When I found AnimeChicago on Meetup.com and clicked “Join,” I was nervous. Before getting involved with AnimeChicago, I had been trying to distance myself from anime fandom. After majoring in East Asian studies in college and studying abroad in Japan, I landed a shiny new adult job that promised to allow me to use my Japanese in the workplace. I had no idea what it meant to be a young professional, and I was desperate to be taken seriously. I still enjoyed anime and manga, but I didn’t want that to be the first thing new people found out about me. I was twenty-three, for God’s sake, and I wanted people to see that I was normal, mature, and well-adjusted.
I had moved to Chicago with a few close friends, and we were rapidly getting on each others’ nerves after too much time spent in close quarters trying to figure out how to get jobs and get our new lives off the ground. At work, I diligently performed administrative tasks for 8 hours a day, and talked to my coworkers as infrequently as possible because I didn’t want them to know how young and nerdy I was. Ironically, I ended up getting mistaken as stuck-up and was left out of my coworkers’ social activities for more than a year. I came home, marathoned Cold Case and Cardcaptor Sakura, and went to sleep early so I could be ready to work in the morning, wondering if every recent graduate went to bed feeling like something was missing.
I tried taking dance lessons and faked my way through a few OK Cupid dates that never went anywhere. I attended a few uncomfortable sessions of a monthly nerd Meetup, until I could no longer feign interest in complex board games and Doctor Who. I went to bars and agonized over how to order a cocktail without a menu, bristling at the men who tried to approach my friends. It was the year of the tequila sunrise, cheery and bright and desperate, with a lingering aftertaste of misery.
When I showed up at my first Round Table discussion, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I was floored by the group’s critical analysis. Was Miyazaki celebrating militarism or innovation in his depiction of the invention of the Zero fighter? Why choose Hideki Anno as a voice actor? I learned that the seemingly random scenes that irked me in both of my viewings of the film were actually literary allusions, allowing me to see Miyazaki’s work in a different light. The sharp analysis and in-depth discussion was everything I had been searching for since graduating from college. When I mentioned that I had read Kaze Tachinu and that I didn’t enjoy it, Jamie and Neil immediately latched onto the fact that I could read Japanese and asked if I would be interested in helping with a language workshop. I remember going home and thinking “Wow, these are the coolest anime nerds I’ve ever met!”
I never did help with that Japanese workshop, but I kept coming back for more, including one memorable Manga Jam attended by only two people, myself and Neil. If anyone wants my copy of The Gold Pollen by Seiichiro Hayashi, you’re welcome to it. Once was enough for me.
AnimeChicago was the first place I found in my new post-grad life where I didn’t have to pretend. I may have given myself a reputation as an upstart and a feminist killjoy (I haven’t changed my mind about Satoshi Kon) but for the first time since leaving college, I felt like my voice was heard and my opinion mattered. At long last, I had a place where I could stretch my intellectual muscle and think creatively. Never in my life have I been surrounded by so many people who have treated me like I’m talented and intelligent just for talking about anime, feminism, and translation. I hope that in my time on the AnimeChicago Team I’ve made even the smallest contribution to this community that’s encouraged me so much.
My involvement with AnimeChicago taught me that I could be a serious fan and a serious professional. I’ve learned a lot about the challenges of organizing a community of people of different backgrounds and interests, and I’ve seen the Team respond professionally and with compassion to difficult situations. Every week, I am especially inspired by Jamie’s leadership and her passion for growing a healthy and positive anime community in Chicago. Through my interactions with AnimeChicago members at mixers and symposiums, I learned what networking was supposed to feel like – listening to people get excited about their projects and being told “You should really meet this person, you’ll love what they’re doing.”
In fact, it was my experience with AnimeChicago that finally encouraged me to take the next step in my career, pursuing a Master’s degree in Japanese Translation and Localization Management at Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA. My dream is to translate and edit manga, so I can help bring more great works from Japanese creators to enthusiastic readers like the people I met at Manga Jam. I am going to miss AnimeChicago – you all are a truly unique and precious group of people, and I hope by the time my name is printed in tiny font on the copyright page of a manga somewhere, you are still going strong.
To all of my sempai on the AnimeChicago Team, I’m so glad you noticed me.