#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

#43: Megan R

Age: 33

Location: Iowa

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Weirdly enough, anime can be found scattered throughout my childhood. I can remember singing along to the theme song for Maya the Honey Bee on Nick Jr. I can remember getting completely absorbed by Sailor Moon during junior high. I watched Pokemon not because of the games (which I somehow was completely unaware of), but because I thought Pikachu was cute and Team Rocket was funny. Despite that, I wasn’t aware that these shows were part of some larger thing—I just though they were just another sort of cartoon.

I wasn’t really aware of anime as this separate, larger thing until 2010, when I was well into my 20s. For that, I have Jacob Chapman to thank, back when he was making video reviews as Jesuotaku. I started watching his reviews simply out of curiosity but his analysis made me curious about a number of the shows he reviewed. Eventually, my curiosity was too great, and I can clearly remember going to Best Buy and mentally debating for something like five minutes over whether to pick up Romeo x Juliet or Ouran High School Host Club. I went with the latter, loved it to pieces, and never looked back.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I’ve always loved animation in all forms, but anime simply told different stories and looked different from the Western animation I was used to. It was more ambitious in some ways and way more friendly to both older viewers and to women.

How did you find anime to be friendly to older viewers and women? I don’t know if anime itself was necessarily all that friendly to older folk and women at the time. Manga fandom was a different story. Both then and now, it’s always skewed toward an older and more feminine audience so I fit in right away. I was able to find plenty of interesting articles and critics to follow and learn from, especially since it was so easy to discover new voices thanks to the popularity of Manga Moveable Feasts. They were these regular events where a particular blog would host all sorts of articles around a particular series or mangaka and they were a veritable cornucopia of interesting insights and reviews. Sadly, the manga blog scene has died down since then, but I look back at that time fondly and it’s part of the reason I started writing my own reviews in the first place.

As for anime, the fandom at the time was largely centered around forums.  I didn’t really enjoy larger ones like the ANN forums because the conversation was so repetitive, shallow, and sometimes juvenile.  I didn’t really find a sense of community until I found a smaller fan forum where some of the posters would host regular stream nights.  These became the equivalent of must-see TV for me as I would chat with the regulars while we watched half a dozen episodes of some scheduled series along with shorts, AMVs, random Youtube videos, even clips of joshipuri wrestling [female pro wrestling in Japan].  It wasn’t exactly legal, but anime streaming was only just becoming a thing in those days and this format felt more personal and personable than simply marathoning shows on Hulu by myself.  We came from all over the country, if not the world, and ranged in age widely, but that didn’t matter in the chat so long as you have interesting conversation or a few jokes to make.  Some of those regulars are still online friends of mine and I talk with them on Twitter on the regular.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? 2010 was not a great time for anime, considering that so many shows were going out of print and streaming was in its infancy. I think the biggest show at the time was Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as far as visibility and sales.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It’s weird that I got into this fandom at a time when it was most decidedly on the decline. That awkwardness could be felt on the anime forums where I hung out. There was more than a bit of pining for the glory days of the boom years, frustration with the lack of quality titles (and thus, the proliferation of piracy), but still some hope and plenty of discussion.

Could you go into detail about the decline you perceived? 2010 was a bad time for both the anime and manga industry. Those few companies that survived the recession in one piece were simply trying to stabilize things and that wouldn’t start truly turning around until Bandai shut down not too long after. The manga scene was in even poorer shape and that wouldn’t come to a head until the next year when Borders shut down and Tokyopop followed them shortly thereafter.

I was largely oblivious to this at the time because I was still trying to learn as much as I could about this strange new world of fandom. There were so many shows for me to catch up on, so many books to read, and so much history I wanted to learn and understand. I didn’t have the same frame of reference that others did. I didn’t really grasp that things were not in great shape until the 1-2 punch of Borders and Tokyopop. I had only just started collecting manga at the time, but I remember being awed by their selection. I couldn’t have known at the time that those long aisles full of books were just about to go away. The Tokyopop shutdown was the first real big fandom event that sticks out in my mind, even if the biggest impact for me personally was that it might affect my ability to finish getting the full run of Fruits Basket. It’s only in retrospect that I can look back at that time and realize just how diminished it was compared to even two or three years later.

So it’s not still on the decline, in your opinion? Oh no, not at all. If anything, it’s the healthiest it’s been in years. Streaming and simulcasting breathed new life into it and made anime more accessible than it ever was before. As for manga, it took the publishers a little longer to gather themselves up and start rethinking their approaches, but they found the big crossover hits and license rescues they needed to succeed. If anything, the manga world is entering into some interesting and unprecedented ground. We’re seeing publishers takes risks again and dabble in genres they wouldn’t have even during the boom years of the 2000s. It’s a brave new world out there in manga, and I for one am eager to see just where it goes.

As a fan who got into anime later, did you ever feel unwelcome or like you needed to study in order to grasp people’s comments and jokes? I may have been late to anime and manga, but I had been online for many years and had floated around the edges of some of the major fandoms of the 2000s. I’ve also always been the sort of person who tends to read voraciously and likes to learn as much about any new interest as much and as fast as possible. As such, it didn’t take me too long to adapt to anime and manga fandom.

How did becoming an anime and manga blogger change your participation in fandom? I learned how to better express myself and to really articulate what made the works I consumed good, bad, or something in between. Ever since I was a kid, I was the sort of person to savor the media I loved by myself instead of sharing it with others. I knew in my own mind what I liked or didn’t like, but that approach meant I was never really called upon to explain or defend those preferences to others. By writing reviews, I learned to exercise those underused portions of my mind and to hone my writing skills to best express them. Of course, critique is like potato chips: once you start, you can’t stop. I couldn’t apply these critical skill to the manga I read and not do the same for the shows I watched. I might not always enjoy every show I watch or book I read, but I feel like I get more out of it regardless because I can explain what does or does not work instead of settling for “this was good/bad/ok/whatever”.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime and manga fandom then and anime and manga fandom today? The biggest difference between anime and manga fandom then and now is how instantaneous and free-form things are now. When I started, those fandoms were largely contained within forums and blogs. It was possible to forge communities within those spaces, but it was more limited and distant. Now it’s so much easier to connect thanks to social media and simulcasting. Just through Twitter, I’ve met people and learned things that I would have never known or encountered otherwise. The fandom also feels more lively since shows can be watched as they premiere in real time and you can watch the conversation grow and evolve with it live.

Unlike a lot of my peers, I didn’t know any anime or manga fans growing up because I grew up in such a small, rural community. I didn’t get to enjoy things like anime clubs in high school or college. I didn’t attend a con until I was 30. I wasn’t even aware of things like DVD releases of shows I knew as a kid (which is good, because college-aged me would have spent too much money on those old Sailor Moon boxsets had I known they existed). The online part of anime and manga fandom is essentially all I’ve ever known of it. It’s added so many people to my life that I might not have ever known otherwise, to say nothing of the boxsets and books it’s added to my shelves. It’s given me outlets I would have never considered. It’s added so much color to my life that it’s hard to imagine what what my everyday life would be like without it. I may have been a late comer to the fandom, but I’ve never regretted a single minute of it.

Megan can be reached on Twitter and her website

#42: Lynette Cantos

Age: 27

Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I can’t recall the year but I know I was eight years old when I watched both of the most popular and recognizable anime series: Sailor Moon and Pokemon. Growing up in Puerto Rico, they were shown at different times based on our cable provider, so WB used to air new Pokemon episodes early in the morning while after school, Cartoon Network showed Sailor Moon during the Toonami block—the first one with Moltar.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The storytelling aspect of anime in comparison to Western cartoons is what drew me in. Granted, I still loved and grew up with the classic Nickelodeon originals and the Disney Afternoon block, but the sense of character development, emotions, cliffhangers in anime is something else. I’ve cried more and attached myself more to anime characters so that’s saying something in regards to the powerful storytelling on some anime shows.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Living in Puerto Rico back then, it was a case of being in a small fandom within a small island. It was rare for me to meet other fans that weren’t in the same middle school or municipality as I was because I didn’t have a car, cellphone, etc. in the early 2000s. Then, the last years I was in the island before moving to the U.S. (2004-2007), I started to get more involved in attending local gatherings and cosplay photo meet-ups.

Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? Most of my fandom connection was online through early Geocities fansites and anime forums specifically targeted at both Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura fansites. I even taught myself some basic HTML so I could curate my own Geocities fansites based on my favorite Sailor Moon character (Sailor Venus) and favorite Cardcaptor Sakura shipping (Sakura and Yukito—which nowadays I find it completely problematic).

A group photo from Lynette’s first convention in San Juan.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
It was 4th of July, 2004 at the YMCA center in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Back then, our “conventions” were more of a subculture flea market in that local vendors had tables set up at the basketball gym arena and several of them just happen to sell anime merchandise. I remember seeing a post online about how they planned to cosplay at said event so I, my brother, and my former best friend at the time spent two weeks prepping up our first cosplays. The “conventions” were held up on a quarterly basis on Sundays at the YMCA, and over time the attendance grew so much that it wasn’t until I moved away that they rebranded into “Puerto Rico Comic Con” and expanded to the national convention center in the tourist area of San Juan.

Lynette cosplaying as Misato.

I want to hear about your first cosplay! Oh my God, it was a really awful Sailor Venus cosplay LOL. I say this because there’s only so much a 14 year old with limited allowance money and no prior sewing skills could do in 2004. My wig was an itchy and bright Party City-esque blonde wig that I actually bought at a theatre costume shop at my nearby mall and the rest of my set-up (skirt, bow, tank top, shoes) were bought from the street markets in my hometown.

I may bash on it now but at the time, I was so proud of creating something from scratch and I had people take photos of us (myself and my former friend who cosplayed as Kagome from InuYasha), so I got instantly hooked. At that point, I saved up as much of my allowance to evenly budget what kind of cosplays to work on. For my quinceañera, I bought a sewing machine and had my grandma teach me on top of signing up for sewing classes out in San Juan. Besides Sailor Venus, I cosplayed Mimi from Digimon, Aerith from Final Fantasy 7, and Misato from Neon Genesis Evangelion while attending the local cons back home in Puerto Rico.

Lynette cosplaying as Mimi.

How did your fandom experience change after you moved to the US? The biggest culture shock for me was the diversity of anime fans. Obviously, growing up and living in Puerto Rico, most of the friends I had and made during my time there strongly identify as Boricua/Latinx so moving to the US and meeting people who are from different races and ethnicities—especially here in South Florida, where the population is just as diverse—was awesome. However, I had to tone down my Spanish/Spanglish talk and references sometimes so I struggled with that for the first half of my freshman year.

Also, during the first years of living here (2007-2009), I stopped watching anime altogether because of the group of friends I hung out with were mainly into video games or comic books so that was always the main focus within the group dynamic. It wasn’t until 2010 when I moved away from Florida to Virginia that I got back into anime. At that time, my mom created a Netflix account and the first anime I saw was Nana and it was the best worst decision ever. I say this because I was preparing to move away when I started to watch it and my husband and I (back then, boyfriend/girlfriend) were in a long-distance relationship, and Nana is a deeply emotional shoujo anime so I was in tears for weeks.

I thought it was neat how your first site was about a ship you don’t like anymore. How have you changed as a fan over the years? Pardon my French, but I was a weeaboo little shit when I was younger compared to nowadays hahaha. Back then, I used to watch and read whatever I could get my hands on just because it was “anime” and I was a snob when it came to people liking popular anime. Nowadays, I have a secure identity of what I like and don’t like with different anime genres and it’s okay to own it and admit you don’t like certain things and there’s nothing wrong with that or yourself. When I see an anime gaining popularity or traction via social media or cosplay groups at conventions, I’m the total opposite now in that I seek it out immediately because there’s a reason why it’s so popular.

Also since becoming more of an intersectional feminist, I’ve gained a more critical perspective than when I was younger regarding anime I watch. A big example is watching Hana Yori Dango/Boys over Flowers when I was a teenager, and how romantic I thought the relationship between Makino and Domyouji was. Nowadays, I see the problematic and sexist tropes behind it all and some of the scenes like the bullying ones make me uncomfortable to rewatch now. Do I still watch it once a year when I’m feeling sappy? Yes, but now I know better than to long for something like that anymore.

Lynette can be reached on Twitter and Instagram

#39: Emma Bowers

Age: 33

Location: Los Angeles, California

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My father got me into it. He was a huge science fiction buff, and he started renting VHS episodes of anime at the Hollywood Video. Iria, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, etc. I was about 15, and started to branch out into other genres of anime. Slayers, Ranma 1/2, Fushigi Yugi, Black Jack. Eventually, once I ran out of options at the video store to rent, I started purchasing videos. I remember discovering Cowboy Bebop this way. I had a part time job as a busser and all of my income went to buying these tapes (and eventually DVDs). I got a job at the Suncoast when I was 16, and I was on cloud nine ’cause I got a 35% discount (which was great when you were spending $30 on 3 episodes of subtitled anime), but I also took it upon myself to promote and recommend anime to people. At the time, the only anime on TV and easily accessible was Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon.

How did your dad discover anime? I’m honestly not sure how my dad first got into anime. He was very much into old science fiction, and as he was drawn to a lot of the anime sci-fi, I’m sure that’s what got him in to it. My Dad died about 10 years ago, so no idea if he’d still be into it now.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was so different in terms of its themes and story telling than the animation you saw in the west. With the exception of Ralph Bakski films, and Heavy Metal l, it was the first animation I’d seen that had adult themes. I also was amazed at the on-going story arcs so many of them had.

Back at Suncoast, did you ever see shoppers looking for anime specifically? I did run into a lot of other fans, and it was funny ’cause at the time I was going through my “elitist weeb” period. So here I was getting into all these new up and coming anime like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, and everyone who came into the store just wanted the newest tape of Dragon Ball Z. The funny part was, I was moving to Los Angeles and my LAST week of working there, a guy came into the store and said, “Hey… last month, you recommended this movie… Princess Mononoke… and it was really good… thanks!”.  It makes me laugh at how snobbish I was about stuff like that. I’m a lot more “live and let live” now when I meet people who don’t have the same tastes or interests in anime I do.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Hands down, Dragon Ball Z. It was on TV, and this was before streaming options. So it was the easiest to access. I once tracked down some fansubs cause I wanted to see all the stuff that Cartoon Network had edited out (these are those infamous subs where you had Goku dropping f-bombs). I was really into DBZ as well, but after I while I got into a snobby phase where I didn’t like it ’cause I felt people were too into it and over looking other titles.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I’d say, harder. This was pre-LiveJournal, let alone Facebook, Twitter etc. so when you’re a 16-year-old living in Albuquerque, you experience a lot of isolation. When you did meet other anime fans IRL, you ran the risk of hanging out with people who were toxic and even predatory. I made some friends via the IRC chat, mailing lists, and just even emailing people who had fan pages I liked, but it really didn’t have the strong communities like it did now.

You had a mixed bag experience online at the time. Can you tell me about the first time you met other fans IRL? The first time I met fellow online fans was at Otakon 2001. One of my buddies met me at the airport in Baltimore and I just remember seeing him face to face and thinking ‘WOAH’. These days it’s really normal of me to meet internet pals at cons and in a very casual manner (“oh hey. we’re at so and so panel/we’re at this bar, come by!”), but to meet someone for the first time in The Meat Space was really surreal and wrapped my mind.

Emma, 17, cosplaying Milly at Otakon 2001.

Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes. It was Otakon 2001. That’s pre 9/11! I cosplayed as Milly Thompson from Trigun, my very first cosplay! I got so much positive attention from it and it was so amazing to be surrounded by that many people who loved the same stuff I did. It was also before it was easy to shop online, or merch was available at malls, so I went back home with like, $300 worth of anime crap.

What kind of stuff did you buy? Do you still have it? Oh man… I bought a TON of Japanese untranslated manga (lol, I couldn’t even read Japanese at that level), lots of art books, ufo-catcher dolls, little pins (I bought one of Saito from Rurouni Kenshin. i remember this ’cause he was my favorite character in Kenshin and my friend at the time was REALLY shady about this. Always going “ew! why do you like him! he’s UGLY.”  Like I said, it was a different time), and a few CDs. This was important ’cause at the time, anime cons were the only place you could get CDs that were not bootlegged. Sadly, I’ve moved a few times/changed a lot of my interests and I’m an anti-hoarder, so all that’s left is a Cowboy Bebop art book.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say the biggest (and best!) difference in fandom is the variety of people. My first cons/groups, it was all cis, white people. I had lots of friends who had very conservative or centrists views, friends who’s imitate response to gay characters or same-sex shipping was “ew” or some very narrow minded shit like that. Now I got a ton of friends who are different ethnicities, many of my friends identify as queer, or trans and I think that’s wonderful that they feel safe and comfortable enough to do so. I go to cons and see so many different people, which is a great sign, it means anime has become more accessible to different groups of people. I think a lot of that is owed to american broadcasts like Toonami and distributions like Crunchyroll and Funimation getting simultaneous releases that you can watch for free or cheap.

Emma can be reached on Twitter

#37: Hag

Age: 27

Location: Australia

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. When I was eight years old, I lived in a house that was pretty huge and in the countryside. It was very strange, with different family members living at far ends of the building, so my mother would sleep with me in my room and we’d watch TV together in the dark, with light-loving moths and bugs fluttering around the CRT [a type of older TV].

Back in those days, SBS Australia, the multi-cultural government-funded channel, aired Evangelion. My mum, who is admittedly a bit strange, watched it every Saturday. I would have been asleep at that point, but I was of course lying on my mattress, eyes glued to the screen. Naturally I didn’t understand much of it, but several specific scenes and images stuck in my head. The surprise when Unit 01 moves, the strange Angel that invaded the computer systems. The giant eyes in the sky, the shadow that eats the city. Rei talking to herself. The sound of the automatic system as it plunges Eva 01’s arms into the body of the berserk Unit. Asuka’s ride going under Kaworu’s control, and of course, congratulations. I have vivid mental pictures of the scenes, the structures, the gigantic machines themselves. Then, the show was gone, my life took a turn for the worse, and I never got into anime beyond kid stuff like Pokemon until the 2000s. But those robots. Those Eva units will always be beautiful to me, and they coloured me as a mecha fan even without knowing anime as a medium.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think the directorial approach. If you look at western cartoons, they’re very much done in a “flatter” style. Meanwhile anime is constructed like it’s a 3D set. It makes the show feel like an actual place rather than, say, a comic book or a drawing. Naturally not all of either medium is like that but that’s what originally struck me with Eva and the reason I came back into anime.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? As a child it changed over the years, but we got Pokemon, Digimon and, strangely, a straight Animax dub of Cardcaptor Sakura I was rather enamored with. All the kids liked Dragon Ball Z, but I wasn’t into it. I remember the merchandise littering the schools and sports centers though. When I was forced to live in China I encountered different anime series, where dubs of Nadia [the Secret of Blue Water] rubbed shoulders with Jura-Tripper and Hikarian. I quite liked those, they were very different from what I saw in the west. I didn’t really cotton onto their Japanese origins though.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? There really wasn’t one in Australia I could find. I lived in a place that could best be described as plains of sugar cane and bug-infested forest ringing spread-out future development zones and tourist-laden beaches. My mother would rent VHS tapes of “cartoons” at the video rental store, so I found the anime section for my Sakura Wars video and Slayers occasionally, but they were just movies to me.

Why did you take a break from anime? What brought you back? I kind of didn’t have any strong way to keep up with it, I guess? The way my life twisted around was that I ended up living in foreign countries and the television was always useless, there was no time to establish broadband so no downloading or fansubs, and when I made it back to my home in Australia we had what was colloquially known as “third world internet” for a long time. Television took ages to even cycle in American cartoons, so my focus was on things I could actually get: videogames. Naturally I encountered anime-styled characters and Japanese games and became aware of it, but it was only really when I started searching for gamers on the internet that I became aware of people talking about it. A few arguments later, I had broadband, and watching Lucky Star on youtube after seeing someone’s slow-loading forum banner gif of the intro. The limit was 12GB so naturally I burned that out in a week.

What was the first show’s fandom you really invested yourself in? I mean, consuming/creating fanworks, buying merch, etc. Well I found a Lucky Star imageboard, but I just read the doujins [doujinshi] posted as I sampled other shows. The first time I REALLY got into something was Gundam 00, which led to the rest of the franchise and me buying model kits and even DVDs. I joined the forums over at MAHQ, realized I hated these people, and instead followed the show from Random Curiosity instead. There were fansub wars, arguments in the comments, and I fell hard into the drama. I eventually found other places as I watched through Gundam, a lot of them actually small groups of specialty fans on unrelated forums for toys or mecha or sci-fi. I didn’t really get the fujoshi thing until I was in the middle of Gundam Wing though, and it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. Not that I’m big on that sort of thing but I can enjoy it as a part of culture. I think it’s actually necessary for modern Gundam fans to get some joy out of flirty gay-tinged stuff because the nasty “fans” won’t let you enjoy anything else.

How did you begin connecting with other fans? Mostly internet forums. I’d just play around in comment sections on fansub sites and blogs. Instead I connected with people on forums over other interests like games or purely on the basis of friendship born from familiarity, then get them into anime by bullying them into watching it. We’d be relatively insulated on our opinions, then the inevitable march of social media and internet memes dragged into the gravitational pull of places like 4Chan and much later Twitter, where I’m at my most comfortable.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? Probably the fansub wars. Back then there was constant drama, name-calling, nitpicking and bullying. With Lucky Star it was A.F.K. or Guerrand, with Gundam 00 it was Nyoro~n or Conclave Mendoi [all names of fansub groups]. The drama and possessiveness was amazing and half the people seemed to care more about the subs than the show. These days proper simulcasting has completely destroyed most of that, and the only people who fansub are ones who really want to do a specific show out of interest. It’s a lot more peaceful, though naturally there’s still plenty of bastards who rant and complain about the lightning-fast subtitles they get (sometimes for free, not like piracy has gone anywhere), forgetting when it took days or weeks to get a show subtitled. Keeping everyone happy is impossible.

Hag can be reached on Twitter

#32: Claire Napier

Age: 30

Location: West Midlands, England

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember quite specifically hating the look of The Littl’ Bits, recognizing that the aesthetic was different but having no ability to comprehend why the difference existed or bothered me (the triangular mouths were upsetting, idk why). I suppose I was about five?

Later I remember one or two older boy-men wearing shitty square Dragon Ball shirts in the village shop, and knowing it was some kind of something. Then when I was 11 or 12, I went online and discovered Harry Potter fan content and fan sites, which branched out into Sailor Moon Geocities pages with sparkly gifs and I was just… captivated.

I bought a Sailor Moon VHS from eBay when I was 14, saw Guyver in the specialist video shop but didn’t have enough money to risk buying it (there were so many), eBay’d [Mamoru] Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell at 15. Prior to that I’d just try to watch the anime-est looking cartoons when I visited my grannie, as she had more than the regular terrestrial channels. I scrabbled for dregs, really, no connection with any scene or fansub community. Went to my first anime con in my late teens, started finding DVDs, and by then you were just about able to get decent-length video on home internet connections.

How much were those VHS tapes on eBay, do you remember? I feel like they were around eleven to fifteen pounds. But that sounds so expensive now! I suppose I was pretty “desperate.”

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Sailor Moon was for girls but it was in some way serious. The romantic elements weren’t apologized for. And I’d heard that “in Japan” comics and cartoons were “respected.” That was appealing. I wanted a part of a pro-drawing adulthood.

Did you have aspirations to make comics or manga? I wanted to draw comics. For a long time (basically as soon as I left school, although I followed the dream as it got smaller and smaller though four years of higher education) that seemed far too impossible a career, so I became a critic instead, and eventually realised that I wanted to make “art comics,” not career comics, which was partly why it seemed so overwhelming in the first place. So now I do and I love my life. It wouldn’t be worth it without knowledge of manga— knowledge of the stories available there, the attitude to layouts and lettering, and the women who’ve made professional lives for themselves as mangaka. The more egalitarian image of creatorship that one can see in Japan from the outside is a vastly soothing emotional agent.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon. The Slayers?? I remember a lot of Slayers. I don’t know what Slayers is, though. It was just there a lot.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Lonely as hell and intensely modular but better than nothing.

Why so? It was entirely online! And there wasn’t the chattiness of modern fandom. Everyone had their own page, it seemed, and I could make my own fansite (or shrine, as you say) and I could put a visitor’s book on it but… that’s not conversation, it doesn’t actually function as sociability. It’s more like a museum visit. There was some level of distanced intimacy, basic kinship, but i had no idea how to actually communicate, reciprocally, with my mutually interested peers. So when I say modular, I mean that while all of these sites and pages added up to a scene, the scene was more than the sum of it’s parts. I was nourished by the total, but found the trees, so to speak, rather too widely spaced.

I’d like to hear more about what Sailor Moon online fandom in particular was like. Did you read/create fanfic, for example? My participation in Sailor Moon fandom was entirely passive! Because I didn’t know who anyone was or what anything meant—even after that one VHS, all I knew was the first episode or so. So I couldn’t create any fan content; I could only consume it. And that consumption wasn’t educational, it was only atmospheric—I didn’t learn any facts from fansites, I just felt that Sailor Moon was… “it.”

Now I understand that it was possibly the only all-girls adventure story I’d ever seen admired and respected, and that I was just starved for the ability to choose WHICH girl I identified with instead of, wow, picking between pink or yellow. I hadn’t found that since Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s stories, and I’d never even known anyone else who liked those out loud. Seeing people revere it was enough. I do know that it was Geocities fanpages I was looking at, but beyond that it’s all lost by the mists of memory.

Do you remember what your first anime con was like? What was it? it was… hard to navigate? It was expensive. It was good, I enjoyed it, it reminded me of a village fete. But with anime screened in theatrical amphitheatres. The was quite a lot of titty anime, which I probably wouldn’t prioritise as a communal thing. There was a really good Iori Yagami cosplayer. Such a great outfit, so simple! And it was solidly constructed and looked very natural on him, more like clothes than a costume. There was a Lulu, too, and all the canteen workers were like “omg, it’s Lulu!” I only remember video game cosplayer from my first anime convention. I accidentally looked through the hentai box in the dealer’s hall, and again– that’s not what I was really looking for, at all, in my search for pro-creative community. The ability for teen girls to accidentally search through a box of fucktoons.

How did you transition from passive consumption to participation, for example, your Women Write About Comics position? How is your fandom different now? Harry Potter fanfiction. I was an avid reader, of stories and of “meta,” which is what we called critical analysis. As I moved into accessing manga and comics and eventually tokusatsu, I missed that aspect of fandom dreadfully. It had become second nature to me! It was normal to discuss character motivation and narrative implication, and because it was normal I hadn’t realised how vital it was to me to exercise that style of thinking and that sort of conversation, and be taken seriously by peers just as interested (in the in-world happenings and the creative decisions behind them) as I was. I couldn’t find many people who would indulge this kind of response, and it made me really cross, honestly. Which was pretty rude of me. But I needed it, I still need it, it’s just a part of how I function as a person.

So I joined a comics forum that was a bit more into that style than most, it was run by several people who had also been deep into Harry Potter fandom which might be a coincidence or might be something else, and when the opportunity came out of that film get involved with WWAC I was like, fate, try and stop me. Taking “fandom” seriously as response to art and craft, allowing enthusiastic or untrained scholarship and experienced critical response to be recognised as such, it’s necessary, and for me my position at WWAC is essentially an ongoing response to how keenly I remember that need for community and visibility and, I suppose, legitimacy of the idea that comics and women can both glitteringly matter, in great volume.

Claire can be reached on Twitter

#31: Justine

Age: 25

Location: France

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Back when I was 13. I had a habit of watching TV after coming back from school, and there was that TV program called La Kaz on Canal+ that broadcasted many good anime at the time. I usually avoided the whole thing (because I wasn’t too keen on the anime aesthetic) until one day I came upon an episode of Fullmetal Alchemist in 2003, the episode where Edward was starting to realize Wrath had his arm. That stuff really impressed my teenage self back then. Despite having no idea what was going on, I kept watching it religiously every day until it ended.

What didn’t you like about the “anime aesthetic” at first, and why did you change your mind? Back then I had this stereotype in my mind. “Anime is violent and stupid,” and “they’re ugly cartoons.” I did find it ugly, mostly because of the pointy eyes and the YuGiOh/DBZ hair. I must have been influenced by my parents who themselves must have been influenced by the few politicians  (family associations  and in particular the social democrat Segolene Royal) who were fighting to prevent anime from airing on national TV. Which is ironic because back when I was little I used to watch Lady Oscar (The Rose of Versailles) and Le Petit Lord (an anime adaptation of the Little Lord Fauntleroy, the name in Japanese is Shokkoshi Ceddie) on French TV. The later in particular was my favourite show (albeit tied with Tintin). And I loved the aesthetic.

Neither me nor my parents had any idea those were technically anime or even Japanese productions, I only realized they were anime much later, long after I was already neck deep in the medium. That’s why I don’t consider them my gateway anime. I suppose I always loved anime, I just didn’t know it.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? How unusual the plot was, mostly. How well handled the drama was, too. I didn’t even watch the previous episodes but I was instantly hooked on and invested in Edward’s character.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I have no clue, either FMA itself or Naruto I guess? It could have been GTO [Great Teacher Onizuka] too though.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time?
My first experience of an anime fandom was with a Naruto scanlation team forum. You can sum it up by arguing on shit that happened in the chapters. They also taught me how to crack Photoshop and digital painting.

What were scanlations like at the time? Was this before you could get Naruto manga legally? The scanlation team had a private sub forum to themselves so they could work on the weekly chapters. That was around the time the French licensed manga was roughly 20 volumes behind on the Japanese weekly Shonen Jump release.

Did you assist with the scanlation? A few times when they lacked people. I wasn’t a permanent member though. Also a few times, the team gave me the raw cover early and I managed to speed colorize it so it’d make it into the release. I also participated in numerous color chapter projects and colorization contests.

You said they helped you learn digital painting and Photoshop. Did you use that to create any fan art? At first I only colorized [Naruto manga artist] Kishimoto’s pages and covers. But yeah, I went on to draw my own fan art. If you must know, actually I’m in art school. Haha. So yeah, you could say that was a turning point for me.

What was the first anime-related purchase you made, and how much did it cost? Probably a Fullmetal Alchemist manga volume. Five euros. It was so cheap back then.

Do you remember your first anime convention? Can you tell me about it?
I went to my first anime convention rather late compared to when I first got into anime. I only remember spending all my money (60 euros) on the real size replicas of Zoro’s three katanas. This is so typical for a weeaboo at her first convention it’s almost embarrassing, but eh, I still had a great time. And the swords compliment my cupboard nicely.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? It’s hard to tell because the places I hang out at changed a lot over the years. I don’t even hang around french speaking communities anymore. Now my favourite place to discuss anime is [4chan forum] /a/.

I get the distinct sense that anime is becoming more and more mainstream though. Ten years ago I couldn’t find anybody to discuss anime with, except on
the internet. Now a few of my friends have a favourite anime.

Justine can be reached on Twitter

#27: Katy C

Age: 30

Location: Fort Worth, Texas

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. The first anime I saw and knew it was anime was Sailor Moon. When I was in elementary school, I watched anime without knowing what it was. Then I got into middle school and could access the internet from the library. I remember my sister and I would pretend to be Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars all the time and ran around our backyard screaming about defeating Queen Beryl.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I love the diverse storylines. For typical American cartoons, there wasn’t an actual storyline to each episode you watched, so you can watch them completely out of order—they were mostly one-offs. In anime, they are telling a continuous story. It was vastly different from other shows I saw growing up.

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I think the most recognizable anime is Pokemon.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a bit hard to find other people interested in anime where I’m from, which is a small city in South Texas. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I got into high school that I was able to find kindred spirits who were into anime as well. One of my friends introduced me to both manhwa [Korean comics] and manga during my sophomore year. It was a bit hard to participate in anime themed events since they were hours away from where I lived and no one around locally were passionate enough to start one. I am thankful that my siblings shared the same passion as I did so I could always rely on them for discussions and such. Considering where I lived growing up, my parents were completely okay with their children being into anime because we were busy buying YuGiOh! cards instead of becoming hoodlums. Several times, my mom has watched shows with us and it was always nice being able to discuss the latest episode with her over coffee each morning.

Are your siblings still into anime? What about your mom? Two of my four siblings share the same passion for anime and Japanese culture as I do. I believe us three were introduced to anime around the same time. We are super close so while growing up, we all watched the same things together, meaning my brother, Joe, also watched Sailor Moon with my sister and I, and my sister and I would join him for Dragon Ball Z. When my brother was in elementary school, he had a monstrous love for Godzilla so my siblings and I spent a lot of our afternoons watching old Godzilla films that had horrible (oooorrrr some dare say fantastic) voiceovers.

I’m very thankful that my mom grew up being a nerd who traded gum and other trinkets for comic books so when we started getting into anime, she also was introduced to it. I remember when we finally got cable and DVR, she would watching Inuyasha and Gundam Seed with us every Sunday morning and we would have discussions with her about it around the kitchen table while drinking coffee. Even though we have all moved out, she had managed to watch Attack on Titan with my brother when he visits my parents.

Would also love to know what kinds of things your mom would say about anime over coffee (and which anime)! A lot of the time my mom had trouble distinguishing who was male or female in the shows. For the longest time, she believed that Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin was a girl which we had to always correct her on. She also had problems pronouncing Inuyasha and would instead say, “EE-no-washa”, but she had no problems saying Sesshoumaru, which to her was “best boy” in her eyes. I know it’s a little sappy, but it’s rather fantastic having a parent who shares the same interests as you and encourages you to keep at it. She is one of the driving forces behind creating Yatta-Tachi. She told me that it would be completely natural for me to do something like that and knew I would be successful and so here we are!

What was it like meeting other fans in high school for the first time? Meeting people who shared a similar interest in anime was rather …odd? I didn’t have cable when Trigun, Outlaw Star, and Cowboy Bebop were airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, so most of the time that’s what they were interested in. There were some were more into hentai, but there were a couple that I was able to exchange VHS tapes or manga with. Actually, during that time, I was also getting into playing YuGiOh! so we would host our own mini-tournaments at school.

Can you tell me about your first convention? The first convention I went was RealmsCon, which was back in 2008. Back then, I didn’t know too much about conventions, but my friend, Sam, went to RealmsCon every year and had me tag along with her. The convention took place in Corpus Christi, Texas, which was 2 hours away from my hometown, Harlingen. There were a lot of firsts during that trip: first time going on a trip without my family, the first time being able to finally immerse myself into the fandom, and the first time getting severe food poisoning, which knocked me out the first & second day of the convention. Compared to conventions I go to now, this convention was ridiculously tiny and took place in a Holiday Inn with artist alley was part of the main hallway of the hotel. I don’t remember doing too much during the convention other than raving every night until 4 am, food poisoning and getting my Haruhi Suzumiya shoulder bag which I still have today!

What was the first fandom you REALLY got into? Like creating fan works, buying stuff, etc. SAILOR. MOON. I was disgustingly obsessed with Sailor Moon growing up. In middle school, I usually to spend all my free time printing out images and translated lyrics of the songs so I could teach myself Japanese (yes, I was such a weeb back then). I use to draw Sailor Moon on EVERYTHING such as book covers, school chalkboards, on my hand and use to have a spiral notebook filled with drawings. At one point, I TRIED to make my own scouts but that never worked. Back when floppy disks were a thing, I had the song, “Power of Love” saved onto it so I could listen to it while I was browsing the internet at school.

Tell me about creating Yatta-Tachi. Is it your first anime site? How did your fandom change when you became a creator of fan works as well as a consumer of them? Yatta-Tachi wasn’t the first site I created that had to do with anime and Japanese culture. Back in college, I had an MP3 rotation site where every month I would post anime songs that I was into at the moment. Yes, stupid and very illegal. I also use to do forum signature banners for friends as well. During high school, I use to create mock website designs using Netscape and fill it with animated sprites of Sailor Moon and DBZ characters but I was cool like that. My maturity has evolved rapidly once I started learning more about the industry. Before I knew better, I was an ex-pirate who didn’t give a crap about watching shows legally because honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind what I was doing was damaging to the anime industry. Boy, if I could go back in time, I would have some rather strong words to say to myself.

What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom when you got into it and now? The main contrast between fandom then and fandom now is how it’s stupidly easy to watch anime now. If young fans now knew of the struggles it was for us to get anime, I think there would be less whiny about paying a few bucks to watch shows legally on sites like Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Anime is starting to become mainstream which means it will only become easier and easier to watch the shows. Honestly, the college version of me would have had a heyday and probably waste my life away binge watching so many shows, going to conventions, meet-ups and MOVIE SCREENINGS (which didn’t exist for me living in Smalltown, USA)!

Katy can be reached on Twitter

#26: Chelsea B

Age: 28

Location: Tennessee

When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. What started it all was the clearance aisle at a K-Mart in 1995. I was six years old and my grandmother agreed to buy me one toy for not being completely annoying. I originally was going to get my go-to toy, Polly Pocket, but after my grandmother corralled me into the clearance section I was immediately taken with a Sailor Moon doll. I had no idea who she was but she had to be mine. For the next year I would play with “Sailor Moon” unaware of her origin until one day, during summer vacation in 1996, I happened across the USA channel early in the morning and found that my doll fought evil by moonlight and won love by daylight. I was obsessed with the Sailor Moon anime, in part, because it was my first exposure to “cartoons” with continuity (plus female superhero!).

From Sailor Moon I eventually gravitated toward the afternoon Toonami block (Dragon Ball, Tenchi Muyo, Gundam Wing). Unfortunately when I turned 13, my super-religious parents found my Love Hina manga and banned all anime from our home. I sometimes would sneak and watch late night anime on Adult Swim (Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo) or TechTV (Silent Mobius or Akira) but anime had to take a backseat until I was able to escape the house after graduation. It’s been fun rediscovering anime in my mid to late twenties though I have a lot to catch up on.

What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it?
As I mentioned previously, what initially appealed to me was the concept of continuity. At the time, the concept of seasons, especially with animated shows, seemed novel. I was also drawn to anime because it featured girls with agency who had emotional arcs, character development, and—let’s face it—cute talking animals. While there were cartoons from the ’80s and ’90s that featured women (Rainbow Brite, Jem and the Holograms, etc.) I couldn’t relate to those characters like I could with the school-aged girls in anime.

In retrospect, I think what kept me hooked on anime were the values that it instilled and exposed to me. I was raised in a strict, Southern Baptist household that did not value education or thinking outside the box. Anime taught me empathy—not the Bible. Anime taught me that even a “Meatball Head” could be a leader. Anime’s emphasis on hope, the power of friendship, and other usual shonen/shojo tropes saved me from an oppressive environment and showed me that I didn’t have to be limited because of my gender. (I still remember one 4th of July standing on the back porch and watching the fireworks explode and pretending I was Relena Peacecraft watching a Gundam battle in space, worried about political ramifications.)

What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I could answer this two ways: what was most popular among my demographic or what was most popular in the Western anime fandom at the time.

For my demographic, elementary and middle school kids in the ’90s, the most popular were: Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo, Yu Yu Hakusho, Cardcaptors [the American cut of Cardcaptor Sakura], Zoids, Digimon, Gundam Wing… basically anything that came on the Toonami block or on Saturday mornings.

In general popular anime of the era, not mentioned above, included: The Vision of Escaflowne, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Slayers, Martian Successor Nadesico, Serial Experiments Lain, Magic Knight Rayearth, Battle Angel Alita, Silent Mobius, Ghost in the Shell, Princess Mononoke, Gundam (08th MS Team, 0083: Stardust Memory, 0080: War in the Pocket), Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Cowboy Bebop. I’m leaving things out but you get the idea.

What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The biggest part of my anime fandom during adolescence revolved around the playground or the lunch-table and discussing anime shows, pretending to be anime characters, or lamenting how the bus didn’t get us home in time to see if Goku had FINALLY defeated Frieza yet. As time went on, most of these conversations fell to the wayside as the majority of kids were only watching these shows because they happened to be on during times kids watched TV. By high school, only a handful of kids actively pursued anime and we were almost all emo/geek/goth. I remember, after anime was banned, getting a CD with anime openings on it from one of my friends. I got exposed to Blue Gender, Rurouni Kenshin, and the like by playing their opening songs on repeat.

That being said, before anime was banned in my household I did get a chance to attend 2001’s Anime Weekend Atlanta. It was one of the best weekends of my childhood. I saw I wasn’t alone.

I remember looking at the DVDs and VHS tapes for sale which were almost all too expensive for a 12-year-old. I also remember a man sneaking upskirt photos of a cosplayer but I was too young and surprised to intervene. The one time we wondered into a video room, with my friend’s mom, we had the unfortunate luck of strolling into a showing of Wicked City. After that, she made us leave.

Another memory I have is discovering manga in my local mall’s Waldenbooks (RIP). My first manga was Sailor Moon. As I branched out (eventually picking up Slayers, Tenchi, Cardcaptors, Pokemon, and Love Hina) I discovered that I would have to hide some of these from my parents because of onsen scenes. I will say, for a poor kid in the ’90s, manga was the best way to access new titles since VHS and DVDs were waaaay too expensive to buy. I couldn’t rent tapes from Blockbuster because I didn’t want my parents to think of anime as anything but innocent cartoons. Occasionally Waldenbooks would give VHS tapes with 2 episodes on it if you bought enough manga. These tapes were my first exposure to Revolutionary Girl Utena and my first exposure to subbed anime. I would watch them in secret.

Once our household got the internet, and before it was banned because Jesus, I also remember perusing the countless anime fan sites (what I fondly remember as the Angelfire/Geocities era of the internet). I partly taught myself how to use a computer and how to use the internet by going to anime fan sites, looking at pictures, and listening to midi files of anime theme songs. I lost my mind when I realized you could right click and save jpegs. By the time I was 12, I joined my first forum and honed my internet conversation skills by talking about Tenchi Muyo. At the time I didn’t fully recognize the border between “irl” friends and forum friends. When anime, and therefore the internet, was banned, I basically lost almost all my friends since I was an introverted kid. I still wonder what happened to them. I think I’m going to go look for that forum now to see if it still exists.

I am sure it was painful to share about anime being banned in your house, so thank you. Did you get right back into anime as soon as you moved out? You’re welcome.

Honestly, an anime ban was just a portion of the joys that surrounded growing up in that house. I moved out immediately after graduating high school, in part, to escape that level of control. The other reasons are a little personal but I couldn’t physically stay safe living there. I did not immediately get back into anime after moving out. Most of my late teens and early twenties were concentrated on working two jobs and going to college full time. I also couldn’t afford the internet at the time so that was a large hurdle.

I eventually got back into anime by taking my best friend to Anime Weekend Atlanta 2012 as part of her bachelorette party. Being there reminded me while I originally fell in love with anime in the first place. I started by re-buying some of the series and manga that my parents threw in the garbage. Shortly after, I was able to afford the internet again and began to watch whatever was on Netflix. I didn’t start to watch seasonal anime until 2014. Since then I’ve been balancing following 3-4 shows a season while trying to catch up on all that I had missed from 2002 to 2014. I’m still playing catchup to be honest.

Do your parents know you are back to your old anime ways, and if so what do they think?

My father passed away in 2013. While he was aware of my ongoing geek interests more so than my mother, he never knew I got back into anime. My Mother still does not know that anime is my biggest hobby and does not know that I also still play video games, read fantasy and sci-fi novels, play Dungeons and Dragons, or go to conventions. She does not visit my apartment so she has never been privy to my otaku hoard. It’s easier to avoid the subject. I thought I was going to have to divulge the truth last November because I wore a Dragon Ball Z shirt to the hospital and ended up having gallbladder removal surgery but I managed to stay in a hospital gown the entire time she was around. I do not avoid the topic because I am afraid of her or because I am ashamed of anime.

Could you tell me why you avoid it then? This is a tough question to answer. Unfortunately my Mom will not accept a large portion of my private life. This extends beyond anime to encompass almost all aspects of my life. She doesn’t know that my best friend is gay. She doesn’t know that I’m a Democrat. She doesn’t know that I’m agnostic. She doesn’t know that I’m a geek. I suppose what I’m trying to say is: I erect boundaries so I can continue a relationship with my mother and anime is just a single piece of that. I sustain the relationship because, God help me, I love her and because she was temporarily all alone when Dad died. I accept she will never see all of me. It still hurts but as long as she’s willing to respect those boundaries I will continue the facade. It’s not ideal, but after losing Dad… even if the time I have her isn’t truly genuine it’s still something I am not ready to walk away from yet unless she one days crosses the line.

So you are no longer religious? I am agnostic. Religion was used as an excuse to isolate me from my hobbies, my belongings, and my friends. I no longer feel hostile towards religion and have taken care to study different religions in college but, ultimately, it isn’t for me.

If I had to choose a religion I would probably go with Zen Buddhism. Also, thank you for reminding me that I need to track down the Saint Young Men OVA and movie. Please look that up if you don’t know what that anime is about.

Would love to hear more about the con! I’ll share that I took a disposable camera and convinced a friend to get the film developed since I couldn’t risk my parents seeing the cosplay pictures I took. I kept the photos hidden in my closet and would stare at them from time to time until they were discovered and thrown out. I particularly remember a Utena cosplayer I took a picture of. I still have a draw towards Revolutionary Girl Utena, in part because it was the first anime I saw subbed and because that cosplay was the tangible reminder I had that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a freak.

Here is a picture of myself (left) and my friend, Kara, that I went to AWA 2002 with. We were 13. I made a Washu (from Tenchi Muyo) shirt out of fabric paint since I could not buy an anime shirt. My friend is cosplaying as Saint Tail from the anime Saint Tail. She was my best friend in elementary school but moved to Atlanta when were in 6th grade. If she did not live there I would not have been able to attend the con. I kept it a secret from my parents. I am guessing that Kara’s mother did not tell my parents about the con. I’ve been told as an adult by some friends’ parents that it was sort of understood that my parents were extreme.

Finally, what’s the biggest contrast between anime as a kid and anime fandom now? The biggest difference in anime fandom has to be access; both in regards to anime and anime fandom. Once upon a time you had to scour stores for anime and hope they had what you are looking for. With streaming services this hunt is mostly gone, but with the loss of the hunt comes the loss of the euphoria that surrounded finally finding what you were looking for. The internet has also introduced an era of fans easily being able to access each other. We can view cosplay photos from cons we can’t go to, and discuss anime with others we would have otherwise had no access to.

I joined anitwitter late last year and have been blown away by the personalities, opinion pieces, and websites I’ve discovered. While it’s been a joy to follow fellow otaku and to discover sites like Anime Feminist, taking part in anitwitter also makes me feel more obligated to watch current shows. With the constant stream of anime I can’t help but feel less emotionally attached to shows that would have made a bigger impression on me otherwise. I believe that sometimes our fandom goes too fast and can lead to burnout. I wonder if that burnout contributes to the fandom starting to skew younger or if it’s a combination of responsibilities that accompany aging? That being said I would not go back to the way things were if given the choice. Oh brave new world that has such moe living in it.

Chelsea can be reached on Twitter

#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