Q: Who are you and what do you do?
A: My name is Sean O’Mara and I run a website called Zimmerit (www.zimmerit.moe). The mission statement has changed a bit over the years, but we primarily focus on digging up lesser known bits of history pertaining to anime, manga, garage kit, and doujinshi fandom of the ’80s and ’90s. Most of the stuff we cover hasn’t been written about in English before.
What work have you done that you’re the most proud of?
In regards to Zimmerit, I recently acquired an early production document for the project later known as Megazone 23 and had it translated into English. That was a lot of fun because not only was it largely unknown in English, but even a few a Japanese fans were eager to see what it included. Beyond that I’m extremely proud of the fact I was able to publish Tom’s investigation into the cancelled Hollywood Gundam movie from the early ’80s. He did all the work on that, though — I mostly just provided a little feedback here and there and hit “publish” once he put it all together.
What were the ways the people got their hands on anime titles prior to its proliferation in the US? How did they find out which ones were worth watching (Magazines, word of mouth, etc.)?
I think that depends a lot on what you consider the point anime proliferated in the US. The breaking point was probably somewhere around the time Cartoon Network started playing a lot of anime via Toonami in the late ’90s and early ’00s, but anime was well known before that. I got into anime in the mid ’90s when the easiest way to watch anime was to rent it, provided you had a rental shop nearby with a decent selection. You could buy it of course, but at the time I was a kid and price tags of $30/tape put that out of my reach. At that time it wasn’t too hard to find information about anime, but you still had fewer sources. Print journalism still existed so you could pick at least a couple of different anime magazines up at your local newsagent or comic book shop (I liked Anime UK a lot, but Animerica and Protoculture Addicts were the two big North American magazines at the time). The internet was also becoming a bit more commonplace as it moved out of academic environments, so in the mid to late ’90s you saw a lot of fan activity on USENET groups, mailing lists, and fansites.
How do you think piracy has shaped the industry as a whole in the last 2 decades? How do you think the careers of talent are being impacted as a result?
I don’t think it’s too controversial to say piracy has had a huge impact. The largest dedicated anime streaming site started off showing fansubs and DVD rips. Lots of former anime fansubbers and manga scanlators have gone pro. The prevalence of “free” anime via the internet no doubt had a huge impact on the number of anime fans today. There’s a lot of obvious downsides of this to the industry (the widespread belief that anime and manga should be “free,” a negative perception of professional translators, etc), but there’s probably some upside, too. Even if only from a consumer position, it’s not hard to look at the recent changes to the foreign versions of Shonen Jump and see them as a response to the power of manga scanlations. I dunno, you could probably write an entire book on that subject and admittedly, with my preference on old stuff, I’m probably not the best person to talk about it. That said, relevant to my own particular interests, fansubs in recent years have done a great job of surfacing and preserving a lot of old anime that never got a DVD release and probably never will because of issues with rights or lost masters. That’s one side of anime “piracy” that doesn’t get enough attention.
Which artist or writer do you think has had the biggest impact on American media?
Oh man, that’s a big one! For a long time I probably would have said someone like Katsuhiro Otomo, since he was so influential on creators in the ’90s and ’00s, but nowadays I’m not so sure. From the perspective of creators it might still be Otomo or even someone like Hideaki Anno because of Envangelion. But from an audience perspective? It’s really hard to ignore how much Dragonball has saturated into American pop culture, particularly with its recent resurgence over the past few years. So maybe Akira Toriyama?