R. Hunter Gough

To Hanzo

It started one night when juku got out late. The instructor fell asleep in the middle of his own lecture, and after he woke up he wouldn’t let anyone leave until he’d finished. Naturally, I missed the 10:30 train, and had to call mom to let her know I’d have to catch the next one and would be a little late. The phone booth I used was plastered with chat-line flyers, and I was surprised to find one for an Escaflowne chat-line tucked in among the sex-talk and stock tip ads. I suppose I’m still as much into Escaflowne as I was while you were alive, and I guess it’s proof of how dasai I am that I still obsess on it while everyone else has moved on. Of course I still have the video collection you gave me, but now I also have the whole manga series, every version of the soundtrack, and the Playstation game (did I have the game before you died?). Some of the guys at school think I’m an Escaflowne otaku, but I think to be an otaku you have to share your information, and I really don’t know anyone who wants to hear about Escaflowne these days. The flyer had Van and Merle on it, and Scheherezade in the background, so I took it with me to look at on the train. When I got home mom had already gone to bed (she goes to bed pretty early now), but she’d left me some dinner and a note telling me she would buy me a PHS tomorrow so I wouldn’t have to use public phones. I had to be up in 4 hours, so I ate quickly and went to bed without my bath.
Whenever I finish my homework early, I watch some Escaflowne before taking my bath. I’ve seen each episode at least a hundred times, and I have all the dialogue memorized, but I still like to watch it. When you become this familiar with something you can look beyond the plot and the characters. You can focus on the music, the inflections and sounds of characters’ voices, the subtle nuances in the backgrounds, in the characters’ faces and clothes, in the designs of the buildings and the mecha. Flaws in the plot become little stories unto themselves. I’m lucky to have any free time at all, but after you died, mom took me out of kenpo so I could have more time to study. I was awful at kenpo anyway, so I don’t really mind. I finished the series again the night after I found the flyer. I don’t think you ever saw the ending, but it’s poignant and natsukashii; the war is over, and Hitomi knows she must leave her friends and loved ones behind on the invisible planet Gaea and go back to being another ordinary schoolgirl. It’s a typical anime ending full of abandoning adventure for responsibility, but it doesn’t leave so many loose ends like most anime do. Mom gave me my PHS that night. It’s a little outdated and I can’t change the face, but at least it has email. When I finished Escaflowne I wasn’t tired enough to take my bath yet, so I decided to call that chat-line, just to see what it’s like.
As soon as the line connected I heard some girl gasping in faked ecstasy. I thought I’d dialed the wrong number, but then another girl shouted out “Oh Merle!” and a boy’s voice shouted “Hitomi! Fuck me!” I’d apparently stumbled onto some sort of really amateur Escaflowne-themed phone sex three-way. I would have hung up, but I was entranced by how simultaneously arousing and horrible it was. (For one thing, Van would never say “Fuck” in English.) I guess I listened for about fifteen minutes as this mockery climaxed and then dwindled, with the participants arranging at the end to meet at a love hotel in Akibahara. They all hung up, and I sat with an empty line for a few minutes, then was about to hang up myself when someone else connected. A girl’s voice tentatively called out “moshi moshi?” Stuttering, I answered. I wasn’t expecting to run into bad phone-sex when I dialed this number, and after the phone-sex was over I certainly wasn’t expecting to find someone else who was so into Escaflowne. We talked for a long time about our shared interests and insights into the series, where to get rare Escaflowne merchandise, everything, until I suddenly realized how long I’d been talking and what a huge phone bill I’d be ringing up. I apologized and disconnected, but not before getting her email address. Her name is Machida Yumi.
A couple weeks later, Yumi and I agreed to meet at Hachiko, the dog statue outside Shibuya station. It was a Sunday, and I finally convinced mom that if I didn’t get at least half a day off I’d go insane. I think the way I said it reminded her of something you said, because she started biting her lip like she did all the time right after you died and said “Okay.” She looked like she was about to cry, and didn’t even give me a curfew. I’d been emailing back and forth with Yumi over the previous couple of weeks. Email is by far the best means of communication, since you have all the time you need to figure out exactly what you’re going to say and the best way to say it, and then it’s delivered instantly. I hadn’t even started over watching Escaflowne again since I’d been so busy emailing her, and had only pulled out the tapes a few times to catch things that she pointed out that I missed, or to find exactly where something was that I wanted to point out to her. She’s missing a few episodes from her collection, and told me she was really looking forward to seeing them with me. It really seemed too soon and too distant to be a “relationship”, but then again I’d never had one before so I didn’t quite know how it’s supposed to go.
Our “date” was definitely not what I expected. I wore one of your pairs of black jeans, and your orange fleece sweater than zips up the front. I got to the station early, and sat at a bench across the street watching for her, and when I finally saw her I really hoped it wasn’t Yumi. She’s not revolting, but I was expecting a little more. She’s pudgy, with green-framed glasses and a pikachu jacket. Not one of the flight jackets with the pikachu patch, but one of the ones that makes you look like pikachu when you wear it, down to the big zigzaggy tail and a hood that looks like pikachu’s head. She was carrying a keroppi backpack and one of those stupid little silver scooters. I thought “Please don’t let this be Yumi. She’s supposed to be 14, a year older than me, but this girl looks 9.” I thought that perhaps if I didn’t move or acknowledge her she wouldn’t see me, and then everything went into slow motion as she looked around, took out her PHS, and dialed. A little plastic SD Allen from Escaflowne hung from the strap, and as I watched it swinging against the back of her hand my PHS rang. The main theme from Escaflowne. Before I even took it out of my pocket she saw me and started waving and running toward me. I smiled, gritting my teeth. Gambatte.
I suggested we go to a movie; “X-Men” had just opened that weekend, but she wanted to just walk around for a while and talk. This was nowhere near as easy as the email. I kept expecting her to slap me and call me a fraud and say that I didn’t sound anything like Kenji, but she didn’t. There’s a Sam Goody down by the station, and we looked around in there for a while. I ran into Tomo from my math class, but fortunately Yumi was in a different aisle. Who knows what shit I’d be in if Tomo had caught me with a “girlfriend”.
I’m not really into pop music but Yumi made me buy a Dragon Ash CD. I listened to it later that night and they’re not that bad. After the music store she was hungry so we found a MOS Burger. I ordered some macaroni, but I was way too nervous to eat. I just picked at it some and smiled politely. After we ate she said she had something to show me, and led me through the streets by the hand. I stopped as she skipped through the entrance of a love hotel, but she bit her knuckle coyly and yanked me through the door. The man with cigarette-stained teeth behind the counter didn’t bat an eye as he handed us our key and mumbled something about our time limit in a voice that sounded like he was playing the words off an old dusty record in his brain. He didn’t even bow. I wondered how many kids came through there every day.
It was a tiny little cream-colored room with a 14” TV and VCR in the corner. The bed was even smaller than mine at home. There was an adjoining bathroom, and Yumi excused herself into it with her backpack, leaving me to rummage through the complimentary magazines on a rack by the TV. An “Urecco”, “Milky Dolls”, and a recent revision of that famous issue of “CanCam” with the pull-out how-to sex section for girls, immediately followed by an article on the return of “Totoro” merchandise. I tucked them back into the rack as I heard Yumi unlock the bathroom door. I don’t know where she got the costume, but she was dressed as Hitomi, down to the reddish-brown hair and the magical pendant. I’m pretty sure Hitomi wore panties, though. In most depictions of cosplay kink, the man is always mad with passion that the woman has brought his fantasy to life, but frankly it wasn’t really there for me. First of all, my obsession with Escaflowne really isn’t about having sex with the characters, just like most Nintendo maniacs don’t fantasize about Princess Toadstool and Mario. And second, she just didn’t look right. Yumi’s obviously not the track star that Hitomi is, and even without her glasses, she doesn’t have the same eyes at all. I’m not saying that I didn’t appreciate it, and in all honesty I was a little turned on by the fact that she made the effort, but overall it was just kind of fast and confusing.
Afterward, when she’d washed the dye out of her hair and changed back into her pikachu coat, I walked her back to the station. She asked me if I was a virgin, and told me that I did fine anyway, and not to worry. I asked her if she was a virgin too, but she giggled and said, “Did you see any blood?” A block from the station she pulled me into a dark alley and kissed me where no one could see us. I never did figure out what she was wearing under that pikachu coat, if she was wearing anything at all.
Over the next two or three weeks I called her a few times, but she never picked up. I would’ve assumed she’d just wanted a one-night stand, but she kept emailing me about Escaflowne. It was like the person I was emailing was someone completely different from the person I’d met in Shibuya, but then again I’m sure I seemed much different in person, too. I figured maybe she’s just shy on the phone. I’d gotten an 86% on a calculus test, so I stayed home studying over New Year’s while mom went to visit ojii-san. I’d just finished my worksheets and was putting the first tape of Escaflowne in the VCR when my PHS rang. I’d given Tomo my number because he was having problems with calculus too, but when I answered it was Yumi’s giggling voice on the line. Over the two or three weeks since our “date” I’d slowly gotten accustomed to thinking of her as a faceless email Escaflowne otaku again, but when I heard her voice all the awkwardness came rushing back. She told me she still wanted to see those episodes she’d missed, and I told her that I was alone for the weekend, and gave her my address. I always thought that one of Escaflowne’s strong points was that it appeals to both males with its shounen mecha and the wars, and females with its shoujo romances and intrigue, but I never realized how much trouble that diversity would get me into.
My window overlooks the front of the complex, and I’d left it open that day despite the cold, so I heard the big, dark-blue Lexus pull up in front, and watched her climb out and pose cutely for the driver. She said something I couldn’t hear over the car engine, and as it pulled away I yelled down to her and told her I’d buzz her in. I suppose that wasn’t very smart, since the neighbors could have heard. She was wearing her pikachu coat again, but she took it off as soon as she came in. It seemed strange to me that she was wearing her school uniform on a Sunday, but I didn’t comment on it. I was wearing your orange sweater again, and she asked me where I got it, and when I told her she wanted to see your room. I told her you’d been a ronin, and that you were one of the teenagers who’d killed themselves when Hide died (but I didn’t tell her how). She said that she had an older sister who had gotten her into Escaflowne too, but now she was off at college in the states. I asked her who gave her a ride here, but she changed the subject and asked me to show her the episodes she’d missed. When I put the tape in she’d already started undressing. For someone who wanted to see the episodes she’d missed so much, she certainly didn’t pay much attention when I finally showed them to her. I suppose she at least heard what was going on, but that’s really only half the experience. Afterwards she took her clothes into the bathroom and I could hear her calling someone quietly on her PHS. I was still in bed when she came back dressed, told me she had to meet someone, then kissed me and left. I watched the rest of the tape alone and then took a long bath.
I’m not sure which came first, my becoming obsessed with Yumi or her harassing me. For the next month and a half she’d call me at the most inconvenient times possible; in the middle of tests, juku, study groups. Nothing breaks your concentration quite like a PHS set on silent mode, vibrating against your leg when you know it’s her on the other end. And of course when I’d call her back during lunch or passing period, she wouldn’t answer. One week I left my PHS at home so it wouldn’t be bothering me, but mom found it and gave me the third degree. Finally, at the end of March, she called during juku while the instructor was sleeping again (He told us he’s narcoleptic, and that we should just wake him up if he nods off, but no one does). I walked quickly into the bathroom (the other students probably thought I was going to be sick) and answered. She sounded ecstatic to finally hear my voice again, and also a little drunk, and without thinking I agreed to meet her again at the same hotel where we’d had our first “date”. The instructor was awake by the time I came back, and he stopped lecturing and glared at me as I apologized quietly and returned to my seat. I called home from the train on the way to Shibuya and told our answering machine that juku had run late again. I figured she’d meet me at the hotel, but as I passed the dog statue a bright yellow pikachu leapt out of the darkness and pulled back her hood. She took a last drag on her cigarette and kissed me as she flicked it away, and we walked together to the hotel. I remember being surprised at how empty Shibuya station was at 11 on a Wednesday night, but then again most of the ATMs in this area turn off at 7. There was a different clerk at the hotel this time, a Korean woman who grinned a lot and had wide black gaps between her teeth. I think we got the same room as the first time, although I was too nervous then to pay much attention, and the rooms here probably all look the same anyway. Instead of the Hitomi costume or the school uniform she was wearing a little black plastic dress with an oversized silver zipper all the way down the front. It looked too tight, like she was squeezed into it the wrong way, but she wasn’t wearing it for long. After we left that time she rode with me on the train all the way to my stop. We held hands and talked a little about the allusions to the Pacific War in Escaflowne, but mostly we were quiet. When I got off at my station she stayed on the train, and as the doors closed she blew me a kiss and said “I love you”. I don’t think it would’ve been as disturbing if she hadn’t said it in English.
I must’ve caught cold that night because I was in bed for the rest of the week. The doctor prescribed “green powder”, “black pills”, and “blue pills”, and I think mom was intent on drowning me in miso. I watched all of Escaflowne twice, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Yumi. She emailed me a few times, and was sorry that I had gotten so sick (always signed “I love you” in English), but she never called me, and on Saturday the emails stopped. When I went back to school the next week I kept expecting my PHS to ring, and was actually even more distracted by waiting for it than I was when she was calling me constantly. As usual, she never answered my calls, but now she wasn’t answering my emails either. It’s been that way for about a month now. Today I skipped lunch and went to her school to try to find her (I remembered the Sakura logo buttons from her uniform). Of course I never did, and it seemed stupid to try asking around about her. On the way back to my school on the train I’m sure I saw her in that dark-blue Lexus again, driving the other way, back to her school. It probably wasn’t really her, but I started crying. By the time I got back to school I was late for my math class, and my eyes and nose were probably running from crying, too. I apologized profusely and took my seat. I think that’s when I realized she was a typical burikko; sweetness and innocence on the outside, but with a slutty rotten core. It doesn’t really help, though. Putting a name to it just makes me want her more.
After school I took the train again back to her school, hoping that maybe she was one of the girls who hung out at the front gate after school like some of the girls did at my school. There wasn’t really anywhere to sit, so I just leaned against a wall across the street. I felt so stupid, like a stalker wanna-be. The fact that nobody noticed me there, even to make fun of me or pick on me for being from another school just made it worse. I felt like a ghost, wandering invisibly and looking in all the wrong places. After the last students had gone and no one was left at the gate I gave up and went home. I called her from the train and just let the phone keep ringing over and over until I got home. I only finally hung up as I was taking off my shoes, and noticed someone else’s shoes there at the front door. I went inside to find mom sitting with my math teacher. She gave me the same glare that the juku instructor had when I’d come back to class after arranging a rendezvous with Yumi. I turned away and immediately thought about when you failed the Tokyo University entrance exams. When you took me out partying with all your friends who had made the cut, and afterwards when we sat in the station waiting for the train, and you gave me a cigarette and told me about hansei; about guilt, humility, self-reflection. You told me that you’d become a ronin and study on your own until the next entrance exams, and I felt so dasai because I heard the word “ronin” and immediately thought of “Rurouni Kenshin”, the shoujo manga about the romantic samurai with no master. Mom called me over to the table. They told me that I’d missed a math test that afternoon, but that my teacher saw that I was distressed and would let me make-up the test if I had a good excuse. I bowed deeply, apologized, and went to my room. I heard my teacher leave, but mom hasn’t come knocking yet. I put on one of your Hide albums; the ones I couldn’t stand when you’d blast them in your room. There’s a song on there about writing letters to the dead. I’m writing in English so mom can’t read it. After you died she found your diary and now she reads from it every night and cries and sleeps with it under her pillow. If I turn down the music I’m sure I could hear her crying now. You failed the exams but you always knew the things that were really important. You were the one who got me into Escaflowne, you were the one with all the answers when things didn’t make sense. I’m tired, I’m angry, and I miss you.