(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
The year is 2024.
Dan paused the anime at the commercial-break. “Virgil Blue?”
“Mm-hm?” Virgil Blue looked at him through his silver mask. Dan’s quarters were so small, the two shared little space on his mattress.
“I’ve never seen you without that mask.” Dan showed Virgil Blue the cover of this year’s volume of LuLu’s. The night above a landscape-shot of the islands featured a transparent image of Nemo’s upper face, with the lower half, nose-down, being below the ocean’s horizon. His eyes, wide apart, were crossed to focus on Hurricane Planet Uzumaki behind the transparent swastika-mark on his own forehead. “Do you actually have that swastika-mark, or did Tatsu make it up for LuLu’s?“
“It certainly catches western audiences off-guard, doesn’t it?” said Virgil Blue.
Dan waited for Virgil Blue to continue speaking, but he didn’t. The Virgil rarely dodged questions, taking every opportunity to grapple his monks philosophically. Dan sensed a moment of weakness and knew the best way to probe it was playing along. “My friend Jay told me, the first time he went to Japan, he was surprised by a temple for children with pictures of cartoon animals holding swastikas on the gate. His dad told him to expect swastikas as a religious symbol in the east, but it changed the way Jay interpreted language as a whole. He learned a lot of Japanese, but he knew he’d only ever speak it as an American.” Dan began annotating the volume’s last pages. “Nakayama was born in the fictional dystopian remains of long-gone Japan. She might have a completely different impression of swastikas than, say, Charlie—or maybe Tatsu hadn’t even considered that. Nemo must initially have no clue about any subtext the swastika represents. To the first man it’s just a symbol of the Hurricane which tainted him, and from which he must protect his children.”
Virgil Blue nodded. “Tell me about swastikas, Danny. You’re ignoring elephants.”
Dan felt shot-down, but was still convinced he had an opening into Virgil Blue’s identity. The real elephants were behind that silver mask. “Swastikas are featured in designs all the way back to the invention of writing itself. It’s a basic symbol a child could draw, so it catches on again and again in different areas—another example of sharing worms across time and space. Hindus, Buddhists, the Norse, and American Indians used it in all kinds of different ways. It was plenty of fun until Hitler’s Germany murdered millions of people in the name of the symbol. Clearly Tatsu is highlighting the Hurricane’s role in such regimes.” Dan finished annotating the volume’s last pages. “I think I understand your context, Virgil Blue. Take off the mask. Show me what the Biggest Bird carved on your forehead.”
Dan dropped his pen. He gave Virgil Blue the annotated volume of LuLu’s with shaking hands. “Please.”
“Oran dora, Danny. Oran dora.” He put the volume up his navy sleeves.
“I’ve met people with swastika tattoos before, Virgil Blue, and I don’t think you’re quite like them.” Dan clasped his palms together. “I want to meet the Nemo behind the mask.”
“Do you want Captain Nemo?” Virgil Blue lightly bopped Dan’s head with the black spots around his cane’s gnarled tip. “Or do you want Odysseus?”
“I want—” Dan was tempted to say he wanted LuLu’s Nemo, Tatsu‘s Nemo, but even that wasn’t right. “There’s only one ‘no one.’ You, Virgil Blue. Who are you?”
“Maybe next year, Danny.” Virgil Blue stood up, shaking. “Maybe next episode, maybe next volume.”