When I first began watching anime in elementary school and noticing that the story always took place in Japan, I figured I wouldn’t see characters from other countries very often. Series were set in places like Shibuya and Tokyo and used aspects of Japanese folklore, history, and modern life.
But then I did see a tan character. A tan Latinx. You’d think it would have made me happy to see somebody who looked like me in my favorite entertainment medium, but it was the opposite. Every time I saw someone in an anime who was even somewhat similar to me or any of the other Latinx I knew, I cringed.
Last year, Yuri!!! On ICE took the anime community by storm. Whether it was from the passionate portrayal of figure skating, the queer romance, or the sincere way it cared for its characters, it resonated with many. I’m no exception.
I love many things about being a geek: I love researching various pieces of media for their histories and lore, I love the process of reading, watching, or playing the media itself, and I love interacting with other people who share my passion. These activities are viewed not only as normal, but essential to the identity of being a geek.
But replace the word ‘“geek” with the word “autistic,” and suddenly all the traits that were so readily accepted get read as strange and negative. These reactions are a daily reality when you’re a neurodivergent geek due to the overwhelming prevalence of ableism and ignorance in online spaces, which is often stressful and frustrating.
As a Southeast Asian, there are days when I wonder if my feelings are real and worth caring about. Where I live, videos blare about what it means to have a family and to be proper husbands and wives. Heterosexual families are the default unit in Asian societies, and going against them is considered not just sexually deviant but morally wrong. You are not contributing to society. You are not making children. You will dismantle everything society has built up. You are evil.
Before I saw Princess Mononoke, it was recommended to me by a lot of people—in anime blogs, on Facebook, by friends and classmates. Most of them were women like me who said the movie made them feel hopeful and brave, which to me meant that I would either love the movie or hate it. For a movie to appeal to me as a woman, female characters had to be more than just caricatures and stereotypes. They had to make mistakes and learn from them; they had to have bad hair days. Without that, I couldn’t connect with them and it made their story seem more wishy-washy, as if it was made to just placate viewers who happened to be women instead of actually making them think and feel.