Okay, here’s the thing. This New York Times Magazine article about men in Japan who have romantic relationships with imaginary characters inspires nothing if not pity.
These 2-D lovers, as they are called, are a subset of otaku culture– the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, manga and video games in Japan in the last decade. It’s impossible to say exactly what portion of otaku are 2-D lovers, because the distinction between the two can be blurry. Like most otaku, the majority of 2-D lovers go to work, pay rent, hang out with friends (some are even married). Unlike most otaku, though, they have real romantic feelings for their toys. The less extreme might have a hidden collection of figurines based on anime characters that they go on “dates” with during off hours. A more serious 2-D lover, like Nisan, actually believes that a lumpy pillow with a drawing of a prepubescent anime character on it is his girlfriend.
That’s sad, undoubtedly – and the men profiled in this piece are clearly very lonely, so it’s difficult to begrudge them a fantasy life with an imaginary character. But here’s the thing – not only are the men who indulge in these “relationships” lusting after characters that are supposed to be somewhere between 10 and 12 years old, one of the reasons they like them is because they’re devoid of annoying things like opinions and personality. So is the perfect woman a blank-slate little girl?
Much like the Real Doll enthusiasts who tout sex with their “girlfriends” as “just like sex with an organic woman…who doesn’t say anything and is brimful of Quaaludes,” much of the attraction here seems to be the ability to imbue any kind of personality (or lack thereof) onto an inanimate object. And then believing that object is better than real human interaction.
“I was steps away from getting married,” he explained earnestly when prodded about his experience. “You have to make sure you don’t hurt a real person; you have to watch what you say, and you have to keep your room clean. In Japan, it’s not O.K. to like another person if you’re already with somebody else. With an anime character, you can like one character one day and a different character the next.”
But this is all stuff we’ve discussed before (in fact, I discuss it in my book!). In this particular piece, it was the age of the characters that really got to me.
When Momo talks about Karada-chan, his mousy face lights up like a kid opening Christmas presents. “Her existence to me is like daughter, younger sister and bride all put into one.”
Not. Okay. Assuming these men develop relationships with real women – will it be women that they’re actually looking for, or little girls?
Related: She’s Twelve, She’s Scantily Clad, And a Thirty Year Old’s Dating Her. She’s a Pillow.