Midday at a coffee shop. Two hours into the most boring transcription on viral uncoating and mechanisms of anti-retroviral drug resistance in HIV (as if it couldn’t be any more boring than that) and I was desiring a break. Anything to breathe some color into the monochromatic cloud that had seeped its way into the establishment like a dense thicket of smoke from some unknown source. I had recently updated my copy of The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls: Starlight Stage for the on-going event, so I figured it a great opportunity to let out some steam through some furiously timed button mashing. In goes the headphone jack into the audio jack of my cellphone and on goes the game, only for me to realize that the jack wasn’t all the way in. And to my horror, the opening fanfare blared out of the built-in speakers at full blast:
The shrill tone of teenage girls shouting full blown Engrish resonated from my spot in the center of the cafe, and all eyes were on me. The monochromatic haze was replaced with an even heavier hue of red, and my face was flush and salmon. I tried not to seem fazed — nonchalant almost — to the point that I acted just as offended as anyone else in the room (although in retrospect, I never did look at anyone’s reaction — I just assumed they were offended in some way). And just like that, my break came to an abrupt end as I decided to clear out the jumbled color space of the now red-heavy cafe back to a stale monochromatic grey.
I believe as anime fans, we’ve all experienced something like this at some point. Outside of the confines of the circles to which we are comfortable at expressing ourselves, there is a certain point at which we feel vulnerable and prone to judgement. Queer is an odd way to sum up this experience. Like a queer struggling to come to grips with his or her sexuality in the face of an oppressive society, so too do I feel that some things I actually enjoy don’t hold very well when exposed to the public.
And that’s the reality of anime: it’s a niche following. Even in Japan, it’s considerably niche, and many have appropriated the supposedly derogatory title of Otaku as part of a symbol of counter-culturalism. But at the end of the day, titles only mean something to the people that hold them — like a badge of honor that shields them from the unsavory judgement that is often implied by it. Because people who don’t understand our hobbies can either tolerate and try to understand, or at worse, harbor some sentiment that treats us no differently than the queers of society that differ from a supposed social norm.
But to hell with what society thinks. I’m not hurting anyone, and it’s not as if I’m demanding for otaku rights or anything like that. But then I realized a deeper insecurity that lies less in what people think of me as a person with certain interests in anime. Case-in-point Card Captor Sakura. It was a show I grew up with in high school, and having recently come back in 2018, means that I am now a fresh 30-year old enjoying the exploits of a young girl in middle school. I wouldn’t have thought twice about the setup until my niece caught me watching it on the TV and asked me an interesting question:
“Uncle, why are you watching that?”
I don’t think the intention was to judge me — it was likely out of curiosity — but then I probably read too much into the question than I should have. As a grown man, why was I watching a show about a kid? Or as a man, why was I watching something so frilly and obviously girl-oriented? And then I was struck by a sense of guilt for having thought of such politically charged questions against myself and my niece in the first place. There should be no need to assume politically correct stances with regard to media content and sexuality (i.e. this is for boys and this is for girls); neither should there be any need to demonize watching children as anything charged in any way (because it isn’t). So where then was this insecurity coming from?
Again, we go back to social norms — expectations that seemingly fit one’s expectations towards another. It’s something we can’t really do much about other than express ourselves in a way that is productive (if learning from Chitose has taught us anything). Hence why I’ve begun to challenge myself in expressing myself as a lover of anime and all things cute.
I’m quite envious of my old college professor turned colleague who openly displays figurines in his office, ranging from the innocuous Totoro to the more risqué Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell. There’s something refreshing in seeing his cubicle — adorned with trinkets and colorful posters — that seemingly glows like a translucent rainbow amidst the drab colors of the spaces around him. His space speaks vibrancy, presence, and passion — something I’ve been thinking about regarding my own passions in Anime.
Hence the ultimate goal — the “coming out of the closet” so to speak — go to a Magical Mirai. Yes, a lengthy article only to discuss my own dream to wave a glow stick like a crazed fan to the tune of poppy, idol girl bits. And I guess when you look past the ridiculousness of watching pre-rendered visuals as a surrogate to an actual concert experience, the whole point of it is not in whether or not this passes for anything socially acceptable at all. As far as societies standards are concerned, they just don’t know what they’re missing. This is passion, vibrancy, and excitement that turns the dull monochrome into a wonderful palette of imagination and joy. This is the reason we love what we love — this is why we should step out of our closets and let people know that we love what we love.
And so I packed up my things and hurriedly left the coffee shop to save me the trouble of having to fend off judging eyes at my feeble attempts to conceal my blunder. And in my scurry, I heard the familiar sound of the opening of Girl’s Last Tour playing from the dinky speakers of a Dell laptop in the corner of the shop. I don’t know if I looked at the person watching, and I don’t know if they looked at me either, but for some reason, the color of the clouds became a radiant yellow, and I couldn’t help but smile.