It’s not often that a piece of unexpected news can so completely blindside you. Two days ago, when I first heard of Zac Bertschy’s sudden death at home on Thursday May 21st 2020, I sat in silence for several minutes trying to process what I had just read. Bad news has a way of first wrapping you in numbness before icy tendrils start to squeeze at your heart and spike at your tear ducts. For the first time in my life I shed tears over a person I’d never met.
Zac was well known in the anime community as Executive Editor of Anime News Network (ANN), the foremost anime and manga website in the English-speaking world. For many years he educated us with his wry wit and deep knowledge as the site’s “Answerman” before moving onto hosting the long-running “ANNCast”, initially with ANN’s founder Justin Sevakis, then Jacob Chapman and latterly Lynzee Loveridge. ANNCast in particular for me was a mainstay of long commutes or punishing workouts. Zac’s forthright opinions and gracious manner kept me company during many lonely hours. When you listen to someone on a regular basis, over such a long period of time, you almost feel you know them, especially when they share a lot in common with you.
As an older anime fan, Zac and I were almost exactly the same age. We shared the same cultural touchstones, the same lifelong love of Neon Genesis Evangelion and classic manga. I can’t believe he’s left us before the 4th Rebuild movie was released. I really can’t. He was looking forwards to it so much, and as it was with everything he loved, his enthusiasm was infectious.
Zac’s writing was clear, opinionated and authoritative. He was one of my main inspirations for writing about anime - for overcoming my fear of writing publicly, of just going out and doing it. He used to offer wise, insightful tips on contributing to the industry - both in his articles and on his podcast.
It’s fair to say that the English-speaking anime world will be a lesser place without him. I don’t think Zac ever accepted just how much people appreciated him and his work. In his personal blog, he wrote painfully about his struggles with bleak depression, self-hatred and alcoholism. For a while it looked like he’d managed to drag himself out of the pit of self-destruction - witness his physical transformation from obese young man who was wary of sharing his appearance online to a confident-looking, fit thirty-something who ate well and exercised regularly. Yet another thing in his life that inspired others to make positive changes.
I’d always imagined a cranky old Zac in his 80s or 90s, still podcasting about anime, and now with his loss there is a hole in that future that no-one can fill. My sincerest condolences to all of Zac’s family and friends, especially to his former partner but still best friend Jacob Chapman. I’m sure the pain I feel at his passing is nothing compared to yours, but take comfort in the fact that Zac was widely loved, and many, many people will miss him.
NOTE: details of an online memorial service for Zac on Friday May 29th can be found here.
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