Why I Talk About Anime On Twitter

My dad once told me a story about a guru that he’d heard while he had been traveling around India. Dad is a Baby Boomer, and Baby Boomers have a special place in their hearts for India. The Beatles went to India, and then came back and recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Steve Jobs also went to India, and then came back and founded Apple. This sort of thing makes Baby Boomers believe that if they go to India, they too might come back enlightened enough to create something visionary and world-changing.

Which doesn’t really ever work. Mostly they just come back with diarrhea.

But whatever the case may be, after dad retired, he bought a plane ticket to India (of course he had the money – he’s a Baby Boomer) to go on the grand adventure at 60 (of course he was retired by 60 – he’s a Baby Boomer) that he had wanted to go on at 25, but hadn’t been able to. Dad didn’t come back and record any chart-topping psychedelic albums or start up a Fortune 500 company (I certainly wish he had), though in fairness to him, while he did not find what he was looking for in India, he nevertheless came to have a real appreciation for what he did actually encounter there. (A few years later, after my sister died, he took a portion of the money he intended to leave her as his inheritance and used it to found a small medical clinic, which bears her name, in a remote Indian village in which he had stayed for a time.)

But if dad was able to find something worth embracing in India, others were not so fortunate. Which brings us to the story of the guru and the Englishman.

The Englishman was also a Baby Boomer, and the Englishman had also come to India on an extended quest to find enlightenment of the sort that the Maharishi had imparted upon George Harrison. This was a task to which the Englishman devoted himself tirelessly. At some point in his travels, he managed to hear about the guru, who had a reputation for great wisdom and spiritual understanding even among other gurus. Unlike the Maharishi, whose taste for fame and all that comes with it eventually caused even the Beatles to disavow him, the guru was a hermit and an ascetic who lived in a humble cabin in an isolated spot many miles from the nearest town. The Englishman became determined to meet the guru. He rented a Land Rover (he had been told that many of the roads that he would encounter would be difficult) and with no more than a few rumors as his guide, intrepidly set out to find him.

And find him the Englishman did. After weeks of driving from town to town searching for information, he finally found someone who both knew where the guru could be found and was willing to tell him. First thing the next morning, the Englishman loaded up his Land Rover and drove off to find the enlightenment he sought. Paved roads gave way to gravel roads, which gave way to dirt roads, which gave way to a narrow footpath, but the Land Rover was designed for such conditions and made its way through them without any trouble. As the Englishman drove along the footpath, he noticed faint but unmistakable tire tracks on either side of it – evidence that he was not the first to have made this journey. Finally, as the sun began to reach its height in the clear blue sky, the guru’s cabin came into view.

The guru lived not on a mountaintop, but in the middle of a wide field, his cabin surrounded by a large garden in which he grew his vegetables. As the Land Rover came to a stop outside, the guru, who had heard the noise of its approach, opened his door and walked out to meet its occupant. The guru was a man of some years, thin and small of stature, but sprightly and energetic. As the Englishman got out of the Land Rover, the guru walked up to him, shook his hand, and gave him a few warm words of welcome. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, considering India’s history of colonization – the guru spoke pretty decent English. After introductions were made there was a pause, as the Englishman prepared to tell the guru about his purpose in coming, the questions he had, and the wisdom he was seeking. But before he could begin speaking, the guru broke the silence:

“Hey, that’s a really nice Land Rover. A newer model, isn’t it?”

The Englishman was rather taken aback. “Well, yes, but…”

“I believe this one has a V8 engine instead of the old straight six?”

The Englishman had to admit that he didn’t know one way or the other.

“Well, why not open the bonnet then…” asked the guru, “and let’s have a look?”

The Englishman answered in a tone of surprise, with just a hint of dismay: “Well… you see… what I really came to talk to you about was of a more spiritual nature…”

The guru had already started a walkaround of the car, and was now standing by its rear gate.

“Yes, of course. There will be plenty of time for all of your questions. You are welcome to stay as long as you like.” Here the guru paused, and then, almost apologetically, continued: “But there is one small thing I would like to ask of you.”

Suddenly encouraged by the possibility that now they were getting somewhere, the Englishman answered that of course, he would do whatever the guru asked.

Delighted, the guru replied: “Is there any chance that sometime later you might let me try driving your Rover a little bit? Don’t worry – I know how to drive, and this is such a fine piece of machinery.”

The Englishman, though more than a bit crestfallen, promised that he would.

It was then that the guru noticed a large cooler in the back of the Land Rover. The Englishman had left it open, and a few bottles of soda poked out of the ice.

“Oh, and… could I possibly impose on you by asking for a Coke?”

The guru’s level of asceticism was most certainly not living up to the Englishman’s expectations, and by this time the traveler’s reaction had gone from surprise to dismay to the increasingly upsetting feeling of having been duped, but he agreed nonetheless, opened the back of the vehicle, and handed the guru a bottle. The guru accepted, took a long drink, and smiled widely.

“Now, this is nice. Many thanks to you.”

There was a silence as the guru sipped his Coke. The Englishman was no longer so eager to interrupt it with questions, so after a few moments had passed, it was the guru, again, who spoke first:

“So you are from England! Have you come from there recently?”

The Englishman said that he had.

“In that case, I have an important question for you.”

Mustering the final bit of hope within him, the Englishman asked what the question might be.

With an interested look on his face, the guru asked: “How is Arsenal doing this season?”

The Englishman had had enough. He quickly concocted some pretext, closed the gate of the Land Rover, and left. As he had promised, he allowed the guru to drive the first half-mile or so back down the footpath, and then left him on it as he drove away alone. The last he saw of the guru was in his rearview mirror, as the guru, after smiling and cheerfully waving goodbye, turned around to walk back to the solitude of his cabin.

* * *

The Englishman had, of course, completely missed the point of everything that had occurred during the encounter. He had expected the guru to ignore the Land Rover, to have no taste for anything as artificial as Coca Cola, and to have no interest in banalities like football. He expected the guru, in fact, to actively wish to avoid such things in the interest of spiritual self-denial. But the guru understood something that the Englishman did not – that spiritual self denial is a point along a path; that it is a means, not an end. Its end lies in the ability of the individual to prove to himself that he can live without luxuries, comforts, and distractions. Once that point has been proven, once that lesson has been internalized, it is then possible to reapproach those things without excessive attachment to them. This is important because it is the attachment, not the thing in and of itself, that is harmful. This sentiment is expressed in the Bible as well. As some libertarians have pointed out, the oft-quoted remark from Christ that money is the root of all evil is a case of misquote by omission, one that changes the meaning of what was said in a subtle but important way. What Christ actually said is that love of money is the root of all evil. Money is simply a tool of trade, necessary in economies above the scale of a small village. It is the love of money – the excessive attachment it – that causes problems.

(One could, in fact, say that herein lies the real reason why Marxism failed. Marxism attempted to abolish avarice, meanness, and envy – all artifacts of excessive attachment to property – by abolishing property. What Marx, whose understanding of human nature was woefully inadequate, could not understand was that property in and of itself was never the problem; excessive attachment to it was. Thus, when the Marxists did abolish property, the negative aspects of human nature that spring from excessive attachment to property simply attached themselves to different objects, like political power.)

The guru, having freed himself from excessive attachments to luxuries, comforts, and distractions, had been able to reapproach them with a proper perspective in mind. By doing so, he could once again allow himself to admit certain truths: for example that Land Rovers are nice machines, and fun to drive; that Coca Cola is delicious, and (as any southerner knows) does wonders to cut the heat and humidity of a noontime sun; and that there’s nothing wrong with a enjoying a bit of footie. To deny that nice things are nice is not enlightenment but only a denial of reality, and there is no evil in simply being happy to have something nice. What had changed in the guru was that now he understood that none of these things is worth the emotional and spiritual damage of getting angry about, much less worth hurting someone else over. If the Englishman had not let him drive the Land Rover or had refused him a Coke, the guru would have lived without these things and borne no resentment towards him. The guru’s smile and friendly wave as the Englishman left were genuine, and would have been genuine either way.

That was the lesson that dad had taken away from the story, and I think it is a good and valid one. But I also think there was something else to be learned from it.

This wasn’t the first time that some Baby Boomer westerner had come to find the guru, and by this time the guru knew perfectly well what they all wanted to see. And while he felt no ill will towards them, he also felt no obligation to stage a Mystical Maharishi Metaphysics Show for them. That would have been an act, and why should he put on an act? After all, the guru wasn’t an actor – he was the real thing. Back in New Delhi there were plenty of people (fakers rather than fakirs) who would put on a show that would make the westerners feel very spiritual indeed, and that they could tell all their friends about when they got back to London or New York or Vancouver. Perhaps they should have known that anyone who has to put on a show of being something isn’t really ever the genuine article. Then again, if a person prefers a show to the real thing, then they aren’t ready to truly understand or appreciate the real thing. This is one reason why the guru was willing to gently send such people away.

Beyond that, one of the attachments that the guru had let go of was attachment to the approval of others. He could have gained the approval of the Englishman – and doubtless many more like him – by giving them what they wanted to see. But for someone who’s the real thing, that is both completely unnecessary and rather unseemly. The guru wasn’t going to go out of his way to be off-putting to them or to hurt their feelings, but neither was he going to change who he was to suit their desires. He wasn’t there to impress the Englishman, nor was he going to accept the idea that the Englishman was qualified to set any standards regarding how a proper guru should conduct himself. So he simply acted naturally, without much concern for what anyone else thought about it. He talked about the Land Rover because he was interested in the Land Rover. He asked for a Coke because he wanted a Coke. If the Englishman had been able to deal with that, and had stayed, the guru would have eventually answered all of his spiritual questions, as promised. But if he couldn’t, the guru would smile and wave as he left, feeling no anger towards the man, but no desire to chase after him and promise to do whatever it might take to be liked, either.

In short, as the kids say, the guru was too legit to be frontin’. Not only that, but he was also too based to care if other people couldn’t handle it.

Which brings me to the title of this essay. Why do I talk about anime on Twitter? Because I like anime.

If some people out there are looking for a guy who will put on a Righteous Rectitude Reactionary Show for them – someone who will speak only of the manliest things that were ever manly, who will claim to have no vices, who will say that he enjoys none of Modernity’s comforts, and who will pretend to not like fun things on the principle that fun is for pussies – then I’m not who they’re looking for. I don’t feel the need to do any of that, because I’m the real deal, I don’t have to put on an act, and if there’s anyone who can’t handle that, I’m not interested in changing to suit them. They can pack up their truck and hit the trail.

But hey, no hard feelings: I’ll smile and wave as they go – hell, I’ll even drive them the first half mile down the road.

On Homosexuality And Uranus

When I first got started with my reactionary writings, I thought I would be the only anime fan in these circles. Boy was I ever wrong.

Despite this, I sometimes get questions from those reactionaries who are not anime fans about aspects of anime and anime culture, often of the “How can you call yourself a reactionary when you like something which…” variety. Normally these are easy enough to answer, but there’s one that I’ve gotten a few times that deserves a bit more of an exploration; specifically as regards the seemingly tolerant attitude towards homosexuality often seen in anime. This is something that can indeed be confusing – it often leads people to think that anime is, as a genre, more leftist than it really is, and that Japan is, as a society, more tolerant of homosexuality than it really is (having lived there, I can assure you that it is not very receptive to open homosexuality). So here is my attempt at something like a full response – apologies in advance if it wanders about a little, as it is more a reflection than anything thesis-driven.

The short answer is that anime reflects the tolerant attitude that a society can have towards what Fred Reed referred to as “baroque sexualities” when they represent no threat to the prevailing heterosexual order. This, in turn, reflects the tolerant attitude that can be had towards any minority – whether it be a lifestyle minority, an ethnic minority, a religious minority, or a political minority – when it is below a certain level of prominence in that society.

This opens us up to looking at a much larger picture. But let us begin with homosexuality.

So then, anime reflects the attitudes of a society that isn’t threatened by homosexuality. This may seem like an ambiguous statement to make, since those of baroque sexuality have often, in sneering and pushy voices, asked “Are you threatened by my sexuality?”. Or at least they used to – now, of course, we know that that question was, in itself, a threat – the fulness of it, including the unspoken portion, would go something like: “Are you threatened by my sexuality? Well if not, just you wait. You’ll be paying astronomical fines for not wanting to bake a cake for my wedding or losing your job for daring to oppose my pet political causes soon enough, chump”.

And yet in Japan, and certainly in the world of anime, things are different. Anime homosexuals are carefully portrayed as not representing a threat to the prevailing cisheteronormist order. Let us take consider an early example, Sailors Uranus and Neptune from Sailor Moon. Though obviously (and yet never quite explicitly) a lesbian couple, one of whom has some prominent transgender (or at least highly androgynous) qualities, they never really make any demands for accommodation on the world that surrounds them. Sailor Uranus does not wish to upend the society around her in order to gain the validation involved in having her lifestyle redefined as normal; she only desires to be left in peace to discreetly live as she wishes. She doesn’t want to change marriage laws, get you fired for saying that you don’t like her, or tear down the faith of the polis.

And it is because of this that she can safely be left alone by the larger society around her. She is not a threat, so she can be treated as a curiosity – liked by some, disliked by others, but simply not worth bothering with on a societal level. The implicit, unspoken bargain that she makes with the larger society is both reasonable and humane – she gains a strong measure of security through obscurity, and the mores of the society around her remain secure. That is largely how it is in Japan, and how it largely used to be in the West as well. Laws against homosexuality in the West existed, but were essentially a hedge against precisely what has happened now that they have been removed – open, politicized homosexuality becoming a serious threat to the existing order. As for the discreet, private practice of homosexuality, laws against it are and always were virtually unenforceable (for many reasons, including the general disinterest of Westerners in taking any great pains to enforce them against those who kept their proclivities private), and when they were on the books they remained virtually unenforced.

To mix fictional metaphors a bit, I am reminded of the Borg from the Star Trek franchise. In one episode of, I believe, The Next Generation, several members of the crew find that they can, if they are discreet and quiet, move unmolested through a Borg ship, though they are in plain view of numerous Borg drones. The Borg, it turns out, are interested in assimilation at a civilizational level, not an individual level. Thus, if an individual, or even a very small group, moves through their ship and seems to present no threat, they are ignored. Below a certain level of prominence, they are simply not worth doing anything about.

This, again, can apply to any group that is a minority for any reason. Consider this: I shall describe the plot of a television show that is sure to be controversial in the modern day. In it, a red-haired white woman, portrayed as a bit of an amiable dimbulb, is in a mixed marriage with a Latino man. And not just Latino – he is an immigrant who often breaks into his native Spanish when annoyed with his wife, which is often, as she is a clumsy crybaby who can do little on her own. One can imagine the White Nationalist taking umbrage at the mixed marriage and the unflattering portrayal of the white woman. One can imagine the left heaping on praise of its brave multiculturalism. Controversial, then? Very likely so. And yet the show I have described is I Love Lucy, which debuted in 1951 to a general lack of socially-conscious reaction. This almost certainly is because, at the time, Latinos were so small a percentage of the U.S. population that they were in the range of being exotic curiosities (their small number was reflected in the fact that it wasn’t until the Census of 1970 – nearly twenty years later – that Latinos were counted as a distinct group). Even racism, that scourge of all things egalitarian, seems only to rear its head when a group reaches a certain prominence in a society.

And here we must define “prominence”, as I have intentionally used a term that could have its basis in multiple factors. Prominence could be based on sheer numbers – but it could also be based on political influence, cultural influence, disproportionate disposition to either a negative activity (e.g. criminality) or a positive one (e.g. economically important minorities like the Chinese in Malaysia), the loudness and severity of demands placed by it upon the surrounding society, or any number of other things that, voluntarily or involuntarily, cast aside a group’s security through obscurity and bring it to the attention of society at large. It is only then, once a group is past that certain level of prominence and can no longer be dismissed as a curiosity, that problems seem to start on any sort of large scale.

But let us return to the topic of anime and homosexuality.

Not long ago, I was asked my opinion of the late-90s series Revolutionary Girl Utena, which some say contains traditionalist themes (but also contains heavy lesbian themes). I had to admit to having never actually seen it, and so resolved, despite receiving some admonitions that it was “degenerate”, to watch at least some of the show. I am not far into the series as of this writing, but so far, it seems to me that it portrays an attitude towards homosexuality that is not so much degenerate, but reflective of what is, in a way, a very traditional view. What it shows are the pre-1960s attitudes of the old upper class in a society whose traditions were not under assault from politicized, weaponized homosexuality. It is, then, traditional in its representation of homosexuality in a sense, but so much so that modern reactionaries (and no matter how we may long for a more civilized past, we are all native-born sons of Modernity) may find it rather difficult to understand.

In the manners of the old British upper class, homosexuality, when practiced at all, was seen as something properly limited to the realm of a youthful indiscretion. A bit of schoolboy buggery at Eton or Harrow was treated with a wink and a nod, and not spoken of in polite company either in school or after graduation. It was not expected to be a lifestyle that one engaged in forever, much less a political cause. It was a thing one grew out of – the idea of being 45 years old and still “gay” (a term that would have been near-incomprehensible to them) would have been seen as being utterly ridiculous. Same-sex crushes of the idol-worship variety, for both males and females, were to be expected in one’s school years, but were simply a step along the way to a permanent romantic bond, which was to be found with one’s suitably upper-class wife (which illustrates how this attitude is not so very far off from that of the ancient Greek upper class, for whom boys were for recreational sex, and women for marriage and continuation of the family line). At that point, the less said about youthful indiscretions, the better.

A good example of this exists in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, which, though being of relatively modern vintage, seems to be rather incomprehensible to modern people. A recent film version (which I have not seen) is said to have reconfigured it so that the story is about a mean old Lady Marchmain and her spoilfun Catholic beliefs getting in the way of Charles and Sebastian’s eternal love (which would doubtless be sealed by a gay “marriage”, if the spoilfuns of the time had allowed such a thing). This, of course, misunderstands Waugh, his novel, and his message on so many levels as to be utterly risible. It filters it through modern eyes, and also through a demotist and egalitarian worldview, which cannot comprehend an older, upper class worldview that is very different from their own (it should be said that the attitude towards homosexuality that I have described was exclusively an upper-class one, both in that the lower classes did not share it and in that the upper classes did not believe that the lower classes should share it).

What destroys Sebastian Flyte is not his mean mother or her restrictive Catholic ways (which both Waugh and Charles Ryder accept), but the fact that while Charles eventually leaves his schoolboy days behind, grows up, and accepts his adult responsibilities as a member of the upper class, Sebastian steadfastly refuses to do so (his inappropriate adulthood attachment to his teddy bear is a prominent symbol of this). His persistent homosexual behavior and refusal to marry is one symptom of this, but his alcoholism is another. Excessive drunkenness was then, as it is now, rather expected of students at university – but it also was and is expected to stop when a young person graduates and enters the world of adult responsibilities. This is what Sebastian never accepts – to the last, he remains flaky, irresponsible, and childlike. It is this, not his mother’s sternness or the strictures of her religion, which is at the core of his descent into a spiral of self-destruction.

No wonder leftism, which is really no more than the political arm of the desperate desire for eternal adolescence, should turn him into a hero!

Similar things could be said of androgyny. Utena herself wishes to be a prince instead of a princess, and affects a certain androgyny which involves wearing a customized version of a male school uniform (still quite flattering though, this being anime and all). This, too, was something that was accepted, and even expected, at a certain stage of youth (although, admittedly, Utena pushes that boundary more than a little). Once, while touring Versailles, I came upon a portrait of Louis XVI as a toddler, wearing a full-length blue velvet dress. This was not at all unusual among the upper classes before the 20th century – both pre-pubescent boys wearing dresses and girls wearing trousers – because it was accepted that children were by nature androgynous, and came into their gender characteristics at puberty. But once the time to become young gentlemen and ladies arrived, young people were expected to put away the things of childhood, including androgyny. If Louis XVI had worn a dress to court as an adult, for example, even he would have been treated as having gone mad, King or not. The idea of spending a lifetime “transgender” or in a state of in a permanent, androgynous limbo, would have been unthinkable.

Utena may indeed be pushing the limits of when such things are overlooked, but she is still a schoolgirl, and the cultural assumption that androgyny will go the way of the same-sex school crush or the schoolboy buggery still looms in the background. At some point, she is expected to grow up and leave all that behind.

And perhaps this is as much the problem as anything. We are a Peter Pan society, in which people refuse to grow up, few seem motivated to comport themselves like adults, and everyone seems to run about asking for – no, demanding – validation for every aspect of their existence, even – especially – the baroque, the degenerate, the antisocial, and the sinful aspects of it. This has led us to an age of Totalism – in which it seems one must only either gushingly praise a thing or passionately hate it. It is an age of no quarter, in which the rule is to oppress or be oppressed, and only fools think that they can safely live and let live. That is the age in which we find ourselves, and we all know it, and feel it so deeply that it is difficult to remember that there have existed times and places in which “tolerance” meant what it actually means, and was not a codeword for the ruthless crushing of tradition and Christian morality.

These times and places were far more genteel and civilized than what we have now, and while we must never either forget that it was the left that was the aggressor, nor lose sight of what must be done to restore a decent society, it is still, I think, permissible to wish that we could live in them. A world in which private things are kept private, the prevailing culture of decency is not under threat, and the rule is not “They are always either at your feet or at your throat” is a humane and orderly one, and there is much to admire about it. To the degree that any anime series provides a look into such a world, I do not believe it to be degenerate. Someday, the Social Justice Warriors may come for anime in earnest (there are already some troubling signs here and there), but until and unless that happens, I see nothing wrong with continuing to watch.

Sailor Starlight

I didn’t know Peter Brown all that well. I’m not saying that I did. But in the mid-90s, anime was still not mainstream yet, the fan base was smaller, and everybody knew everybody, at least a little, or by reputation. And Peter Brown certainly did have a reputation.

In those days, the staff of the computer lab at Laney College – on the border of Oakland’s seedy downtown and its distinctly non-touristy Chinatown – was effectively the same as the makeup of its college anime club, Beefbowl Anime. It was run by a crazy bald second-generation Korean who mostly created fansubs by coercing his elderly father, who had been forcibly taught Japanese as a schoolboy during the Japanese occupation of Korea – to translate the likes of Tenchi Muyo and Macross Plus into English. The lab itself was a motley collection of computers that were ancient even then – some Mac SE/30s, a couple of squat IIci and IIvx machines, and a few PCs that still had 5 1/4” floppy drives. I’d go up there sometimes, hang out, wheel and deal for tapes – in those days, fansubs came on VHS tapes put together with Video Toasters, and you had to have connections to lay your hands on them (thus one reason why everybody got to know everybody – so you’d have people to trade with). As with so many things, it’s easier now, but with less human connection or sense of community. But I digress.

Peter Brown was kind of a member of Beefbowl and kind of not – it isn’t like most anime clubs back then had much real formal organization unless they were big operations like Cal Animage up at UC Berkeley. Everyone just kind of showed up when they could. Peter Brown showed up a lot. The first time I saw him was in the Laney computer lab before a Beefbowl showing (of a couple episodes each of Maison Ikkoku and DNA^2, I think). My first thought was “What a weird-looking girl!”. There was certainly a distinct androgyny to him: a plump, round, rather feminine face that was unmistakably half-white and half-Asian, long hair hanging down in a ponytail, a fanny pack (these were, and perhaps still are, thought of as a feminine or at least effeminate article of clothing); and besides this (much to my disapproval), girls do commonly wear jeans these days, so the rest of his clothes were no help.

Later, during the showing (the cool kids watched anime at home and came to club showings to hang out in the hallway, talk, and make connections), I asked who the girl in the blue jacket was. There was a round of laughter at my expense. Some ribald teasing ensued, which I professed bafflement at. One of the members of the club, a Chinatown native named Raymond, stopped to explain.

“That…” he said, crinkling his nose up as if he were smelling something bad, the way Chinese often do when they talk about something they dislike, “…is Peter Brown”.

I continued to be baffled. Who was he?

Peter Brown had a reputation, I learned, as a cosplayer. But with one distinct quirk – he always dressed as female characters. They have a term for that now; they call it “crossplay” (a portmanteau of “crossdressing” and “cosplay”). But Tumblr didn’t exist back then, so our term for it was “fucking weird”.

“How could you think that looked like a woman?”, somebody asked me accusingly.

Thinking fast, and wanting not to spend the rest of the evening as the butt of jokes, I shot back “Well it sure as shit doesn’t look like a man!”

And everyone conceded that I had a point there. The ribald teasing subsided.

Fast forward a year…

* * *

The next time I remember seeing Peter Brown was at Anime Expo ’96, which was the Best. Con. Ever. It was the last anime con before anime started really going mainstream, and thus the last con before poseurs and casual fans started showing up. It was the last time that any anime con was really just a gathering of knowledgable, hardcore devotees. Being in my early 20s, I saw nothing wrong with going down there with no badge or hotel room ready. I’d figure something out about the badge, and besides, the best part of the con was the room parties anyway. As for a hotel room, I figured that it was just a three-day con; staying up 72 hours wouldn’t be that big a deal, and I could sleep when I got home (you think those kinds of things at that age). So I bummed a ride down to LA (with the crazy bald Korean driving – an odyssey in terror is ever there was one) and walked in the door of the hotel with a grand total of $40 in my pocket for the weekend.

The badge issue got solved. Somebody from (I think) the Cal Animage branch at Chabot College hadn’t been able to make it, but the guys from the club had picked up his badge anyway, and since they were connections, I talked my way into it.

The hotel room issue was not resolved so neatly. The first night, I stayed at the Cal Animage Berkeley room party until it shut down at 7AM or so. They showed all kinds of animated shorts on (what in those days passed for) a big TV set – I remember seeing some Seishun Shitemasu fundubs, Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown, and an obscure little thing called Spirit of Christmas. I grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep under a table, and woke up to find that someone had drawn Madoka Ayukawa on my forearm with a Sharpie.

That night was the masquerade, and it was magnificent. You couldn’t get a crowd to chant “Seig Zeion” with that enthusiasm today.

I don’t know whether this still occurs, but on Saturday night, Anime Expo used to feature an unofficial Pool Party at the hotel pool. Every anime in history has its inevitable fanservice beach episode, and girls would come to the Pool Party in costume as some character from a beach episode. There were fewer girls in fandom then, but they tended to be prettier and thicker-skinned when it came to getting rid of conslugs (as we called guys who came to cons to hit on girls back then – before somebody invented the concept of “stare rape”). I forget why I didn’t go, but I didn’t. Somewhere during the evening, however, I ran into a couple of the Beefbowl guys, who were laughing their asses off at something. I asked what happened.

“Peter Brown damn near started a riot at the Pool Party!”

Again, bafflement on my part.

It turned out that Peter Brown had shown up to the Pool Party dressed as female Ranma, in a red wig and one-piece swimsuit. It hadn’t gone well. A lot of people saw him and headed for the exits. Nothing quite ruins a Pool Party, the general consensus said, like a pudgy half-Asian male sporting a visible three-piece set under a tight red leotard.

I burst out laughing too. I said I was going to the pool to see it all for myself, but the guys told me that the party had broken up and he was gone.

“This isn’t fucking funny!”, Raymond insisted.

But it was.

Fast forward a year…

* * *

Anime Expo ’97 was different. Anime had started to go mainstream in earnest. The casual fans had started showing up. There were more people there, but fewer people you knew. There were more girls – a lot more. For the first time, you heard of lots of people who planned on meeting face-to-face with others who they’d become friends with on the internet – mostly on IRC or ICQ. That was part of my plan, too – I was going to meet Winnie for the first time. Not with any idea of romance – I had been able to even over the internet that she had some psychological issues that I didn’t want to deal with, and anyway she had a jealous harem of male admirers – but I was curious to meet her all the same. She and her harem were doing a group cosplay as the characters from Fushigi Yuugi, with Winnie herself as Miaka. There wasn’t a Yui – hives can only have one queen, after all.

I ran into Peter Brown in the registration line. He said he had something special planned for the masquerade this year. The general consensus was that this was not good news. The general consensus was that Peter Brown’s costumes were indeed beautifully-crafted and meticulously-made, and that they would be a wonder to behold if only he wasn’t wearing them personally. Perhaps he could create the costumes, and he could find a girl to wear them instead? A few people had suggested this to him, and a couple of girls had even volunteered, but Peter Brown was not interested.

That year, also for the first time, the number of attendees had grown such that not everybody who wanted to see the masquerade could fit into the ballroom where it was being held. Thus, big (again, for the time) TVs were placed in smaller ballrooms, and the masquerade was simulcast into them so that everybody could watch. Winnie and her harem had grabbed some front-row seats. I lay on the floor at their feet, right in front of the TV.

About halfway through the masquerade, Peter Brown took the stage, wearing a bright red business suit with a green shirt and a yellow tie. I was not a great Sailor Moon fan, but I had seen enough Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars to suddenly understand what the special thing that Peter Brown had in mind was. He started his skit, struck a pose… and waited. Something had gone wrong; someone had missed a cue for something. There was a long, awkward delay. Peter Brown, trying to keep things going, said in a diva-ish voice (barely audibly over the TV in the remote ballroom) “I cannot work like this!”. The wait, with him still holding his pose, seemed to go on forever, until finally the tape was played and the feed cut to Sailor Star Fighter’s transformation sequence from the anime.

“Oh God no!” someone shouted.

The feed cut back to Peter Brown. The suit was supposed to have been a velcro-secured, tearaway affair, covering the Sailor Starlight costume of black leather thigh-high boots, hot pants, and a bikini top, to be revealed when he tore it off. But it had malfunctioned, and as the feed cut back, he was still desperately trying to pull it off of his plump, rotund body. The crowd – both in the main ballroom and in the remote hall where I was, broke into jeers. I turned to one of Winnie’s hive, who was dressed as Chichiri, complete with the sort of round, conical hat associated with Chinese and Vietnamese peasants…

“Gimmee your hat!” I pleaded

“Why? What for?”

“Just gimmee your hat!”

He did. I speed-crawled up to the TV, and in one motion, clapped the hat onto the screen right over the image of Peter Brown’s mostly-uncovered body as it pranced around on stage – safely obscuring it, completely.

And the crowd cheered!

Fast forward a few hours…

* * *

Later that evening I was at a room party (I think it was run by someone who later was manga editor for Dark Horse – it’s a bit hard to remember). I arrived late, had a drink or two, and settled in. I wandered around, said hello to the host, and to Raymond, and to someone I knew from IRC and had already met once in person the year before.

I ended up half-drunk, and eventually ambled over to the room’s bed.

And there was Peter Brown. He was sitting on the bed in the room, half-drunk himself, normally dressed, and alone.

My head was spinning. I needed to sit down for a while. So I sat on the bed, and Peter Brown recognized me, and we started talking.

I forget the exact words of the conversation, and I wouldn’t try to repeat them here even if I did. But, as it got late, and the crowd thinned out, and we drank a bit more, the conversation turned personal, and I heard Peter Brown’s story in full.

Peter Brown’s father had met his mother while in Japan in the military. They married, moved to the U.S., had him, and divorced when he was very young. His mother had gone back to Japan and neither he nor his father had ever heard from her again, though they had heard thirdhand that she had remarried, and that Peter Brown had Japanese half-siblings who he had never met. His father had remarried as well, and he had ended up with new stepsiblings, and eventually half-siblings, from his new stepmother. She hadn’t liked him very much though, and neither had her children. His being the child of his father’s first wife was most of it, and the obvious racial difference between him and the rest of his new family hadn’t helped. There was a lot of emotional abuse, and sometimes the abuse from the other kids in the family crossed into the physical. Always the outcast, at 18 he was unsubtly requested to leave, and did. He worked where he could, and took classes at Laney where he could. That was his lot. And then there was the cosplay.

He didn’t directly say that his life was an unhappy one, and always had been. He didn’t have to. It was obvious from talking to him that the conventions and the cosplay were the only things that brought him any real joy or sense of accomplishment. The whole crowd had booed him that day, and I’d stuck Chichiri’s hat over him on the remote ballroom TV, and yet that moment on stage at the Anime Expo masquerade was still all that he had lived the previous year of his life for.

Of course he would never just make a costume and let somebody else wear it.

I felt for him, but said little. Perhaps just letting him talk was what was best, or perhaps I just couldn’t think of anything to say about it all.

The party wound down in the wee hours. Eventually everyone left, including us. The next day was the last of the convention, and I didn’t see Peter Brown again before we all went home.

Fast forward five years…

* * *

If you’re ever in Oakland Chinatown and you’re in the mood for some Dim Sum, Restaurant Peony is a good choice. It’s on the top floor of the Pacific Plaza, a block off of Broadway, and a few blocks from Laney College. On a clear, cool early afternoon in the fall of 2002, I was there for lunch with Raymond, his brother, and another of his friends.

A lot had changed in the previous few years. I had gone to Japan to teach English for a year, and then come back to the States. I’d fallen in love, been engaged, and had gotten my heart broken. I was working at a job that involved a lot of time on the road. Raymond had started to have some health issues, and didn’t get out all that much. But my being back in town for a while merited a lunch out.

We were both getting close to thirty. We both still liked anime, but it wasn’t – couldn’t be – an obsession or a lifestyle anymore.

Dim Sum is a leisurely experience, especially on a weekend. You sit, and talk, and eat a bit, and sit some more, and drink some tea, and let a couple of hours pass. If you’re with Asians, you can expect gadgets at the table; nobody thinks of it as rude. Between the many courses, Raymond’s brother sat smashing buttons on a GameBoy Advance. The rest of us talked. Someone (probably me, though I can’t be sure) brought up Peter Brown and asked what he was up to.

Raymond crinkled his nose. “He’s out at sea.”

Surely this was a joke?

No. It wasn’t. Raymond explained that you can make a lot of money fast by signing up as crew on a cargo ship; so much so that if you lived cheap, you only had to work half the year. Peter Brown did this, and with the other half, worked on his costumes and went to wear them at conventions.

“Besides, the ships go back and forth to Japan a lot, and while he’s there he can go anime shopping.”

I suppose he could. Or perhaps he could spend the time looking for someone…

The conversation moved to other things. We talked, and sat, and ate, and drank some tea, and Raymond’s brother plinked away at his GameBoy.

Fast forward ten years…

* * *

Raymond’s house is a beautiful one, or would be were it not a total mess – cluttered to every last inch with toys, models, figures, DVDs, and an ever-more forlorn looking collection of VHS tapes – all artifacts of an increasingly distant youth. And not just in his room, but everywhere. His mom lets him. I’d complain if it was my house, but it isn’t. And besides, he and I are of the same generation, and the toys of his youth were all familiar and comforting things to me, too.

And I myself have little right to complain of anyone else not wanting to grow up.

Still, a lot had changed in those ten years, too. I had ended up back in grad school and was putting the finishing touches on my thesis. Raymond’s health problems had gotten worse, and he’d gotten very close indeed to death before a new set of kidneys became available. The transplant had been a success however, and he’d only had to stay in the hospital a week afterward. Raymond still didn’t have a driver’s license at just short of forty, so I occasionally drove him down to Pill Hill in Oakland for his periodic post-transplant checkups. They were all fine.

It was a Saturday afternoon. Raymond had gotten back into building and launching model rockets, which were a part of his childhood, and mine as well. He’d gotten me back into it, too. And so we sat at his dining room table – gorgeous lacquered wood under the double tablecloths that sat under the gaming laptops and scattered piles of parts from rockets and Gundam models. I glued fins on an Estes Big Bertha. Raymond’s glue was drying, so he distractedly played some game on his computer, while an 80s mix played from the smartphone he’d laid on the table.

Somehow, the anime Queen’s Blade, noted for its unrealistically huge-busted female characters, came up.

“Let’s see Peter Brown cosplay that!” I joked.

Raymond looked away from his game for a second. “No chance of that. He’s dead.”

“Wait – that’s terrible! What happened?!”

“Killed himself. Got ahold of a pistol somewhere and shot himself in the head.”

“That’s awful…”

Awful… yes. Though I guess not all that unexpected.

“Yeah, well…” Raymond added, staring down at the table “…at least he checked out on his own terms.”

There was, not an intentional moment of silence, but silence for a moment nonetheless. Then something loud happened in the game on Raymond’s laptop, and he went back to it.

My rocket sat before me, needing fins. But I let it wait for just a bit, and I thought about Peter Brown.

No… not unexpected. Had the boos finally gotten to him? Was damn near twenty years worth of being a running joke in the only places he’d ever found any real happiness enough? Maybe it was the fact that we were all getting older. If people booed what he did when he was twenty-three, what would they say when he was forty years old? And what was there for him on the other side of forty, anyway? Certainly not a wife, children, family, accomplishment, respectability. He’d have none of the sweet things about growing older, and he couldn’t keep up what he had been doing much longer.

And so it seems he checked out.

Had there been a somberness in Raymond’s voice when he had told me? Respect for the dead, perhaps. Or maybe some reflection on the fact that he’d come close to “checking out” himself recently, and not on his own terms? He hadn’t crinkled his nose this time. But then again, if he really did dislike the guy so much, why did he always know what he was up to when I asked?

Or it could have been a realization that he and I had more to count as ours at forty than Peter Brown did, but not all that much.

Raymond’s mom came home. We made dinner. We ate. I glued my fins. He finished his game. The sun went down. I went home. Life went on.

* * *

So why am I telling this story? In a space devoted to political philosophy, no less?

I suppose a liberal would say that Peter Brown hadn’t been tolerated enough. That he faced structural racism. That he was some manner of sexually baroque that should have been celebrated. That if we had all been more supportive, he wouldn’t have seen that gun as the only logical conclusion of his existence on this Earth.

Maybe.

I also suppose that traditionalists would say that Peter Brown had been robbed of something important by modernity. That he needed direction in his life; something more than the enjoyment of foreign cartoons as the thing that gave him meaning. Or that he had been tolerated too much – allowed to be a man-child too long in a society that is too permissive when it comes to such things.

Maybe.

Perhaps being on the wrong side of forty has made me reflective. Perhaps I’ve started to become an old man who tells pointless stories. Perhaps it’s just summer, and life is slow, and it’s the right time to spin a yarn about the old days.

Maybe it’s all of that. Or something else entirely.

They say that nobody really ever dies so long as people remember them. For this reason, Peter Brown’s name is the only one that I haven’t changed or concealed in this story.

I didn’t know Peter Brown all that well. Maybe nobody did.

But I do remember him.