Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ten Years Of Let's Anime??

Jeez, have I really been doing this for ten years? A solid decade of writing about classic Japanese animation here at this whatchamacallit, this blog thing? Rambling on about goofy cartoons from before many of us were even born? Wallowing in nostalgia for long-gone broadcast frequencies, dead video formats and the underpaid, labor-intensive cel animation of yesteryear, while at the same time steadfastly refusing to pretend the past was some kind of amazing golden age? Yes. Yes I have. 

pure '80s zine editing skills on display

How did this all get started? Well, I've always been self-publishing one thing or another. In school I printed my own comics using the library photocopier. I appointed myself editor of our anime club's newsletter and made sure it appeared regularly and had something in it. When the first anime club was replaced with another, there I was, slapping another zine together, this one less about meeting times and more about Mazinger Z's weapons systems. That's how Let's Anime started, 12 print issues between 1991 and 1999, laid out with glue stick and X-acto knife, printed at Office Depot, folded by hand,  and stapled with a saddle stapler sent to me by a future con chair

surviving Let's Anime print zines in varying stages of decomposition
As the century closed I was too busy running an anime con and getting married to think about print zines, and anyway, everything was going online, right? In the oughts I thought about a print collection of that Let's Anime zine. Upon review, however, it became obvious much of it was ephemeral – reviews of forgettable cartoons, listings for dead zines, addresses for defunct clubs, and ads for conventions that by this time were beyond my help one way or another. Distilling usable material would be a chore. Why not start from scratch?

At the time, my regular outlet for anime journalism was Mike Toole's Anime Jump, and it had just foundered on the rocks of software intransigence and real-life-career responsibilities. I was left with nowhere to talk about my cartoon faves. Meanwhile, the world of anime blogging was expanding with dozens of bloggers using various platforms to expound their own anime worldviews. So I axed myself, why not just imitate the cool computer kids and start Let's Anime as my own anime blog? And so I did. 

Freed from the responsibility of representing a club and the medium of Japanese animation as a whole, the new Let's Anime could concentrate on my own interests, which is to say "classic Japanese animation", anime from 1960-1990. Sure, we've seen the definition of "vintage" or "classic" creep ever forwards along with the inexorable march of time, but I'm sticking with those three decades. Those who wish to see me write about something else are advised to send me their preferred topic and be prepared to pay my current rate, available upon request. 

Anime writing as a whole seems overserved with Gundam and Dragonball articles, with examinations of the works of Oshii, Tomino, and Miyazaki, overrun with Naruto recaps, and all covered with a thin, greasy layer of video game clickbait. There's a serious lack of coverage of underserved-in-the-West titles like Candy Candy or Cyborg 009, silence on Toei's 1960s and 70s films, and a disturbing absence of hype about my personal favorite Prince Planet. Well, that's what I'm interested in covering here at Let's Anime, and like Joseph Campbell says, I gotta follow my bliss, even if my bliss is off somewhere by itself staring at a guy playing the Super Jetter theme on ukulele

What has the Let's Anime experience been like for me? It's been a never-ending, always-upward-trending learning curve, that's what. Sure, researching forgotten TV cartoons is a given, but I've also had to figure out how to use the tools of blogging itself. After ten years of writing Let's Anime I've moved through four different PCs, three scanners, and more monitors than I care to remember. I've learned to screen-capture from every digital and analog video format; CED, Beta, VHS, Laserdisc, AVI, Quicktime, VCDs, DVDs, you name it. I've struggled to learn the ins and outs of blogging platforms and what fonts look best, and of course once I figure everything out, invariably they go and change everything. I've shot photos of giant Gundams in Japan and tiny Gundams at home.

photo credit: me

 I survived the great Photobucket outage, I battled DMCA takedown notices, and I've pushed my Japanese language skills wayyyy out of their comfort zone. I've cracked the spines of countless manga volumes, little Keibunsha Daihyakka books, Roman Albums, This Is Animations, and back issues of The Anime, Animage, My Anime, Out, and Fan Road beyond any hope of repair. But that's OK, that's what they're for. 

Researching Giant Gorg, Honey Honey, Starzan S, Ranpou, and others meant that hours spent entering kanji into YouTube searches were never wasted, and that our rare visits to Nakano Broadway became archaeological digs. I've found classic anime worming its way into every bit of the North American landscape; VHS of MIC's Little Women in thrift stores, Captain Future cutlery sets and Prowes Sanshiro masks in antique malls, Gatchaman vehicles sold as five-and-dime novelty gliders, and firsthand evidence of Candy Candy, Goldorak and Albator still resonating with Quebeckers. What else is out there waiting for me? 

Another benefit of Let's Anime has been the nature of blogging itself. Not only will these posts reach an audience thousands of times larger than the largest print run of any zine I ever published – and with much less effort, as anyone who ever hand-collated, stapled, folded and mailed hundreds of zines will attest – but these Let's Anime columns continue to reach audiences years after their initial publication. I can write about, say, Gigantor in 2008 and get readers and responses years later. That's the kind of impact rarely seen in print. And what's more, when I make an error (not "if" but "when"), not only will one of my sharp-eyed readers catch it, but I can correct it almost instantly. Let me tell you something, the world of print anime fanzines was filled with rumors and bad translations and wishful thinking interpretations, and in the past those errors would just lie there on the page misleading fans for years. Well, not any more. Mostly. 

Let's Anime has turned strangers into friends, reconnected me with friends once lost, and given me stories of the complex anime fandom that existed in North America before I even knew there was such a thing. I've been able to print articles by my special pals Ed Hill, Steve Harrison, and my most very special pal of all, Shaindle Minuk. I've learned about fandom events that I could have participated in but foolishly ignored, or that I missed because I was busy doing something else on the other side of that particular convention, and every time I think I have a handle on what was going on at any particular time, along comes something new to burst my mental bubble. 

And being an internet thing of bits and bytes, it's easy for us to run the numbers and see exactly where the eyeballs are going when they go to Let's Anime. In terms of views, the most popular articles are "Top Ten Least Essential OVA Of The 80s", "Under The Western Influence," "The Cyborg 009 Story", the Jack And The Witch column "Into The Machine", various Prince Planet columns, "Space Battleship Yamato For Dummies", "Holy God This Ultraman Manga Is Freaking Me Out," and "Cosplay Time Forgot." But when you look at the number of comments, the data changes slightly – top commented posts include highly viewed articles like "Western Influence" and "Into The Machine", but some less-viewed posts generated disproportionately large discussions, like my Mystery Of Mamo review, the "Anime On CBN" post, and an early article that was more or less an examination of a one-part 1987 "Japanimation" piece that appeared in a local San Francisco news magazine. Figuring out what will catch the public's fickle eye is always tricky, more art than science, and rather than waste time trying to ride that merry-go-round, I'd rather just write about what interests me and let the clicks fall where they may. 

straight to hellhound liner 0011, boys

What are my personal fave Let's Anime columns? Writing about the demented kid-flick Hellhound Liner 0011 was a blast. Finding other shellshocked 0011 survivors? A definite bonus. I'll never stop telling people to check out Flying Phantom Ship or Prefectural Earth Defense Force or Jack And The Witch or Little Norse Prince or Urusei Yatsura – Beautiful Dreamer or Metropolis. I got to stand up for flawed space opera Lensman; if I hadn't worked on that piece I'd never have seen those great Hiroshi Manabe illustrations. Let's Anime gave me the excuse to track down Variety's Cleopatra review and find those American newspaper ads for Galaxy Express and Warriors Of The Wind. The EDC and Anime Hasshin pieces reconnected me with friends and showed everyone how influential they were in that anime fan era. The two-part features on TCJ and MIC were a great excuse to dig into shows that popped up on our TV and vanished again, leaving millions of Americans wondering if Honey Honey's cat ever coughed up that gemstone. Writing about Captain Future got me reading those Captain Future novels and by golly, those are some pulpy, dopey fun. The Mystery Of Mamo review, the Ask Dr. Hell advice column, the Megazone 23 reviews, the Kazuo Umezu Ultraman manga piece, even that Knack article all saw light first on Anime Jump, and it was a treat revisiting and putting more gloss on those pieces. And the fandom columns like "Dawn Of The Dorks," the fanzine pieces, and the paradigm-blasting 80s cosplay article, filled with first-hand reports of the confused early days of fandom, always serve as inspiration and/or warning. 

scene from lost 1970s stop-motion C/FO fan film epic

After ten years I'm amazed at how much classic anime is still out there for me to enjoy and find out more about. I'm still stunned at the length and breadth of fandom here in the Western Hemisphere and how far back we can find anime fans doing their anime fan thing. And I'm still getting a kick out of digging this stuff up and writing about it and sharing it here so that you can get a kick out of it too. Thank you, gentle reader, for letting me yammer on about this stuff for ten years, and stick around, because there's more to come!

-Dave Merrill

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