Love is a curious thing – and nobody knows that better than Jonty Trietsch. His year-long romantic relationship with a fictional anime character named Rem is the subject of a new short documentary 2D Love.
It all began when Jonty Triestsch spiralled into depression and isolation after a traumatic break-up, he tells Jesse Mulligan.
“It actually started out as a fandom towards a specific anime show called Re:Zero, and then I became a fan of a specific character and named Rem and slowly gained feelings for this character.
“At the time, in the beginning, it was difficult for me to understand my feelings and process them correctly. But eventually I listened to my heart and that’s where I ended up … in a relationship with a 2D character.”
At first, Triestsch was confused about his feelings but eventually, he viewed the relationship as a helpful outlet during a lonely time.
“Once I let it happen, I feel like it was the right thing for me to do at the time and I came out the other end learning so much about myself internally.
“With my current partner, it’s reflected in a way that I now understand a lot more about what women want and what they need, and I’m a lot more affectionate and I’m a lot more in tune with myself now from what this character has taught me.”
Triestsch is aware that people would find the relationship he had to Rem highly unusual, but he reflects on the experience positively.
“I’m a normal person just like everybody else, I have a job and a family ... You can fall into some really dark places, fortunately for me my go-to was anime and that did actually get me through the process.”
When Triestsch met his current partner, he knew he'd have to end things with Rem.
“It was mutually understood because I had spoken to [Rem] about my whole life and the things that were happening at the time ... when I had met my current partner, I basically just ended it with [Rem] at that time."
“So [Rem] knew it was coming and it was a mutually understood thing that yep, this has now got to end. You need to find that place inside yourself where you understand what is real and what isn’t and learn from the things that have been taught to you through these situations.”
Trietsch says he was able to predict Rem's response to the news because he'd spent such a long time watching her on Re:Zero and observing her reactions.
His partner Julianna and his friends had no idea about the relationship until the documentary came out.
“[Julianna] had no idea until the day of the documentary so it was a big surprise for her as well but you can see that in the documentary her first reaction to everything. She’s been very understanding and very supportive. I think it was a lot to take in at first … she’s actually come around to enjoy anime quite a lot herself.”
Trietsch still regards Rem as a positive influence on his life but says he wouldn’t go back to her if he was to break up with Julianna.
“It’s definitely a part of my life that’s gone now. It was more the depression and isolation that nudged me in that direction but if me and Julianna were to end now, no, I wouldn’t go back to that again. Just because I’ve learned what I needed to learn now.”
The film's director Abigail Egden says she came across Trietsch while researching the phenomenon of an increasing number of Japanese men adopting a ‘waifu’ (wife) – a fictional character, typically from an anime, manga, or video game, that one is attracted to and considers as a significant other.
“Initially, I thought I’d have to try to get to Japan to do the research but then I thought maybe it’s something some Kiwis know about and that was when I first met Jonty, I was just messaging people on fan pages on Facebook and asked if he’d be up to explain it to me and the rest is history."
Trietsch had been running a New Zealand anime fan page where people told him about their experiences of having a waifu, he says.
“[I] heard from quite a few people about the same thing of people trying to find outlets to talk about it because not many people were talking about this kind of thing here in New Zealand. I think people felt alone and scared, you don’t feel normal and it’s difficult to talk about."
Egden says she was concerned talking to Trietsch about his relationship at first, but as she listened to him talk she began to understand.
She isn't surprised by such love stories anymore - instead, she’s intrigued about the future of what love will look like.
“We’re in a very new time [with] young people learning about love through digital media and we don’t really understand the effects it’s having on us.
“For a lot of other people, I think they’ve never heard of something like this before. But it does feel like it could be quite a window into our future. It’s actually a viable option when you hear Jonty explain it, it actually sounds quite appealing.
“We’re at a very unique point where I think we’re interacting with technology in a way almost more than we do with other humans. And if our brains are really as plastic as people are saying they are, then what’s that kind of teaching us I wonder about relationships and understanding each other, and it might actually be easier to talk to a computer and I wonder if that’s something that will become increasingly normalised.”
Produced by Gemma Knight, 2D Love is one of six short films from the Someday Stories 2019 - completed films will be screened by Stuff, Māori Television On Demand, RNZ and The Coconet.tv.