#25: Dawn

Age: 35

Location: Dallas, Texas

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Technically when I was around five or six with things like Unico, Galaxy Express, and Warriors of the Wind at video stores, and watching repeats of Speed Racer with my dad on TV. It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 when I discovered stuff like this was “Japanese animation” and that was why I liked it so much. With the Sailor Moon/Dragon Ball boom in ’95, I got more into tape trading & fandom type things like cons. I’ve been buying and watching since.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The art styles were nothing like what I’d seen before, and there were more sci-fi/fantasy bends to stories, which I really enjoyed.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? When I was first becoming aware of what anime was? Definitely Star Blazers and Robotech a little later.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? When I first started collecting it, there wasn’t really much of a “fandom” in my area. I occasionally ran into other fans at comic conventions (my main source of getting tapes at first), sometimes at the comic store. It wasn’t until the mid ’90s when I started pen-paling that I really communicated with other fans. (This was after I published my address in a comic pen pal column saying I was looking for friends who liked anime as well.) We’d talk about our favorites, trade tapes and small merch like trading cards & stickers, etc. This was long before having the Internet & chatting online was common. It was basically the snail mail equivalent to that.

Tell me about tape trading. Did it cost money? How did you get tapes you could trade? Tape trading varied to whoever it was you were trading with and what you were trading. Sometimes I traded tapes with friends—this was the easiest, of course. We’d write up lists of what anime VHS we owned… I was VERY thorough & would include info on the condition of the tape, what “generation” it was (i.e. if it was a copy of a copy, something taped off TV, or a store-bought copy), etc. We’d buy blank tapes, choose what we wanted the other to copy, hook the VCRs together, and make copies for each other.

If I was trading tapes with a pen pal, it went pretty similarly; only we’d mail each other the tapes, which of course added to the cost. And sometimes I’d trade tapes with people I’d see on BBS boards or mailing lists who’d post their lists of tapes they had. If I didn’t have anything they’d want to trade, most would offer to send me a copy of something if I sent them a few bucks for a tape & the cost of postage. (Of course, there were a few times that money would be sent and I’d never receive anything. This was the dangers we had to face in the pre-Paypal era of sending cash or money orders through the mail… no guarantee or safety net if it got lost in the mail or someone just decided to keep your money.)

The tapes I started with were either things I recorded off of TV, things I bought either retail or at comic conventions & comic shops, or things I had rented and made copies of. For years, one of the standard things my parents would give me as gifts were blank VHS tapes, because they knew I’d use them! (I know that might sound ridiculous, but the cost of tapes added up quickly!)

Tell me more about pen paling. What magazine let you do this? Who were your pen pals and where were they? Are you still in touch? Many of the anime/manga related magazines would let you publish your address if you were interested in having people write to you who were also anime fans! Animerica, Mangazine, and I believe Protoculture Addicts all had pen pal sections or would include them in their Letters from Readers sections. Back in the day of American Monthly-style manga releases, Dark Horse & Viz often had letters sections in the backs of their more popular titles (similar to old Marvel or DC comics) and would also publish your address for pen pals if you requested it. I wrote to many people this way all over the US, and even in other parts of the world like the UK, Spain, and Italy!

Most of my pen pals were girls close to my age or a little older, too—I only had maybe two or three male pen pals. Many of us wrote to each other, so we were all kind of networked, too, because it was so hard for some people to find local fans to talk to and geek out with. At one point, I had nearly 100 pen pals, if you can believe it! But nowadays, I only still keep in contact with maybe 20 or so, though we now keep in contact via the internet. (Though a few of them still write me letters, too!)

One of my favorite memories of pen paling with other anime fans was that when Sailor Moon was originally canceled the first time, many of my friends asked if I knew how the end of the season (what was Sailor Moon R) went. I had managed to get fansubs of it, so I hand wrote detailed notes of the last few episodes for my friends who couldn’t afford to trade tapes. Word got around that I had the lowdown on Sailor Moon knowledge, so others asked for explanations as well… I got so tired of re-writing them over and over again that I ended up writing it one more time & making multiple photocopies to send to people just to save time. (This was before I had access to a computer & printer, obviously!)

What were comic conventions like back then? The comic conventions I went to in the ’90s were definitely super small affairs that would probably be laughable compared to the ones people go to now. Three banquet halls in a DoubleTree Inn: one for vendors, one for special guests (usually comic artists or inkers, sometimes a writer or a voice actor who was known for comic-related cartoons), and then another sectioned off into video rooms (i.e. a tube TV with a VCR on a cart with about 10 folding chairs in front of it), with maybe one or two lonely TVs for random anime or tokusatsu showings. The untranslated stuff would either have an accompanied printed paper script passed out to people so they could “follow along”, or the person showing it would stand there while it played and gave a play-by-play narration (which was kind of sketchy at best).

Sometimes in the “dealers room”, you’d be lucky and find someone who’d have bootleg VHS of random anime, almost ALWAYS untranslated (sometimes it’d just be something randomly recorded off of Japanese TV, commercials and all!). Every once in a while you’d also find someone who had a relative who got stationed in Japan in the army or navy & picked up a bunch of random toys or stickers to sell, for ridiculously high prices because it was “imported” and “rare.” Back then I was still keeping current with American comics alongside manga and anime, though, so I always enjoyed going to these and scouring the area for any anime stuff that looked cool.

Today you run the Anime Nostalgia Podcast. What captivates you about anime back then? Growing up, I gravitated towards anime because it seemed so much more imaginative than the usual stuff I’d watch. The art styles were usually a bit different, which made them intriguing, and there were movies or shows that featured young girls or women as the main characters. There was also a lot of really neat sci-fi stories being made, too, which I was also very interested in. While anime still has most of that going for it today, there’s something to be said about HOW these older things were made. You can’t replicate the look of ink and paint on celluloid with a computer…I mean, you can TRY, but it’s just never going to look exactly the same. Watching something like the Galaxy Express 999 movie, The Fantastic Adventures of Unico, Robot Carnival, Gunbuster, or Akira… there was a team of people who painted all of those frames, bit by bit, and there’s an aesthetic there that’s very difficult to capture with modern technology. I hate to romanticize it because I’m definitely not saying modern animators today don’t work hard (because they DO, a little TOO hard, really!), but there’s something almost awe-inspiring about seeing a giant mecha transform on screen without the help of a 3D modeling computer program. These were the things that people working today were watching that inspired THEM to work in the industry, not to mention stuff like this inspired a whole generation world-wide, not just in Japan, to write their own stories, or become animators or storyboard artists or character designers.

Every era of anime has their gems, and I love sharing these older things with new fans because they get to see it with fresh eyes for the first time. That’s part of the magic of anime, and why it’s so fun to share things with others. There’s always something you haven’t seen yet, just waiting to be uncovered and loved for the first time.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The most obvious difference is definitely accessibility. It felt like there were less anime fans back in the day because the threshold for becoming one wasn’t very easy to jump over. If you wanted anime, you had to find it, and it wasn’t easily gotten for most people. If you didn’t have a local video store that carried any, you had to seek it out either through mail order or comic stores. There wasn’t much anime on TV for free, and the ones that were were famously edited or changed, and you just had to deal with it. Before the internet, if you wanted fansubs of something, you had to wait YEARS for something to be translated & available, and you’d have to order it through snail mail. Now you can get anime pretty much everywhere, and even watch things for free online with ads on various streaming sites. Anyone can get into anime in a single afternoon, and have years worth of anime at their fingertips, which is pretty convenient!

It’s also SO INCREDIBLY EASY to find almost all the information you’d want to know about an anime series, who produced it, the creators, the voice actors, the designers, the animators… I remember poring over Japanese magazines like Newtype and Animage, learning specific people’s names in kanji so I could look for them and see what else they were doing. Every tidbit of information fans could find was worth their weight in gold; and once Geocities took off, fansites were sometimes our only source of info for things (and sometimes it’d just be someone giving their best guesses).

Dawn can be found on Twitter and the Anime Nostalgia Podcast

#24: Sarah

Age: 36

Location: Ireland

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. As a little girl, I watched loads of shows. I knew they were Japanese cartoons, but they were all dubbed in French. I used to browse the aisles of FNAC whenever I went back to France. In 2012, after lots of recent chats about Rose of Versailles I looked it up online, only to discover I could watch it again! And down the rabbit hole I fell…

So you bought it in France and watched it dubbed in French? Yes, I lived in France from age two to 17.  I used to watch anime on kids TV shows on Saturday and Sunday mornings, dubbed into French.  There was a bit of censorship, but not too much.  There was some collaboration between the French and Japanese animation industries so we benefited from that.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?

What about those stories made them special? They were so imaginative!   Remember, I was a kid back then (mid ’80s to very early ’90s) so I didn’t yet appreciate the various artistic components within the medium.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Candy Candy, Cat’s Eye. I could go on…

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Just like any kids watching cartoons really…

Tell me about rediscovering anime in 2012. Why did you take a break from anime, and what was it like to dive back in? When I was 15 I started going to school here in Ireland, and moved back here full time in 1997.  There was a lot less anime on TV here back then, which is why I stopped watching.  I always remembered them fondly though, and could still sing the theme tunes to some of my favourites. In fact, I’ve also got a playlist on YouTube of my favorite OPs and EDs even today.

Shows from when we were kids was a favourite topic of small talk with friends and family members, but I didn’t have that many in common with those who had grown up in Ireland.   Imagine my delight when I discovered that anime had also been a staple of kids TV in Italy way back when!  My husband is 10 years older than me, so the only show we had both watched was “Goldorak”, which is what Mazinger was called.  Some of our other Italian friends on the other hand were of the same vintage as me.  When we were talking about “Oscar” (French name) / “Lady Oscar” (Italian name), one of them told me she had been watching it recently online… so guess who went on Google as soon as possible?

I started by watching Rose of Versailles, but subbed this time, and Georgie. The first new anime that I watched was Ouran High School Host Club, and I haven’t stopped since.  I’ve come across some real gems, and I appreciate the medium as an art form now in ways I couldn’t when I was younger.  I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, and I’ve been blown away by the intricacy of some shots.  What I love about anime is that at its best, it marries music, sound production, direction, storytelling and visual art into a beautiful whole.

In 2012, did you participate in fandom? Talking on forums, creating fan art or a site, or anything like that? At first I just read some synopses on some sites like MyAnimeList, but eventually I wanted to keep a list of the manga I was reading and the anime I had watched.  That is when I discovered Anime Planet.  I’ve been active on and off on the forums on that site, and I’m a member of the Welcome Committee.  This is my main link to anime fandom, though I also follow a few users on Twitter, which is how I discovered your project!

What did your family think of your interest in anime? Right now my family consists of my husband and my son. They don’t share my interest, but they don’t mind it either.

When you first discovered anime you saw it as just normal cartoons. When did you go from being a cartoon fan to an anime fan specifically? When I started watching anime seriously again in 2012.  I have a much better appreciation of the work that goes into producing each episode… and more patience for different styles and types.

Sarah can be found on Twitter and Anime Planet

#22: Margaret

Age: 30

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I’ve been aware of it almost my entire life. My siblings watched the Speed Racer dub when they were growing up, so I’d seen most of that, and I’d caught a few episodes of the original Voltron series when I was little. I didn’t get super into it until the DiC dub of Sailor Moon, which I watched off and on until it aired on Toonami, and then I became OBSESSED. Gundam Wing, Cardcaptor Sakura, Escaflowne, Ronin Warriors, and a bunch of others only solidified my love for it.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think the main appeal to me was the different art and storytelling styles. Specifically, when I got into Sailor Moon (and other magical girl anime), it was the idea that girls could be the main focus and have all the cool superpowers. It wasn’t a totally unknown concept to me at the time, but most of the other media I was into were either strictly male-centric or didn’t bother to focus all that much on the female characters. The fact that Usagi and friends could be silly and argue and at the end of the day still be best friends, all with awesome magical abilities and high-stakes saving-the-world battles, really sold me on it.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? My pre-teen self would’ve only known about the shows on Toonami and Fox, so she would absolutely say Sailor Moon. Looking back now, it was probably Cowboy Bebop or Trigun? Neither of which I watched until I was in college.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Sailor Moon was my first fandom ever, online or otherwise, so it was sort of life-changing in a lot of ways, if I may be so cliche. I made a lot of friends online back then (one of whom I’m still friends with!) and got exposed to so much amazing media that I wouldn’t have been aware of if it hadn’t been for anime fandom. I don’t remember there being much drama (unlike the fandom I got into in my later teen years, Harry Potter), but I was also pretty oblivious to anything that wasn’t immediately affecting me at the time.

What was it like to be a part of Sailor Moon fandom in particular? Were there certain sites everyone visited? This was 16+ years ago now, so I may be over-nostalgic, but I remember it being a very positive experience! There were a lot of older people in the group I primarily interacted with (probably in their 20’s-30’s back then, which seemed INCREDIBLY OLD when I was 13/14), and they were generally encouraging and nice to those of us who were younger. I learned a lot from them—not just about fandom and anime, but about writing and editing and how to interact with people on the internet. I kind of wish I knew what they were all up to now, but I lost track of them a really long time ago. We used Yahoo! Groups to talk mostly, and AIM when that was a thing, and there were a couple Sailor Moon fansites that we all visited. I’m not sure if any of them are still accessible or not. Lycentia’s Sailor Moon Graphics is one I specifically remember since I think I learned some basic HTML from it. Fanfiction.net was the big fic repository at the time, before they banned explicit stories.

How did you express your fandom? Fanfic! It was usually very angsty and/or dark, or at least what I thought was dark at the time. Pretty sure I wrote a bunch of Sailor Moon/Mary Higgins Clark fusions, which in retrospect is highly embarrassing and ridiculous. Oh well.

Tell me about the friend you are still friends with! How did you meet them? Are they still into Sailor Moon now? S and I met through the Yahoo! Group we were both a part of! She’s a few days older than I am, so it was our Thing to refer to each other as “big sister” and “little sister” respectively (in Japanese, of course), even though we were the youngest in the group. Back then I was very close-minded, but S was always patient with me and provided me with a window into life not informed by my family and the community we lived in. I still really admire her, though we don’t talk much beyond wishing each other happy birthdays these days.

How was being a part of fandom “life-changing?” Life-changing in a way that I think is akin to having spent your whole life living in a cave and then coming out and seeing the world for the first time. I mentioned before that I was spectacularly close-minded back then; I grew up in a very religious community that discouraged interaction with non-religious people and condemned any kind of “alternative lifestyle,” among other things (think Pentecostals, or Seventh Day Adventists, for reference). My friends in real life were all people I’d known since birth, and we weren’t allowed to do a lot things that kids elsewhere could freely do. We were encouraged to pursue religious hobbies only, and academic achievements meant very little if you weren’t considered pious enough. Discovering and getting involved with fandom completely changed the way I thought about myself, my friends and family, and the world. I’m also not afraid to say that I probably wouldn’t still be alive if it weren’t for fandom – I was in a bad place mentally in my early teens, and getting involved in Sailor Moon fandom helped turn that around.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Anime fandom hasn’t changed all that much to my knowledge, except for how there’s a much wider range of series readily (and cheaply) available these days via Crunchyroll, Netflix, and other legal streaming sites (which is still amazing to me—I love the future!). I think perhaps it skews younger than it had before, but that might be my inner Fandom Old Person talking. Fandom as a whole tends to lean in hard on the “the more things change, the more things stay the same” proverb, in my experience, so it’s difficult to gauge any true contrast that isn’t entirely personal.

#21: Patrick N

Age: 30

Location: Millis, Massachusetts

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I was in college, and my roommate had me downloading Naruto and Bleach subbed episodes for him. I started watching those with him and got hooked. I am not a huge anime fan, but love those two series, Initial D, Shokugeki no Soma, Eureka 7, Death Note, One Punch Man, Blood+, and a few others.

Also, why did your roommate have you do the downloading if you weren’t even a fan at the time? My roommate did not know how to get the shows from the website, so I would show him and then I just started watching them with him because they were on my computer. It was a weird set up, haha.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I liked that there were so many episodes of Naruto and Bleach and that the story was so involved. I like that the types of stories are so different from Western media, and yet relatable, with good humor and voice acting.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Naruto, Gundam Wing, or Attack on Titan.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was not a huge fan, but it was still not fully widespread. Things were only just starting to be sold in stores. The only way to watch the episodes immediately was downloading them from torrents after they aired and fans subbed them for free. Legal simulcast sites didn’t exist.

You listed eight anime you enjoy, but then said “I am not a huge anime fan.” What characterizes a huge anime fan? What kind of fan are you? To me, a “huge anime fan” watches only anime, or mostly anime. I like a lot of media, so anime is just a part of what I like to watch, but not even most of what I watch.

Did you connect with other fans aside from your roommate? How did you meet them? I am a high school teacher now, so I connect to my kids who wear Attack on Titan gear or other stuff, and they can’t believe their teacher knows anime.

Do you remember your first anime-related purchase? How much did it cost and where did you get it? I probably bought some Pokemon-related things while in high school, but I don’t really remember. I don’t have too much gear, other than some Gudetama things I’ve bought for my wife but that is more of a character than anime-related. I’m not sure if i have any anime gear!

Do you and your wife watch anime together? Yes. We watch Shokugeki no Soma and a few others together. Yuri!!! on Ice is on deck for us.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? I think the ease that there is to watching it in the states now is the biggest change. Before, you would have to wait a long time to watch it legally, but now it is available from streaming sources pretty soon after release, with subtitles.  Access is so much easier!

Patrick can be reached on Twitter

#20: James G

Age: 33

Location: Michigan

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I was about eight and my dad was plowing a driveway for a family friend. When we went inside they turned on “cartoons” for the kids with one of those huge old school satellites. It was the end of Vampire Hunter D where the kids are waving good bye and I was hooked without actually seeing anything. I finally got to see the whole thing years later when Sci Fi used to show anime on Saturday mornings like Project A-Ko, Robot Carnival, and Demon City Shinjuku to name a few.

I also was huge into Robotech and Voltron which as a kid didn’t realize was anime and taken from Macross and Beast King GoLion respectively.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? City smashing robots and mecha designs mainly. I used to try and make MD Geist armor out of cardboard when we’d play outside.

Who is “we” and did they like anime, too? Do they still? Haha yes, one of the few times my younger brother and I have ever gotten along was over anime. While other kids were outside playing Ninja Turtles we’d make MD Geist armor out of dirt bike gear and cardboard. We don’t see each other a lot but yeah he still watches anime. He has a very bad habit of borrowing without asking… He still has my complete Trigun, Escaflowne, and Nadesico series and i’ll probably never see them again.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? If I had to guess i’d say Vampire Hunter D when I first “found” anime and Ninja Scroll when I first started buying anime.

What was it like when you started buying anime? It was kind of a pain. I live in Northern Lower Michigan which is pretty rural and about a year behind on whatever’s current. Back when Game Pro and other video game magazines were popular the backs of them would have ads for stores like The Game Cave or others heck even Paul & Judy’s coin collectibles sold DBZ for a bit. Suncoast video chain used to sell anime so getting it there was about it. VHS ran about $19.99-$24.99 and they didn’t check ID because I remember my friend buying La Blue Girl and his mom tearing the manager a new one once she caught wind of it, then they changed all anime to ‘Must be 21″ for about a week.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? You were a nerd that liked cartoons. It was horrible and, before social media, next to impossible finding someone who you could talk to about it. That is, until a shitty show from a property I love started called Gundam Wing

You said fandom before social media was “horrible.” Were you ever teased for liking cartoons? The fandom before social media was horrible due to the fact you had no one to connect to with similar tastes and if you did, others were too embarrassed to talk openly about anime as if it was childish or taboo.

I remember a “popular” girl who is still a friend ask me about anime all the time when we were alone or away from the clique kids. If you did meet someone near you it was the stereotypical fan who plays Vampire the Masquerade, had samurai swords, and was super awkward socially. Personally for me, I got along in school with people from all walks so I never was really teased about what I watched but I was teased about having/collecting toys but it was all in fun nothing serious. Most people dog on you, then when they come over and see a Transforming Veritech Fighter they shut up and beg to check it out.

Tell me about when Gundam Wing started. How did things change for you, and how did you start meeting other fans? Toonami broke the wall down. There’s no two ways about it. You had Voltron, DBZ, Thundercats, G-Force/BotP’s, and Gundam shows—beginning with Wing. If you talk to most Gunpla builders I’m willing to bet most will even tell you that Wing is what got them started. I loved that Gundam had made it over but I loathed Wing and that’s largely in part to I had the Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy on VHS and had seen it long before Wing had showed up. Instantly i was able to see five boys with little quirks of Amuro showing through, a Char clone, Zaku & Leo similarities. I, in fact, was a spoiled brat that was ruined by what had come before and became the uber asshole fan. I even gave it a chance numerous times but I couldn’t get past the turd of a character Heero Yuy was and Relena’s childishness. Give me Duo and Trowa-loaded episodes any day. But to give credit where credit is due: without Wing we wouldn’t have gotten the first Gunpla boom that Cartoon Network and Toys “R” Us started. (Those god awful commercials…)

As for meeting other fans, it was like Toonami hit and over night EVERYONE I went to school with was an anime expert. All my classmates would come to me with questions during sports bus rides, study hall, wherever. Slowly I would start to meet others on Yahoo groups, BBS’s or forums in which would turn me on to new shows, OVAs, or movies. On a side note, Toonami was so popular that our whole team before playing our rival school went Super Saiyan and bleached our hair before the game. Parents blamed it on Eminem.

What was online fandom like at the time? Online fandom was rough due to know-it-alls. “Oh you’ve never seen Ranma 1/2? You’re a poser,” or “You never read the manga? I don’t even want you in this group.” Being 16 on a school computer talking 8 Man After with some 30-year-old fan sounds creepy now that i think about it. Older fans felt kind of resentful the new anime boom brought all these young kids in to what was a tight knit exclusive group.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Anime was hard to come by. Titles in the US were limited to just a handful. Dubbed wasn’t done a whole lot for anything else that wasn’t Akira or Vampire Hunter D so you can imagine reading subtitles was a turn-off for a preteen. Now it’s everywhere and there’s so much more to offer, from slice of life, mystic & medieval, giant robot, gotta catch ’em all—it’s crazy all the different anime types you can get at you fingertips with services like YouTube, Crunchyroll, Daisuki, you name it. Pop culture has even allowed anime in with clothing, toys, licensed properties like DC and Marvel. Now’s the best time to be a fan because there is so much out there to take in and enjoy.

James can be reached on Twitter and Instagram.

#17: Cai Kingston

Age: 31

Location: Vermont. (But my recollections take place in the Deep South.)

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. This is a little tough to answer, because during the ’80s and early ’90s it was pretty common to get introduced to Japanese animation through localized dubs on local TV or video store rentals. Additionally, Japanese studios were deeply involved in a lot of properties we assume to be American productions.

For the sake of brevity, I’d say proooobably 1989 or so? I remember being very, very small and watching stuff like Robotech and Star Blazers in the time after I got a baby brother but before we had a Nintendo, so it had to be sometime before Christmas 1989. Yeah, 1989. I didn’t know where the shows came from or anything, naturally.

As far as knowing where the shows came from and understanding that I could follow sources for more of this thing that was so appealing to me, I think I was like. Eight. So 1994-1995. This was around the same time I was getting into Japanese monster movies and Chinese martial arts films, so I was at this point asking probing questions of video store people and running into tapes with subtitles instead of people yelling really fast in English and going ~AH~

So: 1989 or 1994, depending on whether you need me to have known it was a separate kind of thing from cartoons and not just cartoons I liked better that kind of looked alike.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? PEOPLE WITH THE PROPORTIONS OF HUMAN BEINGS. I know a lot of people will write that they were struck very hard by the art, and it’s no different for me. I was really drawn in by the expressive faces and the reasonable proportions of the human characters.

I realize now that I was also drawn to the approach to animation and direction even if I didn’t have the language for that yet. I liked the economy of it, I liked the sense of wider space and tolerance for quiet establishing moments even in localizations cut and dubbed to try and match the constant noise and movement of American cartoons.

I liked that they didn’t always have to be funny.

Overall, even localized all to Hell, Japanese animation had a sensibility that appealed to me in a way the majority of American animation still doesn’t.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I could not tell you. I just couldn’t. I know Robotech was still enjoying a lot of attention/circulation toward the end of the ’80s, I know Dragon Ball Z started getting very popular sometime after 1995. For the most part, though, lack of internet access and being literally raised in the woods without going to school kept me pretty ignorant of what the nerd world at large was into.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I didn’t have many fans to interact with, or that much drive to do so.

As far as being into it was concerned?

Weird. It was, looking back, very weird and desperate. It wasn’t stuff you could buy in Wal-Mart at the time, not really, so if you wanted to get something specific you needed access to niche physical sources like a comic shop or a good circle of people with connections. You COULD get catalogs, but those were where? At comic book stores, usually. Or in video stores, sometimes.

I found most of my best stuff in flea markets, either because the vendors had deals with bootleggers or because moms were cleaning out their college-bound kids’ collections. I would go on literal pilgrimages to a particular market that I knew to be an especially choice and ever-refreshing source. It was 40 miles away.

I am not kidding.

How much did flea market tapes cost? I’d put the average at around $15, the median at $25, and the tippy top at $40. Remember, VHS were still fairly contemporary things at the time. Depending on where I went and what I bought, it would fluctuate. If a vendor knew that what they had was abnormal and desirable, or had attractive tapes in boxes and so on, it would always cost more. If it was a big place with shelves and shelves of tapes that people just dumped off regardless of box presence or bootleg status, it tended to be cheaper. Now, when you look at figures like an average of $15, understand that this was for around 90 minutes of footage. Mmmmaybe 120 minutes. Except! Sometimes you’d get swindled and it would be as little as 60 minutes! That works out to like $7.50 an episode, which is BONKERS by today’s standards.

Yeah, that’s right, sometimes (A LOT OF TIMES…) you’d plunk down tens of dollars and not be that sure what you were even getting. If you were buying something out of a catalog, it could be a total crap shoot because you bought sight unseen in a market that was still full of opportunists. Some vendors kept Exotic Foreign Tapes in the same sad sterile glass counter cases as the Game Boy games and other stuff kids might steal, so you couldn’t even touch them without making it clear you were going to buy something before you even read the back of the box. It was a goddamn wasteland.

When did you get internet? Can you tell me about participating in anime fandom online at that time? Hah. As in solid internet at the house? That had to be 1998 or early 1999.  Yeah, definitely. Our first internet-connected computer (’cause they had to be hooked up to a phone jack and use the house phone line, and not every room had that) was in our kitchen. I had my own hand-me-down PC in my room, but that was for games and tinkering.

As for participating, I have to say I didn’t do much of that for a very long time. At least not by today’s standards. Most of what was around for my interests consisted of disconnected sites managed by single people or small teams. You could use programs to get into chat rooms, but I didn’t do too much of that. There were mailing lists, which I guess I could describe briefly as “those marketing newsletters but sourced to everyone subscribing, and also usually about what sci-fi characters you wanted to bone/see naked.” Not a lot of mailing lists for what I was interested in, at least not that I managed to find at the time.  I mostly used the internet as a fact-gathering tool to determine what was coming out, how to get it, and whether it was worth my time.

It’s funny. For being so isolated, I didn’t experience the common drive to find and befriend everyone who was into my particular interests. It wasn’t until things got especially bad at home, around 2001, when my physically present friends thinned out because being around me got too intense, that I got desperate for online friends.

Tell me about your first time interacting with other fans. Do you still know them today? In person, specifically for fan-related things? That’d probably be my first job, when I was 15. I worked at a comic/game/video shop from 15-17, and we ran something of a viewing/gaming group on Saturday evenings.  It was held in this dingy little back room we called The Gulag, and it was a cut-rate circus if ever I did see one. We’d sit around a table made of plywood and saw horses in plastic deck chairs from Wal-Mart, watch a single tape or disc, and then play tabletop games until… whenever. I guess it was kind of like an anime club, but it never received any specific definition. We all liked anime, so that was what we watched. It must have helped that the owner got a whole bunch of feedback on newly-arrived titles that he could then turn around and parrot to customers.

I do (technically) still know some of these guys! Some of them have families which is… terrifying, because I remember getting in back alley sword fight re-enactments with them, but ultimately positive. That having been said, I absolutely avoid them whenever I’m back down south. Mistakes of one’s youth and all that. [Cai is loosely quoting Char from Mobile Suit Gundam here.]

Tell me about your first fan event. When was it and what was it like? I was twenty one years old, and it was the dang worst. As it turns out, when you’re not old enough to drink and you run pretty cold on nerds to begin with, being immersed in nerds set loose in an environment that encourages them to be all the things you can’t hang with, conventions are a nightmare.  No one in my group had warned me, for instance, that people will just grab you. I have no idea if that still flies, but it was totally a thing then and it was absolutely intolerable to me. The first night, I got invited to a room party that culminated in me being shoved forcefully toward a “cuddle pile” and then bailing out of sheer terror. It felt like an inescapable, boozeless, sexless orgy of screaming and cackling for three days and I had no fun at all. Also, everything was overpriced.

I know a lot of people have fun at anime cons, but there’s a dark side, too, so you have to be careful. Lots of people you meet online (and at cons, increasingly) are in fandom out of a very human desperation for contact and validation. That makes it a rich, ever-renewing feeding ground for predators and abusers.

Today you’re still really into Captain Harlock. How has your interest in that show changed over time? I think the biggest thing that’s changed is perspective. I have a perspective and a vocabulary now that let me understand and articulate what I owe to a fictional universe and its creators. I can acknowledge now that I might not have felt even remotely confident ditching a terrible home situation—by train with no plan and next to no money—if I hadn’t been wrapping myself up in daydreams about throwing everything away to live freely since I was 12 years old. That a set of stories affected me so profoundly and for so long is probably why I can’t stop telling stories. Hell, the first novel-length thing I ever finished was Harlock fanfiction I never showed anybody. It wasn’t a self-insert story, but… it might as well have been.

Something else that’s changed is my… self awareness? Regarding it? Like, I’ve made peace with and embraced how much queer theory I can apply to it and how those parts definitely appealed to my issues and fantasies as a weird little queer in the South. Seriously: Name me a better barely-coded gay daydream than uprooting yourself from a society that hates you to go play cowboys and pirates and skinny dip with your best friend forever. You can’t.

Have you always  been really into anime? Or did you take a break from fandom for a while? A break from the collective activity of fandom? Yes. A break from individual interest? No.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? I can’t be sure because I was so, so isolated early on and not too keen on reaching out based on interest alone. I could say it’s way more social now, but what if that’s always been the case? One thing I can say with confidence is that it’s way, way, way easier to get everything. Cheaper, too. Damn kids.

Cai can be reached on Twitter

#13: Matthew Newman

Age: 34

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My discovery of anime is a two-part story.

Part one: discovering it in 2001 when I went with some new college friends at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to an anime club meeting. I got hooked quickly on the social atmosphere and anime in general. The first show I remember watching with everyone was a run through the entirety of Bastard!! in a huge auditorium. It was a lot of fun and the series was so campy it lent itself to being watched in a group. This made it far more fun to watch and really got me interested in seeing more of it. After that, I plowed through a lot of different anime my friends and the anime club at RPI had. I went through Neon Genesis Evangelion, Love Hina, and eventually got to Cowboy Bebop, which really got me hooked. Still one of my favorite series to this day.

Yet, in about 2006, I was super busy in graduate school trying to plow through a masters thesis and stopped watching as much—if any—anime. This stagnation remained for years.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I discovered it again. I had been spending my nights alone as my wife, being very pregnant with twins, couldn’t get comfortable sleeping except on our couch. I would wander up to bed to be on the same floor as our rather young kids… but couldn’t sleep right alone. That’s when I started checking out our On Demand options and, on a whim, tried out the first episode of two-anime series – Fractale and Blue Exorcist. I remembered everything I had loved about anime in the early ’00s and was hooked all over again. The fun of Blue Exorcist and the deep thinking of Fractale got me back into it again. Soon I was looking into blogs to find out more about it. That’s when I stumbled into Beneath the Tangles, which in turn led me to watching Your Lie in Aprilthe first show I watched close to when it aired in Japan.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was animation without the limits I had seen thus far in who it was aimed at. At 18, I still enjoyed the occasional cartoon and Adult Swim was still in its early days. The only anime I was exposed to in high school was Pokemon and I really didn’t think of it as anime at the time. The shows and films I was watching, though, they were different. It was a new presentation of stories and genres I already found appealing.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Then in 2001? Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion were the big ones I recall people being the most excited about.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Honestly, when I first got into anime I did not realize much about the wider anime fandom. It wasn’t until a few years later that I went to my first convention and when I got there, I was a bit overwhelmed. In terms of online fandom, in 2001, Facebook was three years away, Twitter five years away, and I knew nothing of the greater anime fandom. The methods of communications and our ability to connect now is so different than it was then.

Joining the online fandom in 2014 when I rediscovered how I liked anime was so different. These people who loved anime like me were everywhere and I could connect with them, chat with them, and share our common interest. It was so different and… kind of amazing.

Can you tell me about your first con? Well, my first con was Genericon. I was an RPI student and the convention is literally right in the middle of campus. I spent all manner of evenings, sometimes all-nighters, watching anime in during Genericon in 2003, 2004, and 2005. However, Genericon was a catch-all convention for assorted geekery that had some anime airing in a few rooms. However, Genericon was also a gaming and sci-fi convention. There were sci fi showings, LARPs, pickup D&D games, tons of board gaming, as well as video game tournaments. It was fun, but I wasn’t just there for the anime. I was there to socialize with my college friends who were into…any combination of those things. I didn’t dress up at any Genericon I attended.

In the summers of 2003 and 2004, I went to Otakon with friends. I had never been to Baltimore until that point and kind of went in blind being told by my friends, “This is a huge anime convention.” They were correct. My one friend decided to dress up as the Cheat from Homestar Runner and made his costume out of a huge pile of yellow fabric we picked up from Wal-Mart on our way out of town. We drove overnight in 2003 and arrived early in the AM to go to Otakon in 2003. My one friend then proceeded to use spray paint on the lawn outside of the convention center to finish off his the Cheat costume. I, however, did not dress up that year. At the time, there were definitely anime showings at Otakon as well as other live-action Japanese movies (including Battle Royale which I both watched and purchased on DVD in the same day if my memory serves me correctly). The following year I went with a smaller group of friends, this time with the courage to dress up as Lupin III. My costume comprised of my own pants and shirt, a purple tie I borrowed from a friend, and a woman’s sized red sports coat I purchased from the Salvation Army. I saw it screaming at me on the shelf and had to get it. Got some temporary black hair dye and grew out my sideburns in the build up to the con and dyed my hair the night before. I was instantly recognizable and constantly smirking. Had a number of people ask to take pictures of me, which was fun! Haven’t been to an anime con since (did, however, go to MommyCon DC for a while with my wife last year… that’s a story for another day, though). While they are fun, it’s not really in our family budget for me to go to conventions, especially as I’d be going alone. Honestly, I’m not sure when I’d be interested in going back—but possibly when my kids are old enough that they’d be both interested and appreciative of attending a con.

What do your wife and kids think of your anime fandom? Do they ever watch with you? My wife doesn’t really get the draw to anime. She’ll watch it with me periodically, but it’s not really her thing. Her and I do not always have the same interests in media, however we still share them with each other. My kids, however, I do watch some anime with. It started with introducing them to Chi’s Sweet Home. I’d read them the dialogue, they’d sit there and watch it with me. This led to other shows and now them watching a few shows they’ve gotten into on their own that we’ve found together on Crunchyroll’s catalog (Cardcaptor Sakura in particular, my 7-year-old son absolutely loves it). The good folks at Yatta-Tachi have given me an opportunity to talk about this in particular at their site.

How did you make the leap from reading anime blogs to writing your own Beneath the Tangles column? It honestly started with me writing about anime on my personal site. What I began as an overtly political website shifted overtime into a catch-all blog about everything I’m interested in. From my little corner of the internet, I began to write about anime, in particular where it intersects with my faith. I started sharing these articles (at times obnoxiously) on Twitter and it got the attention of the editors at Beneath the Tangles. During a transition period on the blog, they asked if I would be interested in writing a column for them. I agreed and have been writing “Newman’s Nook” since.

How is fandom different when you’re participating as well as consuming? I feel the biggest difference that I’ve found in participating is that everything isn’t quite inside a vacuum. When you’re a lone wolf consumer, you are just watching it, forming your opinion, and moving on. Participating within the fandom helps in learning what others see in anime, sharing what you see, finding new recommendations, and, frankly, it’s fun to share. I don’t have a lot of local friends who are into anime, so participating in the the online fandom serves as that social outlet for discussion.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The biggest difference is how much easier it is to get into anime now than it was then. In 2001, I could basically see what little was available on television or through what others I knew personally owned (through legal or less-than-legal means). Now? There are many streaming options, it’s on cable, you can buy anime off the shelf in stores, and you can buy it on Amazon or from other online retailers. And with the easier availability comes an increased visibility of different options, different series. Before it was mostly whatever my friends were into or what was super popular. Now, I have access to everything from the super popular to anime about the relationship between male figure skaters or a family of anthropomorphic mushrooms. It’s a good time to be an anime fan.

Matthew can be reached on Twitter

#8: Chris M

Age: 34

Location: Baltimore, Maryland.

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. At 8 or 9 years old, browsing through the animation section at Erol’s Video.

Erol’s Video? It was essentially the precursor to Blockbuster video in the late ’80s to mid ’90s. It was one of the larger video rental chains out there. This one is was actually in a shopping center by my house. It eventually was bought out and became a Blockbuster, actually.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The artwork and the much more mature stories.

Mature? But you were, like 8. As far as the cartoons of the time in the US vs. anime, they were things like Transformers and Centurions—a show you are too young to have been exposed to, I think. They were all right, but were expressly written for children, and therefore followed certain rules about content, strictures that anime did not need to follow. In anime, characters could die and violence could be real. it was significantly less sanitized than American cartoons were. The animation and art direction were also generally far superior, in my opinion, to most American cartoons.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? In America, anime had just begun having a presence… so most likely Speed Racer.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Extremely niche. I am the one who introduced most of my friends to anime.

Tell me about introducing friends to anime. What was that like? Remarkably easy. I simply invited them over to my house to show them, at the time I think it was Neon Genesis Evangelion. Patches, as I am sure you know, took to it right away, as did most of my friends. I dare say we were all fairly precocious, so we all were attracted to the more adult themes of anime.

Adult themes? So, I think one of the first anime I watched with friends was Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is an extremely weighty series from an emotional and intellectual standpoint: characters die, the world is not a happy place, mankind on the brink of extinction. These sorts of themes just weren’t very common in American cartoons. That’s sort of what I mean. Most of the anime we watched at the time was much… grittier, and intense, I would say. Bubblegum Crisis was much the same. It was straight cyberpunk, mulling over questions like machine autonomy and intelligence, corporate dominance, etc. Again, not themes you were likely to find in American cartoons 😛

Do you remember your first anime-related purchase? I think the first anime I actually bought was the box set of Outlaw Star. For much of my life I simply sponged off my brother’s anime collection. It was a box set, so I wanna say it was actually around $100 or so. I used birthday money to buy it.

Do you remember your first anime con? My first con was Otakon 8, I think. I went with a friend of mine from Japanese class in high school, and spent the day just wandering around and taking the sights in. I want to say the original Naruto series was just making its debut in America in fansub form, but I might be wrong on that… this was quite a while ago. 15 or more years ago, I think o.o

Anime inspired you to visit Japan, so tell me about that. Yes, I was inspired by anime to take Japanese language courses, which then gave me the opportunity to go to Japan. Japan was just so culturally different from the US that I was fascinated by it. I actually really enjoyed how Japanese sounded when spoken, even if I didn’t always understand it. Much of my favorite music to this day remains Japanese rock and pop, most of it anime theme songs, natch.

What’s the biggest difference between fandom then and fandom now? I think the only major change between anime fandom then and now is connectivity. It is so much easier to find and talk with anime fans than it was when I first got into it—and I think anime has also gained more acceptance in the eyes of the public in general. For example, the first anime movie that I know of to show in American theaters was Princess Mononoke, which showed up about 10 years after I got into anime.

Chris can be found on Twitter

#6: Kit P

Age: 32

Location: Washington, DC

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember watching Akira and the film Tenchi Muyo in Love on the Sci-fi Channel in New York, between 1993-1996. I knew these were not considered Western cartoons, and these were feature films (the channel did anime films on Saturday after Mystery Science Theater 3000).

After that I got into Sailor Moon, which was also on TV then, and through 1996-2003, I managed to find video rental stores with series like The Slayers, Fushigi Yugi, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and more. My first convention was in 2000 and I already had a good idea of some anime at the time.

Can you tell me about your first anime convention? It was Otakon 2000. I remember convincing my parents to drive me for a day trip, and bringing a notepad with me to ask questions to artists in artist alley and a disposable film camera to take cosplay pictures. My parents complied, even though they considered anime to be very childish, and to leave Japanese pop culture to the Japanese. So I had a bit of a rough time at the start, because I was fighting against all those misconceptions.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
It focused on an overarching narrative (or characterization, or both) much more than many of the other cartoons at the time (though obviously there were notable exceptions like Gargoyles). So I really enjoyed that the story meant something.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time?
Ehhh, this was the ’90s so there were lots of anime that people still remember (Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Yu Yu Hakusho, and later on Pokémon) so…

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? $30 VHS tapes and you had the choice of the tape being subtitled or dubbed. No dual audio here! In part because of that, and because not much was licensed (or later episodes not released), there were fansub trading circles and tape circulations. Watching anime at cons or at an anime club was pretty important then still.

How did fansub trading circles work? Did you have to join an anime club? No, not necessarily. Some were through the Internet: you’d find people listing what they had or could get, and you sent a money order in the post to a PO Box… ^^;

But for some series or seasons of series like, for a long time, Sailor Moon‘s later seasons, this was the only way to get them before the tipping point of Internet broadband use.

How did you meet other fans? IRL? Online? Hmmm, online. Though that depended on where you lived, too. It was easier to find other fans in New York than Oklahoma, simply due to the numbers being in my favor more.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? A lot of things from back then are still going on but I think… nowadays, while there’s an emphasis on culture on the East Coast conventions (so film, music, traditional arts, etc), fandom now is so much more consumer oriented in a weird way. Before, you might strike up a conversation with someone in the registration line because they like anime and you do too, or you heard the word Gundam. But then there was a need for connection, for depth.

Nowadays it’s – more complex. People even in the same series fandom say true fans read the chapter raws when fan circles scan them… there’s a heightened sense of if you don’t do fandom a certain way it’s bad, and this gets thrown around with all sorts of intentions. Obvious example: people refusing to buy the anime or manga of a series, and then the arguments about why or how the industries respond. There are so many arguments for why they might make this decision: from convenience of scans, to social expectations of reading the latest chapter/seeing the latest episode, to finding or imagining faults with translations.

It’s not that conspicuous consumption wasn’t going on, or fandom policing wasn’t already a thing, but now it’s combined with other factors – like consumption combined with not supporting the industries, policing who’s a true fan and who isn’t, recognizing memes and series but feeling pressured to watch everything as soon as it’s out… I think it’s more stressful for everyone, as it’s all out there, now. I think fandom is still very insecure about itself, but due to the pressure to always be online/immediate, we see much more of its negative aspects now.

Kit can be reached on Twitter

#5: John S

Age: 34

Location: Schenectady, New York

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I discovered anime in 1990 when I bought Revenge of the Ninja Warrior, which was a dubbed, edited version of Dagger of Kamui. I knew it was animated in Japan but didn’t know what anime was at the time. Still, I knew it was different from other cartoons I had seen at the time.

What made it starkly different was the tone and atmosphere of the movie. It had a somber tone to it due to the hardship and tragedies that the main character, Jiro, encountered. There’s a particular scene towards the end where he sees his childhood home, which made me feel something I never felt before—that whole feeling about the passage of time and the sadness that comes with that. It was a while before I saw something that would be considered anime again but that was my intro.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The way characters were drawn. They looked more complex than average American cartoons. Plus, the music in some anime was very theatrical and unique. Also, with the level of violence and death being a legitimate possibility, there were actual consequences at stake.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Ghost in the Shell or Dragon Ball Z.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I didn’t know really many people that liked anime . It was kinda of a solitary thing for me where I grew up.

Can you tell me about your first time connecting with other fans? The first time I connected with someone that was a fan of anime was probably in 2003 when i started going to college at Plattsburgh State University. I had a roommate named Mike who was big into anime at the time. I remember when we first meet, he asked me if i had ever seen Cowboy Bebop and as I was unpacking my stuff on move in day showed him my Bebop DVDs.

We bonded over watching a lot of stuff together like FLCL and Yu Yu Hakkusho, which were airing on Toonami at the time. I remember we had these philosophical debates about Evangelion back then, especially after watching the movie End of Evangelion. I remember always trying to get him to watch some of the older Gundam that was available at the time like Gundam 0079 and Char’s Counterattack, but he always said older anime was not his thing, which was a bit disappointing because I love older anime like Fist of the North Star, UC Gundam [a group of Gundam shows that take place in the same timeline, called Universal Century] and City Hunter.

Through him I meet other people in my dorm who were also into anime and we had these nights were we would order Chinese food and marathon some anime in our room with several friends. I remember one time, he had spent some of his student loan refund on the Escaflowne DVD boxset and we had tried to marathon the whole show in one day but we had to tap out at like episode 17, probably due to mental exhaustion. There was an anime club on campus but I only remember going to one meeting and they had Otaku No Video on that day. I never really got the opportunity to partake more in the club at the time due to class load and my part time job. The club always met on the weekend during the day and I had to work.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? My first anime that I bought myself with my own money was probably Record of Lodoss War volume 1 VHS which I think was about $19.99 in the summer of 1996. It was dub only. Man, back in those days you had to choose between sub or dub only and sub was always more expensive.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The biggest change between fandom when I got into it and how it is now is probably there is less gate keeping than there was before. I feel social media has played a big part in breaking that down. I remember seeing you tweet something a while back about still having not seen Akira yet. It made me think about how back when I got into anime there were certain OVAs, TV, and movies you had to have seen to be considered a true fan and Akira was one of them. If you hadn’t, you had to turn in your fandom card, and mediate under a water fall to repent for your sins. Now with social media that’s something that can be shared and that’s OK.

Another big change is the sheer amount of anime available. Back when I was just getting into to anime, it was small relative to now. I feel that has made fandom grow more mainstream, especially with anime being on Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

John can be reached on Twitter