[I would like to remind everyone that the opinions expressed in
this interview do not reflect those of the interviewer, Jay Harvey
or anyone else at the Anime Web Turnpike or its sponsors.
This is definitely all Ryan, edited mainly for length.]
The audience claps, and I get up from the table at the
front of the meeting room. Another Anime Expo fanfic panel has
just wrapped up, and I make my way towards the back of the room
where fellow panelist, Ryan Mathews is waiting with two friends.
As you may know, the Ohio native is the monthly columnist for the
Anime Web Turnpike, churning out website reviews for his column,
"Last Exit Before the Toll." What you may not be aware of is that Ryan
is the first anime fanfic author to post his work on the internet. Since
then, he's worked on many a fanfic, for several different animes,
and I spoke to him after the fanfic writing panel to about his writing,
the controversial columns and his intense hatred for Ranma fanfics.
Q: How did you get into anime?
Ryan: It was later than it was for most people. I was in grad school at
the time. I was one of those people who was into anime before I even
knew what anime was, because I liked "Robotech" when it came out, but
I didn't think of that as anime; I just thought it was a cool cartoon
on TV. I didn't see much of "StarBlazers" but when I saw it, I liked
that. "Tranzor Z"...
Q: Basically, the old stuff?
Ryan: All the old stuff that was on television. Then, when I was in
grad school in Buffalo, [New York] in 1989, I became aware that some
people were fans of this Japanese animated art form and you have
people sitting around watching cartoons that weren't even in their
language. <smile> How queer. <laugh>
There was a comic shop there occasionally would have some of
this stuff running and I just thought, "This is really cool." So,
anyway, I had a friend who was really into it, and he gave me tapes
of what were at the time only two dubs [dubbed tapes] available as
far as movies from Japan that hadn't been processed for television.
That was "Macross: The Movie" and "MegaZone 23 part 2." I saw them,
and they were awesome. And I [asked him,] "Do you have anything more
that's dubbed?" [and he said,] "No!" and I'm all, "Oh, crap."
[He said,] "Well, they do subtitle the stuff..."
After that, I was into it gangbusters. There was a friend in
Indiana, whom I've since completely lost touch with, who let me have
copies of most of everything in his collection, and I still have
some old stuff that still hasn't been picked up [for domestic
Q: Were you writing before you started watching anime?
Ryan: Well... actually, I guess I was, now that I think about it.
[Larry Mann's] nodding his head over there... I was pretty well-known
for writing parodies of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." <laugh>
Yeah... The problem is, I don't have any of [my parodies]
stored electronically, so sometime I'm gonna have to go and actually type it in so I can go
and put it on my website.
But yeah, I hadn't actually written any true fan fiction...
There was only one time that I came close to considering writing a
real "Star Trek" story, but I just decided that I wasn't really
interested in it; it was more fun to make fun of it than it was to
write serious stuff.
Q: So how did you get into fan fiction?
Ryan: Oh, it happened in December of 1990 and January of 1991. I was
really into the Dirty Pair, even though at the time I hadn't actually
seen it. My exposure to it was from the Adam Warren comic book.
Anyone who remembers it from back then remembers that ol' Adam wasn't
exactly punctual about getting those comics out on time.
I think... the third issue of "A Plague of Angels" was
like three months late, and I'd read the previous issue so many times,
the cover was about to fall off. And I had this idea for this weird
time traveling character and I was constantly playing around with
the character in my head and inventing new, different scenes for him,
when suddenly it just occurred to me that, you know, I have enough scenes right
now that if I put them in the right order and add a few more, I've got
a complete story.
So I sat down with a pad of legal paper--I didn't own a computer
back then--and I just started writing the whole thing out long hand.
I was about on the third page when I thought, "Maybe someone might
just be interested in reading this."
It was the first post I ever made
to rec.arts.anime, advertising my story: "I wrote this Dirty Pair story,
here's some of the stuff that happens. Is it okay if I post it?" I just
got this deluge of posts and e-mails from people saying, "Yeah, what
are you waiting for?" I was later to learn (because it was the first
time that I'd seriously read the group) that no one had ever done that
before. I was the first guy ever to go and post fan fiction on the
[When] people told me that, I went looking for stuff.
At the time, if you really searched hard, you could find stuff on FTP,
although the only thing I remember Dave Cotelessa had a rough draft
script of a Dirty Pair episode that wasn't even really all there.
But that was pretty much it as far as I could find on fan fiction.
I was lucky enough to be first, and because of that, I
just got flooded with e-mail. I got like twelve e-mail messages a day
from people commenting on my story, mostly asking me for extra parts,
because what I was doing was the first story I wrote was eight parts
long and I posted it in eight consecutive days.
It was actually kind of a bit of a letdown because once you
got into archived sites and things like that, I was no longer the only
game in town. The comments and criticism dropped way down to pretty
much what everyone experiences today.
Q: How do you explain the response to the first fanfic? How do you
explain why it took off the way it did?
Ryan: Well, it was the only thing out there; I think it would have
happened to any fan fiction, and also (to toot my own horn) I think
that considering that it was a first effort, it was a pretty darn good
story, too. That was "Big Bang"--[it] was kinda silly, and it was
rather unpolished and it had a character in it [which] was somewhat of
a self-insert that I was embarassed enough about try to go and hide
as much as possible. But after that, I followed up with "The Ballad
of Lord Robin"... [Lord Robin is] that insane yet charismatic man who goes about blowing up
planets. [He was] one of my most popular characters ever; I think one
of the high points was when someone put a "Ballad of Lord Robin" poster
in a comic book. It was some screwy comic from Antarctic Press... the
three sort of hapless heroes are walking past a movie theater, [and it
says] "Now Playing: The Ballad of Lord Robin." It was the closest I
ever got to being published. Remind me to tell you about my
publishing curse.... <laugh>
Q: Were you the one who wrote "Star of Jurai"? I love that one.
Ryan: Well, thank you for saying so. I don't get a lot of feedback on that.
"Star of Jurai"... was written as a radio play. It was my hope that some
one would actually come forward and perform it. All it would take [would
be] for someone to be willing to play the voices and someone who was
good at mixing in some sound effects. We had not one, but two people
come in and say they were gonna do it and then were not able to get it
together. Now, a friend of mine in Maryland, she's got a little troupe together
and they've actually sent me dialogue examples... parts cast. I'm hoping
that's gonna come off.
Q: Which do you prefer to write? Serious stuff, or comedy?
Ryan: Boy, I don't know... I like to do both. I like to mix it up.
I mean, I just finished "Mother's Day" which had most of the [angst]
filled scenes... It was a Tenchi story dealing with Ryoko becoming
enslaved... dealing with other characters' deaths, and all kinds of
tear-jerking stuff like that.
Now, I'm going to move back to "Ah! My Goddess!" and pick up on
writing Dorllier again, who was a character I created with Larry Mann.
She's pure comedy. Dorllier is a little demon who is the demonic
equivalant of Skuld. I'm gonna go write a story right now which
is going to be [about] a duel between Dorllier and Skuld [and] it's
going to be absolutely nothing but slapstick.
If there's one thing I'd like to do [it would be] to come up
with another love story, because I haven't done that since "Reunions"
really. I mean, there were some romantic scenes in Tenchi, but it
wasn't anything that wasn't in the plot there already, and it wasn't
I personally do not believe in writing stories which resolve
things which the author left unresolved--unless the author did
not finish the story because [he] just didn't do it. For example:
in Ranma 1/2, [the story] was left unresolved, but that's Takahashi;
she did that by choice. Great, big ending story like that, and
intentionally left that stuff up in the air. So as far as I'm
concerned, who am I to argue with that? But that's really "Ranma"...
I don't really care for it...
Q: Why not?
Ryan: I find the characters to be about as deep as a small puddle on concrete
after a rainstorm. <laugh> There really isn't a character in Ranma
who can't be described with just one sentence. I guess I could see
[me] writing a silly, fun, slapstick comedy story... like I did with
"Lum's Deadline". It was silly, and it was funny, and there was a time way back
when I first saw "Ranma 1/2" when I would have considered doing [so]
but right now, there's such a flood of Ranma fanfiction that I can
guarantee that there's nothing possible I could come up in Ranma
that hasn't already been done before.
Q: When you're writing your fanfics, do you try to be a slave
to the establishd characerization, or do you try and establish
Ryan: What do you mean by that?
Q: Well, for example, in "Tenchi Muyo", Ryoko's is a space pirate, she
is very uninhibited, she gets easily angered... But then again,
[in "Mother's Day"] you have her being enslaved... Character-wise,
that's bound to make a change or impact on her. As a result, would
you make a change in her characterization?
Ryan: Keep in mind that when I began writing fanfiction there was
really no fanfiction around for me to read. I did not use
other pieces of fanfiction as a model. What I used as a model
[were] licensed ficitons: Star Trek, Star Trek novels, some other
things based on TV series' I liked. These things have the rule:
You can explore the character, you can delve into them,
you can go and add a new twist and tweak, BUT when it's over,
you shouldn't have done anything so drastic that now the character
that you see on TV doesn't seem to match your character
As far as what I did in "Mother's Day", the enslavement
thing was simply me projecting as [far as] what we saw in "Tenchi
Muyo" when Kagato turned on the juice and [Ryoko's] eyes turned
green, [she] turned into this monster. So I figured, if this device
still existed and someone else got a hold of it....
The problem that Ryoko has is that although she has very
great strength of character, she's not much for planning. So,
when suddenly she finds herself in this situation, she really doesn't
have a clue what the hell to do. The thing she keeps trying to do
over and over again is to attack Lhim-Zen and of course it doesn't
work. Towards the end, she finally decides...to try to get down
on the surface [so she] can get in touch with Washuu.
Q: By extension, what do you think about fanfic authors who take
established characters and change them dramatically?
Ryan: I don't have any problem with that, as long (and this is a
very big important "but") as that author never goes and writes
another story in that continuity because I am not simply going to
be interested in an alternate universe. If a person wants to go
and create a "What If?" type of story which is going to end with
the characters being different, that's interesting because
it has a point to it. The only example I have to that where I
did major changes to a universe was [my Dirty Pair story], "Lovely
Angels Forever" in which I wanted to make the point that I
considered Adam Warren's universe... one of the most frightening
nightmarish universes I ever saw.
If you've ever read the Adam Warren comics, everyone's having
fun, they're laughing, as they're shooting their guns, it's always
filled with people making quips and joking... explosions and silly
humor... So I wrote "Lovely Angels Forever" to explain why [it is
What happens if you actually live in a universe where
people who you love can simply be recreated after they die? Are they
literally the same person or not? Coincidentally, I actually
wrote that before "Fatal But Not Serious" came out, which really
knocked me for a loop (it dealt with Kei and Yuri becoming
It had the effect I wanted; most people were like,
"God that's horrible," but there were a few people
who wrote, "Wow! That was really cool! So when are we gonna
see more?" I was like, facefault. You're not going to see
any more. That's the whole point.
Q: When were you approached to do the "Last Exit Before the Toll"
column? And why did you decide to do it?
Ryan: Well, it wasn't a case of me being approached as much as it was
me constantly begging Jay [Harvey] for a column <laugh>. I had wanted
to do web reviews for quite some time. I thought
it was something that I could do. The first thing I did is I went to
EX Magazine because at the time I knew somebody who was on the staff
there. They were like, "It's a cool idea, but kinda outside the
scope for a magazine; we're not really interested in that." I knew
someone who freelanced at Animerica; I thought about that
until I thought, "Well, what if you got the job? Would you really
want it?" <laugh> That's besides the point, it probably wouldn't have worked
Anyway, what happened was that Jay came up with this idea
where he was going to do something similar to what Animerica
does with anime... He had myself and three friends of mine and we
were all going to team up and do these reviews. Everybody had to
go and choose a site each month and then you go and write an in-depth
review of [the site you chose] and then you do quick blurb, rapid-fire
reviews of the sites that the other people picked.
The problem was that... most of us didn't really have much in the
way of commitment. It never appeared because Jay wanted to get a few
of these in the drawer before he started posting them, probably for
fear of what actually did happen [no one was able to commit to the
Jay was adding more content to the Anipike and he finally came
up [to me and asked,] "Do you want to do it by yourself?" I said, "Sure."
May 1997 was the first one.
The funny thing is the longer I write it, the more the editorial
section grows. It seems to be becoming the [better] attraction of the
column... I guess it's something about being an online asshole.
The entire room breaks up in laughter
The first time I wrote it, I had no intention of doing that every month.
I just kept doing it and after I did it for four or five months in a row,
I felt as if it were expected of me. Sometimes [when it comes time to write
a column], I'll say, "I can't think of anything to get angry about." <chuckle>
It's a lot of work. First off, I have to do it on a weekend...
I work a 9 to 5 job as a software engineer, and there are people out
there who stare at a CRT [screen] and hammer out code for eight hours
a day, then come home and spend three hours on the internet.
I can't do that... It takes me
three out of every four weekends to do it. I need to spend one
weekend just to explore the options for the topics. It takes me the
next weekend to do the lion's share of the browsing, and I need to have
it done by the next [weekend]. That's the way it's supposed to
work; the way it often works is that I end up choosing the topic and doing
the browsing and trying to squeeze every thing in on the week right before
it's due. Usually it would be coming out this Monday... well, that ain't
gonna happen. It's going to be a bit of a rush job... do you have
any ideas for a topic?
Q: If there's one topic in your editorial rants that's probably
gotten the most response, the most negative response, what would
Ryan: Uh.... No, that actually inspired good debate. There's only
been one guy who's vehemently argued against me [saying] that I'm
absolutely wrong. I don't want to sound like I'm making fun of
You open up the page and you actually browse his site by a
Windows 98 start bar that opens up inside your browser... and
it works! But why...? I can't see why anyone would want to do that
except [to say], "Wow, look at the really cool thing I did."
To be honest, there hasn't been really anything that's gotten
a negative response that's really gotten me flamed off the face of
the earth from multiple places. There have been single instances of
people [getting angry]...
I did online 'zines and I did Animecca, which has improved
greatly since then, but at the time, I considered it to be an ugly,
hard to navigate site with a lot of crap content on it. So generally,
it's always been my policy that if I don't like the site, I don't
review it at all. It's not my job at the "Last Exit" to go and bash
sites; it's my job to point you [to the] good ones. The thing was,
I go to take a look at it and said [to myself], "I may hate the site,
I may think it stinks, the problem was at the time, it was one of the
most name visible sites." I just knew that I was going to get in
my mailbox flooded with people saying, "Why didn't you review Animecca?
Are you out of your mind?"
So I went and I posted [link to column] and I had to say,
"I'm sorry, I don't like this site, I think this has got one of the
most idiotic navigation schemes I've ever seen." Of course, as you might
imagine, I got flames [from the people at Animecca] and I pointed [out],
"Look, I included the link. How many hits do you think you got because I went and bashed
your site? And if you thought your site was really good, then I'm sure
that these people [clicked] on your shitty site and they said, 'Wow!
It's not shitty; that Ryan, he was such a liar.'"
What I think is funny is that it wasn't maybe more than two
months after that column was posted that the editor-in-chief finally
quit Animecca and her best friend took over and the first thing she
did was chuck the navigation! And made it exactly like I said it
Other than that... the letters column seems to cause the most
problems.... [We had] the wonderful incident where some guy owned some
shop and I blasted SM CDs... I have a policy where I go in the dealer's room and [when] I'm
shopping for CDs, and if I see they're selling SMs, they don't get
a penny from me. I will not go and buy something from someone who's
Q: What are SM CDs? Sailor Moon CDs?
Ryan: SM stands for "Son Mei". What they are is they are [is] a professional
gigantic large scale bootlegging operation in Taiwan. They can get away
with this because Taiwan has not signed the Berne Convention which means
that international copyrights don't count for squat over there. Their
product is absolutely legal in Taiwan; actually, they say it's somewhat
encouraged because the government is kind of pissy about the fact that
the rest of the world doesn't consider them to be a country, so they're
not allowed to sign the Berne Convention even if they wanted to.
Okay, that's fine and dandy. But what happens is the line
is crossed [when] all these anime retailers in the United States and
Canada who then go and import these discs for next to nothing. They
can go and offer you imported anime soundtracks for prices comparable
to what you'd pay if you went to Best Buy and bought a domestic CD. So
people go and say, "Well, I could go and buy the honest version where
the money actually went to the creators for $30, or I can buy this
SM bootleg for $16." For them it's a no-brainer and they go buy
the cheaper one.
Well, I don't appreciate that and I went and I roasted it in my
column and this guy who owned some shop and he went and posted [and
said], <imitating shop owner in whiny voice> "What you don't understand is I know SMs
are wrong, but we have to go and sell them. We don't have a choice.
If we don't go and sell them, we'll be undercut. Our competitors will
blah, blah, blah...! We'll go out of business!"
In my reply that I posted in the letters column, I said,
"Look, nobody's making you choose this line of work. If you
can't go and make it selling your stuff the honest way, then go and
do something else." Jay and I both have friends back in Ohio who have
no problem with collecting SMs because in their mind, they don't consider
it to be wrong. Okay, that's fine, we agree to disagree. But this idiot
[said that] he agreed with me that they were wrong, they were bootlegs, if they
were not directly illegal, they were in the gray area, but he
had to go and sell them anyway, because [it was the only way he could
stay in business.] One quote that finally got to me was, "You shouldn't
be picking on the little guy who go and sell these discs, you should
go and be picking on the big people who make the discs."
[So I drew an analogy and said,] "Look, let me get this straight. I
shouldn't be mad at the drug pusher on the side of the street. He just
has to do this to make a living. I should only be mad at the people making
Well, this guy went ballistic, said that I had said that he was
in league with drug dealers and I was going to go and kill him, blah, blah,
blah, I was gonna kill his business, and sue him... After going back
and forth and trying to explain to him that he had no case I was actually
forced pretty much just to put Jay's mind at ease because we didn't know
if this guy was going to sue us... We were at the point where it
was just not worth it to go to court because the way the stupid legal
system is in Ohio... this sonuvabitch could have filed a lawsuit in
the state of California where he had his business even though the
Turnpike is stationed in Ohio. I had to go and post a disclaimer [on
all the "Last Exit" columns]. So that means if another guy like this
asshole comes along, the only person he can sue is me.
Q: Refresh my memory. You said at the panel that you read a lot
of fanfic or not?
Ryan: No, I read almost no fanfic at all. The only thing I read now and
then is I sometimes read lemons, because I'm a hopeless
hentai. Which is really funny, because I've never actually written
a lemon myself; I don't have the nerve to write a sex scene. Which
is very funny, because one of the fanfics I want to do, and I
might actualy do it, but leave out the sex scenes...
Larry: I'll write them...
Ryan: Well maybe you could help me out there...
Larry: Oh, god, what did I just say?
Ryan: In Ohio, we just finished this cycle of what are called
"17-year cicadas". They are these things that... live underground
for seventeen years, and at the end of the seventeen years they
come up, crawl up onto a tree, hatch out into these gigantic,
ugly looking bugs, they fly around, screw the living daylights out
of everything... and then die. And they make so much noise.
So I just imagine doing a "Bondage Fairies" fanfic...
The room breaks up into laughter.
Q: What are some things that you don't like about fanfics?
Ryan: Too damn much Ranma. Too damn much Ranma and people
who don't seem to put as much care in their stories as I felt I
always have. There's one thing I noticed... the few times that I
have gone out and explored fanfiction, I found that there really aren't
a lot of fanfics that have action in them. There are if you look
hard enough, I found some "Bubblegum Crisis" [fanfics] that have some
good action scenes. But it seems that there are an awful lot of
fanfiction writers, even when it's a fanfic that involves characters that
are generally in action sequences, always tend to be more introspective
stories, slow romantic stuff... I find it easier to write action
scenes than I do [the other kinds].
The toughest thing that I find to write is when I have to go and
write a part of a story where two people are just talking in a room and there's
really nothing going on. It has to do with pacing [because] it will go
like this; the first guy makes a statement, but I don't want to go
onto the next line of dialogue, I want the reader as he's reading it
to have to contemplate that line for a couple of little bits.
Now, if it was animation, it would just be a slight pause, the
character looks out the window, a little bit of music plays. You can't
do that when you're writing text.... So you have to find some way
to fill the time; sometimes that can be difficult to do.
Q: If you had to pick a single work, or multiple works, of your own
that you really liked, which ones would they be?
Ryan: Oh, "Reunions" is still at the top of the list that I did with Larry.
It took three years to complete. It's hard to pick just one. I'd
have to say that would still be at the top, but trailing very, very
close behind [is] "Galaxy Police Mihoshi: Academy Days." I used it
to put forth my idea [of] Mihoshi as bumbling, but competent.
Mihoshi has had the misfortune to become stupider and stupider
in each recurring incarnation... If you go into the OAV series,
yeah, she screws up, yeah, she trips, yeah she says dumb things, but...
she never misses when she pulls out her gun.
Q: Like that one part where she's reading the two snakes their rights...?
Ryan: Right! She hits with every shot... When she pulls out the gun on
Kagato, every shot is going right for his head... And there [in the
scene with the snakes] that great acrobatic back flip that she does....
There are other things I liked for different reasons. "Lum's
Deadline", even though it was so risque in some ways, I thought for once
in my life I actually had a series down cold.
Q: I think that wraps it up. Thank you very much.
Ryan: You're welcome.
Reunions with Larry Mann--Shasti, the Angels and Lord Robin, oh my! This
is a follow up to Larry's "Experiment 101-E" and Ryan's "The Ballad
of Lord Robin". Larry's story can be found at this site.
Academy Days--Follow the exploits of the galaxy's blondest detective in
this origin story for Mihoshi.
Lum's Deadline--Goodness, some "Urusei Yatsura" stuff! Lum gets the
idea that she can become Ataru's common-law wife. Now only if she
can convince Ataru...?
Aikan Muyo by Happosai [LEMON]
--First of all, this is a lemon, so you
better be overage when you click on this site. Second of all, this
isn't your ordinary lemon... it actually has characterization.
Star of Jurai--In script format, this radio play follows the adventures
of Tenchi and Co. as they try and rescue Aeka from some kidnappers...
Bad Fanfic Concepts--The scary thing is,
some of these sound good...
Last Exit Before the Toll
--The monthly column that Ryan writes for
the Anime Web Turnpike, you'll find lots of topics covered, ranging from
commercial sites to individual series sites. Check out the
archives for the sections on Anime 'Zines, Ranma ½ sites(!), and Company A vs.
Ryan Mathew's Fiction Collection
--All of the stories mentioned
in this article that are not already linked can be found here, including
the just completed "Mother's Day".
You can e-mail Ryan at email@example.com
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