Yi’s post, in the context of Nopy’s broader History With Anime Project, got me reminiscing about how my consumption of anime has evolved through the years, particularly the on and off phases. These have been organized in terms of the media by I came into contact with anime before the current era of BitTorrent.
A caveat: The lack of written records and a few artifacts makes this attempt to reconstruct the past, from the mid 1980s to up until mid 2005, an exercise fraught with possible bias due to nostalgia, the selection effect and other biases.
Chinese dubs on free-to-air TV
There was nothing linguistically Japanese about my earliest exposure to anime. Chinese-dubbed anime were regularly broadcast in the early evening slot of the state-owned Channel 8. I have not watched a Chinese dub of a Japanese anime in a long time but I strongly suspect that the quality was better than most English dubs. The reasons are pretty simple. First, although Chinese has a completely different grammatical structure and pronunciation from Japanese, it is still much more closely related to Japanese than English. Second, these dubs were most likely to have been produced in Taiwan which had both the linguistic and cultural capital to produce decent dubs due in no small part to its colonization during a earlier and relatively more Pan-Asianist and integrationist phase of Japanese imperialism.
The highlights included Science Ninja Gatchaman, Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato and Super Dimension Fortress Macross. I still can recall the dramatic and melancholy build-up to the conclusion of Gatchaman with the loss of more than a few characters. Strangely enough the scene from Yamato that sticks most in my mind was when an officer who had made a terrible pun, compounding his offence by laughing loudly at his own joke, ticked off Dessler enough for the Gamilas dictator to open a trapdoor under him and cause him to fall to his doom. I recently picked up Robotech: The Complete Saga 85 episode DVD boxset (English dub) from the Forbidden Planet’s bargain bin and still managed to zoom in straight away to two of my favourite scenes: the engines ripping out of the SDF during its initial attempt to lift off (Ep 02) and the firing of Alaska Base’s Grand Cannon (Ep 27).
My interest in Japanese audio anime only began in early 1990s when I was learning Japanese under the MOE’s Third Language program. There was a shop in Takashimaya Shopping Centre (the unit is now occupied by a Paris Miki spectacle shop) where I rented Laser Discs (played via my parents’ home karaoke machine) and as the LDs were, of course, without sub-titles, it was a case of Bad Ass Raw Watching without the requisite listening comprehension skills. Nonetheless I fondly recall how I could still roughly follow the plot of The Record of Lodoss War.
This phase lasted all the way until the mid-late 1990s with Ranma 1/2 (which put me off long shounen series where the source manga is still ongoing) and both TV seasons of You’re Under Arrest.
Video Home System Cassette Tapes
The (English dubbed) video casette tape was very much the dominant medium during my under-graduate days in London from the late 1990s. Most highly prized in my (now disposed) collection were the twelve Neon Genesis Evangelion tapes from Forbidden Planet (when it was still on New Oxford St, W1 – the unit is occupied by a Toni&Guy Academy now).
Unlike the free-to-air TV days, I didn’t miss any episodes and rewatched episodes pretty often. The downside, of course, was the unbearable wait for the next batch of episodes for a series one enjoyed very much. A more prosaic problem was when I bought a tape (at the then astronomical price of GBP 19.99) and hated the series (many of which could need someone to force you to watch them) but could not get a refund because entertainment media had explicit non-return policies. One particularly egregious example was Burn Up W. I also recall that there was quite a lot of hentai anime on the shelves; the most heavily promoted was Legend of the Overfiend, probably a revolutionary release at the time but would be considered tame compared to my personal H favourites: Another Lady Innocent, Crimson Climax and Bible Black.
It was also via VHS that I experienced my first fansub. I somehow learnt about it via the internet, sent off five quid (which barely covered postage, packaging and the cost of the tape itself) to the University of Nottingham’s anime club and, two weeks later, received a VHS tape of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I still hold on that item as a physical reminder of my first experience of Japanese audio with English sub-titles that had been lovingly translated by a fan for a (soon-to-be) fan.
Video Compact Disc
The late 1990s shading over into the early first decade of 2000 saw, in tandem with the J-pop and anime boom in Singapore, the rise of the Video Compact Disc (VCD) which was everywhere – big central shopping centres, sub-urban malls, neighbourhood mom and pop stores, and especially housing estate night market stalls. Many suffered from poor quality (some were not even playable) and were often of doubtful provenance. Repeated crackdowns by the authorities and, much more importantly, significant narrowing of the price differential between legit and pirated VCDs.
I recall that two of my first officially licensed (by Odex LOL) VCD purchases, Serial Experiments Lain and Hellsing, were huge disappointments. Both series are literally quite dark, with night settings for many scenes, and I remember that I could barely see a thing. My disillusionment was further cemented when I had a much better visual experience with the downloaded versions (.mpg extension iirc) on my computer. Ironically, a strong belief developed from this time – that the downloading of free fansubs was more ethical than buying crappy pirated bootlegs; it was preferable that, as in the former case, no one made money compared to the latter case where the wrong people were making money.
Internet Relay Chat Channels
From around 1999/2000, a few friends, running IRC channels and having early adopters of broadband connections, would do most of the downloading which was then burnt on CD-Rs (x8 was soooo fast then LOL) and passed around physically – Love Hina was one of the first to be widely circulated.
It was only around 2004 with the replacement of dial-up modem with my first (ADSL) broadband connection and the Azureus 2.0 BT client that the current phase of my anime history began.