FEATURE: A Look Back at the Anime Clubs of the ’90s

Anime in the U.S. has come a long way

Yu Yu Hakusho


We live in a golden age for anime fans. Not only are there hundreds of high-definition animated series and movies available literally at our fingertips, but some are also even available the same day they air in Japan!


It’s not an exaggeration to say that for fans who congregated in anime clubs during the 1990s, the current state of anime would have been simply unimaginable. Let’s take a look back at the beginning of anime popularity in the U.S. and a few series you can watch right here on Crunchyroll to capture the magic of the anime club communities of the ’90s.


Early anime fandom in the U.S.



Episodes of hit shonen anime and shojo favorites were traded through the mail as VHS tapes. Sometimes you’d open the mailbox to find a tape copy of a tape copy of a… well, you get the idea. But you wouldn’t mind, because in-hand tapes were almost the only option for anime fans in the states 30+ years ago.


For those who didn’t have community connections, there was another option to get your hands on the series you were dying to see: anime clubs at high schools and colleges. In the 1990s, clubs at large universities filled classroom auditoriums with hundreds of students.


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On Friday nights at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, you’d find showings for episodes of Tenchi Muyo!, Outlaw Star and Cat Girl Nuku Nuku in a packed room in the chemistry building. When the showing was done, you could mosey over to another room in the building and check out a tape from the UT Anime Club’s large collection to watch at home. And it was all free.


Janeka Rector got involved with the UT Anime Club in the summer of 1996. She started attending viewings every Friday night and stepped up to help with the club. She was dubbed the “Showing Czarina” as she curated the anime shown every week.




“To watch fantastic stories unfold and to be able to share them with others, to get the movie theater-style experience was so unique and amazing for me,” Janeka told us in an interview. She worked with the other officers of the club to provide a balance of shojo and shonen titles for appreciative anime fans.


“We wanted to appeal to everyone, and I would purposefully plan the order of the showing with our audience in mind,” Janeka said. “Occasionally we would have parents bring their teenagers or local high school kids would sneak in, so we wanted to be responsible stewards of our content… And we also tried to get new shows and air classics so our audience could be entertained and well-rounded.”


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Even though it’s been almost 25 years since her anime club days, Janeka still has fond memories of the Friday nights in the chemistry building. “I can remember one moment from my first screening so clearly,” she recalled. “Early in the evening, we were watching Fushigi Yugi, Episode 14, ‘Wolf in the Fortress,’ and at the end of the episode, the damsel Miaka is suddenly rescued by the hero Tamahome in a great fight scene which ends with her running into his arms —only for him to disappear because he was a magical illusion. The reaction from the audience was electric. Everyone felt that moment, even if they suspected it was coming! And it cemented my love for the group.”


Reliving the glory days



Fire up the projector, set up a screen in the backyard, invite your friends and get ready to go back in time with an anime club showing of your own! Thankfully, Crunchyroll is home to some classic series from the ’90s and early ’00s that might be found in a typical anime club showing. No fuzzy VHS copies here. Even if you watched these picks back in your college days, you’ve probably never seen them as clear and vibrant as they are now.


Slam Dunk isn't just a sports anime; it's practically the sports anime. It's still so popular, in fact, that the latest Slam Dunk animated film is currently dominating the Japanese box office. Go back to where it all started in 1993 with the original TV series. Hanamichi Sakuragi and his teammates navigate high school, basketball, friendships, and romance in this landmark anime. Can they overcome their differences and win the national basketball championship for Shohoku High School?


RELATED: Which Series Made You Fall in Love With Anime?


Yu Yu Hakusho is the adventure of delinquent-turned-spirit detective Yusuke Urameshi. After he dies while saving a child's life, the teenager gets a second chance at life along with the opportunity to make up for his previous mistakes. Together with his friends — who are also punks with hearts of gold — Urameshi fights to protect the world from monsters. This classic shonen anime is a must-see for fans of series with epic fight scenes and explosive action.


Looking for less action and more feelings? Marmalade Boy hits the spot when you're in the mood for shojo. The romantic comedy begins with the tried and true anime premise of two high schoolers thrown into each other's lives thanks to some parental shenanigans. The story of Miki Koishikawa and Yuu Matsuura just gets wilder and more melodramatic from there. If soap operas are your bread and butter, add some Marmalade Boy on top.


There's also Kimagure Orange Road, Magic Knight RayearthRecord of Lodoss War, and so much more vintage goodness to discover. There's no time like the present to rewatch or catch up on that classic anime you've had your eye on!


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Heero Yuy in Gundam Wing


If you’re a history buff, it doesn’t get much better than Sean Leonard’s in-depth examination of anime in the U.S. beginning as early as the 1960s. Progress Against the Law: Fan Distribution, Copyright, and the Explosive Growth of Japanese Animation looks at the distribution of anime in clubs, the early days of anime conventions and other interesting facts from the advent of digital media to the end of the '90s.


Were you a part of an anime club? What were your favorite series from those days? Tell us in the comments below!


This article written by Kelly Knox was originally published on the Funimation Blog on June 7, 2021.




Kelly Knox has been an anime fan for over 20 years. She's a pop culture writer and author in the Seattle area and you can always find her on Twitter.

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