You’ll Never Watch Alone: A Fan’s World Grows Smaller

You never watch alone.

It’s impossible now to feel like a lone fan of your favorite show. Over the past decade, the TV-watching experience has transformed from a solitary respite with a typical shared audience being a living room full of family battling for the remote. We now, as a constantly connected world, watch together, hypothesize together, scream at each other for spoiling what those who have fallen behind (or refuse to upgrade to better cable) miss out on.

Right now my week is crammed with my very favorite shows in season. There’s my longtime loves, Game of Thrones and Mad Men, and new darlings like Silicon Valley and Inside Amy Schumer. Every week, while watching them sometime in the four-hour window that makes up the east-to-west-coast viewing schedule, I can scroll through Twitter and get instant reactions, just to make sure I’m not the only one tearing up when Sally Draper tells Don, “I love you…Happy Valentine’s Day” or doing a double-take over the reprehensible Cercei and Jamie Lannister scene. Within a few hours, the best moments will be captured in delightful GIF form. A few more hours and full-coverage recaps, reactions and think pieces will be up on Salon, Slate, AV Club and Jezebel. Bad Lip Readings and Honest Trailers are there to share a knowing laugh with millions.

I can haz Westeros?
I can haz Westeros?

It’s so seamless, so permeating, it’s hard to remember a time when what is now wasn’t. When you watched without real-time analysis. When, if you were lucky, you found a classmate or co-worker who happened to like the same program that you did. When you had to tape essential episodes, and if they were good enough, you kept them around until they got too fuzzy and garbled from fast-forwards and rewinds to watch anymore. When the most reliable source of programming updates was TV Guide.

Late last night, on a break from reading a novel that was going nowhere, I tapped on my phone to see what was happening on Twitter. This is a bad habit, I know, more of a tic at this point than a conscious action. I’d like to think I could shake it, but I fear that I’m too far gone. I grew up half in, half out of the technology revolution, and though I can remember a day without cell phones or email, that doesn’t mean I can go back to it.

Past midnight on a Saturday, and most of the Tweets were from the few Sailor Moon Twitter accounts I followed out of nostalgia. I was a fanatic of the anime in high school, and with the series’ 20th anniversary (nope, not feeling old at all here), news bits and irresistible commemorative merchandise offerings were beaming out from Japan. Apparently, at that moment on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the series creators were giving a convention presentation on the upcoming series reboot set to premiere in a few months. I clicked a live-streaming link, with the talk accompanied by a Japanese translation Twitter live feed.

I watched the live-action cast from the stage musical make an appearance on-stage and give generic answers to vague questions (“We’re so excited to be in the show! We’ll do our best!”). The original manga’s editor, Osa-P (a figure who worked his way into the books and show as a little in-joke), came by to show off the new DVD release and replicas of Sailor Moon’s arsenal of magic wands.

See the store? It's Osa-P! And her editor is Osa-P! It's...oh, never mind.
See the store? It’s Osa-P! And her editor is Osa-P! It’s…oh, never mind.

In the late 90’s and early 00’s, when I discovered Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network’s after-school anime afternoons, I was totally removed from the Japanese home and origins of the show. The anime was dubbed into English with varying degrees of success. Whole episodes that were deemed “confusing” or somehow “inappropriate” for American audiences were omitted from the American series. Hot Topic had a small shelf devoted to Sailor Moon items, hidden behind the racks of Good Charlotte tees, and I stopped in every week to make sure I didn’t miss a new figurine or newly released manga to take home. Our house had dial-up internet, but it took around 20 minutes to download a single high-res scan of Naoko Takeuchi’s original series artwork. Gossip from Japan about the series, just wrapping up its run at that point, was rare and unreliable. As much as I wanted to believe the news that people were typing into their Geocities web template text boxes on new episodes and more translations headed stateside, I had my heart broken every time.

Loving Sailor Moon on the cusp of technology felt like being on an island, waiting for the right piece of driftwood to come ashore. It was tough to imagine where the show came from, so far from where I could go and what I could speak. Seeing the source instantly appear on my phone screen, I suddenly grasped what I had long taken for granted. As shitty as the Internet can be and as many problems as it presents to our individual lives and our societies, it is fucking amazing.

As a final treat in the presentation, 5,886 miles from my living room, the original voice of Sailor Moon herself appeared on the convention room screen. The new series was bringing her back to reprise her original role, work I had only heard on sporadic occasion from the one-off Japanese subtitled movies sold at Suncoast Video and the fan-subbed bootlegs my sister bought from eBay. She had a name, Kotono Mitsuishi. She had a smile that effused a joy that didn’t need a single fan Tweet to translate.

sailormoonactress

Her face blurred as tears clouded my vision. The sliver of fandom that I had treasured for so many years was alive. Breathing. Sailor Moon had a face, and she was beautiful. For the first time, the series wasn’t a strange and abstract love that magically appeared from far, far away. It was beloved in its birthplace, and here I was for the first time watching in the same moment, grateful and awestruck. And for once, I didn’t feel guilty over my Twitter addiction tic. Being a fan in a community, no matter how wide the borders stretch, is an incredible feeling indeed.

2 thoughts on “You’ll Never Watch Alone: A Fan’s World Grows Smaller

  1. I’m right there with you, sister.
    eagerly awaiting the new release of the new Sailor Moon series on July 5th this year (hosting a streaming party at 3am PST) I feel the pull of heart strings. Sailor Moon came on at 5:30 in the morning for a single half our when I was growing up. I woke up early to catch it, between Bobby’s World and the morning news…. I obsessively drew eyes and tiaras and daydreamed everything tinted in the Moonlight Serenade tune. I recently started rewatching them for the first time in probably fifteen years or more. I have never felt like more of a nerd than feeling tears well up in my eyes upon hearing the theme song. A lonely childhood flooded back to me, and for a good four hours, I was eleven again. It was truly magical.

    I made one of my life time friends on Dial up AOL by stumbling across her Sailor Moon home made fan page. We became pen pals and snail malied each other Chibi Moon stickers and stationary we’d found. She lived in Virginia and I lived in Washington. This friendship has lasted over twenty years. To this day we’ve never met in person, but remain pen pals. All because of an obscure Anime that touched our hearts in a deep, personal way. And perhaps, by being so obscure at the time, and because we as fans felt isolated and a little different- perhaps that achieved the entire point of the show.
    Only a few of us knew how amazing it was to be a part of something so special and rare.
    I’m sure a few school girls in Japan with magic powers of friendship and saving the world felt the exact same way. ❤

    Like

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