When a man known by user name Sal9000 married Nene Anegasaki, a video game character in the popular dating sim Love Plus, the geek blogosphere responded with jokes and questions into Sal9000's sanity. But is he on to something?
Lisa Katayama created a video about the proceedings and the wedding:
Katayama links Sal9000's actions to a fringe group of Otaku concerned with what they call 2-D love.
Writing for the New York Times magazine, Katayama explains what differentiates 2-D men from other Otaku:
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.
According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of unmarried men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan said they were not "going out with anybody." One of the biggest best sellers in the country last year was "Health and Physical Education for Over Thirty," a six-chapter, manga-illustrated guidebook that holds the reader's hand from the first meeting to sex to marriage.
Katayama then introduces 2-D guru, Toru Honda, a man with an interesting view of what it means to be in a modern relationship:
A few years ago, Honda, a college dropout who worked a succession of jobs at video-game companies, began to use the Internet to urge otaku to stand with pride against good-looking men and women. His site generated enough buzz to earn him a publishing contract, and in 2005 he released a book condemning what he calls "romantic capitalism." Honda argues that romance was marketed so excessively through B-movies, soap operas and novels during Japan's economic bubble of the '80s that it has become a commodity and its true value has been lost; romance is so tainted with social constructs that it can be bought by only good looks and money. According to Honda, somewhere along the way, decent men like himself lost interest in the notion entirely and turned to 2-D. "Pure love is completely gone in the real world," Honda wrote. "As long as you train your imagination, a 2-D relationship is much more passionate than a 3-D one." Honda insists that he's advocating not prurience but a whole new kind of romance. If, as some researchers suggest, romantic love can be broken down into electrical impulses in the brain, then why not train the mind to simulate those signals while looking at an inanimate character?
Honda's fans took his message to heart. When he admitted to watching human porn at a panel discussion in Tokyo in 2005, several hundred hard-core 2-D lovers in the audience booed with shock that their dear leader had nostalgia for the 3-D world. Later, in an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Honda clarified his position, saying that he was worried 2-D love was becoming an easy way out for young otaku, who might still have a shot at success in the real world. "I'm not saying that everyone should throw away hopes of real romance right away. I am simply saying that guys like me who have gotten to a point of no return can be happy living in 2-D."
Indeed, many of the stories shared reveal men in various stages of arrested development, making the choice to move to an imaginary world due to real or perceived strikes from the real world.
[38-year old businessman Ken] Okayama has turned to 2-D for all his emotional needs - the desire to buy new anime helped him get through a period of unemployment in 2003, and his body-pillow girlfriends, whom he dates two or three at a time, consoled him when his first real-life girlfriend dumped him in 2007.
"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."
Okayama's flings were unconsummated, but for others 2-D love is a full-fledged alternative sexual lifestyle. Several hours after parting with Okayama in Akihabara, I met Momo at a fan convention. Momo, who makes X-rated body-pillow covers and sells them through his one-man club, Youkouro, which translates roughly as Furnace of Child Love, was there on business. The convention was being held inside a stuffy warehouse filled with boxes of 8-by-10, pamphlet-style, home-brewed manga and swarmed with thousands of anime fetishists, mostly men. Many 2-D lovers are unsatisfied with what the market has to offer, so they custom-make their own fantasy goods and come to conventions to barter and socialize with the like-minded.
In the context of a rejection of the real world for a more complete fantasy world, one could imagine that Sal9000 is just an early adopter. While some of the commentary surrounding the Sal9000-Anegasaki wedding focuses on "wacky Japanese!" stereotypes, reading through some of the writings on 2-D brought to mind another subculture driven mostly by men: the RealDolls.
BBC did a documentary on the phenomenon, called "Love Me, Love My Doll' focusing on the dolls themselves and the lives of men who become devoted to their plastic partners.
An article in Salon also explored the life of Davecat (pictured above) and his doll-companion Sidore, showing how even outside of an otaku-context, people are trying to bring their fantasies to life with the help of simulations:
Davecat keeps a picture of his girlfriend in his wallet. She's pretty, with long black hair, an alluring mole under her left eye, and glossy red lipstick. Her sheer tank top shows off her full breasts and the hoop through her left nipple.
Ask Davecat about Sidore — pronounced She-doh-ray — and he'll tell you she's everything that turns him on: beautiful, loyal, a great listener. Si-chan, as he affectionately calls her, is half British, half Japanese, which is nice because he's always had a thing for both British and Japanese culture. Even their clothing style and taste in music is simpatico — they're both Goths.
Like many born in the sun sign Cancer, Sidore is a homebody, but then, she couldn't leave the comfort of the bed she shares with Davecat even if she wanted to because Sidore is a 100-pound solid silicone Real Doll.
Go ahead. Flinch at the notion of a man having sex with an imitation woman and classify him: lonely loser. Pathological creep. Misogynist. Potential rapist. Sicko. True enough, some men who have sex with Real Dolls are creepy, the kind of guys you wouldn't want to be alone with. But not all. Many are simply lonely — some tragically so. Others are disfigured or infirm. Some are oddly sweet, like Davecat, for whom a Real Doll is a "teddy bear with benefits." And others proclaim their normalcy and defend their Real Dolls as no different than a 3-D version of a Playboy centerfold.
Many doll lovers — or "iDollators," as some of them call themselves — participate in a confusing online subculture where the lines between art and pornography, the ludicrous and the tender, and fantasy and fetishism blur like watercolors. Spend time talking to Real Doll aficionados as I have over the past year, and you come to understand that behind every Real Doll is a man with a reason.
Over at the RealDolls website, some interesting modifications have emerged since the stories about Real Dolls were published back in 2005 and 2006. For one thing, you can now order an elf-ear modification for the dolls. For those of us with Tolkien fantasies, perhaps? Another newly offered modification is blue skin - perhaps to appease fans of the video game franchise Mass Effect? (See one the blue skinned female aliens from the game, above.)
Why are so many men looking for satisfaction in fantasy items and inanimate objects? Is it a symptom of our culture's increasing dependence on technology? An unanticipated side effect of a global marketing culture dedicated to presenting a perfect fantasy life, which is only available through purchases? Or is this just a long-needed outlet for those who never felt comfortable engaging in personal relationships?
(Image via Boing Boing)
Video: Man In Japan Weds Anime Game Character [Boing Boing]
Related: Love Plus Has Your Virtual Girlfriend Experience Covered [Kotaku]
Love in 2-D [New York Times]
Of "Wacky" Japan and the Myth of the Other [Racialicious]
Love Me, Love My Doll [BBC America]
Just like a woman [Salon]
Official Site [Real Dolls] [NSFW]