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Anime Key Player Interview #3
Thomas Sirdey, Co-founder of Japan Expo Part.1

2018.05.08


It's nice to meet you Thomas. Firstly, can I ask about you and your childhood; your encounter with Japanese anime and how you started Japan Expo. Can you tell me about yourself?

-It's not very interesting (laugh).


I’m sure it’s interesting.

-My first encounter with anime was when I was very young a few years back (laugh). It was probably in 1984. There was a lot of anime on TV but nobody knew it was from Japan. They just thought it was regular animation. At the end of the 70’s, television went from public to private so there were many channels open and they needed a lot of programs. Especially programs for kids, so they bought a lot of programs internationally and the cheapest ones were from Japan. So they were able to buy everything!


Oh really!? What kind of shows were aired?

-Everything. Everything in the 80’s was aired in France because it was like 1/6 of the price compared to shows from Europe.


Were Japanese shows mainstream?

-It became crazy mainstream. The biggest TV show of all time in France is called Club Dorothée and this was a program for children that aired on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This program had the longest hours on a TV show and they aired anime. Everything started in 1978, Grendizer was not so popular in Japan but was very popular in France. In French it was called Goldorak. There was a Grendizer generation which is my generation. Everybody from my generation knows Goldorak so it's very mainstream.  A little after my generation was Dragonball and Saint Seiya. Everything was on TV like crazy and we were just watching all this while not knowing it was from Japan.


Was it something you watched with your family?

-No, just the kids.


-So how about the older generations?

-We are the first ones and because anime was so popular, the French government decided to create a law so that TV had to show French programs.


Oh because there were so many animes airing?

-Yes so they reduced the number of Japanese programs on TV. The publishers discovered that all the anime’s were adapted from mangas in Japan. That’s how manga started to become popular in the 90s in France.


So you guys actually have manga in France too?

-Yes.


Is the manga in France like the manga in Japan?

-Yes, and it was something very important to the fans.


Is it natural for France to like it?

I think it's almost the same as it is in Japan. Everybody has watched it at some point.
There may be some people who really like it or you can be an average anime fan.


Average as in just watching Dragonball?

-Yeah I think if you talk to someone my age they would be like “Oh Dragonball, That brings me back”


Do kids nowadays know Dragonball?

-Yeah. Dragonball is the most important license in the world. It’s everywhere and everybody knows it. The manga is pretty old and the animation is quite old but now they are airing the new Dragonball anime. They have lots of products that come from the world of

Dragonball.  So it always kept on growing and it’s always there.


Do they still air anime on TV or is everything online now?

-There’s anime on TV but not as much as before. All the kids now just watch anime online.


In your generation did you watch anime in French or in Japanese.

-On TV it was always in French. If you watch anime on digital services it’s subtitled, on TV it is dubbed because the general public don't want to read they just want to listen.


Which anime were you into the most?

Dragonball.


How about anime songs? Did you guys listen to anime songs or was it in French?

-So it's exactly the same as dubbing. Most animes at that time were translated so anime songs were in French. It’s quite interesting because some of them are very different but some of the songs were exactly the same as Japan. It's kind of weird when you listen to it.


Which song do you remember the most?

-The Dragonball song in French is very popular. For a Japanese anime song, maybe the Evangelion song. It was everywhere. I think it's probably because it’s the first song that kids would actually sing directly in Japanese. Even though they didn’t understand it they just remember it by the sound. If you go to Japan Expo and do karaoke with Evangelion everybody would start singing in Japanese. They don't know what they are singing but they remember the sound.


That’s cool. So besides anime were there any J-pop or Japanese programs that were popular in France during your childhood?

-Not really. Maybe besides Loudness.


Loudness was popular?

Oh yes! In the 80’s.


How about Japanese food and culture?

-Yes recently. We started Japan Expo in 2000 because we loved to Japanese contents but nobody cared. So we kind of gathered up as fans and talked about what we liked. We started as a group online and started meeting up and it became natural to have a place where you can meet more fans.


When you first started Japan Expo how many people got together in the beginning?

-Three thousand. We were just like “hey let’s meet somewhere” and made an agreement with a school. The school let us use classrooms and underground parking.

 


©SEFA EVENT


So everything started online you guys had like a message board and 3000 people got together?

-Yes. Chat rooms and forums, it was community management before social media.


Wow. I’m amazed!

-Today you would use Facebook or Twitter, during that time we had to work with 800 different web pages to make it happen. We used forum chat rooms and message boards, and everything. It was 800 different pages and we would do it every day.


Were you one of the starting members for Japan Expo?

-Yes, we had three people. We first were organizing small gatherings and one day decided to fuse everything we wanted to do. It's very important that we named it Japan Expo because we really wanted to showcase not just anime and manga but the rest of Japanese culture from pop culture to traditional culture, lifestyle and just everything. We have anime, manga, merchandise, video games and a musical stage. We also have food and lifestyle.


You have food in the convention too?

-Yes and more than food we have teachers and classes where people can learn how to make a “donburi.” We also have very famous chefs come and explain about Japanese food and taste. We do traditional culture, there’s about 500 seats and stages with teenagers learning about food, koto, shamisen, etc. This is only at Japan Expo.


That is so cool! So from being a fan of anime, how did you turn into an organizer?

-It just came by naturally. We had this gathering so we had responsibilities to make sure that everybody had fun so we learned how to organize. But I think in the beginning it was very dangerous. We would do things without knowing the law, without any safety regulations, it was kind of like “let's do this” and every year you learn more and now we are almost on our 20th anniversary. We still need to learn new things. 2019 is the 20th year.

 


©Benjamin HUMEZ


So for the first event there were three thousand people and three people started it. How was it like? It must’ve been very different from how it is right now.

-It was small and it was all about the fans and local contents because at that time, it wasn’t possible to bring contents from Japan. It was all local contents and we were getting copies of Japanese anime that were not aired before. At that time it was VHS and the standards in Japan were not the same as the standards in France so we had to transcode everything. Now it's very easy. You receive data through the internet and it's instant. Back then we have to contact friends in Japan, send it through mail and receive the VHS three weeks later. Then you had to transcode it to make it work.


It’s so much harder managing things back then than now.

-It was hard in a different way. We were doing things without really thinking and there were no consequences. The copy of the VHS was not very good but at the same time it was very important. During this time, the rest of the pop culture jumped in especially music because anime and the music are tied together in Japan. There were more bands getting popular like X Japan, Luna Sea, a lot of bands at that time.

Next: Thomas Sirdey Interview Pt.2 will be published on 16May!


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