John and I were fast friends after that. He was as into videogames as I was, and he told me about a whole slew of interesting games I had never heard of. It was enough to make me study Japanese beyond the coursework.

The weeks flew by as our teacher taught us in broken English. One day, she had us break up into groups to ask each other personal questions in Japanese. Tuan and I were together by default, but John decided to join us. "Have either of you been watching Bleach?" he asked. I didn't know what that was, but Tuan was very well acquainted with it. The two of them talked about magic swords and dead people until the end of class. Afterward, I checked out Bleach for myself.

I was engrossed. I spent the entire weekend watching the show, and after that I began looking for more anime. I found things like Naruto and Rurouni Kenshin, and I even re-watched the last few seasons of Dragon Ball Z.


It was hard to believe that a repressed society could produce such imaginative work. They didn't seem to worry about children or protest groups. Petty things like natural limits never got in the way; moral choices were an anime character's only stumbling block.

The more I got into watching subtitled anime, however, the harder it got to understand the little things. It was a little more Japanese-y than I had thought it would be. For instance, what did all of the titles attached to a person's name mean? Were all of the different demons made up, or did they actually exist in some legends? Was a fox spirit a demon or an actual fox? And why were there so many death gods?

To some extent, my Japanese class cleared up a few things. I found out that close friends could call each other "kun" and children and young girls were called "chan," but for other things I was still in the dark. Thankfully, many of my classmates seemed to be Japanese culture experts.

None of them said they loved anime or manga or videogames; they said, "I love Japan." It had to be true. No one would learn so much about something that they only thought of as a hobby. It was an obsession, an obsession I, too, developed.

If you asked me before about anime fans and otaku, I'd have written off the whole subculture. But once we found some common ground, I was able to appreciate Japanese culture the way they do, to become enamored with a society far different than my own, and I'm better for the experience.

Khristopher Kirkland is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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