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Sadness, Depression, and Hope

Anime sometimes makes me think.

Most of the time, I don’t think it’s supposed to, being honest.  I think it’s generally supposed to be light entertainment, or tell a story, or basically fill the same role that live-action TV does in the west.  I think it may be a character flaw of mine that I think as hard on it as I do, and I’m pretty sure that most of the time, this makes me something of an outlier at best, and a pariah at worst.

Nonetheless, it does.  It makes me think.  And there’s nothing to be done about that.  It always will, too.

As does Japan, Japanese, and pretty much anything I put any thought into at all.  It all makes me think.

As I mentioned, lately I’ve been watching the “Love Live” franchise.  I finished “School Idol Project”, and a little while ago I finished “Sunshine!”.  As I also mentioned, I thought they were really good, even though they’re very flawed.  I thought they were good because they have heart.

But, again, they also made me think.

There is something that attracts me about sparkly, shiny, and beautiful.  I can’t put it into words what it is that attracts me, and there is absolutely nothing in my life that would fit into that category.  The closest my life comes to sparkly and shiny is that I put little LED strips on my bookcases and curio shelves, and they’re really pretty when I turn them all the way up.  But that’s as close as I come.  And, if I’m being honest, in some ways it’s as close as I dare to come.  For I’m a middle aged man.  Sparkly and shiny for me comes with connotations that imply a, well, identity of some sort, that I don’t have.

But, still.  Being a straight, pretty “normal” in many ways, middle aged man, I still am strongly attracted to sparkly and shiny.

And the past, well, ten years of my life, have been me trying to come to terms with that.  And I’m not kidding – that’s been pretty much all I’ve been doing in my spare time.

This, I think, is why I started learning Japanese.

As I’ve mentioned, Japan is a very depressed country.  It has a lot of darkness to it.  But, that’s not all Japan is.  Japan is also sparkly, shiny, and very cute.  You go to the districts like Akihabara, Shinjuku, Harajuku, etc., and you get a lot of sparkly, shiny, and cute.  You watch most of their pop culture (not all, but most) and you get a very carefully curated sparkly, shiny, and cute experience.  This is what Japan exports.  I’ve spent a lot of time and thought trying to reconcile that with the innate darkness they can sometimes exhibit, but… at the end of the day, there’s really no point.  It just is what it is.  If you want sparkly, shiny, and cute… you really can’t beat Japan.

And I think that’s one of the major reasons I’m so attracted to them as a country.  No other country is that good at providing such an experience.  I mean, yes, you can find it anywhere – even in the US – but there’s a reason you really don’t find weebs and otaku for US stuff.  That’s not to say, of course, that people don’t love the US, but… not in that way.  We don’t provide sparkly, shiny, and cute.  At least not in the same way Japan does.

So, nearly three years ago, I started the “Lily” project.  I’ve mentioned her a few times on this site.  This is a serial fiction story where the daily adventures of a teenage girl are told on a first person basis, one diary entry each day.

When I started that project, I had two goals.  One goal was the extant goal – and a pretty important one, too.  I wanted to make money with her.  This goal, I have very much failed at, for I have not made one single penny.  There are probably plenty of reasons for this, the biggest being that because it was a passion project, I made no effort at all to write something that would sell.

The other goal was a little more subtle, and one I wasn’t really consciously aware of, myself.  I wanted to bring something shiny, sparkly, and cute into the world, in a way that I, being me, could not.  The only way I could do it was with the alter-ego of a teenage girl.

So…  I did.  i spun up a website, and I started writing.  And 450,000 words later and a lot of technical know-how I didn’t have before, I still am.

So… back to Love Live.

The thing about Love Live is, it’s cheerful.  It’s sparkly, shiny, and cute, and it’s flagrantly supposed to be sparkly, shiny, and cute.  The girls all wear cute, colorful costumes, their stages are bright and colorful…  their lyrics talk heavily about sparkling and shining, as well as the diaologue… pretty much everything, everything I wish was common in the world, and isn’t.

Because my world is not colorful.  It’s often sad, depressed, and muted.  There’s nothing good in my world.  I work all day on things I don’t particularly care about (though sometimes I do lean into the challenge), and then afterwards, it’s just… eating, watching anime or learning Japanese or other things, and sleeping.  There’s nothing sparkly, shiny, or cute innately in my life.  Nothing.  It’s sad, it’s depressing, it’s lonely, and at the end of the day, there’s usually nothing at all good to show for it.  Truth be told, most days, I truly hate life and living.

(That’s not to say that I’m going to do anything awful, don’t get me wrong at all.  I hate death worse.  And as long as that continues to be the case – and it will – there’s absolutely no danger of that).

But this is truth.  As true as I can be.

But shiny, sparkly, and cute exists.  Even if it’s as a cynical franchise to make money, etc., that does not change the fact that it exists.  There are beautiful and cute things in the world.  Like Love Live.  They exist.  I may not have anything directly to do with them, I cannot live in a sparkly, shiny, or cute world, but that does not change the fact that those things do exist, and just because I don’t live in those worlds doesn’t mean they’re not there.

This is important.  Very important.  Maybe the most important thing.  Because, even if I’m not feeling it, it exists.  I can look at things like Love Live, or K-on, or even some of the idol groups like AKB48, etc…  and the cute is there.  Sure it’s corrupted sometimes, it’s cynical, it’s manufactured, if you look behind the scenes it’s a mirage.. but that doesn’t matter.  You can look underneath anything and see awful things, but that doesn’t change the fact that the good things exist.

And sometimes I wonder if that’s truly the lie – the thing that takes away from hope, that creates depression and sadness.  The idea that no matter what good things are there, if you look underneath them all there is, is rot.  That might be true.  I’m not trying to diminish that.  But even if so, that just means that the good thing is corrupted, not that the good thing is not good!  The shiny, the cute, the sparkly, the pretty, the beautiful, the fun, the….  all those good things, they’re still good, even if underneath there is a rot.  Corrupted good is just corrupted good, it’s not masked bad.

I love Love Live because it reminded me of that.  It reminded me that the shiny, the sparkly, the cute… all those things…  someone created that.  Someone made it, and they made it sparkly, shiny, cute…  and no matter the motivation, you can’t take that away.  It’s still sparkly, shiny, and cute.

Just… just as I did with Lily.

Were my motivations pure?  I dunno.  Maybe not entirely.  I certainly did want to market her.  But at the end of the day, I created a character I love.  Lily is a beautiful, average in some ways, but sweet, cheerful, happy, lovely, adorable…  girl.  Everything I’m not.  But I created her.  She’s sparkly, shiny, and cute.  And I love her for it.  And no matter my motivations, no matter my personality, no matter the fact that she and I are almost as opposite as you can get personality-wise…  she exists.  I created her, I write her, and she is just like Love Live.  Proof, at the end of the day, that no matter the corruption that may be underneath – the good things do exist, we create them, we nurture them and build them, and even the most depressed and sad person can take comfort in the fact that these things exist.

They’ll always exist.

And if you take them for what they are… these cute things can, if not destroy depression, at least put it into its proper context.  As corrupted as it might be, the good things will never entirely go away.  Not as long as there are people willing to create them and nurture them.  As I did Lily.  As the mangaka did with Love Live.  And as Japan does with… every cute thing they’ve ever created.  As dark as their culture can be… I still love them for it.  And I think that’s what I’ve always loved them for.  And, maybe, what I always will.

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