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.
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.