Everybody go download BRING ME THE HEAD OF CHARLIE BROWN, first off, and know ye that Jim Reardon, who created it, now works for THE SIMPSONS and has won Emmys.
But people ask me sometimes how Anime Hell got started. Actually they don't, but I'm bored at work, so I'm going to tell you anyway.
Way back in the 1980s there were no anime conventions, and there was barely any anime programming at the SF conventions. Because SF convention organizers regarded Japanese cartoons as lame and juvenile. Also because SF convention organizers had their heads lodged far up their asses - these days SF convention audiences are vanishing while anime con audiences are growing. Anyway...
I used to go to various local SF cons, and in order to promote our Atlanta anime club, we'd throw a party in our hotel room. We'd put out flyers to advertise these parties, and I don't know why, but I started advertising these parties as "Japanese Animation Hell". We'd show different anime shows and drink soda and eat chips and usually I'd show the SubGenius movie ARISE and the Pinesalad DIRTY PAIR dubs and the Corn Pone Flicks STAR DIPWADS and whatever new stuff I had that was goofy and fun. We're talking 1987-1989 here. The conventions were places like CHATTACON in Chattanooga and MOC in Greenville and even a few A-KONs in Dallas.
In the early 1990s there were two big SF conventions in Atlanta; Dragoncon and the Atlanta Fantasy Fair. Since you've heard of Dragoncon and have never heard of the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, it's safe to assume which one survived and which one didn't. I was running the anime room at the AFF and my anime club cohort Lloyd Carter was running the anime room at Dragoncon. As the Atlanta Fantasy Fair died a slow convention death, I found myself wanting to be more active in the anime room thing, so I suggested to Lloyd that I just take the Saturday night shift from midnight to whenever and I'd show parody films and comedy anime and whatever crazy stuff I could find, and I'd call that Japanese Anime Hell.
The early Hells at Dragoncon were advertised with crazy cut-and-paste flyers. They ran six hours -from midnight until 6:00am - and I ran the Pinesalad DIRTY PAIRs, the DYNAMAN dubs, whatever new CORN PONE FLICKS stuff had just been finished (this would include DIPWADS, X-23, GRANDIZER VS GREAT MAZINGER, etc), and I'd also run anime titles like PREFECTURAL EARTH DEFENSE FORCE, BLAZING TRANSFER STUDENT, and lots of anime music videos.
Every year the playlist would involve more short comedy pieces - Lenny Bruce's THANK YOU MASK MAN, HARDWARE WARS, the Corn Pone Flicks version of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, movie trailers - and fewer long pieces.
By 1995 the Atlanta Fantasy Fair was on its last legs and we'd started Anime Weekend Atlanta. Hell was continuing at Dragoncon, but several things were beginning to piss me off about the screenings there: Dragon kept shunting the anime room to a smaller and smaller room each year, the audiences were annoying, the Dragon attendees were smelly and annoying, etc. At AWA 2 I made up a tape of Hell material and let it run in a video room in an event called "Trailer Park". It was stupidly popular, and finally I realized that I could do Anime Hell at my own convention.
So at AWA 3 in 1997 what I like to think of as the first "real" Japanese Anime Hell was born; Friday night in the main events room, a four-hour set of Hell that was again, stupidly popular. After a few years of AWA Hell being awesome and Dragoncon Hell being lame and annoying, I quit doing Hell at Dragoncon. I believe my first out-of-town Hell was in 1998 at Animazement, or whenever the first Animazement was.
I would like to point out at this point that crazy clip shows have always been a part of entertainment; the film IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD is but one example of the way bizarre and out-of-context clips can be used for entertainment purposes. Joe Dante has spoken of how he used to splice together 16mm reels of old commercials, newsreels, educational films, and TV shows to entertain college audiences. For my part, the culture of anime tape trading led directly to HELL; swapping tapes with lots of different people means you're going to get lots of different clips of lots of different things, and having an anime club meant I had a captive audience to "test" material out on.
Also, credit must be given to the convention AV technicians that make Hell possible; Gordon Waters and Patrick McCullough worked with Hell in its early Dragoncon incarnations, and Gordon's audio ingenuity set the standards that Hell has used ever since.
I believe Hell is popular at anime cons because anime cons are full of people who are, in one way or another, video junkies. They are couch potatoes of a high order, and they appreciate offbeat video and juxtaposed imagery and the kind of late-night insanity that comes with being a fan in a medium that involves VCRs and DVD players and spending a weekend watching an entire TV series in one run. Part of the fun of an anime convention is getting to enjoy anime in a crowd, instead of at home by yourself, and that goes double for Hell, where enjoying the clips along with the crowd is what makes it fun for us and the audience.