A frail figure sat illuminated by the late afternoon setting sun in the corner of an all-too-familiar clubroom, she turned, her glasses removed, and stared at me blankly. I couldn’t help my heart from being thrown into a tailspin that would send me on a seven year long journey with no end in sight. It was her at first, but I soon found myself standing waist-deep in a place I hadn’t really intended to be, but nevertheless found it endlessly comfortable to sink into its warmth. The abstraction of the screen was hardly an issue anymore. I was indirectly warned that this slippery-slope was risky but I continued in spite of such notions. Be it for selfish reasons or just being unable to pry myself away once I got there. But soon I found myself at a crossroads asking myself “Why is this so wrong in the first place?” This is a commentary on my never-ending journey of falling in love, 1000 times later.

I’m generally unaware of the overall consensus within the “community” after excommunicating myself from it, but I get the impression most people either fall into one of three camps; the ironic, the memetic, and the escapists. I will not be touching on the two former groups since I find them to be the cancer of the otaku subculture. Instead, I will start with the escapists whom I would most associate with. This group tends to have had external factors in their life which lead them into embracing otaku culture more so than others. Oftentimes failed love, neglect from others, a ranging spectrum of trauma, mental illness or handicaps. This is often played as a cliche within anime by showing characters who indulge themselves in otaku hobbies to try and avoid facing the bleakness of their situation or as a solace in a tough period. Though obviously not limited to otaku media, since music is often cited as helping people through equally difficult periods. It’s interesting to see discourse regarding this issue as making otaku media out as a temporary stopping point, while music would not be considered as such, but I digress.

Perhaps I was more open to the idea of falling in love with anime girls because I grew up reading books. Within books I discovered fantastical lands full of a wonderful cast of characters that extended beyond the pages that bound them. I didn’t have many friends growing up, and even when I did we bonded over our shared interest in books and video games. We would discuss characters as people, stories as historical accounts, and magic systems as science. To me, this was all just as important, if not more so, than the world around me. I have no interest in ordinary people! It was through reading that I stumbled across anime and the rest was history so to speak. I carried the same mentality to think about anime as I did with my previous passions, hence my overly placed importance on narrative and characters over most other elements.

The first was Asada Shino I think. I was watching Sword Art Online II back when it was airing and when Sword Art was all I cared about. I distinctly remember taking screenshots of her and having a Sinon wallpaper on my iPod. Initially I was attracted to her for her looks and being a different type or heroine than Asuna, whom I never really liked, as well as her being a sniper since I was a sniper main in most games like Team Fortress 2. Soon enough we got her backstory about her trauma and I was deeply moved since something so horrible happened to a character I already liked, and I think it was then when she became something more special to me. She was someone to protect.

The following summer I watched a lot of really important anime, like Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. Without fail, in each of these shows, I found someone to care about. In Haruhi it was Nagato Yuki, whom I consider my first waifu. It was most definitely her reading hobby that initially drew my attention, paired with her short hair and quiet demeanor. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Haruhi back then since she was really abrasive, though she had the best looking body I had ever seen. Then I watched the movie and I was head-over-heels for her. She was my waifu for the longest time and generally defined my ideal girl that I was looking for. I think that is why at the time I really liked Ayanami Rei, who was also a frail girl with short blue-ish hair and a kuudere. (However, I have since become infatuated with tsundere and prefer Asuka.) In Gurren Lagann I really loved Nia Teppelin’s aesthetic elements and wanted to protect her. I never cared about Yoko at all since I generally disliked large breasts in general. Looking back on it, it was painfully obvious that I had a “type” during that time.

It wasn’t until later that I watched Kokoro Connect and fell in love with Inaba Himeko. This was significant because it was one of the first romcom anime I watched where the girl I was rooting for actually won. Inaba was a bit different from my previous harem members since she let her emotions sway her more. She had her own fair share of things she didn't want to talk about, problems dealing with others, and didn’t mind joking about lewd things. The way she carried herself helped create gap moe when she was cornered, and I think I realized what moe was because of her, unusually enough. Though much like a lot of the previous girls I discussed, Inaba also had short hair which I was really into at the time, but I started to care more about the girl’s personality and how they carry themselves more so than pure aesthetic elements. I suppose this is the turning point, or the point of no return.

Then I met Yukinoshita Yukino. At first it was pure attraction to her character design. But I quickly found myself feeling different, unable to tear myself away from the screen watching the series or coming to my senses amidst a winding danbooru image saving frenzy. I cared deeply about Yukino and everything going on, which evolved into my continued obsession with Oregairu as a whole. Her feelings mattered, everything she did felt like I was watching someone real, and before I knew it I was head-over-heel for this girl. My mind can hardly register Yukino as a character because I have spent an absurd amount of time attempting to psychoanalyze her, pondering her motivations, personality and goals. Through my lengthy amount of time spent with Oregairu she has transcended the screen and inhabits a corner of my psyche or something. It’s beyond my ability to properly express how much she could me to me without getting uncomfortably personal. In short, learning about her in turn aided in my own understanding of myself and the world around me. When I first watched Oregairu I was around the same age as Yukino and Hachiman, and even though they haven’t aged much since then I felt like my personal growth mirrored their own, and with the conclusion of the series I felt like I was able to see the parallels in our respective growths. Even if she didn’t think so, loners might really have convergent trajectories. But even more so than that, I probably wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for me continued love for Yukino and Oregairu, as ridiculous as that sounds. I am hardly the type to read social situations or go out of my way to understand others, but my dedication to know everything I could about this girl changed all that. Her distant smile was all it took to change my life and I can’t stop loving her.

I’ll conclude with an excerpt from my “Regarding Yukinoshita Yukino” paper:

In a way, the persona of Hachiman lived inside me and only came about because of consistently being excluded from social situations and I was alienated by my peers. So the cynical thoughts served as a crutch for me to accept my situation as it was and continue onwards lying to myself. But through witnessing the evolution of Yukino through the series, I started to connect with her more than I thought I would. It was in seeing her develop to accept herself despite the implications of others judgement was I able to learn the faults in myself. I needed to be true to myself, I needed to desire something that only I could and stop aligning with the malicious thoughts I had come to form because I was secretly depressed but failed to recognize that, instead hiding under a veil of snow to protect myself. I still find it difficult to genuinely come to accept the lessons I’ve learned and put them into practice, but at the very least I was able to recognize my own faults. Much like Hachiman, I am in a place where I recognize that I have been wrong, but am at the crossroads of continuing down the path of destruction or rehabilitation. Though, as cheesy as it sounds, I remind myself how Yukino was able to move past her narcissism and change in spite of the external factors holding her back. Even if I don’t change into an optimist, I have come to understand that change can happen, even to the “Ice Queen.”

These are feelings I never cast aside, rather, they lingered somewhere in the recesses of my mind, presumably forgotten, only to be reawaken when stimulated again. These feelings are akin to unexpectedly meeting an old crush and being surprised when your heart still skips a beat. These girls I used to fall in love with are still there and so were my feelings, regardless if my tastes have changed, they still remain ingrained in my identity. I rewatched Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu and Kokoro Connect this past year, and it left me with a complicated aftertaste that can’t be succinctly surmised as just “nostalgia.” While others might comfortably be able to put a clear distinction between 2D and 3D I can’t say I’ve ever been able to. Falling in love with anime girls is as natural to me as crying when I watch something sad, laughing when I watch something funny, or getting angry when the characters I’m rooting for are in a bind. Love is something that can’t be easily analyzed in the last paragraph of an unusually personal account of anime girls I’ve crushed on, nor is it possible to even explain why I can’t get over these girls all these years later. “Falling in love” is not exactly something I've had the opportunity to do on the flipside, but in fiction it’s readily available and nearly possible to describe as being a commodified good that costs nothing, yet costs so much. I could sit here reciting every cliche phrase I’ve stored in my head for the day that will never come, but in the end, this is just something that has been a persistent occurrence in my time since getting into anime. It’s not because these girls are 2D, still my heart moves. Some days of winding internal monologues detesting the stranglehold 「恋愛」 held on me I could never kill it. So it just happened one fateful day, will never stop, even 1000 times later.

These are the girls I used to fall in love with, and here’s to the girls who I have yet to meet.