My coworker Diane is a 40-something evangelical Christian mother of three who makes money on the side selling items online from garage and estate sales. During downtimes at work (the week after Thanksgiving, the week before Christmas, most of the last two months here, actually) she types up new entries for her Ebay listings, sometimes bringing in boxes of her newly-acquired antique books, old postcards, or used dolls to photograph and upload to the Internet. Today she arrived with a trashbag full of tiny figurines.

“I was at the Goodwill this afternoon and I found this whole bag for just ten dollars!”

“What is it?” I asked. She opened up the bag, revealing at least two dozen tiny anime figures, still wrapped in plastic, arms and legs detached and packed away in separate sections. Almost all were characters I didn’t recognize, mostly different girls posing suggestively in swimwear.

“Aren’t they cute? I just love their hair. Look at this one.” She pulled out a green-haired girl in a tiny bikini, probably from a well-known series but one unknown to myself. “What do you call these? Annie-may?”

“What’s that?” our 60-something co-worker asked.

“Oh, you know. That Japanese art that they make cartoons from. Like Sailor Moon.” I know she’d recently come into a collection of Sailor Moon dolls as part of some girl’s Barbie collection being sold off by a father eager to part ways with his daughter’s abandoned clutter. Like most items she procured in such fashion, she was quick to use the Internet to educate herself on their origins. Likewise, she was probably going to do the same with this stash. Only one of the figures was still in its original box, but it would give her enough of a lead to get started. “Love Hina… ‘story image figure’… I’m going to have to look this up!”

“Oh, look at this,” I said, trying to distract her away from her Google search that I was sure would inevitably lead to some NSFW results. “Hey, these are from Final Fantasy.” I picked up a bag of Cloud Strife pieces and a pair of Sephiroths, also in bags but whose sword-wielding arms were secured inside separate pieces of rigid plastic.

“What’s Final Fantasy?”

“It’s a video game. These are from Final Fantasy 7, the only one I’ve played.” She was familiar with the worlds of Mario and Zelda, but apparently her sons had never been into RPGs. “Oh, and these are from Chobits.” Mixed in with the other figurines were a few of Chii sprawled out on the floor and wearing pajamas. I wouldn’t have recognized her if not for the tiny persocom ears, making her the only girl in the entire bag that I recognized. As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized I probably should have kept my knowledge to myself.

“How do you know this?” she asked in a strange tone of voice, uptalking her way to the end of the sentence.

“Oh… I don’t know,” I said mysteriously. “I had a friend who was into that stuff.” I left the desk to go file some papers, return some keys to the cabinet, and have a few holiday snacks that our boss had brought in. When I returned, both Diane and our coworker were searching the Internet for answers.

“You know, it seems like adult cartoons are big in Japan,” our coworker casually observed scrolled through her search results. My renewed commitment to feign ignorance over the topic and appear completely uninterested was enough to keep me out of their conversation, but I couldn’t resist taking a quick glance at her screen, which was filled with countless links to hentai sites that may or may not have been blocked on our company’s network. Whether or not she understoof exactly what she was looking at, I couldn’t say.

Picking up one of the figures and looking it over, still somewhat oblivious to the nature and purpose of such “toys,” Diane seemed oddly fascinated by her find and surprisingly receptive to what probably should have been a bag full of creepy and immoral aberrations. “At least they’re all normal. No Pamela Anderson lookalikes here!”

The phone rang and a few other distractions intervened, thus bringing an end to this latest chapter of the ever-so-rare and always strange encounters between anime culture and my everyday life.