Who are these "Sempai" folks, anyway?

We started out simply as some people who enjoyed getting together regularly and sharing our anime/manga collections with each other. During the 90's, as one by one we all got online, we began to converse regularly via email. Get togethers became a staple in our lives, as did continued electronic communing. We are not a club so much as a loosely affiliated coallition. We vary in age, gender, interests and occupations, but we all enjoy Japanese animation.

To facilitate our online discussions, a private mailing list was created, known of and subscribeable to only by personally known otaku tomodachi. We have never been a public entity, nor an organized club. Over the years, as friends introduced friends to friends, our little fan network grew, as did our ML.

Members of Sempai (as our ML was named and as we came to refer to ourselves) were involved in all areas of otakudom during that very exciting decade when otakudom required commitment and you had to know someone who knew someone. Members worked staff at cons, were (and some still are) officers or department heads of cons or even started cons which have by now grown larger than ever originally conceived! Others of us fansubbed either animated or live action japanese shows and/or concerts. Some of us wrote or still write fanfiction or (now) professional fiction. Many of us are computerly geekish, and have been involved over the years in the development of online otakudom in many ways.

Before Facebook and Yahoo! Groups you had to create your own ways to communicate with people of similar interests. Sempai — the ML, the regular gatherings & watchings, the shared server we built together (and upon which many of our online projects are still hosted to this day) and this website — was ours.

Sempai was never a structured group. This is more true now than ever. Nowadays, we're all older, of course, and hopefully wiser, and have gone on with our lives, as people do. Some of us have moved to live in other states or even other nations. But technology has made it immensely easier for people to stay in touch, and so we have.

Things have changed so much in the anime industry, and in fandom. (Like the fact that there now is an American anime industry!) The business of anime licensing and distrubtion has matured greatly since we first came together. Anime movies have even won Oscars.

Things have changed online too. The advent of the web made the internet user-friendly and email has eliminated the time-lag of letter writing and the cost of long-distance. Unless you are old enough to remember, you probably can't really even imagine it.

Back in the day, without torrents, professional subs (and, yeah, dubs ... I guess) and anime on TV and DVD, groups like ours were the lifeblood of our embryonic little fandom. Finding more episodes of the shows you were watching was a full-time group effort! Sometimes, if you wanted to watch a show you just had to import the LD (You know what an LD is, right?), find or pay someone to translate it, find someone else with an Amiga and a gen-lock (A what and a what?), time it out yourself and create your own "S" master. (Do we all remember "S-tapes?") If you made VHS copies for your friends, they might reciprocate and make VHS copies of their "S" masters for you. It was work, it was networking, it was social skill development, it was friendship building and it was worth it.

We were a bunch of folks who created our own forums to improve and facilitate communication with each other, as a sort of private network within our larger network of otakudom, and to enjoy the fellowship of other intelligent people who enjoyed the same hobbies. It was quite a time to be an otaku, and we were there.