This weekend I tabled at the Massanutten Regional Library in Harrisonburg, VA. It’s John’s hometown, and his mom invited me to come talk to kids as a published author. I wrote that book in seven weeks and don’t earn royalties on it, but the library carries it, so I went.
I didn’t know what to expect, so I brought stuff for kids of all ages. I converted the Otaku Journalism cover into a coloring page with crayons. I printed out Anime Origin Stories questionnaires. I brought my Cell, Naruto and Sasuke models for kids to play with.
This was not a big event—maybe 200 people attended, and maybe 50 stopped by my table. I had some memorable interactions, like being able to tell a Dragon Ball Z-loving mom about a couple anime with black characters, like .hack//Sign. Most kids flipped through the cosplay book and quizzed me on whether I’d seen different shows (the most popular show with this demographic seems to be Sword Art Online).
But at the end of this meet and greet all I could think was that, man, fandom is so much more fun for me now that I’m an adult.
There was also the nagging feeling that I was disappointing my family. As the oldest sibling, I felt like a bad role model for having hobbies my younger sisters considered “uncool.” My parents also just wanted me to try harder to fit in. And then there was the uncomfortable factor of my discovery of anime paralleling with my coming of age—if you read my anime origin story, you know about the shirtless Duo Maxwell poster I drew for my room. My poor mom walked in, looked at it, and walked out. Eventually my parents grounded me for a month for looking at slash fanfiction, so I can’t really blame them when, even after I found a chaperone and saved my allowance for months to go to Otakon, they forbid me from going. Instead they dragged me along on a day trip to the beach, and all I remember about it was my sister barfing in the car.
Today, my life is incredibly different. I go to several conventions every year. Anime is cheap and easy to get and I watch a lot of it—I am subscribed to Crunchyroll, Funimation, Netflix, and Anime Strike, plus I have a dozen Right Stuf Blu Rays on pre-order. I have since bought everything I torrented. Don’t torrent—you’ll eventually have money and feel guiltily compelled to support every show you pirated, and my taste as a teen was not very good.
Better yet, I now live with my anime fan husband who doesn’t just accept my hobbies, but engages in them with me. Instead of keeping our fandom hidden, we have bookshelves full of anime and manga and a highlighter-yellow cabinet of Gunpla, which the repairman always stops to look at—he loves Transformers, he says, but hasn’t seen anything like this. I also have a lot of supportive friends. Once, I brought a college boyfriend home to dinner, and somehow the conversation devolved into he and my family all poking fun at my anime obsession. Today, I’m too old for that crap. I have friends who don’t like anime, but none who bother me about it.
There’s also the fact that my job involves anime a lot of the time! Sometimes I actually review anime and build Gunpla for money, and I’m still not over that.
I don’t ever miss being a kid. While some people remember the freedom of zero responsibilities, of never having to work or pay bills, all I remember is the emotional confinement. I remember feeling like if I wanted to be who I was and be into what I was into, I’d be disappointing people. I don’t know if this is actually true—today my parents seem as impressed as my mother in law in the fact that I got a book published—but I certainly felt like a big letdown of a daughter. And I remember the feeling of it lasting forever and ever, because I didn’t know any differently. I couldn’t envision a time where I wouldn’t feel guilty and repressed.
At the library this weekend, it was young teens I resonated with the most. A girl asked me about how she could write an anime magazine, and I don’t think she believed my advice about starting a blog for starters (I guess today, teens are into YouTube more). Two 14-year-olds asked me how expensive it is to go to Otakon, and when I told them a weekend badge costs $80, they said it was out of the question, not to mention convincing one of their parents to take them! Another kid told me he wanted to get Crunchyroll Premium, but he would need to use his mom’s credit card and he wasn’t sure he could convince her. It made me realize that even with anime and fandom so ubiquitous today, it still isn’t that accessible to people under 18.
I wanted to look these kids in the eye and say, “Just wait 6-8 years. It’ll be awesome,” but of course I couldn’t. Back when I was a young teen, every afternoon felt like a lifetime.
There’s nothing I can do for teens today, but I’ve been glad to see the way that Anime Origin Stories has been helping to dispel the loneliness people felt when they were young fans. I have more than 30 complete (15 posted now), and some of the most impactful stories are the ones about how anime inspired people to feel less alone, whether it helped them to find their people, escape a traumatic home environment, or simply become more confident in themselves.
If I could go back in time and tell my teen self one thing, I’d say “be patient.” She might not believe me though. The difference between anime fandom when I was a kid and now isn’t about accessibility, or what shows people are watching, or convention culture. It’s about mindset. Back then, I don’t think I could have imagined that rather than being the cause of my teenage loneliness, anime fandom would be its cure.