Originally I was involved a lot more in anime fandom, but somewhere along the line (well actually about six or seven years ago), I sort of gave up on the social side of it. Not that I was all that social to begin with, but anyway... Once upon a time there were these things called anime clubs. Well OK, they still do exist, but you have to admit they’re pretty damn rare. Out of the four that existed where I live, only one remains active today, and there was a period where three where operating at the same time. I think that’s pretty good for a niche hobby in a city of just over 350,000.
I (re)discovered Japanese animation after seeing some rental tapes of “Star Blazers” in 1995, and I soon began renting some of the Manga Entertainment titles. Then I started buying them. A little soon after, I was told about the Canberra Anime Society (CAS) by a flatmate in 1996 or so. There were playing Patlabor TV episodes, and I liked the movies, so I went along. The club’s first screening was on 14 January 1995 in Green Room of Arscott House in University of Canberra (UC) (that screening had “Record of Lodoss War”, “Dirty Pair Flash”, the first “Silent Mobius” movie, a couple of “Kimagure Orange Road” OVAs and the seventh OVA of “Bubblegum Crisis”). Originally run by David Geeves, Bruce Buckham, and Peter Kirby, somewhere along the line there were enough people coming along to screenings that they had taken over a much larger venue, the small theatre in “the Hub” of UC. It wasn’t your typical uni club. In fact all three running the show had no affiliations with the uni as far as I was aware. The deal was there was no membership as such, you just paid your four dollars for about four and a half hours of screenings held every three weeks.
Initially I did find the club to be intimidating. Well, David at least. I remembered asking where I could buy fansubs and was flatly told that “You can’t buy them”. That was it, no explanation of how to obtain them or anything. Luckily those who went to the club were a lot friendlier and easy going than those who ran it. Over the next couple of years, things plugged along nicely at the club. Then Peter left. I got the feeling from what happened it wasn’t amicable. It seems that Peter was the main source of tapes and that was soon apparent as the quality of screenings became crappier and crappier. One screening included a dubbed version of one of the “Fatal Fury” OVAs which was mildly heckled at one point in the screening. Somewhere along the line, I managed to become chummy with Bruce and Dave by trading fansubs and tapes, and I ended up giving them stuff to play, out of complete pity at their worsening schedules.
But the writing was on the wall. By early 1998, a couple of former patrons, Matt Burke and Sam Wilson, had set up a rival club with the rather grandiose name of the ANU Otaku Council: the Asian Film Society. I knew the main aim of the two guys running the club was to put CAS out of business so to speak. As their club was an official Australian National University (ANU) club, they had free access to one of the small theatres there and charged an incredibly small fee of four dollars per term. Meanwhile Bruce and Dave had to deal with hiring out the theatre at UC which was getting close to $100 per screening. While I did help out the ANU club for a while, it soon became apparent to me that my tapes is all that they wanted. I bailed and subjected to some rather hurtful emails which really surprised me to be honest (I truly believe I did nothing wrong on my part, nor spat venom at them, like they did to me). One of my friends who went to the CAS screenings, Nathan, had been in contract with Bruce and Dave (he had specifically bought a lot of hentai tapes from the US so he could trade more mainstream stuff with them) and told me the guys were through with the club. Somehow myself and Nathan came up with the crazy idea of taking over the club.
So as of the 20 June 1998 screening, we took over running the club. I really don’t how I survived this period. At the time I had undiagnosed severe depression (which had begun three years earlier) and undiagnosed aspergers syndrome. While at times it was rather tense, I can’t say it wasn’t fun. I made a few friendships, but unfortunately most of those have dissolved over the years. Most of 1998 went pretty well. We were always in the black, mostly due to the fact the ANU club wasn’t playing anything of real note and we already had a following. Plus I’d managed to get some rare stuff through trades. We were always well in the black financially. Dave lent us his subbed copy of “Princess Momonoke” which went down a treat. It still hadn’t had any sort of commercial English release at that point. We continued on into 1999 with a screening of the two “Evangelion” films (we were the first club in Australia to play them), but Nathan had had enough and decided he’d had enough and left. He eventually studied Japanese and Cantonese and got a job in southern prefecture council in Japan translating stuff into English.
I kept the club going through 1999, but the screenings happened semi-regularly (about every 8 weeks) rather than at the usual three week intervals. I found it hard to find material that was good and we hadn’t played. Also Madman had appeared on the scene and ramped up their release schedule. After a drought of anime brought on by video company Siren’s mishandling of the Manga Entertainment label, suddenly anime was becoming more accessible. But there were several tipping points which made me rethink running the club. First, the time when I played “Perfect Blue” and one of the patrons laughed during the rape scene. I was also getting some minor complaints from some patrons who didn’t like some of the material I was playing. On the last screening in 1999, I got at least one complaint for every title I played, including “Cowboy Bebop”. At this point I really wondered why I was doing this. The final nail in the coffin was the fact that one of the last bills I got from the university had skyrocketed by 40%. I talked them down to the normal fee as I had absolutely no warning of the price hike, but it did shit me. Considering the fact the theatre was a little rough around the edges, to say the least.
A minority of the patrons shat me with their demands. That was probably the greatest annoyance with the club. Why bother if people don’t appreciate what you do? Fuck it, I didn’t have to do this. I joined the ANU Otaku Council: the Asian Film Society which had become the ANU Anime Society (ANUAS). I had met the new president at the last screening in 1999. I knew at least both Sam and Matt had moved on so it was rather civil meeting, though I did later reconcile with Sam. I thought Matt was a fucking twat. Eventually I helped them out with tapes. The last official CAS screening was in late 2000 which was a joint screening with ANUAS. It was the only CAS screening that year and I didn’t even attend it. I just held it in an attempt to steer former patrons of CAS to ANUAS. I know Dave was upset with me ending CAS (especially barely only after a year and a half), but I couldn’t give a shit. I needed my sanity back. The club was too difficult to run. I kept up my relationship with ANUAS, but kind of drifted away around 2005 or so. With the emergence of digital fansubs downloaded from the internet, I became a bit of a dinosaur (didn’t have broadband at the time). I tried to come back to the club a couple of years later, but just felt really out of it. The club members were a lot younger than me and I couldn’t really connect with them.
There were two other anime clubs operating in the early to mid ‘00’s; the ANU Magical Girl Club (yes, they mostly only played magical girl anime), and the rather schizophrenic UCU J-Pop Culture Club (University of Canberra club). The only one that is operating today is ANUAS. I guess the internet and the general availability of anime has killed off clubs to a great degree. Bit of a shame really. In the end I sort of enjoyed my period running a club and participating with other clubs. However a lot things really shat me, the politics that sometimes sprout out of these situations as well as some of the weirdness dealing with the public (some of those people are definitely on the fringes of society). It’s funny though, I probably wouldn’t say no to doing it again. But only if I was 20 again and it was 1995. I do think it’s a bit of a shame that lot of modern day anime fans (mostly in the younger generations) won’t get to experience anime clubs.