Kaneki Ken and Company


My daughter Abby is passionate about reading, writing, drawing, singing, friendships, and “anime,” the Japanese style of television and film animation. To my untrained eye, anime appears to feature characters with absurdly big eyes and spiky hair, clothing and backdrops utilizing sharp, deeply contrasting colors, and futuristic settings or themes.

My direct personal experience with anime began and ended in the late 1960s with two cartoon series I occasionally watched (which aired on a small regional TV station in Chicago, a station we picked up intermittently when the weather was decent)—“Gigantor” and “Speed Racer.” I thought they were clunky and weird, though to this day both enjoy something of a cult following.

Abby, however, is borderline obsessed with several anime series (and their accompanying theme music), and watches them regularly on the computer. Many of her friends share this passion, and when they get together I often hear them prattling on about different shows, characters, and plotlines, much as my sisters did in bygone years regarding a mutually adored soap opera. I have no idea whom they’re referring to when they whisper about “Kaneki Ken” or “Haise Saseki” or “Rize Kamishiro.” but it’s clear they’re enthralled.

Whatever. It could be significantly worse. She could be consumed with any number of more troublesome or destructive pursuits. Indeed, early last week as Abby was (again) skyping one of her friends about one anime series or another I found myself shrugging and thinking, “Fine! Who cares what they’re yammering about as long as it keeps them off the streets and out of my hair?”

And that’s when they get you, those tricky teens and their coconspirator mothers, when you’re least expecting it, musing with pitiful satisfaction about how much worse things could be! For just moments after I silently uttered those self-centered, fateful words, as I was dusting off the “Father of the Year” trophy in the built in bookcase in our living room, someone pulled a Jedi mind trick on me. I can’t remember if it was Krista, Abby, or a joint venture, but she/they finagled me into taxiing our teenage daughter and two of her friends to a “cosplay” (short for “costume play”) event in downtown Dayton. As I say, the particulars a bit fuzzy…but I can still hear reverberating within my skull the dulcet-yet-evil tones of a female voice (or were there TWO female voices in unison?!?) softly crooning “you WILL drive three adolescent girls dressed in Manga costumes down to Dayton this Saturday afternoon….”

In any event, there I was Saturday around lunchtime, cruising south down SR 49 in my trusty Ford with three chatty young ladies in the backseat. They had transformed themselves from fairly typical adolescent girls into “Kaneki Ken,” “Juuzo”, and “Koro Sensei”, respectively. I wish I could explain who those characters are, but I can’t. I can, however, tell you that Abby and her friends used wigs, copious amounts of makeup, spray-on hair coloring, and fairly clever (which is to say, cost effective) costumes in the service of becoming these characters. (The evening before I caught Abby staring at me while we were eating dinner. She sighed and lamented, “Dad, I wish I had white eyebrows like you. It would be perfect for my cosplay tomorrow.”)

Every so often during our journey to the event venue I stole a peak in the rearview mirror to spy on my fares. They were giddy and loquacious and enthusiastic, and oblivious to the presence of the old dude in front, other than an occasional, gauzy awareness that he was taking them to their desired destination.

“So, like, Abby, isn’t this totally awesome? We’re going to a cosplay! And just hanging out in the backseat of a car and talking about stuff! It doesn’t get any better than this!” exclaimed one of Abby’s friends.

“Oh, definitely!” Abby chirped. “I’ve just been chilling back here and thinking, like, this is so cool! Today’s gotta be one of the best days of my life!”

I stifled the urge to inject both a little perspective and a smidgeon of proper grammar, and instead wondered to myself, “Good Lord. If this is one of the best days of Abby’s life what have we been subjecting her to for the past 13-plus years?!?”

Their conversation continued unabated by logic or social conventions or the need to inhale. It was a three-way topical volley that careened about pell-mell, clanging this way and that, the verbal equivalent of a hyperkinetic pin-ball machine that never registered “TILT” no matter what abuse you subjected it to. Current boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, favored, disfavored and even deceased teachers, foods, movies, and musical tastes were all fodder for their disjointed repartee. At certain points all three spoke at the same time, with none hearing the others, and they didn’t appear to care or even notice.

By the time we arrived downtown (and spent ten minutes looking for the event’s location—another story in itself, which for now will go untold) the girls were in full giggle/shriek/joy mode. They held nothing back. There used no filter. They unabashedly exclaimed, for instance, how hot so-and-so is, and detailed the sordid and embarrassing (or so I hope) things they would buy if they won the lottery.

“OHMYGOSH! YOUGUYS! We TOTALLY said all this stuff in front of your dad, Abby!”

Yes, totally.



“Don’t worry, girls,” I assured them. “Most of what happens in my car on the way to a cosplay, stays in my car on the way to a cosplay.”

They exhaled and appeared relieved. Then Abby’s eyes narrowed as a thought dawned, and she asked, “Most of??”

Virtue & Mischief: Kaneki Ken and Company

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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