Personal life


My blog has reached over 5000 hits as of today.  For an anime blog that’s only been around for about three months, it feels like an achievement.  Of course, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to beasts like Anime Diet or Sankaku Complex.  But I’m quite happy with the attention I have so far:  I’m in blogrolls, I get written about on Ani-Nouto, and I get high praise from established bloggers.

Other people might write for themselves, but I’ll admit it.  I’m so vain.

Image by Rozen Weapon (http://www.geocities.jp/rozenweapon)

Image by Rozen Weapon (http://www.geocities.jp/rozenweapon)

So on one hand: Hooray, people LIKE me!  But on the other hand, I almost feel an enhanced sense of responsibility, now that I know I’m not just screaming at the walls.

My philosophy from the start has been to write about anime in a thoughtful and intellectually grounded way, but also to be accessible to everyone.  I see the anime fan world as a spectrum:  Anime-related academia is fascinating, and ultimately it’s more permanent, but it’s also tough to decipher and slow by nature.  On the flip side, there are lightning-fast news, reviews and editorials aplenty on the Internet, but critical observation is rare.

There are a few sites that I feel bridge this gap.  Most of them are on my blogroll.  But there isn’t nearly enough, so here I am trying to bring in my own little piece of change by writing micro-essays about the contemporary anime scene.  Maybe this will catch on, and then things will get a bit bigger than my little po-dunk WordPress page.  Or maybe I’ll run out of steam.

Right now, I just hope I’m doing a decent job of it.

Mio 01

In other news, I met a female bassist on the train today who bore a remarkable resemblance to Mio.  Even down to the classy hime cut, which was refreshing compared to all the feathered orange hair I see usually.  I would have loved to ask for her number, but here’s the sad part: We weren’t able to communicate much beyond “bass, kakkoii, daigaku no keion-bu, ganbatte.”  That and a lot of fruitless gesturing.

To be fair, her English was also abysmal (which, incidentally, really makes me wonder about my job).  But that’s the answer, plain and true:  Even if Mio was real and you met her, chances are she literally wouldn’t be able to talk to you. Better start cracking those books for your waifus, boys.

There ought to be an anime about young adults and their English classes, like a Japanese take on Please Teach Me English.  I guarantee it would be comedy gold.

This is going to be longer and more awkward than my usual entries.  For an explanation and other posts in the “Diary of an Anime Lived” series, click here.

When getting to know other fans, eventually this question always comes up: “So what’s your favorite anime?” I don’t really know why it does; it’s hard enough having a favorite ice cream flavor or a favorite color, don’t you think?  There’s just so much anime out there, and none of it is perfect.  But I’ve had time to mull it over, and I believe I’ve come to a satisfactory answer: My favorite anime is Video Girl Ai.

It’s an odd choice, all things considered.  People don’t get why I put so much value in a six-episode OVA from 1992, about a girl who magically pops out of a VHS tape.  Long before Akikan! and Chokotto Sister, back when people bought expensive Laserdiscs to watch Oh My Goddess, Video Girl Ai was one of the first shows I ever watched.  You have to understand that I was quite enchanted with the idea as a teenager.

But as I’ve gotten older and discarded other shows from my youth, I’ve found that Video Girl Ai’s meaning has only appreciated with time.  What was once a kitschy, slightly perverted piece of entertainment has taken on a bit more sentimental value.

Video Girl Ai 01

Okay, time for the awkward part: I have been single my entire life.  I can count the number of dates I’ve been on with one hand, and every one of those affairs has ended in spectacular misery.  The most common advice is just to shrug and say, “If they don’t like me, it’s their problem.”  But I find it hard to be so cavalier in practice.  After a succession of failures and not a single success, it’s far more tempting to ask:

“What’s going on here?  I don’t think I’m hideous.  I don’t think I’m a douchebag.  I’m active, I have goals and interests, I cook and clean, I’m polite, I mean for god’s sake at least I bathe. How do other people make it look so easy?  Am I boring?  Am I undesirable?  Shit, is it because I like anime?  Can people tell?  Do I just give off some creepy vibe that everyone else can sense but me?  Why am I failing at this?  What’s wrong with me?”  And so on.

But after multiple rewatches over the years, Video Girl Ai has given me two valuable lessons in perspective, which I’ll share with you now.

(Video contains the intro and opening of episode 1.  Please watch; it’s golden.)

Lesson the First:  Love human beings, not fantasies.

The first few minutes of Video Girl Ai might seem disturbing from a contemporary perspective.  Ai is an artificial construct, one of many “Video Girls” created by the gods to comfort lonely men.  Our hero Youta is nursing an unrequited love, and it’s precisely when everything seems hopeless that Amano Ai enters his life.  From just that synopsis, it’s easy to make a comparison to modern-day otaku escapism and the moe complex.

But the brilliant part is that Ai isn’t just a fantasy given form.  After she emerges from Youta’s shitty VCR, Ai is quite different from her video:  She’s rude, she’s childish, she can’t cook nearly as well as she says, and at the start she only has so much patience for Youta before she wants to hit him.  But ironically enough, because of all these flaws Ai comes across as more “real” than Youta’s human crush, Moemi, who is attractive and pleasant, but about as interesting as a plastic cutting board.  Which love is real, and which is the fantasy?

Consider the eternal question– “Why doesn’t s/he love me?” Taking the above in mind, frankly, it’s because they aren’t residents of your fantasy world where you’re the obvious choice for them.  Beyond that, it doesn’t matter why.  They just don’t, and you have to deal.  On one hand, it means you have to come to terms with not being in control.  But on the other hand, there’s also no need to stress.  No matter how many shiny idols you construct around someone, they’re still human, and they’re going to feel what they feel regardless, both good and bad.

Does that help me deal?  Yes, sometimes it does.

(From here on in, I’m talking about the ending of the OVA.  The manga goes on quite a bit further from this point, but consider it fair warning.)

Lesson the Second:  Life continues after the confession.

Most romantic comedies end after the main characters admit that they like each other.  There are some refreshing exceptions (His and Her Circumstances, Lovely Complex), but as noted, they’re exceptions.  Video Girl Ai isn’t so much better in that regard, but it has one memorable stroke of genius: Youta’s final test in the video world and his painful climb up the glass staircase of love.

That scene is hard to watch, but the allegory is unforgettable:  In pursuit of love, you’re going to get hurt, cut to pieces, messed up in ways you didn’t even think possible.  Even when you know you love someone, there’s no guaranteed happiness anywhere.  Youta is aware at least that he doesn’t just want to get laid, but that doesn’t make his feelings any stronger or more permanent.  By loving Ai, he is making a gamble, just like everyone gambles, betting on their integrity and the strength of their hearts.

After we get to the first date, we could worry about the second, and then the third, and then the appropriate time to call someone your girlfriend/boyfriend, and on and on.  We could worry about the future and the inevitable end.  Or we could do as Youta says and appreciate the fact that we love someone right now.  Given that choice, I at least see what I should be doing.

To be honest, love life and self-esteem is a bundle of issues that I still grapple with.  Video Girl Ai hasn’t quite saved me from that.  But, like everything else I write about, it’s given me food for thought, and thinking about it this way has actually helped me mature.  Video Girl Ai speaks to my current life as a grown-up: a life that, as an adolescent popping that first fateful tape into my VCR, I had never imagined would be quite like this.

Yesterday was sports day for the school.  It was good to see the kids having fun, but combined with the after-sports day party with the teachers, I feel exquisitely awful today.  And yet, we continue to fight.

Kamichu 01

So the crowning irony of living in Japan, in my opinion, is that I’m more isolated as an anime fan than ever before.  Manga is ubiquitous, of course, and everyone knows the long-running children’s shows, but that’s about the extent of things.  The other foreign teachers are a little more hip to my game, but I still feel like I need to tread very carefully around the subject.  I don’t want to be branded a geek with the few people that I could call a support network.

The problem with that is that anime is, or was, a significant part of my social life.  I like to watch it and keep up with the latest news, but most importantly I like to TALK about it.  Face to face, sitting in comfy chairs with a pot of tea or coffee is the way I prefer it, but simply the pleasure of interacting with another anime fan is important.  It’s refreshing.  I don’t have access to that here.

Kamichu 02

The other day I was visiting a shrine, and it was explained to me (by a white girl from Michigan—go figure) that the torii gates you see in front of every shrine function as holistic gateways.  What this means is that once you step through the torii, not only have you formally entered the world of the kami, but you have also stepped into the shared universe of every shrine ever built.  Each one of Shinto’s sacred spaces is literally the same place, forming a kind of spiritual network that keeps Japan together.

How is that related?  Well, I’m just thinking about blogging, about the Internet in general and what it does for me in this profoundly quiet part of Japan.  If you’re reading this entry, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Japan, America or Singapore.  The ani-blogosphere, too, is a kind of holistic space, a virtual convention ground.  Once we log onto our computer gateways, we can all interact in a shared digital universe over anime, where the only distance is one of words.

And you know, that helps a little bit.  For now, at least, I can get by on that.

The images in this post are from Kamichu!, a truly delightful anime.  If we happen to meet in person, let’s talk about it.  I might even buy you a cup of coffee.  How’s that for generosity?

Summer’s finally here, and the mosquitoes are having a ball on my veins.  But would I forsake the pain of bug bites if it meant never knowing the pleasure of scratching them?  Honestly, I don’t think I would.

Tsumugi 01

Anyway, to help myself get along in Japan, I’ve been doing a crash course in Japanese with a series of self-study programs: Pimsleur for listening/speaking, Heisig and Anki for kanji, and occasionally A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar for my linguistics fix.  It’s a very unstandard way of learning the language, but I think it’s ideal for a total beginner who wants to obtain good fundamentals on their own.

And surprisingly, despite everything I’ve been told, anime has been fairly helpful.  Really, though, once you get past simple anti-otaku prejudice, why wouldn’t it be?  Even stilted, overwrought “anime” Japanese from a native speaker is still Japanese from a native speaker.  On at least one occasion I’ve had useful vocabulary come to me that I’d never studied in my life, and it’s almost certainly a result of listening to stock anime phrases again and again.  Exposure is exposure, and exposure is good.

But, that said, pretending that anime does anything more than salve the ego is dangerous.  Let me be clear:  In this country, I am illiterate and have the communication skills of a five year-old.  If I weren’t hired specifically to teach English in English, I would be a useless mess.  The few things I’ve retained from anime–like chit-chatting about the weather, or begging people to speak slower– just give me the incentive and the confidence to learn more, and to learn properly.

Today’s post is dedicated to Tsumugi “Mugi” Kotobuki, the best character in K-ON! Thanks to her, I was able to locate barley tea (mugi-cha), chocolate digestives (mugi-choko bisuketto), and bread flour (komugikko) at the supermarket.  Thank you, Mugi.  And thank you, anime.

Every so often, I’ll be using “A Personal Note” to denote entries where I just talk about my life.  I don’t intend to ramble on (the hit tracker on my control page reminds me every day that I write in a public space).  But once in a while I feel the need to situate myself.

So, for the record, I don’t actually teach in Japan yet.  I fly out to Tokyo for teacher training this weekend, and my assignment in Tottori begins the following week.   At the moment, I’m packing and letting my mind wander:  A couple of days ago, a friend of mine mentioned a magazine article about the lack of artifacts in contemporary life.   With the increasing digitization of everything we do, the argument goes that there’s a perilous dearth of tangible objects to leave for future generations.  There’s no physical evidence of who we were and what we did.

On one hand, I think I’m part of the problem.   For my long stay in Japan, I’m taking clothes, toiletries, and my precious, precious laptop.  I’ll get some furnishing when I’m there, so I don’t feel like I need anything else to get by.  But on the other hand, I’m leaving in my family’s care a lot of things that I didn’t realize I had:  Birthday cards.  My wisdom teeth.  The corsage that I wore to prom.  Virtually every pair of glasses that I’ve ever owned.  These are not things that I want destroyed.

For all that I enjoy the notion of a digital zen lifestyle, it turns out I’m not so simple after all.  I have real, physical objects anchoring me in time and space.  I suppose at least I have incentive to come back.

Anyway, I expect to be inactive for about a week as I get settled in.  Apologies.  But I’ll be back tout-suite.

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