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If you’ve been a long-time reader of Hobby Hovel, then you would have undoubtedly noticed the lack of activity over the majority of the past year. I had even skipped my anniversary post due to the laughable amount of content produced. The reason for this has something to do with this engagement ring happily accepted by my fiancé Melissa, and if you’ve got time and patience to spare, I will tell you the story of how I and the blog ended up where they are right now.

Chag, Internet Romeo

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Chag, one year ago.

The fact that I was a late bloomer to dating is one which would surprise absolutely nobody. As someone who has missed the romance bus during their school years, I was at a bit of a loss as to where to even start. I didn’t have any normal hobbies, and it’s not as if I could go to a bar and blurt out “Sup baby, check out my POTM on myfigurecollection.net.” The lack of experience left me with a sense if inadequacy; I was already 23 years old, one of my close friends was already getting married, and I felt that I wasn’t going to be young for that much longer. The ticking of the clock echoed ever closer in the back of my head, and I did not want to let it overtake me.

When I first moved out of my parent’s home, I was asked by my dad whether I wanted a twin or a double bed as we were furniture-shopping at IKEA. This inadvertently made me ask myself the question: have I given up completely on finding someone? Sure, I’ve joked with friends about hoping to see android waifus invented in our lifetimes, but have I actually accepted science fiction as my only shot at companionship? “No,” I told myself, especially not before I’ve made some serious effort first. A couple of hours later we were squeezing the double mattress into the family SUV — an outcome I would come to appreciate later on.

Guided by the suggestion and encouragements of a couple of friends, I decided to give online dating a try. After all, what good would my English degree and years of blogging be if I can’t charm some women through the interwebs? Furthermore, the advantage of internet dating is that I would have some idea of the other party’s personality and interests are, so in theory I could single out the matches who would appreciate my geeky weeaboo hobbies, because otherwise the room full of plastic butts is going to be impossible to explain.

My first forays into online dating were disheartening. As I browsed through the high match-rating profiles, it became increasingly clear that there aren’t nearly as many feasible matches as I had hoped. Worse yet, it seemed that every other profile listed The Big Bang Theory — possibly the most loathed thing I’ve had the displeasure to glance at on TV — as one of their favourite TV shows. A brief episode of despair unfolded as I doubted whether even the internet had anyone for me, and the massive numerical imbalance between men and women on OkCupid did not help.

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Through a combination of luck and savviness with the search features (protip: try searching for the keyword “anime”), I started having some moderate success . When I first came across Melissa’s profile, it had been for few months since my first relationship went belly-up. Her profile suggested that she was a big fan of anime and video games, and I was particularly impressed by her mention of Kuragehime as one of her favourite manga. “Wow, I never expected to see Kuragehime mentioned on OKC. You have great taste. :)” was the first message I had sent her, and a few days later at 3 in the morning, I awoke to a notification alert on my phone — she had responded:

“Hahaha of course! I appreciate good josei anime! I’m happy that you also enjoy Kuragehime!

AND you don’t like the Big Bang Theory! AHH! Let’s be friends :D Oooh, and you a have personal blog~ I’d like to check it out.

Oh, I should mention that I don’t really go on OKC a lot though. I’m so infrequent with responding to message on this site so if you want to chat more we can exchange emails or whatever suits your boat.”

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As I immediately found out, she is inquisitive by nature. I had mentioned that I run a collectibles blog in my dating profile, since I figured that there’s no point in hiding such matters, but I hadn’t anticipated such a direct request to see this blog right off the bat. I had hoped to tell her more about myself first before pointing her to the website in which I fantasized about wanting to become a little girl for a day in an audio recording, amongst other things. Fortunately, despite her thorough inspection of the blog, she did not run of screaming but instead became genuinely interested.  So yeah, I guess figure blogging does get the girls after all! ;)

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Our first dates were full of her asking questions and me talking about mostly myself, but the chemistry between both of our rather goofy personalities overcame her initial plan to friendzone me. Astonishingly, I was her first boyfriend, which meant that I was the one with more relationship experience (something I never thought I would say). This made me more at ease about my lack of experience, and we happily bumbled through the stages of our relationship through joy and misunderstandings alike.

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Our favourite pastime is watching anime together, we started with Psycho-Pass when it was still airing, and now Kill la Kill and Space Dandy have become our weekly staples. Melissa is also a big Disney and TV buff. Initially I started watching The Walking Dead just to build one more bridge of common interest between us when we first started dating, but she has since made a Game of Thrones convert out of me, and indoctrinated me with more Disney songs than I care to admit. By the way, Beauty and the Beast  had made me feeling all the feels.

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There was a remarkable boost in my self-confidence. After taking off my hat and showing the thin hair on one of the first days of our relationship, Melissa told me that “I’d like you even if you shaved yourself bald”, and I thought that was the sweetest thing. Since then I’ve cut my hair very short numerous times and showed more people my hobbies. It’s amazing how the feeling of being loved made my insecurities regarding my hobbies and physical appearance seem trivial.

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Today we are happily engaged, and before you ask: no, there wasn’t a fancy proposal, but rather we just commemorated the occasion with a lovely hotel getaway and a weekend together. We spontaneously started singing the Beauty and the Beast theme together, and I cooked her stewed beef noodles, the dish I had made for her birthday on the very first time she came over to my home. We had been talking about getting engaged for around six months, so both of us had more or less set on the date to go “official” months in advance. In retrospect, we probably had been too hasty, but I’m glad that we’ve come to love each other even more since then.

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Best birthday card? Best birthday card.

If I had to think of a secret to our success, it’d be our openness to each other and the willingness to talk out any budding conflicts before it becomes a source of passive-aggressive animosity. Because of this, we’ve never had any real fights, and every instance of us overcoming our differences always brings forth an outpour of affection. We’ll be moving in together in the coming months, and I’m as optimistic as ever about the road ahead.

Too Good for Figures?!

Now that I’m done establishing the context, it’s time to talk about what’s happened to the blog in the past year.

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It’s probably sacrilege to say this on a figure blog, but as far as hobbies go, figures really aren’t all that cost-effective to me. I started collecting figures back when 1/8th scales figures were around 5,000 yen and figmas were around 2,000 yen — all under a favourable exchange rate as well, mind you. Now the prices have effectively doubled, and I found it increasingly difficult to justify the price. Although I recognize the technical advancements in the hobby, they’ve been never enough for me. I found myself complaining about the figure prices with ever-growing frequency, and as a result I had become increasingly picky with my purchases.

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While the price of figures have crept up with alarming pace, my other hobbies have remained relatively constant or have even fallen in price. The slight increase of price for gundam models feels more than fair, especially considering the advancement in engineering and the number of parts. On the video game front, my ascension to the PC master race a couple years back have drastically altered my expectations; for the price of a 1/8 scale figure today I can get around ten to twenty games during a steam sale. That is a lot of fun to compete against.

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But no matter how cheap Steam sales get, they can’t beat free, which is what I’ve been accustomed to in my past year with Melissa. No successful figure photoshoot, no freshly-built gundam model, and no 80-hour Civilization V victory has yet to beat a weekend spent together with her, whether it’s watching anime or TV together, or talking for hours on end about anything and everything, or doing nothing at all. There’s always a sense of fullness at the end of our times together, as well as an every-growing difficulty in parting. It’s this feeling of fulfilment that has no substitute, and as we spend more and more time together, the time I spend on my other hobbies consequently get sidelined.

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Does this mean I’m not interested in figures any more? Not really. In fact, we really enjoy looking at new figures together. Discussing new figures with Melissa is a welcome alternative to the uber-critical smackdown that inevitably happens every time I talk figures with Ashlotte. For Christmas I even got the LAT Miku from her — who interrogated poor Ashlotte to no end on what my tastes in figures are — because she didn’t want me to give up on the hobby that was so important to me when we first started going out.

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Yet despite her encouragement, I still find it hard to actually buy any new figures. The most memorable example was the Megahouse Elf figure. The figure has a relatively tame price tag, an interesting art style, promising quality and is from a source material that I’m interested in. Yet despite the stars aligning, I just couldn’t do it — the dollar-to-fun ratio was just not favourable. Figures used to be my only subjects which fuels my photography hobby, but now that I’ve expanded my horizons somewhat, even that aspect of the hobby’s value weakens.

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The length of my idea of a long-term goal used to be the time span of the average figure pre-order, but today words like “mortgage”, “car”, and even “children” swirl around in my head. There is always somewhere the money can be put towards, and this common-sense realization is something that I have not taken seriously until very recently. Of course, this is not to say that one should put every penny he earns way into his metaphorical piggy bank, as life would be horribly dull without pastimes, but given the frustrating value proposition of the figure hobby, it has become something that I can let go without missing it all that much. Simply put: there are cheaper hobbies and activities that give me just as much pleasure as figures, therefore I am reluctant to invest more money in it.

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Though I might not be buying figures anymore, I’m still enjoying the hobby. I’ve been periodically active on Google+, often taking figure photos for the sake of itself rather than to reach some self-set standards. I also won 5,000 points from grand prize of the Amiami Halloween photo contest with the help of Melissa modelling as the victim of Mikudayo, which made me giddy to no end. I still have a few figures that I haven’t reviewed, I haven’t had much interest in reviewing those, to be honest. I’ve posted a bunch of the figure photos I’ve taken since the blog was last updated in this post, and I’m considering moving away from the old review format in the future — perhaps something shorter and to the point? Bah, at this point I don’t think there’s any point to make any promises.

Aim for the Gold

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Anyways, that is how things have been with me for the past year. I’m not exactly sure how Hobby Hovel will be in the future, but I hope we’ll still have a place on your RSS feed reader.

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To end things off, I will attempt to bestow some advice based on my experience over the past year. I say this with some hesitation, as I’m a pretty lousy source of life advice, but to my single brethren: if love is something you want in life, please do not be mired by your doubts.

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The cutest little hobo.

I won’t bullshit you by saying that our hobby does not complicate things, and I won’t even say that everyone who tries will find success, but I do say that if you don’t want to be single forever, then you must roll up your pant legs and get your feet wet. Things such as one’s own hobbies and experiences would only cripple you if you let them. Be yourself, put yourself out there, learn from trial and error and look until you either set your embers aflame or extinguish them for good. Only then can you find closure with yourself and not be addled with regret later over the chances you never took.

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To love and be loved is a wonderful feeling, and I’ve met too many of my figure friends who sell themselves far too short (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Not everyone needs to be in a relationship to be happy, but to those who want to, I give you every encouragement I can possibly give, and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours.

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-Chag, Chang, CHARLES-KUN