1997 was a huge year for me.

in 1995, the sony playstation was introduced to america. we didn't have it at first, likely due to cost. but my dad wanted one, so some time in 1996 he got one. actually, he got the sega genesis first, but he didn't like it so he traded it in or whatever they did back then. he got a few games. i remember resident evil because i was very afraid of it. there were some kids games i don't really remember, but they weren't important. that's 1996. we're talking about 1997.

we're talking about final fantasy 7.

my dad got this game for himself, but jrpgs weren't really his style. so i stopped watching him play, and picked it up myself. i was hooked. the story was unlike anything i'd encountered. i loved the characters. there was a challenge and the music was incredible. i would play constantly and if i wasn't playing, i was thinking about it. this lead me back to the internet. other people must have heard of this awesome game.

this is how i found my first fandom. i discovered people drew pictures of their favorite characters and wrote stories about them - and they SHARED them! they didn't keep them in a book under their bed like me. other people wondered about character motivations and if there would be a sequel. some people even spoke to eachother as if they WERE the characters, which i later learned was called "RP", or role-playing. i felt validated and happy. i didn't have my own space for these things but i was beyond happy clicking through websites and taking everything in.
i remember watching aeris die and it feeling absolutely unreal. she was a member of my party, a main character in the story. how could they kill her? there were discussions and rumored cheat codes about how to get her back. certain combinations of steps you had to do, or items you had to find. none of it was real - people have come onto the internet and told lies since the very beginning.
my final fantasy 7 phase waned a bit, but it would come back with a vengeance a few years later in 2003. and it still does, every now and then. i know it's not the best video game, or even the best final fantasy game, but it's place in my heart and development will last forever.

it was only the beginning of my early experiences with fandom.

back then, you didn't have a "feed" or "follows". you had a list of bookmarks so you could look at sites you liked, and other sites would link to eachother or be in webrings. a webring was usually a button or a picture that said what it was, for example you might have one called "Final Fantasy Fans" and everyone who had a space in the ring was linked by a common interest. you could be in as many as you wanted, and that was how you would find other sites you liked.
in clicking through these webrings, i learned final fantasy 7 was made by a japanese company and that a lot of the art was emulating a style that was popular in japan. they called it "japanimation", or anime.

hold on, we're going on a quick side trip.

the first anime i encountered was my neighbor totoro. my mom picked up a vhs at a store because it looked cute. she grew up watching astro boy, and she said they looked kind of similar. i didn't know anything about anime, i just liked the big bear raccoon cats and how they helped two little girls. i watched it a lot, but not enough to need to research it. it was pretty cut and dry - cute and magical.
to this day, i can't help but get excited about totoro. my mom still loves it, too. her room is full of totoro trinkets and i sleep with a big totoro at night. it's so comforting - but isn't every studio ghibli film?
something kind of funny that happened is she took us to see princess mononoke when it came to theaters when i was 7. she saw it was by the same guy who did totoro and took my brother and i. spoiler alert there is a LOT of blood for a kid to watch. we absolutely loved it though. that may have been the moment i truly started to love anime.

anyway. it's still 1997. i'm in 2nd grade and pokemon hadn't gotten to the US yet, or at least not the pokemania we knew. so anime wasn't in the mainstream. one day my friend at school asked if i'd ever seen sailor moon. i hadn't. i asked what it was. she said it was a cool show about a team of girls who fight aliens and i should watch it when it came on the next morning before school.
i showered and brushed my teeth and had time to spare. i put it on.

holy shit.

they were girls... and they were all kicking ass and still being girls. they were pretty and young and had powers. they were everything i wanted to be. my life changed in that moment. i can't even articulate how much sailor moon means to me, but there's a reason it's my number one no matter what.
i'd wake up every morning to watch, and i'd rent vhs tapes to watch so i could see them at any time. a few years later they started playing after school. i got my hands on anything the US had released and soaked it all in. but what we had didn't even scratch the surface.
my mom took notice of my interest and as she had started becoming very tech-savvy, looked it up for me. she learned there were more scouts and episodes i'd never even heard of. she showed me these websites and i'd spend hours and hours reading and looking at pictures. i spent an evening hogging the phone line so i could download three second clips of the new sailor scouts attacks. i built my own very barebones site with the minimal information i had. it felt like a dream, something i'd never be able to see in real life. i remember one day we went to the mall and there was a store that sold a lot of DC and marvel stuff, but also had a few anime things. they were playing a bootleg of a sailor stars episode and i made my parents watch the whole thing with me. sailor moon had wings. there were new scouts. the villains i'd never seen. it was brand new. i wouldn't be able to see that episode again for years.

kids are so lucky today, but i wouldn't change how i grew up.

back then you didn't have wikis. there was no white page with all of the information presented to you as fact. you dug through shrines and information pages and absorbed rumors and fan art presented as canon. they were built out of passion and love - no one was paid to do this. they just wanted to share their favorite characters and shows. and for a little kid like me, it was a godsend. i knew everything before my friends. my mom got me merch that had never seen the shores of the US thanks to the early days of ebay. she found a specific website that told me everything. i became an encyclopedia on sailor moon. i still am. i still collect merch to this day, especially if it's sailor neptune.

through sailor moon, i was able to learn about other anime and parts of japanese subculture. i began drawing and writing, to create my own similar worlds.
and i was happy.
knowing how to use the internet to find things i wanted to learn about became an invaluable resource. from here, i was able to connect with others. in the next few years my knowledge grew more vast and the internet became home.