Oh hey, look at me being surprisingly consistent with my interviews! This time though I chatted with someone over the weekend and managed to do so sans email! I’m just good like that.
…Anyways, it has been a while since I’ve gotten to talk with an anime blogger, so I hope you enjoy my talk with one half of Stereo Otaku, Whitney Bandel.
Justin: So talk a little about yourself and how Stereo Otaku got started.
Whitney Bandel: I like to write a lot about some of my various hobbies, and I already had a blog that I didn’t use anymore that talked about art and books and sometimes anime and manga, but I wanted to have a blog that focused more on just anime, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed or if our readers have noticed, but Crystal’s definitely the more eloquent writer since that’s what she’s studying so I figured that it’d be nice to do a project with her. I came up with the idea right when we were both going to grad school — she moved to Indiana and I moved to Illinois — so I wanted to be able to still talk to her about anime every week, so then we just decided that we’re going to review something new each week in a format that would be a little different and unique.
I’ve had friends say that when me and Crystal are in the same room as each other that we have a tendency to ignore everyone else and just kind of get in our own zone and isolate people, or it’s kind of like a surround sound of the same noise which is where I came up with our top banner of that “Bera bera bera bera bera bera”–
I noticed that!
Haha, that’s why it’s Stereo Otaku because we’re like stereo I guess!
So how did you get interested in anime?
I have an aunt who’s Japanese and she gave us My Neighbor Totoro when the Fox version first came out, and I fell in love with it. I had no idea where it came from, what the origin was, and I think I was so young that I didn’t really understand what being from another country was. I didn’t understand Japan existed, and that somehow the animation was different. Like other people my age I started watching stuff on TV like Pokemon, Cardcaptors — and with Cardcaptors I realized by going online that there was Cardcaptor Sakura, which is the un-bastardized version. And then I just started getting more and more interested in CLAMP stuff and then going out and researching things that were coming out in Japan.
Can you talk about how you both plan your reviews? You have your reviews out every Tuesday, so how do you get together to talk about what anime you’re going to review and how you write it out?
The tricky part about staging our reviews is that I wanted to try to create the feeling of this conversation going back and forth between me and Crystal. We don’t have enough time and we’re really not savvy enough to do a podcast, which I think a podcast would be the perfect way for us to really demonstrate that kind of back and forth conversation. But I figured if we could do something where I share my views and she can comment on it and she can tell me how much of an idiot I am (laughs) and–
Yeah, Crystal’s the blunt one. I even put that into our little characters, trying to make a caricature of us where she seems like she has the more blunt personality and I’m the more laid back one. But I wanted to give us both a chance to say something and then comment back, and we’ve played a little bit with having a chat room type format, but I wanted everything to be pretty straightforward, so if you just wanted to go look at setting or characters you can scroll down and look at that. But we always have an opportunity to reply on what the other person says.
As far as reviewing stuff, we can’t review anything that we haven’t watched in the last 2 years…which sometimes we fib on that a little just ’cause we’re starting to run out on things and we don’t have time to watch new stuff as much as we like. We usually sit down once a month and talk on the phone, and come up with a list of things — like I know we have a list of VS reviews, we have a huge list of things we need to watch or finish. For the VS ones we try to pick ones where our tastes are very different. In a lot of ways we watch a lot of the same kind of things, so I wanna kind of highlight how our opinions differ to benefit the readers.
I picked Tue because it seemed like a day that nobody else puts stuff up on. I don’t know if that’s true or not but it just seems like that there’s not a lot to look forward to on Tuesdays. I didn’t do any research on this.
One of the reasons I’ve been interested in your blog is the format of your posts — it’s a bit different from most blogs that do anime reviews. Why did you decide to something else as opposed to the typical posts?
Well part of that was wanting to create that feeling that there’s a dialogue going back and forth, so that way it does feel like a spoken conversation but it also gives us time to write out thoughts. I’m not the most eloquent person when I’m speaking, so it takes me a while to formulate an idea and write it down. But we were also thinking how could we make this stand out so that way people will want to read it and also how can we write something in a way that will benefit the readers because you can go on Anime News Network or some other blog and you can get the same information whereas with me and Crystal we’ve always had the same interests ever since we were little, we’ve always done everything together and she’s my best friend. We’ve both, I’d say, have watched enough stuff that we have a good idea of what might be good or bad, at least for our taste. And our tastes are similar enough, but in the ways that they’re different I think that’s the part that can help the readers, as these are the slight little things that account for personality.
You made a comment about how you can tell whether an anime can be good or bad. Can you talk about what do you specifically look for when you watch an anime, movie, OVA, or a TV series?
I would say that part of Stereo Otaku is trying to practice writing about art from an academic point of view because I am in grad school, and trying to hone my skills like in talking and writing about art. And Crystal has her Masters in Literature and she actually focused her Masters on cultural studies and children’s literature so she’s already been writing academic articles about manga, so we’re both looking at it from academic standpoint, trying to bring in her background and her masters in Literature and then I’m trying to bring in the practice skills I’m getting from my Masters of Fine Art. So it’s a very academic approach I would say, which is unfortunate because when I am watching a show a lot of times I’m watching for entertainment value because there’s a lot of stuff that I appreciate and I like but maybe the way I write about doesn’t get that idea across to readers.
For example, I remember I loved Bunny Drop but i think the way I wrote about it was more academic and gave across as maybe the show wasn’t breaking the rules of anime, completely changing the world, so obviously it’s definitely a more academic approach rather than writing about entertainment and how fun it is to watch something.
With this academic approach to anime, do you take the time to leave that to the side a bit and then watch anime to enjoy it or when you watch any anime, do you look at it from an academic point of view when you’re not planning to review it?
A lot of the shows that we’ve written about I’d say that since we’ve watched them before we even started the blog that we weren’t really thinking that way at all, we were just watching it for entertainment. Even now the shows that I’m watching like Space Brothers or something I’m watching it because I love watching it. I’m not necessarily picking it apart but now that we write about shows as we watch them I’m definitely thinking more analytically and think of what they doing. For the most part though, I just want to still have anime be the thing I look forward to, that doesn’t stress me out every week, kind of my escape from the world. So I kind of watch shows and look back on them through an academic filter but at the same time you need to be able to watch shows and enjoy it. You shouldn’t be thinking too hard about a show!
You’ve been blogging for a while now so what have you learned since starting Stereo Otaku?
…That I can actually keep doing something for over a year? Admittedly I feel like I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really had time to stop and think about it very much. It’s kind of become a weekly practice or something that I’m doing. I definitely feel like it’s re-energized my need to connect with anime. My mom always said “Oh well you gonna grow up and stop watching those stupid cartoons” and I always wanted to prove her wrong (laughs). And now that I’m doing these reviews I feel like I have a purpose whereas I need to make sure I’m watching new stuff and I feel more validated in it.
I don’t know about your experience in school, but I felt like in undergrad, when I would talk to other people studying Fine Arts it was looked down upon for someone to admit that they still like anime, like oh that’s what people do before they become adults and I feel like in grad school now I’m really busy and it’s hard to find time for watching anime, but I feel blogging has given me a purpose for it. I think in some ways it helps me think about my Masters studies and everything a little bit differently too because now I’m starting to think about how film works and how story building works and how I can incorporate that into my own artwork a little bit. So I guess I’m starting to be more aware of things how they put together.
Finally, what kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to start blog, become a reviewer, etc?
I think just stick with it and don’t worry if people aren’t paying any attention to you. You need to do it more for yourself than doing it to become popular or to have conversations with people. I definitely like it when people comment and try and build up a conversation because I love talking about anime, but I think doing it more for yourself and having your own goal in mind of what you want to accomplish is important. So my goal was I wanted to keep having these conversations with Crystal when we’re in different states and I wanted to keep watching anime and making sure it was a part of my life and I wanted to hone my writing skills. But I think just having a goal in mind and keeping with it and then just keep adapting it.
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