LOS ANGELES, CA — It was nearly two years ago that anime fan Michael West hit the lowest point of his life.
“I was sitting in my bed, sweating, staring at the roof because I couldn’t go to sleep,” West said. “I couldn’t relax enough to drift off. My teeth were clattering. I couldn’t stop looking at my computer. It kept calling to me, in my head, over and over again. ‘The new Sword Art Online is about to air in Japan,’ it said. ‘Just find a stream. You know you want to.’”
West tried to ignore the siren’s song of his desktop PC, but the urge to seek out the newest episode of SAO kept gnawing at him. Eventually, the craving grew so strong that he ran to his PC, searched out a livestream site and sat down to mock Sword Art Online on Twitter as it aired live in Japan.
“I couldn’t help myself,” West said, tears forming in his eyes. “Usually I was able to wait until the show got uploaded to Crunchyroll, but my desire … it was just too strong. I couldn’t ignore it. I didn’t even know what the characters were talking about. It didn’t matter. I just had to make fun of the show on Twitter. It became my entire identity.”
The path to addiction started gradually for West. At first, he wasn’t even interested in Sword Art Online.
“I don’t really play MMOs, so the whole premise of Sword Art Online wasn’t interesting to me at all,” West said. “But I checked it out anyway just so that I could have an opinion on it. Truth be told, it wasn’t that bad an episode. I could see some potential in it. So I kept at it the next week, and it was just so, so awful. I took to Twitter to rag on it, and everything snowballed from there.”
At first West didn’t get much attention when he vented his frustrations about the anime on Twitter. By the midpoint of the series, however, his pithy tweets regularly received several “retweets” and “favorites” on Twitter, signs that West’s followers and others enjoyed his tweets.
The rush of having a small slice of Internet fame went to West’s head.
“I felt so powerful,” West said. “I can’t properly convey to you how incredible it felt. I would look at my Favstar page every day and feel so proud of myself. I couldn’t help but smile every time my phone buzzed after someone favorited or retweeted something I wrote. I could have turned notifications off, but I didn’t. That buzz made me feel so good.”
Soon West’s life spiraled out of control. He would call in sick for work so that he could re-watch episodes of Sword Art Online and refine his material. He would refuse to go out with his friends when Sword Art Online went live on Crunchyroll so that he could be among the first to tweet about it. West started cosplaying as Sword Art Online protagonist Kirito in his everyday life so that he could method act and get into the character’s head to better mock his behavior — West’s girlfriend later broke up with him when he demanded that she dress like Kirito’s romantic interest, Asuna, whenever she was around him.
“Deep down I knew what a fool I was being,” West said, sobbing. “But I couldn’t help it. This show and the persona I took on while tweeting validated me like nothing else in my life ever has. I had to make fun of Sword Art Online.”
West’s former friends offer little sympathy for this difficult period in West’s life.
“Whatever. He tries to play it off like he was actually addicted to something, but he was just watching dumb cartoons and making fun of them,” said West’s former best friend Jonathan Drake. “It’s not like he was smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol or shooting heroin or getting hooked on something that’s actually addictive and harmful or whatever. Dude just flooded our Twitter timelines with his lame tweets. They weren’t even funny. His posts were just shit. I had to stop following him to get that anime horseshit out of my life.”
West’s ex-girlfriend — who refused to be identified for this report — concurs.
“I supported Michael at first, because seriously, that show is dumb as hell,” she said. “But it got to a point where he went crazy with it. He seriously checked his Favstar first thing in the morning to check the stats of his top tweets. I knew all hope was lost when I saw he got a Favstar pro membership account. He actually paid real money for that!”
West, who has deleted his Twitter account, neither confirms nor denies that he bought a pro membership at Favstar.
“We wanted to help him, but we all kinda agreed that staging an intervention for ironically watching a Japanese cartoon is the most pathetic thing imaginable,” Drake added.
Eventually, West was alone. His friends and family had abandoned him. The day after episode 18 of Sword Art Online aired, West started his daily routine of checking his Favstar page; however, he suddenly broke down and cried for 10 minutes.
“That’s when it truly hit me that I had forced so many people out of my life in my obsession with my place in the online world,” West said. “I had to get help.”
Not knowing where to go, he attended several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Most groups gently let West go when he disclosed the nature of his addiction, and gave him referrals to places where he could get the help he needed. West said, however, that he kept attending AA meetings because it was what he always saw in the movies. Eventually, one group relented and took him on.
“Michael didn’t drink, but him hanging around didn’t hurt or anything, so we kept him around,” said an AA representative who requested to be identified as “David.” “The only problem came during the rare times we had someone who watched anime and he’d criticize their taste. That was neither helpful nor constructive. Eventually, he learned to kick the habit.”
West officially dropped Sword Art Online after episode 18 and hasn’t watched an episode of the series since.
“Switching Sword Art Online to ‘dropped’ on my MAL account was one of the proudest moments of my life,” West said. “I’ve never been tempted to revisit it since. Even when the entire Internet said that episode 24 of Sword Art Online was the worst episode of anime that had ever been produced, I stayed the course and ignored the hype. I’m like a flower blooming anew. I’ve left that period of my life behind for good.”
West has gathered his life together and is now repairing his relationships. Even news of a second season of Sword Art Online couldn’t sway him from his task — except, perhaps, for one thing.
“Wait, Kirito is a cute girl now?” West said. “… Shit.”