An article I wrote for the New York Times Magazine about men in Japan who are in love with anime characters is online now. The print version will be in this coming Sunday's magazine. I should point out that this phenomenon is not unique to Japan, or to men, but I think it's safe to say that that is where it originated. In the interest of space the editors and I had to cut out the sections about 2D love in the US and elsewhere, and among women.
Nisan didn't mean to fall in love with Nemutan. 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."
Nemutan doesn't really have a leg. She's a stuffed pillowcase — a 2-D depiction of a character, Nemu, from an X-rated version of a PC video game called Da Capo, printed on synthetic fabric. In the game, which is less a game than an interactive visual novel about a schoolyard romance, Nemu is the loudmouthed little sister of the main character, whom she calls nisan, or "big brother," a nickname Nisan adopted as his own when he met Nemu. When I joined the couple for lunch at their favorite all-you-can-eat salad bar in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji, he insisted on being called only by this new nickname, addressing his body-pillow girlfriend using the suffix "tan" to show how much he adored her. Nemutan is 10, maybe 12 years old and wears a little blue bikini and gold ribbons in her hair. Nisan knows she's not real, but that hasn't stopped him from loving her just the same. "Of course she's my girlfriend," he said, widening his eyes as if shocked by the question. "I have real feelings for her."
Love in 2D [New York Times Magazine]