Living the waifu laifu: an interview with Brian Alford

For Decent Company February: LUST, Brian Alford will be performing Me And My Shadow, a play about a man with a very unusual relationship. Brian sat down with Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman to talk about his inspiration for the show, the danger of storytelling, and why we might all have more in common with waifu-ists than we think.

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JOSH BOERMAN: So tell me a little bit about why you wrote a play about a man who is in love with an anime character.

BRIAN ALFORD: You know, someone else might have to explain that long after I’m dead. (LAUGHS) It’s something that I’ve just been so obsessed with as of late. It’s like this weird meta-obsession, right? It’s like an obsession with people who are obsessed with things. And I’ve just been following these people around online, seeing what they’re doing, these people. There’s this whole community of people online who say that they are in these committed marriage relationships with fictional characters.

JB: How long have you been following this?

BA: I mean I’ve known about it for a while, but I haven’t really in earnest been looking at all this stuff until about a year, or a year and a half ago. I stumbled across a forum on Reddit for people who are, as they call themselves, waifu-ists.

JB: What does being a waifu-ist entail, exactly?

BA: So being a waifu-ist means being in a usually monogamous relationship with a character, typically from anime. Sometimes there’s other stuff that bleeds in there, like live action. Usually it’s Japanese or Korean; sometimes it’s, like, My Little Pony. Undertale, the video game that just game out, is a big target for these types. That one’s more for, like, the queer waifu-ists because of how queer-accepting Undertale is.

JB: So there’s, like, a spectrum? (LAUGHS) You’ve got your heteronormative waifu-ists as well as your queer waifu-ists and everything in between?

BA: Yeah. And the queer thing is definitely very small. I mean, this whole thing is probably very, very small. But overwhelmingly, there is not only the very heteronormative waifu-ism, which is what I’m fascinated by. How the extremes of the patriarchy and those things wind up getting expressed in waifu-ism. Even though the queer waifus stand as kind of a counterpoint to my own idea of what waifu-ism comes from. I’m just gonna ignore them for now. (LAUGHS)

And it’s very puritanical. In a lot of cases there’s a sexual component to it. Hentai, pornographic anime, it’s been around for a long time. I mean, pornography in its original form is just drawings on quarry walls and papyrus and shit like that. So that’s normal. It’s just, like, a human reaction. It’s just sexuality expressing itself.

JB: But these people are falling in love with animated characters.

BA: Yes. In many, many cases—I would hazard to say most cases—it’s actually minimally sexual, if sexual at all. People are getting married to these characters. And in the sort of weird system of morality that they have in these communities, the idea of approaching their waifu with any sort of sexual intent would be wrong, and desecrating and destroying this innocence that they’ve attached themselves to.

And it sounds sort of like Lolita there, but it’s also not just children, although that of course happens because of animated porn being what it is. It’s a lot of technically adult characters and actually adult characters. And so, yeah. They just consider themselves to be in love with someone else who, by their terms, just happens to be two-dimensional.

JB: But many of them go beyond simply falling in love. Many of them, there is a sexual component to it as well, right?

BA: Yes. There is a sexual component. So it’s a pretty common thing. It’s sort of twisted, and sort of the Americanization of the word, but the word dakimakura, which I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly or not, it’s a body pillow. And a lot of people sleep with body pillows for ergonomic, therapeutic purposes, or just because it’s comfortable.

But you can buy these slip covers for these dakimakura that are an anime character. Oftentimes, it’ll be like them in sort of their standard garb on one side of the pillowcase, and then you can flip it over and then they’re naked or almost naked or something like that. There are people who have plush My Little Pony dolls that they’ve fitted Fleshlights into or something like that. (LAUGHS)

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JB: That’s horrifying. (LAUGHS)

BA: Yeah. And there’s a big community, like people on deviantART and Newgrounds and things like that, who will make drawings, Flash animations, who are being commissioned. And I have to wonder where all this money is coming from. A lot of artists get these commissions from people who are like, “Hey, draw my waifu,” or “draw my waifu naked,” or “animate my waifu getting fucked.”

JB: But I remember an instance of that where there was a man who was a very big fan of My Little Pony who took extreme umbrage to the fact that somebody was commissioning erotic drawings of his My Little Pony preferred character. So, like, how often does jealousy factor in? Because jealousy factors into your show quite a bit.

BA: And that’s the thing that I’ve been most attached to. Whenever I come across something that horrifies me, just chills me to the bone, the reason why it becomes an obsessive thing for me is because I’m just trying to understand how someone could get to this point in their own mind where they take the actions that they take, or they think the things that they think. Because it’s so completely different than any way that my brain works at all.

I approach this subject, and one of the things that I keep seeing over and over again is this Puritanism. Like, if someone is to get greedy and they like to have more than one waifu, that’s really frowned upon. There’s a saying, and it usually comes with, like, a GIF of some anime teenage girl jumping up and down that says “only one waifu for your laifu.”

JB: So polygamy is unacceptable?

BA: Yeah, it’s a big no-no in that community, even these people who are at the total fringe of any form of sexuality. It’s so strange, but they’re very, very judgmental. And so yeah, anyone who has more than one waifu is an asshole. You know, they see it the same as having a relationship with more than one person in real life, which of course can be totally fine in real life as long as communication channels and blah blah blah, read Dan Savage. (LAUGHS)

And so on the flip side of that, because it’s a fictional character who doesn’t exist in one place at any given time, more than one person can fall in love with the same character.

JB: Right.

BA: For some people, that’s a benefit, because then they will get more art online. If they fall in love with that character, they will come across more. And again, a lot of this isn’t nude or sexualized art, it’s just art of them smiling or crying or looking angry, or just anything. (LAUGHS) Usually smiling, these people don’t really like to see their characters upset a lot of the time. Some of them do, ’cause— for some reason.

So they don’t seem to recognize that double-edged aspect to it. They only see, “Someone else is in love with my waifu, that’s not possible because she’s married to me. She’s with me. How could she possibly be with him?” And it’s like, “Well, because she’s not with you, she’s not with him, she’s not with anyone.”

But they see it as— I can’t even say that they have a thought that it’s them cheating on them, which is what my play is about. It’s usually like, “This guy is acting out his sexual impulses on my woman.”

JB: But ultimately that’s what they’re all doing. They’re all acting out their sexual— it comes down to lust at the end of the day, right?

BA: Right. It is lust. It’s some form of sexuality that doesn’t necessarily involve the genitals. It’s this romanticism without any true, real attraction. Because a relationship is not something that you have. It’s not this thing that exists as, like, a thread between two people.

It’s something two people have to come together and build. A relationship is like art, right? And so a lot of these people are just frustrated that they haven’t been able to approach their art with the same thesis as, like, another person. You know, or they’re not telling the same story if they’re in a relationship with another person.

And a lot of these people have been in relationships in the past, and have sort of sworn them off, and sort of gone for this other thing. Some of them are just, like, kids, teenagers who, I dunno. They’re like deer or something. Yearlings. And they just imprint on whatever is nearest to them. (LAUGHS)

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JB: Well, it’s interesting to me, too, that you say “story,” because to me it seems like a lot of this is about creating stories. It’s about creating narratives. It’s about creating a world in which the person is exclusive with their waifu, right?

BA: Yeah. And so it’s like they’re having this life with this person, and I wish I could get a hold of one of these. I need to just, like, start contacting people. Because people will write in these little journals. They have waifu journals, these little actual paper and pen journals that people will write in.

And I don’t quite know exactly what’s happening, because I recently came across a forum post where someone was talking about what they call “head canon.” Where it’s like, you know, when you approach a story, and it’s sort of your theories attached to that own story. And then that expands out to things like fan fiction and things like that.

And someone was like, “Oh, I’m playing— I’m sort of doing head canon things with my waifu. I’m making up stories that she is living out with me.” And everyone jumped on him. Everyone was like, “No, that’s kind of a dangerous thing to do, because then your waifu is what you make her out (LAUGHS) to be instead of this actual person that you devote your time and your life to.”

Which, that’s what all of them are doing, but again, I’m still not quite there. I’m not seeing exactly what they’re seeing there, in saying that somehow making up stories, which is what they’re doing in a sense by making up a story of this character existing and breathing and being with them in a relationship. It’s still an enormous question mark for me. (LAUGHS)

It does connect to things that people do in real life, though. And that’s the thing that made me think, “Oh, I could write something about this,” connecting it to the real world, because people do this with real relationships. They approach another flesh and blood human being as though they’re just a person to imprint on. And the relationship between them is just a thing that ties them together, as opposed to a thing that they build together.

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JB: And that gets in the way of real intimacy, in your opinion?

BA: Yeah. And that is the most disastrous thing in romance, and intimacy, and sexuality, and lust and all of that. It’s like sexuality, lust, love, relationship, that’s all fine as long as you know when each thing is what it is, and how they interact.

But people, myself included, will jump into these things, and the entire relationship is really just them, like, bouncing themselves off of a wall with another person between them. I recently went and watched Anomalisa last week, and that’s exactly what Charlie Kaufman is saying in that movie too. He’s not using waifu-ism as his counterpoint; he’s using a form of delusional thought as sort of his starting point for that.

So the same thing is presented, but in a much more horrifying, confusing, dark and hopefully hilarious way in Me And My Shadow, in this piece. It’s definitely a piece with a couple of very odd moods attached to it. But it’s all approaching this theme of, how is it that we can have these fictional relationships in our lives? Because we’re all having them at some point. Or we all have had them, or we all will have something.

And it even extends outside of lust and romance. It can be just friendships where you’re like, “Oh, this person is my friend,” and then you realize, “No, they’re not my friend.” Something like that. We have relationships with fictional characters all the time, it’s just sometimes we put them in the brains of real human beings.

JB: And other times we put them in the brains of animated characters. (LAUGHS)

BA: Yes. Yeah. (LAUGHS) Yeah.

To buy tickets for Decent Company February: LUST, click here.

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