Being An Anime Fan in the Early 2000s and The Lead-up to Vocaloid


Listening to Hatsune Miku since 2007
Jan 21, 2021
(I'm sorry my story is a real, "Back in my day we appreciated the anime we got, 'cause we had to work for it! You young whipper-snappers don't realize how good you have it with yer simul-cast streaming malarkey!" But I think it is always interesting to appreciate the history of how we got to where we are now.)

YT packaged screenshot.png
Early YouTube in glorious 240p

Growing up, I never saw Dragonball Z or Sailor Moon. They were only on cable/satellite TV where I lived, and we never had the money for that. The same with Toonami on Cartoon Network. My experience with anime started in the summer of 1999 when two of my friends showed me the VHS dub of Martian Successor Nadesico and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Back then the web was still relatively young. Google only became the top search engine in the year 2000. There were no comprehensive databases online showing all the anime series out there. You often discovered new anime by going into random video stores or rental places and finding them in the "foreign film" section. And it was common to find only volumes 3 through 7 of a series or something like that. You rarely found a place that had every volume. So you watched series piecemeal, movies, or OVAs with zero context for what was going on. I remember one time my friend's brother got ahold of an unsubtitled copy-of-a-copy tape of Gunbuster.

At the beginning of each tape you'd see trailers and previews for series or movies. Yet, so many of them you'd never seem to find in the stores. It's like knowing an animal exists, but never being able to see it in the wild. Always elusive.

When you bought anime it was on VHS tapes containing two or three episodes, and you would have to decide whether to buy the dubbed versions, or the slightly more expensive subtitled versions. Sometimes maybe you'd buy the first three dubbed, but then for months you could only ever find the fourth tape subtitled. So you'd end up owning a series that was all dubbed except for the one tape that was subbed. And each of these tapes was something like $24.99 (that's $43.00 adjusted for inflation). I didn't have the money for this, but my friend had a part time job working with his family and could afford to buy them.

In 2001-2002 you started being able to find anime on file sharing services like grokster, morpheus, or limewire. It took all night to download a realmedia video file in something like 160p and heavily artifacted to get the file size under 10 MB. Sometimes you'd find .avi, mpeg2, or divx3 video files that were slightly higher quality.

But in 2001 I was mostly buying anime on DVD at $27.99 each for a whole four episodes per disc. (I started off buying Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, and Card Captor Sakura.) And they only came out with one new disc of a series per month. So when a new series got licensed it would take eight months to buy them all. Man, the nostalgia is overwhelming for series like Vision of Escaflowne, Gasaraki, Gundam Wing, Slayers, Outlaw Star, and Trigun.

When I went to college in 2003 is when high speed internet was common and BitTorrent became a thing. It was mind-blowing to be able to download fansubs of series like Full Metal Panic or Last Exile within a single day! Fansubbers were releasing subtitled episodes of series within a week of them airing in Japan. It was still taking production companies up to a year or more to license and distribute new series on DVD. It was also 2003-2004 when I remember being able to rent series via Netflix, back when they still mailed you DVDs.

Looking back, when I was a teenager people never really said anything good or bad about anime fans where I lived because no one even knew what the hell it was! It was around 2005-2006 that I remember being able to say "anime" and have most people my age or younger know what I was talking about. But most people who watched anime only saw whatever was being aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. (Remember when Inuyasha was mega popular?) It was a rare and special kinship to find someone who also watched fansubs and DVDs (outside of a college campus).

So now picture 2007: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are all just now becoming household names. Netflix streaming has just become a thing, soon making a larger number of anime series available to a lot of new people. Everyone is watching Code Geass, Deathnote, and Bleach, etc.

In September on a tech blog I read an article about some new voice synth software in Japan. I follow the link to CFM's Vocaloid2 webpage and listen to the three demo songs for Hatsune Miku. Throughout that month and onward more and more videos from NicoNicoDouga get reposted to YouTube. I think this 2007 upload of "Packaged" must be one of the early videos I listened to. It was such a chaotic mish-mash of reposted videos that I don't have a very good mental chronology of what songs came out when. It was moderate at first, but things really got popular after MikuMikuDance 3D videos started popping up in early 2008.

In 2009 Crunchyroll becomes a big anime streaming service, and there's more anime than ever available on various video streaming sites. Project DIVA comes out for the Playstation Portable. Video captures of the in-game MVs start flowing onto YouTube. And the question everyone's asking about Hatsune Miku is: "What anime is she from?"

I feel like this is the point when Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid went from being a niche thing in the anime community to being more widely known. My social media experiences from the time were just the YouTube comments sections and imageboards like 4chan or some random ezboard anime forums. So I have no idea what the Vocaloid community on Twitter or Facebook was like back then. There was a lot of bleed-over between the Touhou and Vocaloid fandoms of the time. Especially when 3D models of Touhou characters started showing up in MMD animations. People I met who were into anime or video games had at least seen Hatsune Miku online somewhere, even if they didn't know anything about her. I might occasionally hear someone say they didn't like how synthetic Vocaloid sounded, but other than that I never really heard anything negative. They either thought it was cool or were indifferent to it.

So how does this match up with your experiences? I'm always fascinated by people's stories of their first introduction to anime or Vocaloid.

Blue Of Mind

The world that I do not know...
Apr 8, 2018
I was still really little back when everyone was struggling to access anime in the late 90s and early 2000s, but I did see all the entry-tier stuff like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, etc. since I was lucky enough to have Sky satellite. I did notice a change by the late 2000s though - at one point, there was a satellite-only channel called Anime Central in the UK that showed stuff aimed more at teens and adults (like Cowboy Bebop and Bleach), and it blew my preteen mind at the time. The internet really took me down the anime rabbit hole though - who else remembers watching fansubbed anime on YouTube with all the episodes separated into 10-minute parts? Kids today with all the streaming options in the world really don't know the struggle lol.

Anime still felt like a niche interest in the late 2000s though, and even more so in the UK where it made you a target of bullying. For a long time, I honestly felt a bit isolated in real life being in the anime and Vocaloid fandoms. Nowadays, that feeling is gone because while I don't think anime is still mainstream yet, it's certainly a more common interest than even ten years ago, and people don't look at me so weirdly when I mention I'm into it. It's easy to hop online or track down a physical nerd shop in order to find other fans.


Jul 14, 2019
The Internet™
Anime still felt like a niche interest in the late 2000s though, and even more so in the UK where it made you a target of bullying. For a long time, I honestly felt a bit isolated in real life being in the anime and Vocaloid fandoms. Nowadays, that feeling is gone because while I don't think anime is still mainstream yet, it's certainly a more common interest than even ten years ago, and people don't look at me so weirdly when I mention I'm into it. It's easy to hop online or track down a physical nerd shop in order to find other fans.
This is a really interesting thread! Despite becoming a fan of anime and vocaloid in the mid to late 2010's, I kinda relate to feeling isolated with my interest irl. I did find quite a bit of anime fans in my school back then, and manga was a popular genre at the library. However, it was still a really small number compared the rest of the student body. Generally, most kids at the time would hear the word anime, and they'd cringe. I was victim of that judgement... Streaming made so many different types of anime available, so I was familiar with more obscure anime while others were into Attack on Titan, Black Butler, etc. For me it was still hard to find fans to actually talk to until high school. Then again, that's for being in school in the South lol. (also I should note that at this time I still didn't have a lot of access to social media and forums, so it was even more isolating)

I will agree now it's a little more easier to find other fans now, less people are likely to look at you weird for being into anime.


New Fan
Mar 6, 2022
I lived through the same time period (I remember browsing the web as a kid in 1998 and being like "Google is such a stupid name compared to Alta Vista and Lycos"), saw the rise of those internet companies that became household names, and had the same situation with not having cable.

Unfortunately, I missed out on the whole anime thing too, and didn't discover it until years later. My main exposure has been trailers for Ghibli films when they came out in the US and seeing rows of Sailor Moon VHS tapes at Blockbuster and wondering what the hell it was (though my parents probably wouldn't have rented it). Fullmetal Alchemist is what got me into anime later on. Back in the early 2000s it was definitely a lot more niche, and people would be shitty about it (which in retrospect seems kind of like a form of bigotry against other nations' media and culture). I'll admit it took me a little while to get past that popular attitude toward anime, and I'm still kicking myself for not getting into it earlier than the mid 2010s...

It's been interesting to discover how early vocaloid fits into experiences online in the 2000s. I was on Digg and Reddit in the early days, and fairly plugged into technology news, but vocaloid was only sort of on my radar at the time. I remember leekspin and Nyan Cat, and remember hearing about their being concerts in Japan for a virtual singer, but I didn't have a proper introduction to Miku and vocaloid until much later. It's been kind of weird to discover things that were happening simultaneously and connecting dots between various memes and such that I remember being new.

I was just thinking the other day that 2007 wasn't very old for a car, because that's when Hatsune Miku and the last Harry Potter book were released, which weren't that long ago...then I realized it's also when the iPhone was first announced and it suddenly seemed more distant lol.

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