Chapter 17:

"Hoshinomori Hospitality"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

Okada, official curator of the unofficial Hoshinomori Museum of Anime, walks us down the streets of her town. It’s more than a half hour walk, but now that the heat wave’s lifted, it’s not that bad. Much of the town looks rundown and closed-down, but the majority of it still functions. Old men and women sweep the streets while a pair of high schoolers ride by on scooters. It’s pretty quaint and would be pretty quiet if it weren’t for the campaign truck rumbling slowly down the road. I get flashbacks to the Vanilla truck in Mabuchi - the creature inside this truck’s loudspeakers pulls itself out and wails to the world-




Fortunately, no traffic today, so once the truck takes a turn, its cries slowly fade into silence.

“Once Governor Eguchi resigned in ‘91,” Okada explains for my benefit, “Daisuke’s father became the new governor. After 2008, when he resigned - also due to corruption - Daisuke took over, and he’s been here ever since. He might face stiff competition, though. Rumor has it that there’s a 'preserve Yoshiaki group' that's formed this year. They might run a candidate against him.”

I’m about to ask her if Daisuke’s in trouble, but when we pass by a row of shuttered factories cordoned off by police barricades, I guess that answers for me. Perhaps there was more to the Rescue Yoshiaki Prefecture project than just encouraging tourism.

Okada walks swiftly, dyed orange hair swaying as she moves. She wears an oversized cardigan and loose socks, a style that was popular when she was in high school a decade ago. The Yoshiaki Ministry of Culture put me in touch with her - no offense to the town of Hoshinomori, but outside a big car graveyard and a statue outside of town we're going to check out later on, it doesn’t have much going for it. A highway built by Eguchi in the Eighties bypassed the town completely, and now it’s dying a slow death. But Okada seems to take it all in stride.

When we get to her home, it’s far bigger than I expected. It takes up a space equivalent to two homes in Tokyo and is set back from the street, allowing it to have an enclosed garden at the front. When we get inside, three cats immediately meow and pounce on her.

“Ed, Edd, and [REMAINDER REDACTED TO COMPLY WITH CONTEST COPYRIGHT RULES]!” she cries out, kneeling down to scoop up a cat. He meows happily while the other two nestle themselves between Shizuko and I. While our curator fetches water for them, I take stock of the house. Nothing looks out of the ordinary in the entrance - except for a sign signifying it as a museum. I don’t think she has notarized credentials for it.

While the cats are busy, Okada leads us into the first room. This normally would be a bedroom, but instead, I see a massive collection of manga, anime discs, figurines, audio dramas, soundtracks, figurines, doujins, and other collectibles all lined up neatly in bookcases. Posters adorn the walls, ranging from classic Eighties antiheroes to modern day moe high schoolers.

“When I was a kid, I used all my gift money on manga,” Okada explains, her face looking utterly serene in her makeshift museum. “I did the same with my part-time jobs in high school and college, and the same when I worked in a Tokyo office. Between the size constraints of a tiny apartment and the high-pressure life of an OL in Ginza, I ended up moving out here. They’re begging for people to come to the countryside. So much space!”

Everything in here must’ve cost a fortune. And considering the state of Hoshinomori…

“Where do you work?”

She scratches her nose, looking a little sheepish. “Well, I did have a good amount saved up from Tokyo. And now I work in Mabuchi. Commuting four hours round trip for six days a week…well, I can’t say it’s fun, but it lets me do what I want. And I can keep expanding! I still have two more rooms to fill up!”

Good for her. It’s great she’s enjoying herself and having fun. As for me, I’m not the biggest manga fan. I’ve seen some stuff, but it’s just not really for me. Otaku - if that’s even a real subculture anymore - are just like stamp collectors, except you can’t be attracted to stamps (hopefully). Stamp collectors aren’t armed to the teeth fighting shipping wars over their favorites.

Shizuko, meanwhile, holds a giant plushie of Aki-chan gingerly in her hands, just taking it all in. I wonder how she feels about anime, but then she answers for me.

“Is this…this is from the Seventies?” she realizes. Her eyes eagerly scan every bookcase. “Every volume of Punch Grenade, the collectible soda bottles from the Student Council Overture theatrical run, and is this the OVA that caused a moral decency debate in the Diet???”

She’s like a kid in a candy store. Come to think of it, I've never heard her talk this loud. Okada nods and smiles proudly.

Shizuko’s eyes light up. “You have the complete series of Fox Night in 4K?”

“Of course. I converted a bedroom into a home theater. You want to watch?”

Shizuko vigorously nods. “Shunsuke, you have to watch it. So much thought went into it.”

Twenty minutes later, Fox Knight plays on a projector. We sit in the darkness, watching the most popular anime of the 2010s. From what I gather, Fox Knight is about a cyberpunk future Japan under attack from giant fox spirits. After his mother gets eaten by one of these spirits, a young man agrees to pilot the fox spirit sealed away inside him when he was born - a spirit that once turned him into the village outcast. The others in the military have to pilot fox-shaped mechas - there's a tsundere, a quiet girl, a book-smart but physically weak best friend, a high school setting, and regular monologues about the human condition. Apparently there’s time travel and genocide and a weird hospital scene later on.

When the first episode ends, Shizuko’s face glows, and not just from the projector. We’re sitting on a couch, and it’s small, so she’s smushed against me, thigh against thigh. I’m kind of more interested in that than Fox Knight, but I did my best to pay attention since she’s so excited about it.

“What did you think?” she asks. “Talk about vibrant.”

“It’s pretty interesting,” I say, because it really is. Not a super fan, but it’s not bad.

“What did you think about the cinematography?”


She motions with her hands. I’ve never seen her this excited before. “The way they framed everything. When Hanzo feels emotional, they make him appear tiny against the still-frame shots of scenery, if he even appears at all, demonstrating his loneliness. They don’t always show his mouth, so you can’t tell if he’s speaking aloud or just thinking. There’s no music in the beginning, demonstrating how this is just an ordinary day before everything goes wrong.”

“You picked up on all that?” I ask. I take it that this isn’t her first rewatch of the show.

By this point, Shizuko realizes how close her face has gotten to mine, so she makes a slow retreat and twiddles her thumbs. “I’ve been thinking about what we’ve talked about recently,” she says, a lot quieter now. “About seeing the little things. To remind ourselves about how the world’s beautiful. You can see those little things. So I wanted to match you. See things the same way you see them. But I guess there’s details that I can see while you can't."

I’m not exactly following her train of logic here, but the entrance of the cats derails the conversation. Like clockwork, they stroll in, pitter-patter around our laps, and take a seat there like it belongs to them. In unison, we pet the cats and watch approximately four more hours of Fox Knight.

The other two could keep going, but I definitely need a break by this point. I can’t remember the last time I sat this long in front of a screen outside of going to town on a word doc. I yawn; the cat on my lap goes to play with the Aki-chan keychain on my bag.

Okada turns on the lights and I blink my eyes back into vision. Shizuko’s eyeing the retro game console already set up on a nearby shelf.

“You want to play some old fighting games?” Okada asks.

Shizuko nods while I stand up. I immediately felt the absence of Shizuko’s touch, but I need to stretch. I stifle another yawn. “You guys cool with me running out for a bit? I need to check in with the ryokan.” And pick up cigarettes.

“That’s alright,” Shizuko answers. She glances at the empty space on the couch and I wonder if she feels my absence, too. “Thanks for watching with me.” 

Steward McOy