My days in the fandom go back into the mid-80's when I first got hooked on Robotech. While I grew up watching Kimba the White Lion, Battle of the Planets and Voltron, it was Robotech which really hooked me and introduced me into anime and manga at large. Later in college I would play the role-playing game (with real dice and paper character sheets even!) as well as begin collecting the various novel and comic book offerings.
Just about everything I could get my hands on from Rumiko Takahashi (Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku), Johji Manabe (Outlanders, Caravan Kidd), and earlier Adam Warren (Dirty Pair and Bubble Gum Crisis.) Hayao Miazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind was also in publication then, and I picked up every issue I could find. Also have fond memories of watching a fifth-generation snowy subtitled pirated copy of the original Bubble Gum Crisis. This stuff was true old school, as we were among the vanguard of anime and manga fans in North America today. Some of it may seem cheesecakey and crude now, but most of it still holds a special place in my heart.
I also developed a liking for anthropomorphics. Steven A. Gallacci's "Albedo Anthropomorphics" featured his "Erma Felna EDF" which also spawned an RPG my college buddies enjoyed playing too. This was the first time I took up fiction writing based upon an RPG campaign, with predictable results. Steve himself was kind enough during our correspondence (handwritten letters back then!) to help me figure out areas where I needed to grow as a writer; trust me, there were a LOT of them. I wince when I read that old manuscript today, printed on greenbar paper with a nine-pin dot matrix printer. Yes, it really WAS that bad. Everyone starts something sometime somewhere, and for my writing, this was the place. My buddies at university and I also played the RPG based on Eastman & Laird's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I also have one of the collected volumes whole pulpy paper is really starting to turn yellow of late. Those were some good times.
Albedo also included another favorite of mine, Stan Sakai's classic "Usagi Yojimbo." Both Usagi Yojimbo and Gallacci's distant future Erma Felna sequel "Birthright" were flagship stories in Fantagraphic's "Critters." I own all 50 issues, and went on to collect a number of the Usagi Yojimbo graphic novels. My limited edition hardcover of "The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy" signed and numbered by Stan himself has a treasured place on the bookshelf in my office. Waller and Worley's most excellent "Omaha the Cat Dancer" was also a favorite. Interestingly enough I would later visit many of the places Reed and Kate drew from for inspiration, as I would later move to Minneapolis and live for several years (which is the place the story's "Mipple City" is based on.)
I continued to follow Usagi Yojimbo for several more years, during which time I picked up the collected volumes of Ben Dunn's "Ninja High School". It was also a favorite of mine which parodied many of the characters from other anime and manga series I would later myself collect and enjoy. Probably no surprise Princess Asrial was my favorite character from NHS, especially in her Salusian form.I fell off the fanwagon for a couple years near the end of college to focus on girls and socializing (that is, wonton reveling and debauchery) which, surprisingly helped my decent grades actually get better. I'm a tech geek myself, having received degrees in electrical engineering technology and computer engineering technology. After my girlfriend and I arrived in Minnesota from our native Michigan, I was re-introduced to manga and anime by a coworker.
I've watched and read dozens of anime and manga series since then, but several stand out as high points of my time in the fandom. Several of my friends and I were really into Yukito Kishiro's work, especially Battle Angel Alita (which was released in Japan as GUNNM.) We also followed his Aqua Knights and Ashen Victor, and I'm still keeping up with Battle Angel Alita: Last Order today, though this retelling of the original series closing chapter has now run longer than the original itself! Following BAA is when the fanfiction writing bug bit me once again. I was still finding my feet as a writer though, which I'm clearly reminded of when I have occasion to look through that body of work.
Being a Takahashi fan, I couldn't help but enjoy Ranma and Inu Yasha. A number of folks I still meet at one particular Midwestern anime convention are friends and fellow fanfiction writers from those days, mostly from the Ranma fandom.
Then I began to collect work by Kosuke Fujishima. Oh My Goddess! is still one of my all time favorites in all of its many incarnations. I think it's probably one of the longest running manga series EVER. Back in the day, I would well have BEEN Keichi Morisato, although I never had the kind of troubles he has. And not as many of the perks, either.
My friends and I met Kenichi Sonoda at one of the very first Anime Centrals in Chicago in the mid-late 90's. He was kind enough to give those of us serving on a fanfiction panel an autographed Gunsmith Cats movie poster I've since had professionally framed. It was also about this time I'd heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, although I'd known about Gainax from having seen "Otaku no Video" years before. The original series was great but many of us were left thinking "huh?" toward the creepy weird end (whichever one of the several the reader happens to accept as canon, that is.) That's perhaps what saw me liking Martian Successor Nadesico so much, although the freaky weirdness from Eva seemed to rub off on Nadesico's movie "sequel". C'mon, already, let Yurika and Akito run off and be happy together!
Later I would start to collect much lighter and fun work by Ken Akamatsu, whose "Love Hina" became one of my favorites. And I even found myself borrowing the first season of Sailor Moon, if only because Usagi is probably the most ridiculously unlikely heroine in all of anime.
And then there was the El-Hazard OVA. I couldn't NOT enjoy it given how much I liked the original Tenchi OVAs. Like BAA, El Haz was one of my high water marks in the fandom. Part of the reason I like it so much was it takes several concepts that could have really led to a bust of a story and wind them together in a wonderful, poignant way. The ending made sense and was imminently satisfying. Wonderful story. Ifurita and Makoto are two of my favorite anime characters of all time. I've been a fan of fanfiction depicting how the two of them were reunited and their lives thereafter, which prompted me to work with that same author to co-author more.
I married my girlfriend back in 1997 and I lived in Minnesota with her for a number of years. There I also spent a lot of time in my other hobby--trains and railroading. While I was employed by day as an electrical engineer developing safety-critical embedded systems used in avionics and medical devices, on evenings and weekends I would either turn wrenches on diesel locomotives and passenger rolling stock or help run them for a local railroad museum.
That's right, my geekiness crossed into other fields of endeavor. I'd been a train buff since I even before I knew what anime and manga were! Finally right after September 11 I was "afforded the opportunity" to make railroading my career (the bottom fell out of the avionics business as you could imagine.) I've been railroadin' ever since, applying my skills in electronics to railroad signal systems (both crossings and train control signals.) Wifey and I moved to Indiana, then to Wisconsin where we now reside. My career began in the time-honored tradition of climbing poles and digging trenches, then progressed into shooting trouble at 2AM in the pouring rain/blowing snow. Later I would become a supervisor of people doing the same thing. Today I'm self-employed, travelling all over the country helping my clients with signal & communications systems design, construction QA and testing. While I do a lot of office work now, I still relish the opportunity to go to the field and work with my tools. Every one of 'em in my tool bag has its own character, replete with nicks, wear patterns and even a few scorch marks--each of which brings a story to mind. Nothin' turns my crank like the smell of strong coffee, fresh creosote and burnt diesel fuel first thing in the morning!
There are a couple of anime and manga series I followed more recently, but the one most noteworthy was Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann's ending tore me up emotionally like no other anime has before or since (yes, Gainax was back again to jerk at my heartstrings!) I was so moved by the ending I couldn't help but write fanfiction again. One story received some pretty harsh criticism, but the more I thought about the points made the more I realized my critics were right. It was a good story, but had potential to be really awesome. What began as a rewrite of that story became the creation of an entirely new story with a very different plot and much more bittersweet outcome. That's one of the fanfiction works I'm most proud of, which you can read if look in my gallery here on dA. My handle on fanfiction.net is "mark-engels", which you're welcome to visit if you'd like to read the rest. My beta profile there has a fairly complete list of all of the anime, manga and anthro fandoms I've enjoyed through the years.
My anthropomorphic fandom has enjoyed new vigor of late as well, as I found the work of an artist on dA who goes by "funkyalien". His characters are very enthralling, exquisitely well-rendered and highly recommended. I surprised him by writing a fiction piece based on one of his sketches in whose description he lamented wishing he was a better writer. I took his base concept and just ran with it. He was quite helpful during the editing process and even drew a new, full-color portrait of the key scene in the story in return. That's also found on my dA account under "White Shadow - Disappointed" if you're interested in reading.
My wife and I have been parents of a happy, healthy and rambunctious boy for over six years now. I haven't been as active in the fandom, although just before he was born I was working on-site in Minneapolis. That enabled me to get together with the old crowd (with a couple new members) for one last hurrah over several weeks watching "Last Exile." I am now actively developing two original fiction storylines in between my work as a father and a railroad signal circuit designer. I imagine these will fill up the free time I have for the foreseeable future, although I don't intend to ever forget where I came from in the fandom.
Comments and criticisms on my earlier body of work are always welcomed! If any of you artists out there might be interested, I'm currently tossing around the idea of releasing these stories in webcomic or graphic novel format. But doing so to my satisfaction will require a much better artist than me! I'd also previously thought about the advice from a friend and fellow author and fan to commission an artist to add illustrations to my earlier Gurren Lagann stories, which still interests me greatly. Hope you'll stick with me as I develop and deliver these stories, which I look forward to your enjoying.
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin USA