Chapter 6:

Otaku Power Might Just Be Money

I Work in the Anime Industry and Everybody Hates Me!

 Joy and Liam stared at one another through the police station bars, Liam on the inside of the cell and Joy on the side of freedom. It felt like they had been glaring at one another for hours. Finally, after an eternity of an exchange of dirty looks, Liam found the strength to speak first.Bookmark here

“So, you already got your hard drive back, and I’m already at the police station. What more do you want for me?”Bookmark here

“Are you kidding me?!” Joy snapped, unable to contain her pent-up anger. “You can’t possibly think today was the only reason I have to be upset. You already harassed me at a public event, committed grand theft auto, caused a car accident, escaped from police custody, and followed me all the way to my apartment before getting arrested a second time!”Bookmark here

“Uh, to be fair, I did not follow you to your apartment. You put your address into the rideshare app the day we met at the convention. I just looked at the address on the driver’s phone.”Bookmark here

“That wasn’t even your phone! That belonged to the driver of the car you hijacked!”Bookmark here

“Eh, semantics.”Bookmark here

Liam’s lack of serious approach to the conversation was infuriating to Joy. Bookmark here

“Ugh, just, why are you the way you are?!” Joy shouted, approaching the bars. “I don’t even understand how you’re able to do anything you do. Did somebody teach you how to carjack and trespass?”Bookmark here

Liam laughed, as though he had the upper hand in the conversation. “No, you fool! You couldn’t possibly understand! I had no teacher!” He moved himself from leaning against the back wall of the cell and slowly approached his side of the bars. “You see, I’m self-taught. I studied for these important moments. I trained! And you wanna know how I pulled it all off?”Bookmark here

Joy listened intently, wondering what kind of secrets this guy had that made him who he was. She could feel her heart tense up within her chest at the anticipation of his answers.Bookmark here

Liam lifted two fingers on his hand to illustrate his point. “Two things, and two things only, are what give me the power to do what I do. The first of which is…”Bookmark here

Liam paused for suspense. Joy was holding her breath without even realizing it. What was it?!Bookmark here

“There is nobody in all of America who holds within them more otaku power than me!”Bookmark here

Joy blinked. Maybe there was something she was missing. “...Otaku power?”Bookmark here

“That’s right! And the reason I have been able to catch up with you and approach you every single time until now has been because the abilities being the king of otaku gives me will far overwhelm any of your abilities every time! It’s how I know you aren’t worthy of being in the industry! Only someone bursting with otaku energy such as myself is worthy of touching the anime you work on, whereas all you’ll end up doing is tainting the creators’ intent with your western stench!”Bookmark here

Otaku power. Otaku energy. Joy couldn’t comprehend what she was hearing. “Uh-huh. So that’s one thing. And what’s the second thing?”Bookmark here

Liam scoffed. “Heh. That’s the best part. And it certainly isn’t something that can be taught. Simply speaking, I am a genius.”Bookmark here

“A genius.”Bookmark here

“Absolutely.”Bookmark here

“So being full of otaku power on top of being a genius is why I was able to catch you and make sure you ended up in jail yet again, huh?”Bookmark here

Liam winced. He couldn’t lie. She had caught him fair and square this time.Bookmark here

“So is your otaku power and your genius going to be what gets you out of jail this time?”Bookmark here

“No, that would be me.” Joy quickly looked behind her to meet eyes with the unknown voice now speaking to her. She heard the clacking of high heels on the floor approaching her, along with the footsteps of a police officer.Bookmark here

A middle-aged woman in a business suit walked up alongside Joy. Her hair and make-up were immaculate, and Joy found herself bewildered by the powerful energy she resonated. Truly, this was boss bitch power turned up to eleven.Bookmark here

“Who… who are you?”Bookmark here

“Monica Brighthouse, attorney at law.” The woman reached into her handbag, pulled out a business card, and handed it to Joy, who cautiously pulled the card up to her face to read it.Bookmark here

It was at that moment that she recognized the professionally produced headshot photo on the card. Monica Brighthouse! Of course! This woman was famous in the greater Los Angeles area! Her photo was on billboards all across the county, and her appearance was also in TV and radio advertisements, with a catchy slogan that said, “A Woman Who Won’t Back Down”.Bookmark here

“You’re… you’re Liam’s mom?!”Bookmark here

“Unfortunately, yes.” Monica sighed and crossed her arms, clearly irritated that she even had to be here at all.Bookmark here

The police officer that had approached them alongside Monica carried a key to the cell. “Mr. Roberts, you’re free to go.” It was only then that Joy had taken notice that Liam and his mother did not in fact share the same last name.Bookmark here

The key clacked inside the lock, and the cell gate creaked open. Liam scoffed as he freely walked out from behind the bars. Joy felt a seething anger bubbling up inside her.Bookmark here

“Wait, Liam just gets to walk around again, like he’s not a menace to society? Doesn’t he need a hearing or a trial or anything? Hell, how did he even get released the last time he got hauled in?!”Bookmark here

“That’s easy,” Monica said with a prideful flip of her bob-cut hair. “I’m a damn good lawyer.”Bookmark here

Honestly, that didn’t answer a single one of her questions. Joy didn’t know much about the law, but this seemed unusually easy. Or maybe Joy was simply so under-educated when it came to legal matters—especially by comparison to Monica—that she was woefully unprepared to even begin to comprehend how any of this was supposed to work. In her mind, both Liam and Monica were both so totally unreal, Joy didn’t know how it was she was standing in the same room as them.Bookmark here

Despite having just been released from his confinement, Liam didn’t actually seem particularly grateful for his freedom. “I already told you before, Mom, I don’t need you to come to my rescue every single time.”Bookmark here

“Hah, rescue? Don’t kid yourself, sweetheart. You know I’m not doing this for you.” Monica’s brow furrowed. She was already frustrated that she had to be here, but now the conversation just made her even more irritable. “If you weren’t such a monumental screw-up, I wouldn’t have to be down here in the first place. Don’t you ever think about anyone other than yourself?”Bookmark here

The jail officer had heard enough. “Look, if you guys are done here, can you please move this conversation outside? We have work to do.” He lifted his hands and waved them around to shoo the group back down the hall.Bookmark here

As the group moved out to the front steps of the building, Joy had no way to help but overhear the conversation between the otaku and his super lawyer mother.Bookmark here

“Mom, why do you even pretend to care about anything I do, anyway?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I care all right. I care because every time you do something like this, it means I have to take action to prevent your stupid stunts from reflecting badly on me and ruining my career.”

“Your career? Who gives a damn about your stupid career?”

“How do you think a single mother like me could have possibly raised you? You didn’t make it to adulthood based purely on luck, you know!”Bookmark here

Liam scoffed. “You weren’t even there. You didn’t raise me at all.”Bookmark here

Before he knew it, Liam’s face was greeted with the palm of his mother’s hand slapping him across the face. What followed was an uncomfortable, deafening silence.

Joy gasped. It wasn’t as though she was on Liam’s side or anything, but she felt like she was witnessing a TV drama, with the struggles of characters she didn’t really know playing out in front of her. It was discomforting and embarrassing, watching someone else’s family struggles reveal themselves to her. She stood a few feet back and waited to let the two of them finish.Bookmark here

Monica glared at her son for a few moments. He winced in pain, but otherwise his eyes gave no indication of anything he was experiencing emotionally. Shortly after, the tough lawyer woman grunted in disgust and turned to face the road, walking towards her car parked at a metered parking spot, her business high heels clacking with every step.Bookmark here

She unlocked her car—a clean new black Mercedes SUV—with a remote key fob and entered the driver’s side door.Bookmark here

“You’re free again, so I’m going to assume you’re smart enough to be able to find your own way home from here. Don’t do this to me again, do you understand?”Bookmark here

The door slammed shut, the engine turned over, and the lawyer pulled out of her parking lot and drove out onto the busy Los Angeles street. Somehow, Joy had once again been left alone with Liam.Bookmark here

In Joy’s mind, there was no logical reason why Liam should be free to walk around the streets of L.A. again after all the stunts he’d pulled. She knew that. But at the same time, she wondered if it wasn’t punishment enough to know that his family relationships were clearly in such destructive disarray. If it had been almost anyone else in the world, what Joy had just witnessed would have been enough for her to feel pity. She wasn’t sure it was pity she felt for him now, but the picture of who Liam was and why he acted the way he did was slowly coming into focus. Not everything made sense just yet, but she now realized there was an untold story here that was causing all of these ludicrous things to happen around her.Bookmark here

“Why are you still standing here, huh?” Liam snarled. “You think my family life is some kinda show?”Bookmark here

Joy only realized at that moment that she had been too lost in everything to move. Maybe it really had been inconsiderate of her to just stand there and watch.Bookmark here

“So, um…” Joy finally managed to squeak out. “What are you going to do now?”Bookmark here

“The same thing I always do. Find a way home and plan my next step. Nobody else is gonna do that for me.”Bookmark here

“Wait, you’re just gonna keep going as if nothing happened? Did you learn nothing from any of this?”Bookmark here

“What’s there to learn? It doesn’t matter what I do. Nothing changes anyway, so I may as well just do what I wanna do.”Bookmark here

Joy gritted her teeth. After all of this, crime after crime, it turned out due to family connections Liam could just keep using a theoretical “Get Out of Jail Free” card, and it was never going to change. Why? Was he going to keep coming after her and other people in the anime localization industry? With everything else he had going on at home, why was any of this anime nonsense even this important to him in the first place? It was infuriating to think that even after all she’d witnessed today, she knew that it was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. If she didn’t do something, she was going to keep seeing his stupid face. Under normal circumstances, she would have filed a restraining order, but it was clear that such a move was going to be nothing more than a worthless piece of paper. If he really wanted to, he could just keep pulling crazy stunts, and then his mom would bail him out just to make sure her public image didn’t get soiled. She had to come up with some other plan.Bookmark here

Liam reached into his fanny pack, which the officers at the police station had allowed him to retrieve on his way out the door, and pulled out his cell phone. He started going through the steps to call for a rideshare vehicle through an app. The once-proud otaku ninja was about to get away yet again.Bookmark here

“You won today, Joy. But don’t think you and your team are going to keep this up forever.” Shortly thereafter, a four-door sedan pulled up alongside the building, presumably Liam’s rideshare he’d just called for. “Minor setbacks like these are nothing for real fans. When anime is back in the hands of the true otaku, that’s when all will be right with the world again. You’ll see soon enough!”Bookmark here

Liam clearly meant for this to be an extremely cool parting message, as he opened the car door and began sliding into the backseat. But before he knew it, Joy was lunging directly at him, holding her phone out with her screen facing him. She landed across his lap in the backseat of the sedan.Bookmark here

“Driver! I’m here for my ride, too!”

The driver of the vehicle looked over her shoulder in panic. “Uh, okay…?”

“What?!” Liam shouted. “What are you talking about? I’m the paying customer, and you are not a member of my party! And get off me!”Bookmark here

Joy grunted and held aloft her phone even more deliberately. “You’re right. I’m not a member of your party. But this rideshare service is also a carpool service, and I’m another paying customer!”Bookmark here

Liam gasped when he realized Joy was telling the truth. Somehow she had quickly ordered herself the same rideshare service he had, and now they were technically both paying customers for the same ride. The driver’s dashboard-mounted phone chimed just at that moment, and she turned back to look at the screen.Bookmark here

“Oh! Well, sure enough, I’ve got you both registered right here. Just get seated and buckled and we’ll get moving, okay?”

“Thank you, miss!” Joy grunted and crawled to the passenger’s seat on the opposite side of the car, her knees digging into Liam’s thighs along the way. He yelped in pain as she got comfortable in the seat next to him.Bookmark here

“I can’t believe this! I thought you were trying to get rid of me! Why are you chasing me now?!”

“Because I’m going to get to the bottom of just what exactly is making you so obsessive that you would continue to try to disrupt our work. We’re out here making countless people happy every single day, and for whatever reason you have this self-important mission to prevent us from doing that job.”Bookmark here

As Joy was saying this, she realized she needed to check in with somebody back at Toon Motion Studios. They knew she had taken a ride down to the local jail house, but if she was going to be gone longer than that, somebody was going to need to know. Joy quickly thumbed through her contact list on her phone and poked the direct number to her coworker Lisa’s desk.Bookmark here

The receiver clicked as Lisa picked up her phone. “Toon Motion, Lisa speaking.”Bookmark here

“Hey, Lisa, it’s Joy.”

“Oh, my God! Joy, did everything go okay? Are you headed back?”

“Slight change of plans. I’m gonna try to do the rest of today’s work from home.”

“What? Did something happen?”Bookmark here

“Nothing too bad. I’ll explain how it all went later. Sorry for the inconvenience. But the hard drive got back okay, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, it’s safe and sound, if a little scuffed up on the outer case.”Bookmark here

Ajeet the tech team member poked his head out from his desk at the sound of the conversation. “Hey! Is that Joy? Are you talking about the hard drive? You’re lucky I don’t come lecture everybody who touched that drive today! Every one of you should have been more careful!”Bookmark here

Lisa pulled away from the phone to shout back at Ajeet. “We would have been fine even without the hard drive! I uploaded a copy of the materials to the server!”

“And I told you at the meeting to stop relying on that server so much!”Bookmark here

“Well, thanks to me, if something had happened to the hard drive, we could have kept going with no issues!”Bookmark here

“That’s not the point! Do you know what would have happened to our relationships with the Japanese studios if a leak of their materials had gotten out on the internet? Toon Motion would have been sunk!”Bookmark here

“Well, Joy saved the day and got the hard drive back, so stop shouting!”Bookmark here

You stop shouting!”Bookmark here

At this point, Joy figured she’d gotten her message across just fine. It was clear her coworkers were more busy arguing with each other than they were about the phone call. She slowly dropped the phone from her ear and tapped the on-screen button to hang up, followed by a long sigh. This day really has gotten to everybody, huh?Bookmark here

Joy looked out the window of their rideshare vehicles and realized she was in an area she definitely didn’t belong. That wasn’t because this part of town was especially dangerous or shady, but rather because it was wealthy. Absolutely obscenely wealthy.Bookmark here

They’d just rolled into Beverly Hills.Bookmark here

The first things Joy noticed were the upscale businesses. Clothes she would never be able to afford to wear, food she would never be able to afford to eat, cars she would never be able to afford to drive. If she were to step out of the vehicle right at this moment, she would stick out like a sore thumb. She felt self-conscious just by passing through, and couldn’t wait until the rideshare car left the area.Bookmark here

But they didn’t leave the area. In fact, they kept traveling deeper into Beverly Hills, into neighborhoods lined with enormous, beautiful trees, and even larger houses. Homes that cost millions of dollars by her estimate ran up and down the neighborhood blocks. These abodes were so large, Joy couldn’t even begin to fathom what someone would do with all that space, even with a large family.Bookmark here

It was here that the car finally began to slow, and Joy felt embarrassed when she realized the reason why they were going through Beverly Hills in the first place. Wait, does Liam live out here? No way!Bookmark here

Yes way. The car slowed to a stop in front of a luxurious modern two-story house, with immaculate white stone walls and broad open glass windows. The building was only just visible behind an intimidating gate and impeccable lush green topiary.Bookmark here

“Thank you for riding with me today, Mr. Roberts,” the driver chimed.

Joy’s mouth gaped in astonishment. “No! This… this is where you live?!” She suddenly felt extreme shame about allowing this young man to even catch a glimpse of her crummy studio apartment.Bookmark here

“Look, I’m not thrilled that you know where I live now, so if it’s all the same, stay here in this car and forget you ever saw it.” Liam unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the car door. Was Joy really going to let it end like this?Bookmark here

Of course not.

Before Liam could finish exiting the vehicle, Joy rushed her fingers over the face of her phone and quickly ended her ride through the rideshare app.

“Miss, don’t you want me to complete your ride for you?”Bookmark here

Joy was already unbuckling and leaping out of the car. “I’m fine! Don’t worry! I added an extra tip!” She then turned her face away from the car and muttered aloud to herself. “I sure hope Rich Boy here did the same. Looks like he could certainly afford it.”Bookmark here

The rideshare driver smiled. “Oh, whatever you say! Thanks for riding with me, you two!”Bookmark here

All of this had happened so quickly, Liam hadn’t quite been able to respond. “Huh?! No, you can’t just leave her here! Get her out of—”Bookmark here

But it was already too late. The driver had already pulled away from the freshly power washed driveway and was long gone. Liam snarled.Bookmark here

“How dare you follow me all the way to my home? What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are?”Bookmark here

Joy adjusted her glasses and then lifted her hands in the air in a shrug. “You sure do lack a lot of self-awareness, kid, if you thought you could do that exact same thing to me and then turn around and ask those questions now.”Bookmark here

“I am not a kid!”Bookmark here

“God, why does that bother you so much? You’re several years younger than me, you know.”Bookmark here

Liam huffed and turned away from Joy to face his outrageously enormous home. “That’s not something you need to know about me!”Bookmark here

“Hmm… maybe not. But I do think you owe me a lot of other answers. And as the person who captured you despite your so-called ninja techniques and ensured you even briefly went to jail, I think you owe me the right to step inside with you and start asking you some questions! And I’m not gonna take no for an answer!”Bookmark here

Liam took only a brief moment to contemplate his options. On the one hand, it would be extremely easy for him to sick the security guards his mom had hired on Joy. If he wanted, he could ensure that she never set foot on his property–not now, not ever.Bookmark here

On the other hand, every time he needed to use some kind of force, it started a whole new fight with his lawyer mother, and he was utterly sick of the experience. Having her bail him out of jail yet again was enough heat from her for one day.Bookmark here

He came to his decision, and groaned knowing that he was having to pick the lesser of two evils.Bookmark here

“Fine! But just know this, Joy. Any answers you learn about here aren’t going to stop the storm that’s coming! If you think you’re going to somehow prevent myself and others from coming after your hateful localization industry, you’re dead wrong!”Bookmark here

Joy scoffed at his obviously ludicrous response. “Heh, whatever you say, kid.”Bookmark here

“I am an adult!”Bookmark here

With that, Liam approached the tall metal bars of the front gate that only looked marginally less menacing than the jail bars he’d been behind earlier that day, and he punched in a security code. The gate clicked and then creaked open slowly, revealing a house on the other side that was several acres wider than could be seen from the street. Joy’s heart leaped into her throat.Bookmark here

“Well? What are you gawking at? You coming inside or what?”Bookmark here

Joy pulled herself together, nodded, and followed along after him up the long, perfect driveway. It didn’t matter how much money Liam had. If nobody else in his life was going to straighten him out, she was going to have to be the one to do it.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.