Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why .hack//Sign matters

I guess it's worth talking about why I like .hack//Sign.  I started going through it, and Deus Ex, because I like these things immensely.  When I was down, when I was in a hole, they reached me.  They made me feel, they made me care.

I knew I needed more of that in my life, but I also knew that just telling myself, "Do things you like," was doomed to fail.  One of the problems of depression is that often the knowledge something will, or may, make you feel better is completely disconnected from the feeling.  You might know that, for however brief a time, X will lift you up but that doesn't help because you can't feel it.  When you can't feel it it's almost impossible to summon the emotional effort, the motivation, and the energy to actually do a thing.

And so, even when it doesn't stop you from being able to enjoy things, and a lot of the time it does, it stops you from doing the handful of things you still are capable of enjoying.

I thought running a deconstructionish thing would make me spend more time with these things that I cared about.  Obviously that didn't work.  I haven't had a Deus Ex or a .hack post up since I took over the Deconstruction Round Up at the Slacktiverse.

But that's why I started talking about it here.  It doesn't explain why I tracked down fandubs before the DVDs were released.  It doesn't explain why I watched episodes over and over again. It doesn't explain why I got the special limited edition of each volume right when it came out even though my response to basically everything else is to wait until the price goes down or just hope to record it off TV.

It doesn't explain why, for a time in my life, this was all that I had.

My mother couldn't understand my interest in the series.  I tried to explain, it's been so long I've forgotten the words but it was something like, "You know when he's on the ground and so depressed he can't move except the occasional finger?  I get that."  She didn't get that.  As far as I know she still has no understanding of my connection to the series.

You know that time when all happiness and joy was crushed, hope was but a faded memory, energy and effort were impossible to summon, motivation or even simple caring were listed firmly in the "Things it is impossible to do," column and all was clearly lost forever?  Been there, done that.

If I can get back to writing my posts we'll get there eventually.  But even so far one thing should be clear: this is a show about depression. Depression, isolation, loneliness, the way we push others away when we need them most and the way people who think they're helping make things worse, it's about anxiety and fear, it's about all the sads.  It's about my life.  And for some of my readers perhaps your life.

And it's about coming out on the other side.  It's about getting by with a little help from your friends.

I can't do that.  My depression definitely has a large chemical component, take me off the medication that works and even the most supportive, helpful, non-fuckupful people can only give me moments.  Fleeting moments of up, or emotion, or whatever, before I crash back down to normal.

But that's not what matters because Tsukasa's depression is not my depression and he was never a viewer insert character for me.  He was a fellow traveler. Someone whose problems were a lot, but not exactly, like my own.  Someone I wanted to gather up in my arms, hug, and assure it would be ok (while I prayed it wouldn't turn out I was lying.)

And someone who I realized that might be the wrong course of action for because, especially near the beginning, he's skittish and probably doesn't want to be touched.  But if I were somehow there I'd work with that and do whatever I could do to help even though it wouldn't be my dream scenario.

I cared about Tsukasa and the others.  Hopefully because I'm a decent human being and decent human beings care combined with the fact that really good fiction makes the characters come alive for you so you end up caring about them the way you care about real people.  But possibly because Tsukasa was someone like me on screen.  There was a time when he couldn't summon the energy to move.  He was able to move a hand enough to grope around until he found a teddy bear.  That was it.

Then he flicked, with one finger, one of its eyes.  Single finger movement, beyond breathing, which I don't actually know if he did (remember the setting) that was all he had in him so that was all he put out. Flick.  Again and again and again and again...  The same action over and over again.  Taking refuge in repetitive action.  I know that.  Rock back and forth.  Click a pen.  Rub some part of yourself.  (Please keep minds out of the gutter, for me it was my chest, not a lot of gutter stuff there.)  Drag your finger back and forth across something.  (Took me way too long to realize that I was doing this with my left index finger on my inner thigh and that was why all my jeans were failing in the same strange place.)

Eventually the eye breaks off of the teddy bear.  So he switches to the other. Flick. Over and over, and over again.

Then that one breaks off.  And he goes to the finger dragging.  Like my jeans the teddy bear can't take it indefinitely, breaks open, and the motion starts pulling out the stuffing.


If you don't get this then understand something: You're lucky.  Very lucky.

May your luck hold and may you never understand what it is to be unable to move because you can't care enough to do it.

No doubt there are many people who have never experienced depression who beat me in the "Life sucks" Olympics.  Almost all forms of bigotry leave me untouched.  I may always be on the edge of being homeless and broke, but until that day comes (and I swear it looks more likely all the time) my life style actually is pretty much middle class, give or take.  Oppressive poverty is unknown to me and that's one area where I definitely hope my luck holds.  But even if you're objectively seventy thousand times worse off than me, if you've never known depression, if you don't understand what I'm talking about, that's one area where you're lucky. It may not seem like much from your angle, but from this angle it seems like everything.

So there was someone like me on screen.  I never saw people like me.

Depression tends to isolate people.

Looking at the world through shit colored glasses can make you an asshole.  The worst part of being an asshole: you're an asshole.  Beyond the obviously moral problems with that state of affairs it tends to keep people away.  Another depressed person isn't likely to brave that shit to meet you so the two of you can learn how alike you are.

Depression also tends to prevent you from reaching out. Two depressed people who share all the same interests and are in all the same places might never introduce themselves.  Probably won't even.  So even if I was surrounded by people like me I never knew they were people like me and thus never saw them as people like me.

It's for reasons like this that depressed people stories tend to involve something extraordinary drawing others in. The person is naturally isolated.  Maybe it's a van spinning across the ice rink of a parking lot at absurd speeds through a sea of faces while Edward Cullen is standing four cars down and ... why the fuck wasn't school cancelled?  Or maybe it's someone being unable to log out of a video game when that should be impossible and raises serious questions about the health of their body back in the real world.  Whatever it is something forces someone to push through the wall around the depressed person depression has built up.  That's the fantasy.

So I'd never really seen people like me.  And then insomnia, the neighbor's loud air conditioner (or maybe something else, long boring story) booting me out of my room, and Cartoon Network introduced me to Tsukasa.  Someone like me.  Someone who wanted to be left alone in spite of being unhappy in loneliness and missing the company of the very people he drove away. Someone who shared my problems, someone who had times when he couldn't even move.  Someone with my disease.

This was a time when I watched the Shawshank Redemption untold and untellable amounts of times because I lacked the energy to get up, cross the room, and put another DVD in the player so I just kept using the remote control to restart it every time the movie ended.  Couldn't move myself, could move a finger.  Just like Tsukasa.

This was a time when I'd sit and stare off into space because I allowed a moment of freedom to enter my life and without being forced to do something I would do nothing.  Forever.  Except for small repetitive motions.  Those I would do. Just like Tsukasa.

And that's why the show matters so much to me.  It's not a show about me.  My depression is different. It's a show about someone like me.  It's a show about someone like me where hope triumphs even though it seems impossible.  Where the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train (or a white phosphorus fire, or a death ray, or a spotlight the bandits are using so they can shoot you before you even see them, or a...)  Where hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies.  (I told you I watched the Shawshank Redemption a lot.)

It was a show about someone like me who could make friends instead of alienate them (more the friends doing than his own) where in spite of feeling worthless he could be cared about.  It was a show about someone like me where it was possible for that someone to fall in love, (and that love to survive a massive curve ball.)  It was a show where someone like me could have a happy ending even though that seemed impossible for someone like me.

It wasn't, and I want to stress this so much, a show with a viewer insert character.  Tsukasa was himself, not an identity I could slip into to vicariously experience the fictional story.  It wasn't a show about me, or one I could pretend was about me, it was about someone LIKE me.

That's why it mattered to me.  That's why it matters in general.

And that is also why it's important to have characters, not as tokens or stereotypes, exist that reflect the vast diversity of humanity.  Having a show about someone like you can make a huge difference in your life.


  1. Looking at the world through shit colored glasses can make you an asshole.

    I understand what you mean here, whereas I didn't understand something similar that you said quite as well. Because yeah, when you're in a lot of pain, it can be difficult to impossible to express anything but pain. And when you feel like nothing matters, you can't make yourself care about things, even things like other people's feelings, and you can't empathize with people who do care about things. (Hyperbole and a Half addressed that pretty well, I thought...)

    (Hopefully my understand accords with you were trying to get across...)

  2. Not much I can say to that, really.

    Though I will admit to feeling a certain amount of wanting to "gather up in my arms, hug, and assure it [will] be ok" when you're down.

    The show also has a benefit for people who haven't been there, in that it's pointing out that someone can have this sort of major, crippling problem and yet still be a person who's worth engaging with.

  3. I get these things. I get them so much. Maybe that's why I, a stranger who normally reads blogs almost solely dedicated to social justice, am so drawn to your blog and particularly the personal posts (hope that's not creepy). It's also why I am absolutely going to get hold of this anime as soon as I can.

    [I had previously skipped/not looked up posts about it as I was planning to get it 'at some point' and was avoiding spoilers. It's now moved to the top of my priority list, might give me something new and cathartic to watch so that I'm not just repeating season 6 of Buffy over and over...]

    1. (hope that's not creepy)

      Not creepy at all.

      I read the comment shortly after you posted it and thought that it was not creepy and for whatever reason it never occurred to me to say it wasn't creepy. Someone else had to point out to me that I should say it.


      So: Not creepy.

      I hope you watch and enjoy .hack//Sign.

      I hope you continue to find things of value here.

      Thank you for commenting.

  4. I hate you right now... its 2:24AM, 2013, and I remembered... no... I understood...

    For many years I've been a .hack fan... no... not a fan, its my obsession... I literally know it all, I've cried about it all and laughed about it all, its life... my life... better than the one I have outside... cried when Sora is asked if he is friends with Tsukasa, cried with Mia... cried with Alkaid... cried a lot.... .hack got into my mind when I was at my worst... and you know what? I watched it thousands of times... SIGN was all for me, later on I learned, played, saw every other .hack but SIGN got me... Tsukasa was there... he was like me, hell... I talked like him for over a month...

    And now, today I realize, I've been on my worse, again, since over a month, and today, several years later, it's Tsukasa who makes me notice it... reading this not only got me to remember, but to understand that... what I've been feeling... it is because once again Im there... once again theres nothing below me... once again I embrace with depression, sadness and silence... I'll be watching SIGN again... but I'd like to thank you... not only you said lots of what I myself have on my chest about SIGN, but you also introduced me back to it, since SIGN can only be seen on a special kind of mood... and now I realize that im here... alone again... in my sweet insanity...

    May Aura always protect you brother, may your tears come to an end one day, cause if you feel half of what I've felt on my worse... you dont deserve that bullshit. Hope that, one day, you get to be really happy.

    1. I don't know what to say, really. But I think something needs to be said so:

      Thank you for posting, I hope you feel better, both soon and in a lasting kind of way.

      Thank you and good luck. I wish luck were not needed, but it frequently is so I wish you all the luck.

  5. Belatedly: thank you for posting this. Both because it makes me want to watch the series and because it is such a vivid example of why it is important to have a lot of different kinds of characters in stories.

    Incidentally, have you ever seen the film Escaflowne? I actually haven't (I saw an episode of the anime, but they aren't the same), but I heard that one of the major characters in that story is clinically depresssed and portrayed quite sympathetically.

  6. I never understood why I connected with Tsukasa so much. In every crazy scene that didn't even make sense to me, somehow it spoke to me as a whole. It's just...mind-blowing how clear it is WHY I became so obsessed with this series, especially as an adolescent.