Note from the editor: this project’s 125th installment is formatted differently than previous posts. Unlike the interviews that I conduct with most participants, this submission is published in the essay format in which I received it.
Why the break in routine? Because this project doesn’t simply aspire to be a celebration of anime fandom, but an archive of fan narratives. Lynzee’s account is graphic and at times, difficult to read. However, it’s an important reminder that while we all love anime, the circumstances that brought us to seek it as a solace are not always ideal. I’m honored that Lynzee has chosen Anime Origin Stories as the platform to share her essay.
Content warning for sexual abuse. The essay published is below the cut.
My “Anime Origin Story” is #MeToo
This story is old. It’s existed somewhere, in some form; a diary, a LiveJournal post, a MySpace status, a Facebook message, some malleable, lingering draft on the internet for 17 years. Sometimes I sent it, only to immediately regret it moments later. I’d made space for others uncomfortable again, like I’d dug up and exposed some kind of corpse in their backyard.
They say death has a smell that sticks. Scientifically, this is accurate. The decomposition of a corpse, its fluids and stench, can seep into porous materials while the smell itself will stick to the inside of your nose. Every time I’ve unearthed this story, it permeates outward and clings. I’ve spent many hot showers and long baths trying to scrub it out, but it never works.
So, I wait.
If I quit talking about it, the blasted mark on myself, the awkward way people shift their weight, the sudden subject changes, it’ll all pass. I just have to be patient and keep my damn mouth shut to maintain this comfortable level of normalcy. I look at the life I’ve built; a family home, happy kids, and an amazing job with supportive staff centered around a hobby I adore. I get to wax poetic about cartoons and comic books all day! What a privilege, really, to have crawled all the way up here. What a delight to engage in these stories with a huge community. So why does it always feel like the ground is about to dissolve out from under me?
Within the last few years, fans have revisited what got them into anime in the first place. Lauren Orsini had a popular blog series titled #AnimeOriginStory. I read all of them with some trepidation. I kept waiting to see my story reflected there by somebody else. I thought about sending this in, only to recoil again.
“You’d only be dragging down what’s supposed to be an uplifting story series.”
The thought hung there. I didn’t write it and put the entire concept away for about a year, until Crunchyroll launched its “My Anime Story” sweepstakes last June and the thought process circled around again. I wrote this. It sat in my documents folder for a year. I debated if being public, on the record, in horrific detail would serve any kind of purpose. I wondered if it would temper my anger. I wondered if it would help anyone. And I wondered if it would push me out of social circles and industry meet-ups. I mostly wondered if everyone would look at me like some kind of other thing. If interactions would become stilted and no one would hold eye contact. I wondered if I could face any kind of legal ramifications like others who spoke out.
I’ve changed names, mostly to protect myself, and that statute of limitations on “My Anime Story” was up almost a decade ago. When you’re a minor, someone who barely stepped over the legal threshold to be considered a “rape victim” instead of a “molestation victim”, the legal limitation of five or so years is hardly enough time to process it all. I was probably 22 years old by the time I could admit what everything was, how little control I had, how little I was when I met him in the anime aisle at Suncoast video in my local mall.
I was there with my mom. I was 13. I don’t remember what VHS tape I was buying with my babysitting money. It took a long time to buy those $30 dollar subtitles tapes when the local moms were ripping you off at three bucks an hour. I was probably buying the original Cardcaptor Sakura series but I couldn’t tell you for sure. My mom stepped away for some reason to let me browse and he approached me.
At about six feet tall, I barely came up to his armpits. He was wearing an old pair of denim jeans and a black t-shirt. Small, white hanzi was written over where the left breast-pocket would be. His bright blonde hair was slicked back. He looked like Spike from Buffy, albeit gangly. He started asking me about what anime I liked before my mother stepped in, immediately alerted that a man was speaking at length to me. He seemed unfazed and invited us to the local community college where the college anime club put on screenings every Saturday from 6 to 10 PM and made his exit.
I was immediately excited about going. I’d been bullied for the last year about liking anime. I had printed Sailor Moon images I taped on the outside of my locker ripped off and was generally hassled by a group of girls on campus. My best friend at the time, Jen, had the same problems. We’d write and draw comics together in class while attempting to circumvent any negative attention it brought us. It sucked.
This college thing, though? Wow! Finally, I had something to focus my interest on after hours of attempting to survive the 8th grade. The club was run entirely by tall college guys in worn out t-shirts, and sure, maybe I was laughed at for bringing my dubbed Gunsmith Cats tape in for consideration. This was a “subs only” crowd, I quickly learned. But this was Saturday night with just myself, a few friends, and no adult supervision. We could be nerds, gasp along with the plot twists of Fushigi Yuugi, try to make sense of Serial Experiments Lain, and laugh along with the Bebop crew. I started to learn other regulars’ names. I attended every single weekend I could for the next year. And that’s how awkward me, barely 100 pounds and a curly bob mop of hair, started chatting with the event’s MC, the guy who introduced each new show before it started, the same guy who approached me at Suncoast.
The guy who for the next two years of my life would coerce me into the role of kept ‘girlfriend’ of a 21-year-old man. A situation that was observed and acknowledged by his boss, co-workers, family, friends, as well as my own family, friends, school administrators, and parents. The resulting effect on me would take years to process from “I agreed to things I wouldn’t have if I had been an adult” to “my entire support network knowingly did nothing while I was abused.” He sat at the table at Thanksgiving. He took me to my Freshman and Sophomore school dances. This was not a sneaky thing that happened in a dark, back room. But, it’d start because I wanted to borrow some anime tapes.
The man was known for his anime collection, which at a time before digital, was huge and expensive. He had two walls of his bedroom dedicated to shelving, the kind used at Blockbuster Video, that was about four shelves high. End to end was filled with VHS tapes and DVDs. The rest of the room was a wreck with empty spaces filled by half gallons of Coca Cola and unwashed laundry. His mess didn’t embarrass him. I was there to peruse his tape collection while my mom waited in the car outside. I don’t remember what I borrowed; probably Debutante Detective Corps or Elf Princess Rane. I held the tapes to my chest and went to exit the room when he lightly tapped his face with one finger.
This wasn’t new. He embodied a playboy persona during the screenings. College girls hung off him and seemed all too happy to kiss him on the cheek when asked. That’s what this was, a payment demand to borrow the tapes. But he was tapping awfully close to his mouth. I thought he was cute. He was standing in front of the door. I’d never kissed someone on the mouth before. My mom is outside. It sure would be nice to have a guy like me, especially someone popular like this. My parents always told me I was “mature” for my age, that’s why he wants me to kiss him, right? Despite my age, I’m very mature so of course he’s attracted me. Wow.
I kissed him on the mouth and ran out the front door. I didn’t say anything to my mother. I’d see him again next Saturday.
When was the exact moment when I became his “girlfriend?” I don’t remember anymore. Years pass and situations turn into a series of startling, quick-paced events. I can tell you that it would only be a matter of months from the moment I borrowed tapes to being coerced into sex. I was sure that I was in love with this person and that meant the rapid sexualization of my barely pubescent self was “okay.” Even when the spaces in between become hazy, I’m stuck with the lingering intensity of specific moments.
It was summer. He and I left the anime club theater space and went outside. He said, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” It was dark, no one was there, and I didn’t want to see it. I had never seen a man’s penis before and had no interest in seeing his. But I was trapped, so I untied my halter top. When he pulled his pants down, I looked away.
The first time he pressured me for a blowjob, I cried, but quietly so he wouldn’t notice.
He took me, his friend, and his friend’s girlfriend to a lingerie store. They picked out matching sets for us. His friend asked both of us to sit on his lap. She kissed me. I cried again. He took me into the back room and raped me on a bare mattress while his friend had sex with his girlfriend in another room.
He took Polaroids of me undressing on his bed while wearing a cheongsam.
I remember being sore on the way to school after he raped me vaginally for the first time. He took me to the zoo first.
He bragged about his sexual acts with me to his friends. His boss gave me a job. My parents thought he was ‘immature’ and thus harmless after they caved to our relationship. Everyone else was content to condemn it privately and avert their eyes. No one called the cops. No one fired him from his job. No one stopped talking to him or inviting him to the summer barbecues.
One of his friends, also 21-years-old at the time, attempted to pick up a classmate of mine that went to the screenings with me. It lasted all of a week before her mother scared his friend off.
Everything that happened to me, every indecent phone call, every grope, the incalculable amount of times I was raped in that two year period, was illegal in my home state. I remain well-read on the criteria of statutory rape in Washington state because I had to be. Legal age of consent is 16 here, but only in cases where the parties are within five years of age. At the time, as I was eagerly being groomed and placated that what was happening was entirely normal in the context of a “mature” relationship, I thought 14 and 16 and 18 aren’t all that far apart. That it was all just “numbers” interfering in “true love.” Of course he told me that, and all the fiction I’d consumed suggested that these kinds of hurdles only made relationships more romantic. Every time some armchair sociologist tries to once again sell that “the age of consent is 13 in Japan,” my insides twist just enough. He told me that too.
It wouldn’t be until the end of my 20s, when I was far enough away from being a teenager, that I’d realize how stupid that is. With my feet firmly planted in adulthood now, I can interact with family members, like my cousin’s kids, and see how incredibly childlike they are. One of these kids is 14 now. He came over to my house with his mom to babysit my youngest. He’s small, maybe a little short for his age. He asked me how many gigs my PC has and looked wide-eyed when I told him it was at least a terabyte. He cradled my cat and rocked her like a baby. He asked to play Minecraft on my Xbox.
Imagining him confronted with any the situations I was confronted with at his age is the saddest fucking thing in the world. My wide-eyed innocence, my need to be accepted and desired when I was physically underdeveloped, my quest to be “accepted” by a bunch of college anime nerds, was preyed upon until I could no longer access it anymore. It took a very long time to divorce sexual performance from romantic acceptance. It took an even longer time to quit being angry at all the spineless grown-ups who sat on their hands or were too scared to ask me questions they knew the answers to and would be required to act on.
I just wanted to borrow some anime tapes.
I first wrote my Anime Origin Story over the course of an evening in June 2018. It was prompted by yet another days-long depressive episode where the baggage felt just too heavy to carry. I finally decided to set it down although honestly I had no idea where to put it. I considered having it published on Anime News Network and talked it over with my colleague but we came to the same question: what was the purpose behind it?
I still don’t know the answer to that. You’ve made it all the way to the end of a horrid tale and unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you, anyone else, or myself. My suffering isn’t a parable. It’s possible I’ve done little more than spread this ugliness around in hopes of dissipating it from the inner reaches of myself. I thought the sunlight might bleach it out and fill these dark places with warmth.
I hope if any of this resonated with you, reader, that if for a moment you found yourself struck by bewildering fear at the face I drew, that you’ll overcome that initial shock and find courage. Somewhere in you is the moral fortitude to say something when no one else will. There is rarely an endeavor more noble than saving those who could not possibly save themselves.
Lynzee Groves-Loveridge (Age 32)