It was 1995 and Nadine LeBlanc's then-husband/now-business partner was spending a lot of time glued to the Internet, downloading anime porn (known by collectors as hentai). "I told him, 'you're spending all this time on the Internet - use it!'" Today, the two own Big Fire Anime (www.bigfire.com), a Canadian-based website offering content for both adults and families.
Things have changed a lot since LaBlanc's partner first launched Big Fire Anime. Originally a fan site heavily geared toward those who fancy the raunchier hentai, it now sports a crisp, clean-looking front page that welcomes users of all ages. "I want to bring in people who are afraid of the hentai to see that we have the general audience material as well, and that the hentai is really hard to get to," LaBlanc explains. "It's a lot more family friendly than when it first started." The ongoing redesign includes security measures to keep minors out while also giving adults a healthy selection of naughty anime girls to enjoy.
Big Fire Anime is free to users, providing both adult and all-ages chat, a newsletter, video abstracts, and an archive section including convention news, shareware, fan art, reviews, and sound and picture files. After browsing images, visitors can purchase their favorite anime videos from the site's store. According to LaBlanc, "I see a lot of orders coming in for the general audience stuff now, but the majority of the orders are for the hentai videos and the hentai manga (adult comics). There are over 2000 titles in our catalogue." Of those titles, only about a quarter are hentai anime or manga. "It's not that we're limiting what we sell; if it's anime and we can get it, we will sell it. But if it's not on the market we can't do anything about it." If a title is available but not listed on the site, users need only drop a request and Big Fire Anime will track it down and place an order.
Perhaps it's because the site has fan roots, but user feedback is heartily welcomed. In fact, it was visitor e-mail requests that brought about the Big Fire Anime CD-ROM collections. "We have created four CD-ROMS," LaBlanc explains. "A lot of people were complaining about having to download pictures all the time. There were a couple of e-mails that we received from people saying, 'you should just put this stuff on a CD-ROM.'" This got the partners thinking - and now the archives are available for purchase.
The Edmonton, Canada company is more than just a business for LaBlanc. It's also been an educational experience. "I was actually a very anti-porn person until I took over the site," she reveals. LaBlanc soon concluded that if she was going to host and sell the content, she should also become familiar with it. "We used to have a store we rented the videos through and it went out of business... so I had to sit down and watch. It was really quite funny. It's so amusing. Even some of the hentai stuff is just hilarious."
As one might expect, most Big Fire Anime visitors are male. "I've heard a lot of complaints from female users who are looking for hentai that there really is nothing to satisfy them because it really is very male-based. A lot of the women complain because the men are too feminine," LaBlanc confides. "I've been looking around and looking for things for women's fantasies."
Although the pickings are currently slim for female-targeted hentai, Big Fire Anime is creating an area of romantic images designed to appeal to that very audience. Given the site's nurturing attitude toward fan talent, this could be a great opportunity for artists venturing into this largely unexplored aspect of anime. Other projects and improvements for the company include Big Fire Press developing a manga utilizing local talent; two "Top 100" areas on the website - one for general audiences and one for hentai; and a CoolBoards message board.
"The site's always changing," says LaBlanc. "It's a very active site. It's not a site where you'll see the same thing all the time. The super store is updated regularly with all the new products so we're up-to-date on everything that's coming out. We're here constantly working on it. We want to be known as the Canadian connection for all things anime!"