Tripod. Geocities. Angel Fire. To today’s discerning Japanese music, anime, or role playing game connoisseur, the names hold no weight or meaning.
In modern times, if you want to find out some background information on your favorite cartoon, comic, or creator, the bleached-white virtual hallways of Wikipedia have become the default one stop shop to click through for cursory information, usually passable, though not entirely accurate, and certainly presented without love. The convenience of an all-in-one resource like Wikipedia can’t be argued against, but much like how the advent of digital streaming equated to a double-edged sword as it simulations made anime easier to watch though cheapening certain aspects of its fan driven culture, the same can be said for virtually everybody exclusively sourcing Wikipedia, Twitter, and YouTube for their sub-cultural information.
Fans used to have to maintain their own hubs to share tidbits and rumors about their favorite works, and they did so through a seemingly endless informal network of one Web 1.0 Anime Shrine after the next.
Fans of old used to fire up their parent’s old Compaq PC on that classic dial-up modem, rendering their phones unusable just so they could look at some crude pixelated imagery of rumored Sailor Scouts who hadn’t yet appeared on Toonami’s broadcast of the show. That’s how the nerds of yester-yester-yesteryear got their anime fix when Mom and Dad wouldn’t drive them to Blockbuster.
However, all those deliciously Web 1.0 relics are since lost to the sands of time, though some are at least partially preserved in The Wayback Machine’s digital amber. These had to have been made by a slightly older previous generation of fans who both figured out and had the drive to get websites running in the late 90s.
Despite all the money following during the brief dot com boom, which burst spectacularly not soon after it inflated, none of it ended up in the pockets of the hungry fans maintaining these aforementioned Angel Fire, Geocities, and Tripod sites; Each anime shrine came from love, nurtured by necessity.
With no other motivators but to share their love of a particular series or character and maybe meet some like-minded individuals in the presocial media era, the tech-savvier of fans would hand-fashion an anime shrine using primitive HTMLs, the crudest gifs sourced from god knows where, and font color and background combinations that would render their pages nearly unreadable.
Some of these personal sites, named after so-called holy places, would be abandoned soon after creation, but others would receive updates for years. In fact, a select few Web 1.0 anime fan sites still linger on ancient servers, miraculously still online.
To younger fans who stumbled onto these visually dense pages with nerd-glee, being able to waste hours staring at the same five chibi Tenchi Muyo gifs dancing around the Gateway monitor, their existence alone was magical and almost more important than the content.
Those a little older also didn’t mind the occasional hard-to-navigate anime shrine because they were treasure troves of information and goodies that your average English-speaking teenage fan couldn’t find otherwise. Years before Dragon Ball GT or the later Sailor Moon seasons would ever come out in English, the curious would stare at grainy TV screenshots of never-before-seen Super Saiyan 4 Goku and Sailor Scouts they had never even seen with stars in their eyes.
In addition to ‘cutting edge’ info, fans could find a wealth of digital goods on these sites making it well worth the substantial bumps in their parents’ phone bills: art galleries with official and fan art alike, MIDI clips of your favorite anime openings, hand-edited icons for your preferred instant messaging program, fan fiction of course, and even a guestbook to sign and formally announce you were a fan of x anime or anime character. All this years before Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter would centralize these things.
As much time as we spent in the late 90s and early 2000s trying to decipher if ‘Dragon Ball AF’ was real or not, comparing and contrasting information we’d get from one defunct anime shrine to another, these wouldn’t have made or broken the anime industry directly. Saying we’d be nothing without them is a slight exaggeration, but there’s a hint of truth in a catchy title: As discussed in this article about streaming anime, the Japanese cartoon nerds were online forming communities and deepening their culture long before Mom and Dad signed up for Facebook. It’s what allowed them to embrace streaming culture when the rest of the world was still paying for Television service, with said streaming platforms vastly widening visibility of and access to anime outside of Japan.
Where does the anime shrine come into play? Whether they used ‘Shrine’ in the title or not, these Web 1.0 fan-run anime sites allowed international anime fandom with very little access to the real thing to congeal and strengthen its own existence, acclimating people to and downright creating that online culture in the first place.
The Web 1.0 Anime Shrine was made simply for a fan to express their adoration for the art that meant so dear to them, and help out other anime enjoyers trying to do that very same thing along the way. Not that every Toonami kid or Robotech adult ran their own site, but in order to create and foster communities that would support what they loved, the most passionate of us dedicated time, energy, and resources to giving people individualized spaces to learn more about and celebrate their favorite shows and characters.
While reading a Wikipedia article on something like Fushigi Yuugi provides an undoubtedly cleaner experience, it won’t impart onto you how deeply people loved these shows, and we promise you these shrines were much more convincing than tweeting out ‘Watch Legend of The Galactic Heroes’ into the ether.