The New York Times magazine has an interesting story this week by Lisa Katayama on what is described as a "thriving subculture" whereby comic book fans publicly date fictional characters, printed on a 2-D surface such as a pillowcase, which they carry around on dates, vacations, shopping and basically anywhere they go. The story centers on one comic fanatic in particular, referred to simply as Nisan, who has for three years dated Nemutan, a character from an x-rated computer game (printed on a pillowcase). From the Times:
Nisan is part of a thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters. These 2-D lovers, as they are called, are a subset of otaku culture-- the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, manga and video games in Japan in the last decade. It's impossible to say exactly what portion of otaku are 2-D lovers, because the distinction between the two can be blurry. Like most otaku, the majority of 2-D lovers go to work, pay rent, hang out with friends (some are even married). Unlike most otaku, though, they have real romantic feelings for their toys. The less extreme might have a hidden collection of figurines based on anime characters that they go on "dates" with during off hours. A more serious 2-D lover, like Nisan, actually believes that a lumpy pillow with a drawing of a prepubescent anime character on it is his girlfriend.
... In Japan the fetishistic love for two-dimensional characters is enough of a phenomenon to have earned its own slang word, moe, homonymous with the Japanese words for "burning" or "budding." In an ideal moe relationship, a man frees himself from the expectations of an ordinary human relationship and expresses his passion for a chosen character, without fear of being judged or rejected.
Read the full story here.