Chapter 1:

A Fan's Demand

I Work in the Anime Industry and Everybody Hates Me!


“It’s now or never!” shouts a teenage boy in a Japanese high school uniform. “I’m not gonna let what happened to Sho happen to anyone else ever again!” The boy pushes his left sleeve halfway up his arm and reveals an intricate wrist device. It glistens as the sunlight reflects off its smooth face, then begins emitting a bright blue aura as if activated solely by the youth’s emboldened emotions. He strikes a powerful and intimidating pose, then raises the device to his face. “In the name of justice, I call upon the power of the Ancient DragoKnights!”Bookmark here

A thick cloud engulfs the teenager, whipped up by some mystical and unseen force. Amidst the smoke and fog, a great transformation is happening. As the dense vapor begins to thin, one by one his limbs are revealed, now adorned with ornate dark armor, like that of a medieval warrior. It’s thick and robust, yet lightweight and seems to allow for great range of motion. Could it be that the armor is much more powerful than it appears? The headgear is intimidating. Fearsome. His face now looks as that of a mythical beast with bright yellow eyes piercing through the low, murky lighting in the fog.Bookmark here

The boy’s opponent gasped as the air cleared, revealing his prey to be much more powerful than he initially assumed. His clawed hands, once aimed at the student and ready for the attack, were now raised to cover the trunk of his own body in self defense. “H-How could this be?” the man with the villainous eyes cried out, as he began breaking a nervous sweat. “No one told me there would still be one of you left!”Bookmark here

The teenager in the intimidating armor took a bold step forward, now completely unafraid of anything this murderer had to say. “I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but if these powers were entrusted to me, then I’m gonna do everything I can to keep everyone else safe! Your days of terrorizing the weak and powerless are over, Metaro!”Bookmark here

Swinging his fist down and across his body, a fearsome bladed weapon emerged from the wrist device that was still wrapped around the outside of his armor, as if powered by magic and will alone. The blade sang as he whipped it through the air, the sun catching the edge and nearly blinding the evil Metaro. The villain winced and shielded his eyes with his clawed hand.Bookmark here

“I am an ally to those who have been injusticed! I will bring peace to all who know nothing but despair! I am the Knight Lancer, and I will crush your very soul!”Bookmark here

So fast! The student now announcing himself as Knight Lancer lunged at Metaro with such speed, all the villain could see was a shadow in his wake. Before he knew it, the angry youth was now face to face with him, blade pressed delicately up against the frightened man’s neck. He hadn’t even had the opportunity to use his sharpened finger blades to deflect the incoming attack. For whatever reason, perhaps simply for the thrill of making Metaro’s brow glisten with the sweat of terror, Knight Lancer held himself in this position, deliberately delaying what could have easily been a killing blow. He grinned, scoffed, then leaned in next to Metaro’s ear.

“I just wanted you to feel the same terror you made Sho feel… before I completely destroy you.”Bookmark here

**********

The camera zoomed out on the fearsome scene as the intense music swelled in the room. The shot faded to black, then came back up with bright, flashy animated colors and a fast-paced rock song with an absolutely sick leading guitar riff and a heavy bass line. The credits rolled, and the names of the voice actors and their associated characters scrolled by, all written in Japanese, illegible to the majority of the audience watching it.Bookmark here

The crowd’s inability to understand what they were reading didn’t seem to matter to them. No less than 800 people were now standing up out of their chairs, cheering and applauding. The character designs were so crisp and cool. The animation was smooth and fluid. The music was exciting and made you really want to see the action continue. Today, a slew of fresh fans were born from the presentation of a brand new anime series.Bookmark here

Lights were raised on the stage facing the crowd, illuminating a table with several presenters smiling at the overwhelmingly positive results. A Japanese producer wearing a collared polo shirt with a studio logo embroidered over the breast pocket stood up from his chair, a microphone in his hand. A woman in a nice business dress suit stood up alongside him with her own microphone. The man spoke into the microphone enthusiastically in Japanese, and the woman--his interpreter--didn’t miss a beat.Bookmark here

“So did you guys like what you saw?”Bookmark here

The crowd erupted into screaming excitement. It was clear that the preview they’d just been given had made them hungry for much more. After a few solid seconds of cheering, the pair kept up the conversation, speaking back and forth as Japanese presenter and English interpreter.Bookmark here

“We’re so glad to hear you love what we’ve done!” The interpreter did her best to keep up with the presenter, matching his tempo and enthusiasm. “We’ve been waiting for so long to share this with you, and we’re so excited to have been able to make America the first place we’ve debuted the first episode of Justice Hero Knight Lancer!” The audience cheered again, and the presenters continued. “It will still be another two months yet, but we hope you’ll keep that excitement up when we begin our broadcast of the show this fall.”Bookmark here

At this point, another panelist at the table picked up her microphone and stood up to address the crowd. The young woman smiled and pushed her glasses up the brim of her nose as she breathed in with confidence in her presentation.Bookmark here

“Yes, and we at Toon Motion Studios right here in Los Angeles are happy to be partnering with the animators over at Compass Productions in Tokyo to be able to bring you this show on the same day of airing as Japan. We’re simulcasting our English subtitled translation right on our own streaming platform, followed by an English language dub of the episodes just a few weeks later. We hope that everyone around the world can enjoy Justice Hero Knight Lancer all together with practically no delays! Please look forward to the simultaneous release!”Bookmark here

Another huge pop of excitement rose from the audience. It had become much more common in recent years for anime to be broadcast legally and simultaneously in America at the same time as it aired in Japan, but fans were still very much aware of the days only a few years ago now when this kind of convenience was completely unheard of. The confirmation of a way to watch these brand new shows legally and instantaneously was still managing to put anime fans’ minds at ease, even now.Bookmark here

The presentation was coming to a close. The Japanese representatives from Compass Productions bowed to the audience, while the American representatives from Toon Motion Studios stood on the opposite end of the table to face them and led the audience in one final round of applause, praising the animators for a job well done.Bookmark here

The crowd of fans began filing out of the panel room, now extremely talkative about the presentation they just saw. Soon they would all be getting online and posting their thoughts about the episode preview they just witnessed across social media. With any luck, the buzz was really going to help the show take off not just in Japan but globally as well. Anime had become a hugely worldwide business, and the numbers of fans watching as well as the money moving through the industry increased exponentially every year. There may have been a time when anime was considered a niche interest, especially in America. Recently, though, that idea seemed to be changing. There was still a long way to go, but now it would be hard to find an American who didn’t at least recognize anime when they saw it. With this presentation, the studios hoped they could turn the title Justice Hero Knight Lancer into a household name this time.Bookmark here

The staff and interpreter from Compass Productions turned to face their partners from Toon Motion, thanking them for yet another amazing joint presentation, and the Toon Motion staff did the same. The two small staff groupings began exiting the panel room separately, making their way towards the convention hall.Bookmark here

The All-Out Anime Festival, known by fans as AOAF for short in online circles, was a well-known yearly summer convention in Los Angeles. While Japan had often made large scale industry presentations, they weren’t necessarily the same experience as attending an American anime convention. Conventions in the United States were famous for being organized by fans, initially from small underground fan clubs many decades earlier, then moving up to larger events held at small hotels with a few hundred or a few thousand people. While some of those mid-sized events held inside small hotels still existed, even larger conventions had sprung up in major cities across the country, rivaling the size and attendance of American comic book and pop culture conventions. Bookmark here

All-Out Anime Festival was by far the largest and most overwhelming event in the US. Well over 100,000 people were in attendance this weekend--a number so big that it could only be held in the largest convention center in the area, with attendees coming from all over the world to see what could only be seen here. There were a handful of normal events you could find at most any other anime convention in the country. Most panels were organized by fans themselves with presentations on niche topics, such as cosplay how-to panels, representation of women in anime, or even panels dedicated to fans’ favorite shows and movies.Bookmark here

But the event also meant a huge opportunity for members of the industry to interact with the fans directly, showing off their latest animated programs and selling tie-in merchandise. There was a lot of money to be made at AOAF. And that was exactly why Toon Motion was there that weekend.Bookmark here

The woman with the glasses reached the panel room exit with the rest of her team. One member, a young man about the same age, called out to her before she managed to round the corner.Bookmark here

“Nice work up there today, Joy! Hey, we’re all gonna grab a bite to eat down the street. You wanna come join us?”Bookmark here

Joy’s hair was pulled back in a ponytail, but her bangs weren’t quite long enough to be tied back with the rest of it, causing her to lose some peripheral visibility. She pushed the bangs behind her ear to make eye contact with her teammate.Bookmark here

“Oh, I’d love to, but I’ve really gotta be going right now. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you guys for the next panel tomorrow.”

The teammate chuckled. “All right, it’s your loss! We’ll meet you back here later.”Bookmark here

She smiled and waved them off as they turned down the hall. Truth be told, she was pretty hungry, but she was flat broke and didn’t want to burden any of her coworkers with the idea that one of them might have to pay for her food. She was just going to have to eat at home again tonight. What did she have lying around right now? Frozen microwavable TV dinners? She groaned to herself. Quick and cheap again, I guess.Bookmark here

Despite how hard it had been, Joy was thrilled to be where she was now. She was once just an anime fan herself and regularly attended many events much smaller than these. But now, at the age of 28, she had found herself making a lot of really fortunate connections that eventually put her in contact with the hiring manager at Toon Motion. A little bit of college and a lot of little skills built up over the years editing English documents and playing around with video editing software had given her just enough qualifications to allow her to finally do the job she had never dreamed of doing, helping to localize Japanese animation for an American audience. If she could have told her younger self that this was what she’d be doing to make a living as an adult, she would never believe it. The rent was too high and she could barely cover food, but even though she still struggled a little every day, she had never been happier.Bookmark here

As she rounded the corner in the opposite direction as her coworkers, she sensed something. A small chill ran through her body.Bookmark here

What was this sensation? A bad omen? Or did the convention center just have the air conditioning cranked all the way up? There was a heat wave scorching through downtown Los Angeles, after all. Maybe that was it.Bookmark here

But she didn’t get much farther into the packed crowd of anime fans and cosplayers when she heard an aggressive voice from immediately behind her.Bookmark here

“You! Joy Darwin!”Bookmark here

Joy gasped. She didn’t recognize the voice. It wasn’t one of her coworkers from the studio. And they didn’t sound too happy, either. Cautiously, she looked over her shoulder to see who was calling for her.Bookmark here

A young man stood with his back pressed up against the wall, dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans, holding a backpack by his side from its shoulder strap. How old was he? He looked a little older than a high schooler, maybe. Was he in his 20s? His face was stern. In a crowd full of excited people, this guy didn’t look like he was having fun here.Bookmark here

Joy did her best to be polite, though his stance made her nervous. “Oh, yes. I’m Joy. Do you know me? What can I do for you?”Bookmark here

“So you are her,” the young man said, confirming his suspicions. He stepped away from the wall and swung his backpack over one shoulder. “You’re Joy Darwin. You work on those simulcasts from Toon Motion Studios. You’ve done a lot of work lately.”Bookmark here

“Oh,” Joy replied. She eased up a little. It wasn’t common, but sometimes people learned who she was because they became interested in working in the anime industry. Of course, everybody wants to work on anime. Sometimes anime fans would try to talk to her or other people in the industry to try and learn how they could work in anime as well. It was kind of an old question that she was starting to get bored of answering, but it ultimately was harmless.Bookmark here

“Oh, yes,” she continued, easing out of nervousness into a comforting smile. “Were you at our presentation just now? I’m actually really looking forward to Justice Hero Knight Lancer myself!”Bookmark here

“Yeah. I was there,” the young man grumbled. “And yes, Justice Hero Knight Lancer is extremely important to me. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since the manga was first being published. I’ve read the whole series up until now. And only Compass Productions could bring the story to life in the way it deserves.”Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s great!” Joy was genuinely glad someone wanted to talk to her about the show. She didn’t always get to work on shows she liked, but she was legitimately excited about being involved in helping people watch this show. “I can’t wait to share the work we do with--”

“And that’s exactly why I demand that you and your company drop this show immediately!”Bookmark here

Joy was dumbstruck, shocked into silence. What? What was this guy talking about?Bookmark here

“Um, I’m sorry,” she eventually managed to squeak out. “But what exactly do you mean, ‘drop the show’?”Bookmark here

“I mean you have no right to put your filthy American hands on Justice Knight!” By now, the young man had raised his voice significantly. He was actually mad about something. Something that Joy didn’t understand. It wouldn’t be long before he was attracting the attention of the attendees around them.Bookmark here

“Wh-what do you mean?” Joy stammered. “We’re in America. We’re helping Americans watch the show.”

“Oh, yeah? And what else are you gonna do to it, huh? I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do! You’re gonna do the same thing you always do! You’re gonna change everything about it! You’re gonna translate everything wrong on purpose! You’re gonna censor it, just like you always do! Well, we anime fans aren’t gonna tolerate your American interference anymore!”Bookmark here

With every word, it felt like the angry man was leaning in a little bit closer, slowly beginning to encroach upon her personal space. She thought she felt a fleck of spittle that had left his mouth hit her on the cheek. And yep, the crowded hallway full of people had now stopped to stare at the ongoing drama.Bookmark here

She had to get out of there.Bookmark here

Out of the corner of her eye, Joy saw a cosplayer in a large mascot costume. It looked big, cute, and fluffy, like a bunny from some kind of fantasy world with enormous round eyes and floppy ears. What series was it from? Was it one of those isekai shows, where the main character gets teleported from the real world into a fantasy world and then becomes the hero? This character looked like the cute animal creature that gives the heroes their powers. It was an incredibly well put-together and highly-detailed mascot costume, and was drawing quite the huge crowd. Joy didn’t even bother trying to make an excuse.

“Oh, my GOD!” she shouted. “I LOVE that character! I need to go get a picture real quick. You just stay right there!” Without even giving the angry man a chance to think or respond, she bolted into the crowd surrounding the fantasy bunny.Bookmark here

“What? Hey wait!” the man shouted. “I’m not done talking to you!”Bookmark here

He tried to follow her, but it was too late. Somehow in the confusion and the commotion, Joy had managed to blend into the crowd and escape out the other side. There were glass doors that exited the building just behind the mascot character and his crowd of fans. When she got outside, she kept running until she could round the next bend, only then stopping to catch her breath. Her first thought was, Ouch, I really wish I had worn better shoes for this event.Bookmark here

Her second thought was one that she couldn’t keep imprisoned in her inner monologue. “Who the heck does that guy think he is, anyway? He can’t just come up to me and tell me how to do my job like that!”Bookmark here

She wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the argument he had been starting to make with her. For as long as Joy could remember, there had always been some point of contention on how anime was localized. In fact, she had to admit, there was a time quite a long while ago where she remembered anime in English being pretty bad. And it used to be exactly like that guy was describing. America had different broadcasting standards than Japan did. Lots of anime got edited or censored before it ever aired on television or made it to home video.Bookmark here

These days, though, it was almost a non-issue. Anime was being put into the hands of fans faster than ever before thanks to the internet, and now that anime fans were working in the industry, the standard for what people would accept in their localizations had been changing. Censorship and script alteration was almost unheard of.Bookmark here

But that didn’t stop fans from being terrified that one day we would fall backwards into the dark ages of western anime distribution. Even now, fans were afraid of even the smallest alteration to the subtitles, and that any deviation from the original Japanese script would mean washing away the intent of the show’s writers. It was such a paralyzing fear to some that it had the result of large groups of anime fans online reacting with vitriolic disdain to anything they perceived as being the “wrong” translation, even if these fans didn’t actually speak Japanese or know what the original script was saying in the first place.Bookmark here

The vitriol that came from those communities was sometimes so over-the-top that Joy couldn’t help but laugh every time some sort of localization controversy came up. But other times, the anger was downright frightening. Much like other fan communities like video games and American comics, some anime fans had been known to resort to threats of physical violence in the name of the thing they loved. Most of the time, it could be dismissed as online chatter, hidden behind anonymous social media accounts that chose to display their favorite anime girl as their profile picture rather than showing their own face.Bookmark here

This time, however, was different. These types didn’t usually get out from behind their keyboards to physically chase down the people they perceived to be their enemies. Joy was relieved she was able to get out of the situation when she did. Who knows what this guy would have done if she hadn’t? She began wondering if it might be time for All-Out Anime Festival to start taking new security measures.Bookmark here

It was definitely time to leave the event. Joy had traveled here from her studio apartment by bus, but truthfully, she just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. She would have driven her own car to the venue herself, but as usual she was having engine trouble that would end up costing way more than her paycheck would let her cover this month. Maybe it was for the best, she figured. Parking at the convention center always wound up costing the same amount as a ticket to get into the event for a day.Bookmark here

Today, however, she decided to hire a rideshare driver to get home. The little bit of extra money it would cost to call a driver to her was well worth it in transit time saved. She poked the Wonder app on her phone and waited on the curb outside the convention center.Bookmark here

Downtown Los Angeles was always busy, but it was exceptionally so on AOAF weekend. Not only were the sidewalks and courtyards crowded with fans and cosplayers, but there were also plenty of food and beverage vendors more than happy to take advantage of the huge profits they’d surely be making from hungry otaku who didn’t want to travel far to eat. An entire brigade of hot dog vendors rolled up on the sidewalks around the whole length of the event center shouting a chorus of, “Hot dog! Hot dog! Hot dog! Water bottle! Water bottle! Hot dog!” Across the street from the convention sat a parking lot reserved solely for a fleet of food trucks serving all kinds of food you could never imagine finding in a normal restaurant. American food met Japanese, FIlipino, and Mexican cuisine in a crazy fusion, with lines so long you might pass out from heat stroke before ever ordering your meal. And the prices were tremendously expensive, but where else were fans going to go to eat? They were more than happy to shell out however much it took to get a taste of these exotic menu items. Joy wondered if she might have enough time to risk crossing the street to see if they had any interesting new ice cream variations, but then shook off the thought, deciding the risk of missing her ride wasn’t worth it.Bookmark here

That was probably for the best, as suddenly Joy’s phone buzzed in her hand, notifying her that her Wonder driver would be pulling up any second now. She kept her eyes peeled for a blue sedan, and then after taking a glance both up and down the street, she finally saw it round the corner in her direction, pulling up alongside her. The driver, clad with a scally cap on his head, fingerless gloves on his hands, and sunglasses covering his eyes rolled his driver-side window down to confirm the pick-up.Bookmark here

“Miss Joy Darwin?”

Joy sighed with relief. “Yes, thank goodness you’re here. I’m ready to go!”Bookmark here

She opened the passenger door and prepared herself to sit in the back seat. Just then, she heard a voice shouting from the distance just up the sidewalk.Bookmark here

“Stop! Come back!” A man appearing to be in his 30s was scrambling to catch up to the car. “You can’t get in! Get back here!”Bookmark here

Joy gasped in fear. Was this some other crazy fan with a bone to pick? Why was this happening now?Bookmark here

“Oh, boy! You better get in, miss! That guy seems pretty upset!”

She knew she didn’t have time to think about it. Joy threw herself into the back seat of the sedan and slammed the door shut just before the man on the sidewalk could was catching up to them. He continued shouting and shaking his fist as they pulled away, though Joy couldn’t hear a word he said anymore as the distance grew between them.Bookmark here

She exhaled a sigh of relief and readjusted her glasses which had slipped down the bridge of her nose. “Thank you so much,” Joy exhaled. “You’re a lifesaver. You have no idea how badly I needed to get out of there.”Bookmark here

“Oh, no,” the driver said confidently. “Actually, it’s you that made my life a whole hell of a lot easier.” He pulled his glasses off his face and tossed them into the passenger seat next to them, looking at Joy through the rear-view mirror.Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” Joy asked in hesitation. “Have you not been able to pick up enough rides? I’d imagine on a day like today you’d be getting quite a lot of work.”Bookmark here

“Hah, work? Why would I do that? This isn’t even my car!” The driver scoffed as he lifted the scally cap off his head and tossed it on top of the sunglasses.Bookmark here

That’s when Joy realized.Bookmark here

This wasn’t her rideshare driver.Bookmark here

She looked back down at her app. The picture of the driver wasn’t whoever this was in the driver’s seat. In fact, she recognized the man in the photo. No way! That’s that guy who was chasing us down the sidewalk! He wasn’t after me! He was trying to get his car back! And this guy…Bookmark here

“Now there’s nothing stopping us from continuing our conversation! You’re not gonna get out of it this time, Joy!”Bookmark here

“It’s you!” she gasped. “That guy from the hallway!” Joy was screaming, not only out of panic but also enraged at the thought that somebody was this desperate to talk to her over something as trivial as anime localization. “What’s the matter with you?! Are you trying to get yourself arrested?!”Bookmark here

“Call the cops if you want!” The driver screamed back. “Then I can tell them that it was you who was committing hate crimes while you claim to just be doing your job! You’ll be sorry when you’re the one the police end up dragging away!”Bookmark here

“Kid, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, but you need to pull this car over immediately!”Bookmark here

“I’m not a kid!” the childish man screamed, turning his head completely over his shoulder to look his trapped passenger in the eyes. “I’m 21 years old! I’m an adult, and I know exactly what I’m talking about!” This guy was so mad, he was no longer looking at the road. And they were about to roll up to a traffic intersection where the light had turned red.Bookmark here

“Hey!” Joy shouted in panic. “Turn back around and look where you’re going!”

“Oh, no, you’re not gonna get rid of me again that easily!”

“No, in front of you!”Bookmark here

“Huh?” The young carjacker gasped as he saw the bumper of the vehicle in front of him quickly approaching. Or rather, he was the one closing in on the next vehicle’s rear. He slammed on the breaks, with both he and Joy jerking forward in their seatbelts. It slowed them down, but by then it was too late.Bookmark here

The collision wasn’t big, but it was definitely jarring. The sound was much worse than the impact actually was. The loud bang and crunch of metal, with the clinking of shattered tail and headlights hitting the ground might have fooled someone into believing somebody might really have been hurt.Bookmark here

It was all the opportunity Joy needed to scramble out of the car. Her kidnapper was just a hair too disoriented to figure out what was going on right away. By the time he realized she was making her escape down the street, the driver he’d crashed into was already getting out of his own car to confront him.Bookmark here

“Hey! Look what you did to my car, you jerk! Didn’t you see the traffic light? You better show me your insurance right now!” The innocent but angry driver shoved a pointed finger in the 21-year-old’s face accusingly.Bookmark here

“No way, man, I got places to be! That chick, she just--”Bookmark here

The innocent driver grabbed the crazy kidnapper by the shirt collar. “Oh, so you think you can just pull a hit-and-run on me, huh?! We’ll see what the LAPD has to say about that! Where’s your wallet?”

“Hey, let go of me, old man!” He struggled against the driver who had a shockingly good grip on his shoulder. In the middle of the struggle, the older man managed to reach into the young otaku’s back pocket and snatch up his wallet.Bookmark here

The angry driver used his free hand to flip the wallet open and got a good look at his ID card. “Liam Roberts? Hah! Well, Liam, I know exactly who I’m going to bill for all of my car repairs!”

Liam gritted his teeth against the grip of the other driver. “Joy!” He screamed at nowhere in particular, having completely lost sight of her. “Joy Darwin, you haven’t seen the last of me! I’ll stop you and your hateful localizations if it’s the last thing I do!”Bookmark here

Shouting this was the last thing Liam did before the cops arrived and placed him in the backseat of a police car.Bookmark here

Joy had run just far enough away to not be seen and to call the police. When they arrived, they had given her her assailant’s name--Liam Roberts--and assured her they’d be doing everything within their power to ensure he couldn’t do something like this again. They even offered to give her a ride home.Bookmark here

She’d never ridden in a police vehicle before. The experience was sort of intimidating. Even though Joy knew she hadn’t done anything wrong, it was still kind of frightening to think that she was sitting here at all. What a horrible day this had become. What started out as one of the greatest experiences of her career--sharing the announcement with a room full of fans that something she worked on alongside Japanese animators would be coming to the west--had ended in harassment, a brief kidnapping, and then a car accident, forcing her to get a ride home from the cops. She quietly wondered how that driver Liam stole the car from was doing right now.Bookmark here

The officer dropped Joy off outside her apartment complex, tipped his hat, and went on about his patrol. Joy exhaled a sigh of relief. Though climbing the stairs to get to her room on the second floor felt like the biggest chore of the day now.Bookmark here

Before going inside, the woman felt her phone vibrate. It was a text from her best friend Shauni. Shauni didn’t work in the anime industry at all, but loved anime just as much as Joy did. She had gotten really nervous when she hadn’t heard from Joy all day long, especially after her presentation at the convention had ended. Joy took a moment to text back a reply.

“Girl, you would not believe the day I just had. I gotta call you about it tomorrow. Absolutely crazy doesn’t even begin to cover it. :O”Bookmark here

Joy placed her phone back in her pocket and pulled out her apartment key. Perhaps the extra time she took to send the text before entering her home was the biggest mistake of the day. As she inserted the key in the door, twisted the knob, and cracked the door open, she heard a recently all-too-familiar voice.Bookmark here

“Joy Darwin!”Bookmark here

Joy slowly rotated her head over her shoulder, tears nearly flowing behind her sliding glasses, her mouth gaping and downturned in a combination of fear and exhaustion.Bookmark here

“L-Liam!”Bookmark here

There stood Liam Roberts on the balcony just outside her apartment. For as terrified as she was, part of her was almost impressed by his persistent nature. She had no idea how this guy stole a car, managed to escape the cops, and then locate her apartment.Bookmark here

“Listen, Joy.” Liam was now hissing in anger. “We’re gonna finish the conversation we started, and I’m gonna get all the answers I’m looking for! It’s what all the real anime fans deserve!”Bookmark here

All Joy ever wanted to do with her life was to work in a field she loved. She loved anime. It meant the world to her. Bringing that anime to other people just like her was an absolute privilege. And here this guy was hounding her as though she owed him an explanation for anything she did. She’d worked hard and paid her dues to get to where she was today. And although she was frightened by the idea of what Liam was capable of, what began swelling inside of her was a pride that told her she didn’t need to answer to him for work that she was proud to do every single day.Bookmark here

“Real anime fans?” Joy whispered, her voice quivering, both in fear and frustration. “I do my job with pride. I’m happy to do what I do. I am a real anime fan, and so were the 800 people in that panel room today.” She finally puffed up her chest and aggressively leaned back into Liam’s angry face. He gasped at her sudden decision not to back down from him, but didn’t move an inch from where he stood.Bookmark here

“If you’re so determined to be right about who really does or doesn’t care about anime, then fine!” She whipped around and swung her apartment door wide open, banging it against the wall. “Sit your childish ass down! We’ll have this talk you wanna have so desperately. And when we’re done, you’re never gonna say another word to me again for as long as either one of us lives!”Bookmark here

Liam grinned and scoffed, confident he was going to win whatever argument he’d made up in his head. “Fine by me. Challenge accepted, Joy Darwin.”Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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