What It's Like To Date An Anime Character Because We Know That You Want to Know

    During our dating in Japan series from the last week or two, we've covered all kinds of three-dimensional beings. Men. Women… okay, that's about it. But now it's time to diverge from that path, do some simple subtraction, and cover the thing I know you've all been waiting for: Dating two-dimensional partners. I'm talking video game characters, body pillows, illustrations, and more. But how can you love something like that? Koichi, you're talking about the kind of love that Mami mentioned, right? Like how someone "loves" donuts?

    Ha! You wish. Some people really truly love their two-dimensional partners. And this article is for those aspiring to become one of them.

    When Love Is Not Enough: Love Plus

    Whether it's a two-dimensional girl or a two-dimensional 01100111 01110101 01111001 you're looking for, you're in luck. They come in all shapes and sizes, though mostly flat ones. But say you do get into a committed 2-D relationship. You're serious about him/her. Would it be possible to actually marry my 2-D partner? Seal the deal? The answer is … probably not. I think this question on Yahoo知恵袋 (Japanese Yahoo Answers) sums it up quite well:

    • Q. 二次元の女性との婚姻届は出せますか?
    • Q. Can I legally marry (do the marriage registration of) a 2-dimensional girl?
    • A. 戸籍(外国人なら婚姻要件具備証明書等の書類)が無いので無理でしょう。
    • A. Since they don't have a koseki/family register it's probably impossible.

    It's nice that the answerer actually came up with a real reason.

    The person asking the question isn't alone, though. There are, of course, many people who have fallen in love with a 2-D guy or girl (though mostly it's a 2-D girl). One game that kept coming up in my research was Love Plus, a dating sim for the Nintendo DS.

    An Anime Character from the Dating Sim Love Plus
    Source: Love Plus

    I remember how back in the day when I played Hatoful Kareshi I became madly in love with one particular pigeon, only to have my hato broken. So, I can only imagine what Love Plus would do to me. Apparently this dating sim is convincing enough that people have actually married their Love Plus partner in real life, though I imagine the legality of said marriage is pretty nonexistent at best.

    A man with a DS after marrying an anime character
    I do!

    There are many stories of this out there about Love Plus destroying / creating marriages.

    One man (known as SAL9000, pictured above) fell so in love with Nene Anegasaki (a character in Love Plus) that he married her and took her on a honeymoon to Guam. So, he and his Nintendo DS (I hope he has save file backups!) livecasted their trip on NicoNico and then held a public reception when they got back to Tokyo.

    In another Love Plus story, instead creating a beautiful 2-D union the guy just ended up hurting his real life 3-D one. Koh (the guy), bought Love Plus for his DS just to see what the hype was about and found himself hooked. After committing himself to Rinko in the game, their relationship got deeper and deeper. She started calling him by his first name and began to demand more attention. BoingBoing wrote about this and did an interview about it, some of which is pasted below:

    Koh, what do you and Rinko do together?

    OK, this is pretty embarrassing. The DS has a mic and a touchscreen, so… one time, she asked me to say "I love you" a hundred times into the mic. I was on the airplane when she asked me that, so I was like, no way. There was also this part where you have to hold her hand on the touchscreen. If you touch her hand with the stylus, you get to hold her hand. And then there's the part where you have to kiss her.

    Did you do it?

    No, no! The girl's face shows up on the screen, and you have to touch her lips to give her a kiss. That's >pretty weird…. this is embarrassing. I'm sweating right now just talking about it. Yurie: Ew. Do people >really do that? Koh: I guess some people do.

    […]

    But Koh, you have a real woman in your life. That's why I was able to come back. Thank god! I was only stuck in that world for about a week. Also, I >got hooked when I was in Japan on a business trip, so when I came back to San Francisco, I didn't play it >that much. Maybe just for a day. In the bathtub

    […]

    Yeah, if I was playing too many games and that was compromising the time I spent in my real life, that >would be a problem. It's the same with Second Life or World of Warcraft. If I got too into something and >couldn't come back, that would be a problem. At the same time, though, the danger I felt when I almost >got sucked into Love Plus was very human. If I was single and had gotten too into this… I don't know, I >recognized that there was a me in there that could have a real attachment to this artificial character >on the other side of the DS screen. It made me think that humans could probably pretty easily develop >feelings for AI robots. It's the same with animals, right? Animals don't speak words but you can really >love them. But I do think it has something to do with the simplicity of men. I'd be really curious to >see how women would react to a boy version of Love Plus.

    […]

    So what is your Love Plus girlfriend doing now?

    I'm too scared to find out. I'm probably going to get in big trouble if I open it after leaving her alone for several weeks. Maybe she's dead now. That would be scary.

    That's a pretty edited version of the interview, but you get the idea. The original interview included his wife as well, and she was surprisingly okay with it. She essentially said that as long as her husband knew that this was a game and that's all, it's okay with her. She was more concerned with the amount of time he played on it, more than anything. So, there's hope for some of you guys yet!

    Of course, there are other dating sims out there that dudes get addicted to, but this game is pretty high up there in terms of getting dudes in trouble. After coming out, wives and girlfriends got onto the internet to complain to Konami for stealing their men away. I can't imagine the release of the 3DS helping out their cause any.

    When You Love Sleeping

    Koichi sits beside a body pillow contemplating marrying Anime characters

    Personally, I'm a huge fan of sleeping. I do it every night, most nights. If only the person… I mean, pillow I loved could be by my side during all those special unconscious moments! Wait! That's a thing already!

    If you head on over to Akihabara's possibly X-rated and not X-rated shops, you'll see all kinds of body pillows adorned with scantily clad anime ladies (and men). While this isn't solely a Japanese thing anymore, I think it's pretty safe to say that this whole idea either originated or got popularized in Japan.

    One man, Nisan, was written about in the New York Times Magazine. The "how they met" story brings a tear to my eye.

    Their first encounter — at a comic-book convention that Nisan's gaming friends dragged him to in Tokyo — was serendipitous. Nisan was wandering aimlessly around the crowded exhibition hall when he suddenly found himself staring into Nemutan's bright blue eyes. In the beginning, they were just friends. Then, when Nisan got his driver's license a few months later, he invited Nemutan for a ride around town in his beat-up Toyota. They went to a beach, not far from the home he shares with his parents in a suburb of Tokyo. It was the first of many road trips they would take together. As they got to know each other, they traveled hundreds of miles west — to Kyoto, Osaka and Nara, sleeping in his car or crashing on friends' couches to save money. They took touristy pictures under cherry trees, frolicked like children on merry-go-rounds and slurped noodles on street corners. Now, after three years together, they are virtually inseparable. "I've experienced so many amazing things because of her," Nisan told me, rubbing Nemutan's leg warmly. "She has really changed my life."

    Nisan of course knows she's not real, but the love is, he says.

    "Of course she's my girlfriend," he said, widening his eyes as if shocked by the question. "I have real feelings for her."

    It's not just Nisan, either, though Nisan is much more public with his love for Nemutan because he takes her around everywhere. There are thousands of other people just like him who feel an emotional attachment to their dakimakura, and it's turned into a kind of subculture where people make custom designs, sell them, buy them, and gather together to talk about them. One very important factor I learned about was the type of fabric. Smooth knit is good. I guess that's the kind of thing you go on since the personality of the pillow is whatever you want it to be.

    This culture is getting larger and larger too, it seems to me, and I don't think it will slow down. We'll talk about this more in the next section, but before we do that I just wanted to mention that if you're looking for your very own special pillow someone, Tofugu actually runs the number one body pillow dating site in the world, so find Your One True Threadcount™ today!

    When 2(D) Is More Real Than 3(D)

    Three anime characters from Love Plus posing
    Source: Love Plus

    You may be wondering… why in the world would someone love a two-dimensional person??? While I don't know from my own experience (except with my beautiful birdfriend Nageki Fujishiro. WHERE ARE YOU COME BACK TO ME!), similar themes came up again and again when I read through articles and research. Surprisingly, after reading so much I've come to realize it's not actually all that weird and makes sense in a way. I'm not saying it's for me, but I can see why people would feel and think this way.

    First lets start with some general numbers about 2-D characters. How wide-spread is this phenomenon? Let's take a look at a study done by 瞬刊!リサーチNEWS in May of 2013.

    Q. Do you have an ideal man/woman from a 2-D world?

    MEN (Answers:17,387)

    – Yes: 33.6%

    – No: 48.5%

    – I don't read manga and don't watch anime: 17.8%

    WOMEN (Answers:18,767)

    – Yes: 40.9%

    – No: 42.9%

    – I don't read manga and don't watch anime: 16.2%

    Surprisingly, that's 33.6% of men and 40.9% of women who said yes, they do have an ideal man/woman from a 2-D world. Of course, this doesn't mean that all of these people are in love with an two dimensional character. Far from it. It does however show how anime/manga characters are personifications of "ideal" people you'd want to know or be with. With so many of them, of course you run into one or two that match the kind of girl or guy you'd want to date. But, that's the same as with TV dramas or movies too, and these have real people in them. So, it's not all that different from that. Children idolize cartoon superhero characters all the time. They want to be them, which isn't all that different from wanting to be with a cartoon character, I'd say. The line that's drawn has to do with knowing or thinking that you can be with them. I think Japan's line is a lot harder to see.

    The difference with Japan I think is the saturation of 2-D characters. If all you see is 2-D, and if this many people are able to idealize a 2-D character, then of course some of them are going to fall in love with them too. It's still a very small subset of people that do this, but if you throw enough cats at the wall, one or two are going to stick, you know?

    So what happens if you ask a similar question, but only with otaku. Someone took a group of 500 otaku dudes and polled them already, and here are the results:

    Q. What Kind Of Females Do You Like?

    2D Women: 23%

    2.5D Women: 9.6%

    Real Women: 65.8%

    So, out of the otaku subset, you have around 30% of them who reportedly prefer not-real women. Of course, preference doesn't mean you're dating a body pillow, but you are leaning in that direction, at least.

    There are a few generalized reasons why otaku dudes are more likely to fall for a 2D girl rather than a real one as well, from what I've read of individual experiences:

    1. There are way more otaku guys than girls. So, since otakus are more likely to date other otakus >(rather than outside this otaku circle), there are fewer possible girls to date.

    2. It's harder for otakus to find dates with real people. This is partly due to shyness and partly due >to confidence and partly due to lifestyle choices, supposedly.

    3. Otaku tend to have very good imaginations from all the anime, manga, and storytelling that they are surrounded by. The better your imagination, the easier it is to imagine the ideal personality onto a figure, body pillow, etc. The inanimate object "comes to life" in their head because of their vivid imagination.

    There are also other reasons as well. Things like bad previous relationships often play a part. Not-real people won't hurt you or leave you or cheat on you, after all. But, if you're not 100% committed to this lifestyle you could be hurting somebody else, too! A real person! There are so many stories of desperate girlfriends trying to make their guys love them when a 2-D girl is creating competition. Here are some summaries of people having trouble with this from various blogs, forums, and websites:

    • One girl complained that she has a boyfriend who can only date 2-D girls… but he loves her, though he's sick of 3-D girls.

    • Another girl (who also likes anime) has feelings for a guy who loves 2-D. They enjoy talking about anime together too. When she asked him if he has someone on his mind, he replied by saying he only loves 2-D girls. She wants to kokuhaku but is afraid he'll reject him.

    • Another post had a list of replies on why they can only love 2-D characters. One said that it's not that they can only love 2-D, but that they've never been loved by 3-D. Someone replied saying that they are the same, and only 2-D girls would accept them. Another guy talked about how the more he learned about 3-D girls, the more he loved 2-D ones. Then there's others who said that they don't get tired of 2-D women (like they do with 3-D ones) and yet another that said they don't want to be hurt by a real woman, so they choose 3-D.

    • There was also a girl I read about who loved 2-D characters. She says she'll never be hurt this way. She pretends she's looking for a boyfriend so people don't think she's weird, but she knows that if she had a boyfriend it would take time away from being able to think about her manga characters, so she doesn't actually want a boyfriend that much.

    • And lastly, there's one person who thinks that loving 2-D women is a form of evolution. I think this was the plot of one X-Men comic I read. He says that a normal guy's brain wave reacts when they watch porn because they live in the 3-D world. However, a 2-D lover doesn't have the same reaction when watching 3-D porn. It does react when they watch 2-D anime, though. He further goes on to state that this is proof of some kind of evolution that allows men to survive using less energy. Around 10% of otaku guys have this evolved brain pattern. Look out, lesser-humans!

    So there you have it. Maybe more people than you thought are into the 2-D. Maybe you knew it all along because you're on the front lines. Hopefully you understand better why it goes on. I think one issue out there is that most people just automatically assume all these people are serial killers. To be honest, they're all probably nice people. Many of them lead very normal lives (besides all this). While I'm not one to be a part of this lifestyle, I'm not going to judge it as well… poke fun? Maybe a little. But, I hope you're nice in the comments as well. Read some of the linked articles and stories, it's quite fascinating and interesting.

    Main thing is you don't let your 2-D or 3-D loves get in the way with each other, I think. The 3-D one will win every time. Question I have, though: is it real murder if you come home to your Nintendo DS broken in half and then drowned in water?