In 2009, a man who calls himself Sal9000 married his long-time partner, Nene Anegasaki, a video game character from a popular dating-simulation game, Love Plus. While the marriage wasn’t legally binding, Sal9000 still wanted to prove his love for his wife. He stated in an interview with the press at his wedding: “I love this character, not a machine. I understand 100 percent that this is a game. I understand very well that I cannot marry her physically or legally."
Before you chalk this one up to Japan being Japan, it might be important for you to know that this isn’t an incident isolated in the country. Back in 2010, Korean Lee Jin-gyu married a body pillow. He had an image of Fate Testarossa, one of the magical girls in the show Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, printed on the pillow. Lee Jin-gyu took his wife pillow on dates in restaurants and theme parks despite the curious eyes that followed them.
Japanese culture, especially the otaku culture (people who enjoy manga, anime, and modern Japanese culture in general), has always been greatly prevalent all around the world, especially in the Philippines. One rather hot aspect of this culture that’s captured the hearts of many a young man is the 2D woman.
You do remember the glory days when you and all your juvenile friends were crushing on Fujiko from Lupin III and all them sailor babes from Sailor Moon. After all, animated 2D women have been the fuel for young men’s feelings and fantasies no matter where you came from. But have you ever actually considered having a relationship with one of them?
You may ask: what kind of one-way relationship would that be? Kind of like the one you had with your last crush, maybe? Kidding aside, the fact is, relationships with fictional characters have become very personal with the advances of technology. For example, personal assistants like Gatebox, the world’s first virtual home robot, can ask lonely Japanese men what time they’re coming home, just like a real wife would. It’s plain to see that these characters are becoming more accessible and much easier to get along with than actual humans.
A cult and a culture
There is a movement in Japan led by Toru Honda, a 47 year-old man promoting the idea that 2D characters are better partners than actual human people. Honda has been hard at work convincing his brethren of 2D-loving males and females to not be ashamed of their life choices. He courts controversy in the otaku culture by painting all of its supporters as the outcasts of society; it’s a stereotype that some otaku don’t conform to.
It’s people like these that Edward and his peers love to hate on. “I used to run an anime page that caters to rating anime girls, known as waifus. It had over 15,000 likes before it got shut down,” says Edward, former admin of a Facebook page called Your Anime Waifu is Trash. “It was a fun page. My friends and I started to make fun of people who are fanboying to anime characters way too much, ha ha!” exclaims Edward.
Edward and his friends hated the fact that people could actually be that obsessed with fictional characters. “We like anime as much as the next guy but there’s a healthy limit to liking something. It just makes us cringe when people who like our page become so angry that their waifus were made fun of. It’s just a fucking anime and these man-children [can’t] take a joke.”
While Edward makes fun of these rabid anime fans and 2D-loving men, Honda’s motivation was to use this outcast stereotype of the otaku to empower its members to overthrow the majority. Honda wrote in his book, Denpa Otoko, that “pure love is completely gone in the real world,” just like, he alleges, it is for old otakus past their prime. They believe that there is no hope left for them because life screwed them over; therefore they must start a new “love revolution.” It’s a revolution wherein otakus that are viewed as failures by societal standards are given a new playing field to succeed in.
In this culture, liking prepubescent 2D girls isn’t creepy but should be regarded as a great expression of manhood since not everyone has the luck, privilege and means to be in a happy and loving relationship with a real woman. This is the logic that Honda uses to rally his “army” of radicals to show that they deserve a place in society that’s free from judgment and ridicule.
But while Honda’s voice might be able to rally some people to join his cause to change the norm, some otakus are happy enough to just be able to escape the reality they are in.
Elliot was diagnosed with maladaptive daydreaming. It’s a disorder where he gets lost in his fantasies for a significant amount of time, losing his sense of reality. Elliot was a victim of domestic abuse when he was just a child. His parents beat him on occasions he was caught in the crossfire of their own spousal feuds. He recalls that he would put himself in a trance-like state during the beatings where he would create his own imaginary world.
It is in that world that he met Anna, his current girlfriend.
We met Elliot while he was on one of his dates with Anna. Elliot would sit in a cafe and chat with Anna while he sketches her in his laptop. His sketches of her, which number over a thousand, include some scanned pieces that are more than 15 years old. “I first met Anna when we were both 13 years old; we’re 29 now. We’re a lot more mature and much happier,” says Elliot.
Looking at Elliot’s drawings we see how they developed through the years. When Anna was 13, she was a small-framed Filipina with light brown skin and dark hair, wearing a loose sando, blue shorts, and a big smile.
“Makulit kasi siya. She would always get in trouble but find a way to get out of it eventually,” remembers Elliot. “She’s a bit more reserved now, at least on the outside,” Elliot says as he shows us a sketch of Anna he made about a year ago. She is wearing a sando and a pair of tattered jeans. “She doesn’t really like wearing dresses,” he says.
“The thing that makes anime girls so appealing is that they can be anything you want them to be,” says Brandon, a 24-year-old manga collector and anime-lover. “I think the reason why dating simulations are so popular with otakus is because they give us a chance to somehow live out our fantasies of dating our dream girl, or for some, just [simply] dating,” explains Brandon.
Brandon has been in a relationship with a human girl for five years now and he says that she understands his love for anime. “She doesn’t really care as long as I don’t spend all of my earnings on useless stuff. If you ask her, she might be a bigger anime fan than me. Sobrang addict niyan sa Yuri on Ice (an anime about figure-skaters who happen to be male homosexuals),” shares Brandon.
'Despite every part of our relationship being made up, I’m happy with her right now. And I just want to be happy with her for a little while longer'
A new normal
According to Brandon, he has never thought of having a relationship with a fictional character even though he sometimes finds them more attractive than real girls. “I wouldn’t be surprised to meet someone who has fallen in love with a fictional two-dimensional character because they are designed to be attractive to the person watching or playing them."
He adds: "I realize that I’m really lucky to have met my girlfriend. But I think I can sort of empathize with people who believe that 2D girls are better than real ones. Everyone has different preferences that they look for in a partner. The reason why I fell in love with my current girlfriend is the fact that she can surprise me. Even if we’ve been together for five years, it seems like I’m just getting to know her.”
Unfortunately, not everyone sees the world as Brandon does. Elliot suffers from post-traumatic depression and attempted suicide multiple times in his teenage years. “She’s always there to stop me,” says Elliot of his 2D girlfriend.
But even if Anna has saved Elliot so many times in the past, he knows his relationship with Anna isn’t healthy for his mental state and that to truly get better, he has to eventually stop relying on her to “fix his problems” for him. “I’ve come a long way from what I was back then. I know I’ve just been talking to myself when I’m with her. But despite every part of our relationship being made up, I’m happy with her right now. And I just want to be happy with her for a little while longer,” says Elliot.
We won’t know for how long or if relationships with fictional characters or artificially created intelligence will ever be normal. Maybe someday, people like Elliot could have a real life Anna virtually created for him. Unless by then, Skynet would have destroyed humanity. The questions that we have for now won’t probably be answered in our lifetime. So all we can do right now is strive for a future that others like us would be happy to live in.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Melvin Calingo
This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of FHM Philippines.
Some edits were made by the FHM.com.ph editors.