On the flight to Sydney to meet Akira, the word “off-kai” rang continuously in my head. This was the first time I’d gone to meet someone from the internet, and I was reminded of what 2DT said of his meeting with Akira and the nerves he had beforehand, in his post on 2-D Teleidoscope. I was full of nerves too, which didn’t make an uncomfortable domestic flight on a budget carrier all that much enjoyable. (The sleepy guy sitting in the aisle across from me was rudely awakened when a stewardess clumsily bumped a drinks cart into his knee, but that’s nothing compared to the crap Akira told me he experienced from said carrier.) When I touched down, Akira told me to take the train into the city, and that he’d wear a shirt that only I would recognize.
“The Kugimiya shirt, right,” I replied.
As I passed Circular Quay I looked out from the train to see the wharfs completely packed with people, despite the fact that New Year’s Eve fireworks were still eight hours away. Akira would tell me later that, according to Ast, one of the dudes we met up with later (who also appeared in our podcast) Circular Quay was where the newbs went, and the better place to see the fireworks was Darling Harbour, not because of the view, as it turned out, but because we didn’t have to deal with quite so many people, or the necessity to stake a good lookout earlier than everyone else. Hell, we had karaoke planned anyway.
When I got to the station, I immediately started looking around for a guard or official who might be able to point me towards St. Andrew’s cathedral, where Akira said he’d be waiting. It was only days later when I returned to the station that I realized there was a sign right behind me that directly pointed to where it was. It’s funny how much people don’t know about their own town. I asked two security guards and neither had any idea (one of them was right beside the place too), but it’s hard to blame because I probably wouldn’t have fared much better in my own town. I mean, I know where there are churches, but I’d be buggered to tell you what they’re called. I found one particular cathedral in a conspicuous place, and I knew I was on the right street, so I walked up to the door for confirmation. The sign said “St. Andrew’s”. Success! But then where was Akira? I looked to my left to see a man wearing a white shirt bearing the names of four tsundere Japanese anime characters. As soon as I realized it was him, the majority of my nerves evapourated.
My first impression was that this was someone who was supremely confident, as I guess one must be to wear an anime nerd shirt in the middle of Sydney’s busiest street in broad daylight on New Year’s Eve (he said he only wore it so I could identify him, and was going to change it before going out again, but he never did). He spoke with a big boisterous Californian accent, instantly recognizable to anyone within earshot (amusingly, he got pulled up for it by some curious locals on our way to the karaoke joint, and our entire group was mistaken for American tourists). Public transport wasn’t running that day, due to the incoming deluge of people into the city that we found out about later that night, so we took a taxi back to Furinkan‘s place (Akira’s other friend who you can hear in the podcast). I mumbled something socially awkward about how Australians sit in the front of taxis, only for Akira to tell me he did so too (beer commercials, along with the strange looks I got in Europe when I did this, lead me to believe that only Australians sat in the front of taxis). I, often being concerned with plans, asked if our booking for the night of karaoke had been taken care of, while Akira told me of his obnoxious, racist service he experienced checking in at the airport in Cairns.
“It’s a provincial area, so I can kinda understand,” he said.
“It’s still horrible,” I said.
“Sure, but you just accept that they’re backwards.”
I tried to assure him that not all Queenslanders are like that, and we’re a bit more sensible in Brisbane.
“Oh yeah, this karaoke place doesn’t have any lyrics in English.”
“Really,” I said, “I can’t read moon.”
“That’s OK, you won’t be the only one… actually Ast can read Japanese, oh and so can Furinkan. So, you will be the only one.”
“This will be fun.”
We met up with Furinkan near his place, and he greeted us carrying several bags of alcohol, which set the tone for what the night’s festivities would entail. After that, we made our way to China Town to meet up with Ast for some cheap ramen, partly because Akira had eaten good food the night before and partly, at a guess, we probably weren’t going to find anything better that night that wasn’t completely booked out. Much of the dinner conversation was about figuring out what we wanted to talk about in the podcast, and reminiscing about Comiket, which the other three went to together in 2010.
“The crazy thing about Comiket,” Akira said, “is that right now, at this very moment, I wish I was there. But when I’m actually there, waiting in a line that barely moves in the freezing cold at an ungodly hour, surrounded by thousands of other people, all I can think is, what the hell am I doing here?” He went on to explain that the event has gotten way too big, something which he found difficult to explain, since its popularity seemingly exploded very suddenly.
“Do they need to start limiting the number of people who are allowed in?” I asked.
“No, that’s just not in the spirit of Comiket. They either need to break it up or have an extra day. More likely the former.”
“They need to get rid of the industry stuff,” Ast said. “No one goes to Comiket for industry stuff, it’s all about the doujins. They can have a separate event for industry.” The irony of Kylaran’s Comiket report was immediately obvious to everyone except him later when we recorded the podcast.
Ast and Furinkan, and Akira as well, all have an intense love for doujins, that goes well beyond the ero stuff. They all talked at length about various doujin artists that I wasn’t familiar with, one topic of conversation being about one particular doujin artist’s evident intense love for Haganai‘s Sena. Ast is probably the most opinionated of the group, but everything he says is carefully considered. It was immediately obvious that this is the guy that Akira goes to when he wants to bounce ideas off someone. Akira said something along the lines of the two never seeing eye-to-eye, but they agreed way more often than Akira probably wants to credit. Furinkan is a little more reserved, and not quite as interested in analyzing anime at any sort of deep level, but he’s very much into aesthetics… particularly when it comes to cute girls. And who’s going to begrudge that?
When we got to the karaoke place, Akira and Ast belted out tune after tune, going through a range of recent anime songs like “Secret Base”, “Brave Song”, “My Dearest” and “Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi”, while I whistled along for a bit, then tried to track down lyrics on the internet only to find that my phone had literally zilch signal. Furinkan brought up a site on his phone and I looked that up for a bit, but it just doesn’t work when you don’t know the lyrics and can’t see the visual cues on screen that tell you when to sing, and not just what to sing. It was a bit intimidating being a karaoke newbie and dealing with the additional handicap of not being able to read the language on screen (ignoring the innate handicap of not being a very good singer in the first place) but the important thing is fun was had, and no one was super serious. Well, save for Akira who raged against the machine because it kept giving him a low rating.
“Nazou again? It’s definitely broken.” I was actually inclined to agree because the ongoing ranking seemed to change at the strangest times.
“I guess you need a female voice to match the tone,” Ast said.
Let’s test this hypothesis, I thought, so I programmed in the Umineko ED. It still didn’t work. Then again, maybe we weren’t that great anyway.
After karaoke, we made our way to Darling Harbour to stake out a lookout for the fireworks. The number of people on the streets of Sydney that night was just remarkable. Akira said it was like the city was one big frat party. When we got to Darling Harbour, we found that the section Ast wanted to go to was cordoned off, so we had to quickly rush towards Circular Quay to find a better view. I think we ended up at Walsh Bay by the time the fireworks started, which didn’t give the best view of the bridge, but allowed us to at least see some fireworks. After the fireworks ended, we made our way back to Furinkan’s place. I think we got to the Rocks (I don’t know my Sydney geography all that well, particularly at night) when we looked back at a high view of the exit from Circular Quay, to see the stream of humanity slowly moving up the street in unison.
“Wow, it looks just like Comiket,” someone (I can’t remember who) said.
The walk back to Glebe gave us plenty of time to consolidate our podcast line-up while talking about random topics.
“I’m trying to show my girlfriend anime,” Akira said. “She’s not an otaku but I’ve started showing her Kannagi. It’s interesting which characters non-otaku identify with. She particularly likes Tsugumi.”
Ast laughed. “The tortured childhood friend. Hmm… what other childhood friends are tortured.”
“That girl from Onegai Teacher, whatshername?” I said. Onegai Teacher was only on my mind because I recently watched the preview of the new J.C. Staff anime from the same screenwriter.
“Also, Hare from Guilty Crown,” said Furinkan.
“Is she really a childhood friend?” I said.
“She sure acts like it. They just haven’t said it explicitly,” said Ast.
“So,” I contemplated, “she’s a pseudo-childhood friend, then.”
“Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck,” Akira said.
The conversation continued in this vein until we got back to Furinkan’s place. We dialed up Kylaran for the podcast and recorded the show. By the time we were done, it was almost 3AM, and Kylarana, clearly keen for sleep, quickly excused himself. Ast also looked exhausted, and I don’t think I was far behind, but we continued on well past dawn, comparing Penguindrum and Steins;Gate, talking about our favourite Idolm@ster girls, questioning Kylaran’s sanity behind his back for liking Yozora and trying to solve the Comiket problem (although he didn’t say it explicitly, I kinda get the feeling that one of Akira’s solutions would be to cut down the fujoshi contingent.) We watched a handful of previews for the upcoming season, and one in particular caught Akira’s eye.
“What is this? The animation is so bad! And that music. Is this really an anime? Surely there’s a better animated preview.” There was, but by that stage, Kill Me Baby‘s campy charm had well and truly ensnared him. I’m just glad he didn’t discover someone had put a 15 minute loop of the trailer up on Youtube until after I left.
It was after dawn when Ast conceded and made his way home. The rest of us went looking for a place to eat breakfast. “The things he could say about gap moe,” Akira said of Ast afterwards, “could fill an encyclopedia. You know, he came up with ‘loli security’. He thinks about this stuff all the time.”
We talked about settings in anime, particularly about series such as ef which exist in this realistic-but-not-quite realm, in this case featuring a fictional Japanese city clearly inspired by Antwerp. I asked him about fictional country town settings like the one in Hanasaku Iroha.
“But really, that could be anywhere that’s rural and has an inn. What anime needs more of are series that are all about specific places. Take Steins;Gate for instance. Everything about it is wrapped around Akihabara’s culture of technological innovation. It couldn’t possibly be set anywhere else. The same is probably true for Chaos;Head and Shibuya. It really captures the sense of isolation one feels being a young person in Shibuya.” At that moment, I remembered a tongue-in-cheek comment Akira made about Mawaru Penguindrum being Ikuhara Kunihiko‘s love letter to the Marunouchi Line and wondered, briefly, if the same thing was true of Penguindrum and the various stops on the line from Ogikubo to Ikebukuro (the latter of which also being the setting of Durarara!). Ironically, Akira also said the exact same thing was true of Baccano! and prohibitionist Chicago. He compared the authenticity of Baccano!‘s portrayal of its time and setting with the liberty taken with Ikoku Meiro no Croisee‘s Paris.
“Yune’s Paris never existed in any period of time. Why do we never see the Eiffel Tower? It was there when Yune was there. That’s not something you miss accidentally.”
“So you think Paris is Ikoku Meiro is a Japanese idealization rather than an honest portrayal?” I asked.
“Yes, absolutely. The story is so fixated on tradition. The Grand Magasin is portrayed as a big retailer introduced to squash craftsmen like Claude and his father as they are more concerned about their perfecting their craft than buying into the consumerism represented by modernity. It’s all very anti-consumerist in its message.”
Most of New Year’s Day was spent sleeping. Sometime in the afternoon I made my way to my own hotel, slept for a while, found a place for dinner (surprisingly few places open on New Year’s Day), edited the podcast and slept some more. The next day I made my way back to Furinkan’s place to catch up with Akira again and upload the podcast. It’s hear that I found him in the throws of addiction… to the preview of Kill Me Baby.
“Every time I hear that accordion in my head, I just have to listen to that song again. It’s barely even a song, it’s like a whole heap of sounds that are vaguely Russian.” He turns to me. “What you’re about to find out is my definition of humour is to take something and repeat it until no one finds it funny anymore… and then repeat it again.”
After uploading the podcast and Akira writing up the accompanying post, the three of us made our way to The Powerhouse Museum, one of the few tourist attractions in Sydney that Akira hadn’t yet seen. I’d been there previously, but it was definitely a much more interesting experience to explore it with someone who actually knows and studies design. We spent the entire afternoon there but only made our way through about half of it before we were kicked out for closing time.
Over dinner at an Indian restaurant (“I’m always keen for Indian,” I told them) the conversation meandered through several topics, eventually turning from politics to history, which happened to be Akira’s forte (and his major… as it turns out, Akira happens to be one of those people who knows a little bit about everything).
“After the Russo-Japanese War, Japan was completely broke. Russia knew this, which is why they actually went to the negotiating table in a stronger position, despite having lost the war. They had half a million troops stationed in Moscow, ready to board trains at a moments notice. They could have been in Manchuria in a week. Japan would have had no answer.”
The topic turned to Japan’s uneasy modernization and the century long internal conflict within Japan about whether it is Eastern or Western. I asked whether the people of Japan are happy with their Westernization. Akira isn’t convinced they are.
“Prior to World War II, they were heading in that direction anyway. To give a simplistic example, do you know that scene in Taishou Yakyuu Musume where Koume wants a sailor fuku. That’s exactly what it was like. But they wanted respect from the international community. When the League of Nations was formed, they asked for racial equality to be one of its cornerstones, but that didn’t get ratified.”
“We’re to thank for that,” I chimed in. At least Australia had some say in international politics at the time, even if it wasn’t a positive one.
“Then the nationalists came to power, rallying behind the emperor. After World War II, Western liberal democracy was kind of thrust upon Japan. They didn’t have a choice in the matter. They were forced to accept it.”
I asked him how this compares with Korea.
“Well, for starters, the entity of Korea has never existed in history. If you’re talking about the South, they’re more likely to be happy with what they have, because the change happened more organically.” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. Was the Korean War really an organic process, I wondered.
Inevitably, the topic turned to Japan’s pop-culture. Akira started, “when I say this, I have no problem with the craft of creators of Japanese consumer media, I think they’re doing what they can, and many of them have enormous passion for their work. But so much of Japanese consumer media is simply about the relieving of boredom,” implying that this was a shallow aim. “It’s why you might listen to a campy Russian sounding song in an anime preview thirty times in one day. Do you remember that episode of The Idolm@ster where they’re recording the TV show? That’s exactly what Japanese television is like. They did an incredible job of capturing the banality of it all, right down to the finest details, like the font they used for weather reports. I mean, they still have horoscopes in their morning news bulletins. Who else in the world does that?” So who’s to blame? “I think it’s the fault of the consumer,” he said.
I thought about this for a while and realized we’re not actually too bad off in comparison. “Here,” I said, “you can see documentaries in prime time on SBS.”
“Right,” he said, “you’d never see that in Japan.”
A short while after dinner and after a couple of episodes of Look Around You (which Akira was oddly reminded of while we were at the Powerhouse), I said my goodbyes, and retired to my hotel room. I sent one last message to Akira for the night: “I can’t sleep, that goddamn Kill Me Baby song is stuck in my head.”
The next day, Akira had plans with family, so I walked around Hyde Park by myself and the Royal Botanical Gardens up to the Opera House, then took the train back to the city, stopped by Books Kinokuniya to buy The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya on DVD. I treated myself to a taxi. I rode to the airport through the city streets. There wasn’t a street, there wasn’t a building that wasn’t connected to some memory in my mind. There was the ANZAC memorial I had visited by myself earlier that day, there was the China Town food court where we had dinner on New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t wait to get back home, to tell the internet everything about my weekend with Akira.
Disclaimer: much of the dialogue is paraphrased and some of the events are out of order. This account is only as good as my memory, so if I accidentally misattributed something, or misrepresented a conversation, I apologize.