My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead
Soon enough, Mr. Shiritori returns from the kitchen with a glass of the tea I’d come down here to find in the first place and hands it to me. Being seated very close to your female friend’s father without her there is pretty uncomfortable. It feels like I’m about to ask him if I can marry her.
“So where exactly do we start?” he asks. “All the way from the beginning?”
“Yes, if you don't mind.”
“Kouga-kun, do you know your last name is your mother’s, not your father’s?”
“When I first met Tomoyuki Kouga, he went by Tomoyuki Nishinomiya. That wasn’t his actual last name- I forget what it was- it was something very upper-crust, but he had a falling-out with his family and so they eventually kicked him out. When I met him, he was living alone. I didn’t find this out until later.”
“I never knew that.”
“I had moved to Tokyo from Oita during my second year of high school. I dreamed of being a writer. I would read all the time during breaks and write my own stories.”
So that’s where Ayame gets it from.
“I was never a super popular boy- I had gotten made fun of in Oita for being unathletic and frail and wanting to write instead of play sports, so I ended up pretty withdrawn. It was worse in Tokyo. I didn’t know anyone there and I would go hide during lunch breaks to write on my novel- with heroes and dragons and all the other fantasy stuff I loved- some more. Tomoyuki was different. He was never shy about being outspoken about loving otaku stuff- you know, today there’s less of a stigma concerning being an otaku, but it’s still rather frowned upon to go shouting it from the rooftops. I sometimes wonder if my daughter ever runs into trouble about it…”
“She’s fine because she’s a cute girl. If she was a dude she’d be getting her head shoved in the toilet.”
“...Well, I’m glad you think my daughter is cute, Kouga-kun.” He chuckles.
“If it’s not exactly accepted today to be so open about that particular hobby, you can believe what it was like twenty-five years ago.” He stops and grimaces. “They beat the absolute hell out of Tomoyuki. Every single day. The bullies were ruthless. I’d see it and it would hurt me because I wanted someone to help him, but I’d just keep my head down because if I stood up for him, they’d turn on me, and what could a 100-pound bookworm do against the meanest delinquents in the city?”
“I can’t believe that happened to him…that’s kind of awful.”
“I know. I was such a coward.”
“I-I-I didn’t mean you, Shiritori-san!”
“Well, I do. I regret it." Another long pause follows. "The day when we first met for real, I had been in Tokyo about two months and it was raining and I was desperately trying to keep my manuscripts from being soaked. It was at the train station when I caught the tail end of the bullies beating up Tomoyuki so bad he could barely stand. I stood there in shock and one of the pages fell out and before I could react he grabbed it and saw it. I was terrified he was going to make fun of me, too, but he said it was great. That’s when we started being friends, but it was only after school and on rare lunch breaks and things because I was too scared of being seen with him because I was worried the bullies would find out and beat me half to death, too. And you know what? He never held it against me. Every day they’d bully him and I would pretend I didn’t know him and at the end of the day, in one of the unused club rooms, he’d tell me how great my latest draft was and how much he’d love to be my artist if I ever made it into the light novel industry, which was just taking off then. Or how much he wanted me to write the story for this game he was programming. It seems like with all the abuse he took that the world, or God, just wanted him to suffer. Anyone else in his situation would be justified in giving up and not wanting to go on. But you know what? He kept getting right back up. He never let the bullying stop him from loving what he loved, and he never held a grudge. He never hated me for not defending him, even though he should have, and I deserved it.”
I never asked my dad about what he was like as a kid, because I figured he was always a cringy loser, but I didn’t think it would have been this horrible for him. He never speaks about school friends, and I’ve never once heard about Grandma or Grandpa, Aunt or Uncle. I spent so much time being exasperated at his antics that I didn’t realize how strange it was that I don’t even know my extended family. I just assumed my grandparents were dead and both my parents are only children- but that isn’t normal at all, and I didn’t even realize it until now.
“We finally went off to college, and things mellowed out. With so many people at college, we weren’t worried about being bullied anymore…we were anonymous instead. He went into the computer science department at Meisei and I was in literature. That whole time, I never stopped writing, and I never stopped trying to submit my drafts to the publishing houses, but I didn't get any responses but rejections. Meanwhile, Tomoyuki had CEOs coming to Meisei specifically to beg him to work for them.”
“Eh? He’s that good of a programmer?” I had always assumed he was a slacker.
“He’s a genius. He did things with computers I’ve never seen anyone do before or since, but he turned them down because it wasn’t his dream to go slave away in a cubicle. He wanted to program a game, with me as the writer. That’s how the Media Research Circle got started. It was only him and me. We were both the only friend each other had. We would stay up late bouncing ideas off of each other, bickering, smoking like chimneys, not knowing where we’d get the money for food the next day…but it was fun.”
“So what about Mom?”
“I was just about to get there. One day, as we’re in another argument about the direction the game’s going to take, this tiny girl kicks in our door and we think she’s a lost grade schooler, so we try to find her parents and she pitches a fit. Turns out she was a year above us. Chisato Kouga barges in and decides she’s joining our circle and since neither of us had any experience with women that weren’t our own mothers we couldn’t give her any pushback.”
He takes a deep breath, and continues. “She was wild and bossy, but she was a breath of fresh air. She loved visual novels and wanted to see us make ours- she had no writing, programming, or drawing skill, but she did suggest a few good things about the character designs and would get us back on track when we argued. She was the one who got us out of our dark dungeon of a room and convinced us to start going to Comiket, because she went there to cosplay, and start doing things that actual people do like going out for drinks instead of sitting inside arguing over a game. It was only later on that we found out that there were some pretty nasty rumors going around about her. It seems like she had been caught up in some shady stuff- but I don’t even want to repeat what I overheard because I never saw any of those things and I don’t want to believe it was true.”
Once again, he pauses for a while before continuing. I can see from the semi-strained look on his face that these are not pleasant memories he’s recounting. “She grew up overseas, but her parents died a fairly long time ago and she had to come back here. She ended up with her aunt, who wasn’t a very nice person. Apparently her aunt would hit her, until one day she had enough and ran away.”
I’m sitting there, too shocked to say anything. I couldn’t believe my cheerful, annoying mother had gone through that before. Considering how she acts, I had no idea it was anywhere close to possible.
Wait a minute. If I told her I hated her, and I ran away, then to her that must mean I’m telling her that she’s no better than her- oh, God…
Before I have time for my self-loathing spiral to hit a new low, Mr. Shiritori breaks the silence. “Like I said, there were all sorts of rumors going around about how she made enough money to live. She never let them get to her, though. She was always hyperactive and bossy until one day her facade crumbled and as I was leaving for the day she grabbed me and wouldn’t let go and started pleading and crying for me to please let her stay with me for a night or two because there was some guy looking for her and she was scared of him. Eventually, everything got better, and I never found out what came of that. She didn’t want to tell me. Chisato puts on a brave face about everything and just soldiers forward until it gets to be too much even for her and then she breaks. It’s just like her.”
This time, the pause is even longer than before. He rests his hands under his chin. I don’t even know what to say to him- no, there's nothing I can say. Any words that I were to say right now would be the voice of a spoiled child. “I wanted to help her, because she and Tomoyuki were so alike and I never got the chance to stand up for him, but I guess it was them being so alike that made them inseparable. She bossed us around both the same way, and begged favors off of me, but it was different with him. She would tease him and get upset whenever he wasn’t there. They would argue a lot, but every time I saw them I would feel like they couldn’t be without each other. They were two people where their love for their favorite media had saved their lives. I was an outsider with a good relationship with my family who liked otaku stuff as a hobby. I didn’t stand a chance. Within six months of us meeting her for the first time, they had started dating.”
I finally manage to muster up the strength to ask “So what happened after that?”
“I kept trying to submit my drafts to every publisher I could. I never succeeded. Our visual novel kept progressing, but we kept trying to fine-tune it and add more routes, so it got pushed back further and further- by the time both us guys graduated, it was only a quarter done. I kept trying to get published, but after constant rejections for another year and being tired of poverty, I saw an ad for an editorial assistant at Sakubunsha. I went in for it, expecting nothing, and they recognized the guy who kept submitting stories and getting turned down. I got the job. Tomoyuki and Chisato were living with each other, taking just enough odd jobs to get money for making the VN. They were poor, but it didn’t matter to them. They were having fun. I tried to help them as much as I could, but work got to be too much and my availability for writing became less frequent. Not that it mattered to them, though. They would always wait for me, never complaining. I didn’t deserve that kind of kindness- I had left them behind for the 'real world', but it didn’t matter to them.”
He puts his hands on his knees, then looks around for a second. “Okay. Ayame’s not here, I can tell you this.”
“What? Why don't you want her to know this?”
“My wife made me promise that I wouldn’t tell her about this particular story. Not until Tsubaki decides it’s time, anyways.”
“Okay.” I’m still confused.
“I met Tsubaki in 2000. I had gotten a promotion and gotten transferred to the manga department and since I had never worked with artists I had no idea what I was doing. She was one of their newer artists, but she was very agreeable, which made my job much easier. She used to write novels in her younger days before she realized that she was good at drawing, too, and people liked her stories better when they were drawn. We ended up getting along really well, but after she finished writing her first series, I got offered a position at a bigger publisher. She came all the way down to their office to beg me to come back to Sakubunsha because she liked working with me so much…and there was no way I could say no after that. We started dating August of ‘01. We were married in January ‘03. Tomoyuki and Chisato were still together. I would try to give them money whenever I could, but they weren’t having it. I think it was 2005 when it happened. Yeah, it was 2005 because Tsubaki was expecting Ayame. By that time the VN was about half done. It was right when Ninoha B’s had come out and Tomoyuki and I were watching the seventh episode and I was sitting there wondering how he had gotten so plump since college and on the commercial break he turns to me and I’ll never forget what he said…‘Chisato’s pregnant. I’m going to marry her and get a real job. I don’t know if we can keep doing the VN. I’m sorry.’ Nine months later you were born. When we had Ayame, mine and Tsubaki’s whole families showed up. When your parents had you, I was the only other person there. I got to hold you and I couldn’t help but notice how small you were. You grew up very nicely.”
It’s so much information it’s hard to take in. I had always wondered what a responsible guy like Mr. Shiritori was doing around my dad- it turns out that they were far closer than I ever thought.
I have to ask something. I don’t care how inappropriate it is. “Shiritori-san, were you in love with my mom?”
He looks down and doesn’t answer for what seems like an eternity. Then, one single word comes from his lips.
“Yes.” He pauses. “A very long time ago.”
We both sit there in silence. I didn’t realize that my parents’ lives before I was around were this awful. Why didn’t I know this? Ayame’s voice starts ringing in my head. Because you never asked. What if it was me in my dad’s situation, or my mom’s? What if they kicked me out, or they hit me? They may be annoying, but I’ve never had to want. I’ve always had food, clothing, a home- when they were my age, they had to worry. I don’t. They really do love me in their own weird way. They’ve done their best to provide for me and I told them they only had me because they wanted a prop for their harem LN happily-ever-after scene and I wished I wasn’t their son.
Is it possible for anyone to be more terrible than me?
I take a look over at Ayame’s father. They’re clearly special people to him as well, and he knows enough of what’s going on. I treated them horribly, and instead of getting angry at me he was kind. I don’t know what to tell him. I deserve none of this.
Finally, hesitantly, I speak up. “Shiritori-san…do you think they’ll forgive me?”
He’s silent for a second, then answers calmly, “I can’t read minds, but knowing them, I think they will.”