As the 1980’s wore on, anime in North America slowly increased its popularity almost by stealth. In the mid 1980’s, a group called Animation of Nippon Inter-Mediary Exchange, or A.N.I.M.E. for short, had sprung up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and by 1987 up to 200 people were showing up to monthly club meetings. Out of this group in October 1987 emerged not only the debut issue of the second English language fan published English anime magazine, but arguably the best anime magazine to be published in North America; Animag.
Started primarily by Matthew Anacleto, Ann Schubert, and Dana Fong, the debut issued featured articles on anime that were quite popular amongst fans in North America at the time such as “Area 88”, “Iczer 1”, “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” and of course “Gundam”. Like most fan publications of the time and being in era where there was no English language anime home video market to speak of, all of the articles were essentially synopsises. The second issue followed the same format as the first, but with a couple of colour pages and colour centrefold type posters at each end of the magazine’s cover. The magazine also increased its page count from 36 pages to 44 pages. A couple more familiar names joined the magazine at this stage including Toren Smith and Toshifumi Yoshida who would latter work for Viz (and become the husband of Trish Ledoux). The third and fourth issues in 1988 brought about a number of changes. Trish Ledoux (of Animerica fame) joined as an associate editor in the third issue and would become editor the following issue. A news section was added in issue three and the following saw two new columns including a Q&A section with contributions from readers and Anime Ja Nai (“It’s Not Anime”, a title taken from the opening theme song from “Gundam ZZ”). Anime Ja Nai began as series of articles looking to various aspects of anime culture and production, but soon devolved into an Animage style character poll and eventually morphed into a humorous look at anime. I think Animag also was the first anime English language magazine to publish manga as an insert, with sample pages of “Grey” placed in issue four and another insert containing a sample of the manga “Appleseed” in the following issue.
By the fifth issue in 1988, the magazine was published by Pacific Rim Publishing Company and in the process received wider distribution. A number of regular features began this issue including Mecha File and in the following issue a regular look at manga called Mongo’s Manga and a column on model making called Animated Plastic. A new insert/newsletter called Ronin Network appeared in the magazine from issue six. This was a newsletter that contained fan club information as well as giveaways and additional anime news. Initially it came free with the magazine, but soon required a separate subscription. Unfortunately due to rising costs the newsletter disappeared after a few issues. While the magazine continued to mainly contain anime synopses, other articles began to slowly appear such as Frederick L. Schodt’s article on robot icons in issue five and an article on Osamu Tezuka in issue seven. Around the late 1988 and into 1989, the magazine had begun interviewing some big names in the anime industry; Leiji Matsumoto, Yoshiyuki Sadamato, voice actor Maria Kawamura and even Carl Macek.
As the years progressed some familiar names would join the staff roster. Along with Trish Ledoux and Toshifumi Yoshida, other future Animerica staff members such as Mark Simmons and Julie Davis also joined the magazine. With this roster of talent, as you can imagine the articles were very detailed and well written. A magazine of this standard was extremely useful to an English speaking fandom that for the most part could not speak a word of Japanese. Especially since this was an era with little internet usage, practically no fansubs or even commercial video tapes, let alone anything resembling a North American anime industry. For a lot of fans of that era, the only time they saw anime was on horribly expensive laserdiscs imported from Japan, or on snowy multiple generation video tapes, or on TV as “Robotech” or “Star Blazers”. It’s safe to say that the magazine was an absolute godsend to many fans. Apart from the articles, the most striking thing about Animag was its cover artwork. Unlike most magazines that just use promotional artwork supplied by anime companies, nearly all of Animag’s covers were drawn and painted by US fans. A lot of them, especially the early covers, are just spectacular and I’m sure a lot of Japanese anime magazines would be proud to have the artwork on their front cover.
1991 saw a number of changes. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but the magazine left Pacific Rim and with issue, volume 2, issue 1, Malibu Graphics became the publisher. Matthew Anacleto became editor once again (for a single issue), with no sign of Trish Ledoux in the staff credits. This was around the same time Viz began publication of Animerica, so one can only assume she was working for Viz by now. Some posts on rec.arts.anime.misc suggest Ledoux did work on the final three issues of the magazine, albiet uncredited. Dana Kurtin took over editorial duties for the final two issues of the magazine. Apparently the move from Pacific Rim wasn’t exactly amicable and there were some allegations the magazine had been subjected to, or at least threatened with legal action. A number of posts on rec.arts.anime.misc from posters claiming to be linked with Animag staff refute these allegations. Another post from October 1992 included excerpts from an letter to a subscriber of Animag from Pacific Rim head honcho Jeffry Tibbetts. In the letter, Tibbetts laid out his side of the story and placed the blame for the split squarely on Yoshida and Anacleto. Tibbetts also claimed he sicced his attorney on to them, apparently to no effect. Whether that’s true or not, I really have no idea. What I do know is that the situation with Animag apparently had unintended consequences for another magazine in Pacific Rim’s stable, Markalite magazine (a magazine I’ll be looking at some time in the future). Allegedly Pacific Rim had cut and run leaving Markalite out in the cold and effectively killing off the magazine as the publisher was taking care of their subscriptions and the cash flow.
However the magazine continued to survive through 1991 and on to 1992. The final three issues included articles on the anime that were popular at the time; “Nadia of the Mysterious Seas”, “Record of Lodoss Wars” and “Legend of Galactic Heroes” as well as a smattering of older, mostly mecha anime. Early anime conventions such as Animecon ’91 and Anime Expo ’92 were reported on in great detail. A short lived video gaming column was introduced as well as a couple of articles on western animation. In 1993 with the volume 2, issue 3 magazine finally published after a long delay, Animag just seemed to implode. Why this happened is a bit of a mystery. There’s very little in the public domain which explains its fate. I did read some messages on rec.arts.anime which allege that the final issue was delayed when one ex-staff member had threatened to sue the magazine over the use of a photograph. Also around that time Viz was launching their new anime magazine Animerica. We know a lot of staff that worked on Animag would later write for Animerica. Who knows if that had any influence on its demise?
It’s very unfortunate and ironic that a high quality anime magazine as Animag would disappear at the very moment anime conventions, fandom and an industry had just stated to make its presence noticed by the community at large. The final issue of Animag included advertisements from the main players in this new emerging industry such as A.D .Vision, Animego and Central Park Media, as well as an article on US Renditions.
Flipping through the magazines as I write this article, the thing which sticks out like nobody’s business is the really heavy focus on mecha and other related “shonen” type anime. Sure the magazine had the usual articles you’d expect to find such as synopses of Hayao Miyazaki and Ghibli films, but practically nothing on anime or manga which was aimed at young women or girls. I suppose this was a sign of the times. The fact was a lot of anime fans in the late 1980’s to the early 1990’s were mostly interested in sci-fi type anime and overwhelmingly male, so I suspect it wasn’t the case that the staff were ignoring those genres. The second thing which struck me was the fact the magazine continued to be predominantly printed in black and white for its entire life. Again, I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising. US anime fandom was still in its infancy at this time. And like a lot of magazines of this period you can dig though and find a fair wack of information which you certainly can’t find on the web. For example issue three has an excellent article on Gainax’s pilot film for the unmade “R20: Galactic Airport” movie. A latter article on Animecon ’91 has a side bar on the child killer Tsutomu Miyazaki (the infamous “Otaku” killer) and the impact it had on the Japanese anime industry, though from what I’ve read elsewhere about the case maybe some of the information on Miyazaki in this article should be taken with a grain of salt.
I probably put Animag as an equal second (with Manga Max) in terms of my all-time favourite anime magazines (Anime UK/FX is my favourite English language magazine of all time). Though it certainly didn’t have the slickness in terms of design like many magazines which followed it, Animag was certainly a lot more substantial than most of them. The articles were brilliant and I still refer back to the magazine for info occasionally. I’d really recommend hunting down copies of the magazine if you’re into anime nostolgia and old 1980’s mecha shows. Copies of almost every issue are quite plentiful and cheap on eBay.