All japanese culture is expressed in Dragon Ball Fighter Z. It’s been a long time coming. Many fans of manga and anime have looked at such classics as the Studio Ghibli productions, the recent Attack on Titan, or numerous other respected long running franchises such as Onepiece, Hell Omega, Urusei Capoeira, and The Ontological Argument For Ninjas. My personal favorite was Yu Yu Hakusho, which is a sneeze.
When I was 9, my parents moved to Japan. After considering several other offers, weighing my options, and consulting my lifestyle coach (a plush triceratops), I decided to move with them. I was nervous pretty much from day one, and, since I was already a nervous kid, this became triple-word-score nervous. Luckily, having to do weird shit 24/7 that I could neither understand or escape from had a profound effect on me, in that it transmuted my fear into a bizarre borderline schizophrenic episode (note: more later), that progressed to something resembling regular bitchy adolescence. By the time we moved back, I’d say I was basically normal, except for being completely weird. Which is the new normal, so I guess I caught up.
In any case, early on, wanting to do stuff kids do when bored, I nervously entered a japanese book store where everybody looked at me as if to say ‘what the fuck is one of those doing in here’, and then ignored me. I walked up to a stack of comics that looked cool and stared at it for a very long time. I seriously considered whether you were allowed to buy a comic book in a language that you barely understood. Would it be insulting? Would I be quizzed at the register? I started thumbing through volume 24 of Dragon Ball Z. I was immediately smitten with kid fever for The New Thing.
In case you’ve never had this fever, let me explain. When The New Thing happens, all your other toys, books, and games become props to pantomime The New Thing. You tell your parents about The New Thing in exhaustive non-detail, because your buffer is full of garbled emotional data which reads to an adult as ‘very excited/needs a nap badly’. The New Thing is your next halloween costume, all the drawings you want to draw, the most appropriate subject for video games, cartoons, and above all subject of The Next Issue Of The New Thing. Which is always too short, and over too quickly, despite requiring 3 read-throughs in the same evening in which you purchased it. At the time I started reading the series, the last published tankobon volume was 27.
When you get Fighter Z, the first thing you notice if you’re a crazy person like me is the chosen facial expression for the characters. The bad guys are always smiling, and the good guys are basically grumpy, with the exception of Vegeta, who’s sort of a good guy, but is smiling, because he’s actually the representation of the evil in society which is nonetheless valuable and even romantic (he holds the distinction as the only dragon ball character where it’s fascinating to picture him having sex because you wonder what that would even be like).
When we entered Japan, my parents found a basically progressive (for japan) school which I could attend. I was completely out of my element and did not receive an education along the expected lines. Instead, I got an overwhelming education in the social structure of japanese schools and japanese life, and I realized that, without devoting myself to it, I would never be any good at it. And as a ‘nail who sticks up’, I knew I would never devote myself to it. Infact, as a nervous goofball, I was pretty sure I ‘couldn’t *really* devote myself to it, because I was the wrong sort of person, etc.
I was in this school for a while, including a session of summer school camping which is typical for japanese people apparently, where I had to handle a bunch of things I didn’t understand all at once. One was bathing naked. Honestly, that was fairly easy, because the biggest ‘scare’ was seeing other little kids dicks and, as it happens, that’s totally easy to ignore. Even though, at the time, my nervous system was trying to crawl out of my head.
The part of the experience that seemed to start the proceedings, was a moment, where, we were on a bus for hours, and arrived at a ‘hotel’, which in japan, is a blank room with mats you sleep on, because that’s the japanese cultural baseline for what a hotel is. We give you a clean floor, a thin mat, and a blanket. The teacher’s job, at that point, was to wake us up for activities, and I remember sandbagging immediately. Because it was early, and I didn’t want to wake up. The teacher went so far as to drag my mat out from under me and dump me on the floor, rather than letting me sleep. I have in my mind a glimpse of her frustration.
As soon as she gave up, I awoke and tried to follow the crowd to whatever we were doing next. The next thing I knew. I was in a ‘group’ that was meant to complete a hike together.
I was a pudgy american kid. I had never hiked. I as at the cusp of development where the boost you get from being a little kid where you can accomplish all kinds of physical feats of running around are being replaced by growing pains and inertia. Eventually leading to Standard American Diet fed nothings who can’t handle being on their feet for more than an hour.
I was put in a group of 3 other kids. We went a few hundred yards up a hill, and I became useless. I didn’t know why I was there, and I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t understand how to communicate with those around me. I *did* understand that the fact that I needed to take a break and my slowness was an embarrassment to the kids around me. I think someone might have stuck with me, but I only vaguely remember. I do remember trying to tell them all to go on and leave me.
I then move up the mountain without direction for a very long time. Somehow I came to the top and discovered the rest of my class.
No one bothered me.
We briefly messed around while stacks of wood shingles were burned. I didn’t understand why the shingles were burning, or what we were supposed to do, but we got to chase dragonflies. Which are creepy fuckers, if you don’t know. In fact, years before, when on a very long seesaw, as a kid, a dragonfly had landed on my arm and bit me, making me freak out and fall off the seesaw while I was at the peak of my side, and my dad was riding the other side. I remember thinking ‘holy shit (in kid terms), this is the hardest I’ve ever fallen. On top of this mountain, we captured dragon flies and put them in bags.
We had to descend the mountain and I now recall that a teacher or something kind of paced me. That must have been a vote of confidence, though I didn’t understand it at the time.
There was a bonfire at some point. I don’t remember it with clarity. It happened before we descended, for sure. It was different than the fire which scorched the shingles we were going to paint on later, which was another thing put in front of me I didn’t understand.
Throughout this I wanted to sleep. Which I no doubt did.
There were a bunch of wooden shingles. They were burned on top of the mountain, then the ash was scrubbed off them, and everybody got one, including me. We were given puff paints and asked to express our trip on them. I remember trying hard to create something coherent at first, and then devolving into a mess of paints and colors. I feel at that point that I lost control. As I recall, I may have only really muddied my presentation after the teacher who walked down the hill with me took a brief interest to see what I had made.
This is what Japanese culture is. It’s what it does. It puts something on everyone, and you have to negotiate it. Nobody in Japan is bored.
The next day, we had a better event, from my point of view. We were taken to a stream in the mountains and given vague instructions about how to catch fish with our hands. Thank God, I could catch fish with my hands. There was a rule, which said, you can eat if you catch a fish, or if someone catches a fish for you. I caught more than one fish. Which meant I wasn’t worthless. I remember the first fish I caush, I held it while it choked on the air and stared at me, and having never killed anything before, I slowly crushed it until it stopped moving.
I think I was trying to get it over with. To be nice, in as much as a person can be nice when they’re killing a fish. The second fish, I deposited on a grill set up to cook our catches for us by the teachers.
I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I caught enough to share.
At any rate, I forget what happened after that. The rest of my experience in that school was humiliating failure to become a person. I talked my parents into letting me homeschool, and the result was a mediocre understanding of the superficial shit that our worthless education system tries to instill in us.
Cut back to return to the States. Guidance counselor’s office (interior). The first representative of the school system I remember talking to with my mother was at a ‘real’ school, by which I mean a school that seems about right for the majority of kids’ experiences regardless of color. At my school, there was the possibility of getting hunted down in the adjoining woods and beaten by fellow students. I know because the guidance counselor warned me of it. It never happened to me. I did have kids spit in my face on sight and in one case a guy snuck up on me in class and wrapped my head in duct tape in full view of the teacher, who did nothing. I wandered off into an adjacent room, recovered a little, and came back in to tell him to his face some nonsense hostile shit. The teacher, appreciating that, given that she had no authority or ability to fix anything, I had ‘sort of’ fixed it myself, did nothing, and as far as I can tell, didn’t report it. In a separate incident, in quote “ ‘ Science ‘“ unquote class (extra quotes denoting a kind of oubliette of memory that is compartmentalized by several strata of sarcasm), I recall spending an entire class locked in a heated staring contest with the kid in front of me because I ‘breathed on him’. He kept trying to intimidate me, escalating to the point where we was lightly bouncing his fist off my chin, and I didn’t notice any of the, no doubt critical, facts about the the Spotted Owl I was supposed to absorb. Despite the fact that this kid was facing backwards for the entire period and obviously poking at me, the teacher cleaved stalwartly to his cave-person powerpoint presentation. Years later I would discover that those dumb fucking birds aren’t even endangered on the other side of the local mountain range. It’s just that they were retreating from the local biome. No doubt they were huge wusses who couldn’t handle confrontation.
Around this time, I began to fantasize on that day about murdering my classmates. Later, when I heard about Columbine, I thought ‘shit, someone got there first’. I didn’t build a mentally defective conspiracy of one+ sycophants, and I never hurt anybody else, but I wanted to, and to an extent, sympathy for school shooters has never left me.
Here's what I did do. I joined Wrestling in junior high, and I spent 3 years being exhausted pinned, choked, and embarrassed. I went from a non-entity in the 1.2 mile run we did on the last friday of the month (or whatever it was) to being barely acceptable. When I entered high school I joined wrestling again, but the vibe and routine was off, and I went back to my parents and convinced them to let me enter football. I stuck with football, and despite being shitty at it with a shitty attitude, I gave it my all in junior year. Senior year was off peak, and at no point did I manage to get anywhere on the depth chart. I was effectively told that my effort was meaningless. At the end of senior year, I made a point of talking to the head coach in his office and telling him I thought the whole thing had been a waste of my time, even though it had not. But I had not yet learned that I was anything other than a weak person who was behind the curve.
I still needed to build the muscles to understand *why* it was *still* wrong to hurt people, even when the world doesn’t seem to care that you’re quote unquote mature. After all, maturity and cowardice look identical. Luckily for me, the most hostile I ever got was punching a kid on the head in class one time (he was kicking my leg under the desk (this was in junior high long before football)), and dragging another kid out of his desk toward the door (he was throwing pencils at me (this was during football (and thankfully the football coach who was also the geometry teacher, was the arbiter))). The good grace of authority figures cut me some slack, in one case, because clearly the situation was their oversight of having no discipline or expectations, and in the other case because, no shit, he really was the football coach, and basically he wanted to reward the fact that I could hurt other people.
Anywho, much later, a different guidance counselor was trying to position me in math, and since I’d been homeschooled in Japan, my math didn’t really line up. I knew some algebra, and had done pre-algebra twice, in order to make sure I ‘got it’, given that I had no formal teachers around to constantly update me on how I was doing. But the normal track for someone my age was to just be entering the first phase of pre-algebra. The counselor counseled caution, because, gosh, jeez, wouldn’t it be awful if I was in a class where I didn’t ‘get it’. Not wanting to rock the boat, I did the easy thing.
Within about a weak, some dumb shit was asking to copy off my test. I say ‘some dumb shit’ out of selfish bitterness, because this kid had better hair than me and an entree into acceptable social circles, but at the time, being all thumbs and 2 left feet in terms of relating, I just kind of scowled at him like a buzzard on a suaro eyeing a coyote.
Eventually I had to fix the fuckup by taking geometry and trig in the same year in high school, just to get out of ‘the football coach also teaches math’ zone and into the ‘it matters if you get the answer right, because that’s the point of all this’ zone. I would go on to try for 5 seconds in college and then flake out completely at learning math.
Years later: software engineering.
For the record, obliquely, Dragon Ball is about a boy on a series of adventures which escalate from ‘fun’ to ‘difficult’. Then ‘life threatening’. Then ‘world threatening’, and finally ‘universe threatening’. At every juncture, he conquers adversity through a combination of hard work, willingness to fight, and a good nature which attracts friends and allies. The final part is kind of cool because, for a time in the story, it results in his child turning out to be a savant who can save the world for him. But then he comes back from the dead to be a pseudo spiritual force, eventually. The Virgin Mary in the Toast of martial artists.
It’s not a clean narrative, due to marketing concerns.