ANNCast Pays Tribute to Zac Bertschy in Final Episode (My Feelings Are Still Mixed)

When Zac Bertschy died fans of Anime News Network's famous ANNCast podcast had many questions about the fate of the show.  Would it go on?  Were there any unaired episodes?  Who would be the new host?  Would things be the same?  On May 29th, 2020 ANN had an online memorial service for Zac, where friends and colleagues of his (and even my buddy Eric Stimpson) shared stories of what it was like to know Zac (both on a personal and professional level).  I watched it live (as did Eric), and when it was over we called each other to discuss Zac's life some more.  The ANN staff promised to upload an audio version of the memorial service later that night, and they did so in the form of the final episode of ANNCast.  So, there you have it: ANNCast is no more.  The show ends with Zac.  No one could imagine doing it without him (and honestly, I can't say I blame them).

However, this blog post is not about the end of ANNCast.  No, this post is about Zac.  And while it might not be considered "nice" to do so, this is about how mad I am at Zac now that the memorial service has aired.  While I haven't discussed Zac personally, I honestly had mixed feelings about the man himself.  He was a talented writer.  Undeniable.  He was a great editor.  Undeniable.  He helped build ANN into something I not only LOVED to read, but actually wanted to write for!  Undeniable (though I'm not sure I want to write for them anymore, but that's a post for another day).  He was also a fairly negative guy who tended to push people away from him.  I don't bring this up to sully the guys name (and I certainly went through a period of my life when I did the same), I do so because it appears to be true and it is important to my thoughts on the memorial.  For as much as I enjoyed his articles, listened to his podcast, and even laughed at some of his jokes, there was a darkness about him I could never fully shake.  A cynicism that seemed to go beyond what was normal.

I first noticed it when I found him on Twitter, and his negativity was allowed to be put out there without a filter.  I remember a friend telling me about how he got to meet Zac at Anime Expo.  He was so happy to meet him he rushed up and introduced himself while asking for a picture.  Though I admit to not having Zac's side of the story in this, my friend shared that Zac replied "you don't want my picture, I review anime for a living" and the brief meeting ended without one being taken.  My friend would later say "I've met many heroes of mine that disappointed me...but for some reason, that one hurt."  While I respected Zac's passion for causes and activism that were important to him, I was raised to respect people with differences of opinion, and it always rubbed me the wrong way that Zac did not appear to do that with anyone (is it really fun to talk with someone who seems willing to disown you if you don't agree with their every word?).

Still...I was a kid when I started reading his articles.  They had always been there.  What he accomplished inspired me, and to a certain extent I still want to be him.  Shortly after he died I decided to go to his personal blog and do some reading.  Personal blogs are interesting because while they are live on the internet, they tend to be written as if no one else is going to read them.  The average person seems completely unaware of Jim Carrey's  absolutely bizzare personal site, so the idea that people will flock to the personal blog of the ANN editor seems pretty unrealistic.  He didn't post often (so it was easy to read everything), but it's hard to walk away from it and feel good about the man.  In these blog posts he presented himself as a disturbed individual who hated himself, hated his life, and sympathized with characters who were broken and miserable.  However then you listen to the memorial podcast and you have to wonder why this was?  He clearly had friends.  He had people who loved him.  Some of the most emotional stories came from people who wished they could have been there for him.  To help pull him out of the darkness.

I listened to the podcast of outpouring love, support, and sadness that their friend and colleague was no longer with them and I couldn't help but get so angry at the man.  I know we all have our demons, but when you realize what a great support system he had I have to wonder why he seemed to hate the world so much?  Was his life truly that bad?  At one point he seemed determined to make a change.  Life got better for him.  He got married, lost a lot of weight, and seemed to be enjoying life.  He seemed happy to have turned his life around at one point.  From what his friend Justin Sevakis and ex-husband Jacob Chapman alluded to, there was a point where he started to sink again and was in another battle with his personal demons.  It was a battle he ultimately lost.  As I look from the outside in I shake with anger.  I didn't know Zac personally, but I was angry none-the-less.  There were many reasons why.  I was mad I would never get to meet him myself.  I was mad he was that unhappy.

I was mad that he didn't seem to realize how blessed he was.  The reason I'm so upset though may be because when I look at how he died - and listen to the words of pain from his friends - it confirms to me how utterly selfish he was.  Make no mistake about it: Suicide is a VERY selfish act!  I believe most of us will be suicidal at one point in our lives, but I think we need to agree that the act of it in and of itself is very selfish no matter how you slice it.  I know this because I was suicidal a few times in my life.  There was one night in particular where I was fighting demons and dark thoughts.  Despite having a good support system and friends in church who loved me, I was frustrated with being unemployed and not having a girlfriend.  I was morbidly obese, eating fast food three times a day, and my only companion for days would be my pet chinchilla Perry (who was most active at night, which is when my thoughts were at their worst).

It got so bad one night I decided to kill myself.

I cancelled my book club meeting.  I wrote a will and suicide note.  I said goodbye on Facebook.  Not directly, but it was something along the lines that people won't be seeing me around much anymore, and that I was sorry if I didn't get to say goodbye.  I shared that post and just sat on my bed.  I wasn't sure how I planned to do it, but the reality of saying goodbye was becoming real.  I knew I would never know what a kiss felt like.  There were movies I was looking forward to that I would never see.  I would never go back to Japan or visit Dollywood.  What was truly scary though was how much the planning of the suicide was giving me purpose for a few short hours.  Fifteen minutes after my post went up a friend texted me.  He asked if the book club would be rescheduled.  I said no.  He asked if there were going to be any upcoming movies nights.  I said I didn't plan on it.  He asked me question after question.  Finally, he asked if I wanted to come over and play a video game.  I told him I wasn't really in the mood, but he insisted he was bored.  The wife had taken the kids out and he had free time to himself and didn't know what to do with it (Spoiler: She took the kids so that her husband could get me over to the house).

"Isn't there an anime you could bring over or something?" he asked.  "I've never seen 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.'  Bring that over!"

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Eventually, I caved and went over to his house.  What else was I doing?  Certainly one more visit would be nice!  I grabbed the movie, got into my car, and made the small drive over.  When I got there we didn't watch the movie.  We didn't play a video game.  We just talked.  Later on my friend who would become the best man at my wedding also showed up.  Basically, no one was fooled by my Facebook post.  They all knew what it was and what I was saying in it.  They weren't going to do anything drastic like call the cops or have me committed if they could help it, but they were going to show that they cared.  I spent the night there, had a good breakfast at Denny's with them, and later on in the day my parents showed up to basically keep watch over me for a week.  Everyone was really nice about what had almost happened except one friend, who was so upset by what I was thinking of doing she broke down crying over the phone and said "how dare you?!  Do you know how much you would have hurt everyone if you killed yourself?!  How much you would hurt me?!"

Ironically, that friend would eventually stop speaking to me over something else, but when I look back on those days I knew I could never contemplate suicide again.  I had too many people who loved me to do that.  My life was not just about me.  My support system reached their hands out to me and I took them, and with a little self-determination, I let them help me back on my feet before I started walking on my journey once more.  I have no shame in admitting I fell and needed a helping hand up.  While you are ultimately responsible for your own happiness, a helping hand here and there is something we all need once in a blue moon.  When I listened to the stories at Zac's memorial I saw a glimpse of what I would have done to my friends and family had I not let their love into my heart and allowed them to help me through a difficult time in my life.  I am glad I let them help because I would have selfishly broke a lot of hearts that night.

When I read Zac's blog posts and listen to the memorial, I find myself getting angry at him because it appears he did have a support system and they did love him!  What's more, he clearly made them happy.  I understand not wanting to be vein and shrugging off praise, but to have a picture painted of a man who slapped away the hands of many friends who simply wanted him to be happy is frustrating to the point of anger.  Of course I can never know what he was going through.  I'll never be in his shoes and I don't know what made him the way he was.  The more I know now, the more I regret not being able to meet him and ask.  What I do see is a community shaken because one of their favorite writers will write no more, and friends and family whose attempts to love him were tossed aside.  That makes me angry.  That upsets me.  I don't even know these people personally and even I could see that he was loved!  Why couldn't he see that?  Why couldn't he see how much he mattered to people?  Why couldn't he have taken one of the many hands that reached out to him?  I'll never understand (and I'll never get to ask).

I don't know what else to say.  I might not even have a right to say anything (I obviously didn't know the guy personally).  I just look at the whole situation and wish that things could have been different somehow.  If there is something I agreed with Zac on, it's that darkness is real and most of us have it.  I also agree that you are not alone.  There are helping hands that are there to pull you up when you stumble, and you are not alone.  I just wish he realized that.

Due to the suddeness of his passing, his family is currently seeking donations for the funeral.  If you have anything to spare, I'm sure they will greatly appreciate it!

Your Comic Book Guy - Kevin

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Anonymous said…
This was beautifully written. I remember many years ago I wanted to write about anime and having occasional contact with Zac via Twitter. He was... blunt, to say the least. I don't begrudge him for it these days, but I have to say that it did negatively influence me and how I treated people around me. Not that it's right to justify one's poor behavior because of others, but there's a bit of 'Monkey See, Monkey Do.' I have to admit there was some resentment and hurt of seeing him sitting at the cool kids' table and being told you're not one of them.

Nowadays though, I feel so much compassion for the guy. He probably had a mix of feeling undeserving of any love because of his self-hatred and anger that the world wasn't how he felt it should be. It didn't help that people took his personality as a reason to lash out even more at the guy and push his buttons for their amusement. It is a damn shame because the best revenge he could've taken was having a life well-lived.