In late Spring, 2020, I am alone for the first time in months. My then-roommate is elsewhere, my then-partner, long distance and visiting when lockdown hit, is out, and I am at home. Since then, I have been mostly at home. I have not been alone very much, but I have been lonely.
I am someone who flits from fixation to fixation, letting a show or game become the only thing for months at a time. I sacrifice sleep and words and thoughts and recreate myself with each new interest. It is the recreation, I think, that defines a true fixation—in the course of loving this work, what parts of me have changed? I am no stranger to obsession. It is only natural, then, that I find myself gravitating towards a genre–sports anime–that is driven by obsession, by fixation, by this, this is the only thing.
In my solitude, I take an edible and watch Yuri!!! On Ice. On this visit, my then-partner and I had planned to go ice skating, since I lived so close to the rink in Oakland. The pandemic, of course, ruined this; it was unlike us to shoot for an activity besides a movie or a new restaurant, but despite my asthma and general lack of athleticism, I love ice skating. I will always remember the Ann Arbor rink where I first cut my fingers on skates, where the used-boot rubbed my ankle raw, where I first learned to fall properly, where I was too young to feel anything else but fun.
What I knew about Yuri!!!! On Ice was: it is about ice skating, real life Olympic skaters like it a lot, and it is canonically queer. It follows Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki, who is coached by his idol, Russian figure-skating champion Victor Nikiforov. In the course of their competitive journey, they fall in love ..
What I took away from Yuri!!! was:
to be devoted to a sport and devoted to a person were one and the same.
To have passion for something and to have passion for someone could be inextricably tied together, and the story is better for it.
What I remember of watching Yuri!!! is this: the haze of weed gummies clouding the anxious parts of my brain, leaving me more alert than ever; the sharpness of the dark room illuminated by nothing but the magic of metal against ice; the way I wanted so badly to want something that badly.
At ten years old, I’d loved many things in my short life: Pokemon, lizards, hazelnut chocolate shaped like seashells, but my first fixation was Gilmore Girls. The cozy ABC family reruns captivated me more than anything else. I was ten years old and I loved to read. I had brown hair and I loved my mom. We had just moved from Michigan to California and I was lonely. It was so simple how much sense it made.
Frustrated by the way the reruns seemed to never show us past season 5, my family invested in the full set of DVDs, season-by-season with each Costco trip. And so facilitated my obsession, day, night, I was watching Gilmore Girls. Every morning, I’d wake up to the DVD title menu screen music, la la las a new alarm.
There’s a scene in Season 7 when the titular girl, Lorelai, ends her brief marriage to Christopher, the father of her adult-child. Through tears, she tells him you’re the man I want to want. I think of this line often, slightly mis-remembered despite the hundreds of times I’ve watched the series through, despite the way its sharp-quick dialogue is imprinted on my speech. Instead, I just remember: I want to want. I wanted to want, so, so much.
Over the past two years, I have been in motion. I go from an apartment to my parents’ home; this is practical, I am high-risk for COVID and more afraid of outside each day. I move out of my parents’ house and into a new apartment; this is meant to be life-starting. People in my life, too, are in motion, rotating in and out. My then-partner and I are apart for months, and then we break up. In some ways, we do not want the same things; more specifically, though, I am afraid of deciding what it is I do want, of allowing myself that fullness. My then-roommate and I sign a new lease, and then she breaks it; despite returning to the bay area together, she decides she wants to be alone. I am hurt in a myriad of baffling ways. My housing is unstable. The world is uncertain. It is August and I am the loneliest I have ever been. While so many other securities disintegrated around me, all I could do was think of the things I wanted to want: to leave California, to feel anger, to seek romance. The only true, prescient want: to not be here.
My ex was a self-professed romantic. That I was not, also, was surprising—to him, to others. It’s not because romance happened to me often—very rarely, in fact. Sometimes, when I think back on crushes or almosts, they feel unworthy of acknowledgement. Even now, each little thought is dismissed as frivolous, unreal–I am resistant to letting myself feel even when it’s just the possibility of something. The surprise, though, comes from what I like, publicly, loudly: I like young adult novels, I like romantic comedies, I like fanfiction. The love story, I think, is the perfect complement to any tale: to fall in love alongside so many other things is fulfilling. Romance, though, is never something I have allowed myself fully.
It is August and I am the loneliest I have ever been. I flit in and out of obsessions, new and old. I spend $1200/month to lay in bed and occasionally walk to Target. I think, maybe this $5 candle will fix me. Maybe I’ll get really into candles, I’ll be a candle girl, that’s new. I text Jillian and ask for candle recommendations. We are always trading hobbies. One of my new roommates and dear friends Lee buys me a plant and I swear I will keep it alive. This act will fix me. With each obsession, I am recreated again, and really I am obsessed with becoming new, someone else, someone who does not feel so sad. Maybe the watermelon leaves of this peperomia will hold something for me. I shop for a new pot but fear shocking the plant before it can acclimate to my windowsill. Instead, I buy masks with colors and patterns to contrast with my mostly-black-wardrobe and pretend this isn’t forever. I pretend I will use the watercolors I brought from home. I pretend I will take a book to the park. Surely, something will stick, I will be new and lonely no more.
Hobbies are meant to be fun. Being good at something is not the prerequisite but will, in fact, come later. In SK8 the Infinity, fun is something you have to allow yourself. I watch the 10-episode anime in tandem with Jillian, texting incomprehensible key-smashes into the late hours despite time zones, comparing characters to other characters we love, wondering if the romantic undertones we read are real, talking about the philosophy it has on hobbies, and most of all god, I wish I loved anything as much as these kids love skateboarding.
For months before I had watched SK8, I routinely told myself I needed to change my life. I applied for fellowships and workshops, I applied for jobs and researched grad schools. I did all of this to avoid: going outside, confronting those who hurt me, doing anything that scared me, doing anything at all.
I watch SK8 in my parents’ house, under a weighted blanket, clutching my chest when characters do something reckless. I watch Langa, who is grieving when we meet him and acclimating to a new country, find himself new in this hobby. Reki, instead of abandoning what he loves when it gets hard or scary, gets over his jealousy in a reckless finale. He skates in the rain against someone who has already hurt the people he loves. Despite the risk, he has fun and he is amazing, finally. Driven by each other, Reki and Langa become better versions of themselves, as facilitated by skating. I wonder: will I ever want something this much? Will I ever do something so reckless to get it?
In Haikyuu!!, volleyball is everything. I fall into it head-first, obsessively, just as do I with all things that become my favorite things. It makes me feel warm, it makes me feel close to people I love, and there is so much of it. The series follows various high school boys’ volleyball teams from tournaments, all the way to nationals, with a tagline that reads, “Shoyo Hinata is out to prove that in volleyball you don’t need to be tall to fly!” Part of me gets attached to Hinata so quickly because I am short, too, but he is also so unlike me–energetic, athletic, and ruthlessly optimistic.
I come to it through two friends: one I met and lived with during my last loneliest month, Jess, and the other, Helen, who I’ve known nearly a decade, our friendship grown from mutual obsessions. There’s something special about the mixing of the old and new, letting nostalgia drive this fixation. Maybe with this recreation, something familiar will remain. The manga began in 2012, which meant the characters’ high school era was my high school era, too. I can easily project my own soundtrack onto their competitive friendships and everything about the series makes me remember how it feels to be fifteen or sixteen at the early end of a new decade, how it feels to feel too much.
Haikyuu uses the language of devotion. A setter devoted to their spiker; a player devoted to their teammates; and me, the viewer, devoted to all of them. The men in my family love sports, they are devoted to their teams with Michigan roots—sports fandom, a nationalism I never had the taste for, gendered in a way that never made me need to think about it twice, and a body that could not withstand that much physical activity anyway. Here, though, I get it. Sport is a stand-in for self-betterment—the circumstances of our world can be flattened, and everything can be volleyball.
And so, for weeks, volleyball is everything. It still is. It is August, again. I am lonelier still, impossibly more than the year before. I am lonely. I am searching for something to be devoted to, and Haikyuu is everything.
Hinata, more than any character I’ve encountered, wants. In classic shonen protagonist fashion, he inspires each person he encounters. He activates their competitive nature, yes, but it’s more tender than that–rather than bitter competition, his presence removes whatever barriers keep them from showing their want, from giving their all. This want—to win, to be on the court, to play is palpable; everyone’s devotions are analyzed. If the desire to be on the court is not felt unabashedly, other characters help each other get over whatever it is that’s holding them back. Nearly every character has an other half, someone who complements his playing and gets him to be at 120%. These relationships range from funny to cosmic-destiny-guiding-romantic.
During my favorite arc, in which several of the schools come together for a training camp, a third-year tells an apathetic first-year that volleyball became fun after he got good at it. Part of this sentiment bothered me—I definitely have fun doing things I’m bad at! I enjoy painting, playing ukulele, etc—but these are not things I am in love with. These activities are stagnant; my watercolors will always turn to mud, I will always need to look up the E chord tab. But what am I devoted to? The third-year says when he mastered a different type of spike, everything clicked. “It all depends on if you have that moment or not,” reads the subtitle as the scene flashes back to him facing his setter, loud with joy. The moment, here, feels akin to one of my favorite tropes in romantic comedies: realization. The word oh, with a look of understanding resulting in happily-ever-after. In Haikyuu, the falling-into-place wins the match. That is love, too. Fulfillment, I realize, is part of devotion.
Yuri! On Ice results in marriage. SK8 and Haikyuu end with fist-bumps. Am I wrong to say these are all the same thing? Devotion to the sport, to your team, is all-consuming. It is life-changing and it is life-bettering. Growth comes from taking risks, and in that growth, there is joy. Why wouldn’t the person who pushes you to that limit, who creates new ones for you, be the love of your life? What is more romantic than that? In these stories, that growth is two-fold; you grow into your identity as a skater or as a player, and you grow into your identity as a team or as a partner. There is no character kept from this opportunity. Everyone is allowed their want, their devotion. With Haikyuu, my fixations finally make sense; sports anime as escapism is not fun just because characters pull off stunts I could never dream of, but because nothing can hold them back–not even themselves.
I think I understand the gap between obsession and devotion, then. Obsession is intrusive, a misshapen puzzle piece that my world crookedly rebuilds itself around, and so long I have been recreated by those that I’ve loved—platonically, romantically, abstractly. With each new love there is something new in me, a reset. Episode after episode of Haikyuu, I remember each piece of myself that I’ve abandoned as I’ve lost love, or each part that has shattered. I am always new or repaired but never improved. I want to be fulfilled. I blaze through the Haikyuu manga in a week, anxious to see what comes of the characters I’ve fallen for so viscerally. I need to know where they allowed their devotion to take them. I hope it will drive me to do the same.
We Are More is an inclusive space for SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) and SWANA diaspora writers to tell our stories, our way. Curated by Michelle Zamanian, this new column seeks to disrupt the media’s negative and stereotypical narratives by creating a consistent platform to be heard, outside of and beyond the waxing and waning interest of the news cycle. We’ll publish creative nonfiction, graphic essays, fiction, poetry, and interviews by SWANA writers on a wide variety of subject matter.