Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In My View: What's the Moe?

In all of fandom there are arguments that seem to stretch across the span of time. Subs vs. Dubs. Eva vs. RahXephon. Fansubs. And now it's moe.

To be honest, I don't get it. I mean I don't get any of it. On a basic level, I understand what moe is, I understand that there's supposed to be these cute, lovable girls that I, the viewer, just want to protect. They're anime's equivalent of the teddy bear or the picture of the puppy dog.

Now I've watched the first four episodes of Air and all I have to say is, um... what's the problem? All of the people who froth in the mouth about how bad moe is seem to go on about how these characters are spineless drones that pander to an audience that wants an ideal little sister, who'll do all those things that stereotypically have been the woman's province.

I have already said my piece about stereotypes in fiction, but I'll say it again. The actual stereotype doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if Harriet spent all day smiling over a sink full of dishes. It doesn't matter that a character enjoys filling a role that has been classically designated by one's gender. Anymore than it matters that Rambo likes going out and kicking ass and taking names.

What matters is what the show/movie/book says about the stereotype. The reason why Harriet or June Cleaver might be offensive is that they are lauded as the ideal. They don't have bad days. They don't have hopes and dreams or fights. The plot and world says that they're happy filling that role and that everyone who fufils that role is happy. Just because a character is moe, doesn't mean they're the ideal.

And considering how borderline unhappy these people seem to be I don't think it's sending a positive or negative message either way.

But again, that's just me.

I mean it's not like all of the female characters live off of their husbands, smiling that they get the extreme joy of being dependent on their man. It's not like they need the guy to solve all their problems. In fact the main character in Air is at best a vagrant, at worst he's a loser.

The female lead might be cute and yes, a bit ditzy, but it isn't like she can't make up her own mind without going to the male lead. So how is this a horrible stereotype that classifies women.

And to top it all off, and I hate to say it, but aren't these all harem shows to begin with. Even though someone's sure to launch themselves at me for this one, but when were harem shows great to begin with? I don't see people holding up Ai Yori Aoshi or Love Hina as the height of anime. So instead of random girl going crazy once an episode, now we have random girl being cute once an episode? What's the big deal?

And will I ever know?


Iknight said...

I think the a common accusation levelled (at least mentally) against moe is that it's disguised lolicon - paedophilia in a suit, so to speak - though I personally think that's overstating the case.

Another perceived problem is that the production of moe shows to pander to hardcore otaku (in Japan) is the industry becoming less adventurous, and means fewer experimental, intelligent and broad-appeal series. More budget for Cute-oh Animation-esque shows means fewer Paranoia Agents, fewer Planetes's and fewer RahXephons (since you go for RXn over NGE). Or so the argument goes.

But what I'm not sure I could tell from this is whether you're saying that you didn't feel the moe, or that you felt the moe but failed to see the problem with it - or that what we call moe has been around for longer as dependence.

In any case, thought-provoking as I've come to expect.

Anonymous said...

I kinda came up with similar questions/thoughts when I wrote on my blog about one of the members of ANNtv and his somewhat questionable review of Kanon. One of my conclusions from that post is that there is such a wide gap between Japanese anime culture (where moe exists as part of the norm) and North American anime culture (which props Naruto like it's the anime bible). I feel that North American anime fandom is too willing to "Americanize" the anime they watch and discard anything that seems extremely different from it. Until more of that culture gap lessens as more explore the source of anime culture (and by reducing the number of ignorant Naruto fans think all Japanese are ninjas), then I can see it being more widely accepted among the North American anime community (just like how Yaoi beginning to become popular here).

Cameron Probert said...

@ iknight - I totally agree that the first argument just seems like an overstatment.

Although the second argument is more valid, I wonder how true it is. I mean it's not like the industry is one homogenous blob. And while one genre might hold sway more than other genres, it certainly wouldn't mean that the other shows wouldn't get made. And I don't know if less shows is really a bad thing. Because they might be better shows.

As far as my actually feelings, I'm not sure if I got moe during the first four episodes. I did like the ethereal quality of the main female lead. But I didn't really see the problem with the show. I kind of think there's this knee-jerk over-reaction going on in a lot of the mainstream places to moe. And I'm trying to figure out if it's just a "well this guy said that that person said that this was a bad thing" type of argument. Or if there really is some meat to it.

@ koneko-chan - I'm not entirely sure it's the Naruto crowd in particular. I mean there's a lot of pretty high profile people saying how bad moe is. And I don't think it's so much of a cultural barrier as a type of knee-jerk reaction to something that they might not like.

CCY said...

Interesting article, great to see a well-reasoned opinion from the other side of the wall.

Personally I think AIR is on the light side in terms of moe, I would say that while the setup is a bit silly (random girl wants to randomly befriend random older character) all the Air characters are pretty strong and of the type you describe, where the moe doesn't envelop their character.

Maybe I'm biased though, as a lot of people tend to believe that the Key series (Air/Kanon/Clannad) tip the moe scale the most. Kanon, probably more so than Air.

I think that a lot of hate on moe is bandwagoning; it's kind of pinned as The Bad Thing, like harem shows and mainstream shonen, because while there are some good examples of them (and their fans), it's far to easy to overdose on the sauce and really spoil things; this is the 'stereotypical weak character' situation that is usually associated with it. I personally think, hey, I don't need all my shows to be disturbingly real, I like a good fantasy story.

IKnight's second argument, like you said, is probably one of the more valid ones. I don't know if less shows of a genre automatically equals quality shows of that genre, though.

And, I'm really kind of iffy about 'moe shows' being used as a genre. I would hope, rather, that shows contain moe rather than exclusively be about it. People are probably associating bad traits of shows that abuse moe, with moe itself.

Anonymous said...

Cameron - It's not just the Naruto crowd in particular but it's one example how one group who have seen mostly one thing can conceivably suppress something different. I think I could make a similar argument with the anime crowd that entered from the sci-fi crowd.

To combine with CCY's idea - I think it's easier to bandwagon against something not many regularly sees or understands. Consider two examples: The nerd culture in America who was for a long time misunderstood (and maybe still is) but is coming around to be accepted (the lovable nerd and the Best Buy Geek Squad). Also, look America's long history of racism. It's still highly misunderstood but now that the United States has become more of this melting pot, we might actually see a woman or black president. I think that could be what is occurring here generally.