Thursday 12 March 2020

Archive of Our Own: The Aca-Fan and the Sense of Responsibility in Archiving Fannish History - FSN2019

While posting my most recent Minamicon video I realised that I hadn't posted the paper I presented at the FSN conference last year! In part this was because the sound level was so low I didn't want to post it without having some decent subtitles on it, but also just because I had a very busy end to the year with the eventual completion and submission of my thesis plus a job change, and it just slipped between the cracks unfortunately!

FSN2019 was held at the University of Portsmouth in June 2019. I took part in a panel about fandom archiving and my paper was about the motivations for and process of setting up a fandom archive, including the questions that arise in the process and about one's competing responsibilities as both an academic and a fan.

Video below; please do watch it with subtitles!

Tuesday 10 March 2020

An Ancient History of British Weebery - Minamicon 26

Minamicon 26 took place this past weekend, and as ever I hosted a panel that explored a facet of my research. This time I thought it would be fun to look back at the ways British people responded to Japanese art and culture from the mid-1800s, following the end of Japan's isolation from the rest of the world, and consider whether the people we call "weebs" today are really all that new a phenomenon.

I had a smaller room this year but it didn't seem to discourage anyone - the room was packed once again and all the feedback so far has been good! It was quite a fun topic both for me to present and for people to listen to, though advance warning on the video below: there are quite a few bits that are quite cringey.

Unfortunately our camera's memory ran out before the end so I don't have the full Q&A, but the rest of the material works well by itself!

Slides are available here if anyone wants them!

With special thanks to Alistair Jacklin for providing me with extra information about early cinema screenings that filled in some more of the UK anime fandom timeline.

Check out Carlo Bernhardi's Anime Nostalgia Facility UK here.

Back to the Future Part III © Robert Zemeckis/Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures, 1990
Topsy-Turvy © Mike Leigh/Thin Man Films, 1999
Clips used under fair dealing for the purpose of non-commercial research or study.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Manga-lled by the Media: Misrepresentations of Anime and Manga in the British Press - Minamicon 25

Minamicon has been and gone for another year, and it was a great weekend as ever. I was presenting a panel once again, and this time, rather than go through my demographic research again, I decided to look at a different aspect of UK anime fandom history - the British press, its handling of anime and manga since organised anime fandom emerged in the UK in the '90s, and how the wider culture in the UK at the time shaped UK anime fandom.

There was an unfortunate clash in the timetable and I was up against a very popular event (one which I'd have liked to have gone to myself, in fact!), but the room was still packed, the audience was responsive, and the feedback has been really good!

For the first time ever, I've had to include content warnings, which I'll replicate here: material in the presentation includes racism, sexual content, violence, horror, and abduction/murder, including that of a child. None of these are dealt with in great or unnecessary detail, but they are important features.

If you want to see more of the videos used during the "cat breaks", check out Cream Heroes on YouTube!

Slides are available here for anyone who wants them!

Eurotrash © Rapido TV 1993-2004
Anime! © Sci-FI Channel 1997
Clips used under fair dealing for the purpose of non-commercial research or study.

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Wednesday 27 February 2019

Artefacts of Geek Days Past: Anime Babes

Portrait of Lisa Munns with Anime Babes mascot Jojo the Shojo. Art by Lisa Tse, photo courtesy of Laura Watton
Despite what the actual recorded history of the demographics of geeky fandoms shows, there is a long-standing belief that sci-fi, fantasy, video games etc are "boys' stuff", and female fans of these things are mere outliers. The same was very much the case in the '90s when anime was first released in the UK and consciously marketed as a Japanese cultural product (as distinct from the localised series like Marine Boy and Battle of the Planets that we'd been watching on TV for years). A big contributing factor in this was the fact that Manga Video, which grew from Island World Communications and dominated the anime market in the UK for most of the '90s, made a conscious decision to market their releases to a young male audience, looking to continue the success they had enjoyed with Akira. By June 1994, Manga Video had released almost 30 titles in the UK, almost all of which were either sci-fi or fantasy/horror (the only exceptions to this were action thrillers Golgo 13 and Crying Freeman, and farcical sex comedy Ultimate Teacher, none of which suggested Manga were thinking of a female audience). The resulting public perception, which is reflected in both mainstream press coverage and the BBFC annual reports from the '90s, was that anime was all sex, violence and tentacles, and not at all female-friendly.

As a female fan at the time, this was deeply frustrating. There were softer, cuter, or more comedic titles with better female representation available in the UK in the '90s - Oh My Goddess!, Urusei Yatsura, and Bubblegum Crisis were all released by Anime Projects, while Pioneer had Tenchi Muyo, Moldiver, and El Hazard, which mainly picked up PG or 12 certificates from the BBFC - but they just didn't command the same attention that Manga's output did. From my personal perspective, as a fan in a small town in Ireland, these titles may as well have been unicorns - my local video shop carried two or three Manga tapes (one of which was always Legend of the Overfiend, which no-one ever seemed to want to touch, let alone buy), and every now and again they'd randomly have a copy of Armitage III or something with a similar aesthetic. If I wanted a decent selection of anime, I had to hitch a ride to Belfast and hope for the best (this was also the only way I was able to get hold of stuff that wasn't dubbed). I took what I could get and endured the disapproving looks and sneering that came with being an anime fan.

Anime Babes flyer, featuring art by Laura Watton
So when I heard about Anime Babes, I was beside myself with excitement. I found out about it because I happened to pick up a copy of the short-lived magazine J-Fan that my local newsagent got hold of somehow. That magazine was instrumental in introducing me to organised anime fandom in the UK - the issue included a con report from ReContanimeTed, which ran in November 1995, and I was amazed and delighted to see photos of cosplayers in the article. I was already into costuming by then, but only for Halloween purposes, so finding out that there were such things as anime conventions and that cosplay was something that lots of people did at them was a revelation. It also included a brief mention of this new anime fan club that was just for girls. I sent a letter to the contact address in the magazine and eagerly awaited the day I'd hear back from them.


The letter that followed included information about the club and how to join. It was set up by Lisa Munns and Laura Watton, and a bit later on, Lisa Tse joined the team (a fourth girl, Ami Clark, was mentioned in the original information sheet but I have been unsuccessful in tracking her down - she seems to have vanished into the ether). You could join by sending off £1.50 or some first-class stamps; this was purely to cover the cost of sending out the quarterly fanzine that the club produced. Membership also got you a list of contact details for the other members, so if you wanted to trade tapes, merchandise, or letters with anyone you could easily write to them (email addresses were not widely used at the time). The original plan was that Anime Babes was going to act as a pressure group, building up a following of female fans so they could petition video companies and, if not get more female-friendly anime out there, at least make people aware that female fans of anime did exist and we were sick of being neglected. The letter-writing didn't work out in the end, but the guiding principle of uniting female fans and giving us an outlet to share our art, writing, and passion with each other remained.

One of the things that amazed me about Anime Babes early on was that Lisa herself was so young - barely a year older than I was. I truly had visions of her being a grown adult running a professional operation! In fact, I recall most of the club members being in their mid to late teens, with only a few who were in their 20s. We were also mostly UK-based, though there were one or two who hailed from the US.
Anime Babes issues 1-4. Photo courtesy of Laura Watton
There were four issues of the fanzine in the end, produced from late 1995 until the end of 1996. The first was A5 size and simply stapled in the centre fold, but it underwent a format change when Lisa Tse came onboard as designer, so the remaining three issues were A4 size and had a much more professional finish. Fan club members got their copies for free, but non-members could buy copies from Lisa directly, and they were also sold from dealer's tables at Minamicon in 1996 and Shinnenkai in 1997. One regular feature was an artist's showcase, which was a spread of pieces of fan art by a selected club member (I got featured in one of these despite my talents lying far more with writing than with art - I'm a bit more self-aware about my abilities now but I was super proud of it at the time!). There was also a letters page and a section for reviews of other fanzines, and a couple of issues featured "The O Files", which was a collection of short profiles of the various fanzine contributors (yep, I had one of those too). There were no real, set in stone submission guidelines for the fanzine so there was a real mix of content in each issue, and it was almost entirely female-driven. I think this is also the place where I got my first bit of long-form writing published - an article about censorship in anime that I had repurposed from an essay I wrote for my English class at school, which was printed in issue 3. Lisa got another artist, Emmeline Dobson, to do some fantastic pictures to accompany the article, which I was really excited by. It's a shame the article itself was absolute bobbins and I don't like to speak of it now. Helen McCarthy herself gave me a thorough dressing down for it in issue 4, an honour which I didn't appreciate as much as I should have at the time...!

The club sadly closed down after the release of the fourth issue as Lisa M, Lisa T and Laura were all embarking on either their GCSEs or A-levels and didn't have the time to work on it anymore. I was heartbroken when I read the letter enclosed with the fanzine. Anime Babes had been a big part of my life for that year - I literally used to carry my copies around with me all the time and re-read them constantly! - and it was my biggest introduction to anime fandom, and to other fans, in the UK. There are people I am still friends with who I got to know as a result of Anime Babes. It put me in contact with fellow Cyber City Oedo 808 fan and amazing artist Vanessa Wells, and we then teamed up to produce our own fanzine, CyberAge, which ran for three issues and was met with fairly universal acclaim (and which I will write about in a future blog post). When I finished my Master's degree in 2004 and interviewed for my first journalism job, I brought my copies of CyberAge along with me to show as examples of my writing style - it's no exaggeration that I would not have landed in my career without CyberAge, and there would have been no CyberAge without Anime Babes.

And, when you look back on it, there was so much about Anime Babes that was quite revolutionary, even if we didn't realise it at the time. It was a club with its own fanzine that was run and produced entirely by teenage girls, who were driven by little more than a passion for anime and a compulsion to join forces and make themselves heard, at a time when the internet was still very new and unsophisticated - it's incredible to look at the old issues and see that Lisa was using a Compuserve email address, with its username made up of a string of digits! It was also a safe space where, through the membership contact lists, female fans could talk and trade with each other freely - thankfully none of the girls I randomly phoned after asking Directory Enquiries for their details ever seemed to judge me for doing it! In my day-to-day role now I frequently order printed booklets from companies like Solopress, and it's so strange to think of how easy and inexpensive it would be for me to compile and print a professional-looking, full-colour, perfect bound magazine today, when back in the '90s it was done using basic word processing and DTP software, home printers, and photocopiers, with no small amount of manual labour on the part of whoever was editing the fanzine. This was all done for no material profit. It was a very real labour of love for all concerned.

More than anything, it stands as an expression of the determination of female fans. We took the fandom that already existed, said "nah, not completely happy with this," and created the space we wanted to have within that fandom. Helen McCarthy summed it up wonderfully when she namechecked Anime Babes in her keynote address at the Media Journeys: Animation in Transnational Contexts symposium held at UEA in May 2018:
"... we had a group of very feisty, very talented, ferocious teenage girls who banded together to set up a club called Anime Babes, and claimed the turf. They said, 'this doesn’t belong to guys. This belongs to us. Deal with it.' And I was so proud of them. They were all so amazingly talented, and many of them are still active in the industry today."
Lisa M caught the attention of the Sci-FI Channel and was, in her capacity as the founder of Anime Babes, one of a number of talking heads who featured in between programmes when they ran an all-night programme of anime movies on New Year's Eve 1996, along with Helen McCarthy, Steve Kyte, and Jonathan Clements amongst others. Laura is a prolific freelance artist and was one of the founding members of Sweatdrop Studios, which has been in operation for almost 20 years and publishes comics and original graphic novels - other female artists to have attained success as a result of working with Sweatdrop include Manga Shakespeare artists Emma Vieceli and Sonia Leong, illustrator and Momiji Doll designer Joanna Zhou, and graphic artist Morag Lewis. Lisa T went on to establish her own creative branding agency and now supports a wide range of philanthropic causes.

And, on a personal level, here I am, writing a thesis that will hopefully become a book one day, and working to document the history of anime fandom in the UK. Anime Babes is a vital part of that history.

As I discovered through my demographic research of anime fans in 2016-17, the gender divide among UK anime fans under 30 is now over 50% female, and there's also an increasing number of fans whose gender identities sit outside the male/female binary. And I can't help but think, if those of us who were Anime Babes members 20 years ago knew that this was where we'd end up, we'd have all been really proud.

Thursday 24 January 2019

A Timeline of Anime Fandom in the UK

While putting my thesis together I realised it would be necessary to build up a timeline of anime fandom in the UK, listing dates for the key moments in fandom history. This has been a bit of a labour of love for me, with a lot of research and digging required to pinpoint when the most important events took place - I will undoubtedly keep finding noteworthy events even as I continue writing my thesis, and will most likely continue to update it long after I complete my study.

Setting it up has been relatively painless thanks to Timeglider, which I would absolutely recommend to anyone who wants to build a timeline of events in any subject. As I say, it's still a work in progress, though I do think it's fairly comprehensive at the moment. If I have any details wrong, or if there's anything I haven't added yet that should be there, please let me know in the comments!

Feel free to explore the timeline below:

Monday 7 January 2019

The Hunt for an Uncredited Manga

Part of my thesis research has included digging back through old newspaper reports concerning anime and manga, particularly in the '90s, when both were new to the UK and domestic anime fandom was very much in its infancy. Anime and manga were initially met with curiosity in the press, but a variety of factors (which I will explore in a subsequent post) meant that the coverage soon turned hostile, and remained so until relatively recently.

One such early news article was "Blood and Guts and Bambi Eyes", written by Marya Burgess and printed in the Guardian 2 supplement in February 1993. Placed alongside a piece titled "Dirty Work" by Nigel Smith, which was about Japanese women standing up to sexual harassment in the workplace, the two were distinct from each other and yet clearly intended to be read as companion pieces – they shared a strapline, which read "Japanese women are standing up to harassment at work, but still the men’s comics are full of sexual violence", and were laid out accompanied by this rather dramatic manga panel:

The newspaper did not identify the manga this was taken from, the caption merely saying it was a "Men's Manga". And having spent enough time looking at '90s newspaper reports about anime and manga to know that no-one was above massaging the truth or outright misrepresenting things for the purpose of a good story back then, I really wanted to know where this art had come from.

There aren't many clues to be gathered from the image, but I thought there were a couple of things I might be able to use as starting points. For one thing, it had to have been published before 1993. The woman's name, according to the katakana on the left of the panel, is "Sophie" or some variant thereof. There's also that very distinctive sword, which looks like it's borrowed heavily from the Sword of Omens from Thundercats. I thought it looked like a fantasy title, but it also had a little bit of a CLAMP aesthetic to it, and the woman's costume (from what you can see of it) made me think that it may be RG Veda.

I truly would have been delighted if it were RG Veda, or indeed anything by CLAMP, an all-female manga studio whose output is primarily aimed at girls. If it were then Guardian 2 would have at the very least used a shōjo manga image as an illustration of manga for men, and if it were RG Veda then it would have been a title that didn't have its origins in Japanese culture! It would have been quite the "Gotcha!" moment, but it was not to be. RG Veda has been released in English and enough detail is available about it online to be able to establish that there are no characters in it named "Sophie". Similarly it wasn't X/1999, despite there being some quite ornate swords in there (but no Sophies), and while I did find one other very early CLAMP title that looked promising, Derayd, it wasn't right either.

Google searches for what I hoped might be decent keywords also turned up nothing. Even once you filter out the results for Sophie Hatter from Howl's Moving Castle, you still end up with lots of personal anime and manga pages maintained by people with "Sophie" in their usernames. And sure, that's a distinctive sword, but do you know how many distinctive swords there are in anime and manga? A lot, that's how many!

I needed more eyes on this, so I turned to the Vintage Anime Fans group on Facebook. There were several suggestions through the day – again, lots of speculation that it may be a CLAMP title (as well as plenty of people saying it definitely wasn't), a few suggestions about the sword (the Sword of Omens came up, of course, as well as the original Soul Edge, and Stormbringer from Michael Moorcock's fantasy novels), and one person saying he'd seen a cosplayer with a similar sword, but that it was "from a hentai" (I did, in fact, check Google to see if this might turn up a lead; funnily enough it did bring me to a Soul Edge/Calibur hentai manga that had a whole lot of very improbable anatomy but no panels that looked like this, and now I've sullied my Google search history forever). Someone also suggested Bastard!!, which certainly fits the aesthetic but also didn't seem to have any characters named Sophie.

It was getting to the end of the day and I was no closer to an answer. Possibilities arose that it may be near impossible to find – it may not have been translated into English, it may actually be a hentai title that doesn't get tracked so readily by online databases, or it could have been a random dojinshi from the early '90s, in which case I had no hope of knowing what it was. It wasn't essential knowledge for my thesis, for sure. But I'd started looking already, and I'd dragged other people in on it as well now. It would be nice to know something!

Then very late in the evening my phone started buzzing feverishly. Incredibly, someone in the group had not only managed to identify it, they also had scans!

It's from a series called Blood of Matools, which was serialised in Dragon Magazine before being released across six volumes between 1992 and 1999. There isn't much information available about it online in English, so it really doesn't seem to have ever been given an English translation (though all six volumes were released in French and, surprisingly, Thai), but it does come up on MyAnimeList, with this very brief synopsis:
"In order to save his sister who is ill with a strange disease, Kai goes in search of Matools, a legendary beast with blood able to heal any disease. On his journey, he meets Sophy, a young girl also stricken with the same kind of disease..."
Here are some of the cover images:

Sadly, based on the scans that were supplied it seems that Guardian 2 chose an appropriate title to accompany their article about how "Men's Manga is quite different from women's. It is dedicated to the themes of success, violence and conquest and to attraction to the female body – to romantic love with a very submissive type of woman", so no "Gotcha!" moment for me this time.

This does throw up a few other questions though, mainly stemming from how on earth a sub/production editor for a British newspaper found this panel in the first place. It has never been released in English. It's unlikely to have had the market penetration for it to be well-known even among UK anime fans of the time – it took all day for someone to positively identify it in a global Facebook group populated by dedicated fans with the World Wide Web at their fingertips! Could it have shown up in a stock image gallery somehow? Did the production editor happen to know a Japanese teenager who could supply the image? Was the production editor secretly a really devoted manga fan? Was someone dispatched to a Japanese import bookshop to pick up a magazine that fitted the needs of the article?

These are questions that I doubt I will ever have answers to, sadly. But I can be content with the discovery that it has a title, and if you say it with the right accent it sounds really funny.

Enormous thanks to Walter Amos and Robert Fenelon, who provided the positive identification and the selection of scans for this manga.

Further info:

"Blood and Guts and Bambi Eyes" by Marya Burgess; Guardian 2; 1 February 1993; pp 12-13
"Dirty Work" by Nigel Smith; Guardian 2; 1 February 1993; p 12
Image taken from Blood of Matools; Sawada Hajime; Fujimi Fantasia Comics; Volume 3, p 31

Monday 1 October 2018

Fascinating Fandom: The Detailed Demographics of UK Anime Fans - Amecon 2018

My most recent panel is a bit of a redux of the Minamicon panel under the same title - I knew I was in for a busy time at work in early July so my thinking was that I could just rerun the Minamicon one if I didn't get time to update it! But fortunately I did, so I restructured the data slightly for Amecon in July 2018.

I was concerned that I may have a lot of people come along who had also been to the Minamicon one so I was happy I got the time to make a new presentation, though as it turned out, almost no-one who came along had been to the Minamicon version! Another full room for this, for which I was very grateful - it was pouring with rain on the day I delivered this talk, and it clashed with the annual charity auction. It's always very encouraging to have people interested in my weird, specialist research!

The angle I went for with this was to look at how the results of my questionnaire support or dismiss the stereotypes about UK anime fandom. As someone who came into anime fandom during the '90s, when Manga Video were mainly releasing sexual and/or violent titles and the mainstream press coverage of anime bordered on a moral panic, I've been very aware of stereotypes about anime fans from the beginning so it felt like a good approach to take with this data.