The thing about having a celebrity crush is that it’s supposed to be exactly that: a celebrity crush. You’re supposed to admire them from afar, swoon over their pictures, fantasize about the day you meet them—but the distance remains. Growing up, I resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a close encounter with the likes of Kirsten Dunst, or Natalie Portman, or Jennifer Love Hewitt (y’know, back in their hawt loli days), because I was HERE and America was over THERE. And then when I finally moved IN AMERICA, I was so disappointed to find out that Hollywood is only one place out of bajillions and that the average American person you meet on the street is not Kirsten Dunst, what the hell.
And then, irony of ironies, I got interested in Japanese celebs, which just made it worse because now I was IN AMERICA and Japan was over THERE.
The solution? Bring Japan over HERE.
A Modest Proposal
I suppose if you want to know how my Interview of Destiny went you can always read the hyperventilating report that I typed up in the heat of the moment. For the record, I’d like to say that I don’t consider myself a “lucky bastard.” I do consider myself a bastard, but that wasn’t luck. That was years of hard work, immersing myself in Japan’s entertainment world, participating in the English-speaking community both as a fan and as a writer, and finally coming together in a moment where I achieved a young man’s dream. Pierce the heavens, who the hell do you think I am, etc. etc.
But the one thing I forgot to write about. The NYAF mini-live (which, at the time, I thought was pretty inconsequential). In the grand scheme of things, however, I now realize that it marks the very moment that I saw MY WIFE, in person, for the first time EVAR. Finding the AKB48/teamA/gachapin/ directory on Sion. Scrolling through her pictures even during the 18 months of silence. Tuning in to AKBingo! just to see her face. Watching Men*dol and questioning my sexuality. Flipping through the pages of South. It all came rushing forward to that point—at about 3 pm Eastern Time—when she ran onto the stage, ringlets of hair bouncing off her shoulders, belting an old, familiar tune that signified something NEW, something FRESH, something AMAZING:
Aitakatta! Aitakatta! Aitakatta! YES!!
I had to remind myself to look at the other girls every few minutes. But in the whirlwind excitement of that all-too-brief 20-minute performance, I knew there was one more thing that needed to be said. As the noise died down and the group started leaving the stage, I summoned up every cubic inch of my lung capacity and yelled:
MIICHAN!!! MARRY ME!!!
Several people in the audience turned around to see where the hell that had come from.
But true destiny, it turns out, was still over 24 hours away.
Some may find it hard to believe, but just like Minami Minegishi, I was 16 years old once. And I was also in a massively multiplayer music ensemble at the time. And we also went on a trip that, for many of us, was the defining moment of our youth.
When I was 16 years old, my high school marching band performed in the Pasadena Rose Parade.
The band was a group of about 180 members. We marched down Colorado Boulevard in front of thousands. The parade was broadcast on TV to millions. I suppose, technically, if you run the numbers, I beat AKB48.
It’s funny, I think, how paths of destiny can cross. And how, if any single moment in a person’s life were cut out, it could never, ever happen.
If my mother hadn’t given me piano lessons in 1986, inspiring a lifelong love of music.
If Mr. and Mrs. Minegishi hadn’t gotten married and had a lovely daughter in November of 1992.
If my college friends hadn’t suckered me into the world of animu and thereby ALL OF JAPANLAND.
If Yasushi Akimoto hadn’t thought, Well, this Hello! Project thing is pretty popular right now, but I frickin’ invented Onyanko Club, so I can copy everything H!P’s done and do it better.
If I hadn’t landed that freelance job in 2004 that could get me into all the major animu conventions.
If Minami Minegishi hadn’t passed the audition in 2005 to become a charter member of AKB48.
If I hadn’t found the “Gachapin” section of Sion in 2007.
If AKB48 management hadn’t decided that 2009 would be a pretty good time for WORLD DOMINATION.
If I hadn’t sat in that exact seat on the press-access balcony at Webster Hall in New York.
If Minami Minegishi hadn’t been walking across the press-access balcony, at that exact moment, to get to the dressing room, 5 minutes before AKB48′s debut performance IN AMERICA.
Delete any of these moments, and this love story never happens.
It is the one memory that I have been replaying over and over in my head the past month and a half. It would not be a lie to say that I think of it at least once everyday, knowing that it is something I always want to keep in my heart. If it had been a whole 20 minutes or one-and-a-half-hours or a full day with Miichan (like a certain lucky-ass video director), it’d probably be a messy blur of emotions, kinda like TEH INTERVIEW. If it had been with all the screaming fans in the audience who even waited for the girls to leave after the concert, I’d be just another face in the crowd. But instead, the memory remains pinpoint sharp because of what it is: a few stolen seconds, right before the defining moment of a young performer’s life, where a funny boy and a pretty girl share the words that will make this night last forever.
He sees her coming down the walkway. He can’t believe who it is.
She speeds past the press section, unaware of what is about to happen.
He summons up the courage, the weeks and months and years of affection for a dinosaur mascot lookalike, and calls out to her.
She turns around, surprised that anyone would recognize her in the crowd.
“Ganbatte ne!” He smiles and waves.
“Thank you!” She waves and smiles back, a smile that is usually given to the cameras, or to hundreds of fans from the distance of a stage, or to the next guy down the line at a handshake event, but tonight, it is a smile just for him, a smile that will remain his and his alone.
And then, just for a bonus round, she smiles and waves at him again coming back in the opposite direction.
Of all the Miichan merch I own—my copy of South, back issues of UpToBoy, other peripherally related AKB48 merchandise—and of all the Miichan merch I don’t own, like photocards, the Men*dol DVD Box Set, stuff you can buy of off charity auctions—there is nothing I treasure more than the memory of her smile.
The problem with love stories is that they all have endings, and then they never tell you what happens next. (Although in the case of Romeo and Juliet I’m pretty sure they stayed dead and buried, unless some lit-crit goon wants to write a parody like Romeo and Juliet and Zombies or something.) And I’d like to believe that, after the ending of this story, maybe Minami Minegishi faintly recalled that funny guy on the balcony of Webster Hall who wished her good luck right before the concert. Maybe she felt extra-inspired to perform that night, knowing that even IN AMERICA, in the shadows of the press-access balcony, there’s at least one guy who knows her face and her name. And maybe, just maybe, she realized it was me, hanging over the balcony during the second encore, waving my kerchief and lightstick for Hikoukigumo, catching her eye for just a few seconds before remembering she had to look at the rest of the audience.
As she crosses over to 17 years old today (although that was already yesterday in Japan time), I wonder what memories she will take with her. I think back on the Pasadena Rose Parade and realize that, as my 16-year-old self, I can scarcely remember what songs we played (Sousa’s “Rifle Regiment March” was one of them, I think?) yet I remember much of the goofing around with friends, the long-ass bus rides, the visiting of theme parks, and all these other experiences of youth that only happen once in your life. And I realize that it would be much the same for her.
So that’s my love story. A story built over a number of years, culminating in a few split seconds where paths crossed and two lives were changed forever. Miichan will go on to be a great entertainer. I’ll go on to be a great bastard. And I’ll know that dreams do come true, destinies can be fulfilled, and that if you show up in the right place at the right time, even a celebrity crush can become … reality.