I had the good fortune to win this book in a contest put up by Random Fantasy for a title from Tuttle Publishing. The Moé Manifesto by Patrick W. Galbraith takes on the misunderstood topics of moé and otaku through looking at the perspectives of people as diverse as mangaka, singers, economists, psychologists, directors, and self-professed otaku. The interviews are generally of good quality. The result is a fascinating work which I finished in practically one sitting. The introductory chapter, where Patrick Galbraith explains his own views and history with the moé movement, is the most difficult to sit through; but, I would not recommend skipping it, because it holds very cogent information. The pages turn quickly after that, a speed of reading which is helped by the fascinating and odd pictures included on every page.
What did I take from this exposition? Japanese culture has been profoundly affected by its emphasis on men becoming salarymen. Working for a corporation is viewed as the only real job, and Japanese women are fixated on marrying such a person. But, not everyone is made for cubicle land, and many Japanese men feel a sense of failure and depression for not having the talents necessary to fulfill this role. Many men abandon real life–actually, most of the time merely real women and the hope of having a family. They feel rejected by mainstream society and become otaku. A few otaku interviewed in the pages of The Moé Manifesto claim to have been saved by anime: one otaku says that his desire to see the finale of Fist of the North Star (109 episodes long) kept him going through a period in his life where he contemplated suicide until his blues disappeared.
Many claim that otaku do not know the difference between fantasy and reality, but the psychologists interviewed here dispute that. Takuro Morinaga, an economist who studies the effect of otaku on the economy and vice versa, thinks that perhaps only 10% of otaku have totally withdrawn from reality. Most can clearly distinguish reality from fantasy and find reality utterly unfulfilling–particularly in romance. Morinaga claims that a compromise needs to be made between men and women: the ideal of salaryman and housewife joining in matrimony does not work for most in modern Japan. If things do not change, the figure of 49.5% of Japanese men from thirty through thirty-four years of age being single will only change for the worst.
But, what about moé itself? The standard definition seems to be falling in love with an anime character, in which the otaku needs never fear rejection and has complete control of his fantasy/relationship. Many of the interviewees see nothing wrong with this. Nor do I, except for the part that this kind of fantasy is the highest romantic relationship to which otaku aspire. Actually, the phenomenon of moé need not be sexual in nature. (Thank God! Many moé characters look like they’re four years old!) Otaku have found moé characters in everything from children’s cartoons to mecha anime. One of the earliest characters to inspire moé happens to be the heroine of Magical Princess Minky Momo. In much the same way as the Brony phenomenon, this produced a fan club including men “between eighteen to thirty years of age” (51). Why did they love this show so much? Because “…Minky Momo was cute” (51). I cannot help but think that this phenomenon manifests the above young men’s frustrated desire to be fathers. But, none of the interviewees mentioned my idea, so my hunch is likely wrong. At any rate, otaku often get sucked in by cuteness.
The above only skims the surface of what’s contained in The Moé Manifesto. Those interviewed include the likes of Pop, Halko Momoi, Noizi Ito, Jun Maeda, and many other significant figures in anime and manga. Those of my dear readers interested in Japanese pop culture ought to read this book.