So, this is Point B? - Looking Back, Going Forward
Holly K., Animefringe's content editor from June 2001 to April 2004 and first Mail Desk lady, remembers back upon a time not so long ago to show just how much has changed in relation to the fandom of today.
It's 1998. I'm a freshman at University of Texas in San Antonio, 18 years old -- but really more like 14 at heart (not that that's ever changed). I'm in my on-campus apartment between classes in the mid-afternoon, and I flip on Cartoon Network. There's some new show on that I've never heard of, full of young ladies with enormous, expressive eyes -- wearing saucy little sailor suits and fighting incredibly silly monsters. The main character was a diminutive blonde, a hopeless romantic, prone to fits of completely unreasonable jealousy -- totally immature, mercurial temperament, but mostly kind and cheerful -- dumb as a rock, but fiercely loyal. In other words, more than a little like me. I identified with her immediately. Every day, I rushed home after my early afternoon class to watch her and her friends in their adventures, taking heart in her ability to rise above all of her flaws and be a hero... strong, like I wanted to be.
And as I watched the storyline unfold, I started to realize how much different this was than the cartoons I'd watched in the past. This was no mere cartoon. This was something more. The characters had real personalities, their own feelings and motivations for their actions, strengths and flaws that enhanced their characters. They were more like real people, and thus people could much more readily identify with them. The character depth along with the way the storyline grew and evolved began to really intrigue me. After a short while, I was hooked.
I went to the library and started looking up more information on the series. In my searches for pictures and spoilers, I found that the style of animation I was watching was called "anime"... and that there was a whole community of fans for it. My infatuation with Sailor Moon and subsequent search for more information quickly led me to other series -- mostly sappy shoujo stuff in the beginning, because that's what the majority of Sailor Moon fans were into, but you have to start somewhere. I had no idea at that point that I had latched on to the tip of a forming iceberg that would shape and change me in the years to come.
At this point, anime fandom was still largely underground, and the very first shows were just starting to creep onto mainstream television. Manga was starting to show up more frequently on shelves in comic book stores, next to X-Men and Spawn. For the people who had been fans for years and years already, it was the beginning of the realization of their dreams to make this a widely accepted art form in North America - but for people like me, it was just the beginning.
Fast forward to spring of 2001. I'm 21 years old, a recent college dropout (yay me -_-;), and living in Roanoke, Virginia. By this time, I have whole boxes full of anime collectibles and paraphernalia (including several thousand Pokémon cards), I have located a couple local hole-in-the-wall comic shops that rent a few anime DVDs, and I am using my broadband internet connection to download as many fansubs as I can get my hot little hands on. My license plates read "OTAKU 1." In my mind, I am ahead of the curve... but in reality, I'm fairly clueless. I don't know that it's bad and negatively impacts the community to download fansubs of shows that are available on DVD in the US and that "otaku" is really not a description to be proud of.
Even though I am a noob, I am constantly looking for more ways to feed my knowledge of the genre. I have even made my own little horribly designed fansite at some place with free hosting (and those wonderful pop-up and sidebar ads) on which I have, with my mad HTML skillz (sarcasm), created huge image galleries for the anime series that I liked (or that just looked pretty) full of hundreds of images that I gathered from all over the internet (I didn't know it was wrong to do that either) with thumbnails that I made manually for each one linking to the pictures. I have put a lot of time into this site with its horrible cutesy fonts and pink (PINK!!) background, and I am very proud of it. It's called Holly's Anime Palace (and oh my god, I can't believe it, but I just Googled it and it's still out there -- I link it with great shame), and I am constantly scouring the web for more stuff to put on it.
In one of my searches, I end up at some kind of online magazine that is all about anime. I spend an hour or two reading it... and the back issues... and printing out and doing the word searches... and I am completely floored. I thought I was an expert, but these people are like GODS! They are anime gurus, and I'm so impressed, I think they're the coolest people on the planet. Thus, I am compelled to check out the "about" section, and see a little note that they are hiring. Hmmm, I think, stroking my chin evilly. Hmmm.
Full of vim and vigor, I fire off an email to the godlike webmaster of this amazing site, one Steve Diabo (who would later become my best friend), offering myself as a writer and editor with complete confidence. ...Okay, that's a lie. I was completely a nervous fangirl. But anyway, I somehow managed to be successful, and was assistant editor of my very first issue in June of 2001. I wrote my very first feature article (I got to do an interview and everything!) and my very first review the following month. Oh my god, I thought again, this is so huge, I am like the coolest person ever.
I felt like I was really on the cutting edge of what was, at the time, an underground community that was just starting to blossom. In a way, I guess I was. At this time, anime was starting to crop up more and more into the mainstream, like a weed that wouldn't go away. More and more series were being licensed and sold in North America, and with an increasingly rapid turnaround time. Graphic novels were forming their own little niche on the shelves of major bookstores. Pikachu had been on the cover of Time magazine, kids everywhere were infatuated with Pokémon and other series that were finding their way onto Saturday morning television, and parents were starting to wonder, "What's up with these huge eyes?" Princess Mononoke had been in mainstream movie theatres across the nation. Anime, and its fans, were really coming into their own -- the foothold into the mainstream slowly but firmly established.
As the months and years went on, the folks at Animefringe became like family to me. On the last day of each month, Steve, Adam and me burned the midnight oil as I read and edited every single article, wrote feature blurbs, and helped test all the links in the issue after they got it all posted. Mentally and physically exhausted but with great satisfaction, we went live with the new issue in the wee hours of the morning. I watched the magazine evolve into something that looked more and more amazing with every year that went by, watched the staff learn and grow, watched myself learn and grow. I went to Anime Expo 2002 on my fancy press credentials, where I got to meet some of my fellow Animefringe staffers in person, and wrote a long feature article on my virgin con experience when I got back. I was interviewed individually and on panel discussions several times for the GATV radio broadcasts. A quote from a feature I wrote about Fruits Basket ended up on the back of the Fruits Basket Volume 3 DVD. I started writing a monthly article in which I answered Animefringe's fanmail, called "Mail Desk," and through that ended up getting a few fans of my own. Anime fandom and the community in general had become such a huge part of my life. It was hours and hours of hard work every month, but the results of that work was bliss, and the relationships I built with the Animefringe staffers and readers meant so much to me.
But at the same time, life happened. I moved to Oregon, saddled myself with a demanding corporate job in IT and a serious boyfriend, and suddenly, I didn't have nearly as much free time. After months of trying to keep up and failing, in early 2004 I decided it was time to let go and hand off my reins -- with great sadness -- to the great Janet Crocker. I went off down the path I had chosen and watched from afar as Animefringe went on without me. I fell out of step with what was current in the community (I'm still several years behind, at this point), and lost that part of me that was briefly on the 'cutting edge.'
And now, here I am. It's December 2005, and I'm 25 years old, still working at my corporate job (but minus the serious boyfriend), and my heart is heavy as I come to the close of what will be my meager contribution to the very last issue of Animefringe, the magazine that took me to places I never could have gone without it, led me to people who became great friends that I never would have met otherwise, that was such a huge part of my life for nearly three years.
Looking back to where this great journey started for me by randomly stumbling onto Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network in 1998, I am amazed by how much anime and the community surrounding it has not only changed my life, but has risen to make such a huge mark on mainstream entertainment in North America. Now, national chain video stores and rental places have whole sections dedicated to anime DVDs, and bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble have whole shelves groaning under the weight of a massive amount of graphic novels, copious numbers of titles from every possible genre. There's anime on TV and movie screens and snippets of manga in print magazines. More and more people are interested in the artform -- even my own father was asking me for names of anime series that I thought his 9 year old stepdaughter would like. My mother, who used to tease me and call me immature for being so interested in 'cartoons' now grudgingly accepts that it's not as silly and immature as she thought, and really enjoyed the Ah, My Goddess! movie when I made her watch it.
Once upon a time, it was only geeks and weirdos who were into anime, and now it's widely accepted by the mainstream. There is more to watch and read available for the taking than I could ever hope to have time for. The community has come into it's own.
As farfetched as it might be, I would like to think that we at Animefringe had some small part in bringing it to this point. I would like to think that the blood sweat and tears, the hard work and the long hours, the huge labor of love that we put into every issue of Animefringe, inspired someone out there - got them interested - really meant something to someone. I would like to think that we touched a few lives and gave something back to the community that meant so much to us.
When Steve and Adam contacted me in early November of this year to let me know that the issue for December 2005 would be the last Animefringe issue ever published, I was stunned. It was such a huge part of my life, I guess I thought it would just go on forever. But nothing is forever, and here we are, saying goodbye. I knew I couldn't let Animefringe go into the past without writing this monstrosity -- and as I sit here at my corporate job, my cubicle festooned with wall scrolls, pictures, figurines and plushies, writing these last few words and reliving this ancient history... I am filled with pride over what the Animefringe staff has accomplished and how far this magazine has come since its humble beginnings. I salute Adam and Steve for hatching this whole harebrained plan and bringing it this far. I applaud every person who's ever been on the staff for their contribution to making Animefringe so wonderful. And last but not least -- I thank you, the readers and community at large, for coming along with us on this wild ride. It's been worth it for me. I hope it's been worth it for you. Keep on rockin' and make the mainstream really take us seriously, because it's each and every one of us fans that have started to change the world as we know it. And I love you all for it.
This is Holly, the erstwhile Ninja of Cool, signing out...
When the music's over, turn out the lights.