Week of Geek: A Brief History of Anime Fandom

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Hiya Geekling!  Enjoying the warm weather?  Ready for summer (and by extension, school to be over)?  I know I am.

So I just got back from Anime North this last weekend.  Had a lot of fun, learned some new things, got a little puppet-type critter that I hope will sit on my shoulder during my visits with the public and will delight young and old alike.  Good times.

But one of my favorite things I did this weekend was attend a panel on anime fandom in North America, presented by these guys.  I like fandoms, I like fans, I like history, and I like anime so this was a win win win win.  And in the interests of public service, I thought I’d pass some of the interesting tidbits I learned on to you guys, ’cause I’m nice like that.

So first of all, fandom for Anime on this side of the globe is much older than most people would expect.  A lot people think that it really took off in the early 2000s (or if you’re old like me, you peg it somewhere in the 1990s).  North American fans of anime have been around for about 60 years.  WHAT?!  But one of the reasons most of us may not know that was because being able to access anime was much more difficult back then than it is now.  You basically had to hope it was on broadcast TV or you had to know a guy if you wanted to see it.

One of the big things to kick it all off was a little show called Astro Boy.  It aired on NBC in 1963 and actually beat The New Adventures of Superman in the ratings.  It was followed by Speed Racer in 1968, and then more shows followed, so a lot of Baby Boomers grew up with anime shows.  Funny thing; we had protesters on Sunday convention, but the panelists pointed out that that was nothing new; there were protesters back in the 60s.  TV watch groups wrote a scathing review of Speed Racer back when it first aired.

So there’s that.

In the 1970s you got giant robots coming on the scene with Shogun Warriors.  These were toys that were popular even without a show to back them up.  The first mini festival for anime fans was held in that decade.  The first English language manga, Barefoot Gen, was published.  After Star Wars became huge a lot of related-anime was released, like Battle of the PlanetsGalaxy Express was the first anime movie to get a theatrical release in the US.  The show Star Blazers aired in 1979 and became so popular it spawned it’s own fanzine and it’s own mini cons.  It was during this decade that you got to see the first anime cosplayers at these events (though the term ‘cosplayer‘ didn’t really come into use until 1984) and where you got the first real divide among fans between heavily edited and dubbed English versions and the original Japanese versions of anime.

On to the 1980s.  Now we have Japanese arcade games and laser disc games coming onto the scene, as well as home video in 1984.  Voltron aired that same year.  Yamoto Con was the first official con in North America.  More magazines, model kits and shows came out during this decade.  You could conceivably come home from school and watch an afternoon of anime shows.  The term ‘Japanimation‘ was first coined in the 80s.  Akira was given a theatrical release in 1989 and that was a pivotal moment.  It was a film that made even the staunchest of critics, the ones who insisted all of this was ‘just for kids’, take notice and realize we had a genuine art form on our hands.

Then the 1990s, when things got even more mainstream.  It was rough for the first part of the decade because of changing economics in both the US and Japan, making it more expensive to buy and produce shows.  Some toy stores went out of business during this time, and despite studios attempting to crack down on them, bootlegged VHS tapes, merchandise and fan dubs were pretty rampant.  But when production costs went down things got much better.  Stations like the Sci Fi Channel, Toonami on the Cartoon Network, YTV and Global were all known for airing anime on television.  Sailor Moon and Pokemon came out during this time and exploded in popularity.  We had anime-inspired movies like The Matrix.  It was starting to take off globally too.Image result for anime meme sailor moon

In the 2000s though, pretty much any barrier that had existed to keep you from getting into anime dissolved.  In the early part of the decade you could still watch stuff on TV and in cable packages.  We had new franchises like Cardcaptors and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, which was the #1 show on Cartoon Network across all demographics, even with a Japanese theme song (that hadn’t happened before).  DVDs and Blu Rays changed the game, as they took up less space, were often less expensive and could include both subtitles and dubs.

And then came the internet.  Good heavens, the internet.

That brought anime fans together worldwide, and made it so much easier to promote conventions.  Before we had search engines we had websites like Anime Web Turnpike, which listed all the anime-related sites you could visit (back in the days when the internet was small enough you could list certain sites on one page).  Fansites and webcomics exploded.  From 2000 – 2006 there was a huge spike in peer-to-peer file sharing and fan subs.  There was also an explosion of conventions and memes.

Then from 2007 to 2008 there was an anime crash, due to low-quality and much too expensive DVDs causing certain companies to fold, including Bandai.  But what emerges from that?  Crunchyroll.  We now have other online streaming services like Funimation, Netflix and Amazon Prime, often airing their episodes within a few weeks of them airing in Japan, or sometimes the next day.

And that brings us to now.


OK, that was REALLY fast and short, but you get the idea.  Anime in North America has a long and rich history, not just confined to the last couple of decades.  And the main thing to realize now is how much more accessible everything is; we can now watch and discuss these series as they air, which is really cool.

Anything else I left out?  Post away in the comments.  Have a great week Geeklings, and until next time, End of Line.

One Response to “Week of Geek: A Brief History of Anime Fandom”

  1. BNuts Says:

    Once upon a time I didn’t even know ‘Astro Boy’ was an anime, but I watched and enjoyed it. Later, ‘Dragonball Z’ and ‘Sailor Moon’ were things I watched when nothing else was on. I also have to admit, with shame, that ‘Gundam Wing’ went WAY over my head when it first came to North America, as did ‘Vision of Escaflowne.’ There were anime-styled things too, but ‘Gundam SEED’ was probably the first anime I actually sunk my teeth into, along with its much-maligned sequel. And of course, there was ‘InuYasha,’ but as with ‘DBZ’ I disliked the repetitive nature of the show.

    It wasn’t until I started university that I watched the likes of ‘Ranma 1/2’ and ‘Rurouni Kenshin,’ and also immersed myself in their source material, the manga (at this time I also got into ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ and other comics as well). I got hooked on the styles, the stories, and the characters.

    These days there are some pretty unusual ways to get your anime hook-ups, from streaming episodes online (or getting them from the library) to watching one of the numerous ‘Abridged’ series on YouTube (several of these led me to watching the actual series they were lovingly based on, however ‘DBZA’ is now my only ‘Dragonball,’ and ‘SAO Abridged’ is the only way to experience ‘Sword Art’ with a realistic reflection of VRRPGs.

    Whether a person counts ‘RWBY’ as anime or not often seems to depend on the person, but FNDM is rather vocal. They ship everyone who has ever appeared with everyone in the show, and have vociferous arguments about theories and how the show’s been taken in a completely different direction from what Monty Oum intended (may he rest in peace). But no one argues that Monty took many cues from anime in designing the series.

    Long-lived franchises like ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’ are still going, perhaps ever stronger than ever. ‘Gundam Build Divers’ takes the plastic models of ‘Build Fighters’ and puts them into a VRRPG world (and reflects the realities of an MMORPG better than ‘SAO’ did). It had an interesting variety of characters even as it cracks wise at its own franchise and all the things modellers experience IRL. I’ve also taken the time to watch the original ‘Mobile Suit Gundam,’ ‘Stardust Memory, ‘Zeta Gundam,’ and ‘Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn’ (because of the life-sized statue in Tokyo). This is how you do what ‘Star Wars’ was trying to do properly. I honestly believe this.

    Finally, the longer I watch and read ‘Food Wars: Shokugeki no Souma’ the deeper it seems to get with its characters and plot, despite all the racy moments and (ahem) foodgasms. But seriously, if you had that food you’d react the same. Souma Yukihira himself presents as the typical shounen hero, but it’s revealed that he’s as good a cook as he is because of his own efforts, and because of his nearly 500 losses to his father. Souma is hated by most of the other students at Totsuki not for his lack of pedigree (his father was a former-2nd seat on the school’s council, the Elite Ten), but because of the fact that they only fail to do what he does because they aren’t as stubborn as he is. Souma takes all his victories and defeats and makes them a part of his next effort, but has no special talent of his own with which to face the monsters of Totsuki — and still wins more than he loses. And yes, he does lose. He also gathers friends who can help him learn what he doesn’t know, and does so instinctively, creating a group of strange but tight-knit people who all believe in each other’s potential. One of the greatest marks of Souma’s success as a cook and as a character is how much he has motivated the shy Megumi to better herself, going from someone who got so nervous at tests she was on the verge of failing to someone capable of challenging for a seat on the Elite Ten.

    And there are fun and silly series out there too. One of my favourites to just relax and laugh to us a cute series called ‘Acchi Kochi’ about some of the most eccentric high school students you could ever hope to meet.