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It may not have been Christmas morning or my dance recital, but it didn’t have to be. Our family trips to BJs are equally as vivid. It wasn’t just the meatball Pizza Hut pizza, the wall of televisions, the box of Debbie Cakes we got to pick out, or the play-scape models and boats suspended from the ceiling. No, that all fell short to Pokémon. It was my obsession. Not the cards, not the figurines- the VHSes. I was five, and Pokémon was like nothing I had ever experienced. So, every trip to BJs was marked by the purchase of a new Pokémon episode. I still found reading difficult at that time, so the car ride home were often spent hypothesising about the new tape, making inferences from the pictures on the box. At that time, I didn’t know what “anime” was, or that there was an entire animation industry. I didn’t know that artists were paid to create these characters and design these boxes. And I definitely would never have thought my doodles of imaginary Pokémon would be the first stepping stone to my college ticket.
I was sheltered, I’ll admit it. I had been home schooled and I saw the world mainly through PBS Kids TV shows and Bible stories. I still consider it a monumental day when I discovered KidsWB and the FoxBox (as it used to be called). It was approximately six years after I discovered Pokemon, I was eleven. It had all started that Christmas with a video game called “Sonic Heroes”, a game I absolutely fell in love with. I wanted to be exposed to it in anyway I could, that being said, I recalled that there was an animated version of it on the FoxBox. So, I woke up at seven every Saturday (sometimes earlier) to watch “Sonic X,” “Mew Mew Power,” “The Winx Club,” “Yu-Gi-Oh,” and “Teen-aged Mutant Ninja Turtles.” I’d never stopped loving Pokemon, but it was only now that I learned it was called “anime” and that it was from Japan.
I found this out by exploring the FoxBox website, now renamed 4Kids. On their website, they had a discussion forum for fans to talk about the show, write stories, and just chat about life. Of course since the site was aimed at kids, it was extremely over protective. You needed parental permission to join, couldn’t post your last name or your location other than state and country. You weren’t allowed to post e-mails, phone numbers or any website addresses. It was supposed to be completely anonymous. I made so many friends there. At first, I was completely sociable, friendly with everyone... then The Fight happened.
We all abbreviated our screen names for convenience. I was MML, my friend was Knux13, her friend was TMP and CJ. We were the main players in the fight. It all started when TMP created these text based images, like smileys, but more complicated. They were mini versions of characters from the TV shows. I was one of the first people to see his post, and I liked them enough to make some of my own.
Welcome to the flame war. I was apparently a thief and a plagiarist for not asking TMP’s permission to make some of these characters myself. This ridiculous fight raged for at least a month. It was my first experience having a real full blown fight, and it completely lowered my opinion of humanity. After that fight, I was completely candid. I said what I thought and posted my opinions and judgments. As far as I was concerned the world had rejected my kindness and did not deserve my politeness any longer. Admittedly, fighting on the Internet was kind of fun. It was drama, it was politics, it was a rush. All in all, I was happy. I had some really close friends, I was writing fanfiction and having good discussions. It was all good. Then, middle school happened.
Like I said, I was home schooled during the lower grades, but then seventh grade came and it was time for me to move on. The school was small, only about twenty-one kids in my whole grade. And I went in there with the same attitude I’d developed online. Tell people exactly what you think of them and if they didn’t like it, screw them. In short, it didn’t go over well, by the end of the month I’m sure everyone hated me, and I hated them. Those two years were not fun, I was ecstatic to leave. I didn’t even bother going to the graduation ceremony, I wanted out so badly. But, I can’t move on just yet without first relating something important that happened in the beginning of my eighth grade year.
By the end of seventh grade, I’d given up on “4Kids Forum”, and had moved on to other sites with less restrictions. What I did miss though, was Knux13. So, I did some poking around, looked her up and soon we got to talking on IM. We mostly talked about anime, my constant obsession and hers. During one of those conversations, she had jokingly asked if I wanted to go to an Anime Convention with her. Its important to note at this point that she lived in Colorado. I equally as jokingly approached my dad with the idea. “Fly half-way ‘cross the country to meet a girl I knew from the Internet at an anime convention? Sure. why not?”
I was on a plane with my dad to CO a few months later.
My first time on a plane, first time I remember staying at a hotel, and my first Anime convention. There was so much sensory input that weekend, it was amazing. But beyond all the material stuff, for the first time in a long time, I had a truly overwhelming sense of belonging. It was like an Internet community, but in real life. It was probably the best weekend ever, the costumes, the events, the people. I met up with Kunx13, whose real name is Rachel, and we hung out. There really just aren’t words to describe it all; it was three days full of weirdness, hyperactivity, noise and bright colors. I was very depressed to return to my boring middle school of cookie-cutter girls who considered all my hobbies and interests strange. By ninth grade I was fully submerged in this counter-culture world, which brought with it the good and the bad, but mostly good.
I knew I’d found where I belonged. I’d long ago become used to knowing that I wasn’t average, that I would not look like or act like most of my peers. I was just different from them, and I’m glad I stand out in the crowd, why would I want to be over looked because I’m exactly like someone else? Despite all that lovely reasoning though, there was a moment in time where I felt overwhelmingly good just to fit in. It had been the following year at the same anime convention, and it was the first year I wore a costume. There was a photo shoot for everyone who was wearing costumes from that particular series, and I joined in. And even better, I fit in. My costume was well made, our uniforms all matched; all these people were dressed like me and acted like me. It was an amazing feeling of belonging.
The other great thing that this anime culture brought me, was my love of drawing. I’d always enjoyed art, I just never considered my skill good enough to make a living off of, but soon the Internet showed me all kinds of jobs for artists and a demand for them. I started working harder, and soon became really good, in eleventh grade I would start taking private lessons to help me develop my portfolio to college. And that was how Anime brought me full circle, from a five-year-old’s sketches of Pokemon impostors, to a young adult working towards a scholarship and the Art Institute of Boston, and hoping to get a degree in illustration. I found a place to fit in that I didn’t even know existed when I was younger, and I may never have found it had it not been for my love of Pokemon.