I thought I already wrote this. Must have lost it on a HD crash or something. Oh well. Here it is. The official Manna Anime history, by the only person that has been with Manna and running Manna since its beginning.
I was visiting my brother one December weekend in 1993 when he dragged me to Anderson Room in the Michigan Union on the U Michigan campus. There, they showed Record of Lodoss War OAVs #5-6, Gundam 0083 #5-7, Sol Bianca #1, Gunnm (Battle Angel) #1-2, Urusei Yatsura OAV 1, and Giant Robo #1. That is how I began in subtitled anime. I had seen anime before, unwittingly: Robotech, some Korean animation that was simply dubbed over Japanese animation, nothing much to speak of. That was my first taste of true Japanese animation.
It didn't take long to infect my friends. I eventually dragged Ben and Kurt to their first Animania meeting in the middle of a scouting trip of theirs. Adam and Brian followed. It was only a matter of time before we were watching any anime we could get our hands on. We rented, copied, bought, and did whatever we had to in order to see more anime. Quickly, Animania became tiresome.
Animania was of the philosophy that they should show a diverse background of anime to orient a viewer in the anime world, full of referenes and homages. It grew tiresome. By fall of 1994, almost a year into Animania, it became obvious to Adam, Ben, Kurt, and I that Animania could not supply what we wanted as fans.
Ironically, the breaking point was the lack of tape copying that Animania offered. We could not get our hands on any new anime, other than what we could get from the limited number of fansub distributors. We decided that we would have to make our own club and have it be better than Animania. We owed it to other fans like ourselves to offer a forum for new anime, different anime, and most of all, not having to see Nausicaa 3 times in one year (which they did in 1994 I believe).
Don't get us wrong, though. We still liked Animania. It was fun, and moreover, a tradition. I would usually drive myself, and Ben and Adam and Kurt would usually find their own way into Ann Arbor. Even once we had drawn up the plans for a new (and indeed the first web present) anime club for the Metro Detroit area, we were still going to Animania meetings religiously.
Some time in October or November, we settled on the name Anime Group of Birmingham. However, this title soon became insufficient, so after a little push and pull over the wording, the subtitle "Metro Detroit Japanese Animation Group" was included. Our first showing was in Mr. Horschak's room in G Hall of Seaholm High School. We set up Ben's 19" TV and had pizza. About 10 people showed up, including ourselves.
In order to be a school club, which we had hoped for, you needed to be approved by the administration. We submitted some anime to John Shuster, the asst principal of the time. We gave him Nausicaa, Omoide Poroporo, Porco Rosso, and then Adam went ahead and ruined it by giving him Dominion: Tank Police. After seeing that, he flatly rejected our bid for becoming a Seaholm club. We were crushed.
However we were not defeated. We canvased the community looking for some place to share our anime with the rest of the world, or at least the Metro Detroit area. After a couple months of unsuccessful searching, we found the Bloomfield TWP Public Library. Se set up in their Meeting Room #1, a 35 person capacity. Our first meeting was on a Wednesday, and since we were just high school students, the library let us in for non-profit rates. The first meeting had maybe 12 people. Impressive for a Wednesday.
It didn't take us long before we had our first Saturday showing, from Noon to 5 because the library closed at 5:30. We wanted it to be 3 to 8pm, but had to settle on what we had. It was about as ho hum as the first couple meetings. However, we were building steam. The problem we were having, though, was that we were no longer an anime group of Birmingham. We had showings at the Bloomfield TWP Public Library, which was in Bloomfield Hills. Our loyal viewers came from Troy, West Bloomfield, Rochester, and even Farmington. We needed a new name, and badly.
In April, we all piled into Adam's minivan and headed to Animania. We were burning for a new name and decided that we'd have a new name for the club by the time we got home. We made absolutely no progress. Eventually, we set a deadline for ourselves. Whatever we came up with, if we didn't settle by the end of the trip home, we'd stick with it. Kurt joked that we should call ourselves Manna Anime, after the name of the Korean food market where we parked and walked to the Animania showings. No one could think of anything better. It stuck.
Our first meeting under the new name was in May. We advertised more heavily than ever and it paid off. We managed to attract 4 future members in the next three months. Jonathan Obien was an Animania friend who agreed to help us out in our little venture. He was a doctoral student as Wayne State at the time and was more than willing to help out. Justin Sevakis was a Seaholm student who saw one of our flyers and was perhaps the only person to ever read a Manna flyer in the school. John Pfeiffer showed up one meeting and offered to bring a big TV for us to use instead of the 4 TV system we were using. He also gave us about 6 or 7 things for free which he said we could give away. I tore up some paper and we had the first Manna raffle. Finally, Kurt sent me an e-mail from one of our attendees who was interested in helping us out. He worked for a company that made T-shirts and other merchandise. That was Jim Wuerch.
However, Manna proceeded to lose as many members as it was gaining. Kurt White went off to U Chicago, leaving me in charge of the club. Although Ben and Adam were both founding members as well, it was me and Kurt who fought out what we should show and wrung out what little policies we had. Ben would later leave for Hampshire College. Adam stuck around and was placed in charge of room contracts.
With the departures came new responsibilities. John became tape archiver, taking Kurt's job. Ben's job of TV and AV equip was also filled by John. My job became more and more figurehead, but I was still in charge of the website, all publications until Justin started a newsletter, treasurer, and club policy. In theory at least, I was president.
The time between May 1995 and December 1996 was the best year and a half for Manna. We were having a lot of fun, and it seemed like we couldn't get bigger. We had to move downstairs into the Green Room because we were drawing between 70-90 people. Money couldn't stop flowing into the club. It was a great time. We would go back to John's place and play around after meetings. The ceremony of coughing up $5 to pay for the room ended with our new fortune. I calculated once that each raffle was netting around $80 during this time period. A sad fact, given that the money was so poorly managed. But who knew what would happen at the end of that year.
Although I had begun attending college, I still had not given up the reins of Manna. Mainly, it stemmed from a meeting that I missed where John's TV broke and bad air seemed to swirl all around. Since that meeting, I swore I wouldn't miss another, and allow Manna to fall apart. I had planned on pushing more responsibilities onto Justin's shoulders. He was a high school student with a lot of time and a healthy interest in anime. I thought that by May 1997, finishing up 2 years of running the club, I would step down and get on with my college weekend fun.
Jim made mousepads for us to sell at meetings, and the additional revenue fed our craze. The Silverbowl Thai restaurant became the scene of in-between Manna meetings, in order to plan what we would do in the next couple weeks for the upcoming showing. Hanging out at Neo-Tokyo in Royal Oak became the thing to do. It is the time I will always remember as the best time to be a Manna member. We would stand outside in the cold and shoot the breeze, whether it was outside Neo-Tokyo, outside Silverbowl, or outside the library.
One memory I have of the time was I think over the 1996 summer, me and Jim visited the Order of Leibowitz anime showing at Oakland University. We walked in and saw 2 minutes of Dragonball and walked out. It was a dissappointment, especially given their excellent facilities, that they couldn't show anything better. We were walking back outside getting ready to go home when Jim pointed to an arcade game: Tekken 2. I'd seen people play it before, but I had never played. He said he'd go easy on me. By the next Manna, Jim dragged his playstation to John's house and we were rematching at Tekken 2.
I realize now that if I had been paying a little more attention, I would have seen the coming of the end. Because all things have to end sometime. And the happy times of Manna were to end rather abruptly. Although it was the best time to be a Manna member, Manna itself was in shambles. We weren't getting anything done on time and the slack was beginning to show. Inevitably, hostilities arose. Geordie Calhoun was made a Manna member, sort of lackadaisically.
I believe the beginning of the end was marked by the breaking of John's TV in the spring of 1996. From then on, the situation progressed to a worse and worse state. By December, John announced that he would leave Manna. That was sort of a shock. Although he said he would make us copies still, we never saw any tapes from him again. He was going to undertake a subtitling project and was no longer interested in pursuing Manna. In his words, he felt that no one else in the club was contributing. Justin left with him. Actually, Justin was kicked out. With John now gone and his tapes inaccessible, the idea that Justin could ride the fence between Manna and the newly formed Kodocha fansubbing group was intolerable. He had to decide, and the remaining Manna members made it awful easy for him.
Whether by coincidence or not, Jonathan also happened to be leaving for a position in Nebraska in January. So, three big contributing members were lost in one month. None of us had the tapes at the ready to supply us with enough material to continue the club past March. Jim said not to worry and that he would get his friends to help out. Neither me nor Adam were very confident about that. After all, Jim hadn't done too much before, except mousepads. Were we ever surprised.
Turns out, Jim had many fansubber friends and suppliers at the ready, thanks to IRC. If I had known before, I would have started IRCing earlier. As it was, Jim is the cause of my ruin and IRC addiction now. It was not long before Jim had fansubs to show and they were new. Brand new. We had thought it unprecedented to be showing anime so new that they were unheard of by us. We would watch shows that were in Newtype the month before.
The jewel of the the new reign of Manna was MannaCon, a little con we did in May to make up for a lack of a June showing. It happened to coincide with the Manna birthday perfectly. Although attendance was a bust, it was the most ambitious thing Manna has done to date, with 4 rooms at the library in use, with 2 rooms having anime on for all 5 hours. It also marks the beginning of IRC influence in Manna. From MannaCon onward, #anime folk began to pour into Manna.
Geordie did eventually fall off the face of the earth. However, we got some new blood into the ranks. Tracy Baker (Bellchan) was soon coming to meetings monthly. Sean (Ryunosuke) and Demian (Mink) were coming as well, all IRCers. Manna became the #anime meeting spot for the entire Midwest. Kara (Asuka) was a regular and was made an official member.
Somewhere along the line, Josh, Andre, and Jack showed up, from Jim's Japanese classes at Oakland U. I'm not so good at recent history.
I think the peak of this last stretch of Manna was going to Anime Central 1998 with Jim. It was a lot of fun and it seemed like Jim knew everyone who was worth knowing. There wasn't a fansubber who didn't at least know of him. It was like hanging with a fansub celebrity. I was pretty sure that was the tops.
In December 1999, this third epoch of Manna came to an end. Jim left for the West Coast. The first age of Manna was the early years of Kurt and Ben and Adam and me. The second age was John and Justin and me. The third age was Jim and Adam and me. This fourth age, however, will have little to do with me. It became obvious to us, with increasingly hostile relations with the library, that we would have to move, and the decision went to moving to Oakland University. As of May 2000, I officially turned over any leadership I had over Manna to Josh. The only role I agreed to maintain was webmaster.
The fourth age of Manna is just beginning now. I'm sure it'll be a good ride. Manna has weathered a lot of storms and been through more trials than I would like to ever see an anime club undergo. But it's survived. It's outlived more Metro Detroit anime clubs than I care to count. It's lost 7 members over its brief 5 year existence. But it gives me a good feeling knowing that Manna is still alive and although not in its prime, is certainly kicking.
Perhaps the best feeling in the world is knowing that you actually made a difference. At Anime Central 1998, and again at Anime Central 2000, I saw some people, a few here and there, who had made their way through Manna during my 5 years in the club. There is nothing so satisfying as knowing that if not for your efforts, they wouldn't be there, enjoying anime like you do.
Sometimes I wonder if I really liked anime at all, but when I rifle through my old tapes and watch stuff that me and Ben and Kurt used to watch in Ben's living room, still high on the euphoria of being introduced to anime, I realize that anime has brought me so much and I realize how much I miss those times.
To anyone just starting in anime, cherish the times. They may just be some of the best times of your life.