#3: David M

Age: 32

Location: Detroit, Michigan

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember watching Transformers Gen-1 and Voltron, and knowing they were slightly different from typical cartoons. I knew they were from Japan, but I didn’t really recognize anime is its own thing until a few years later.

When Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z were in syndication in the early-to-mid 90s, I didn’t care for them. When I first saw Teknoman on UPN Kids (an adaptation of Tekkaman Blade) I was hooked.

How old was I? Around 6 or 7 when I first saw Transformers Gen-1, if that counts. I watched Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon when I was 9. And Teknoman is what sparked my love of anime when I was 10 and a half. It aired in summer of 1995 on UPN, the network that eventually became the CW. YouTube the Saban theme song and the transformation sequence. Just trust me.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It seemed like they were telling stories where each episode went into the next one.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? At this time, anime was still very obscure in America. It’s really hard to say. Maybe Sailor Moon. Dragon Ball Z had just started in syndication and was only beginning to pick up.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a clear line. Sailor Moon was for girls, and everything else was for boys. Man, how things have changed!

How did you connect with other fans at the time? I was fortunate in that I’m of the generation that Toonami targeted—I was a teenage boy when they were making shows for teenage boys. It was the foundation of my high school friendships. I was the Gundam Wing kid. Back in the day, my first few times making female friends was over how I didn’t hate Sailor Moon as much as other boys did.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? I got a Gundam Wing t-shirt when I was 17 that was way too big for me at the time, but I knew I wanted it. It was the only Gundam Wing T-shirt I could find, and I was the only kid in school that had one. This was during the big Dragon Ball Z fandom explosion of around 1999-2001 when everybody was wearing DBZ shirts. I’ve always sold myself as a bit of anime hipster, and even back then, I couldn’t help it. :p

Where did you buy it? Oh, man. Maybe at Hot Topic. This would’ve been 2000 or 2001, so it’s really tough to say. Toonami was SO BIG at the time that it could’ve been sold anywhere. Hot Topic is most likely.

Why was Gundam Wing such an important show to you? I think it really goes back to what even little David liked about anime. Space. Drama. A story. Characters that had some gravitas to them. It felt so different from Dragon Ball Z, and it just pulled me in. Like a lot of people, Gundam Wing was my gateway into the Gundam franchise. I eventually got a second GW T-shirt; a white Tallgeese shirt that did fit better. It featured the character that I call “my first waifu,” Lucrezia Noin. It also included Zechs, and the Tallgeese and Epyon [mobile suits from the show]. It was the rest of the Gundam pilots. It was Treize. It was EVERY DAMN CHARACTER… except for Dorothy. To hell with Dorothy.

Being a fan of Gundam Wing was fine, honestly. Everybody still watched it, and people liked it. And it was also the fact that at midnights, Cartoon Network would show Gundam Wing “uncut” and seeing anime on TV that had fewer edits made everyone that much more excited.

What did your family think about your fandom? They really had no issue with it at all. They knew that wrestling and the Japanese cartoons were what was in at the time. My sister fully supports and endorses my podcasting, and my dad always asks me, “When’s the next convention?” It’s definitely been one of those “as long as you’re happy” kinds of things.

Do you remember your first anime convention? My first anime convention was Youmacon 2008 here in Detroit. After I got out of the Air Force, one of the things I asked myself was “Why have I never gone to an anime convention?” When I found one in the area, I knew it was time. I took the bus to the convention center in Dearborn, MI. It was everything I hoped it would be. I ended up making a friend over her cosplay of the Major from Ghost in the Shell. Some of the highlights for me were panels on Gundam and cool cosplayers. I’ve been to over 40 conventions since and still going strong.

What was it like being an anime fan in the Air Force? Being an anime fan in the Air Force was a breeze. There were a ton of us. It was an extension of my teens, where no matter where you came from, no matter your background, Toonami and anime was what it was all about. By the early ’00s and into the mids, being in your late teens and early ’20s and liking anime had almost become normal. And yes, even back then, the crossover between anime fans and wrestling fans was still strong.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Accessibility. The internet has come along way from when I was accidentally stumbling onto raunchy Gundam Wing fan art in high school. Streaming, YouTube reviewers, guys from Detroit that host two anime podcasts at the same time [a reference to David and his partner’s two podcasts]. The internet also helped me find out that I was not crazy in thinking that girls liked anime just as much as guys did even when I was younger. The fandom in the western world is a big fandom, and we’re all better off for it.

Speaking of raunchy Gundam Wing fan art (I’m sorry, possibly), what was the fandom internet like? Were there particular sites you visited? At the time, I visited ToonZone and the Toonzone Forums. Along with that, cnxtoonami—eventually known as The X Bridge—run by Jeff Harris, best known as “nemalki” back in those days. And don’t worry about the GW fan art. If you couldn’t figure out Quatre and Trowa at least, you had your head in the sand.

You said the internet showed you how much girls liked anime, too. Why weren’t you sure before? Aside from Sailor Moon, girls that I knew didn’t talk about anime much with other friends that I had. I guess they weren’t as comfortable with them as they were with me. It definitely wasn’t a boys club mentality. It was more the other way around, in that the girls isolated themselves, until I worked my charms. Forget that last part. I’m sorry.

David can be reached on Twitter

#1: Lauren Orsini

Age: 30

Location: Northern Virginia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I was in 6th grade, so I was 11 years old. My best friend at the time asked if I wanted to come over and watch Sailor Moon, a show I had never heard of.  She told me it was called anime. Later, we visited her older sister’s room, which was papered from floor to ceiling with printed-out anime pictures.

We borrowed some of her older sister’s VHS tapes of The Slayers to watch in the basement. I was hooked.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? None of the American shows on TV resonated with me. My sisters and friends liked shows about attractive teenagers in high school, but I didn’t see myself in those characters at all. I liked bombastic and flawed Lina Inverse better.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Either Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball Z, which were both airing on Toonami.

How could people watch anime? How did you? You could watch a very limited selection on Toonami, or you could buy anime on VHS at Sam Goody, Suncoast, or Another Universe at the mall. (None of these stores exist now).

The first anime I bought was Neon Genesis Evangelion at Another Universe. It cost $30 for three subtitled episodes. Since it was so expensive, most people picked just one show to collect. My Evangelion tapes are extremely beat up because I swapped them with friends to watch what they had.

Were you part of an anime club? No, but I spent a lot of time in middle school with a group of girls who were also really into anime. We would watch it at sleepovers. We also gave each other nicknames; mine was Ren-chan. Today I’d rather not share something so embarrassing!

Are you still friends with anyone from that time? Yes, most notably my friend Kailer. We still hang out and recommend anime and manga to each other (usually BL stuff).

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Fans found each other online. There was Anime Turnpike, a list of links to what was probably every anime-related website at the time. You could write fanfiction on fanfiction.net, but there was no real hub for fan art or other fanworks, so people would create sites called “shrines,” dedicated to either individual characters or “pairings,” two characters they’d like to see date. For example, I was a fan or Nuriko from Fushigi Yugi so I would spend time on Nuriko “shrines” seeing people’s fun facts and fanfic about them.

Can you remember the first time you made a derivative work inspired by anime? While watching The Slayers, my friend and I would pause the tape and try to sketch Lina’s face. Later on, I drew a lot of Gundam Wing art including the infamous shirtless Duo Maxwell poster I put up in my bedroom. (Since actual Gundam Wing posters were expensive, I decided to make my own.)

When did you first attend an anime convention? Not until I was 20, in college. My first convention was Otakon 2006.

What were anime conventions like then? This was only 10 years ago, so not so different than they are today. Otakon already had a five-figure attendance number, which was a huge shock to somebody stopping by for the first time. I had never seen that many anime fans in one place before.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime then and anime today? Access. It is much cheaper and easier to get anime now than it ever was then.

Interested in sharing your own introduction to anime?