By Sean Kleefeld
In the summer of 2010, Tokyopop founder Stu Levy took a cast of six American otaku and a film crew in order to explore otaku culture in the continental U.S. and find “America’s Greatest Otaku.” Otaku is a Japanese word used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime and manga. Historically, it’s had a relatively negative connotation, but somewhat in tandem with the acceptance of “geek culture” here in the United States, being an otaku has become more acceptable. Christopher Wanamaker was the winner named as America’s Greatest Otaku, and is founder and president of the DC Anime Club.
MTV Geek: Let’s start with a little personal history, if you don’t mind. You’ve been watching anime since your childhood, right? Do you recall how you first discovered anime and what first attracted you to it compared to, say, American cartoons?
Wanamaker: I first discovered anime when I was at Erol’s video store with my folks. I would always get Marvel animated shows from the 80’s and such and I was only about 7 years old. I brother suggested we try something new so we picked up Captain Harlock and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I was blown away by the animation quality of Captain Harlock and the trailers that followed from Lens Man to Candy Candy. From then on I started watching as much anime as I could. Until age 14 when I got my summer job and just blew all my money on anime VHS. I would always by the dubbed anime since they were cheaper and Idid not get the concept of Dubbed vs Subbed really. More of a go with the flow type of guy.
Geek: You’re more of subtitles type of guy these days, I gather?
Wanamaker: I go for both since I feel that both have their strong points. With Dubbed anime some series are funnier. For example, Shinesmen or the well-directed dub of Cowboy Bebop. Subtitle anime I love just because of the overall emotion and production of how the voice acting is done. Unlike in the US, voice acting in Japan all in one room like one of those old radio shows. I wish I saw this while I was in Tokyo, Japan where I visited Toei Animation Studio but I think the voice acting is done in another studio. Still studying this process.
Geek: When did you first start really getting into it more than your friends and classmates at the time? Was it one show in particular, or several that happened to be airing at around the same time?
Wanamaker: I think the whole story about my Erol’s adventure is when I started getting into anime even more so. I was just hooked and wanted to see more.
Geek: Can you talk about when and how you first started getting in contact with other fans? At this point, were you aware of the notion of otaku or did you just consider yourself a fan of anime?
Wanamaker: I remember when my folks got the internet AOL back when you had to make sure you were not on the internet so people could call you on the phone. I would talk to people online about anime. Not a lot of people were into anime like I was, so I did not show my love for anime that much back then not because I was afraid of being made fun of. But there was not a lot of people I could talk to about anime or even manga. My brother and his friends would always just watch what I bought from Sam Goody or Suncoast.
Geek: That would have been the early/mid-1990s, wouldn’t it? When/how did you start finding and reaching out to other fans?
Wanamaker: I say around 1998 when I first joined my first college base anime club the Starlight Anime Society of Prince Georges Community College which I later became the president of. I was also the president and founder of another anime club at ITT Tech institute. Between the two anime clubs, I used to hang out at least 4-5 anime clubs a week in the DC Metro area. FYI, I hate saying DC Metro area since I was born in raised in DC and to me there is a BIG difference between Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. Anywho, I loved hanging out at these anime clubs and some have been an influence for me starting up DC Anime Club.
Geek: In 2003, you founded the DC Anime Club. What prompted you to start a formal club, as opposed just enjoying anime with other fans you already knew?
Wanamaker: One of the local libraries wanted a bunch of clubs to get the kids in the library, and an anime club was one of them since anime is the popular thing at the time and still is among teens. I saw a flyer and talked with the librarian and brought in my collection. The club grew, but the contact for the library that we were meeting at the time left. So we had a new contact who we had differences with, so we went our separate ways and tried different locations until we settled on our current location Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC.
Geek: You briefly alluded to manga earlier, but did getting in contact with other anime fans through the Club increase your interest in other areas of otaku culture besides anime and manga? Is that when you started getting an interest in cosplay as well?
Wanamaker: Yes, it did. And as for cosplay, I started to do cosplay as an example for my fellow members, as we were introducing cosplay at Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Gallery as part of Smithsonian Anime Marathon where DC Anime Club works with Smithsonian and Otakorp (the folks who run Otakon) to introduce anime each year as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.