Kei is wearing outrageous trousers, with a plaid pattern sure to induce a migraine if I watch too hard. He stares at his golf ball intently, and then out towards the distant 18th hole as if planning a big project. But those days are gone.
“I got into anime in 1988,” says Kei. “That’s a generation ago. My son wasn’t even born then, now he’s in college. But twenty years is enough, you know? I’ve done the late nights and the lean years. I want to enjoy myself now. I want to get out. I want…” And with this he whacks the ball several hundred feet down the fairway. “I want to play golf.”
Kei cashed in his shares in the studio he started, a few months after he resigned as chairman. Now he’s comfortably well-off. I, however, am just about to collapse from heat prostration. I volunteered to be the caddy. I’ve never owned golf clubs, and his little trolley looked easy to pull along. That was before I realised that it’s summer here in Australia.
Kei lumbers off towards the ball’s last known location. I stumble along behind him, dragging the clubs.
“Yeah,” he continues. “I went to the conventions. I went to the premieres, but that was my job. I don’t sleep in Schoolgirl Milky Crisis pyjamas.” He judiciously selects a club, and sidles up to the ball.
“Did you see the balance sheet for the company?” he says, glancing back for a moment.
With another WHACK, the ball whooshes towards the green. Kei ambles along in its wake, the club slung over his shoulder.
“I cashed out at just the right moment. The buyers got twenty pieces of intellectual property. All the copyrights and whatnot. Those things are little money-earning machines if they use them right.”
Yes, I say, but there was a certain controversy about the lack of actual money in the company funds when he left.
“Do you actually know what companies are for…?” he asks me carefully.
I hem and haw for a while… and realise that I really don’t.
“I’ve done my job. I’ve put in the hours. Now I want to enjoy it,” he says. “My company was a success. But now I want to have my piece of that success and retire. If I worked in a bank for twenty years, you wouldn’t be looking at me like that. Just because I worked in anime, you think I should drop dead at a drawing board. Give me the putter.”
He squares up and eyes the eighteenth hole at close range.
“No way,” he mutters. “I did my time. I worked for years for poverty wages. And when the going was good, yeah, I had thousand-dollar bottles of wine and lunches to die for. It was my company! That was my reward!
“I started with nothing! The people who bought my company have got twenty franchises, twenty revenue streams. Yeah, maybe there’s no actual money there, but there’s brands, and titles, and future format potential. There’s a damn sight more than when I started. Deal with it.”
The ball drops into the hole with a plastic clatter.
(This article first appeared in NEO #72, 2010)