Home » Essays » Anime in America : A Personal Account

Anime in America : A Personal Account

By vfxart

Let me go back to 1975 or so, yeah my fandom started then. I was early school-age, but grabbed easily. 😉 But first, and this may be important, I will talk mostly about the mid-80s through mid-90s, having been one of the crew/supporters of AnimeCon ’91, and some related fun.

In the mid ’70s I was still in my home state of Massachusetts, where afternoons, like a lot of the country, meant watching what we knew then as Speed Racer. It was different, somewhat clunky, but appealing to a ~6 yo boy. I’m 51 now.

Jump ahead a few years, around ’79, and the mornings and afternoons are a mix of Yamato (Star Blazers to us, then), and the infamous Force Five. Great stuff in my mind. The single channel that aired both would also show commercials for a toy store in my home state which specialized in animation merch from Japan. Never got to go there, but have run into a few folks here on Reddit who had!

Jump to the mid ’80s and I had moved to California, near the Bay Area (Livermore), and then into the Bay Area (Campbell, San Jose, etc etc etc)

In high school I became a large part of the local sf convention scene- and this was where the answer really lies: if you were part of a semi-niche and semi-obscure fandom, this was a necessary reality to broadening your ‘content’ choices. At a couple of my first conventions, I learned a trick of sorts was to hang out at any dealer table that had any anime related bits for sale. In the SF Bay Area, this was more likely than maybe in a lot of other regions. Like-minded folks would stop by, chat, and ‘hey another one of us!’ for a while. Then later on at the same con, if you were easy-going enough and such, you’d hang out in a room where someone inevitably had a laser disc player and watch some eps, or maybe someone had brought a vhs player etc. (BayCon 85 and Macross DYRL for me) By the late ’80s, more conventions would have an anime room going along with the sf film room and such. AnimeCon 91 grew out of BayCon 85 and especially BayCon 86 anime rooms and some programming being a viable draw on their own (that is a very condensed statement, and undermines a lot of effort, but to save time…) The work done by a good few folks who shared a LOT made this happen. Also, a trip to San Jose Japantown and San Francisco Japantown helped, more on that later. But the best first point of info, sources, shared interest, was the con scene, at least back then. AC91 also grew out of the support of the Kogura brothers of Gifts Kogura (San Jose Japantown) who were ummmm ‘notorius’ supporters of anime viewing shenanigans ;-). Anyway, from a convention, you might make a friend or two who was part of an actual group, a less casual fan or group of fans…. that was huge. 😉

So there we have a few things going on- 1) it could only be caught on tv if something had been licensed and so repackaged in harsh ways; 2) if you had a good local convention scene and folks with connections or who had the pulse of what was popular, even with a small percentage of attendees, then you might find a dealer and other fans; and 3) if you were in a larger metro area, you may have access to shops that specialized in, or at least gave over some space to, imported discs, cds, books, magazines, mooks, kits, etc. Then the ’90s hit.

Back to AC 91: it grew out of the efforts of a group known as the Bay Area Animation Alliance, yes…. effing ell… BAAA, and acquaintances of the group. (Yeah hearing BAAAAAA all the time got old fast. 😉 ) We gathered weekly in a few spots, mainly a local library (Empire Street) to work and share as a club. This social aspect I think is so very much missing- oh I know folks tend to gather and view and such, or did… but a club then was different- even though there were hardcore types at each and every meeting, there was enough casual in and out drop-in viewing that there was a constant renewal of energy. The club had huge upswings and downswings, and then of course tensions around certain relationships and such because that stuff always shows up, but we did bring something cool to life. As for those Saturday AMs, it was the soup stone story, you know? We all brought something small, if we had got a new disc or tape, and sharing it out we were bigger than the sum of our parts.

In the mid-’90s, I had a friend whose boyfriend was a software engineer, who’d get sent to Japan 2x year or so, and he’d bring discs back, but by that point, it was becoming a bit easier to get content through Hawaii, or the regular means (vhs off of LDs); personal tape and such libraries had become huge and ahem, affordable (ten bucks a first gen tape) Still, the trips always meant a few discs came back and if you wanted latest/greatest, it was an option. But again- I think this loops back to location as above; I was in the SF Bay Area, so tech cos had their share of folks making those trips on the company dime. Dunno about the rest of the US, but I assumed it a natural way business got done. True or not, I got some of the benefit.

So there we’ve got a couple more pieces of the puzzle, clubs got established and made it easy to be in touch and have access outside of conventions, and then as folks moved into the work force and had money and business opportunities, or friends who did, a bit of each were put towards expendable income necessities (;-)) such as anime.

Anyway, can keep rambling, but it came down to: luck, location, hitting events, organizing, sharing, planning, communicating. At first it also meant being cool watching the same damn thing over and again when we had new fans along. If a single copy of X was all you had and you watched it because it was all you had, it never truly got old… 😉

A curious reality: after 1993-1995, anime had become a bandwagon affair in the US, another pie to slice up, but a lot of folks stayed the course and we kept doing the above; what was being packaged and sold/widely available in the US was still behind what we knew was out there, what we could get through other sources etc… so for the hardcore groups, the above paragraphs held true for a while. We went about our business and as folks got into the easily accessible, some would find us and we’d crank their realities up a bit. But- the widening of a viable consumer base, and the Japanese-release-to-US-import times shrinking, we had to rely on each other less and less. Up until this point too, the shops in SF and SJ were not so much the same, so a good day of trips to each would mean you were going to shops for different types of merch; here for tapes, here for books, here for audio, not much cross-over as now. I miss that lack of homogeneity. But stores got in on the action though everyone had the same damn thing after a while. Anyway, I’d say things had dissolved for this way of viewing anime and seeing a diverse mix of shows etc by 2000. Last 20 years have been amazing as a fan.

I still think that all of the above is very important- hit Cons, make friends, gather outside of planned events, charge each other’s’ batteries. This stuff really matters. It’s how I’ve kept my enthusiasm, and folks as a convention-runner and pro and other, I have endured enough shit to walk straight out… but, see the above. 😉

Please understand that the above is so tip of the iceberg and in parts also hinged on outright being lucky as well as being where I was located, and falling in with a good group of folks…

originally posted on Reddit in 2020