Translated by Bonnie Elliot
"One day a shy otaku computer geek mentioned on the message forum how he had met a girl on a subway train."
This book is pretty weird, it’s also a little hard to describe, but it’s a book I really love and one that I’ve returned to several times across the years.
The book is the true story (or at least it’s probably a true story, nobody’s entirely sure…) of Train Man, an anonymous techie living in Tokyo who rescues a girl from a drunk on a Train. In an attempt to offer thanks for his bravery, the girl sends Train Man a set of Hermes tea cups as a thank you gift.
Train Man then turns to his friends online in the chatroom 2channel for advice on how to work up the courage to ask the girl (Hermes as she becomes known) out on a date.
This story of a geek coming out of his shell and gaining the confidence to finally get a girlfriend played out in real time on 2channel and this book is essentially the “best of” of those threads copied and pasted into a book.
The book is a series of forum posts and keeps to that formatting which each new post carrying the poster’s username and timestamp.
The only real difference this has to the original forum threads is that Train’s posts are highlighted in grey so it’s easy for the reader to pick out his parts of the conversation.
And that’s it….it’s a forum thread. Train asks for advice or gives an update on how his dates are going and the other Otakus in the thread post their replies.
What makes it such an interesting and heart warming read however is that…well…it’s a genuinely interesting and heart warming story. Train goes from being a shy twenty-something, porn mag obsessed virgin to a confident and romantic young man. As his grand adventure unfolds his posts in the threads become more confident. He takes initiative, makes his own decisions and moves on to the point where the advice of the Otakus isn’t really necessary and he’s only posting updates to keep them in the loop.
If it is indeed a true story, it’s the fairy tale ending that every geek dreams of, to finally find a partner who loves them despite their geeky hobbies and to gain the confidence to come out of their shell (and bedroom) and integrate with the rest of society.
With that in mind it’s no wonder the Train Man story has become so popular, producing not only this book but a movie, a TV series, several mangas and even a play. It’s a fairytale for the internet age and the fact that it’s true (possibly) only serves to make it all the more enchanting.
The book isn’t perfect though. Like I said, it’s literally a forum thread and so it reads like one. People later in the thread respond to posts from much earlier meaning you have to flip back through the pages to find the original comment. The language too, might be off putting and alienating for those not too versed in the terminology of these kinds of sites.
It’s also heavily editied, the original Train Man threads ran to over 22,000 posts but the book contains less than 2,000. While the majoirity of the excised posts are probably just words of congratulation, retreads of existing topics and general conversation that does nothing to further the “plot”, there are occasions where individual posts or tangents are referred to but can’t be found in the book which can make the story a little hard to follow at times.
There’s also a few issues with the translation, where the translator has added in a few British colloquialisms which feel really out of place amongst all the references to Japanese culture. I assume these take the place of similar Japanese colloquialisms which might prove a struggle to western readers but personally I’d have preferred to have had those intact, even if it meant having to go and look them up online, than having the Brit equivalents that feel really jarring.
These are minor flaws though which do little to distract you from the main story. This book is unique. It’s an interesting insight into Japanese geek and web culture as well as a heart warming story that I think everyone can relate to on some level.
Plus it boasts an impressive amount of ASCII art and that in itself is no bad thing.
(even if I can’t get any of them to work properly in this blog _|￣|O )
If you’re looking for a quick read or a book that does things a little differently, you can’t go wrong with this one.