads, but my cousins managed to get me into Pokemon, which has now become a lifelong obsession of mine.

I watched the Pokemon anime on TV, though at the time, I didn’t know it was anime, or what anime was. And this eventually led me to watch other shows.

I eventually started watching Yu-Gi-Oh!, which was the most addictive show I’d seen yet. It wasn’t until it was in its final seasons that I really discovered it was anime, and what anime was.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first, a lot of it was the art style, and the character designs, especially creatures. But what really stuck with me is the complexity of some of the characters and stories, and the fact that it’s just darn addictive to watch.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Dragon Ball Z, but I never had a chance to watch it myself until much later.

What was the first anime you got really into? How did you express your passion for it? Well, I am a lifelong Pokemon fan.  But I’d say the anime that really made me a fan was Yu-Gi-Oh! I collected the cards extensively (and still do to a degree), and maintained a massive database of them.  I used to try and put together some of the character’s decks and tell some of my own stories by arranging some mock duels with them (and of course, making some of my own cards too).  I remember when I found out it was the last season, and was disappointed.  Then I heard rumors of a spin-off/sequel series, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, and for a time, was crazy obsessed with trying to find a way to watch it, despite the fact that it aired only on a cable channel I didn’t have at the time.  So I spent lots of time looking up episode summaries and trying to track down DVDs of GX that I could watch—I was so excited when I first found one.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The thing is, I don’t feel like I was.

My father was cheap. He never invested in cable television or good internet. Because I didn’t have cable, for the longest time, I was only able to watch anime that aired on network television, usually alongside Saturday morning or after-school cartoons. Because of this, I felt like I was watching shows meant for younger kids.

While there were some otaku at my school, I didn’t feel I would fit in with them, because I hadn’t seen Inuyasha or Fullmetal Alchemist or Naruto or Dragon Ball Z, or any of the other well-known more mature anime at the time.

On top of that, I had an interest in costumery, and in secret, I put together makeshift costumes based on some of my favorite characters (a lot of Pokemon). I felt this was weird too, especially given that I wasn’t a fan of Halloween when I was younger. I didn’t know cosplay was a thing at the time either.

The other kids at my school were not very tolerant of people who were different. They found ways to twist more mundane things into something they could use against me. I had to keep this interest a secret—it was a matter of survival. Unfortunately, keeping secrets took a toll on me—in my case, it caused me to develop social anxiety.

Can you tell me more about the ways anime fandom caused (and later helped) your social anxiety? Well, the people at my school proved to me that they aren’t very tolerant of people who are the slightest bit different, taking something that’s just a simple difference of opinion, and escalating it, basically rubbing it in my face how their opinion is the only right one. If I gave these people the slightest bit of information, they would use it to make my life miserable. I felt that something like my anime fandom, which was a major part of who I am, would be used against me in a big way—especially as I’d heard some people talking negatively about some of the anime I loved. So I pretty much just kept to myself. For me, that was a matter of survival. And when you fall into that habit for long enough, it’s difficult to break—even when I got into college, which was a much more tolerant environment.

It was really my convention experiences and finding other fans on the internet that helped me start to recover from this. Just realizing that there were more people like me, being around them, and basically being accepted, though it did take some time for that feeling to truly sink in. I had the idea of doing a panel last year, and when I first presented, it was in many ways a liberating experience—just being able to talk in front of a large group of people about what I love and not feeling like I’ll be judged for it. I mean, I do still have a ways to go—I can still be a bit nervous when talking off the stage.

Was the internet a part of fandom at the time? Well, like I said before, I was stuck with cheap internet as a child, so I didn’t have a reliable way to connect to the internet until I was a senior in high school.

But this also meant I didn’t grow up with the internet the way most millennials did. I was distrustful of social media and afraid to post anything, and remained largely a lurker online for years. But despite that, the internet did reveal the existence of the anime community, the cosplay community, and conventions to me.

Do you remember your first convention? Sadly, there weren’t a lot of good conventions in the Philadelphia area, and being that I first learned about them when I was a college student with low income, I couldn’t afford a trip to someplace like Otakon until much more recently.

But eventually, I found a small local event at a college over in New Jersey, Kotoricon. It was an amazing experience, I felt like I could freely be myself, though I was also having difficulty processing it, so I remained very shy.

Joe in cosplay.

When I went back for the second year, I was actually able to cosplay. The first three hours I spent cosplaying was pure bliss. I remember seeing a picture somebody took of me online. My hood was up, I couldn’t see most of my face, but I could see my smile. I don’t think I’d smiled like that in years.

I’m still an avid convention-goer and cosplayer to this day, though now I also go as a panelist (I was a presenter at Otakon last year), which gives me the chance to share my passion with others, and has helped me with my social anxiety.

Tell me about making friends with other anime fans for the first time. The first time I remember was a convention panel I attended. One of the panelists approached me after the panel, having liked a comment I made during the panel. She handed me her card, asking me to contact her after the convention.  I tried to do this, but the email on the card she provided wasn’t working (and I didn’t have Facebook at the time). I eventually was able to get a message to her through her co-panelist, but didn’t hear anything more back from her. I thought that was the end of it, but I was at one of her other panels at the convention next year, and she remembered me. Some time after that, I did get a Facebook page, and finally reached out.

Aside from that, there were a few people I meet after they get my picture in cosplay, and sent me a copy, or I found and commented, or they found a picture I got. Though most of these are just one-off chats.

More recently, I made a lot more friends when I discovered a group that holds regular meetups for cosplayers and anime fans in the Philadelphia area. I quickly became a regular at their meetups, and a lot of the other regulars know me. And I’m currently in talks to become a staff member in this group, or at the very least help arrange a few activities for a future meetup.

What kinds of topics did you present panels on? My big panel right now is on papercraft, or more specifically, a somewhat lesser-known form of papercraft called Pepakura. With this artform, somebody can make a physical paper model out of a 3D model from the computer, so it can be a cheap and fun way to get a collection of your favorite characters.  I’ve done this panel at five different conventions so far, including both AnimeNEXT and Otakon. If you want to learn more, you can check out my website or my corresponding DeviantArt or Facebook galleries. I have a few other panel ideas in the works, but don’t think they’ll be ready for presenting anytime soon.

How do you think you’ve grown as an anime fan since first discovering the medium? Well, today, I feel like I have so much more opportunity to express my fandom. Like I said, back in the day, I felt like I had to be secretive about it, today, I feel like I can be quite a bit more open about it. Back then, I felt a bit weird because of it, but I don’t anymore. Today, I have access to online streaming services, that I’ve been using to catch up on some of the anime I missed out on when they first aired.  I have the money needed to commission better cosplays, and I’m making friends in the community. And I feel like having more opportunity to express my fandom has made me overall a bigger fan.

Joe can be reached on Twitter and DeviantArt

#92: Chris A

Age: 29

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.

Chris’s pre-middle school Gundam Wing poster.

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.

Chris’s DBZ shirt.

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

#91: Aleda J

Age: 25

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I first got into anime watching Toonami on Cartoon Network. Like any ’90s kid, Sailor Moon, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z took my anime virginity, but I lost contact with the genre as school and reality television took over. I rediscovered anime when I moved away from home and all of my friends after college. Looking for some solace for my lonely nights, I found myself rewatching Gundam Wing and posted about it on social media. My cousin, who has always been into anime culture, suggested another anime to watch, and I’ve been working my way through the greats — and not so greats — ever since.

What was the anime your cousin suggested? I’m pretty sure it was Sword Art Online. They all blur together because I had just moved out of my parents’ place and had a lot of free time at night after work. It was quickly followed by Gundam 00, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Black Butler, Black Lagoon, Ouran High School Host Club, Kaze no Stigma, and I’m sure I’m missing a few.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think I was at the age where I considered it just another cartoon. But unlike the other cartoons of the ’90s which were goofy and silly, anime held a seriousness akin to an action movie so it was more engaging. That’s probably the same reason I could rewatch a series like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing in my 20s. The kid Aleda saw battles and cool technology while the adult Aleda saw political intrigue.

What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Well I wanted to be a sailor scout when I grew up and loved how Selena didn’t need Tuxedo Mask to succeed, so Sailor Moon was the first. Then I would “fight” with my sister like we Super Saiyans from Dragon Ball Z. But the first way I monetarily expressed a fandom was buying Sword Art Online and Attack on Titan shirts and keychains. Just little things. I guess I’m not as hardcore as some. I also read a lot of the comments on the dub sites to see if people had suggestions about similar shows.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I definitely thought I was a solo watcher, and I was a girl. It was very “uncool” for me to like watching it, so no one knew I did, and I didn’t search out other fans.

 What made anime uncool? This was back in the early ’00s, and I was already a little geeky because I was in the top classes in school, but was also an athlete. Watching anime was something that only the hardcore nerds did openly. So some of it was shame (which I regret as I couldn’t care less now, but you know how school was) and some of it was that the rest of my friends didn’t watch, so I had no one to talk about it with.

Also, why was it weird for girls in particular to like anime? It was still very much a time when things were heavily gendered. Boys wore camo and girls wore sparkles (yuck!). The boys looked at me funny because I liked playing with mechs with my barbies or could talk about Dragon Ball Z better than the latest Lizzie McGuire episode. And none of my other girl friends broke the mold until at least late high school, so again I was encouraged to not express my interest in it. I never felt bullied; I was just aware of the slight social pressure to conform to what a girl should like. School was rough, wasn’t it?

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Dude, my internet was still dial-up at the time.

But in college, did you explore fandom online? Where? I read through a lot of comments about shows, take in reviews and watch YouTube Top 10 videos to find new shows that might be a little less mainstream. It’s also cool watching YouTube videos about cosplayers at anime conventions. They’re so creative! But I’m not much of an active participant. Answering questions on your site was the first time I felt like contributing. Sometimes I feel that getting caught up in fan theories or “shipping” certain characters ruins the integrity of the show. I don’t want to change it or over-watch it because I don’t want to ever get sick of it. Nothing against people who do all those things. Just not my cup of tea.

Since you first discovered anime, how have you grown as an anime fan? I definitely like more adult anime that make me self-evaluate. It’s the reason I never pull anime out of my rotation of entertainment. I don’t know how many American shows can make me really think about how fine a line there is between good and evil (think Psycho Pass) or monsters and men (think Ergo Proxy). I’m cool with a little more action and gore (like in Attack on Titan and Berserk), but the shows have to keep my attention. I can’t really sit down and watch long, episodic shows like Fairy Tail because I can follow more going on at one time than that. I need to be fully engaged in a way most anime aimed at children can’t do (like with all the story lines in Baccano).

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’m also a hopeless romantic. I love how anime can capture the depth of love and heartbreak (I’ve bawled watching shows like Your Lie in April and Clannad), show the dark side of infatuation (like in The Future Diary), make me laugh (like in Ouran and Full Metal Panic) and leave me all warm and fuzzy (like in Say I Love You). And the beautiful animation just strengthens each story. People sometimes forget that each second of a live-action movie is perfectly framed by a good director to produce a cinematic masterpiece (Citizen Kane or The Godfather), so we take it for granted. But quality anime makes it harder to forget because it’s drawn. Like looking at a painting.

Aleda can be reached on Twitter

#86: Reuben

Age: 24

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? I grew up in the Pokemon generation but never actually got into Pokemon. The first time I encountered Pokemon when I was five some kid was showing me his card collection, which included a Pikachu that had been edited to have Darth Maul’s face. I was a scaredy-cat as a kid and became scared of Pokemon for a bit.

Even after I got over that fear, I was still sort of “anti-Pokemon” for a while (since I became a big Animaniacs fan and reading online that WB canceled Animaniacs in part because of Pokemon got me angry). I also remember seeing a primetime special advertising the FoxBox when I was nine and the ad for Fighting Foodons was so terrible it almost turned me off of anime forever.

Fortunately, that year was also when a movie called Spirited Away was playing in theaters, and every single person who’d seen it was talking about it like it was the greatest thing ever. I had to check out what the fuss was about. And then I became obsessed.

What appealed to you about anime then? With Miyazaki’s films, the sheer beauty of the animation was the primary appeal for me. The stuff I got into on Toonami around that time. ( Shows like .HACK, Ruroni Kenshin, Yu Yu Hakusho.) They weren’t as amazingly animated but I was intrigued the serialized plots more complex than what I was seeing in American cartoons at the time.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? After the initial burst of Pokemon‘s popularity, Dragon Ball Z was the most popular title when I was getting into anime. I never got into that show; I tried, but it was in the middle of the series when my family first got cable in 2003 and I couldn’t really follow it, plus it dragged out a lot. Sailor Moon had already left TV so that was before my time. Meanwhile, I got into Naruto before it became super-popular in the states.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was exciting to discover stuff. My mom started working at Waldenbooks and would show me the cool new stuff in the manga section (there were also manga like Chobits she discovered out of her own curiosity and wouldn’t let me read but enjoyed herself). Anime club in middle school and high school became my social life.

Ii’s neat your mom was interested in manga. Is she still? What did she think about your interest, especially as you and your sister got older? My mom’s had health problems. Her vision has gotten worse and she’s sort of fallen out of reading in general (still can do audiobooks though lately I’m afraid she’s a bit distracted by constant phone messages from a couple of very needy friends of hers to stay focused listening). She still will watch anime with us (having a Fire Stick and the Crunchyroll app now makes it a lot more convenient since she doesn’t like watching longer shows on the computer) and is totally supportive of our interests as always.

Tell me about your school anime clubs. Middle school anime club was run by an art teacher and was mainly focused on drawing while mostly Ghibli movies played in the background (one week I convinced the teacher to play Cat Soup and I think I scarred her for life). Anime club in high school met twice a week at the library, one day for viewings and one day for general socializing. It was the biggest club in the school, 50 or so members, even bigger than the football team! Though we did also sort of cheat those numbers by allowing recent alums to attend.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I was already reading general animation message boards such as ToonZone and Animation Insider before I got into anime in particular, so those communities ended up being my primary online places to discuss anime. A couple years into my time as a fan I discovered torrenting (I wanted to see the version of One Piece that wasn’t butchered by 4Kids); I stopped in 2007 after Geneon closed and I became serious about getting anime legally.

What inspired this change of heart? Seeing that piracy was actually hurting the industry enough to shut a major company down.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Anime Boston 2004 sold out but my parents were able to get me tickets to the dealers room on Sunday (that year they sold separate tickets for the dealers room and the general con). 2005 my mom took my sister and I to the real convention. I cosplayed Shigure Sohma, my sister was Tohru Honda. It was fun, though conventions got significantly more when I started going with my high school club in 2008 and didn’t need my mom there.

Reuben’s Masami Eiri cosplay.

I would love a photo of your cosplay to include! Sadly don’t know where they are if we still have any. Oldest cosplay photo I still have is from 2009 when I went as Masami Eiri from Lain.

For you personally, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? There’s two big contrasts, one good, one bad. The good contrast is ease of access, now pretty much everything is freely and legally accessible (or, well, it was before Amazon Strike started buying everything up this year). The bad contrast is that it seems the uglier side of fandom has become more visible. For a long time if someone told me they were an anime fan I almost always knew I could get along with them; now I have to be a bit more careful to make sure they’re not THAT type of fan. For me personally the dividing moment between those two mindsets was when one of my former high school clubmates, who was also the boyfriend of my best friend, went full GamerGater.

Reuben can be reached on Twitter.

#84: Richardson

Age: 29

Location: St. Paul, Minnesota

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I grew up in Indonesia, where we were introduced to Doraemon on national television in the 1990s. Early in elementary school, I remember waking up on Sundays in time to watch the 8 a.m. broadcasts. (See Quora for further reading.) I don’t think I knew it as “anime” at the time, but at some point I came to learn that it was a Japanese cartoon. Over the next several years, other anime series began airing dubbed in the local language. During days when I attended private English classes, I also remember that many of the students would be watching Sailor Moon on the school television after their class ended in the afternoon.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? As a child, I don’t think I really considered why Doraemon or other anime series were appealing. At the time, Indonesia was undergoing a transformation in its broadcasting industry. Private television networks began to emerge following deregulation, and the amount of children’s programming exploded. As children, we just consumed what was available to us and eventually that shared experience lived on as a form of nostalgia.

When I moved to the United States in middle school, that nostalgic feeling continued and I began to discover other anime series such as Digimon Adventure on Fox Kids. I also discovered Pokémon as a trading card game through friends in middle school.

When you came to the U.S. in middle school, how did you find anime fandom there to be different from fandom in Indonesia? Pokémon was all the rage when I first arrived in the U.S. That series had not yet caught on in Indonesia when I left. At that time, children’s interest in Japanese media was mainly around manga rather than anime or video games. Because Pokémon did not start as a manga series, its arrival in Indonesia came much later.

To be honest, children aren’t that much different from country to country. There isn’t much difference between Indonesian elementary schoolers talking about their favorite manga during class breaks and American middle schoolers trading Pokémon cards during lunch time. They share the same enthusiasm for what was popular. It’s just the works that were popular were different between the two countries.

But it was probably around this time that I started exploring more anime geared toward older audiences. Eventually this led to my discovering Digimon Tamers on Fox Kids, as the series had a markedly different tone compared to Pokémon.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Doraemon was and remains a cultural phenomenon in Indonesia. If you ask anyone who grew up in the 1990s about the Indonesian-language opening theme song to Doraemon, they will be able to recite most of its lines by heart. As boys became older, they were drawn into Saint Seiya and, to a lesser extent, Dragon Ball. For girls, Sailor Moon was quite popular, as well as Cardcaptor Sakura toward the end of the decade.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Manga had an important role in spreading the popularity of anime, to the point that the most popular manga series often sold more than local fiction novels. (See Quora for more.) Doraemon in manga form was just as popular as the anime series on television. At one point, my family owned all volumes of the Doraemon manga. My siblings and I would read them over and over, and the pages and covers became worn and torn. At school, friends would exchange their recent manga purchases and show off their school supplies featuring their favorite characters. Gadgets from Doraemon such as the Bamboo Copter and the Anywhere Door became part of the Indonesian pop culture lexicon. Children were soon able to imitate the form for throwing the Kamehameha attack from Dragon Ball.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The Internet did not reach the general Indonesian populace until the mid 2000s. As fans of Japanese cartoons, children could only connect with each other at school when they were growing up. Around 5th grade, acting on a suggestion from my parents, I built a small business renting my own manga and comics collection to other students. At first, it was only to my own classmates, but soon students from other classes began coming to me to rent my collection. Unfortunately, the school forced me to stop my renting business when teachers started to learn about it.

Do you remember your first convention? I only became a modern fan of anime around 2009 and 2010, quite late compared to other fans in the United States from my generation. As such, I only attended my first convention in 2013 at Sakura-Con in Seattle. I was a fan of Sword Art Online, having been a fairly dedicated player of MMORPGs, and was enticed by the line-up of Sword Art Online guests. Being able to meet industry professionals and anisong artists was an eye-opening experience as someone who was learning about this side of the fandom for the first time. When I moved back to Southeast Asia later that year, I began attending regional conventions and events such as Anime Festival Asia more regularly. There, I connected with other fans and learned about how the anime industry has changed in the 15 years of my absence from Southeast Asia.

Today you work for an anime company, MyAnimeList. How did you go from fan to pro? Renting out manga since little might make you think I’ve been a professional since little, but that’s not the case at all. At the time, it was still a child’s hobby, and my parents just thought it was a way to put that hobby to good use. (Even today they encourage me to think about how I can make money from my anime hobby.)

When I started exploring more anime after college, I was already a fairly active editor on Wikipedia. As I began to discover new anime and manga I enjoyed, I poured my energy toward improving the Wikipedia articles of these titles. Last Exile (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Exile) and Twin Spica  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_Spica) are two examples of articles which I rewrote from scratch and attained Good Article status. Being a member of WikiProject Anime and Manga helped me develop an eye for researching various materials and sources on the industry. Along the way, I essentially ended up teaching myself Japanese without any classroom instruction in order to help decipher the material I was reading.

I lost interest in Wikipedia at some point and started submitting modifications to the MyAnimeList database to improve the accuracy of information there. MyAnimeList’s database moderating team is always shorthanded, and recruitment drives are held every few years to replenish the moderator ranks after they thin out due to attrition. During one such drive in 2012, I was invited to submit an application to become an anime database moderator. I initially had no intention in applying until one of the database administrators reached out to me after she noticed my meticulous submissions.

As a database moderator, I came to learn more about the industry and eventually renewed my interest in writing again. I began writing occasional industry news stories for MyAnimeList. When we were acquired by DeNA in 2015, we decided to formalize a news team structure to create consistency in our reporting. Based on the objectives we discussed with DeNA, it was decided that my experience as a Wikipedia editor would be useful in creating a MyAnimeList standard of reporting. I was made news managing editor and am still in that role today, while still moderating the anime database on the side.

How did becoming a professional in the industry change how you watch anime and participate in fandom? My watching habits have changed pretty dramatically. I used to be a more prolific watcher, sometimes watching 10 to 15 shows a season. Today, however, I will admit that I haven’t watched a single anime while it’s airing in more than a year. I probably watch one show in any given season now. You might wonder how I can remain an active member of the industry if I haven’t been watching anything, but I will say that this is definitely possible. I’m still aware of all the trends and what titles are popular, but after a while you actually don’t have to watch that much to still stay in the loop with the fandom.

The timing of my joining the MyAnimeList team was rather fortunate. About a year after I joined the staff, I was able to relocate to Southeast Asia for a few years thanks to my day job. This helped me explore the fandom in entirely different ways from the fandom experience in North America. I was able to visit anime conventions in different countries, and travel to Japan was also within reach. The influence of Japan in Southeast Asia is more prevalent than in North America, so it was easier to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, such as attending events by the Japan Foundation, going to concerts by Japanese artists, etc.

It was easier to get carried away by the abundance of Japanese culture events. I convinced myself to attend concerts by anime idols Wake Up, Girls! and THE [email protected] in Japan. I traveled to Singapore to watch EGOIST and vocalist chelly perform live overseas for the first time. After becoming a professional, I became a much more active consumer of the anime culture rather than of anime itself.

In your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? The fandom today is a lot more fragmented, but in a good way. There are a lot more options in how one person can enjoy being a part of the anime fandom. Some will limit their enjoyment to just watching anime, but others may be more inclined to attend events and meet creators and artists directly, or even supporting a peripheral industry such as the anisong market.

However, as English becomes the dominant language of the fandom, I feel that the discourse on anime and manga has become less diverse. As North America becomes an important overseas market for the industry, I am concerned about over-representation of North American viewpoints in the English-speaking fandom. We have a term for this in the Wikipedia editor community: systemic bias. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Systemic_bias.)

Personally, I’ve grown tired of the generic narrative of an American fan discovering anime through Cowboy Bebop. There is not enough international coverage of fans at overseas events such as Japan Expo in Paris or Anime Festival Asia in Singapore. There is no discussion of how a series like Alps no Shoujo Heidi became popular in apartheid South Africa, or how Doraemon became a cultural phenomenon in Asia.

Global stories like these are the ones I would like to help uncover at MyAnimeList in the near future in order to help the fandom understand itself better and connect with other members in other parts of the world.

Richardson can be reached on Twitter and MyAnimeList

#83: Austin B

Age: 22

Location: North Dakota

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I’d say it was in ’99 or ’00 when I was around five or six years old. My older bro and I would run home from school to watch the Toonami programming block on Cartoon Network. We were always excited to see the latest episodes of Gundam Wing, Dragon Ball Z, Outlaw Star, Ruroni Kenshin, etc. All of our favorite anime.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was a whole different world of animation, storytelling. Worlds full of characters, settings and thought provoking themes that some Western animation lacked. It was a form of escapism for me to get away from a terrible childhood.

If it is not too personal for you, could you elaborate on how anime helped you through a difficult childhood? As a child growing up in North Dakota, I was bullied a lot whether it was because my last name sounds funny to kids or my being a skinny, geeky redhead unable to fight back. Anime was helpful in the sense that you had these strong, tough, badass characters that were ready to take on whatever obstacles stood in front of them. Gene Starwind from Outlaw Star and Kenshin from Ruroni Kenshin were always favorites of mine because they were such cool and badass characters that just so happened to be redheads. Anime was a form of escapism that could temporarily make me forget how cruel and unforgiving the world is.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I’d say it was either Dragon Ball Z or Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Growing up, being a fan was hard. It felt like many people ridiculed and ostracized me because I was a fan of something that was different. Something that was against the norm, something most people didn’t understand.

Did that make you consider not watching it? Liking anime made me an outsider, but not once did I ever consider not watching it. I enjoy anime too much to do that. Growing up though, liking anime made it really hard to make friends.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Growing up, Internet wasn’t part of the fandom for me. I just told people I liked anime and I hoped for the best.

Can you tell me about meeting other anime fans? As a child, some people I foolishly believed were my friends didn’t like the fact that I liked shows such as Dragon Ball Z. Not every interaction was bad though. Nowadays, I’d say that most of the friends I’ve made are people I’ve met after graduating high school. The friends I finally have are real friends that do enjoy anime.

What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first fandoms my older bro and I got into were without a doubt Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing. We had all sorts of Dragon Ball and Gundam merch growing up. Shirts, video games, toys, etc. you name it. That was how we expressed our fandom.

Is your brother who got you into anime still interested in anime? Do you still watch together? My older bro and I pretty much discovered Toonami at the same time, so I guess I wouldn’t exactly say he introduced me to anime. We don’t really watch anime together anymore because we’re always so busy with work and life these days. I’d say I watch more anime regularly than my older bro, but we still reminisce about all the classic anime we watched on Toonami. As far as recent anime goes, the two of us really got into Attack on Titan when that first came out.

For you personally, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Personally, I feel that the biggest contrast between anime fandom then vs. anime fandom now, is that it’s much more open. Back then, it felt like being an anime fan came across as weird. Now it’s so much easier to talk about liking anime because it’s much more accessible. It could also be that I might have developed a thicker skin over the years and that I stopped giving a damn if people thought I was weird for liking anime or not. History shows us that people become hateful and afraid of things they don’t understand, but when given enough time and exposure, maybe they can learn to love and respect certain things. Anime is one of those things.

Austin can be reached on Twitter

#82: Zubat

Age: 23

Location: Michigan

When did you discover anime? Anime was something I had seen at various points throughout my life. Growing up, Pokemon and YuGiOh! made it into my Saturday morning cartoon block every so often, and in college some of my roommates would occasionally have friends over to watch whatever “popular” show they had discovered at the time (Sword Art Online and Steins;Gate being the two I remember most clearly). But I didn’t “discover” anime for myself until April 2015, when right near the end of my time at school one of my roommates decided to spend his whole Saturday watching the first 25 or so episodes of Soul Eater. I was present and while at first I only sorta paid attention to what he was watching, by around eight or nine episodes in I had actively joined my roommate in watching something that felt FAR different from and much more emotionally engaging than the usual anime I had been exposed to.

Fast forward some months from there after graduation, and I mentioned to a friend offhand that I had been introduced to Soul Eater and was curious if there were more shows that would be good to start out with. That friend recommended a short 12-episode show called Madoka Magica, and well… judging by the “Puella Magi” in my Twitter handle I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that it literally changed my life. Madoka was a revelation for me—never before had I been exposed to media that was simultaneously so emotionally devastating and uplifting, and it left me shell-shocked for the better part of a week as I grappled with the numerous themes I saw in the show’s story. Though it would still be a few more months before I fully dove into anime, these two moments always come to mind when I think about where I started with anime.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? One of the key parts of both Soul Eater and Madoka Magica that appealed to me in my first watch was the surprising emotional depth and compassion shown by and towards their characters. I had never seen media that really emphasized the emotional connection between characters besides a few rare cases—before anime, media was often simply entertainment save for that one special show/movie. But Maka’s steadfast pursuit of and desire to connect with Crona was stunning to watch. Here was a show that was saying, “Empathy and compassion and fighting to reach the hearts of others are just as important as the fight happening around them.” Soul Eater was already appealing enough on the action and comedic bits but to have what to me was such a clear emotional message and themes was stellar, and I wanted more media like that.

Madoka Magica hit this mark as well. I related deeply with Madoka and empathized just as much with Homura throughout my first viewing of the show, and the revelation of the show’s finale left me thinking over what it had meant to me for nearly a year.

Past these first two big anime, shows like Noragami and Monogatari, a KyoAni trio of anime, Railgun, and many more shows continued to deepen my love for the unique ability of the medium of anime to convey deep, powerful emotional themes and stories in a way I had never experienced elsewhere. It drew me in and gave me a way to feel during a time where I was struggling to do so; and even now as I’ve moved into a better spot in life, I still remain deeply in love with the emotions anime creates in me.

If it’s not too personal, could you elaborate on how anime helped you through a difficult emotional time? My senior year of college was one of the most difficult years of my life. I had invested a lot of my emotional energy into my different clubs and their communities in the three years prior; and while I don’t regret my decision to put so much of myself into doing so, I was left completely burned out from those efforts. Combine that with the usual college stresses and a hostile roommate situation and I had little to no energy left to reach out for the support I needed for the entirety of my final two semesters of college. The result of this was me coasting through over 9 months of my life with little ability to express what I was feeling, in addition to being limited in my ability to empathize with others as well. For someone like me who is naturally very compassionate and empathetic and others-oriented, to not be able to express those sorts of emotions was devastating and identity-shattering. It led to me questioning whether all of the effort I put into building up the communities I was a part of for my four years of college was really worth it.

But then I found Madoka Magica. The show that I expected to be a parody of magical girl shows (not joking!) was instead one comforted and encouraged my heart and gave me a way to feel again through its characters, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Despite how hard it had been for me to connect with others for months up to that point, it was easy for me to understand and connect with Madoka and Homura’s thoughts, actions, and emotions; something about their characters resonated with me, as if I was implicitly able to understand their feelings as if they were my own.

[Major Madoka spoilers starting here] In particular, Homura’s repeated efforts to reach out to Madoka, her continued fight to share her feelings with Madoka despite all the pain and sorrow it brought her, was something I strongly connected with having experienced much of the same over my four years of college. And Madoka’s response to Homura’s efforts was a quiet affirmation of all of my own efforts over that timeframe: “I know just how hard you tried to help me across all those timelines… you were my very best friend.” It felt like the show was telling me, “Even though you’ve been left hurting and weak from your efforts, they didn’t go unnoticed, and they were worth the effort.” The person you are, the person you’ve become is something beautiful, and it’s ok to continue to feel the compassion that’s such a crucial part of who you are.” It was one thing for me to feel the emotions I did towards Madoka Magica‘s characters or to empathize with them as they struggled against the cruel realities of their world, but for the show to speak so directly and clearly into my life at that time… there aren’t words that can adequately describe how much Madoka Magica means to me.

There have been other shows that have had helped me through hard or trying times in my life: Oregairu and Sakurasou both helped me remember and celebrate some of my best friendships from college, while New Game and Shirobako offered me encouragement while I was dealing with the stress of starting to work full-time last year. But no show has ever resonated with me as deeply as Madoka Magica did; it remains the most important show I’ve ever watched and continues to reaffirm the person I am today. It is something I will likely cherish for the rest of my life.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I spent a large portion of my first year watching anime on my own, so it was hard to say I was really part of the larger fandom. I would ask friends who I knew watched anime what they thought would be good shows to watch, but for the most part I looked around every so often for shows and watched what sounded good. Anime was still solely a personal endeavor for me at that point, so it was mostly keeping to myself unless I knew prior of someone who I could talk to about what I was watching and ask for recommendations.

It was many months before I would discover r/anime, close to a year before I considered taking part in any discussions on the subreddit, and my involvement with the Twitter community only started at the beginning of the New Year. At the time, I only connected with people I knew IRL who were also into anime, and would spend time talking with them about what I or they liked and what would be good to watch, later also watching shows together.

Do you remember your first convention? My “first” convention was 2015 ColossalCon in Ohio; I was only there for a day, it was before I discovered anime, and ColossalCon is also… not that much of an anime con (people are there for the giant indoor waterpark, among other reasons). But I have plans in the works to attend AnimeNorth as my first “real” convention next month and I’m looking forward to the new experience that will bring!

It took me a while to respond, and your first con, Anime North, must have already happened! Can you tell me about what it was like? What were the highlights? What surprised you? Anime North was a great experience, if a bit different than my usual norm for day-to-day plans. I’m the type of person who likes to fill every day with plans while I’m traveling so I feel like I’ve gotten the “full value” of my time on vacation, but oftentimes it felt like the best option was simply to wander the dealers room and browse the artist alley without any set “goal” in mind. I wouldn’t say I was terribly surprised by this—I knew there’d be a lot of free time in my schedule where there wasn’t a panel or signing that I wanted to attend—but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed simply wandering and looking around at what all the dealers and artists had to offer, even if I didn’t plan on buying anything from them.

I think the biggest highlight was simply being able to spend a weekend surrounded by other people in the anime fandom. I don’t really talk about my anime interest with many people in my day-to-day life (it’s not something I feel comfortable sharing at work nor do I have much desire to talk about it there), so to spend a weekend with thousands of other people all openly sharing our interest in anime and related fandoms was a pretty joyful experience. And as a smaller part of that, being able to meet some of my Twitter friends who happened to be attending was another great part of the experience. It may seem basic to others, but it was nice to simply have a weekend where I could celebrate my love of anime with friends and many, many others.

I actually also attended Anime Expo recently as well! That experience was mostly similar to Anime North, though on a much larger scale. Anime Expo did have the advantage of having Anisong World Matsuri with Aqours performing on stage, and well.. anyone who’s been following me on Twitter these past four or five months knows how big of a fan I am of Love Live Sunshine, haha. But the AWM concert was an incredible, joyful experience that I hope I get to experience again someday; and beyond that, I actually managed to have a great weekend at AX despite the issues many people reported with the lines (I only missed one event due to a line being capped but was able to attend another event as a result, and I managed to get in all other events I wanted to see). I don’t know if I’ll be attending AX specifically next year due to costs, but both Anime North and Anime Expo were great experiences and I’m definitely looking forward to the next time I can get out to an anime convention.

Zubat can be reached on Twitter