Chapter 1:

Good Times With Anime

Letter From Yokohama

Lucille took a sip of water, both to quench her thirst and to serve as a substitute for her nagging vaping addiction.

When it came to American high schools, vaping first arrived on the scene one year ago, when Lucille was a junior. Students smuggled big box mods in their backpacks, hiding them into their pockets and jackets until the sweet release known as getting permission to leave class to use the bathroom arrived. Reminiscent of the speakeasies from a hundred years prior, freshmen and sophomores and juniors and seniors all united as one in those bathrooms, disregarding their social status or race, in the name of blowing fat clouds together. For years, the passing smell of strawberry would remind Lucille of these simpler times, back when she felt invincible, when “lung damage” was just a passing phrase that held no real meaning in her everyday life.

That’s how high school goes, after all. Whether you realize it or not, immortality seems like a given. Exceptions existed, of course, but to the average student like Lucille, anything seemed possible. And the future? There was no other way to describe it than bright. She’d leave this dumpy suburb, go off to a big school, and finally start living.

But it was only May. The school year didn’t end for another month. Until then, the senior students lived in a sort of purgatory - everybody had already gotten into their schools if they so desired, the teachers no longer gave out any work, and classes just consisted of watching movies and maybe writing a reflection or two on those four years of public education. Lucille found putting pencil to paper the easiest thing in the world; she had finished her reflection about five minutes after English class started.

Regina, sitting next to her in said English class, hadn’t even started yet. She spent the whole period with her head slumped down on her desk.

“Hey, Regina,” Lucille said. No need to whisper - everybody else in class was already talking. Their English teacher was an old man, ancient even, and the farther you go from youth, the more you appreciate it. At this stage in the year, he let his students talk the class away, and currently discussed his memories of college with a student who would be attending his alma mater.

“Regina, you finish your work?” Lucille asked, twirling a strand of brown hair around a finger.

The slumped head shifted to its side to speak with Lucille. Strands of strawberry hair spilled down across Regina’s face in a way that reminded Lucille of rivers coursing down mountains. “I don’t have anything to reflect on.”

“Already looking towards the future, huh?” Lucille let out a soft whistle. “We’ve spent four years here. People say they go by fast but me personally, they took forever. I can’t even imagine where I’ll be four years down the line.”

The chair behind the desk let out a slight squeak as Lucille leaned back in it, her arms crossed. “Except I can imagine one thing. You and me. Four years from now. We’re going on a Japan trip for college graduation.”

The strands of strawberry hair shifted as Regina blew air across her own face. “But I’m not going to college.”

“Then it’ll be my college graduation,” Lucille answered. “And you’ll be my plus one.”

With a groan, Regina lifted her face off the desk. She pushed the strawberry blonde hair off her face entirely, revealing two tired eyes and a smirk. “Alright then. You know I have a good long-term memory. I’ll hold you to it.”

“You better.” Across the aisle between their desks, the two girls clasped hands, the strong kind of clasp that imprints the moment in your memory, the kind of clasp that turns an idea into a promise.

“Going to Japan, hmm?”

Despite being at an age where those mesothelioma commercials might actually have relevance to him, their English teacher had moved behind the girls silently. He had a kindly smile on his wrinkled face.

When Lucille nodded back at him, he continued. “That’s wonderful. To think - the young men and women of today live in a world where you can travel and form memories all around the world just like that. When I was your age, I traveled the world as well. Unfortunately, it was under far more different circumstances.”

His eyes radiated with warmth behind his glasses. “I can still remember the first time I met someone from Japan.”

His whole face beamed brightly, full of fond memories from yesteryear.

“He was shooting at me.”


Four years later. Two days after Lucille graduated from college.

Her childhood room in the basement of her parents’ house seemed to grow smaller and smaller over the years. The walls used to loom so large, full of space for posters and imagination, but now Lucille saw them for what they were - walls, and ones that needed a fresh coat of paint at that. Somewhere during the years she had crammed a couch in there; as she sat with Regina upon it now, Lucille rubbed her eyes, painfully aware of the huge bags that had appeared beneath them. That spasm of random back pain briefly flared before disappearing again, and she found a gray hair the other day.

“Okay, Regina…” Lucille said with a thousand-year stare. “I know you’ve ruined your long-term memory, so I’ll recap. Four years ago, we made that promise to go to Japan. And four years later - I’m sixty thousand in debt, have a degree in a field where I can’t find a job, and will be living at home for the foreseeable future. As for you - you took a gap year after graduating high school while working part-time at the local grocery store. That gap year turned into four years and part-time turned into full-time. So, in terms of money…we have no money.”

“Kerplunk?” Regina asked, sliding down the couch, the bottom of her face disappearing below the collar of her sweatshirt.

“Kerplooey,” Lucille confirmed with a sigh. “They really oughta rewind time and let us do these past four years over again. It’s not often you get to live through history. I hope I never have to do it again.”

In front of the two, Lucille’s television played mind-numbing pregame coverage for her region’s professional basketball team. “SKIIIIYYYYYUUP-” one of the broadcasters would interrupt, and then launch into his own mindless hot take. It was brainless, but it was entertaining. At the end of the day, perhaps that’s all there really was to life.

God, when did I get this bitter? I thought I left behind my edgy phase in high school.

“But did you think I would give up on a promise?” Lucille declared with a shake of her head, gathering her energy. “Never. We’re in no position, financially or otherwise, to go to Japan right now. I’ll admit that.” She grinned and wiped her mouth. “Some people tell me I just don’t know when to give up. That’s why, rather than us continuing to wallow in self-pity, I propose this!”

In that dark room, the brightness of Lucille’s phone (jammed all the way to the top setting) nearly blinded Regina. When she overcame the shock, Regina found herself looking at Lucille’s notes app.

“We Have Japan at Home,” she read aloud dryly. She looked up at Lucille. “Do we?”

“Of course!” Lucille scrolled down through her notes. “America basically has the equivalent, or at least the poor man’s version, of anything you can find in Japan! Well, not Akihabara…or functioning public transport…gun control…health care…life expectancy…but we can still give it a try. Tonight, we’ll watch anime and think about high school. Tomorrow, we’ll go into the city and walk around and have a grand old time pretending we were somewhere else.”

The room went quiet. Regina tilted her head slightly as she thought about it. “That’s how you’re going to sell me on this? Also, there’s a fatal flaw to your plan - namely, my plan for tomorrow, which involves sitting in front of your television for roughly eleven hours, give or take.”

“But Regina,” Lucille protested, “Think about it. If we graduated high school four years ago, that means we met eight years ago. And do you remember what we did when we met?”

Regina had indeed ruined her long-term memory, so she just shook her head.

Lucille spread her arms towards the heavens. “We watched anime! Anime was nowhere near as popular back then as it is today. We were outcasts, set adrift in a winding sea full of normal people with normal habits. It’s what made us close. Don’t you remember?”

As Regina gave her the usual dour look, Lucille closed her eyes. “And even beyond our freshman year. Right as college started, that’s when we delved deeper into anime. Don’t you remember what it was like to watch anime in 2019? God, what I’d give to go back and watch television in 2019 again. We started off with the usual intro shows - ninjas with fox spirits, space cowboys, and man-eating giants that devolve into the ethics of genocide - but then we expanded. We entered the honeymoon phase.”

Having spent her first two years at college as a commuter (part of her plan to save money) and having spent her last two years at college as a commuter (the new normal), Lucille and occasionally Regina had watched all their anime on that very couch in that very room. A tiny window provided a…well, window into the outside world. A full moon amid an early summer night currently shone down on the weeds growing on the other side of the glass.

“Slice of life anime. Who doesn’t like that? Anime about cute girls in a cute band - but was it the one from 2010 or 2022? Tokyo, the Japanese suburbs, the Japanese countryside, Sensei-chans, doting younger sisters. It’s a comfy sort of living. Just look at how paved their roads are! And then you watch so much you start picking up on the facts. The school year starts in April, they have culture festivals in Novembers, hell they even have trimesters. Golden Week, Obon, monsoon season, snow-covered train platforms. Sumimasen means excuse me. Onegai and kudasai mean please. And who could forget about baka?”

Through Lucille’s window, the early summer gave way to late autumn, caramel leaves swirling past. “And you just keep watching and learning and yearning. You keep up with seasonals, you start on lists of classics. You understand the internet culture behind it all and started watching just early enough that you can understand how the pandemic boom brought anime into the relative mainstream. It’s fun, so much fun. You spend your days theorizing with fans and debating about waifus - Ichigo over Zero Two, Rei over Asuka, Yakumo over Eri, though nobody understands that last one.”

The last autumn leaf drifted away, replaced by heavy snowfall. “But then you hit some sort of peak. Anime’s fun and all, but now you’re reading source material like manga and even light novels. And then you start reading manga for its own sake. And you go from knowing little tidbits about Japanese culture gleaned from anime into learning about Japan itself, all its ups and downs. Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Sapporo and Fukuoka. Horse-riders, Ritsuryo, Genpei, Kamakura, Sengoku, Tokugawa, Meiji, Showa. Death and destruction and then all that rebuilding. And then the bubble. You ever been nostalgic for a time period you never lived in? The Emperor’s palace was worth more than the entire state of California. Everybody golfed. Poor Yukiko Okada. And then the bubble bursts, and we get Heisei.”

The snow disappeared, melted by the warming rays of spring. The weeds outside the window pushed through the soil again, their green stems poking through the brown dirt. “Your knowledge of Japan and anime enters esoteric levels. They were so far ahead of America in terms of cell phones that they didn’t even have the tech level to connect directly to the Internet when phones became widespread - they had to do it through a third-party app. That’s why, in anime, they always send emails on their phones through LIME or whatever method of avoiding copyright they use instead of sending text messages. And even beyond that - you know how they clear snow in Sapporo better than how they do it in your own city. You start writing entire web novels set in Japan based on all this knowledge and it gets a cool four thousand views, no big deal or nothing, but think about it - I’d much rather write about a far-off country than my own and use the cliches and culture of a far-off country rather than my own.”

Her eyes still closed, Lucille’s spiel came to its end with a smile. “Well, how’s that for selling you on it?”

Regina didn’t answer - instead, water bubbled and there was a sharp inhale.

Already knowing what to expect, Lucille finally opened her eyes. A huge cloud of smoke spilled out of Regina as she beat her chest and coughed violently. “Oh…oh man,” she mumbled, then started laughing. When she realized Lucille was expecting an answer from her, she tried to say something, but then started laughing again.

“D-damn,” she finally sputtered out, her eyes fully red. “That’s crazy.”

When Lucille just frowned, Regina raised her hands. “H-hey, I was listening and shit. It’s good you have a passion like that. A lot of people can’t say that.”

Lucille sighed. “It’s not a real passion. At the end of the day, what good does any of this knowledge do for me?”

Regina had no answer to that, so she held up the LeBong James up in offering.

Taylor J
Steward McOy