Anime of You
“Neil...you gonna hang around the Dealer’s Room and stuff?”
Mayu poked me in the arm with her plush star.
“Yeah, I was thinking about a panel, but I don’t want to miss the cosplay competition.” I gave her a smile.
With focused eyes, Mayu pointed her star. “You better not…for I will kiiiilll you…and then use my spell to resurrect you, only with cat ears.”
I grinned back and reassured her, “I’ll be there.”
Mayu had been working on her costume for this convention for many weeks. She dyed her black hair just the right shade of red. She even dyed her sneakers.
She stretched her arms. She’d had butterflies all morning since dressing.
I reminded her she looked awesome in the glossy, clingy pink dress of her character and she stuck her tongue out at me.
I didn’t tell her that in my morning haze I’d completely forgotten the name of her character and which JRPG she was from.
I did say, “You want me to get you anything?” She shook her head and stared down the hallway to the cosplay judging area.
We parted with smiles. I shifted my tan messenger bag onto my shoulder and peered into the Dealer’s Room.
It wasn’t my first anime convention nor my first one with Mayu, but this one was a good ways from the usual conventions I attended.
I idly browsed the vendors. I passed by the bootleggers first. My eyes glossed over the oodles of soundtracks that I knew were Korean copies. I paused on the key-chains.
Despite what she said, I wanted to get Mayu something. I eventually picked up a little plush of a mascot character from a show she liked. She could chew me out for doing that later.
The tables blurred together after that. There were some nice items, but nothing really drew my attention.
Then, I noticed a little curtained area off to the side. The sign was simple and said “Anime of You – drawn as you wait”.
I raised an eyebrow. It sounded fun, but I knew those things were never cheap.
I walked over and noticed a guy coming out from behind the curtain with a bit of art clutched to himself. The paper looked nice. But the guy was wearing an amazing cosplay.
He had like a military special forces black sneaking suit on with authentic-looking gear and a body strap and everything. He didn’t have the attitude down though. He kinda shuffled along with a blush. I glanced over his shoulder and noticed the art was really good, but it was of a regular-looking girl with glasses.
Didn’t expect that, but the drawing did look really nice.
A woman with long, black hair leaned an arm through the curtain and beckoned me to enter. The inside was simple. There were countless art supplies all over and an easel with blank sheets of paper. She gestured for me to sit in a chair opposite the easel. I set my bag beside me.
The woman was short and wore a flowing, black dress. Her hair was magnificent and seemed so perfect. She almost looked to be in cosplay herself.
She smiled gently and told me, “First off, while it doesn’t say it on the sign, I make drawings of people as anime…but of the opposite gender. If you’re not interested, there’s a lovely artist out in the hall who does very nice work.”
My eyes widened. Well, that explained the man with a drawing of a girl. I felt some of his blush as I faced the silence and tried to find what to say in response.
“Eight dollars for one, full-body and full-color. Four dollars more for each.”
I thought I’d misheard her. I would’ve gladly paid several times that for something like the image I’d glimpsed.
Logic told me to give one a try to see how good it was. But I immediately heard myself saying, “Three.”
I paid upfront. I had about twenty or thirty bucks to spare when all expenses for the weekend were taken into consideration.
I sat up and asked her if she needed me to do anything.
She shook her head, sending waves through her long hair. “I already have a picture in my mind. I just need you to tell me the details. What would you like to be wearing for the first one?”
I felt a butterfly circle around my stomach at the idea of her asking me that. Her voice was very calm though and the butterfly soon settled. I still felt hot in my cheeks as I tried to imagine myself as a girl.
I spoke haltingly and softly.
The woman watched me as I said, “Just like I’m dressed…only…more like a girl?”
She nodded back to me, gave me one last look, and then went to work.
As soon as she started, dozens of better ideas culled from anime girls and outfits I liked flooded my head. I sighed but reminded myself I had two more left to experiment.
I looked down. I hadn’t even dressed that nicely. My hair, a brownish mop, was well-tended. But I had on my lime-and-green striped t-shirt with Japanese characters on the side and a mud stain on the back.
At least my gray-denim shorts were decent. I put my blue sneakers together and took a breath.
The woman worked quickly with paint almost flying across the room. Her body covered her work, so I just cracked my knuckles and checked to make sure the plushie was put away in my messenger bag.
Before I knew it, she said, “Done. Check it out.”
My eyes widened in shock. She had created, in mere minutes, what looked more like a cel of expertly-crafted anime than something I expected to get for eight bucks.
She had drawn an anime version of me…only as a girl.
It was my face, only my…her nose looked a little different. Her features were the same, yet the whole context changed them. I was seeing my own eyes and attributes and, for some reason, they looked really pretty.
Her hair was a little longer. Her version of my shirt had shorter sleeves. And her arms were narrow and soft coming out of those sleeves.
And her breasts. The idea of seeing those contours on a form meant to be me just blew my mind. I had no sense for size, though she looked a good deal larger than Mayu but a little smaller than my mom.
Her fingers clutched my messenger bag. It was a lighter, lime-green in the image. And, instead of my pants, she had a denim skirt that ended at the knee.
Her legs were together in a girlish fashion and she had really cute flip-flops instead of my sneakers.
The woman waved her hand in front of the image and asked, “Do you like it?”
I was dumbstruck, which made her smile. She noted, “The magic really starts when it dries. Here, let me put it aside for now and we can start on the next one.”
I fanned my shirt a little to clear the sticky sweat. She asked me if I wanted anything special for this one.
For some reason, I thought back to Mayu and her close-fitting dress. And that led me to a bodysuit on a girl in a sci-fi/metaphysical mecha anime I liked. But I didn’t want to just copy it.
I thought through it and changed some details. I made the outfit blue with black. I also had her keep my hair length the same but make it redder.
Amazingly, she only needed a few words from me to get it right. Even quicker than the previous one, she had a character standing in a bodysuit up to her neck. And, again, she had my features.
I marveled at the gloss of the bodysuit. I admired the details on the zipper she’d given her. I shook my head in wonder at the tapering of her figure. Her hips were beautiful and flowed in the close-fitting outfit. Her fingers were so detailed in the suit and her boots were incredible.
My mind was torn between seeing a cute girl and the presence of myself put into the image. I wasn’t a small, feminine girl in a form-fitting body-suit, and, yet, I could believe it with the image this woman had created.
For the last image, I put together what was left of my blown-away mind and told her I’d give a school uniform girl a try. It was as far from ‘me’ as possible, but I knew she’d be able to pull it off. I also asked for much longer hair in this one.
It seemed as soon as I had spoken, she was done. I looked into a girl with my brownish eyes and a long, reddish version of my hair. I saw how she smiled with my face. I could imagine myself wearing the white, short-sleeved blouse with a blue ribbon at the neck.
I could imagine wearing the flowing, gray skirt at her legs. I could imagine being clad in her silvery stockings. I could see myself putting my arms at my sides, just like her.
I could even imagine the shape of her bust, which appeared a smidge bigger than in the previous two.
And then, for an instant, I swore I could feel her hair on my shoulder.
I blinked and fidgeted in the chair. The feeling vanished like waking from a dream. The woman smiled to herself, put all the images together, and offered me special sleeves to keep them protected.
She noted, “The first one should be almost dry, but I recommend you wait around thirty minutes for everything to set…and then thirty minutes between viewings. They should be water-resistant and the paper is very special, so don’t worry about creasing it.”
I tucked the images away in a side pouch in my bag and nodded back. I had no idea what she meant by ‘viewings’, but I promised to take good care of them. She smiled and waved goodbye.
I slipped out of the tent with everything and checked my watch. I cursed to myself and rushed over to the cosplay competition.
I made it in time to cheer Mayu on, but she didn’t make it far.
I used the plushie as consolation. She gave me a little look but hugged it with a sigh.
“And I worked so hard this year. Did you have a fun time?”
I nodded right away and told her, “I got some anime renderings of me…only…uh…uh…”
She widened her eyes.
“…they were cheap. Less than twenty for three professional works”, I finally finished, feeling a little hot in the face.
Mayu didn’t let my stammer go. She urged, “Only what?”
I blurted it out quickly. Mayu smiled and said, “Oooo…cuuuute. I may have to find this place and get a couple of man-me.”
We had a little snack and watched an OVA showing in one of the side rooms.
After that, Mayu wanted to change back into her regular clothes in her room. I went back to my room because I knew it had been more than thirty minutes and I just had to see the images again.
I didn’t even slip my sweaty shoes off when I got inside. I just sat right on my bed and opened my bag.
The images were sitting right there in their special sleeves. I took the top one.
I could tell by the bit of blue sandals peeking out that it was the first, basic version she had done.
I slipped off the sleeve and looked down at the image. It was even more amazing than I remembered. She was right. All the details had become sharper with drying. I could make out fine details on the skirt. Everything seemed to pop, as though she was ready to jump right off the page.
I felt flush and focused on the image. Then, something shifted.
There was a strange smell rising up like lavender and something else flowery and soft that I couldn’t explain. My hair felt denser. It suddenly covered my ears, but my attention was all on the image.
And it was then I noticed that I wasn’t looking down at the image of a girl. I was looking down at an anime drawing of myself. My short hair, my smile, and my shirt with a bit of a mud stain just showing from behind.
I lowered the image and looked towards my chest, at contours I never expected to see on my body.
An instant later, I felt a bra around them. I could even see the outline of it through my shirt. My shorts were a skirt to the knee. I didn’t look all the way down, but I could feel I was wearing flip-flops on my feet.
Quivering and shivering, which only served to remind me of all the differences with my body, I set the image aside with the ones I hadn’t uncovered and stood up from the bed. The lavender and flowery scent traveled with me. I tried to breathe as I approached the wall mirror beside the TV. I knew I’d lost a few inches in height.
The image in the mirror looked like the anime image as flesh and bone. The colors were realistic and human but there was still a strangeness to her.
The image had my face…only a different nose. My eyes…but prettier. My hair…but longer. My clothes…but different. My body…but a girl looked back at me.
My legs were together like in the image. I could feel I wasn’t a boy anymore…in any respect. Her and my lips trembled. And I felt a wave of nausea.
I bolted to the bathroom with the flip-flops clapping with each step. Head in the sink, I coughed over and over. My stomach gurgled. I kept coughing.
After what felt like a long time, I slowly turned on the faucet and cupped some water to my mouth with hands that were not quite my hands. I leaned back and there, looking back at me in the mirror with every bit of my fear and surprise, was the girl.
We both reached over for a towel to wipe our mouths. We bit into the towel and held it there. I looked over at the girl in the mirror and she looked right back at me in that same instant.
Miming each other, we braced ourselves on the counter with a towel in our mouths, trying to hold back our stomach.
Out of my left ear, I heard a little knock on the door. I could hear Mayu’s voice through it.
She said, “Heather? Are you there? Can I come in for a minute?”
Setting the towel back down, I pressed my lips together. I tried to tell myself that I had merely misheard my name through the door. After a few breaths, I unlocked the door and managed to pull it open.
Mayu stood there in jeans and an orange t-shirt with a “>_<” emoticon on it. She gave a little wave and walked around me. “It’s soo much better to be out of that. I was sweating like a pig. So, where is it?”
Before I could answer, she leaped over to my bed and picked up the image I’d just set down. She laughed and smiled. “Not bad. You look like you’d really make a cute boy. I need to get one too…and aaaare these the others??”
She picked up the other two and shuffled through them. I approached slowly and she made a little “ooo” and said, “You got some sexy man ones.”
Knowing what happened the last time I looked at the anime image, I squinted as she turned the papers around. She put them back and clapped her hands to her legs. “Cute renderings. Shame you’re not a boy to pull them off. Welll…maybe with a little binding, at least, and some shoulder padding...”
Or, I thought to myself, I could just look at the images. A light bulb came on.
I leaped at the first male image of me and stared at it closely, just as closely as I had when I changed.
Nothing happened. I waited as long as before but for nothing.
Mayu leaned over me and asked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
I noticed my legs were trembling. The paper slipped back onto the bed.
I shuffled over in my flip-flops and settled onto the bed beside her.
Mayu put a hand on my hand. She looked me right in the eye.
I didn’t want to lie to her and I still really wanted to hurl. I rocked my legs and Mayu squeezed my hand.
I looked her right back in the eye and told her, “My name is Neil. I turned into a girl…”
Mayu gazed with quiet bewilderment as I continued, “I looked into that image you saw. It was a girl before. And I was a boy before.”
I braced myself for more confusion. Mayu shook her head and asked, “Are you okay, Heather? I mean it’s cool art, but it’s just an image.”
I shook my head and tried to swallow. “It’s more than that. Something happened to me…and maybe more than just me.” I looked at her.
Mayu grimaced and squinted at me. “I don’t know a 'Neil'. I know you. Your name is Heather and we’ve been best friends for ages.”
I panted and shook my head again. I told Mayu to look in my messenger bag. It was lime green like in the image. I had a feeling in my wobbly stomach that any form of identification would be changed.
I had a little purse near the bottom of the bag. Old photos of Mayu and Heather were in it. Pictures of my family grinning beside their smiling daughter were there.
Everything of Neil’s…of mine…was gone.