When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the back half of 1995—either the summer before high school or early in my freshman year. The father of one of my middle school friends was a huge audiophile, and he had a big TV with an amazing sound system in the basement, and my friends and I would hang there. Another friend brought subtitled VHS tapes of The Slayers, the first half of the first season, and we shotgunned them in one sitting. Anime was rare or non-existent on syndicated TV in DC at the time, and I didn’t have cable growing up, so it was my first time seeing anything like it.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The answer that makes me look good is that it was about characterization and serialization. This was just a couple of years after Twin Peaks, X-Files, and Babylon 5 had barely started, so (outside soap operas) serialization on American TV was still very rare and limited to SF shows. Character-driven drama within a genre setting was also pretty rare on American TV pre-Buffy, so Neon Genesis Evangelion (the next box set we marathoned in that basement) was a revelation.
There’s also just my lifelong love affair with animation. I moved from being a little kid watching the toy-driven dreck of the mid-80s to a slightly older kid watching Ducktales and Animaniacs, then a tween watching Batman: The Animated Series and early Simpsons. Becoming a teenaged anime fan was the next logical step.
The answer that makes me look less good: I was 14, in the process of discovering I have a thing for smart, ass-kicking redheads with strong opinions and nasty tempers, and my first two anime were The Slayers and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Add in that my crush for most of high school was a Japanophile and… yeah.
Tell me about your high school crush! Did anything come out of that? She was smart, shy, small, and cute, basically the classic nerd version of the girl next door. Brilliant with computers—I think she works for Microsoft now—and like I said, a major Japanophile. JRPGs, manga, anime, eventually language and culture, literature, food. As for what came out of it, a close friendship that lasted a decade or so before she moved out to the west coast and we lost touch. Never dated, but that’s probably for the best.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Like I said, the DC area didn’t really get anime on TV until Toonami. I never even heard of Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon until I started going to conventions in ’99. The gateway show for everyone—not just the half-dozen of us in that basement—was The Slayers. That was the thing EVERYONE watched and liked.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I’m not sure there was such a thing as anime fandom just yet. We were just nerds, and that meant you liked nerdy things. Someone who liked anime probably also liked tabletop RPGs, video games, science fiction, or science/tech–if not all of those things, at least most of them. So all of that would be in play when hanging out.
What was the first anime fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Definitely The Slayers. Like I said, we all watched it and all enjoyed it, then moved on to other anime. But Slayers stuck with me more than the others. I wrote fanfic, which fortunately never left my computer and no longer exists in any form. I found the fansite Inverse.org and devoured everything they had on the backstory, the world, how magic worked, gods and monsters. A lot of that was from stuff only published in Japan, so in our little circle I was (at least at first) the only one who knew any of it. One summer during college, maybe 2003 or so, I got the Slayers d20 rulebook and ran a weekly tabletop game set hundreds of years after the show. Then, when the show had its 20th anniversary a couple of years ago, I did a panel on it at a couple of cons.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? If yes, how? If no, how did you connect with other fans? It was sort of in the process of becoming part of fandom. When I started, we all sort of got into anime together in that basement, and then met other people who were already into anime, or showed anime to other fans and got them into it. It was all in-person. The Internet had fansites and such, but that was one person or a small group posting up pictures and info, not really a social experience.
How did you get involved in this friend group? Did you all go to the same school or comic shop or something? Like I said, it started as a group of my middle school friends. Then I went to a different high school from most of them, and some of the friends I made there joined the group. We would all hang in one or another of our houses’ basements; sometimes we would watch anime, or play a tabletop RPG, or video games, depending on exactly who showed up and what mood we were in.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
Yes, my first convention was Otakon in ’99. It was kind of overwhelming! I’d never encountered so many anime fans in one place, and it was hard to know what to do. I spent a lot of time in video rooms, sampling shows I hadn’t heard of before. That was what cons were for, for me–finding out what anime was out there. It wasn’t until years later when I had broadband and could download (or, later, stream) shows that cons became about seeing people.
How did you get into blogging about anime and doing media analysis? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started college, so I opened up the course guide and circled everything that sounded interesting. Then I added up the credits and figured out which degree that was closest to, and it turned out to be English. For shits and giggles, I decided that at least once a semester, I would do a paper that incorporated my nerdy interests, so already as an undergrad I was getting a little practice writing on things like religion in Final Fantasy, nonsense literature and webcomics, Milton and Lord of the Rings, that kind of thing. Somewhere in there, my friends and I watched a terrible-quality fansub of End of Evangelion, and they basically all turned to me and said, “Okay, Jen, you’re an English major. What the hell?” Being young and cocky, I said, “Give me a week.” I vaguely remembered some of the symbols that appeared in the movie from my Bar Mitzvah classes, which is a whole ‘nother story—Bar Mitzvah students are not supposed to be learning Kabbalah!—and I cobbled together a reading. More importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it!
Flash forward a decade. I was in a bit of a rut—I had a job, it was paying the bills, but I wanted to do something I cared about. One thing I did (and do!) really enjoy was presenting panels at conventions, because it was using the same mental muscles as those college papers and the End of Eva thing. Anyway, independently of that, I discovered this guy Phil Sandifer, and his amazing Doctor Who analysis—absolutely brilliant stuff. Through him, I discovered the world of media studies (he’s got a PhD in the field), which I hadn’t even known was a thing. I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Grad school wasn’t really an option, but with some gentle prodding from my then-girlfriend Viga—who also got me into doing panels—I went the “outsider academic” route. I started blogging about animation, mostly American cartoons at first, but then I noticed that BY FAR my most popular post was a review and analysis I did on the third Madoka Magica movie, Rebellion. So I did a series of posts on the show, and The Very Soil, my book on Madoka Magica(shameless plug) grew out of that. And I pretty much just haven’t stopped since!
In your personal experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say there are two really big changes. First is streaming. Anime is ridiculously easier to get—and get legally!—than it was back then. If I hear about a series, I can usually be watching it within minutes. But back then, well, we were lucky enough to have an anime-and-games store just a few blocks from our high school, and even then there’d be a lag of at least a year between the show airing in Japan and it showing up at Starland. And like I said, we were lucky—a lot of people had no way of getting anime at all, outside of the dealer’s room at a con or long chains of friends trading tapes with friends. The result, I think, is that things have sped up. New shows spread through the fandom faster, but they also fade faster. The hot new thing changes pretty much every season, where in the ’90s it would stay the same a lot longer because it just took longer until most people had seen it.
The other thing is, back in the ’90s and before, very few things actually made it to the U.S. With a few hilarious exceptions, that was usually the best of the best. And when we ’90s teens were kids, in the ’80s, American cartoons SUCKED. Nowadays we get basically every anime, including all the crap, and American animation has gotten massively, unfathomably better than it was when I was a kid. I write about this more in the “Secret History of Anime Fandom” section of my new book, Animated Discussions (shameless plug two), but basically I think the result is that there was a lot of hostility to American cartoons in anime fandom back then, and virtually none now. You especially see it with cosplay—some of the most popular cosplays of the last few years have been Steven Universe and Adventure Time characters. That would’ve been unthinkable at anime cons in 1999 or 2000.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It actually all began with an obscure Japanese-French production called The Mysterious Cities of Gold that aired on Nickelodeon in the late 1980s. Unlike almost all other cartoons and children’s programming at the time, it told an ongoing story, with each episode ending with a cliffhanger. It also mixed together history, science-fiction, and fantasy in a way I had never seen before, although I think I was a bit young to appreciate the historic setting. It came on TV right when I got home from school and I’d race to the basement every day to try and catch the opening (which I now find downright painful to listen to).
I didn’t know this was anime at the time, or even what that word meant. It was just another cartoon. It wasn’t until a friend in high school showed me a VHS dub of Samurai X (aka Rurouni Kenshin) that I became aware of animation from Japan as a separate thing. From there, I soon fell into the action shows being aired on Toonami and the rest is history.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I think it was the serial nature of most of the shows I was exposed to that really intrigued me. Throughout most of the ’80s and ’90s, American television rarely told ongoing stories. With a few exceptions, most episodes hit a reset button and everything was back to normal next week. But anime told ongoing stories. A plot could be bigger than a 22 minute episode and continue onward, sometimes over the entire life of a show. I found the possibilities for this exciting.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I’m not even sure from when I first got into it. I was like 6 years old and it was 1989. I wasn’t exactly trading mail-order tapes. As I got older, there definitely was a period where everyone knew what Sailor Moon was, and then Pokemon got very big. Dragon Ball Z had this very slow burn of popularity where I thought I was the only one who knew about it, and then I got to college and everyone was saying “Oh, I love Goku.”
Was anime more of a solitary thing for you growing up, or were there friends or siblings you watched with? Anime has definitely always been more of a solitary interest. Up until my most recent job, which had an anime Slack room with about 12 or so people in it, I probably only knew a handful of other people who liked it.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I actually started my college’s anime club as a freshman. It never really went anywhere, garnering probably about six members at its height. But even with six members, I remember having a very difficult time putting together a schedule of events that would make everyone happy. Every person had a very specific type of anime that interested them, and it was hard to reconcile the person who wanted to screen a Slayers marathon with the person who only watched Street Fighter anime series and nothing else. Going in any one direction meant you would have an event where it would be literally only two or three people show up in a university room that could hold like 30, which was always awkward.
How does it feel to participated in this small anime fan group, and now to experience anime going mainstream? I mean, I think the main thing I’d say is never try to start a college club as a freshman, and also that maybe the best way to meet other people who share your interest isn’t to start a university-sanctioned club. Although I kind of wonder if the club would do better or worse today. Yes, anime is more mainstream, but does that also mean it’s less likely to be something someone is interested in enough to join a club about it? I don’t know.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? The internet definitely helped expose me to anime series I would never have seen otherwise. When Gundam Wing first aired on Toonami, I went looking for more info online, which is how I found that there were almost a dozen other Gundam series, with Wing alone in its own continuity.
Netflix helped a lot too. I got Netflix’s DVD subscription service shortly after it launched when I was in college and suddenly all sorts of stuff became available to me. There used to be an anime review website called Anime Academy. I sorted their reviews by grade and just started going down the list via my Netflix queue. I’m looking at my Netflix DVD history now and I see stuff like Crest of the Stars, Princess Nine and Record of Lodoss War that I had kind of forgotten about until now.
Was your participation on the internet passive, or did you interact in the fandom in some way? It definitely was more passive. I remember spending a lot of time just looking at different fansites and just taking everything in. There was so much information online that you would never get from watching anime on TV, like that we rarely saw the opening and closing credit scenes that were attached to the shows in Japan. I never really got into any forums or communities either, although I definitely went through a Gundam Wing fan-fiction phase, which is how I first learned what yaoi is.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? The first one I really got into was probably Gundam Wing. There were other anime before that, but Gundam Wing just had so many details that you could do a deep dive into, whether it was the mobile suits or the political factions. It didn’t always makes sense, and it makes even less sense now, but there was just so much going on.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like?
I have never been to an anime convention! It sounds weird, but I’m not crazy about crowds and noisy places and am pretty socially awkward. I’ve been to other large conventions and found them to not be my favorite places in the world, so I’ve pretty much stayed away.
What did your family think of your interest in anime? I saw you just went to Japan (and the Gundam statue!) with your dad. I actually went to that Gundam statue alone! My dad was going to Japan on a business trip, and I crashed in his hotel room to save money. Neither he nor anyone else in my family is too interested in anime, although they’re not against trying it every now and then. We all went to see Your Name when it was in U.S. theaters in the spring and everyone really liked it. My dad sometimes asks me about different anime that are currently popular. He works for a Japanese company and I think he likes at least having a cursory knowledge of Japanese culture for no other reason than to have something to talk about at the water cooler.
Finally, in your experience, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom now and when you first got into it? I remember watching a subtitled, bootleg VHS tape a friend brought back from Hong Kong of Evangelion four years after the show aired on Japanese TV and we were on the bleeding edge because we’d seen Evangelion subtitled. Now I stream new episodes of My Hero Academia like a day after they air in Japan through a site that has officially and legally licensed it. Everything’s faster now and I think that’s a good thing.
When did you discover anime? 1995 I would guess. It was at this time that shows like Sailor Moon and Samurai Pizza Cats were starting to show up on TV before elementary school.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? They looked completely different, and had a very different style and storytelling to them.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t much involved in fandom until I got a bit older and entered high school where I started going to my first few conventions.
At this time, it was a lot of in-person interactions. I didn’t have much in terms of internet (28.8k dial-up), so when I did I would look up Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon (especially Dragon Ball Z uncensored), and I’m sure some forums existed.
What was the difference? Why was uncensored better? At the time, I think the difference was just that I wanted to see “what people were keeping from me.” I wanted to see the “real” version, but also a lot of the differences were just cultural or required to air on North American television. It wasn’t so much that the “uncensored was better” as some of anime wasn’t available in North America yet.
You said you discovered anime in elementary school in 1995. But you’re still a fan today. Did you watch anime continuously that whole time? Or did you take a break? Over the years, there has definitely been a huge difference in my intake levels of anime. I watched a lot of anime (probably 5-10 series per year?) up until 2008 or 2009 (from elementary school to university). After I graduated, intake probably dropped to 1-2 series a year, and is now probably somewhere in between. Manga intake has been pretty continuous.
You said you didn’t start talking to other fans until high school. Can you tell me about what that was like? Was there a club? There wasn’t a club in high school, but through a variety of other clubs and classes, I managed to find people who were fans. I remember it being easy, because I wasn’t really afraid of showing off what I am afraid of like I am now. In elementary school, we had to compose a music piece, and I transcribed the Pokemon theme for flute… and a lot of meeting other fans was like that. It was a lot of bringing up different fandom-related things in casual conversation, or doing class activities that revealed people with similar interests.
Do you remember your first convention? Anime North 2003. It was an anime convention, and it was amazing. There were viewing rooms, and games, and people and goods. I remember going to tons of different panels to learn about different things like the Japanese language and fanthropology.
Did you get inspired to learn more about those topics? How so? I was inspired to learn more about those topics! As a result of some of those panels, I ended up buying books on Japanese, and later (in University) taking some classes on the language. As well, I ended up following a bunch of blogs on Fanthropology for a while, and making friends with one of the panelists who is pretty involved in a lot of fannish activities. I also now do a podcast, Fanthropological, where we try to dig into different fandoms every week.
When did you discover anime? My earliest recollection of what I would later come to recognize as anime was re-runs of Robotech that played early in the mornings before I went to school. There was something else that played alongside it but I don’t remember if it was another anime. What little I do remember is that my brother and I made sure my father woke us up in time to watch the hour of programming before school. We would watch and he would make us breakfast. This tradition kept up over the years as new shows aired. This is how, for example, I first watched Zoids amongst other things.
By the time I came to understand that anime was different from other cartoons, I had graduated from watching it in the mornings to also watching anime every afternoon on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. At this time, my interest in military history drew me to samurai which, in turn, led me to the realization that these cartoons I was watching were Japanese and had their own unique term to describe them, “anime.”
It was during these early Toonami years that I really “discovered” anime. I became a forever fan of anime from all genres and I became acquainted with what would become my favorite franchise: Gundam. New Mobile Report Gundam Wing on Toonami got me into Gundam despite my distinct memory of disliking the first episode. My friend, Andrew, continued to nourish my interest as he knew more about the franchise and had better access to other Gundam material from the internet and elsewhere.
I also credit my discovery of anime to the blossoming of my interest in other areas such as collecting and Japanese culture as a whole so I’m very happy that I became a devotee.
I’d love to hear about these additional interests and how you expressed them over the years. Collecting and Japanese cultural studies were the two main tangential interests that influenced my interest in anime and subsequently molded me into the anime fan I am today. The earlier of these other interests was in collecting. I’m not sure what the catalyst for this was but I suspect that Pokémon had a lot to do with it. The mythos surrounding the game always encouraged you to “Catch ‘em All” and so that’s what me and my friends did; we always ensured that we got every single Pokémon in our games. When the card game came out and my brother and I got into that, it wasn’t merely a card game for us. The goal was to get one of each card to scuttle away before ever considering playing with them. When we discovered that these cards also came in a “1st Edition,” it was a disaster. It was no longer about just getting every card but about getting all of them in the right edition. This trend continued into the emergence of the Yu-Gi-Oh card game but that eventually tapered off in college when I lost interest in the game. I also treated the brief Gundam War card game with the same collector’s spirit but those cards proved to be so elusive that I never finished my set.
An important part of my collecting spirit was encouraged by my mother and that was the safe-keeping of my collection. She always bought my brother and me acid-free plastic pages to keep our cards in at additional cost to herself so that they would survive in the long run. We still have the books of cards and I can say proudly that they are almost all still in mint condition. Things went even further when I got into college and took a museum conservation course. In this space, I learned that if I valued my collections, there were a number of factors that I must always keep under consideration such as light damage, skin-oil degradation, etc. As a result, I am very careful these days with all my art whether it is anime-related or not; everything is handled with museum-grade cotton gloves, the room they are stored in has light-blocking curtains, storage materials are researched before use, and the list goes on and on.
These days, the items I collect vary quite widely. I collect folk art pieces, ceramics, and a number of anime-related items. In the realm of anime, my collecting includes limited-edition physical media releases, various Gundam-related items, film and promotional posters, and animation cels. On my recent month-long trip to Japan, art was definitely my number one expense.
The later of these two interests was Japanese culture as a whole. My interest in Japan actually pre-dated my knowledge that anime was anything more than really cool cartoons. As I began to get into history in middle school, military history became my favored topic. I don’t remember the particular details of how it happened, but during these early years, my exploration into samurai history somehow led me to the realization that all these cartoons I watched so feverishly were Japanese. I feel that I was somewhat privy to this beforehand but this time the revelation stuck and I began to think of anime not merely as a selection of shows that I liked but as machinations of a particular culture.
Nowadays, I’m just generally interested in everything. I enjoy learning about a little bit of everything whether it’s history, culinary traditions, politics, or anything you can think of. Anime is very special to me in this regard as my impetus to research a topic is often related to my observance of it in a show. To give you an idea of how broadly it can work for me, I’ll discuss some examples that stick out in my recollection. From the main character of Princess Mononoke being Emishi, I did some research on this now extinct culture which has given me a much better concept of things like early state formation in Japan and the origins of the shape of Japanese swords. Other shows like Natsume’s Book of Friends challenged my preconceived notions on the nature of yokai which has led me to discover how much more fluid, fleeting, and mysterious the world of the supernatural is in Japan. Even shows that don’t really involve Japan can drive me to learn new things. Sound of the Sky’s unique setting led me to seek out the origins for it and led me to the Spanish city of Cuenca. Reading more about the city and its architecture led me to get better acquainted with aspects of Spanish history that I may have never come across if it weren’t for a Japanese cartoon about cute soldier girls.
So, interestingly for me, my discovery of anime from other aspects of Japanese culture has almost been flipped around and, in the present, anime has become a vehicle by which I can broaden my horizons about both Japanese culture and the world more broadly.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At this point, I don’t even remember what drew me to anime at first. My best guess is that, in my earliest years, it was action scenes and vibrant colors all under the guise of cartoons.
As I grew up and watched other shows like Sailor Moon, I became entranced by the depth of the stories contained within these cartoons. This was something completely foreign to me when it came to American programming and I ate it up voraciously.
When it came to shows like Gundam, it was not only the quality of the tale but the technology that drew me in. When I discovered Gundam, I had already developed a fascination with military history and the associated technology that goes along with it.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Gundam was undoubtedly my first and still primary anime love. Early on in our middle school days, my buddy Andrew was also a big Gundam fan and so our fan expression almost exclusively centered around one of us getting a hold of Gundam DVDs, games, etc. and devouring those wholesale. With the internet becoming easily available to us at around the time Gundam became popular, we also used the internet to gather as much information about the franchise as we could. We would share links to pages with each other that had Gundam information and we’d read them over and over to try and absorb it all. It was a great time to be a Gundam fan because it was still within the anime zeitgeist and knowing more about it than other folks made us feel good about it.
By the time we hit high school, Gundam’s popularity had dwindled but Andrew and I still continued to love it unconditionally. We continued to express our fandom through learning as much as we could on Gundam, attending Gundam events at the conventions we could make it to, and Andrew even began to build the occasional model. I never have gotten into Gunpla myself which I know is somewhat unusual for a Gundam fan.
Heading off to college didn’t dwindle my interest in the slightest. If anything, this is when my collecting bug began to really sprout with Gundam. I began picking up some smaller figures for display, limited edition media sets, random Gundam knick-knacks, and even some vintage Gundam posters. These latter items were, as you might expect, a little beaten up and so near the end of college, I actually took them to the campus museum’s conservation department to have them tell the best way to preserve them in the future. They now hang proudly in my room in custom-made frames.
Nowadays, Gundam continues to be my central anime interest and the focus of my anime collectibles spending. On my recent trip to Japan, I went to major Gundam places such as Joshin Super Kids Land in Nipponbashi in Osaka, the Gundam Café in Osaka with the Gundam vs. Char’s Zaku II statue, and the Gundam Café in Akihabara. Between these three locations and some others, I acquired over 45 pounds of Gundam merchandise!
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? During the time in which anime took hold of me, popularity in my cadre of acquaintances was divided along gender lines. For guys, it was a pretty even split between Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing. For girls, Sailor Moon was, by far, the most popular anime property.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? As someone who became a fan in late elementary to middle school, things were relatively simple. At the beginning, approximately half the class would watch Toonami in the afternoon and we would gather throughout the day in the classroom and on the playground to discuss the previous day’s episode.
Towards the end of middle school, more people began to lose interest so those of us who continued to enjoy anime became excluded into our own clique of nerds. This trend stuck around throughout high school but, luckily for me, the group of friends I developed was strong so I never had to experience major isolation due to anime.
Did liking anime limit who would be friends with you? Are you still friends with any of the group you referred to here? I suppose the answer here would be “in a way”. The core group of friends I developed in high school consisted of three schoolmates and another guy who was a friend of one of them. Only two of them liked anime beyond a fleeting interest in a single show at a time and, even then, my interest in anime was farther flung than even the two who were into anime. We connected based off other interests but the important thing was that my love of anime didn’t bother them. I could talk about something I was watching and enjoying and, as long as I didn’t harp on it too much and get bothersome—which I used to occasionally—they were fine with it. I’m still friends with all of these guys and, having moved back to Orlando after college, they remain my central social group.
For other acquaintances in high school, the response was twofold. Often, my interest in anime meant that I was kept at arm’s length as they didn’t want to poison their standing within the hierarchy of school popularity. For a smaller group of acquaintances who formed the group of kids I was always in classes with, they didn’t much care one way or another; class work remained the focus of our connection for the most part. I’ve reconnected with some of these folks since high school and even discovered that a few have become rather active anime fans up to and including cosplaying around the country.
How did you usually make friends with other fans? Almost exclusively, connecting with other fans was always through physical introduction at parties or at the local card shop with one of my friends acting as an intermediary of sorts. With the advent of Facebook during college, I began making friends through the internet and, now that I’ve started using Twitter, making anime acquaintances has become even more centered in the online sphere. These days, with my expanding presence giving panels at conventions, I’m finally starting to meet more and more people at events for the first time.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? I now know that the internet did exist for fandom when I was beginning my journey but I was completely aloof from it. I connected to other fans almost solely through school friends and, on occasion, friends of those friends.
Do you remember your first convention? I cannot remember the year, but my first convention was Megacon in Orlando, FL sometime during high school with my brother and my aforementioned pal, Andrew. Megacon began as a convention for American comic and sci-fi properties but, by the time we went, they had fully delved into the world of anime (anime fandom, I would later discover, was integral to reinvigorating this convention at this time of my first visit). Having enjoyed Star Trek, Star Wars, and the occasional superhero comic during my youth, this type of convention was great for me. I don’t remember much about the convention guests but I recall being overwhelmed with the rows of shops and the flurry of costumes passing by me. Two things do stick out to me, however.
My first particular memory I have regarding the convention was sitting down on an upper level to eat lunch. The old design of the convention center allowed people on this upper level to look down onto the dealer’s room floor. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time eating but I had an incredible time just sitting there and watching the organic movements of the masses through the crowded hall. I had never seen this kind of thing before and it was incredibly interesting to see. To this day, standing above crowds at conventions and watching how groups of people move about and interact with one another is something I love to do.
My second memory is less particular but it involves panels. I don’t recall the topics, but I really enjoyed sitting in presentations and learning from guests about the background of how my favorite shows and books were created. Megacon didn’t do fan paneling, as I recall, but this interest led me to seek out panels whenever I went to conventions. Over the years, this finally evolved into Andrew and I putting together our own group—originally called NoS Gundam—to give presentations about our favorite show, Gundam. It’s been four years now and our group, NoS Anime, has spread its tendrils beyond Gundam to panels on everything from Evangelion to iyashikei. Were it not for the seed planted at my first Megacon, I’m not sure if I ever would have taken this new and intriguing route into fandom.
Would love to hear about the panels you give. Our group began as “NoS Gundam” in 2014 after my aforementioned buddy Andrew and I kept experiencing a flurry of poorly constructed Gundam panels during the 2013 convention season. We decided that we could do better and so we put together our first panel, “Gundam 101” for Anime Festival Orlando 2014. The panel was a Gundam introduction that went over the breadth of the franchise, its repeated themes, history, and, finally, some recommendations; we even ended the panel with a silly “Identify that Mobile Suit” game which we cut pretty quickly after a few conventions. Overall, however, giving the panel was both fun and successful. I crafted the script and did the speaking while Andrew crafted the accompanying PowerPoint and ran it during the presentations. This has remained our style to this day.
The original intention of this group was to stick to Gundam themes and maybe create a Gundam panel or two each year for conventions. For the following 2015 convention scene, however, we not only produced a presentation on Gundam mecha but also on Evangelion. This Eva panel really began to set the tone for what would eventually coalesce into our panel style. The Eva presentation, “Evangelion’s Religion: You Can (Not) Reference”, looked at the original series’ use of religious references to see how much care the creative team behind Evangelion put into matching their creations to the things that inspired the names. The level of detailed research and the slightly more academic style to this panel have become hallmarks of how our group works.
The work we did for this 2017 convention season has been even more ambitious and rewarding. We got Andrew’s artist girlfriend to make us a proper logo, my brother officially joined the group, and we jumped from three to four panels for our lineup. The original “Gundam 101” panel was completely re-written and a new corresponding PowerPoint presentation created to go along with it. We thought we had created an incredible panel but, having reworked it, we were both just embarrassed by our old work and we were glad to update it to our more refined, current style.
This is also the first year that we’ve been invited to a convention as guests; our first will be WasabiCon in Jacksonville, FL this October. So things are going pretty well for us.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. It was the summer of 1st year undergrad and somehow I wanted to rewatch Danny Phantom and Avatar: the Last Airbender. I guess I had seen snippets of them as a kid and wanted to experience them properly. So I did that, and the (*cough cough*) torrents I used included a text file of cartoon recommendations, which praised Cowboy Bebop to high heaven. From Cowboy Bebop, I went on to explore other top anime lists, both on the internet and shared with me by a classmate who was into anime. This led me to Evangelion (which went over my head), Steins;Gate (which I really liked) and Madoka Magica—and from there I was hooked.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I had a phase in high school where I read a lot of classic novels in an attempt to “be mature and enjoy refined literature.” I’ll have to admit I went into it with the mindset of “cartoons are not just for kids; they contain deep themes of literary significance.” And with the anime I watched, I think I was able to justify my decision. Nowadays, I’ve learnt to watch anime just for brainless fun, and I think I continue to watch because I’m too used to the art style, the visual language, the style of storytelling, and everything about it, that I’d feel weird if I watched non-anime shows.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I did not (and still don’t really) closely follow pop culture trends… so.. .this was 2013? Was that the Attack on Titan year?
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I was (and still am) a huge lurker. I do not like sharing stuff about myself. (It’s scary to be vulnerable!) This Inksquid character is like my anime-watching personality split from myself. So… I wasn’t really “part of the fandom.” I just lurked a lot and watched YouTube vids and read blogs.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes. However, I lurked for the longest time, watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts (sometimes commenting under random pseudonyms). They actually inspired me to write a few articles for my university’s geek-related blog. However, after I graduated, I felt less connected to the blog, so I started the Inksquid persona to share my thoughts and opinions to the public through blogging and Twitter.
Why did you decide to create a new persona for this? The blog I used to write for was essentially a club where members wrote posts for each other and for a wider audience. After I graduated from the university, I moved to a different city and eventually no longer knew the people running the blog. It felt weird for me to be publishing there when they didn’t even know me. Moreover, I wanted a fresh start, a personal creative outlet, or maybe an escape into the anonymity of the internet. To be able to write whatever random things I wanted to without people I knew recognizing me.
When did you start blogging about anime? How did writing about anime change the way you watched it and interacted with the fandom? When I first got into anime I lurked among the anime community. Later, I graduated from university and, for the above-mentioned reasons, felt like I a) needed a creative outlet of my own, and b) wanted to actually interact with the community. So in June of 2016 I created the Twitter account and wrote my first blog post. I’m glad I’ve been able to find like-minded people and eloquent writers on Twitter and WordPress, with whom I can goof off or gush about anime. The section of the fandom in which I’ve taken root is incredibly tolerant and supportive, and has made me reflect a lot on engaging with media. Some of the greatest insights this community has given me, which I always try to keep in mind, include:
There are a ton of streaming services where you can watch anime for free and legally
It’s OK to like problematic media; likewise, it’s OK that others enjoy problematic media. Don’t judge them for what they watch; judge them for how they treat others.
Not everyone has to engage with media looking for profound themes or literary merit (that was, admittedly, my sole criterion for watching anime when I started)
There’s no point forcing yourself to keep watching shows you don’t enjoy just because the rest of the community loves it.
I noticed your blog and Twitter are multilingual. Did anime dubs or subtitles help with any of those? For sure. Anime helped with Japanese and Spanish, the two non-native languages for which I never took formal classes.
I started learning Japanese before I got into anime, so it worked out that listening to Japanese dubs was a great opportunity to learn. If you pay attention to what the voice actors are saying, you can often pick out and refresh the vocabulary you’ve already learned from other places (manga, songs, etc). It helps too that the voice actors usually enunciate everything clearly. If you want to challenge yourself, you can right-click Crunchyroll’s web player and turn off the subs: keep an online dictionary open, be liberal with the pause and rewind button, and you may be surprised by how much you can understand from the dialogue, visuals, and context!
I started learning Spanish two years after I got into anime (it helps that I learned French in school). After learning a bit of the basics (bless Michel Thomas) I decided to watch anime with Spanish subs. That forced me to learn to read the subtitles really fast. Only recently did I discover through a Twitter mutual that there are Spanish dubs of anime on Netflix, so I’m glad I can now practice listening comprehension too.
However, there’s an extent to how much anime can help with learning a language, because you’re never forced to speak to anyone, and nobody is correcting your mistakes. At this point I’m only comfortable reading in Japanese and Spanish: I don’t think I can hold a decent conversation or write a good blog post. Nevertheless, I think anime played an important role in getting me this far. Since I enjoy watching anime, tying language learning to this hobby made it fun.
Do you remember your first convention? Never been to one. Still too shy for that. Orz
But you seem pretty active online. How does the internet free you up to be less shy as a fan and share your opinions? I think it’s the perceived anonymity of the internet that lets me open up about my tastes and views. More importantly, though, I think what the internet offers is an easy way to connect with people who share my tastes. Since anime and anime fandom are so incredibly vast, it’s not easy finding people offline who enjoy the same type of anime I do and appreciate the anime I do. Most anime fans I encounter grew up with long-running shonen series and/or enjoy the characters’ special powers or power levels, which, while those are perfectly valid reasons for enjoying media, give me nothing to relate to.
Inksquid can be reached through Twitter and their blog.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Anime was first introduced to me in the early 1990s. My grandfather was a fan of black-and-white monster films, which led to us watching kaiju films. From Godzilla and Mothra came animated versions of monsters and robots fighting to save the universe/galaxy/planet/reincarnation of the peacock buddha. I was hooked immediately, but I had no idea what I was really watching.
Were you introduced to anime by the same grandpa who showed you kaiju films? If not, who? After my grandfather opened my eyes to transnational cinema, I was always looking for something different. When I was in middle school, a friend of mine from a few houses down the street (name omitted by request) acquired a VHS tape and some photocopied papers with a script printed on them. He invited me over, because I was better and faster at reading than he was. Between myself, and the few friends that gathered, we watched Ranma 1/2 each taking turns reading the script out loud as we watched the show in its original Japanese language. We got tapes mailed to us, and each box came with scripts for some, and they always contained a piece of paper with the name and address of the next person we were mailing them to. These were not even fansubs, and they had commercials from early 1990s Japanese television stations during the episodes.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? In the late 1990s and I was introduced to some titles that have great cultural significance. Most notable, Ranma 1/2 and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Another series that I was given to watch was titled Martian Successor Nadesico, and this is the show that forever changed my life.
Tenkawa Akito, the main character of Nadesico, is a chef and gun-shy pilot of the mecha within the sci-fi series. He is also a fan of a faux classic giant robot anime, Gekigangar III, which he enjoys with the mechanics and other pilots. One of his lines in the final episode hooked me, more on that in just a moment.
I watched to the final episode of Nadesico. I got to 25 out of 26, and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of watching the last episode. I was too attached, I felt empathy with the characters, and my form of escapism would be over if I watched it. My heart couldn’t take it, and I didn’t want to watch it for months.
Akito’s line from that episode? Well, it translates oddly. But the general premise is that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the final episode of Gekigangar III because he couldn’t bear to have his friends leave him. The Gekigangar that lived in his heart would not last if he finished the show, so he didn’t.
I resonated with a character in a way that I never had before. Not in live action, not in film or TV, not in any of the books I had read. That bond that I shared with him became the reason that I am a lifelong fan.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? We all knew each other back then. Everyone in the Seattle area knew our brick and mortar anime stores, and where to find shirts, wallscrolls, DVDs, and figures. It was a tight knit and massive community.
Can you tell me about this community? Who did it consist of? How did you associate with one another? Our Seattle community was largely comprised of those who knew about our brick-and-mortar anime shop called Anime Kingdom (now defunct). Since it was the only place to get wallscrolls, T-shirts, and general anime merchandise, it was usually occupied by several fans from the area. Over time, we all exchanged phone numbers, and some of the more affluent kids had email addresses.
Beyond the store, the anime club at the University of Washington was very large. At its peak, over 100 students would gather for weekly screenings of episodes acquired from some means or another. The club was known as Anime Discovery Project (ADP). ADP was the core of Seattle otaku for many years. They had the manga and VHS library, opportunities for viewing, gatherings outside of the college just to hang out with one another. Sadly, after a few years, the students graduated and their replacements could not keep up with the advancement of technology. ADP still exists, but in name only.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It was, in a way. Through IRC clients and malware infested file sharing software, we all upgraded from VHS tapes and photocopied scripts to digital copies of our shows. Most of the people we spoke to, we had met through anime themed events at local stores.
You mentioned downloading digital copies of shows online, but was there a social aspect to internet fandom for you? I did not engage the social side of the online anime community back then. Truthfully, my family was broke and I didn’t have access to the internet at home until I moved out. Being limited to computers at college was very difficult.
I’d love to hear more about these anime themed events! Anime Kingdom and ADP would hold events throughout Seattle for fans. A day that I recall was when we all travelled to Kicks Hobby Japan in the North part of the city. We visited with the owner, set up tables outside, someone was handing out posters with Gundam models featured prominently. The shop was known for models and figures, and so this day was spent painting, sharing techniques, displaying creations, and sharing favorite moments in Gundam. It is worth noting that this event was before Gundam Wing was airing in Japan, so these fans were very dedicated to their classic franchise. Passing people would stop in to ask why there were so many people gathered, then people saw the models. An older gentleman returned to his home, and brought some model planes he had built and wanted to share with us. We gave him lots of table space, asked about his painting methods, and in the end he went home with a few mobile suit models.
These type of events brought us together as fans of individual shows and franchises. But sometimes it was even more personal. A house in Seattle was known as the hachiroku house, home of the webmasters of hachi-roku.net. Their yard had several cars up on blocks, and parts were even available if you were willing to take them off the cars. They were always around to talk about Initial D, drifting, itasha, or anything car and anime related. When my friends and I were building a Tofu shop style ’86, we visited the house and took a few trim pieces to be repainted. We had our gatherings all over the state, but it was the local groups that overlapped that really kept us all connected.
Do you remember your first convention? Sakuracon 2003. It was like standing between a wardrobe and a looking glass, and seeing my dreams coming true. Cosplays, music videos, people I didn’t know being accepting and kind and having fun. I was there all weekend, and I have not missed a year since.
What was the first fandom you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? My first fandom was Ranma 1/2. It is a show that holds the best memories for me, and gives me a desire to share anime with others. Like most fans, I showed my interest by cosplaying. As with many first cosplays, it was comprised of clothes I already owned and a hope that someone would recognize me. I dressed as Genma, Ranma’s father. I shaved my head, wore a white gi and blue bandana, and walked proudly into my first convention in 2003 wearing my first cosplay. Within SECONDS I heard a young woman yell “DADDY!!” and looked over just in time to see a female Ranma cosplayer charging towards me with her arms outstretched. I opened my arms, we hugged, and I shouted “My long lost son!” The hallway of people laughed, and I was in the hallway for several minutes doing poses of us fighting or arguing or her standing on my back as I laid facedown on the floor. First cosplay, first convention, first photoshoot, first ten minutes I was in the building. It was a great experience that I will always remember.
For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? Anime fandom now lacks a quality that past fans had. Formerly, we connected at conventions or events, by word of mouth, or by mailing each other things we found. When one person owned a DVD set of a show, that person got invited everywhere, never paid for food, and was always welcome. Once everyone had seen the show, it would rotate to the next person who bought something, and the cycle repeated. We would call one another to ask for DVDs or VHS copies. Soundtrack purchases were worthy of a listening party at someone’s house.
Now…I texted a friend after seeing Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) in theaters. She saw it twice the next day, the second time with her husband. He texted me the link to iTunes to buy the soundtrack shortly after the film got out. Within 24 hours, three people saw a film and bought a soundtrack and then… nothing. That was it, that’s the whole story. While Your Name spread like wildfire, it still did not touch us all in the way anime used to. It would connect dozens of people across social and economic spaces.
Our connections are simultaneously more abundant and nonexistent. My friends and I all watched Yuri!!! on Ice as it aired. Some people lasted a few episodes, some became obsessed. None of us communicated about the show until long after it was done airing. We watched it alone, and at the same time.
It is an extremely odd experience to watch My Hero Academia weekly with my roommate. He watches English language only, I watch the show in Japanese. He watches on Funimation, I watch on Crunchyroll. I use a PS4, he has a laptop. I live in Washington, he currently works in Alabama. We watch this show on the same day, at the same time, and yet everything about our experience with the episodes is completely different.
We’re connected, but we somehow manage to stay separated.
I think that is the biggest contrast. The level of connected that we do and don’t have.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. My first memory of knowing what I thought this “anime stuff” was is seeing Sailor Moon on Saturday mornings before the regular Kids WB shows would air, so this would be roughly 1995 when I was in the 3rd grade. I just kinda knew that Sailor Moon wasn’t like traditional cartoons that I watched like Batman: The Animated Series or Animaniacs, so I only had this understanding that they were Japanese cartoons. I knew of a girl who lived in the same apartment building I did who had a Sailor Moon denim jacket she wore every day, but I never had a chance to talk to her or ask her about the show.
In the fall of 1998 the Pokemon craze first came to America. I would catch new episodes of Pokemon right before I got to the bus stop around 7 AM when I was in middle school. I knew it was a cartoon based off the Red and Blue Game Boy games that had been out for a few months, and eventually I got my copy of Red that Christmas. Even though I was watching Pokemon and playing the games, I didn’t consider myself an anime fan of any sort. It was just a cool craze the kids I knew were part of, kind of like how yo-yo’s were becoming a craze at that time.
I remember going to the video stores at the mall where the local Suncoast was located, but I never really looked at the anime section other than I knew where it was. It wasn’t before long before I realized that was about to change for me…
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I guess I could be considered a “first generation” Toonami anime fan, because without Toonami presence being on TV around that time, It wouldn’t start the chain events that has lead me to writing about my story on this site almost 20 years later.
It was March of ’99 and I was at the lunch table with my nerdy Pokemon friends that I knew since we all lived in the same apartment community together. One of them started to talk about this new show called Dragon Ball Z that was on Cartoon Network in the afternoons. The more he talked about it, the more I had to know what this show was about. My first memory of watching DBZ was a few weeks before Toonami did their DBZ20XL week long marathon, which gave me a chance to catch up on the beginning. From then on, I liked what I saw and I was hooked. I even remember my mom and my brother in my room building Legos while they aired the first three DBZ movies on TV for the first time ever that summer of ’99. After that it was only a few more months before DBZ became the hit it is today. Even at that point, I wasn’t a big anime fan, but I was hooked on this DBZ stuff.
This was when I started to pay attention a bit more to the anime section at my local Suncoast, and I remember asking my aunt who I visited in Arkansas to see if any Blockbusters carried rental DBZ tapes past the episodes Toonami didn’t air past until months later (which was around episode 50, or the same amount that is in the Rock the Dragon DBZ boxset). Of course none of the stores had anything past those episodes, because they weren’t even released commercially yet. I remember that being a long waiting game until the end of the year when the Frieza Saga continued on TV.
What later catered to my gateway anime show was the March of 2000, when one show would change my very being into being the ultimate Gundam fan I am today: Gundam Wing. Gundam Wing did to me what Attack on Titan has done to anime fandom, being “that” gateway show to gradually lead them down the path of wanting more and more anime. Sure Toonami had Tenchi Muyo, Rurouni Kenshin and others that I kept up with, but the world of Gundam took a hold of me many years later.
It also didn’t help that Adult Swim started up when I was starting high school in 2001 with Cowboy Bebop being my other obsessed show along with Gundam. Adult Swim and Toonami aired Gundam 0080 and 0083 in late 2001/early 2002, which I have those first airings on tape to this day. Anime on TV is a powerful weapon, especially on how it can be marketed at retail stores for people wanting merchandise off their favorite show. But what I was obsessed with was just the beginning.
You said, “I guess I could be considered a “first generation” Toonami anime fan.” Can you tell me about this generation of anime fandom? Today can you spot one even if you don’t know their age? My definition of “first gen” would be anyone that watched Toonami pre-Tom 3 or 4 era I’d say. It’s nothing official, but Toonami to me up to the Tom 3 era and Tom 4 era are two different areas. If you talk to people who are Toonami fans, you can tell how old they were just on what shows they were obsessed with during Toonami for what they remember. I came in during the last half the Moltar era, but I didn’t check out anything pre-Moltar when I heard their schedule was old Hanna Barbera cartoons and some Voltron. I didn’t get into watching Robotech on TV at that time, and if it was on it probably didn’t interest me at the time (yet I’m a Gundam fan today, go figure).
It’s really true when people say that television rules a society, and in Toonami’s case, rules a generation of anime fans into the new millennium. I personally think without Toonami, anime fandom wouldn’t be like it is today, or this large. You can owe western anime fandom to the television, the evidence is clearly there that every person who has a story to tell on this site saw anime on television at one point in their lives. It’s kind of baffling to me that someone like Carl Macek would find a way to adapt anime to American television to cast a wide net of new fans and viewers to turn fandom into what it is today, and still be looked on in history by some as the antichrist of anime. His idea of getting anime out there to a wide audience works, and we see it years later with how far anime fandom has gone because of television networks hosting them.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Since I’ve been talking about anime at the turn of the century, certain shows were still big online that had a lot of discussions at that time (and still to this day). One show that I finally saw after hearing so much about it was Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I didn’t see ’til the summer of 2002. How I saw Evangelion was rather interesting, because I saw it en espanol in a hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador. There used to be a Spanish animation channel called Locomotion that aired anime, and since I was there for a week on a church mission trip, I happened to catch my first episode of Evangelion, which is episode 11: “The Day Tokyo 3 Stood Still.” Still today it’s one of my favorite episodes, along with “Lilliputian Hitcher,” which was the second episode I saw on that trip. I even remember seeing some Rurouni Kenshin in Spanish, which the episode I saw must have been from the latter arc of the anime series.
It wasn’t until I meet a friend in my sophomore year of high school who lent me his Eva VHS tapes (which were half dubbed/half subbed) which is how I finished the series. I also got to see other stuff in my high school days and things I rented from Blockbuster that expanded my knowledge and hunger for anime even more. One of my favorite OVA’s is Sol Bianca, and it was a rip from STARZ one of my other friend in high school lent me. I believe I saw it dubbed, which i’m still trying to track down, even though I own some cels and all of Sol Bianca between the original and the “Legacy” collections.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The only world of fandom I was part of was my group of nerd friends in high school who I did airsofting with and watched whatever anime they were watching. Some would bring in taped G-Gundam in and show it to a friend during lunch break on one of the school TV’s, which the teachers didn’t care what we did with them as long as they weren’t broken when we got done with them.
The internet played a major part of my fandom, mostly from joining online forums. One forum in particular I first joined was ran by none other than Zach Nathanson, or the main host of The One Piece Podcast. This was looooooong before he ever got into One Piece. This of course lead me to joining sites like Toonzone where the people I started to talk to on there are still friends with me today online, which is where most of my connectivity with nerds are these days. It’s our own little nerd community, and I don’t see that changing soon.
I fully believe that having an online community has greatly helped me as an anime fan over the years. I’m still friends with many people today that I’ve meet through online forums and even though AOL Instant Messenger. Some I have met in person and others I have yet to meet.
It’s actually through anime podcasts that I’ve become friends with people to this day as well, which our only meet up would be Animazement since I’m originally from Raleigh NC before I moved to South Carolina. Even with me doing my own anime podcast I’ve been able to meet people at local conventions who know me through my podcast or through panels I’ve done over the years. The community might have its weirdos, but I seem to get along with them pretty well for the most part.
Tell me about Gundam Wing and how it became your “gateway” anime and obsession. How did you express your fandom for it? I wouldn’t be a Gundam fan if it wasn’t for Gundam Wing as that first stepping stone. As much as Gundam fans want to criticize Gundam Wing (and I was formally one of these people for many years), I realized that Wing was the perfect show to introduce the western world into Gundam. It’s not perfect by any means, but I really can’t think of any other Gundam series that would “hook” a western audience quite like Wing did. It was the right show for that right time, and Cartoon Network and Bandai of America I think picked the right content to bring Gundam to the west publicly.
I remember when it first came on Toonami in March of 2000, and I was heavily engrossed in the show. I remember looking online about Gundam Wing and someone mentioned how it’s a whole series of shows under the Gundam title going back to the late ’70s. To me, that blew my mind, but I wouldn’t know too much about it until other series of Gundam came to Toonami in coming years.
There was a point that I fell out of anime from early 2001 to that early September when I went to high school my freshmen year. It was 08th MS Team that was airing that got me really hooked into Gundam because it looked as if I was watching an animated version of a Vietnam war movie, but animated with giant robots. It also didn’t help that I met a friend that same year who helped me get into Gundam more, which is when I remember picking up one of my earliest Gunpla kits at Toys R Us and bought a number of them off him over the years to come. It was also from my same friend that I became a big Victory Gundam fan, and it all started from low-quality Real Media files subbed in Chinese to get me introduced to a Gundam series that wasn’t going to be released in the states ’til another 15 years later. I eventually found ways to watch it fansubbed in English online, but I’d never thought Victory Gundam would ever make it stateside, but I was glad RightStuf put it out on Blu-ray. I even have a “shrine” to Victory Gundam on my shelf above my anime DVD/BluRay collection. I think what drew me to Victory was that a lot of people weren’t talking about it or knew little of the show when I was seeing it in 2002. And for me, I have a tendency to obsess over things that no one cares about because it just makes it more unique for me to enjoy I guess.
I was so obsessive over Gundam that I made some fan films using my Gunpla kits that I had in high school, that after years of debating on doing this, I decided to upload them on youtube after being on a tape for over 15 years. They are quite bad, and my story was all of the top of my head, but I felt that I had to express my creativeness with what I had at my disposal at that time. If anything they might be for a good laugh, but I had fun making them regardless of how big of a piece of garbage they are hahaha.
I have kept a good tape collection of Gundam on TV over the years, since I have taped recordings of Gundam 0080 when it first appeared in 2001 on the Toonami Midnight Run, and Gundam 0083 early in 2002 on Adult Swim. If any Gundam is on TV I was there to record it, which I still have those recordings in a box to this day. I remember even getting the first printing of Mark Simmons “Gundam The Official Guide Book” when it was released that Spring of 2002, and that I had on my person throughout high school in my bag. The book is a little beat up, but I look at it as a great resource bible for Gundam knowledge pre Gundam Seed. Over the years I’ve collected and sold off my Gunpla collection, and my podcast gets Gundam material from RightStuf to review, so I’m very grateful to be given that opportunity by an anime company to review their products. I’m not sure if I’m the biggest Gundam fan out there, but to me I’m the biggest one I know.
You mentioned Initial D was your biggest anime obsession today. Tell me about how that happened. I actually came across Initial D first at an arcade in Massachusetts when I was visiting a friend that summer of 2003. I remember walking around a mall when the arcade there had the Initial D Ver. 2 cab out in the open, which just came out that year. I was able to sit down and play the first track and made my own custom card on a magnetic card that Sega used for people to save their data on. After my first race and getting some points, I was able to keep the card and thought the game was really cool but didn’t think much of it.
Fast forward a few months later and I was checking out my Victory Gundam data CDs I bought from my friend a year prior, and on the last disc was the first 4 episodes of Initial D. Two of them had a Japanese track with English fansubs, and the other two were dubbed in Chinese with English subs. After watching the first episode, something clicked in me to be completely hooked on the series. I think it had everything to do with the Eurobeat music, car racing on mountains that didn’t look as stupid as it trying to be full of stunts in those Fast and Furious movies that were coming out at the time. The show got ahold of me hard. It was around this time that Tokyopop was releasing the DVDs for Initial D for the first time.
So over the course of the next year, I was buying every Initial D DVD that was coming out from Tokyopop and was watching them in Japanese to keep the Eurobeat tracks since the dub rap lyric music was god-freaking-awful. It also helped that a local amusement place in Raleigh NC that had those same Ver. 2 arcade cabinets of Initial D, and I made every attempt my junior year in high school to head up there when I could. I remember a friend in high school was buying the manga, and I remember bulk reading a huge amount of issues over a weekend.
What kept me hooked on the arcades was the arcade scene for Initial D. Online there were several teams that would compete against one another in places like Canada, China, Northeast and on the West Coast that would do meet ups and post up time attack times to always get the one up over someone on a course by fractions of a second. The worst people attitudes ever got was the usual trash talk on forums but that was the extent that I saw. Some did videos trashing other teams because of a fraction of a second, it was essentially another way for guys to dick measure each other on an arcade, but it’s all in good fun in the end haha.
Another huge positive for me for being an avid Initial D player and a fan was how I met my best friend to this day. I was working Toys R Us Christmas in 2005 in the video game area, and one guy came in that we hit it off pretty great. He was a nerd like me that liked video games and we seemed to have the same interest. I wasn’t sure if I said it or him, but one of us blurted out about playing Initial D. All I remember was being really happy that I found another Initial D player. What was also awesome was that I got to hang out at his house that night and play the PlayStation 2 game, which I didn’t know existed for home console and he burned me a copy on the spot to play. Over the years we have had some fun discussions on Initial D regarding making fun of how the music was written, taking road trips to playing arcade games, and even playing against each other from time to time. Of course, it’s also us doing life together by staying in touch and selling video games the past few years at Animazement. I should note that to people who are video game collectors, my friend is Josh Fairhurst of Limited Run Games, which is his own company that has been featured in printed and online magazines about his business printing limited copies of games out there for collectors.
My other big thing on Initial D is how I acquired my very own arcade cabinets over a year ago. There is a local arcade joint in my town that for a number of years had the original Ver. 1 of the game sitting in a corner of the old area before the owner switched places. I would always try and haggle for a better price since the machines are beaten up and need work, but the owner would always overcharge on what I thought they were worth. Once I heard that the owner moved, I heard he left his old arcades in the old building to try and auction off. Sometime later I noticed someone took over his old spot and found that his old machines were still there. I immediately went to the area where the Initial D cabs were, and behold they never left their area. So for 300 bucks I bought both cabinets from the owner at the time and took them home in my garage where over the past year I’ve been slowly trying to restore them to working order. I still need a few more parts but they are both running fine to where both people can play against each other. It’s funny how 14 years after I first played Initial D in the arcade, I’m now a proud owner of the arcade, and it’s a wonderful thing to have.
Do you remember your first convention? My first convention was Animazement in 2007, when it was still meeting at the old Sheraton hotel before they moved to the Raleigh Convention Center where it’s going to be housed for I’m sure many years to come.
I remember actually going on a whim when I knew it was that weekend, and decided to take whatever cash I had on me and make a day event out of it. I really enjoyed getting cool stuff from the dealers room, the small game room that has expanded so much over the years, and meeting some cool people that over the years are now people I still meet up with all these years later. I have gone just about every year consistently since 2007, so Animazement is my home con that I go to.
What did your family think of your interest in anime? My family at first didn’t have an issue with it but then wanted to try to make it an issue. There was a past story on this site that is somewhat similar to mine, where I grew up in a Christian environment which dictated some decisions on what I was allowed to watch and not watch. I was able to relate to that person’s circumstance easily, but I had a better outcome. After a while, my family went from not wanting me to watch any Dragon Ball Z to not really caring what I watched.
My family has never said to me that they didn’t like my anime hobby, probably because they knew I grew up as someone that became a productive member of society and is doing something with my life than being a basement dweller nerd. I want to believe I’m as hardcore of a nerd as they come, but I’m still a functioning member of society, where I’m working towards finishing my Bachelors in Communication at Anderson University in South Carolina. I’m still a strong believer in the Christian faith, and to my family that’s more important than whatever hobby I’m interested in because it’s important to me. Everyone has a hobby and will have hobbies, but there is a way to use a hobby to help the kingdom of Christ. Being in anime fandom is no different than being part of an outdoor sporting group or a car club, it’s the fact that you’re with other people to share ideas and beliefs, it’s the hobby that brings people of the same interest together, which gives a person of the Christian faith a chance to serve others and share the gospel.
When and why did you decide to start your podcast? Well, the podcast I have isn’t my first podcast. I made a joke once that if “podcasting were like wives, I’d be paying a hell of a lot in alimony by now.” The current co-host I have Jonn is someone I’ve known for over 10 years from this animation forum Toonzone, and me and a handful of other users from that site communicate through online chat services to this day, coming from AIM to now Slack. For a number of years I wanted to do an anime podcast because I had this desire to talk about the anime I was watching, and that seemed to be the best outlet to do it. My friend Jonn was telling me that they started a podcast on a website called ToonRadio.net, and called it The Kool Kids Klub. The title was meant as a joke, but I didn’t care since I wanted to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about. We kept that name for about a year, then did another one that lasted six months and after some falling out between people, I wanted to be on hiatus.
My friend Jonn and I still wanted to do podcasting, but weren’t sure on a name. He pointed out that we could name it after the blog that I do, The Anime of Yesteryear, and I told him why not. So after 4 and half years later and past 100 episodes, were still doing what we’re doing. I’ve had guests on our show like Arron Clark from EvaGeeks, Geoff Tebbetts from Golden Ani-Versary blog, Gerald Rathkolb from Anime World Order and voice actress Lisle Wilkerson as guests since we started. If anything the podcast really keeps me rooted in my anime fandom since it makes me stick to watching anime and discover new things that we wouldn’t find on our own. The purpose is to stick to anime that is past 2000, but we do occasionally break that rule from time to time, and cover other stuff that interest us.
The big thing that keeps me and my co-host going is staying committed and diligent. I think people podfade when they realize that it’s more work than they want and just give up. But if you want to keep a podcast going, you have to stay diligent and commit to make it go as long as possible. I don’t want to quite podcasting, because I like to run my mouth and I got things to say, and its also pretty strong in my heart to keep it going.
How did podcasting changed the way you interacted with anime? With fandom? I’m able to give anime a more critical look than just saying I like/dislike something without any hard reasons as to why. It also helps that other podcasts out there that review things I enjoy but will slam hard on them. Podcasting is also just a nice way of someone giving an audio critique on a title compared to a written one. I’ve come to realize that everyone has an opinion on whatever show they like or dislike, and it shouldn’t get to me if they think and believe opposite of what I like and dislike.
I think it’s good to hear the opinions of other anime fans out there that don’t always share the same opinion you do. Instead of taking someone’s slam piece on an anime you enjoy to heart and being pouty and bitter at them because they don’t like what you don’t, look at it as an opportunity to see the weaknesses of the thing you enjoy, but also find ways to strengthen your love of that series. I certainly have been harsh on titles that other people enjoy, but I also love titles that other people don’t enjoy. But at the end of the day, it’s all about having fun right?
What’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say it’s definitely time and tastes changing. I’ve noticed that series that I still believe are hot items like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Gundam, and other series and OVAs I remember enjoying at 17 and knowing other people that enjoyed it, are now titles that other 17-year-olds don’t know anything about and consider them “old” at this point. I think that’s the nature of slowly becoming part of the “old guard” of anime fandom now in my early 30s, where my mind and fan spirit of how I’ve always seen anime are now relics of their time, and the new titles I don’t care to really be interested or I think are just “copies” of what I love to share that aura of excitement and love that today’s anime fandom is obsessed over. The feelings and love stay the same, it’s just another product to fit into that groove while the thing you still love is tossed into the wastelands, and only the older crowd will remember it.
I can’t make anyone be obsessed with the anime I love, but I sure can introduce them to it, and hopefully, they might see a series or OVA in the same light as I still believe it has many years later. I feel that it’s a natural obligation for those who have been in anime fandom for a long time to be mentors to newer fans in introducing them to series that they normally wouldn’t pick up on their own. It’s kind of biological for the old generation to naturally teach the young generation of anime fandom. This is why I love doing panels at conventions and podcasting because I have that drive to express that.
Location: Just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I think it all started back in elementary school, when Pokemon was becoming popular. I never was the type of person to follow the trends and fads, but my cousins managed to get me into Pokemon, which has now become a lifelong obsession of mine.
I watched the Pokemon anime on TV, though at the time, I didn’t know it was anime, or what anime was. And this eventually led me to watch other shows.
I eventually started watching Yu-Gi-Oh!, which was the most addictive show I’d seen yet. It wasn’t until it was in its final seasons that I really discovered it was anime, and what anime was.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first, a lot of it was the art style, and the character designs, especially creatures. But what really stuck with me is the complexity of some of the characters and stories, and the fact that it’s just darn addictive to watch.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Probably Dragon Ball Z, but I never had a chance to watch it myself until much later.
What was the first anime you got really into? How did you express your passion for it? Well, I am a lifelong Pokemon fan. But I’d say the anime that really made me a fan was Yu-Gi-Oh! I collected the cards extensively (and still do to a degree), and maintained a massive database of them. I used to try and put together some of the character’s decks and tell some of my own stories by arranging some mock duels with them (and of course, making some of my own cards too). I remember when I found out it was the last season, and was disappointed. Then I heard rumors of a spin-off/sequel series, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, and for a time, was crazy obsessed with trying to find a way to watch it, despite the fact that it aired only on a cable channel I didn’t have at the time. So I spent lots of time looking up episode summaries and trying to track down DVDs of GX that I could watch—I was so excited when I first found one.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? The thing is, I don’t feel like I was.
My father was cheap. He never invested in cable television or good internet. Because I didn’t have cable, for the longest time, I was only able to watch anime that aired on network television, usually alongside Saturday morning or after-school cartoons. Because of this, I felt like I was watching shows meant for younger kids.
While there were some otaku at my school, I didn’t feel I would fit in with them, because I hadn’t seen Inuyasha or Fullmetal Alchemist or Naruto or Dragon Ball Z, or any of the other well-known more mature anime at the time.
On top of that, I had an interest in costumery, and in secret, I put together makeshift costumes based on some of my favorite characters (a lot of Pokemon). I felt this was weird too, especially given that I wasn’t a fan of Halloween when I was younger. I didn’t know cosplay was a thing at the time either.
The other kids at my school were not very tolerant of people who were different. They found ways to twist more mundane things into something they could use against me. I had to keep this interest a secret—it was a matter of survival. Unfortunately, keeping secrets took a toll on me—in my case, it caused me to develop social anxiety.
Can you tell me more about the ways anime fandom caused (and later helped) your social anxiety? Well, the people at my school proved to me that they aren’t very tolerant of people who are the slightest bit different, taking something that’s just a simple difference of opinion, and escalating it, basically rubbing it in my face how their opinion is the only right one. If I gave these people the slightest bit of information, they would use it to make my life miserable. I felt that something like my anime fandom, which was a major part of who I am, would be used against me in a big way—especially as I’d heard some people talking negatively about some of the anime I loved. So I pretty much just kept to myself. For me, that was a matter of survival. And when you fall into that habit for long enough, it’s difficult to break—even when I got into college, which was a much more tolerant environment.
It was really my convention experiences and finding other fans on the internet that helped me start to recover from this. Just realizing that there were more people like me, being around them, and basically being accepted, though it did take some time for that feeling to truly sink in. I had the idea of doing a panel last year, and when I first presented, it was in many ways a liberating experience—just being able to talk in front of a large group of people about what I love and not feeling like I’ll be judged for it. I mean, I do still have a ways to go—I can still be a bit nervous when talking off the stage.
Was the internet a part of fandom at the time? Well, like I said before, I was stuck with cheap internet as a child, so I didn’t have a reliable way to connect to the internet until I was a senior in high school.
But this also meant I didn’t grow up with the internet the way most millennials did. I was distrustful of social media and afraid to post anything, and remained largely a lurker online for years. But despite that, the internet did reveal the existence of the anime community, the cosplay community, and conventions to me.
Do you remember your first convention? Sadly, there weren’t a lot of good conventions in the Philadelphia area, and being that I first learned about them when I was a college student with low income, I couldn’t afford a trip to someplace like Otakon until much more recently.
But eventually, I found a small local event at a college over in New Jersey, Kotoricon. It was an amazing experience, I felt like I could freely be myself, though I was also having difficulty processing it, so I remained very shy.
When I went back for the second year, I was actually able to cosplay. The first three hours I spent cosplaying was pure bliss. I remember seeing a picture somebody took of me online. My hood was up, I couldn’t see most of my face, but I could see my smile. I don’t think I’d smiled like that in years.
I’m still an avid convention-goer and cosplayer to this day, though now I also go as a panelist (I was a presenter at Otakon last year), which gives me the chance to share my passion with others, and has helped me with my social anxiety.
Tell me about making friends with other anime fans for the first time. The first time I remember was a convention panel I attended. One of the panelists approached me after the panel, having liked a comment I made during the panel. She handed me her card, asking me to contact her after the convention. I tried to do this, but the email on the card she provided wasn’t working (and I didn’t have Facebook at the time). I eventually was able to get a message to her through her co-panelist, but didn’t hear anything more back from her. I thought that was the end of it, but I was at one of her other panels at the convention next year, and she remembered me. Some time after that, I did get a Facebook page, and finally reached out.
Aside from that, there were a few people I meet after they get my picture in cosplay, and sent me a copy, or I found and commented, or they found a picture I got. Though most of these are just one-off chats.
More recently, I made a lot more friends when I discovered a group that holds regular meetups for cosplayers and anime fans in the Philadelphia area. I quickly became a regular at their meetups, and a lot of the other regulars know me. And I’m currently in talks to become a staff member in this group, or at the very least help arrange a few activities for a future meetup.
What kinds of topics did you present panels on? My big panel right now is on papercraft, or more specifically, a somewhat lesser-known form of papercraft called Pepakura. With this artform, somebody can make a physical paper model out of a 3D model from the computer, so it can be a cheap and fun way to get a collection of your favorite characters. I’ve done this panel at five different conventions so far, including both AnimeNEXT and Otakon. If you want to learn more, you can check out my website or my corresponding DeviantArt or Facebook galleries. I have a few other panel ideas in the works, but don’t think they’ll be ready for presenting anytime soon.
How do you think you’ve grown as an anime fan since first discovering the medium? Well, today, I feel like I have so much more opportunity to express my fandom. Like I said, back in the day, I felt like I had to be secretive about it, today, I feel like I can be quite a bit more open about it. Back then, I felt a bit weird because of it, but I don’t anymore. Today, I have access to online streaming services, that I’ve been using to catch up on some of the anime I missed out on when they first aired. I have the money needed to commission better cosplays, and I’m making friends in the community. And I feel like having more opportunity to express my fandom has made me overall a bigger fan.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. Mornings before school, probably in ’95 or ’96, I watched the Sailor Moon dub on TV. Sometimes only the last half of the episode depending when I woke up. The style and action grabbed me immediately when compared to US cartoons I saw.
Then came Toonami and an increased awareness of what I was watching. Sailor Moon was included in that lineup at some point in 5th grade and I remembered it from two or three years previously.
The tail end of 5th grade also saw me begin playing a little game called Pokemon. Everything was starting to really make sense, all these super cool things I liked came from Japan. And then the big wave hit me.
It was called Gundam Wing. I was just old enough where I could “get” the storyline. I set the VCR to tape every episode on Toonami in case I missed it. I was obsessed. A store in my local mall sold merchandise and I spent my allowance on as much of it as I could.
The summer after my obsession with Gundam Wing began, I got internet at my house. As a quick learner I found out how to find anime websites, you know the old Geocities ones. My resource was Anipike. I am so nostalgic about this site; it opened my eyes to everything. Before I knew it, I was obsessed with anime.
The ups and downs followed—this was an expensive hobby. For a number of years my fandom was obsessing over shows I wanted to watch. But soon enough Adult Swim happened and I was able to finally watch Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. That same spring, I sanded and then repainted the ceiling my parents’ front porch in exchange for the Evangelion box set. For those wondering, that job is as rough as it sounds. You try holding a power sander above your head for hours!
All told, I’m fast approaching my 20th year as an anime fan, and each year with this hobby is more fun than the last.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? It was the art style. It was like nothing else I had ever seen. And there were these series-spanning stories. If I missed an episode I would have no idea what was going on.
Tell me about your Gundam Wing obsession. What kind of stuff did you buy at the mall? I bought multiple t-shirts and I’m sure more than one poster. I couldn’t tell you how much they cost but I do know my allowance back then was about $10-15 every week roughly. I definitely paid market price, whatever that was in 2000 and 2001. It’s wild looking back at it from today’s perspective, where I’m buying merch from shows I got into years ago.
With Gundam Wing, this entire obsession lasted about a year at most. Your interests move a whole lot faster when you’re a kid. But as a result I didn’t wind up with as much stuff as I could have. I remember also getting a small Wing Zero model as a kid, already assembled. I have that in a box somewhere. My T-shirts, which numbered three or maybe four back in the day, are all gone I believe. I assume they got donated to charity or in the case of my beloved Deathscythe shirt destroyed by wearing it at Blizzard Beach and letting the chlorine in the water do a number on it. It’s probably for the best. I’m 5’4″ and 135 pounds now at age 29, so age 13 me definitely wouldn’t have looked good in those size large T-shirts if I don’t look good in them now.
However, I do still have the “silk” (these things were always 100% polyester) Dragon Ball Z shirt I bought around that time from Another Universe. I also still have one Gundam Wing poster that inexplicably has survived the pre-high school throwing everything away purge, pre-college purge, post-college purge, and moving out of my parents’ house. I’ve attached pictures of each.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was weird. My fandom was heavily rooted in shows I couldn’t afford and would never watch. The fandom was younger then though, a lot of us wound up growing up together in it and are still talking about anime 20 years on.
What was that like to be a fan of shows you couldn’t watch? (BTW I totally understand. I used to print out Fushigi Yugi screenshots for my school binder even though I couldnt watch it). It is so fascinating looking back on it. I was too young to participate in VHS trading and certainly too young to afford much of anything. So if it wasn’t on Toonami or one of the other anime blocks popping up on cable I couldn’t see it, except for maybe on the TV at my mall’s Suncoast or Another Universe.
However I had a huge interest in anything CLAMP did. I tried to read about their various works, look at websites covered in their art, and watch Cardcaptors on TV when I could. Fushigi Yugi was another show that interested me greatly, in part because of the massive fan community it had online. I remember finding a script for one of the manga chapters and printing it out, putting it in a binder, but never actually finding the corresponding untranslated manga chapter to read with it.
But the biggest one was Evangelion, in part because I caught most of an episode at the mall. Coming from Gundam, this just seemed like an incredible step. As it came to be, the first series I actually came to own was Evangelion. My 8th grade binder was decorated almost entirely with Evangelion pictures I printed off my computer.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Yes. There were fansites, role playing communities, message boards, and the conventions scene was exploding. Though I didn’t participate in cons at the time, I was heavily active on the internet in every way I could be.
Could you tell me about some of those early sites? I couldn’t tell you the name of any of those websites or shrines besides Anime News Network and Animenation. They were probably a little later on as well. I would say my first foray into and first year or so of fandom was basically devoted to whatever websites and shrines Anipike linked me to. Obviously a lot of Gundam sites first jumped out, but from there I branched out. It’s cool thinking about all the people I’ve crossed paths with in fandom since then and how many of them probably visited the same goofy little shrines and fan pages I did. Even cooler is to think about how many of them might have made one of those sites.
Can you tell me about role playing, message boards, and stuff like that at the time? How did you participate? Through Neopets, another bastion of early 2000s internet life, I found people who were also interested in anime and especially Gundam Wing. I found Yahoo! role playing groups for Gundam Wing and jumped right in. I think I wound up playing Treize—poorly. I did better when I branched out and just found fan groups. I spent a lot of time on one that had a focus on more shojo-targeted shows. None loomed larger there than Sailor Moon. But this group opened my eyes to the art of CLAMP, which needless to say is a good group of artists to be exposed to when you’re just starting out in anime fandom. I also spent a lot of time with a group of Final Fantasy fans a lot older than me who kind of took me under their wing. We had chat rooms and everything, it was a real formative experience since I got to talk about a ton of things with them that none of my friends in school knew anything about.
As Yahoo! Groups died down, or at least my interest did, I branched over into message boards. Merging my love of anime with longer-standing love of JRPGs I found GameFAQs boards a great outlet to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about. I was also relatively active on Animenation a few years later. Unfortunately I have lost contact with everyone from my pre-Animenation days.
Do you remember your first convention? Otakon 2004.
I was anxious, at the time I didn’t handle large crowds of strangers well. I barely did anything that weekend—my mom had to pick me up early as I hadn’t gotten my license yet. The presence of 18+ panels naturally made her uncomfortable as well. I remember more about my excitement of finally going and waiting in line for my badge than anything else.
Also I drank more Red Bull that weekend than I had in my entire life up until then. Yuck.
What did your parents think of your interest in anime? They would sometimes wind up watching whatever was on Toonami with my brother and I. They never said much since I’m sure they weren’t overly focused on what was on TV. However I remember one time I was sick and my parents were taking care of me, helping me eat, and my dad eye-rolled so hard at whatever was happening in Outlaw Star. I suspect there was a point they assumed it was cartoons, and it was just kids’ stuff.
We also are from Baltimore, the now-former home of Otakon. So they started to make the connection that a lot of people of all ages, but especially skewing older, came to town for this convention. Cosplay was a brand new concept. My mom was unfortunately a bit too on the controlling end to let me go when I was in middle school. I know she didn’t get what anime was at all in part because my generation were more or less prime adapters. So when she heard they played adult entertainment at conventions she made the connection the entire thing must have been adult entertainment. I don’t want to throw her under the bus but at one Otakon she drove down there to pick my younger brother up, still in middle school, when she found out they showed hentai and such after dark. This despite the obvious fact, to us at least, you need ID and wristband to get in.
After talking her off that ledge I got to attend my first Otakon the next year, but had to leave before it got too dark. She still tells that story about my brother’s first Otakon whenever the name of the convention comes up. I barely talk about anime, conventions, or anything similar with my parents. They, my mom especially, never truly made an effort to understand it. I am very close with them otherwise so things are good. It’s a bit unfortunate since it’s a huge part of who I am though.
Since discovering anime, how do you think you’ve grown as a fan? I’ve gone through a lot phases and even waves of fandom. A handful of times I drifted off the scene, usually for a few months and then I came back discovering a new slate of shows people were interested in. I had one big break right after college. This honestly lasted around two years where I barely watched any anime. In hindsight that was the best thing that happened to me because since I came back, barely a day has gone by where I haven’t watched anime or at least discussed anime.
I think most of my early fan years were built on discovering what anime meant to me, and then after not having it in my life for a few years I realized it’s a huge part of who I am. It’s certainly my favorite form of entertainment. I’ve become much more critical, but deliberately not negative, in the past few years. I notice things now I never noticed before. Beyond just bad animation or being bored by a show, I’m more perceptive of themes and messages. I was really forced to develop as an early anime fan completely on my own. And while I had a lot of great friends online I didn’t have any at first in school. So I was often prone to needing to be “in the discussion” and feel that sense of belonging.
But that’s changed too, and now I’m happy to watch shows in a vacuum without all the surrounding hype. Overall, I feel like I still have a long ways to go in my fandom, there’s so much out there to explore and I still am at the tip of the iceberg in understanding it all.
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I was 16 and the only “anime” I had seen up to that point were bits and pieces of Robotech and an odd episode of Dragon Ball Z that aired at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.
I thought anime was pronounced “animmh” because the only reason I was familiar with it as a concept was reading the word in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, talking about a Japanese RPG for the Sega CD. I was a *hardcore* classic cartoon and animation nerd (I wrote a 55-page research project on Hollywood cartoons my junior year when honestly we were only required to write maybe 10 pages) and after some Altavista-ing in 1999 I found an anime club on the University campus: the Tucson Animation Screening Society (TASS).
I emailed one of their officers asking if I could attend a screening, and that same weekend I saw the first two episodes of Cowboy Bebop, subtitled episodes of Sailor Moon, Rurouni Kenshin, and the capper: Katsuhiro Otomo’s wonderful, gorgeous anthology film Memories. That film struck me like seven concurrent bolts of lightning, and to this day I call it my favorite film ever.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? The novelty of it was something of a shock at first, having grown up on Looney Tunes and the like, but I was instantly drawn in to the fact that series like Rurouni Kenshin were definitely serialized stories, not just one-off episodic adventures that could be watched out of order.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? I can’t separate my time in TASS with Gundam Wing; I vividly remember watching dingy fansubs at screenings and then, several months later, seeing those same episodes (largely) unchanged and dubbed on Toonami.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Because I came at anime from a very snobbish mindset I never really got “invested” in any particular series or anything. It was always my view that animation itself was art, so I gravitated more towards the feature films with more serious stories. I mentioned Memories, but I also remember feeling levitated by Wings of Honneamise and of course Akira. I remember seeing Jin-Roh on a fansub around this time as well and being completely blown away. I saw the people who were into fanart and fanfiction and cosplay; I was always kind of jealous in a sense that I felt as though I couldn’t contribute to those in some way due to my own insecurities.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a liberating social experience. Not too many nerds who argue about Frank Tashlin’s best cartoons have bi-weekly meetings. It was also my introduction to things like shojo, and series like Revolutionary Girl Utena, both of which had me like “Hey whoa, girls like these things too; all kinds of people like these shows but sometimes for different reasons and it’s all good!”
Could you tell me about making friends with other anime fans early on? As far as making new friends, it helped that TASS had a club atmosphere. It was in the club’s interest to grow membership numbers (you had to pay your yearly dues to stay in good standing) and so they were always welcoming to newcomers. I remember just a few months after joining the club, going to the house of one of the club’s leaders and checking out his backyard telescope (southern Arizona has very clear skies so it’s a popular haven for astronomers) and watching imported laserdiscs. I think we watched the first episode of Tenamoya Voyagers.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? Wouldn’t have found out about fandom otherwise. I also VERY quickly graduated from just going to TASS meetings regularly to aggressively sending away SASEs [Self Addressed Stamped Envelopes, more on this here] to fansubbers (God bless Kodocha and their purple Barney tapes) and tape trading, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without alt.rec.anime.misc and nascent Geocities websites.
What was tape trading like? Purple Barney tapes? The purple Barney tapes! Kodocha was a fansub group named after the manga and anime series of the same name, and their gimmick was that all their tapes came on purple VHS tapes. From what I understand, someone in the fansub group visited a VHS manufacturer that had hundreds upon hundreds of blank, purple VHS tapes that were originally meant to be used for episodes of Barney the Dinosaur, and they had the foresight to snag as many blank extras as they could.
I started with Kodocha because they were one of the few who didn’t require any tape trading—you sent an SASE, maybe a few bucks, and you got your fansub. I didn’t have a second VHS player at home to copy tapes, but I sure did at my high school. I was part of the Media Arts program, and for my junior and senior years I had an independent study. They never gave me any directive on what to do, so I ended up using their VHS equipment to copy tapes and take naps. Tape trading was fun and I built up a sizable collection over the span of those two years, though lord knows where those tapes are now. (I was also trading tapes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes.)
It’s the sort of thing that I can’t imagine having the patience to deal with as an adult, spoiled with broadband internet. You’d find somebody on Usenet or their Geocities webpage where they’d list what they had as well as what they were looking for. You’d exchange emails (“I got the complete set of Hyper Police, can I trade you for the first arc of Rurouni Kenshin?”), send ’em off in the mail, and wait oh-so-patiently for weeks and weeks until my mom or dad would confusedly ask me if I had ordered something from Cincinnati or wherever.
Was anime seen as something weird back then? What did your family or friends think of your interest in anime? Of course it was seen as weird. Nobody really knew what it was. My parents—conservative Mormons though they were—were mostly just happy that I was getting out of the house and meeting friends, so they didn’t seem to upset about it. I’m sure if they knew the content of some of what I was watching they’d be upset, but this was around the era when Pokemon was starting to become a popular children’s cartoon show, so they mostly thought I was just watching more of that.
Most of my peers in school who weren’t into anime themselves were at least curious about if, if I remember right. If anything I was made fun of more for being the weird kid who read books about old Disney cartoons in class than I was for liking anime. Anime at least had an edge to it that most kids my age found interesting: there’s violence! Swearing! Boobs and stuff!
Do you remember your first convention? Only vaguely. I believe it was Anime Expo either in 2005 or 2006, one of the last years it was held in Anaheim. The convention itself was a drunken blur. Mostly I remember the ride from Tucson to Anaheim: 8 1/2 hours in a crummy, smelly van, driven by a TASS volunteer with a cowboy hat, the place littered with old computer parts probably dating back to the 1970s, while a bevy of Kimagure Orange Road soundtracks blared.
For you, what’s the biggest contrast between anime fandom then and anime fandom today? I’d say the biggest difference in the fandom has everything to do with the internet, most importantly: accessibility. Outside of anime being on cable TV like Toonami, you can go on YouTube and type in the name of whatever anime you’re curious about and you’ll at least find a clip or something, while Crunchyroll has every damn episode of Naruto available on demand. Anime wasn’t something you just happened across, for the most part, and if you were curious about it, it certainly took longer than a five-second Google search to check it out. I mean, I had to physically go to a building on a college campus every few weeks to see it before Toonami got started.
In a way though I think fandom is quite similar in a lot more ways than it is different; if anything I’m the one that’s changed. These days as a grown-up, I’m very picky about what shows I watch. The only thing I’m really keeping up on that’s simulcasting is My Hero Academia. Meanwhile people I know on Twitter are literally watching EVERYTHING. Every damn show that’s airing. That’s insane to me—except I remember my time at TASS and that’s precisely what I did, every other week, for years. I’d sit down and even if it was something that probably wouldn’t appeal to me in some way, I still watched it, just to check it out. It’s how I found out about really great shows like Yawara! and so on; you probably couldn’t get me to spend 20 minutes watching a new anime about a girl in school practicing judo, but at the time I was simply voracious and wanted to watch everything.