In the Beginning
During the late 80's and 90's, when the U.S. anime fandom was but a small niche, one series became quite popular among otakus in the U.S. - Rumiko Takahashi's Urusei Yatsura. People enjoyed the comedy masterpiece; however, as anime gained momentum in the U.S., fans began to focus their attention on newer and shinier series. As a result, Urusei Yatsura slowly faded into the background. Enter Mason Proulx.
Mason Proulx, already familiar with Usenet, was introduced to the World Wide Web in spring of 1995. Impressed by the near limitless possibilities offered by the internet, Mason first thought of starting a fanzine of his own, but put away the idea due to the amount of work involved.
As the World Wide Web grew, so did online anime communities. With the help of hosting sites such as GeoCities and AngelFire, many fans began to make fansites and shrines of their favorite series. Mason, being a devote Urusei fan, surfed the Web for Urusei communities. Soon it occurred to Mason that the Urusei fandom was not growing like other popular series at the time. Disappointed by the lack of support for Urusei, Mason was determined to make his own Urusei fansite, the goal was quite simple:
"To create the definitive UY site which would encompass everything I love about the series. A one stop shop for all your UY needs." - Mason Proulx
Mason began teaching himself HTML and other basic Web technologies. On March 1996, "Mason's Urusei Yatsura Page" was launched on the server ottawa.net. At the time, the codes were not pretty, the layout was messy, and everything had an amateur feel to it. Mason knew the site was not the best, but he did not give up, and concentrated on improving one section of the site at a time. The first section Mason focused his attentions on was the Character Biography, it was something Mason knew well, and he spent countless hours writing and revising each character's biography until they were perfect, and then he would revise them some more.
In June of 1996, after many layout changes, version 5 of Mason's Urusei site was launched, and the name of the site was changed from "Mason's Urusei Yatsura Page" to "Tomobiki-cho: The Urusei Yatsura Web Site":
"I was watching a copy of a UY Laserdisc that a friend recorded for me. After it finished, the trailer for Urusei Yatsura movie 5 "The final chapter" came on. It certainly wasn't the first time I had seen this trailer, but this time it gave me some inspiration. It started with the words "As the world looked on, Earth's fate hung in balance. The fight for survival now begins. Final battle in...TOMOBIKI-CHO." Right then I started thinking what better name for a definitive Urusei Yatsura site than the town where it all takes place? So I used the town's name and even borrowed my logo from the very trailer that inspired me. From that point on, I worked like mad to make it a site worthy of the name. It was at that point that I believe my site was truly born."
Although Mason expected others to quickly join him in his effort to promote Urusei, things did not turn out as planned. The lack of support lead to the realization of an illusion that most hopeful Web start-ups seem to have:
"I believed other [...] fans would rally to my side and help me construct a network of pages like the world had never seen. [...] Everyone contributing to the greater cause. However such an expectation was unrealistic and admittedly an adolescent fantasy. It's not that people don't care, it's just that most people don't have the time or the motive to commit to building a site that they feel doesn't belong to them. I quickly lost the illusion that this would be a community effort. I realized that if I was going to do it right, I'd have to do it myself. It's one hell of an undertaking for one person." - Mason Proulx
And one hell of an undertaking it was for Mason, but he continued on. As time went on, some people began giving their support to Tomobiki-cho. Two people who contributed the most were Jerry Wright and J.M. Steadman (a.k.a. Sakurambo). They helped write articles, share new ideas, and manage the site. Others who helped in one way or another include: Davey Jones, Norikazu Ikeno, Charles McCarter, Sean Worsham, Joe Rispoli, K.J. Karvonen, Matthew Webber, Aishath Nazir, Akira Hojo and Leo Sutic.
All was in place, Tomobiki-cho had all the support it needed from its group of dedicated fans to reach internet stardom (in the anime circle, at least). Over the next two years, as Mason became better at Web design, Tomobiki-cho experienced many new changes, and with each reincarnation the site became prettier and the content became richer. At first, the site was designed with a text editor and Photoshop 3, which took a large amount of time out of Mason's real life. As Mason walked down the road of the Graphic Design profession, he began using better tools such as Homesite, Dreamweaver, and various other techniques to minimize the workload. As Tomobiki-cho grew, Mason's skill also grew, in a way Tomobiki-cho shaped Mason's future career.
1997 - 1999
In 1997, at the urging from a supporter of the site, Tomobiki-cho started a campaign to get Urusei Yatsura shown on a Bay Area cable channel (PBS channel KTEH 54 in San Jose), and later succeeded. It was a small victory, but back then, seeing any old-school anime on TV was miraculous. Anime fans also saw this victory as hope that anime had a future place on broadcast TV.
In the summer of 1997, AnimEigo had temporarily lost the rights to distribute Urusei anime, and Viz simply stopped releasing Urusei manga. Around this time, Mason began to grow tired of all the work presented by Tomobiki-cho. Just then, ottawa.net, Tomobiki-cho's host, suddenly cut off Mason's access to the site "for some clerical reason which was no fault of [Mason's]." After trying to negotiate with ottawa.net for the next three days, Mason decided that was it for Tomobiki-cho, and that it was time to move on and let the site go to rest.
For the next two months, the absence of Tomobiki-cho gave Mason a chance to observe the site from a different angle, and many new ideas began to grow. Around November of 1997, just as new inspirations for Tomobiki-cho were filling up in Mason's head, ottawa.net went out of business, so Mason decided to re-launch Tomobiki-cho under a new domain name, Tomobiki.net. With a superior host and years of experience, Mason was finally able to mold Tomobiki-cho into what he set out to create, a "one stop shop for all UY-related needs."
For the next two years, Tomobiki-cho marched on towards its near completion in terms of content, and in the process became one of the most popular fansites around. The site served as an inspiration for many young fansites that were just starting, including Harley and Dylan Acres's Maison Ikkoku/Ranma ½ fansites (both of which later merged with Tomobiki-cho to form the current Rumic World). As Tomobiki-cho got closer to completion, Mason was able to spend his time on other fansites. As time went on, updates stopped at Tomobiki-cho, and all of Mason's attention was focused on one of his new J-Pop site.
2000 and Beyond
In the summer of 2000, the workload, this time coupled with the dot.com boom, caused Mason to slowly lose motivation in updating Tomobiki-cho. The site also frequently exceeded its monthly 8 Gigabytes traffic limit, which eventually led to Tomobiki-cho's host shutting down the site in the summer of 2002. Mason thought that it was a great time to finally lay Tomobiki-cho to rest...forever.
Just when all hope of another revival seemed lost, Mason received an email from Harley and Dylan Acres, who were the webmasters of their own Takahashi fansite network at www.furinkan.com. Harley and Dylan offered to host Tomobiki-cho, adding it as a Urusei Yatsura section to their all-purpose Rumiko Takahashi network. Mason agreed, and all was good. Fueled by the motivation of the two Rumic fans, Mason decided to give Tomobiki-cho some new life. After a few weeks' worth of work, Tomobiki-cho was finally launched with a new layout, along with Harley and Dylan's other Takahashi fansites, as the Rumic World we see today.
Project ILM - Urusei Yatsura Manga Translations
After Viz Media discontinued the Urusei manga, the fans started a project, one that Tomobiki-cho was involved in. The project is called "Project ILM: Industrial Lum & Manga," where fans would translate chapters of Urusei from Japanese to English, and post it online. Some would even place the English translation on top of the original Japanese image; a practice later came to be known as scanlation.
The ILM Project was started by Michael Howe, creator of the Rumiquirks Webpages. However, the project did not go well due to a lack of discipline, time, and various other factors, the project almost came to an end.
After a few years of inactivity, one of Rumic World's board members, Frogisis, made the suggestion of getting Project ILM started again. In October 2002, Rumic World took over the project, Mason helped design the project website, Harley Acres had become the project coordinator, and Dylan Acres was in charge of composition. In just one year, Rumic World had finished what Viz Media and others couldn't: translating over 20 tankobons of Urusei Yatsura.