The river of forgetfulness
I go by Lethe online. My haunts these days include the following, though I mostly use them to keep track of things I am into, rather than to communicate:
My interests have largely remained the same since childhood: manga (among my most prized belongings is my manga collection), video games (mainly JRPGs and visual novels), reading and writing, whether it's abstract journal entries, fandom musings or analyses. Nothing makes me feel as enriched as digging up information, analyses, interpretations and critical evaluations on things that I love, which is also why I have a particular fondness for multi-layered works of fiction. I approach everything that I consume with the intention to express my thoughts on it in words, as I believe that it is my writing and the matters that I care about that truly show who I am as a person. To me, shrines are where all these things converge.
Fansites and shrines are very dear to me, and in retrospect, it's hard to believe how much I owe to them. While it was a combination of anime schools, graphic sites, online TCGs, anime lyrics and Magical Girl websites within the German community around 2002 that encouraged me to make my own websites, it's English shrines and fanlistings that motivated me to properly learn and refine my English so that I could take part in all of it, and communicate my thoughts to an international community.
Long before I knew the language and before it was finally taught in eighth grade, I would spend my days admiring those fan tributes. Back then, their nature was slightly different: In the absence of social media and Wikis, they were the go-to places for information on anime/manga and video game subjects, and an effective way to find and connect with fellow fans. Later on, I'd enjoy browsing memorable character quotes, which led to my obsession with knowing the exact wording of any given sentence in the official English release for the sake of international recognizability. Eventually, I made a big step by starting to read scanlations, watching anime with subtitles, playing console RPGs, browsing Wikis and reading entire character shrines in English. When parents of young students ask me about my language acquisition now, I can only tell them that being passionate about something and setting goals for yourself mean more than anything.
But shrines didn't just make me polish a foreign language – even before that, they made me realize that you can give shape to your passions, and convey the intensity of that passion to others. They made me think about the things I consumed, as I would ask myself how I'd present any particular subject to someone else. And, perhaps most importantly, they made me see that there was an audience for that – like-minded people who are so invested in fictional characters that they'd dedicate an entire website and a great amount of words to these characters. I have always had trouble connecting with others due to these interests only ever being mentioned in passing, conversations ending after a brief "yeah, I like that thing", rather than a thorough discussion about particular elements of the subject. I knew that that was no way for me to communicate: Those things mean the world to me, and to speak about them that fleetingly hurts me. It took fansites for my younger self to understand that it didn't have to be like that.
Though I never stopped making websites (thanks to online TCGs), it took me until 2012 to finally start shrining – long after my school years. I was held back by the belief that my language wasn't good enough yet to finally enter the world I had always watched from afar and wanted to be part of. I wish I had started sooner – for the memories, and for the people whose works I admired but who I can no longer meet. Times have changed, and no longer do fans get into website-making in their early teens as their primary means to connect with others.
But I, too, am a changed person, and what I bring to shrines these days surely aren't the things I would have brought to them had I made any shrines in my teens. Take the following example: Although I am still obsessed with memorable quotes and their exact phrasing in any given language, and still prefer to consume Japanese media in English rather than German whenever possible – despite German being the one language I truly love and identify with – I have become interested in translation comparison over the years. I suppose you could also call it a natural consequence. So when I make shrines now, I don't prize the English wording above everything; instead, I am able to see what I can bring to the international community by comparing the English with the German (and sometimes French) translation. It's... funny when I think about it that way, given how obsessively I pursued English and consumed things in that language with the sole purpose to adhere to the English wording. It's a very melancholic feeling, realizing and understanding what was "lost" and what has been gained.
It took another three years for me to return to the community in 2015 after my first shrine, and for me to fully immerse myself in the hobby. I'm fortunate that new shrines were still being made by the time I decided I was ready, despite shrining having seemingly gone out of fashion. I owe a lot to fandom and all the wonderful creative minds, the shrining community in particular, and I am so happy to have reached the point where I can be an active part in all of it. Because if there's one thing that I know, it's that this is what I've always wanted to do. ❤
Connecting with others aside, you may ask yourself why it is that I spend so much time thinking and writing about fictional characters, and why it is that I still wanted to get into shrining even though by the time I joined the community, there already were plenty of other outlets to strike up conversations with others and to speak of your love.
Shrining is, to me, not just the conveying of information or the sharing of your interests – it's self-expression: It's a reflection of how you consume media and process information, the questions you pose and the things you consider worth pondering about. It's a constant thirst to know all there is about a subject, the continuous quest to understand something that you love even better, and the willingness to devote your time to dissecting that thing. And of course you can't know all there is to know, because, as static of a thing your subject may be, opinions and interpretations of it change, and what you perceive and understand is what you draw from your own person: The you that loves a subject today isn't the exact same you that loves that same subject tomorrow, because you, as a person, never stop growing. Ultimately, what you see in a subject and how you feel about it is a reflection of yourself.
I'm not fond of photographs because they say very little about the person I am; shrines are to me what photographs are to many others: a snapshot of myself at a certain point in my life, conveyed through my feelings for a subject during that time. What were the things that I liked, what were my thoughts on them, and how did they come to be? What did the subjects say about myself, how did I relate to them, and why was it that they meant so much to me? Making a shrine means delving into a subject for a prolonged time, and when you're finished, you can only hope that you've understood not just the subject much better than before, but also yourself – because, without doubt, something of you will have bled into the shrine. Making a shrine means making your present feelings, however fleeting, eternal.
Shrines may be in part a retelling and an interpretation of a subject, but they, too, are something personal: a piece of art, with many elements coming together to form any given shrine, the most important of which is love. Art is something that reaches many people, capable of making even the loneliest of them feel connected. During my darkest years, it was in art, more than anything else, that I found my solace: It was in songs and fiction, especially in manga and video game characters, that I found something I could relate to and see myself in. It was them that I could love, back when I couldn't love myself. But if I acknowledged the flaws of the fictional characters I liked, and could see someone worth loving, shouldn't I be able to muster up some love for myself?
I've escaped from that darkness since, but I haven't entirely left it behind. At times, I still find it very difficult to love myself. But just as I still carry some of that darkness with me, so have those stories and characters stayed with me – and in them, there's darkness and love both. Shrining, to me, is a continuation of said love.
As mentioned above, I am constantly analyzing things, wondering whether I may turn what I am consuming into a shrine. When I think or write about characters, whether in anticipation of a shrine, while working on a shrine or for something else, I enjoy examining their flaws the most: how they perceive themselves, how they deal with those flaws, how their flaws manifest, and how those flaws allow them to reach out to others and to grow. I see misunderstood and pathetic characters who mess up time and again, their actions drawing scorn and irritation from the audience, and I reflect on my past and present selves. I may not be able to make those characters likeable, make myself admirable, but in writing and in shrining, I can explain – and perhaps through explaining, there will be more understanding for such characters and persons.
Reflecting on fictional characters, especially the "thoroughly" flawed ones, means coming face to face with yourself, and understanding them means acknowledging your own growth. There are many different kinds of weakness, but so are there many different kinds of strength. I may not have been able to shed all the self-loathing, I may have difficulty loving myself, but by writing about loneliness, ugliness, depression, weaknesses and understanding, I carve something good out of my past darkness, acknowledging that it, too, has become something that allows me to understand others. In writing, I am able to transmute the ugliness, and turn it into something beautiful, something worth loving – because it had always been worthy, just as I have always been worthy.