#67: Ellery

Age: 22

Location: Venezuela

When did you discover anime? I first discovered anime when I was a little kid. Anime was actually aired quite a lot back when I was young, even in local channels outside of cable.

The first anime I got into was Dragon Ball Z, specifically the episode where Goku first dies (really nice way for a kid to be introduced to something), DBZ’s hispanic dub didn’t have any censoring but my parents didn’t really care cause they just saw it as a cartoon (they did make sure to tell me not to imitate what I saw though).

After that I got into it through the usual anime like Pokemon and Digimon, but really anime was such a big part of my childhood, whether it was more shonen oriented things like Inuyasha, Yu Yu Hakusho and Gundam Wing or more kid friendly toy commercial brand anime like Medabots, Beyblade or Yu-Gi-Oh.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I just liked how it was different from normal cartoons. I enjoy cartoons and the ones that aired when I was young (Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, and the like) were fun, but anime offered a different type of rush plus I loved how the stories had continuity and the characters went through different things.

Not gonna lie though, I liked the cool fights, transformations and all that shonen cheesiness those shows were known for, it was like I fell in love and I still love it to this day even though I’m more critical of them.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Dragon Ball Z, by miles. Even people who don’t know about anime know about Dragon Ball Z to this day.

How did you learn that? Did somebody surprising bring up DBZ when you were a kid? It was mostly due to the fact that pretty much anyone who grew up in Venezuela at that time has heard about Dragon Ball. I’ve known people who have no interest in anime and even hate it but who absolutely love Dragon Ball. Most of the reason for that is that the series really aired everywhere over here and the merchandise spread even more.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was normal I guess; every kid watched it’ cause it was on all the time, to the point they were like any other TV series so we’d just walk up to school and start talking about the last episode of Digimon or how Goku pulled out a new awesome (really weird now that I’m older) transformation or if Ash was going to win the League (ha ha ha ha).

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Not really, I mean we were kids and it was at the time when the internet was just starting to pick up ( I remember my mom showed me how to use it when I was eight) so it was more a case of just talking about it in class and stuff.

Do you remember your first convention? I actually don’t, I think I was six.

You were SIX? Well it was actually more like a regional festival rather than a convention, back then all the anime that aired was so popular that you had all types of people dressing up as the characters for it since it was an event where people could wear costumes. I don’t remember much from it aside from the fact I got a Wargreymon action figure.

What was the first anime that you became a serious fan of? Hmmm the first anime that I can say I was hooked on for a long time was probably Naruto. I think I spent a month marathoning what was out of the show when I first discovered it and was hooked on it for years. Aside from that one I was really into Digimon and Gundam, but could never find anyone to talk to about it but when I first started watching I think I re-watched Gundam Seed (yes…even Gundam Seed Destiny), 00 and Wing like two times.

What did your family think about your interest in anime? Well, when I was a kid they just saw it as me being into cartoons and stuff and then when I was a teenager I actually kept it a tight secret from them, which made them wonder if I was watching porn most of the time. Eventually they found out and accept it as long as it didn’t get in the ways of my studies (which it sometimes did… but they don’t need to know that), even if my mom still expects me to grow out of it at some point. I’m still wondering if it would somehow make things better or worse if I showed her some of the more serious aspects of anime.

What’s the biggest thing that’s changed between your anime fandom then and now? Well, I certainly am a lot more dedicated to it now. Not only do I watch a lot of anime, I also take into account why I like what I like and try to learn more about the industry and what drives it, not just about the studios involved but why anime is made the way it is. I also really pay attention to what other people think and say about the shows I like because I think that taking others’ opinions into account also helps you judge and change your own opinion, after all, there might be stuff you hadn’t noticed that others did.

Ellery can be reached on Tumblr.

#64: Jackson

Age: 24

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When did you discover anime? My first experience with anime is one of my oldest memories, back when I watched mostly the public service broadcaster TVOntario, and my favourite book was The Little Engine That Could. I have vague recollections of that time of the little blonde haired kid who lived in space and went on adventures down on Earth by catching a ride on a comet by hooking one in a fishing net. Some 20 years later I discover the title of that show was Adventures of the Little Prince, which was part of the World Masterpiece Theatre franchise, adapting well-regarded global novels into children’s anime.

After that is a period where anime was always around, mixed in among my other cartoon entertainment. I remember watching Sailor Moon and Garfield most mornings before catching the school bus (Dragon Ball Z was on just before this, but was too early for me to catch). Pokemon and Digimon made big splashes with me and my brother, and everything that looked like them was nicknamed “-mon” on the schoolyard (“Yugimanz,” etc…).

The first time I made the connection that, “Oh all these shows are part of the same category,” was when I discovered Fullmetal Alchemist at age 12. My mother took us along for her friend’s wedding, sending us back to the hotel when it was time for the reception. So there we are flipping through channels late at night to amuse ourselves. We land on Adult Swim and the Phantom Thief episode is showing. The premise of the story and plot of the episode interested me, but the thing that struck me most at the time was the first accidental groping I had ever seen. Of course my hormone-riddled 12-year-old brain said “Yes, more of this please”. Google led me to a site that hosted the episodes and that linked to other series, and the rest is history.

I googled “Yugimanz” but I still don’t get it. Why did this meme get popular? I’d say from people only passingly familiar (maybe they can name Pikachu), and a little disdainful. It’s another proxy battle show with monsters, so it must follow the naming pattern, right? Add in a bit of leetspeak and it deforms farther.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Everything anime did was big. Big emotions, big fights, big stupid idiots, big monsters, big worlds, big grandiose music, big flashy villains. But also stories like FMA that were quieter that told more intense stories with darker consequences than I was used to. It also appealed to my nerdiness: “This power works like this, and interacts with this other power because of such-and-such scientific property.”

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I was big into YuGiOh!, so as far as I’m concerned that was the most popular. Most anything on the FoxBox or Kids WB was A-list material in my book (Shaman King, Ultimate Muscle, Kirby, etc…). I think I just missed the Inuyasha bubble, and got in just as Death Note was hitting. The Big 3 Shonen Jump shows were around, but I wasn’t aware of them then.

What were the big three? Why weren’t you aware of them? I’m speaking of One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. The latter two anime were only on cable and satellite, which I didn’t have, so I wasn’t exposed to them until later. One Piece was on Fox, but it wasn’t a big deal like it became. Shonen Jump magazine was ongoing, but I only ever saw one issue of that, which my aunt got for me because Yugi was on the cover.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? My sphere of fandom initially was basically just me and my brother, watching our favourite Saturday Morning Cartoons, reading magazines off the rack at the grocery store. After that, a couple schoolyard friends who’d bring their flashy toys (Trading Cards, Digivices, etc.). A lot of playing pretend and battles of the imagination happening during recess.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The first anime forum I joined was a YuGiOh! one, fronted by a simple generator that let you create cards. I was there for the card game, but there was an Anime and Manga section. I learned a whole bunch of things for the first time. Things like the word “anime,” and that it doesn’t rhyme with “lime.”

Everyone had anime avatars/signatures, many leading me to new shows to watch. One time I was asked over MSN what my thoughts were on Bleach and I replied, “Like the cleaning liquid?” It was full of cool people, and troublemakers. People who could write, draw, role play, edit photos and videos, critique creations, and play the card game, of course.

Do you remember your first convention? Anime North 2011 in Toronto. The first summer after moving away from home for university. It was an exciting time: I had joined in the anime club, had been exposed to many more anime titles, and had a much better idea of what I liked. I don’t recall any events or guests that year, but my traveling companions pointed me to the big ones, like Anime Hell. I have some photos of the time, mostly cosplayers of Fairy Tail and One Piece, as well as a tentacle monster carrying a blow-up doll, and a Morning Rescue cosplayer from Madoka Magica. I spent big in the dealer’s hall, adding to my modest collection of DVDs and merch. And had my first experience meeting an internet celebrity and bumbling in front of them. I made a friend or two, and had plenty of polite conversation, but it was the next year that I made some real connections and stayed in contact with people.

What was the biggest thing you bought? How much was it? That first year, must’ve been the 10 manga volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist which I spent about $40 on.

Who was that internet celebrity you met? It was Arkada of Glass Reflections fame.

Tell me about the following year and making real connections! That following year, Anime 2012, I decided to try cosplaying for the first time. Pretty simple, Sanji from One Piece, just my one good suit and a blonde wig. Went around the photoshoots taking pictures. Funny thing happens when I go to the Fairy Tail one. Because I look like a character from that show (Leo), and get roped into the shoot and I play it off in character as Sanji sneaking in to get close to the pretty FT girls. After that weekend, I go looking around for pictures from the shoot and someone’s started a group chat on Facebook for cosplayers at that shoot. Seems I’d made a memorable impression. The 20 or so of us get talking and knowing each other better, soon we’re throwing holiday parties and hanging out on weekends the play boardgames.

Jackson can be reached on Twitter

#63: Greg

Age: 24

Location: Baton Rouge

When did you discover anime?  I watched Pokemon as a kid, mainly just because I was a fan of the game franchise. I wasn’t so interested in the shonen action anime on Toonami, but I was somewhat interested in Spirited Away and other movies I saw at Blockbuster. I finally watched Spirited Away on Toonami in 2006 and saw Ponyo at the theater in 2009. During the summer of 2011, I was trying to get into more diverse cinema, so I made a point to watch the rest of Miyazaki’s films. I spent some of that next year watching other notable films like Akira and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time before deciding to watch some series. I referred to IGN’s Top 100 Animated Series list. Cowboy Bebop was #14, Evangelion was #10. I started with Cowboy Bebop because a friend had already suggested it, then FLCL because I saw it on Adult Swim and it looked interesting, then Eva.

Is that still up and if so, can I have a link? It is!  I actually thought it had been taken down, but it seems to be back in a new format.  The list is for all animated series, not anime specifically, and only shows that aired on American television were eligible.  For instance, The Simpsons was #1.  I started with Cowboy Bebop (#14) and moved to Evangelion (#10) partly because they were the highest ranking anime on the list and partly because they were the only anime on the list that I had never heard of.  The list also features Gundam Wing, Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and Death Note, shows that were popular on Toonami with my middle school friends.  I had some preconceived notions about the kinds of shows that aired on Toonami and was trying to avoid anything too popular, so I skipped past those.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Anime seemed to be hitting a middle ground between “cartoons for kids” and “cartoons for adults” that American animation wasn’t attempting. I liked, with Eva in particular, that anime was being used to tell long-form stories with intimate character focus and was using film language in interesting ways. I also liked, for FLCL in particular, that anime could be “pervy” without being vulgar or crass the way a lot of Adult Swim’s original programming often is.

Can you elaborate with an example? I sort of regret my choice of words there, but what I meant is that, in Family Guy and other Western animated series for adult audiences, sex and sexuality mostly seemed to be used to set up crass humor. When FLCL and Evangelion dealt with sexual themes, they did so with what felt like a great deal more sensitivity and understanding. That may not be a fair comparison, but that was one of the more noticeable difference between the shows I watched before getting into anime and the shows I was discovering as I was getting into anime.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I wasn’t paying much attention to what was popular at the time, but Sword Art Online was the new big simulcast in mid-2012.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was daunting discovering an entire medium and trying to learn everything I could about it. Also, I got into anime around the time that Bandai USA was dying, so it was very easy to find their licenses on YouTube.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I made no attempt to connect to other fans on the Internet for the first several years of my fandom. I mostly just listened to what critics were saying.

Which critics? I discovered Jacob Chapman‘s videos very early into my fandom.  Those videos helped me navigate an intimidating amount of content in order to find some gems.  I also enjoyed reading Anime News Network reviews by Carl Kimlinger and now read pretty much anything Nick Creamer writes.

Do you remember your first convention?  I went to a tiny convention called BayouCon in Lake Charles. I only went on the Sunday, and it was basically dead. The vendors were closing up shop, and the floor was quiet. The few people there were at a panel with an actor from Star Trek Voyager. There was a room showing episodes of a show I would later find out was Shiki.

What was the highlight of that con? Would you go back? I suppose one highlight of that first con was discovering the 2010 horror anime Shiki, which ended up becoming a favorite of mine when I finally watched it several years later.  I did go back to that con the next year, this time on a Saturday and with my brother.  We had a pretty good time.  He bought some Princess Mononoke art for his dorm room, and we sat in on Vic Mignogna’s panel.  I don’t know if I would go to a con again, at least not alone.  I don’t enjoy traveling or crowds.

For you, what’s the biggest difference between fandom for you then and now? I am actually involved with fandom now.  I’m a member of an anime Facebook group and have more recently started talking to people on Twitter, so I’m actually talking to other fans for the first time.  One thing that has definitely changed for me as a fan in the past year is that I have to do more to combat burnout.  I have to choose what shows I dedicate time to more carefully now and try to enjoy shows at my own pace rather than try to keep up with conversations.  It’s been a difficult process with a lot of trial and error.

Greg can be reached on Twitter

#61: Alexandria G

Age: 20

Location: Columbus, Ohio

When did you discover anime? I discovered anime at a very young age (in the early 2000s) because of my older half-sister Chelsea, who is eight years older than myself. She was always obsessed with Japan and anime, having countless Sailor Moon tapes and merchandise; her closet was bursting with SM dolls and figures, and she had a whole binder full of first edition, Japanese holographic Pokemon cards under her bed. I lusted over it through my whole childhood. She was so obsessive over Sailor Moon that my mother was pushed over the edge and essentially forbade the viewing of anime, and especially Sailor Moon, in any part of the house except for the basement, where she could not see or hear it. Of course, that only made me more curious about it, though I could not express that sentiment out loud. Probably out of spite for my mother, she planted the “anime seed” in me and my younger sister by showing us Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away, Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. We had no idea these movies were from another country since they were dubbed in English, though I don’t think we would have cared much. They were different from the usual coming-of-age Disney stuff we were used to, so I was fascinated with them. When Chelsea went off to college, I would look forward to her return on holidays because she would bring her DVD of Spirited Away back home. Seed successfully planted!

Fast forward a few more years and I was going through my obligatory adolescent wolf phase. I loved roleplaying wolves on forums (my OC was a black wolf named “ViperScar”) and drawing my fursona on deviantART. One day I was looking at some dank wolf art on dA and someone mentioned a show called Wolf’s Rain. So, I gave it a try, because wolves! I binged the whole thing on YouTube, with each episode uploaded in three ten-minute parts in what must have been atrocious quality. I didn’t understand all of it, but I loved it, and it made me feel mature because of all the blood. A few episodes in, I figured out it was Japanese. I didn’t want to be associated with anime since my parents hated it so much, so I rationalized that it wasn’t “real anime,” because it was dubbed in English and had an English OP/ED. I kept my interest in the show a relative secret (though I introduced it to my BFF who probably only sat through it because he had a crush on me).

Alexandria as Riza Hawkeye and Chelsea as Maria Ross from ‘Fullmetal Alchemist.’

My interest in this show allowed me to really bond with Chelsea; we weren’t particularly close until the summer after my fifth grade year, when she discovered I had tasted the forbidden fruit. I think she was excited to have another person to talk to about anime and Japan, even though I had only really seen one title. And I was happy to get the attention and fulfillment resulting from having an actual connection to my sister. She would take me on long drives to the nearby Japanese markets and bookstores and we would talk about anime and play Yoko Kanno tracks from a CD in her car. She also told me about the times in distant past where you would have to get anime by mailing blank tapes to strangers so they could copy shows to them and then send them back. Her stories about ’90s anime fandom were so far removed from my reality at that time that it almost seemed like some sort of mystical Tolkeinesque fantasy. I was enchanted by it. Everything was good.

A few more years passed and my parents separated. Everything was not good. He subjected me, my mother, and my younger sister Danielle to narcissistic abuse, terrorizing us in our family home every day after he got off work and then leaving suddenly to return to his girlfriend. Chelsea and my other half-sister Lindsay were living out-of-state at this time, so they didn’t have to deal with him. Everything had turned around so quickly that no one knew how to handle it. Suddenly, we had no father, no money, barely a mother (she was sick and constantly bedridden; my dad was her physician and purposefully gave her medication that would interact negatively in the body), no friends, and I was deep into clinical depression that was so far unresponsive to medication.

Because of all the turmoil, I became close with Danielle and we binged shows like Sherlock, Hannibal, Adventure Time, and Star Trek: The Next Generation together. When I was a junior in high school, I heard about an animated show called Fullmetal Alchemist, and the premise sounded interesting. There was a catch though: it was one of those forbidden Japanese cartoons! I asked Danielle if she was okay with watching an anime and she was just kind of like “sure.” We were hooked, watching the original and Brotherhood two times over the course of a month. It only made us hungry for more; that summer we watched Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Evangelion. There was a showing of Evangelion 3.33 in theatres that we had the privilege of going to and it was a religious experience. Then, I haphazardly learned how to sew by watching YouTube videos just so we could cosplay Riza Hawkeye and Maria Ross. That winter, we went to our first anime convention wearing the cosplays I so lovingly sewed together. I spent so much time on them that I actually broke my cheapo sewing machine! We were officially knee deep into anime fandom and it only snowballed from there.

To this day I have watched 274 different TV anime and am an avid cosplayer. I have gotten many other people into the medium and am even learning Japanese with great enthusiasm. Most strikingly, it has helped me deal with the treatment-resistant depression that has been slowly taking all positive feelings away from me over the years. Stories like NGE, Rurouni Kenshin, Berserk, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and The Rose of Versailles have given me a slew of interesting and multifaceted characters and situations to analyze, while things like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and One Piece allow me to smile when it seems like nothing else is worth smiling at. All of these things have brought me immense joy and remind me that I am still capable of feeling it.

I know it’s silly and cheesy to say something like this, but I am very thankful for anime. It has allowed me to connect to my family and make friends in new places, inspired me to continue making my own art, and has often made life the slightest bit easier to handle when it seems like everything is falling apart™.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? How unique the stories and characters were in comparison to what was available in the West.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Pokemon and Naruto; later, Attack on Titan.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? When I was a kid and first getting into anime, I wasn’t even that involved in a wider fandom. It was more as a teenager and an adult that I realized there even was a fandom and got more involved. And that was pretty much present day, so it wasn’t much different than now!

Do you know how your half-sister Chelsea found out about anime that led to her getting hooked on Sailor Moon? No surprisingly, no one seems to know how it started. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t into anime, and she is very secretive about her feelings and passions.

Alexandria’s first cosplay, San from ‘Princess Mononoke.’

How did anime fandom lead to an interest in cosplay? How did you learn cosplay was a thing? How did cosplay make you feel? I think it was just a natural evolution of what I was doing before for Halloween, etc. I always went all out on my costumes (e.g. James Cameron’s Avatar costume in for Halloween 2010 with full-body blue paint and latex prosthetics) and enjoyed assuming the identities of fictional characters because I just didn’t like my own identity too much. I saw a lot of cosplay over the internet and I had already learned some sewing basics by the time I was getting serious about anime; It seemed like an enjoyable way to express my deep love for the things I liked while also pretending to not be me for a little bit. Cosplay was and is very empowering for me; I am a lot more animated when cosplaying and it’s fun interacting with people that have the same interests. It’s a source of validation in addition to it being a chance to show off my craftsmanship.

Do you remember your first anime con? Yes, it was Ohayocon 2014! I cosplayed Fullmetal Alchemist with my sister, but we only ended up cosplaying for one afternoon. The con seemed huge and overwhelming, especially since we were so young (I think I was 16-17 while my sister was 13-14). We couldn’t find registration to pick up our badges for the first 2.5 hours we were there, it was actually kind of a stressful experience and we didn’t really go to any panels that because the place was so hard to navigate. The day after was more enjoyable, we decided not to cosplay and were able to go to to more panels because of the time that freed up in the morning.

How does your mom feel about anime now? Does she still dislike it? It’s not something that she seeks out by any means or anything, but she does seem to have a deeper appreciation for anime since it’s helped her daughters so much. At one point, she considered writing a thank you letter to Eiichiro Oda, since One Piece helped me through a very rough part of my life and very well could have saved me.  Heck, I think she considers herself a lowkey fan of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, though a lot of that comes from the surplus of buff and attractive men in that show. Who can blame her, though!

It’s heartening to see how anime helped you bond with your sisters. Do they still watch anime today? Do you still watch together? I am living on my own now so I don’t get to see Danielle very often, but when I come home we marathon it together. I’d say it’s our main sister-bonding activity and it’s a highlight of my visits. I don’t see Chelsea very often either; she lives in Japan and is there indefinitely since she fell in love and got married there! Apparently, she doesn’t watch anime much anymore, though her husband is into it (he’s big on Attack on Titan and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I feel like I haven’t noticed any significant changes since then, I don’t think I’ve been part of anime fandom long enough to notice too much.

Alexandria can be reached on Twitter

#58: Gabe P

Age: 27

Location: California

When did you discover anime? Like most people in my age group, I discovered anime during the Pokemon boom. I didn’t get a Game Boy to play the Pokemon Blue videogame until a bit later, but I did have easy access to the trading cards and the TV show. While the show itself was grouped together among other Saturday morning cartoons, there was just a certain thing about Pokemon (besides its popularity) that told me it was different somehow. I already forget when exactly I heard the term used, but in no time, the show became synonymous with the term “anime” for me.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I was never into fantasy worlds with dragons, warlocks, and the like. However, when growing up, those types of worlds seemed to be the only option when it came to some kind of fictional escape from reality. Anime, on the other hand, didn’t seem to play by those rules. The lore of shows like Pokemon or Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball took from a different culture than other shows I watched at the time and as such felt like something less grounded in reality and that much more fun for it.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Pokemon by far. Unlike certain pop culture phenomena where its notoriety relied on how “American” the household itself was, Pokemon was known by absolutely everyone. You know something is big when your grandpa, whose didn’t primarily speak English, still knew what Pokemon was.

What language did your grandpa speak? How did you find out he knew about Pokemon? My grandpa primarily spoke Ilocano, which is a secondary language in the Philippines. He lived with my parents in order to help raise me and my sister, but once a year, he’d always go back to his home town in the Philippines during festival season and come back with souvenirs. One year, while he was back in the Philippines, my mom told me it would be nice to write and send him a letter. Alongside my letter, I ended up sending him a drawing—a copy of the first Pokemon movie poster, logo and all (I distinctly remember using the newspaper’s ad for the movie as a reference). Upon his arrival back in the states that year, he came back with a ton of Pokemon souvenirs—tin pencil boxes, a pocket mirror, folders, pencils all bright yellow with some markings to indicate it was in the style of Pokemon‘s Pikachu in some way or another. I’m sure the picture I drew him was enough of a lead to go off of to figure out if the area had any related merchandise.

Also, what did your family think of your interest in anime, especially as it continued into high school and beyond? My parents were never the type to discourage things I was interested in, even if anime did seem rather juvenile from their perspective. On occasion, they’d see me browsing online and chatting on anime forums or reading manga, but they never directly addressed it in one way or another. I think part of this was the cultural gap between myself and them. Both my parents grew up in the Philippines, so they’ve gotten used to seeing something they were unfamiliar with and being open to its entertainment value even if they didn’t necessarily “get it” themselves. I was clearly enjoying anime, and I never went as far as imitating the violence or develop a negative attitude from it, so they just let things be.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? While anime existed when I grew up, there were definitely shows that people would watch while still not considering themselves fans of anime. Those earlier shows were able to cross that barrier of “weird Japan” in a way that most anime still can’t do, simply because they were the first to do so (at least for that particular era). As such, I wouldn’t consider myself part of “anime fandom” until I was well into high school with shows like Naruto and Bleach.

By high school, there were a lot more shows readily available in America to the point that people (myself included) felt a bit more comfortable with being considered an “anime fan” rather than specifically a fan of one show. And while that lends to the misconception of anime being a genre over a medium, it does allow for people of similar interests to find each other. While I didn’t attend it religiously, I would attend my school’s anime club from time to time and be subject to its president’s pompous ramblings on what obscure anime deserved the highest praises over mainstream trash. It’s pretty much what today’s anime fandom experience is, honestly, except with a lot more torrenting and blank-disc-burning over internet streaming.

That sounds like a crappy situation. Did you have any other interactions with anime fans around that time, or were they all kind of like that? In general, I’ve kept my circle of friends small, making sure to weed out or just ignore anyone that had a “holier than thou” type of approach to their fandom, hence why I didn’t go to my high school’s anime club often, even in senior year when I knew the head honchos of the club. The people I interacted with on a regular enough basis to consider “friend” in high school were either more into videogames and simply tolerated my own anime-related ramblings (as I did their videogame ramblings), or was someone I considered an “equal” in fandom– someone with similar anime tastes and opinions as me. Slightly unrelated, but it’s for this same reason that I’ve hated going to comicbook shops– so many egos in such a concentrated space.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? While streaming wasn’t what it was today by a long shot (YouTube came around my sophomore year of high school. I remember the one “full episode” type of upload I saw was of a Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends episode.), people still had means of accessing anime online. Certain corners of the internet would provide access to torrenting anime illegally. And if you wanted to share a certain series with a friend, you’d have to transfer those episodes from your computer to a disc (read: Multiple discs. Dozens of discs.).

In terms of fandom within the internet, social media wasn’t nearly as prominent as it was today, either. So rather than twitter or tumblr which serve as a nice catch-all for multiple fandoms, at the time I resorted to online forums. Being a big Dragon Ball fan, I immediately discovered the wonderful community at daizex (currently named “Kanzenshuu“), so I never had the misfortune of having to deal with much in terms of vitriol-posters. [Editor’s note: Kanzenshuu’s web master has also submitted an Anime Origin Story.] Being primarily a “sub over dub” type of community, however, it did breed an air of know-it-all-snootiness, though I’d take that over an ignorant fan every time. To this day, I still keep up with a handful of those fellow forum-goers, though the conversation’s shifted over to Twitter.

Do you remember your first convention? Not specifically, but considering my location, it must have been Fanime during high school. I was dropped off by my parents and was immediately given a sensory overload. The dense concentration of nerds, specifically ANIME nerds, was both daunting and soothing, and I definitely took a lot more time wandering through the aisles of merchandise, sifting through what I could only find in small doses at comic shops and occasional Japantown trips before then.

I’m not much of a social person, however, so anime conventions have always felt like this giant oxymoron for me—so many anti-social people gathering together and socializing over this one very specific thing that’s treated as mainstream only within the confines of that building. Anime conventions, especially earlier ones I’ve attended, have been more for me to browse the merchandise in-person more than anything else.

Tell me about Japantown. What was it like discovering it as an anime fan? I grew up in the San Jose area, so I had the option of going to either the Japantown in San Jose or making the slightly longer trip to San Francisco. I never had a liking to American comic book shops just because there was so much ego involved with whoever ran the store. So to go to a shop in Japantown that was similar physically, but run so much more casually felt like a breath of fresh air. Seeing walls and display cases lined with Pokemon cards and figures where I couldn’t read any of the text on it since it was in Japanese felt so much more welcoming. I don’t specifically remember any of the store runners, but it was in this casual and quiet environment that I was able to better appreciate anime and further branch out into other things like figures and manga in the first place. The feeling was only multiplied when a mall closer by opened an Asian-exclusive hobby store.

As a self-described “not much of a social person,” how do you most often participate in anime fandom? I mainly do fan-art, but I also do manga/anime reviews on Fandom Post and have also done a piece on ANN a few months back. And in the case that freelancing doesn’t take any ideas I pitch, I end up just posting them on my personal blog.

For you, what’s the biggest difference between being an anime fan then and now? The biggest difference would have to be the library of what’s available to you. Even if you took some of the less seedy routes to get your anime fix back in the day, it would still be limited to what the distributors released. And at the time when I grew up, the majority of those were action-centric series, resulting in distributors playing catch-up and this strange wave of anime from the 80s and 90s ending up being the most readily available anime for consumption stateside (I remember Yu-Gi-Oh being announced in the states and thinking “oh, they’re trying to catch up by taking a chance on a newer show this time”). Now, there’s so many genres and subgenres released and available via streaming alone that the opposite problem has happened– America has finally caught up to what’s currently being released in Japan and anime fans have become far more picky as to what they want to consume. Lots of “sifting through the chaff to get to the wheat” types of moments are becoming more commonplace because there’s such an oversaturation of anime. It beats the alternative of not having enough and knowing there’s more out there, though.

Gabe can be reached on Twitter

#55: Annalyn

Age: 24

Location: United States

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was 2009, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, and I was barely sixteen years old. At the time, Hulu provided my main TV source and online escape from reality—and with my mental health the way it was at the time, that escape was much valued. This was in the good old days when you could have a free Hulu account and only get thirty-second commercials. Naruto popped up as a recommended show, likely because of my interest in action-adventure and fantasy shows. The description caught my attention, so I watched the first episode. And the next. And the next. The first Naruto OP still fills me with nostalgia, transporting me back to where I sat on (not at) my parents’ kitchen counter, watching my first anime late at night. With Hulu’s help, I discovered similar anime, like Inuyasha. Before long, I was hooked on anime as a medium.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The continued storylines. I felt like most American TV shows were very episodic, whereas anime would continue with the same complex storyline for dozens—or even hundreds—of episodes. I hadn’t seen these layers of conflict and character development in more than a couple other shows. Plus, the scenarios captured my attention and characters captured my heart in ways that, again, few American shows had ever managed.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Naruto. I didn’t talk much with other fans during my first year of anime viewing—in fact, I can only think of three or four off the top of my head—but I remember the sites with illegal streaming often had something Naruto-related in their titles, and Naruto and Shippuden were nearly always at the top of any list sorted by popularity.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Again, I can’t comment on much that has to do with other fans for my first year of watching. But after about a year and a half, I started getting involved in fandom online, primarily on Anime-Planet. In the A-P forums, I got to know a wonderful mix of people from all over the world, folks who knew how to be welcoming and have fun—but many of whom were also willing to engage in deep discussions about things like religion. We’d play forum games, talk about anime, participate in forum signature competitions, discuss religion…

This community propelled me into aniblogging, a hobby I continue to this day. I barely know how to start telling you what it was like to be a part of this community of anime fans. I can say that Anime-Planet and the aniblogosphere encouraged me and gave me a sense of companionship during one of the loneliest, hardest times of my life.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Yes. In addition to the forums and blogging I mentioned above, Twitter quickly became a center part of my anime experience—for me, that part started 2011, over a year and a half after I first found Naruto.

You imply that mental illness was a major part of your early anime fandom. If you’re comfortable discussing it, how did anime help you during this time? I did struggle a lot with anxiety and depression before and during my first couple years of anime fandom—and these issues exasperated ADHD symptoms that had barely bothered me before. At first, anime wasn’t exactly a help. It was an escape, and an unhealthy one at that. I would easily watch an entire 12-episode anime on a school night… multiple school nights in a row. There were times when I’d be watching anime in bed, then suddenly notice light coming in my window, alerting me that I had to be at school in just a few hours. This resulted from my lack of time management, my hyperfocus, my struggle with switching tasks, and, again, my need to escape anxiety.

When I discovered Anime-Planet, I found other fans who had similar or worse anime habits, and who pretty much boasted about how much anime they consumed at a furious rate, and about how addicted they were. I started to absorb that attitude and feel sort of proud of my anime habits—while still feeling a bit guilty.

But if it wasn’t anime, I’d have used American TV shows and books to escape the world. My anime binging habits were definitely a symptom, not a cause, of my troubles.

And anime did help. At first it was only in more shallow ways. It could make me giggle and squeal even in the depths of my depression. It stopped my racing thoughts—a temporary relief, sure, but a relief nonetheless. It provided my scattered, tangled brain with something it could actually focus on for hours at a time.

As I started blogging, anime became a help in bigger ways. Or rather, I believe God used what began as unhealthy anime and internet habits and turned them into something wonderful. I started using concepts from anime to help me process my own life. The football anime Eyeshield 21, for example, resulted in an excellent journaling-turned-blogging session on perseverance and effort. I saw how Sena (the main character) overcame repeated failure and pummeling, and I concluded that I could do the same—that I must do the same.

The online community helped, too. One of the initial triggers for my depression was loneliness, though it took me a while to figure that out.

How did the community you found at Anime-Planet make you feel less alone? Oh boy. I wrote a 2,000-word essay on this—and that’s the word count after significant pruning. Let’s see if I can give a shorter answer than that…

First of all, I could drop my mask online, among anime fans. Or rather, I could start fresh. People in real life knew me from before my mental health issues. I felt like I had to continue being that put-together, smart, hardworking good girl. That distanced me from people IRL. Online, though, I had no mask. I knew my anime habits wouldn’t cause judgment or disappointment, but the opposite. The people I met actually had similar interests and faults. And as I aniblogged more, I was determined to be open about everything except personally identifiable info (like location, name, and birthdate). That was the only way I knew to keep my mask from re-forming. I shared my anime habits, my anxiety, my depression—and because of that, I was able to truly connect with people. I probably could have connected more deeply with people offline if I’d been more open about my brokenness… but I was clumsy about relationships. And shy. Offline openness would become much easier later, after I practiced online.

On Anime-Planet, I found people who valued what I had to say in my blog posts and recommendations. We had common ground, connection—and goodness, those comments lit up my world, especially at first. People cared about what I wrote. They watched what I recommended. They heard me.

An even bigger breakthrough happened in the forums, starting in January 2011. I’d been lurking around the forums for a while, still too shy and unsure of myself to contribute to conversations about anime or daily life. But then a new thread in the “General Discussion” section caught my eye. It was titled “General Religion Thread.” Long story short, this had two effects on me: First, it got me started in the forums, where I found a whole bunch of welcoming people to play forum games with, discuss religion with, and who even got me started on making forum signatures. This was my main social interaction outside of school. But second, and more importantly, this is where I met TWWK—or Charles, as I’d later start calling him.

Charles and I checked out each other’s blogs. His blogging approach at Beneath the Tangles, a blog dedicated to the connections between anime and spirituality, would inspire me. His comments on my posts and his requests that I guest post at BtT encouraged me in my writing. And connection with him would lead to connection with other bloggers. Through blogging, I would find other anime fans who struggled with anxiety and depression, who resonated with what I wrote. I’d exchange opinions with others about anime and religion. I’d learn to overcome shyness about commenting on others’ blog posts… I’d grow, I’d have fun, and I’d learn, in a way that was much less stressful than interacting with people IRL. And somehow, the beginning of this managed to overlap with the same months I’d say were my worst, as far as depression and anxiety goes. Anime and fellow anibloggers were often the bright spots in my dark days—though, of course, there were still stretches where even online interactions and blogging were too much for me.

How did becoming an anime blogger change the way you interacted in the fandom? I’m currently blogging at Beneath the Tangles, and my posts can all be found here. Or rather, I’m on hiatus now, but I’ll return there soon! I’ve been blogging at BtT since early 2015, and I was even on the leadership team for a time. I’ve came a long way since 2011, when I felt too insecure to accept Charles’s invitation to guest post.

If you’d like to check out my old blog, you can find it here. But it’s very much retired now—I’ve closed comments and everything.

Becoming an aniblogger kept me inspired and involved in the fandom in a new way. I’ve mentioned much of its significance above. But I’ll add that it’s the reason I first joined Twitter—I thought that would be a good place to network with other anibloggers and perhaps get more blog traffic. Now, my involvement on anitwitter has a life of its own.

How was/is your Twitter fandom participation different than Anime-Planet? My Twitter participation is decidedly more sustainable than my Anime-Planet participation was. Anime-Planet forums took a lot of time and energy. Because of the anxiety I had at the time and my introverted nature, the discussions—both on the discussion boards and in private messages—were sometimes more involved than I could handle. When that happened, I’d drop off the face of the earth… and eventually, I reached the point where I never returned to A-P. On Twitter, however, such involved discussions are rarer. 140-character Tweets are less likely to overwhelm me than a long forum post. I’m less likely to procrastinate on replying—though I still do.

In some ways, Twitter has become more personal than A-P, simply because I’ve been there longer. I share many aspects of my life, and so do others. But I also interact with a wider range of people, especially when I’m tweeting about a show. We all get excited about it together, and that’s a delight!

What’s the biggest contrast between fandom when you discovered it and now? For me, the biggest contrast is how I am involved. I started off as a newbie on the sidelines, trying to contribute to the A-P community by adding recommendations, reviews, and blog posts—but still too shy to comment on others’ blog posts or participate in forum discussions until I was practically invited to do so. I didn’t know much about how community could transcend a single site, spreading out across various blogs and social media. In the months that followed, though, I did gain confidence, and blog comments would become one of my chief ways to interact with fellow fans.

Six and a half years after joining Anime-Planet (so, eight years after watching ep 1 of Naruto), I’m no longer a newbie. I can confidently use “tsundere,” “yandere,” or “yuri” in a sentence. I’ve given advice to younger fans and bloggers. I don’t hesitate to comment on others’ blogs, since I fully understand how comments can encourage bloggers and promote community. But my primary interactions with fellow fans tend to be either on Twitter or with other Beneath the Tangles writers—still online, though in a more private setting. And I’m trying to figure out how the blazes anime fandom and aniblogging fit into an adult, post-college life. Especially the adult, post-college life of an ADDer with two jobs and time management issues.

Basically, I am the the biggest contrast between my fandom experience six years ago and my fandom experience now. As I’ve changed, my experience of fandom has changed immensely, and I’m still sorting it out.

If fandom outside of my personal experience has changed much, I’ve barely noticed. I do think it’s shifted more and more to social media like Twitter and Tumblr, rather than blog comments and websites. But I’ll leave further speculation to the more observant.

Annalyn can be reached on Twitter

#52: Daniela

Age: 24

Location: New Mexico

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Honestly, my memories of this are very vague? I fell in love with anime in elementary school (and have been in love ever since), but I’m not sure when the shift between my liking anime that I didn’t realize was different than the cartoons I watched (i.e., Pokemon and Digimon) to my actively understanding my love of anime as me loving something called “anime” occurred. I’m not sure if I knew YuGiOh! was an anime when I started watching it. I probably knew Dragon Ball Z was, and definitely knew it by the time I started watching things like Gundam Wing and Yu Yu Hakusho. By the end of elementary school (which was 5th grade for me), I was a full-blown anime fan, relying on rentals from Hastings to introduce me to new series.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Everything? I liked the stories, the animation—everything. Unlike cartoons, anime had an overarching plot, which I loved. It didn’t hurt that I never really liked live-action television, for whatever reason.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Digimon had a universal appeal among other kids, even those who weren’t into anime/didn’t know what it was. For those of us who did, it was Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Gundam Wing. I was vaguely aware of the existence of Sailor Moon, but never saw it myself because I didn’t have the channel it was on, and, as it wasn’t until I was in 6th grade that I even met another female anime fan, it didn’t even occur to me to check if Hastings had such a girly series to watch.

How did knowing other female anime fans change the way you engaged in fandom, as opposed as when you bonded over anime with your brother? Meeting other female anime fans definitely changed how I engaged with fandom. Before, I watched anime with my brothers and his friends, and we spent a lot of time talking about it, but I also continually restricted myself in what I talked about. That is, I talked about the kinds of topics they talked about, and avoided anything that could be construed as “girly”, like when I had a crush on a particular character or was invested in a particular pairing / wished that a different pairing would happen. Sometimes I got around these constraints with a kind of personal code—i.e., saying a particular character was my “favorite” when what I really meant was “this character is super-cute and I totally have a crush.” It was all very much an attempt to just “be one of the boys” and “not like other girls,” but it also wasn’t really a conscious decision—it’s something that I only realized that I was doing when I met other female anime fans and felt free to talk about whatever caught my attention in an anime, whether that was squeeing over a particularly awesome fight scene or sighing over something especially romantic.

And I didn’t just stop with my female friends—having those friendships also left me more comfortable to talk about whatever I wanted with my brother, and, to a lesser extent, his friends. I’m not sure if I can say exactly why this was the case—like I said, much of this was a subconscious reaction from me—but if I had to guess, I’d say it’d because I had a safety net that I hadn’t had before. I no longer had to worry as much about what my brother’s friends thought of me, because I had my own friends who loved anime too. As for my brother, he’d always been my best friend: seeing that other anime fans didn’t have a problem with the more so-called “girly” parts of my interests made me more confident that he wouldn’t have a problem with it either. (And he didn’t—I’m fortunate to have a truly excellent brother.)

Looking back, being an anime fan before I met other female anime fans was characterized by a lot of tension, first in hiding my love of anime from “normal people,” and then from hiding particular aspects of my enjoyment of anime from those who remained. Meeting other female anime fans released that tension and allowed me to relax in a way I couldn’t allow myself to before.

It was also after that I met other female anime fans that I began to be drawn into online fandom, particularly fanfiction, but I’m not sure if I can say that was directly because of meeting them. I do think it accelerated the process (as it was one of those friends stumbling upon fanfiction and then showing it to me that introduced me to the concept), but I’d already been fond of writing for years, and had just begun exploring the Internet myself at home, so it’s not impossible that I would have stumbled upon it eventually. It did become a core part of our friendship, though, and one that was never shared by the male anime fans in my life.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from how it is now. A big focus was on actually getting access to various series—it was really freaking hard. My brother and I depended on rentals from Hastings and friends who had more channels than us recording bits and pieces of series for us. It was very male-dominated—like I mentioned above, I didn’t meet another female anime fan until I was in the 6th grade; before then, I relied on my brother and his friends to talk about anime with.

Also: loving anime was like, a HUGE SECRET for me. I was open enough about it with my brother and his friends, but with MY friends and classmates? Nope. Never said a word. I only met the other female anime fan in 6th grade because I vaguely described a moment “from a show I saw” in front of a new acquaintance, and SHE (who was ALSO keeping her love of anime a secret) recognized it as a moment from Yu Yu Hakusho—and then, on top of that, that revelation led to me finding out that another girl I’d been friends with since 4th grade was also obsessed with anime and video games and had been keeping it a secret. Like, we’d been good friends for over two years, and these were major hobbies for us, yet neither of us had felt comfortable enough to reveal our “secret” to one another until a series of coincidental events sent our secrets toppling down. There was just such a taboo on being an anime/video game fan, and doubly so if you were a girl—it’s weird to remember that now.

Why did people back then keep anime fandom a secret? Why was it especially important for girls to do so? Again, I don’t think I ever consciously thought about why it had to be such a secret, but I think I can break it down the reasons why I felt that way. There was very much a dislike of the “other,” that is to say, the “nerdy.” This very much only applied to anime and video games. Even what we thought of as the “normal” kids in our school were drawn to card games for a few years during elementary, and other kids actually admired me for reading so much. My brother and his friends were actually bullied to varying extents, though I didn’t know this until years later. At the same time, I was very much aware of how other, “normal” people viewed one particular friend of my brother, who was also happened to be the one who was the most open about loving anime (he wore anime-themed t-shirts, had anime pins on his backpack, etc.) (He was also, I learned later, the one who had been bullied the worst.)

Basically, the culture around me gave me the feeling that liking anime and video games was something to be looked down upon, though it’d never been stated to me in such terms. Furthermore, there was a sense that these were essentially “boy” interests—boy interests that should be mocked, yes, but something for boys all the same. So that compounded the problem for me: it was supposedly embarrassing to like these things, and even if it was going to hypothetically be okay for a boy to like them, I, as a girl, shouldn’t have been interested in them at all. I think I mentioned that I’d been close friends with a certain girl for two years before we found out that we were both closet anime and video game fans (and fairly passionate fans at that). I never asked her why she kept it a secret and she never asked me, and it was because it was something that we never needed to ask: it was something that we both took as a given.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? For me, the internet didn’t really play a role until I got into middle school. Any connection with fans happened only if you happened to meet someone who liked anime (which sometimes was a complicated thing to figure out, as my story in the above answer might suggest.)

What was online fandom like then? What sites and services did people converge around? Most of my online fandom interactions were in the context of fanfiction and the fanfiction-writing community. The very first site with anime fans on it that I discovered was called Quizilla. I believe that it no longer exists, but it was a website formed around user-created quizzes. Not all were fandom-related, not by a longshot—there were all sorts of quizzes with titles like “What color is your soul?” and “What animal are you?” and so on—but there were also fandom-related quizzes like “Which Yu Yu Hakusho character are you?” and “Which Inuyasha character would be your boyfriend?”

It was through this website that my friends and I discovered fanfiction. Quizilla definitely wasn’t created to host stories, but people posted them anyways. This is a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll try. Each chapter of a story was posted as its own “quiz” (and before Quizilla implemented a folder structure where you could group quizzes of a similar type, it was sometimes difficult to find each chapter in the right order on the writer’s page). People handled this in different ways: some posted the entire chapter text in the first question box, others split it up among questions boxes with the “answers” being used to track people’s reactions (i.e., “I like it so far, keep going!” could be the first answer option, while the second would be something like “Ugh, this sucks!”). The only way to track how many people read a story is if they went to the quiz results page, so some authors would post the last section of the chapter in the results in an effort to get people to click through, while others would try to tempt them with the promise of pretty/cute/sexy fanart (which they’d usually found through Google—crediting the original artists definitely wasn’t a big concern back then). Later, Quizilla did implement a story posting feature, and reactions among the writers were mixed: most of my friends (online and offline) and I were decidedly against it, though I no longer remember why.

Pretty much all the stories on Quizilla were self-inserts, and I believe that it was mostly younger fans in their teens who converged there. Most discussion took place through private messages, which were usually started when someone liked someone else’s story. Some people did put what were basically chat room widgets in the results pages of their stories, but most of what was posted there was feedback on the story itself, though sometimes actual discussion did occur. I think that Quizilla did implement message boards or community posts later on, but I never spent much time on them.

A couple of years later, I discovered fanfiction.net, and through it Livejournal. I still spent time on Quizilla, but I definitely began to fade out of it as my main online home in favor of Livejournal. I joined LJ when I was about 13, and I do think there was an older demographic there than there was on Quizilla: while there were plenty of people around my age and older, I don’t really recall anyone who was younger than me—at least, not who would admit to it—and there were plenty of people college aged and older. There was much more in-depth discussion there than on Quizilla, but also more discussion about our personal lives. I made friends on Quizilla, but I made many more on LJ, and the environment on there was definitely more conducive to that. At the same time, there was a stronger emphasis on pseudonyms than there is now. Only my closest friends learned my real name, for instance.

I also briefly spent some time in a general chatroom on an anime website. I’m not sure which one it was anymore. Both male and female anime fans talked there, most of them in their teens or early twenties, and fanfiction didn’t play a role in the discussions at all. There were also roleplaying communities on LJ and Proboards, but I didn’t really spend much time there, so I can’t say much about it.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
I’ve… actually never gone to a convention. I remember that I was D Y I N G to for most of middle school and high school, but all the conventions at the time were just too far away, and too much money for me to justify it with.

Have you been to any in-person fandom events, like a club? I was technically a member of my high school’s anime club for about two years, but it was a disappointing experience all around. It mostly comprised of everyone disagreeing about what anime to watch, and then watching nothing in the end. There was also a bit of an unwelcoming attitude there. For instance, my best friend at the time had a well-known love of Pikachu, and when we were tossing around ideas for a potential t-shirt for the club, many of the members thought it would be “hilarious” if some drew a picture of Goku killing Pikachu to use on the t-shirt. Yeah.

For many years I also attended a regular meet-up of card players at a local restaurant every Saturday, and while the focus was mostly on card games (all kinds, but the main one was initially Yu-Gi-Oh, and then Magic: The Gathering later on), many of them were fans of actual anime as well. Some of the memberships between these groups did overlap (though there were many more card-players than anime club members), and both very much had a boy’s club kind of atmosphere (my best friend at the time was the only other girl who attended the card-playing meet-ups), though I liked the card-player meet-ups better.

You said anime fandom, “was very male-dominated.” Is it different today? Why or why not? This is a bit of tricky question for me to answer, because the context in which I interact with anime fandom is so very different. Anime fandom was very male-dominated for me in my early years as a fan because I was almost entirely limited to interacting with anime fans in real life, and the majority of them (at least, the majority who would admit to be anime fans) were male. Even when I started interacting more with (mostly female) fans on the internet, I continued to know mostly male anime fans in real life. These days, I interact almost solely with female anime fans, but nearly all of those interactions occur online.

That being said, I do think it’s easier for me personally to be open about being an anime fan than it was when I was younger. If I worry about someone judging me for being an anime fan in real life, it’s because I’m worried that they’ll judge me for being someone who likes anime, period, not because they’ll judge for specifically being a girl who likes anime. In that sense, I do think the boundaries have broadened.

#45: Britanee

Age: 24

Location: San Antonio, Texas

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My first experience was actually with manga. A friend of mine in middle school was reading Fruits Basket and thought I would enjoy it. I made note of it and a few months later made time to read a volume (I don’t think it was volume one). I believe this was around 8th grade. I was fascinated with the differences in the education system and culture and was hooked. I started reading tons of series and one of them lead me to watching my first anime. I think it was Ouran High School Host Club but I’m not 100% positive. (Technically my first anime was Sailor Moon or Pokemon but they did not register as anime at the time I was watching.) I went to high school and started watching more series with new friends such as Samurai Champloo.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The difference of culture between Japan and America fascinated me and lead me to focus on study international business law for a class in my senior year of high school. (I went to a business high school intending to pursue business law as a career which quickly shifted as I began reading more manga and watching more series of anime.) I have always been a very avid reader so manga played a larger part of the start of my fandom experience than anime. As I began to read more, my interests in the world at a global level began to grow because it made me view things through a different cultural lens.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I actually started getting into watching more anime in high school, the most popular title on campus with my friends was Hetalia. Season One had just finished airing and I was told it was something I had to watch and would enjoy. So I did and they were right. Naruto, Bleach, and Fullmetal Alchemist were also all popular at the time. (Of those three, the only one I watched was Fullmetal Alchemist).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It wasn’t until I went to undergrad that I started interacting more with the fandom community. I joined my first anime club and got to know more fans. Our president at the time was from what she considered an older generation or the golden generation of fans. She prided herself on having been around fandom for a while. Her meetings were lecture-styled and provided an interesting perspective from a fan who had been around much longer. Unfortunately, she had an elitist tone and it was off-putting for a lot of people.

That same year I got to know some other people previously from the club and got to experience lots of different types of fans. Some were casual fans that lived by, “yeah it’s a thing I sometimes enjoy but if I didn’t have it it would be fine,” and others threw themselves wholeheartedly into their passions, creating elaborate cosplay costumes and attending conventions.

This was the first time I attended a convention. It was out of the city in Dallas, Texas and called Yule-Con. (I believe that it may have been the last year it was held). I meet fanfic writers and artists and enjoyed the convention. At the end of the year the president graduated and I became VP and Risk Manger of the organization and my soon-to-be roommate became president. That summer we attended A-kon in Dallas (my second convention). My now former president mentioned that she would one day like to see our college host an anime convention and I tucked that away to think on. At this point both conventions I had been to had been treated like shopping trips.

Once college started back up, we started running our meetings more like discussions than lectures and made sure the atmosphere was never one of discomfort or superiority. (Neither my roommate nor I were overly fond of the way the previous president had imposed or flaunted her superiority and we wanted our members to be comfortable sharing what they liked with us). Towards the end of the semester the convention was brought back up as a goal and I looked at my roommate and shrugged telling her if she wanted to do it we could make it happen now not one day in the future. So we asked our club members if that would be something they would be interested in hosting (most of them had never been to a convention) and when they said yes we got to work. We made reservations on campus and did a few hours of research to figure out where fandom people hung out in the city. We went out and met people (most slightly older than us) and started talking to them. The community was very relaxed, friendly and open to helping us host our first convention.

We held our first convention after planning for a bit less than a year and had about 200 people show up. The next year we did it again and had around 400 people show up. The weather was awful that day with severe rain and the community was used to college conventions being held outside so our attendance wasn’t as high as it could have been. Those that did come loved it both years and our school loved the event as well. We graduated that year and sadly the convention did not happen again after we had left. (Side note: we only spent money operating the con the first year, probably between $1,000-$1,500. It made enough to sustain itself the second year and had enough to pay for the third year, which unfortunately never happened.)

My former roommate, best friend, and I continued to go to conventions in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. We just attended Sakura-Con in Seattle last weekend and what I can say is that every city has a unique feel to fandom. San Antonio is open about where to find fandoms and fandom related things both big and small; Dallas and some of the people from there (the president before us was from the area) held a feel of elitism in some aspects; Houston was harder to find fandom things in outside of the larger events.

We didn’t get to experience much of Seattle’s scene since we were only there a handful of days but we did notice a huge difference in the Lolita scene there (not anime I know but a small portion of the community still). The Lolitas from the Seattle area were much more open and friendly to experimenting with the fashion, making things yourself and not having to have name brand clothes to fit in. As opposed to the Lolita community we found in Texas, which is difficult to become involved in if you don’t have the money or figure to fit into a brand name or nearly brand name cord [Lolita speak for “coordinated outfit.”]

Fandom is very much what you make of it. My experience started off small where I would watch some shows illegally and read many things illegally (translations where slow to come out). Now we have so many ways to legally watch shows as they come out (paid or unpaid for a week delay) and translations and dubs are coming out at rapid speeds. Fandom access is definitely increasing and more fandom specific spaces are being created such as Ao3 [Archive of our Own, a fan-run, non-profit fanfiction archive.] Technology allows us to follow and filter through massive amounts of data easily to create our desired experience. At this point my biggest issue is I can’t actively visit an cafes [restaurants with anime themes] without a plane ticket to Japan. I use a forwarding service to order most of the products I want including Blu Rays for Yuri!!! on Ice and ACCA from Animate [Japan’s largest anime retail chain] for all the lovely exclusives. (Which, in retrospect, if I wasn’t spending thousands of dollars on merch, I’d have enough to spend a few weeks in Japan.)

My fandom experience is rather short lived as I only dabbled a little in high school and didn’t actively get involved until college. So if you count active involvement it’s been about 6 years, about 11 years since I first started reading manga, and 9 since I started fanning over things with groups of people.

Your early fandom experience was influenced by an anime club president who was a bit of a gatekeeper. In which ways did this inspire you to treat other fans better when you were in her position? Could you name some of the ways you worked to keep your club intentionally welcoming? I was raised to treat everyone equally, listen fairly to what they say, and judge based on their actions, not what they liked and disliked. Seeing people shut down because they were told they had bad taste didn’t sit very well with me or my now best friend so we decided that we would make sure nobody felt bad about what series they liked even if we didn’t care for them ourselves.

We made sure to let everyone have a chance to speak and let the club members decide some of the topics they wanted covered. We also made sure to ask them if they wanted parties for holidays and what kind of foods they wanted. We had some vegan club members so I made sure there were things they could eat and would bake a lot of things from scratch or adapt box mixes to leave out ingredients they couldn’t eat.

We would let them vote on what series they wanted to watch and ask their opinions about things and even held a couple of Socratic style discussions where we provided materials before the meeting for them to look over and form opinions about so we could discuss the effects it had on fandom. (One of these was the Aurora Colorado Batman movies shooting) we always made sure to have an open door policy if they needed to talk to us about anything at almost anytime (the biggest exception being when we were in class).

We made sure they could use us as both a resource and a support system and would invite club members to have dinner with us occasionally when we cooked. There would be nights when I made dinner for about 10 people or so depending on who was available and wanted to come.

Amazing to hear about the format of your college anime club (mine just watched anime, no discussion at all)! Can you tell me more about that and whether your alma mater still does it that way? I haven’t been back in about two years and leadership has changed. I think discussion-wise they are still doing things the same way but I think the way the club is managed has changed to reflect the current leadership. One of the club members at least ended up leaving due to the effects of the new leadership because she didn’t feel as welcome. The person we left in charge had a very different style than we did and I believe she should have graduated this year. I didn’t end undergrad on the best of terms with her because of a personal matter and the way she treated my best friend, the club member that ended up leaving the organization and myself after we were already making the transitional process.

I think it’s fascinating that you found different regional “pockets” of fandom with different vibes. Do you think the internet has made fandom more homogenous, why or why not? I think the internet has made it easier to find people with the same tastes and opinions but it hasn’t made it homogenous. People will always have different opinions based on their own experiences. What the internet has done is made it easier for people to attack things they don’t like or agree with. Your experiences very much depend on how you navigate your own online browsing. Some people have very diverse social media profiles while others fall into a very homogenous pool. It’s very easy to filter your online experience to be what you want it to be. Things like this depend on the person, the platform the use and how they control their viewing experiences.

How did you discover Lolita subculture? Was it related to your interest in anime? It was definitely connected to anime and manga. I probably read something or saw something and started looking into the fashion. I haven’t invested yet because it costs a fair amount to buy most of the dresses and it’s difficult to find things that will fit properly over the internet. Most likely I will need to buy things in person or make them myself and that’s a little advanced for where my skills currently sit.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I think there is a much bigger push to support things legally now. Crunchyroll and Funimation have worked really hard to make a large number of series available to people outside of Japan. You can find things easier now than you used to be able to and they are working to bring things even quicker. We still have problems getting more of the anime movies brought over but series aren’t as hard to find. You don’t have to settle for what’s airing on tv because now we have 20+ series being done every season. Streaming has made life easier in a lot of ways and also helps support creators.

Britanee can be reached on Twitter

#41: Justin Stroman

Age: 27

Location: New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Was around the 3rd grade when I stumbled onto a show simply titled Pokemon. Needless to say, at the time, I had no idea it was anime. It just so happened to air on TV alongside other cartoons at the time, and I didn’t think much of it.

In fact, I didn’t think much of it for a while since I didn’t really seek out anything else like it—if it was on my TV, and it was a cartoon, I was gonna watch it.

So truthfully I probably did not realize what anime was or could be like until I discovered The International Channel somewhere around 1999 or 2000. It was a channel devoted to showing, well, foreign creations. The two that I remember was Dragon Ball GT (at a time where we had Dragon Ball Z and all) and Slayers…subtitled.

Yes, that’s right, subtitled. I can’t tell you how odd that was, but I can tell you how I remember the subs were also yellow… Anyway, it started with that, then TechTV started Anime Unleashed, and my interest in anime began right here.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I have to think at the time it was the stories that drove me than anything else. Most of the cartoons that I watched like Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, etc, and even stuff like Power Rangers generally were set for kids to enjoy, so that meant you’ll get comedy sets, monster of the week, etc. Pokemon had some of that too, but the overarching goal was Ash’s journey to become a Pokemon Master. There was a story driven reason to tune in each week. The look of anime might have also been a factor as well.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Very much a quiet thing. Like nobody I knew went out of their way to talk about anime unless it was on Toonami. Forget about buying anime—the only places I could figure out where it was was at FYE or Suncoast, in New Jersey. It was at least a good hour or so by train going from NY to NJ, and the only time I would ever go to the mall was if the whole family was. And I discovered magazines like Otaku USA and Newtype pretty late.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? While I think you could do a bunch of things thanks to the internet in the early 2000s, I wasn’t old enough to buy anything online, or find out where to watch anime online, or… well, yeah. I was very much a TV person. So I can probably say it impacted others, but not me personally.

So truthfully, I didn’t really connect with many fans around the 2000s.

How did you start connecting with fans then? There were two times where I began connecting with fans: 2008 and 2010.

Inspired by what my friends did in high school, I had the bright idea of starting an anime club… as a freshman in college. I only knew one person at the school who was interested in anime, and that was through a summer program. So it was a case of convincing students before classes started (each class had about 20-30 people), then making my case to the Student Council why the school should have an anime club. For me, it was a very harrowing experience as I’m introverted by nature. I think it took about a month and a half before I had my club officers and six other students that said they’d be interested in joining the club! Anyways, I was President for those four years, and those four years were a mix of stress and regrets yet remains one of the best experiences ever. It was great to meet a number of people who liked the same thing I did, and generally do things I’ve never done before with people that were super passionate about anime. While there are many things I’d like to take back, there are also many things I will cherish for a long, long time.

In 2010, one of those anime club members happened to be a writer. I began desiring to write about anime and manga—I ended up asking about teaming up to start a blog. That blog turned out to be Organization ASG, or Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, sometime in late December. Six years and five months later, I still had no idea this would be the result, as I’ve found friends, met cool people, and traveled to Anime Boston and Anime Expo as press, which I used to believe was for only for super popular (and more established) outlets, and cover a convention. Like anime club, there are many things I’d like to take back but there are also many things I will cherish for a long, long time. Unlike anime club, I hope there’s a lot more experiences to come since I’m still maintaining the site.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
The first convention that I went to was New York Comic Con 2006 on a Sunday. I remember because I went with my mom. It was definitely a culture shock since I had never seen so many people that were into all of this, including anime or manga.

My first strictly anime convention I went to was the second New York Anime Festival in 2008. Just like NYCC, just seeing people in cosplay, all the items in the dealers’ hall, etc, I had never experienced anything like it.

When you went with your mom, whose idea was it? What did your mom think of the con? It was definitely my idea to go, but naturally I was not going alone! I guess I was either 16 or 17 when I told my mom about NYCC and she decided she was coming with me since it was my first convention and first time at the Jacob Javits Center.

My mom was shocked at the amount of people that was there, mainly because I don’t think she knew there would be this many fans of comics and stuff. But aside from that and her desire to buy certain art materials that she saw, I can’t remember if she felt any other way about the con.

You said, of your first con, “I had never experienced anything like it.” Could you elaborate why and how? So I think the biggest event I can say I went to where there was a lot of people was a basketball game when I was a kid. The only thing I remember was the stadium I went to (Continental Airlines Arena, where the Nets used to play). School plays had a lot of people (parents and relatives) watching their kids singing on stage, and those were something else since I had to be the one singing!

But just going to NYCC felt different. For starters, it meant a lot of walking around. It meant discovering ways to buy anime (or manga). It meant seeing people in costumes (and finding out what cosplay meant!). For someone who relied heavily on anime on TV and whatever VHS I could find in stores, it was certainly a new experience to me.

Now that you’re a blogger, how has your view of the fandom changed? How has your participation in the fandom changed? Before starting all of this I didn’t really have a view of fandom since I didn’t interact with most of it. But in starting a blog and interacting with not only bloggers, but fans and industry members either to learn information or get quotes for a story, I’ve basically met a ton of passionate people who love what they do. Do they love working on a costume a week or a day before a convention? Probably not. But I’ve met those people and they will spend long hours to express what they love, and that is cool. While there’s always issues, I’d like to think the positives far outweigh the negatives within fandom.

I guess the best way to answer how I participate in fandom is I try to contribute in some way. There are a number of ways to show support for what you love, whether it’s buying anime BDs or manga, cosplaying, drawing, or shooting videos. Before blogging the only thing I did was watch whatever was on TV, then find anime on YouTube (not knowing it wasn’t legal at the time to watch them) and then read manga. Now I’m actually way more aware of upcoming anime and manga, I’m probably watching more anime than I would’ve without blogging, and of course, I try to write about either industry or things happening in the community.

So I’d say my participation in fandom has changed considerably since I started blogging.

Justin can be reached on Twitter

#40: Videogamep

Age: 21

Location: California

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I discovered it by watching Naruto on Toonami in 2005. From there, I started watching Zatch Bell, One Piece, Bleach, and other shows on Toonami. I didn’t branch out beyond that or get involved in the larger fandom until 2013, when I watched Angel Beats, Sword Art Online, Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, and several other popular shows.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I always liked the particular style of fantasy action you see in long-running shonen that just wasn’t done in other mediums. It had a certain type of cool that I had never seen anywhere else. I had also never seen a TV show with that much of an overarching story or that much complexity. I had only seen American cartoons (and Pokemon) before that, and those rarely had any overarching plot and were largely directed at a younger audience.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Naruto, no question.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t really a part of the fandom at the time. I didn’t use the internet as much back then and didn’t know a lot of other fans. What I remember most is watching and discussing the latest Naruto episodes with my younger brother, who began watching it even before I did.

Tell me more about your younger brother. How did he get into anime? Did he stay into it up until today? My younger brother got into anime pretty much the same way I did. We would both watch Pokémon as kids, and he started watching Naruto on Toonami shortly before I did. He isn’t as into it today but he still occasionally watches action shows like Attack on Titan.

Can you tell me about the first time you met another anime fan? Was it in person or online? Aside from my brother, the first anime fan I met was a kid I knew at elementary school who also liked Naruto. I don’t remember a lot of details but I remember talking about it with him during recess. The first time I got involved with an anime related community was through editing on the One Piece Wiki back in 2012, which I still do today.

How did you get into that? I originally started because I was (and still am) a huge One Piece fan and I browsed there fairly regularly. I started editing by correcting small spelling and grammar errors and kept going from there. I’ve stuck with it because I’ve gotten more involved with the community there and I like making sure the wiki is good quality. I’m also a content mod there, which is a step above ordinary users but below admins. I’m not as active as I used to be, but I still edit there fairly frequently.

I also started blogging about a year ago, and I’ve gotten even more involved with the community through that.

How did you express your interest in Naruto? Did you create art or write stories or anything like that? Aside from watching the weekly episodes on Toonami, I began buying Naruto video games whenever I found out about a new one and could talk my parents into getting it for me. They were usually fighting games that I played by myself against the AI, but I also sometimes did matches against my brother. I still have all of the games today, and I think I ended up getting about nine or ten different games, some of which I still play occasionally. I also started reading the manga weekly after my brother picked it up. I had always watched the dub, so the manga was far ahead of what I was familiar with, but I was so eager for new content that I read it anyway. I even bought some Naruto trading cards once, although I never did much with them.

Do you remember your first anime convention? What was it like? My first anime convention was Anime Expo 2014 (I had dropped into a smaller convention for a few hours once, but I didn’t really do anything). It was a lot of fun, but the lines are what I remember most. That was the year the computers they used for badge pickups broke, and I ended up waiting in line to get mine for three hours in July heat and some of the events had such long lines that they filled up before I got to go in. I’m still glad I went to the con, though. I got to go to a lot of cool panels, even with the lines, and it was the first time I had seen so many fans in one place. I had so much fun that I’ve gone every year since, except now I always buy premier badges so I can skip the lines.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I wasn’t that involved with the community until around 2014, but what I remember most from the early days was how huge Naruto was. Toonami would always promote it heavily, every fan I met knew about it or watched it, and it was one of the first shows I thought of when I thought “anime.” Back then, especially among people my age, the main source of anime was Toonami, so all of the biggest hits were shows from there. Bleach and One Piece were also pretty popular around that time, but Bleach didn’t come around until a little later, and One Piece never quite caught on in like the other two.

Videogamep can be reached on Twitter and his blog