About a week ago, I asked readers: “How has anime enriched your world?”

I got many great replies, and it was hard to narrow them down to just five.  But here they are.

This is the final entry on the blog.  Enjoy.

Digibro

Anime didn’t enrich my view of the world.

It became my view of the world.

There are things that I only understand by way of anime. There are things that I can only express in Japanese; but it’s not “real” Japanese—it’s “anime Japanese.” Like an avid internet user who can’t help but use memes in daily speech, I have to stop myself in conversations to find a word that the listener can understand, because the one in my head is something only a certain kind of anime fan would know.

Language is how I define the world. It is the means by which I understand and can communicate anything. If I can only express my reaction to a thing as “UGUU~” then my entire understanding of that thing is filtered through anime.

This has gone overboard. I’ve grown distant from understanding a world outside of what anime teaches me about it. It became true that the personalities and appearances of anime characters; the way that they speak, the powers they have, and the things they say when they’re having sex were all things which were real. Reality became altered.

It was hard for me to accept. I understood reality too well. I couldn’t stop believing that the world I’d been fabricating was a separate thing from the real world. And then I realized:

I love the world that I’ve fabricated more than the world in which I’ve supposedly existed.

Now, I live in an anime world. I’m married to a five hundred year-old pink-haired woman immortalized in the body of a young girl. When we aren’t indulging in sado-masochistic fetish sex, we defend the city from supernatural creatures and team up with a child assassin and a kickboxing trap, who come over every once in a while to have action-line-intensive orgies. Every night, my wife and I watch episodes of Hidamari Sketch and K-On!!.

As we kiss, she whispers, “lycopene.” As I turn off the lights, I whisper, “sharekoube.” We stifle a laugh.

Sabas

Sasebo, Japan. I can’t believe I’ve been here for 2 years now. I don’t get to see it 75-90% of the year, but it’s “home.” I don’t think you could tell me in middle school I’d be here, but I am. I didn’t realize it then, but the stuff I watched would have an enormous impact on where I am today. I wouldn’t have the same friends, nor be where I’m at without anime.

I definitely wouldn’t have the friends I have today without anime. Videogames and books haven’t netted me as an interesting and diverse group as anime has. Even if I am fearful of the majority of con-goers, when I went to Anime Detour and Anime Expo, I still met and interacted with quite a few people I wouldn’t have met elsewhere. Twitter has been a godsend for discovering a multitude of people who I can discuss and enjoy anime with as it airs. For an introvert like me, this is a blessing.  I’m able to break out of my shell and express myself to others in lovely 140 character thoughts.

It came to a shock to my high school classmates when I decided to join the military. I’m still in shock, myself. I really don’t look like the type that would pledge an oath and find myself whisked away to some distant land, but I did. I still question whether I made the right choice, but at the time, I had nowhere else to go. I lacked direction in my life, and my grades in senior year were garbage. I didn’t want to work at my parents’ store day in and day out, or so I’d convince myself. A Navy recruiter called me right around my 18th birthday. We talked a bit about video games, but guess what got my attention? He liked anime! So eventually I went down to the recruiting office and started talking about my future. What did I want to do? See the world, pay for college, and help people. Not soon after that…

It’s been 3 years in the Navy. 2 years in Japan. Do I have my days where I wish I weren’t in the military? Yeah. Do I regret being here in Japan? Well… come see me when I’m in Club Mogra on Anison night. I’ll tell you then.

Akirascuro

I’ve been around the block too many times to say that any individual anime has changed my world view. Anime no longer inspires me. I don’t watch Steins;Gate or Penguindrum and think to myself, “Aha! There’s something to be learned here.” Sure, there was a time when I looked up to characters in anime as role models— back when I was in 8th grade. I’ve long since stopped doing that. The worlds that anime characters inhabit are too rarefied, too essentialized, too fake for me to truly learn anything useful from their actions.

I’ve watched many, many series in my time. Many of them are lost to me. I struggle to name the series that I’ve watched last season— ask me what I watched three or five years ago, and nothing comes to mind. But what I do remember, very vividly, is every single experience I’ve had with other anime fans. I’ve met more than 200 people through my anime-watching. I’ve met five or six of my closest friends this way. We laugh together, drink together, brave Comiket together and create together. When I look back on my teenage years, I have no doubt that it is my “otaku” friends, and not the bullshit I did in middle school or high school, that I will remember.

For, you see, being passionate about anime shows themselves isn’t enough for me. As I grow older, my tastes will change and some of the shows I previously found enjoyable, I no longer will. At some point, I will reach an age at which I’ll find 99% of all shows boring and vapid. What then? I’d quit watching anime. I haven’t quit watching because I’m fundamentally interested in the people of anime, and as long as I continue to watch anime, I can continue to interact with others who watch anime. Otakudom is a spectacle. From avid figurine collectors to people who marry their dakimakura, from overly-friendly cosplayers to sweaty, maladjusted, mouth-breathing nerds with lisps, from belligerent, psychopathic yaoi peddlers to you and me (the everyman), otakudom contains every kind of personality imaginable. I loveinteracting with these personalities, engaging them, ridiculing them and participating in the creation of otakudom. That is my true passion.

So how has anime changed my life? It’s given me entertainment, friends, memories and much, much more. It’s opened my eyes to a whole new, insane world out there. It’s given me a platform to rant and rave about the things I find important (Hoshii Miki, etc). Otakudom is a place where it’s okay to be a little crazy. Otakudom has made me a little crazy. And that’s alright with me.

lvlln

How has being an anime fan enriched my view of the world? I can point to specific examples. Seeing FLCL as an adolescent gave me a new, I think more useful, perspective on the stage of growing up. Seeing The Tatami Galaxy as a young adult did the same kind of thing, but for a different stage of life.

But I get the sense that such specifics aren’t what you’re looking for. The most important way anime has enriched my view of the world is by exposing me to different subcultures and teaching me to accept all of them. It’s no secret that anime is a stigmatized medium, in no small part due to the many perversions that get associated with it. Guro, NTR, yaoi (heck, just plain old hentai), panty shots, to name a few of the tamer issues. I remember in high school and college thumbing my nose at even basic fanservice. But the more I got exposed to anime and interacted with its fans, the more I learned about appreciating such things for the variety they provide, regardless of their appeal to me. No matter how dirty, crass, or obscene, there is definitely SOMETHING there that makes them meaningful for someone else, and that’s great.

Maybe it’s what you call desensitization; when I hear of fetishes or subcultures that perplex or offend my peers, I just think, “huh, more power to them if that’s what they’re into.” And this extends to almost everything in life: Justin Bieber fans, Bronies, chubby chasers, gay men who want to get AIDS, a coworker who’s afraid of answering the phone, etc. I feel that I can appreciate these quirks without judgment, that I’m a more open, accepting person that before because of the anime I’ve watched and the fandom to which I’ve been exposed. Maybe this isn’t specific to anime, but to any similarly stigmatized fandom. That’s how anime has enriched my view of the world.

Renn

Two years prior, I wasn’t big on online. AIM? Call me, please. Facebook? Popularity contest. Twitter? For celebrity stalkers. Lolcats? Lolwut? Not that I could have phrased it like that back then. With regards to the web, I was out of the loop.

But anime thrives on the internet. After some friends got me hooked on the medium, the web was the logical next step. There, I learned about anime streaming, downloads, screencaps, preview clips, forums, and memes.

I thought the web was for weirdos; I was right. I just didn’t realize I was one. Because the biggest draw for me wasn’t anime watching. It was anime blogs. On blogs, I saw people much smarter and more impressive than me obsessing over these crazy cartoons. I saw people all over the world who loved, to the same extent, the same things I loved.

I had to participate on the blogs. I wanted to talk about anime. But to participate and be heard means more than just writing and streaming anime. It means learning the basics of html. It means Twitter and Instant Messenger. It means web words like “orz” are part of your lexicon. Anime was not just my key to the web. It was the pry that forced me out of my technophobe stuffiness and launched me into the modern era.

That’s not entirely a good thing. I’ve spent too many late nights gobbling blog archives and tweet logs. It’s a junk food hangover in the morning, but without the sleep involved. But I know it’s a good thing overall. I still have a lot to learn, but knowledge of social media is a necessity for today’s job market. Doesn’t hurt to have blogging on your resume these days.

And more importantly, it’s made me really happy. I’ll never neglect real life, but it’s fun to flail over hobbies online and not be judged (too harshly). It’s fun to connect with people all around world over something as simple as a late-night, Japanese cartoon.

So, how has anime enriched my life? Got me onto the Internet. Got me onto 2DT’s blog. Doesn’t get much better than that.

A final word, before I close the doors.

Anime can be a second reality.  It can be an escape, a reprieve, a haven away; Door Number One is the geeky stuff, Door Number Two is everything else, and ne’er the twain shall meet.  I think that’s easy enough to do.  It’s much more difficult to live in both worlds at once.

But that’s the ideal, at least for me.  Visual culture – anime, manga, visual novels, everything we enjoy – can be a lens that helps us love the here and now.  Of course, it isn’t easy.  It takes thought, and perspective, and a willingness to shed cynicism.  But we should strive for this.  It’s worth striving for.

And how wonderful reality becomes then!  Hobbies, entire lifestyles, friends, lovers, the precious understanding between one human being and another: All of these and more, right at our fingertips, all because we share a love for this stuff from Japan.

Our world, plus this, is beautiful, prismatic and complex: A perfect 2-D teleidoscope.

Thanks for reading.

What’s it like for them… to meet us?


Direct Link to MP3 (5.28 MB, 5 minutes 46 seconds)

Links

@HirokiJpn on Twitter

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Inspired by Radiolab Shorts and 99% Invisible, I’m going for a different approach to the podcast this month.


Direct Link to MP3 (11.0 MB, 12 minutes 06 seconds)

Links

Akirascuro (Moe Fundamentalism)

A History of Akihabara (Tokyo Scum Brigade)

(more…)

Strap in.  This is a long story.

In 2007, when Katawa Shoujo made the leap from a 4chan thread to an “official” forum, I was one of the first people to join.  Back then, apart from the admin who created the forum, all voices were equal.  Every day was cacophony.  It was exhilarating.

The picture that started it all.

I wanted badly to be a writer, so I contributed often.  Even back then, I knew that the secret to being noticed (and liked) was feedback.  But I was especially interested in how we, the ex-Anonymous, would form the necessary infrastructure to develop a game.  This was probably what helped me stand out the most.  When the admin finally decided to put together a team — an interim government of sorts — he asked me to join.  I happily accepted.

It was a disaster.

I think what we wanted, in our naïveté, was to harness “crowd creativity” for production.  So at first, we held public polls for little things, like what the characters’ names would be.  This was fun.  But as enthusiasm waned and people wondered when some actual development would start, we bumbled and stalled.  Displeasure grew.  We fled to our secret team forums, and it became increasingly clear that this pseudo-democracy wasn’t going to work in the long run.  The project needed a leader.

She didn't exist at the time.

But therein lay another layer of intrigue: The team didn’t really like the forum admin.  We hid it from him, of course, in the cowardly tradition of young men talking crap on the Internet.  As much as we didn’t like his leadership, he seemed poised to become top dog by default.  But patience was wearing thin.  People were dropping out, and it looked like the whole thing was going to die.

So, my last act as a member of the Katawa Shoujo team was a coup d’état.  I went behind the admin’s back, got support from the rest of the team, and publicly announced that a young firebrand named Cpl_Crud was going to be the new director of the project.  I left him some words of encouragement, and then I took my leave.  (The admin left me a goodbye as well.  I didn’t read it.)

I haven’t followed Katawa Shoujo much since then.  I understand that it’s about to be released in a couple of days.  I’m happy for its success, because believe me when I say that it almost blew up in the hangar.  But I still feel some shame when I see it mentioned, because it reminds me that my singular contribution to the VN world wasn’t my writing, or my ideas.  It was playing Judas.

But there is one thing.  One bright, little thing:

Way back, when it wasn’t even decided what the characters’ names were going to be, I gave a lot of attention to the burned girl.  I thought that she should have a demure name, something a little old-fashioned – maybe even a little ironic.  I pushed hard for it.  And after all this time, past the long-buried mistakes of youth, I’m delighted to find that this one thing still exists.  If there’s any salvation to be found for me in this whole sordid affair, it’s there.

Hanako…  I gave you your name.

Further reading

A fuller history of Katawa Shoujo‘s development, which puts the above in its proper context: A footnote, nothing more.

Continuing my musings on the Enneagram of Personality.  Read the first part here.

The following post will feature only screenshots of Kobato doing her sideways-V pose.

Kobato is difficult to categorize.  At fourteen, the brain’s electrochemical systems have only just started to put together the patterns that characterize adult thought.  At that age, you’re still puzzling out what a personality even is.  So I’d say Kobato right now is Type Four: The Individualist…  But it’s less about her character than it is the character of an age.

Type Fours feel different.  Nobody understands them; they see themselves as walking, unrecognized, at the precipice of love and loneliness.  As you can imagine, this setup often leads to self-esteem issues.  Unhealthy fours cope by indulging in a “fantasy self,” an imagined version of who they’d like to be.  An aimless young man, for example, pretends that he’s a brilliant mad scientist, Hououin Kyoma.  Or a little girl with no friends reinvents herself as Reisys VI Felicity Sumeragi, a noble mistress of the night.

In other words: Four is the chuunibyou type.

Akirascuro also believes in the fantasy self.  But to qualify as chuunibyou proper, he says that there must be an accompanying urge to do.  A case of “8th-grade-itis” requires some form of acting out, even if just the ineffectual, delusional kind: Kuroneko in OreImo threatens to use black magic against people who bully her, and Lelouch is admired in Code Geass because he uses the Power of Kings to enact precisely the revenge he’s always wanted.  The common thread in Akira’s definition is motive inspiration: a spark of nerdrage as bright as the sun.

But is that really what characterizes chuunibyou?  If you’ve ever known a self-absorbed middle schooler (or been one yourself — no shame in that), then you know: Awkwardness, lameness, utter uncoolness, thy name is thirteen.  Indeed; the worse off you are, the more likely you are to indulge in fantasies of a unique destiny.  It’s a directly negative relationship, and that’s the most important part.

Chuunibyou isn’t merely power fantasy in itself.  Not even power fantasy that leads to action.  It’s the tension between power fantasy and pathetic reality.

So, losers and good-for-nothings: Rejoice! Your chuunibyou is glorious.

At last, it ends here.

Part 1

Part 2

Takatsuki Yayoi

The charm of Yayoi is her perfect sincerity.  She is an open book, which is why she needs someone who won’t take advantage of her naiveté, and who will appreciate her emotional frankness.  Schneider is just the right fit, a gentle person who appreciates the comforts of domestic life.  They would go grocery shopping for a home-cooked meal at the Takatsukis, ending with a family game of karuta – and, after her siblings have gone to bed, a little quality time on the couch.

Shijou Takane

Takane is odd.  If Iori is one end of the rich girl character spectrum, Takane is the other: A lady ever so slightly removed from normalcy.  Mefloraine, a meticulous and thoughtful person in her way, would savvy her eccentricities while keeping the Moon Princess down to earth.  On a chilly winter morning when Mef is artist-blocked, they would go to the beach to collect shells, sharing a thermos of chocolate tea and listening to the waves.

Amami Haruka

There is no formula to Haruka, no special hooks or idiosyncrasies, except an interest in music and a kind of glowing positivity.  Foshizzel is an ideal match; their mutual joie de vivre would reinforce itself.  They would eat at a MOS Burger, then hang out in a music shop, flipping through records and trying out the instruments.  Cynical onlookers will roll their eyes and tweet things like “Dear annoyingly happy couple in the guitar section, please GTFO,” while secretly being very jealous.

Hoshii Miki

Everybody wants Miki, but few are ready for her.  If you’re the kind of person who worries at all, her independence and devil-may-care laziness (and tendency to get hit on) is a sure recipe for meltdown.  Digitalboy, though, might be able to roll with her motion, while being relaxed enough to let her take care of herself.  They would visit a summer festival and go on a gut-busting gastronomic bender through the food stalls, ending with fireworks on the riverbank.

All of these ships are people I’ve gotten to know personally.  I’ve met them, heard their voices, worked with them.  I’m able to write about them because they’ve breached the boundary between virtually real and for-really-real.  This series doesn’t even begin to cover everyone.

If you’re looking for a rhyme and reason, here it is: 2011 has been unlike any other year for me, and it’s all thanks to you.  We’ve watched anime together, shared meals, made wonderful music on the blogosphere.  I feel immensely lucky, and I hope I’ve done the same for some of you.

Readers, fellows, friends: You are the light in my life.  Merry Christmas.

My mad shipper fantasies, continued.

Otonashi Kotori

Kotori knows how to make a man feel special.  Like static electricity, her femininity is subtle but attractive; it demands not just strength and assertiveness to make a good match, but also a certain sophistication.  Vucub Caquix has the right mix of gentility and masculinity to show her a good time.  They would go to a jazz bar for a drink: whisky soda for her, Scotch on the rocks for him…  and if he’s very, very lucky, she just might sing a little something, too.

Art by yachiwo.

Kikuchi Makoto

Makoto can be surprisingly sensitive.  Beneath enthusiasm and boyish charm, her heart says, “Appreciate me, reassure me, tell me I’m pretty and feminine!”  Yi, who can read mood like a musician reads music, would know just what to do to make Makoto feel like a lady.  They would go to a department store to model outfits, then hit the town for a night of club-hopping.  If that sounds a bit pedestrian, just wait — The morning-after breakfast is going to be fantastic.

Miura Azusa

Azusa craves romance.  Behind the fortune-telling and ditziness is a desire to fall truly, madly, deeply.  It’s girlish and it’s hopeful, and for the right person, utterly irresistible.  8C, the great unsung romantic of the blogosphere, would find his dream in her: An older woman for a younger man, a lover of love to match a lover.  He would take her on a drive to the pier, where they’d share a candlelit dinner, wait for sunset and ride the Ferris wheel, reaching the top just as the city lights go on.

Kisaragi Chihaya

To love Chihaya is to chase an invisible storm.  The trick is drawing down the thunder, getting her to reveal the passion beneath her stoic exterior.  With Akirascuro, she would find much-needed spontaneity, and he would find in her a massive wellspring of inspiration.  They would go to a midnight concert and walk through Tokyo all night, warming their hands with hot drinks from vending machines while talking about life and love, until sunrise or the first train — whichever comes first.

And speaking of Akira…  This next bit’s from him:

Minase Iori

“Iori is a girl of fine tastes. She’s also incredibly high-maintenance. She wants to be loved and pampered, and only the best can adequately address her needs. In return, she’ll shower her gentleman friend with unlimited amounts of love (and perhaps access to her trust fund). Wouldn’t she be a perfect girl for 2DT? He’s classier than everyone else around by miles, and he’s patient and caring enough to give Iori the love that she needs. She’s fun around people she likes, and her cheer and childish energy would further enrich his life.”

The final part of this series will be coming to you on Christmas Eve.  Stay tuned!

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