Personal life


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.

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.

“Here’s the way the pros do it: ‘offkai.’
It means a meeting, offline.”
- 2chan.us, Dear America: Learn to Offkai 

“The saddest image in the world,” he said, “is a man alone, gargoyled over his computer, watching anime.”

I was at Koko’s Café with Akira.  He stirred condensed milk into a cup of coffee as he talked.  “I mean, it’s horrifying, isn’t it?  I really hate that.  That’s why I drove over an hour to meet you.”

Akira on The Idolm@ster: "Not enough Miki."

The drive for me was ten minutes, but I understood the investment.  In many ways it was like preparing for a blind date:  Did I pick nice clothes?  (Yes, the night before.)  Did I shave, do my hair, apply a spritz of cologne to my wrists and pulse points?  (Check, check, check.)  Scribble down the directions, grab my wallet, one last check in the mirror (Gorgeous), and off I go…  Yet one can’t help being nervous.  This is, after all, a meeting with Internet People.

Stepping into the café, I felt disoriented.  Who was I looking for?  A flesh and blood person and not a Hoshii Miki avatar, I reminded myself – Not that I did him any favors, giving him literally nothing to go on but a 128-square-pixel icon of Amano Ai.  The real Akira, when I spotted him, was an imposing young man with a masculine voice.

“This guy here’s a legend,” he said to his friend, the café owner.

He laughed.  “Are you?”

“Apparently?”  I squeaked.

Contrary to my fevered nightmares of awkward silence, we had a lot to talk about.

“If there’s anything wrong with anime, it’s that it plays too safe.”  He sucked a bit of condensed milk off the end of his spoon.  “It isn’t curious.  Curiosity saves us, but geeks are actually some of the most un-curious people out there.”

“ ‘Just give us more high school chuunibyou.’ ”

“Exactly.  If you think about what an otaku is, it’s a person who is completely fixated on this one thing.  The few shows that push the envelope are great!  And they inevitably do really, really poorly.”

“Not a lot of auteurs in anime, I suppose.”

“We’re definitely more inclined to think of studios.  In fact, if you think of the directors in the otakusphere who have name recognition value, you’d have: Shinbo, arguably Ikuhara, and…” he took a little breath.  “Yamakan.”

“Poor guy.”

“Sena is much more believable than Kirino ever was.  Look, here’s this beautiful girl who’s obsessed with eroge, and guess what?  She really has no friends!  The people she hangs out with barely tolerate her hobbies!”

“Like when Sena compares Kobato to such-and-such game character, and Yozora goes, ‘Uh, can you not?  That’s really gross.’”

He laughed.  “Great show.  It says so much.”

The sun was setting when I had to go; I was running late for work.  We had talked for over four hours.  Our fingers jittered; the magic love spell of multiple coffees.

“This was good,” I said.

“Yeah, thanks for coming,” said Akira.  “We should do this again.  I won’t be back for a while, but maybe in the spring.”  We shook hands.  And as I walked out the door, he said the most inevitable goodbye:

“See you online.”

I gave a little salute.  “Yep.”

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
- Dylan Thomas

It’s hard to find the right words for Aoyama Kei.  He wasn’t prolific.  His art style didn’t stand out especially.  I read China Girl a few months ago, liked it, resolved to write something about it, and then promptly forgot amidst the piling minutiae of leaving Japan.

“I’m looking for my one in three billion.”

That post — now and forever unwritten — was going to be about the New Sincerity, how some authors are trying to stand for principles that would make cynics scoff, such as “true love is out there for everyone, if you just look hard enough.”  I was going to say that China Girl was an example of bright-eyed, sentimental storytelling, of a gee-golly attitude that was downright rebellious in its capacity for hope.

And then the author killed himself.  How does one rebut a statement like that?

On his Twitter account, now closed, Aoyama said he had no regrets.  I wonder: Could a thirty-two year-old man truly find himself standing at the precipice of a chair with a silk noose wrapped around his throat, about to take his very last step on earth, and believe that coming to this point wasn’t an enormous sign that he did, in fact, have regrets?  Apparently so.  I’m in no position to judge.

But he could have made so much!  China Girl is a great story, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about his other works, obscure though they may be.  Yet, when I get to them, I’ll know that whatever else Aoyama Kei might have offered the world was willfully erased from existence.  It makes me feel angry, and upset, and utterly powerless.

Maybe this is too much feeling to reserve for someone I’ve never met.  But I’ll say this, and I hope nobody forgets it: Time is too precious to just give to the void.

Aoyama Kei
1979-2011
Requiescant in pace.

Very short vanity post today, because I can’t seem to get the words out just as I want them.  This is probably a sign in itself.

It’s been nearly a month since I returned from Japan.  I’ve acquired the essentials of modern American living, and starting next week I’ll be working evenings at a cram school.  I’ve also joined a writers’ circle, and I’m pulling at what connections I have to see what the future holds.  Every day is a rush to get things done.  This is good, because I think if I had a quiet moment all to myself, I might just scream.

Gently, into a pillow. No sense in being overdramatic about it. (I’ll let you puzzle out the relevance of this picture.)

The shock of re-entry feels almost like a betrayal.  I’m supposed to be “back,” but in reality it’s like I’m doing the foreigner dance again, just in a funhouse-mirror sort of way.  I’m shocked at how much I have to drive, and how suddenly I can understand everything around me.  Manga aisles have gotten smaller.  Food I’ve missed tastes awful.  Everything old feels new again, but the worst thing is that I can’t tune any of it out.

I know it’ll fade in time.  I was ready to leave Japan, and I’ll get used to California again, just like I got used to Tottori.  It’s not like I don’t have enough new things to keep me busy, between the podcast and my creative work.  I should take a deep breath, tap into my zen and just get on with it.

And yet, it’s almost 3 in the morning, and here I am, out of steam.  Tough cookies.

Source: Keisan (Pixiv #1060293)

“One thing has become quite clear: all acquaintances are passing.  Therefore I want to make the most of every contact.  I want to quickly get close to the people I meet because my experience has shown we won’t be together long.”
- Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself

It’s been two years since I posted A Personal Note #1.  I wrote it about two weeks after I started the blog, but rather than celebrate that anniversary, I’d like to celebrate this one instead.  Two years ago, I hadn’t quite departed, and now I find that I haven’t quite returned.

In some ways, I really can’t go home again.  The house I grew up in was sold after I flew to Tokyo.  Friends grew distant, people passed away, and I lost some things through sheer carelessness that I now realize were precious.

But I’m not saying this because I want to have myself a pity party.  Rather, I recognize that when I return to the States, I face a unique opportunity that few people get, and which I should make the most of:  Total reinvention.  I’ve learned a lot in Japan, and hopefully it will all come in handy for the journey ahead.

I’m going to disappear now, just for a while.  No blogging, no Twitter, no e-mails.  Sorry, but I need the time.  (And more to the point, my Internet’s going to get shut off soon.)  Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it.

Two years, like a whirlwind…  What an awful cliché.

Bye-bye.

 

I met a man in Osaka.  He was a foreigner like me, an ex-teacher, now a business owner in nearby Kobe.

Nursing a not-very-good vodka tonic, I did as foreigners often do when we’re strangers to each other and asked:  So, why’d you come all the way to Japan?

“Well bru,” he said (a thoroughly Kiwi expression, which I loved), “I came here in 1984 to teach English at an eikaiwa.  There was really good money in it then, much better than now.”

He then told me that he was going to leave soon, returning to New Zealand with his Japanese wife and children.  I asked why, and he said, “The way I see it, this country’s headed to a very dark place.  They’re technologically isolated, economically they’re stagnant, they’ve got an incredible debt that would sink other countries…”

He pointed at me.  “If you want some advice, young man, I’ll tell you:  Do what you came to Japan to do–  practice judo, meet Japanese girls, make some money, whatever–  and then get the hell out.

Though once you get married, you'll tend to stay. (Source: My Darling is a Foreigner)

But that’s what everyone already does.  With English teaching, it’s easier than ever to be an expatriate in Japan, and that means you can be anyone: Japan has people like Koji Oe who focus monomaniacally on anime, manga and games; born-again frat boys who are only interested in Japanese culture to the extent that it will get them into a J-girl’s pants; working backpackers who use Japan as a base for trips to Southeast Asia, where they can live like kings on the yen.  Any goal under the sun is possible.

Japan, for most of its expatriate residents, is just another Disneyland or Vegas:  Live the dream (whatever your dream is), have your fun, then leave.

Illustration by Imperial Boy.

Maybe it’s because I’m four weeks away from my flight home, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just the same.  Truthfully, looking back, I was a bit of everything.  Yes, I wanted a Japanese girlfriend.  I reveled in being able to go to Akihabara whenever I wanted, getting that little bit of respect from the blogosphere for being someone who lives in Japan.  I saw the world at the expense of my coworkers’ schedules.  And now that I have a new purpose, I’m getting out and planning to “start real life.”

That’s a phrase you hear a lot, among the foreigners who are about to leave.  And in some ways, this experience has been pretty unreal after all.  But I don’t want to have just been another exploiter.  I want to believe I’m leaving something better behind than just the memory of a dream.

“Sensei, what grades do you teach?  Will you come to our class soon?”

I was having lunch with the second-year students, who I’ve known since they were in elementary school.  This was Kouki, a tall, deep-voiced boy who looks like he should be in high school.  He apparently has a reputation as a “bad boy,” but he’s always been well-behaved and polite with me.  Maybe I give off the right teacherly aura.

“Well, I teach all grades, but not every English lesson.  So, for you guys… I dunno, maybe next Monday?”  I gave him my milk, which I try to get rid of every day because I’m mildly lactose-intolerant.  The kid eats like a horse, so it was a good compromise.

“Oh.”  He seemed disappointed.

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, it’s just that you visit us a lot less than you did last year.”  This was true, but largely out of my hands.  I was lucky to get them even just two times a week.  I like them a lot– truthfully, in my unprofessional heart of hearts, they’re my favorites–  so of course I’d see them more if I could.

I smiled.  “Awww.  Kouki-kun, do you miss me?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “We all do.”

…  But what am I supposed to say to something like that?

I leave Japan at the end of July.  Only two and a half months left.

I walked ten thousand miles, ten thousand miles to see you
And every gasp of breath, I grabbed at just to find you
I climbed up every hill to get to you
I wandered ancient lands to hold just you

And every single step of the way, I pay
Every single night and day, I searched for you
Through sandstorms and hazy dawns, I reached for you

I’ll be back in April.  Be good, everyone.

This post is part of Nopy’s series, My History With Anime.  I also reached 230,000 views some time ago, so let’s consider this a commemoration post as well.

A friend of mine, a fellow geek who isn’t interested in anime, recently asked me an interesting question: What’s the difference between him and me?  That is, what makes an anime fan–  not just somebody who occasionally reads Naruto and has seen Afro Samurai, but the kind of devotion that results in attending anime conventions every year, buying premium media and goods, writing about anime online (on blogs, forums, Twitter, what-have-you) and keeping up with its latest trends?

 

The epitome of "Sure, I watch some anime," which I still have yet to see in its entirety.

Is there some grand unified theory for the fans we become?  When we tell history, it’s very tempting to say, “When you take into account factors X, Y and Z, such-and-such was bound to happen.”  But I want to avoid inevitability-in-retrospect.

For example: I fit many aspects of a love-shy person.  My mother still recalls with joy what a calm and quiet baby I was.  Lately, she also complains that I don’t have a girlfriend because I’m too withdrawn and cold to the ladies.  It hurts (I love you, mom), but I won’t deny it.  I also never liked playing with other boys, and always preferred to be alone or with the company of just one friend.

Was I destined to become a geek?  Well, I’d say it was certainly in the cards.  Was I destined to become an anime geek?  Not necessarily!  So what happened?

 

This may be hard to believe now, but "Shooting Star" really did rock my world, once upon a time.

There’s an interesting, if somewhat dry article called “Complex Contagions and the Weakness of Long Ties” (PDF).  Basically, what it says is that there are strong/short ties (e.g. immediate family, close friends), and weak/long ties (e.g. Facebook friends).  Long ties are good for spreading simple contagions, like information and disease (hence “viral marketing”).  But complex contagions that require confirmation from multiple sources, like political and artistic movements, also need shorter ties as they become more difficult to maintain.

I look back on my history as a fan, and I see a whole lot of shows that left their mark: Sailor Moon and Tenchi Muyo in Love (rented from that old dinosaur, Blockbuster) got me started, Evangelion, Video Girl Ai and Love Hina rekindled my interest as a teenager, Midori Days introduced me to the concept of keeping up with seasons, R.O.D. the TV Series introduced me to BitTorrent, Kotoko in Please Teacher! and the Indigo in Ai Yori Aoshi turned me on to newer anisongs.  And on and on and on.

 

I purchased all the ROD TV Series DVDs as they came out, and they were worth every dime. The retouched animation is a-MAY-zing!

It seems to me that anime fandom is a complex contagion, but not an especially difficult one.  That is, you need confirmation to keep going the way you do, but you don’t need terribly much.  Before Japan, I always had a short tie: Some close friend or two who was really into anime, and who would encourage me to be really into anime as well.  Now, as an ani-blogger and a compulsive Twitter-checker, I have a whole lot of long ties to anime.  And that’s working out better than ever.

So, what is an otaku?  Why am I one, while someone else just as geeky is not?  Basically, it’s all with a little help from my friends. Thanks guys.

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