Tooned In To Anime

Fans say there's nothing Mickey Mouse about these Japanese cartoons with their stories of love, sex, death and saving the world

"It hurts the industry, because why do we want to release something when it's been fansubbed to death?" he says. "We don't want to make people aware of it that aren't aware of it. We don't want people to get it for free."

Fans don't slap bumper stickers on their cars that say, "Anime: more expensive than drugs" for nothing. A single DVD, containing two to four episodes, runs about $30. Most series have 26 episodes.

But Greenfield says fansubbing isn't even necessary anymore because the anime market has grown so much that thousands of titles are now available in America. (As Wiatrek says, "The largest video market was porn. Now it's anime.")

Cassie Matthews cosplays at Chibicon, a mini-convention that she and her friends put together in The Woodlands.
Deron Neblett
Cassie Matthews cosplays at Chibicon, a mini-convention that she and her friends put together in The Woodlands.

"We're at the point where we license titles before they've even been on air in Japan," Greenfield says. "And we're co-producing a number of shows, so obviously it's an ADV production, so it's coming over here. So there's not much point in [fansubbing] anymore."

In the past, the quality of fansub tapes was pretty low, and many fans upgraded to commercial releases once they became available. But now, with advancements in technology improving image quality, people make digital fansubs and put them on the Internet so anyone can download them.

"The real problem isn't the old way of fansubbing, which was taking a tape and actually subtitling it, but people doing the same thing on the Internet," Andy says. "There are shows where a day or two after it airs in Japan for the first time, digital copies are floating around on the Internet."

But that's a problem that all entertainment industries face, he says. To a former fansubber like Shoko, the digital fansubbers don't seem to have morals.

"The next generation is pretty irreverent. They don't care what the company says. They have a bad mentality because they are trying to compete with the company," she says.

Perhaps that's easy for her to say now that she's part of ADV and has turned her hobby into a job. For every Shoko and Andy, though, there are hundreds of hard-core anime fans who haven't legitimized their obsessions by joining an anime company and suffer from the stigma of being, well, a complete geek.

Take, for instance, the fanboys, says Michael Udonpongsuk, who works at Planet Anime in the Rice Village, the place to rent anime titles in Houston. Fanboys, the joke goes, don't bathe because they're too busy watching anime. Michael even has a rating system, from one to five, one being the lowest level of stink.

"If you have three of them in here, even if they're standing in the far corners, you can have the door open and the a/c going and it still smells," he jokes.

"It's the truth that they're socially inept," says Jim Whitehead, another Planet Anime employee. "Like people who watch soap operas all day. It's a replacement for social activity."

Andy thinks that anime does the opposite: It provides social interaction.

"In Japan, they have extreme fans as well, but there it's much more of a solitary thing. It's the whole social rejection. Here, we have our share of geeks -- and I probably qualify as that sort of thing -- but at the last couple of conventions, I've done very little of actually going and watching stuff, and spent all of my time hanging with friends."

Like anyone else who fancies himself a fan of something, Andy comes off as an expert and can overwhelm you with the names of hundreds of titles you've never even heard of. His interactions, while social, are all about anime. These are social interactions that never reach the point of being socially stressful. After all, he's dealing with people just like him.

It started with Sailor Moon. Actually, it started with the Spice Girls. About five years ago, Cassie Matthews worshiped the Spice Girls. Then, she explains, "As everyone knows, they fell off the face of the earth." So she had to find a new passion. She found Sailor Moon.

Anything that had the visage of sparkly-eyed Sailor Moon on it, Cassie had to have. Backpacks, pencil cases, posters. Eventually, as she reached her teenage years, she outgrew the girls in sailor suits for more diversified stories like Fushigi Yugi, Vampire Princess Miyu and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Now 15, she is a full-fledged fan of shojo, or girls' anime, which is more drama- and character-driven. (Shonen, or boys' anime, contains more action.) Last summer Cassie and a friend took fencing lessons because the characters in Utena fence.

"Sailor Moon is like a gateway drug," says her mother, Janet Varela.

This summer Cassie and her friends made a pilgrimage to A-kon, chaperoned by Mom. Varela, who didn't want to look after so many teens by herself, recruited other parents but had to carefully explain what anime was. Their girls were not going to a sweet little festival to watch cartoons, she warned. No, people of all ages would be there, dressed in costumes, often with weapons. That meant men too, who sometimes dress as female characters. Okay, so it's a little scary when grown guys with beards dress up as Sailor Moon, she said, but lots of teenage boys cross-dress. So what?

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