I’ve been an anime fan for no more than 5 years and already I’m starting to feel like I’ve been around forever, yet the truth is that my mere half-decade of devotion barely even scratches the surface, after all, some hardy souls have been following this foreign Japanese stuff for more than 30 years; a concept so baffling I can’t even begin to imagine how they managed it.
I’m fascinated by the biographies and anecdotes of anime fans. Young or old, everyone has a story that recalls their moment of excited discovery and the subsequent realization of what anime has to offer. It’s comforting, almost reassuring to read fellow fans trying to convey those memories in the context of their lives, each person coming from different, interesting circumstances. My own story is something of a modern cliche, but that’s really the point of this article, the chronology of an anime fan.
I suspect we can look at the recent history of anime fandom as containing three distinct and converging ages of “gateway” anime. They are Video Nasties (1990 – 1997), Childrens TV (1995 – 2002) and the Digital Revolution (2002 – present day). All three have impacted on my life.
During the mid-nineties, I was a bored teenager looking for some edgy entertainment, so it’s rather predictable that my first glimpses of anime would be snared during the Video Nasties era, courtesy of bloody, gore-filled flicks like Ninja Scroll and Fist of the North Star. I remember how I would often figure out what to buy next based on which badly-dubbed trailer had condensed the most violence and profanity into its 2 minute preview. I spent a lot of money on bad anime, even going so far as to mail order chunky VHS releases of such politically-(in)correct “manga” as Angel Cop, but it remained a rather superficial phase and died out after a year or two.
Some time later and the Childrens TV era inspired my then lazy-university-student self to rise at 6AM for day long marathons of Dragonball Z. This was just another phase that had nothing to do with ‘anime’, instead I was hopelessly carried away by Goku and his (literally) death-defying adventures. Amusingly, I still own the home recorded VHS tapes (with their carefully organized labels) of some 250+ episodes of Dragonball Z, but for all that effort, I doubt I’ll ever play them again. I still keep them around, anyway.
Everything changed when the Naruto anime premiered in Japan during 2002 and, on a reluctant whim, I started watching its fansubs during 2003. This was around the beginning of the Digital Revolution as fansubs proliferated via Bit Torrent. It was the first time I’d willingly sat through any media in a foreign language, yet, as if over-night, I’d suddenly developed this interest in Japanese culture and completely reevaluated my opinion of foreign cinema. In fact, I’d been so impressed by those opening 50 episodes of Naruto that I started looking into other anime, and the discovery of other series, many of them classics, were soon to follow, from Cowboy Bebop to Berserk. Everything, all of this, was sparked from that point, a reluctant whim.
Aside from the cliche jibes about ‘bad English dubs’, I think it’s important to note the pivotal role played by watching Naruto in a foreign language. Watching anime in Japanese presented the unavoidable truth that I was seeing a unique product of an exciting foreign culture. The very moment I started following Naruto was also the moment I realized I had been missing out on something so infinitely special. That was that, and I’d become an anime fan.
My little story ends there, but alluding to everything I’ve said above, this is the part where I ask you the same questions.
How did you become an anime fan?