Q & A: Bryan Hartzheim

Bryan was animeOnline's Tokyo Editor; you know, the guy who lives in Tokyo, Japan, and took care of all the Japan-related reporting and live coverage.

Having lived in Japan for over 2 years, Bryan found a job at animeOnline after seeing a posting on a job forum asking for anyone interested in anime who could also speak conversational Japanese. Bryan's current whereabouts are currently unknown, but rumor has it that he may be making a return to the U.S. soon...

Please introduce yourself

Bryan Hartzheim: I'm Bryan Hartzheim, the editor known as Bryan. I was the Tokyo Editor for aO, meaning I was the guy stationed in Japan to conduct interviews in Japanese, do on-site reporting, and attend press conferences or screenings of Japan-exclusive concerts, shows, events, yaoi orgies, etc. I also reported daily on anime and manga news from Japan, as well as J-pop, TV, and general culture and Japanese news.

How did you end up with animeOnline?

Bryan: It was really a stroke of luck and fate. I saw a posting on a job forum asking for anyone interested in anime who could speak conversational Japanese. I sent in an email, which was followed by a request for some writing samples. After a couple phone interviews with the mysterious unnamed man at the end of the phone line, I was offered a job by a Mr. Rob Bricken to join the aO news staff. I've heard that a lot of people trying to break into anime or game journalism by starting a blog, posting away for years, and hoping someone notices, but aO just sort of fell into my inexperienced lap.

In your opinion, what was animeOnline's goal? What were you trying to accomplish?

Bryan: From the very beginning, I understood aO as sort of the 1up of the online anime world. There are tons of cool independent anime news sites with some forum functionality and series wikis and whatever, but we were trying to be the first site to bring it under a slightly more professional label with some heavy user feedback. And while anime and manga news are groovy, there's really only so much important or interesting info going on each and every day, which is where J-pop, J-drama, weird J-food, and pretty much anything-else Japanesey came in. Our focus was still anime and manga, but with some general Japanese stuff thrown in.

animeOnline is owned by Funimation, how did the deal work?

Bryan: Navarre, not Funimation, is the one who gave aO money. There seems to be a lot of confusion on this part, and I think it stems from us getting free DVDs to give away for the series wiki.

animeOnline opened to the public in February, how long was the site in development before then? Were there any drastic changes made to the site before it went public?

Bryan: I was brought on in December, but the groundwork was being laid as far back as last August, I believe.

Was there any major obstacle you encountered?

Bryan: The real obstacles I'm sure were faced by the technical department. As the lowly journalist, the first couple months of the site's development were catch-up months for me. I had followed manga pretty seriously and anime fairly casually, so I had to get caught up with titles I initially had no interest in, which consisted mainly of shojo or love comedy anime, as not to appear like an uninitiated moron when reporting about something like School Days or Kimi Kiss.

Other anime/manga social networking websites have been popping up around the web these days, like Tokyopop and AnimeMine, what's your opinion of these social networking sites as someone who have worked on a social networking site? What do you see as the future for these kind of sites? Will they continue to grow in numbers, or is this just a temporary trend? Or will they be overshadowed by established sites like LiveJournal or MySpace, which already have anime communities of their own?

Bryan: I haven't really checked these sites out extensively, but they still seem to be getting off the ground. One thing that's difficult to establish with social-networking sites is a base of users. The most successful social sites like MySpace or Facebook start with a core group - in those sites' cases, college kids - and spread from there to the general public. Since an anime social site wouldn't generally appeal to the larger public, the reach is certainly limited.

But I think it's incorrect to believe that since there are already social sites that cater to anime fans, an anime social site is moot. Before Facebook, there was MySpace, and before that, there was Friendster, and before that, livejournal, and Xanga, and Orkut, and Hi5, and countless others that all managed to co-exist, at least if you look at the top-rated sites on Alexa. They all offer something a little different, and anime/manga/J-culture social sites would appeal to a different subset more exclusively than any existing major sites. It takes time for these kinds of things to grow, so I would encourage anyone who starts to give it about two-three years. Of course, you should have a job or something while doing this.

Tell us what's a normal day at animeOnline for you, how do you work?

Bryan: I can't speak for the others, but since I'm the Tokyo guy, I didn't have the luxury of an office. Basically, my day begins with me waking up screaming in pain from the lousy sleep provided by my threadbare futon. I throw on some boxers so as not to get sweat all over my cheap wooden piece of s*** of a computer chair, and then I turn on my PC and go digging for news.

If I leave my posts until the night, it's usually because I had some pictures to take during the day, or I was really hung over. Usually the latter.

How were reader contributions?

Bryan: Mostly great. There were a few obnoxious lunatics cloying for some more free DVDs when the site went down and we all lost our jobs, but I have a good deal of respect for nearly every reader who chimed in. There were a few times, though, when I would spend a shit-ton of time on a very comprehensive, picture-laden exclusive only to get something like no comments, whereas my drunken post of some photoshopped naked Rei nipples would get 50. Go figure, T&A sells.

According to the official announcement, this is the end of the Beta stage of the site; will there be a day when the site "officially launches"?

Bryan: I didn't even know we were in Beta. That was news to me. I just thought the BETA tag at the top of our pages was to preemptively excuse ourselves from any and all grammatical and factual errors.

Any interesting animeOnline-related story or behind-the-scene tidbits you'd like to tell us about?

Bryan: Seeing as how I'm in Japan, I was away from a lot of the animeOnline madness. I'm surrounded by madness of a different kind here every day.

What are some of the websites you visit everyday? Share your bookmark with us!

Bryan: I like the Japanese sites as they keep up my Japanese, as well as anime/manga knowledge: Rakuga Kidou, Moon Phase, and anime!anime! are run by sharp dudes. I shamelessly head to ANN for official news, but Japanator, new home of my former colleague Dale, has a carefree tone more along the lines of aO's. It's anime, man; we should have some fun reporting the stuff. I while I'm promoting former co-workers, TheOtaku is a cool site for anime and manga news, and the head reporter there is ex-aO News Editor Gia, who doesn't sleep, and when she does, I think it's in a chair. I didn't actually hear about ComiPress until I started working for aO, but after you linked to my article about the auctioning of a giant Angel Heart mallet, I liked you guys. I'm a regular now.

I check out the Gawker (Kotaku, Gizmodo) sites pretty consistently for video games and gadgets news, and Japan Probe has a wonderful editor who is brilliant at putting up quirky and amusing video of aspects of Japanese culture.

Since you live in Japan and have probably visited many Japanese anime/manga sites when gathering news for would you compare Japan's online anime community to U.S. communites? What are the differences, or are they the same?

Bryan: Japan has 2channel, a huge discussion forum that I think is of the largest of its kind in the world. That's the beginning and end of hard-core commentary. The U.S. has a bunch of smaller, MySpace-esque places where you can post glam shots of you pounding tequila shots out of a plastic sombrero or whatever other BS you did on the weekend, but in terms of a discussion forum, there's really nothing on the scale of 2ch. It's dominated by anime and manga, but every possible avenue is covered in their cavernous chatrooms.

Favorite Anime/Manga?

Bryan: I typically answer Cowboy Bebop or Neon Genesis Evangelion to anyone who asks this. There's something to be said for being loyal to what hooked you in the first place. Eva possesses so many classic scenes; it's the anime version of Casablanca. Or Star Wars. And CB is just a great piece of neo-noir cinema, period. I also just watched Code Geass in about two days. Considering I no longer have the stomach or endurance for mega anime marathons, that should say something about the series watchability.

Manga-wise, I start and end with Dragonball. I'm a Shonen Jump flunkie, so some other favs of mine are Fist of the Northstar, Saint Seiya, Yu Yu Hakusho, H x H, Jojo's Bizarre Adventures, and to a lesser extent, Naruto and Death Note.