The Moe Manifesto

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.

moe-manifesto

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.

Definitely not moe.

Definitely not moe.

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who studies the effect of otaku on the economy and vice versa, thinks that perhaps only 10% of otaku have totally withdrawn from reality.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.

As much as people mock the premise of Danna ga Wakaranai, could it offer a message of hope?

As much as people mock the premise of Danna ga Wakaranai, could it offer a message of hope?

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.

MM

Magical Princess Minky Momo

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.

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8 comments on “The Moe Manifesto

  1. Cytrus says:

    Random comments:

    (1) “[T]he ideal of salaryman and housewife joining in matrimony” is long dead in reality – more than half Japanese households are now 共働き/both husband and wife working – and contemporary Japanese (regardless of gender) must become aware of this reality ASAP, as a twisted understanding of what’s feasible and what is not in the current economical situation can only lead to trouble.

    (2) Throughout the entire article, you discuss moe as if it was something a male feels for a female character, which can easily be shown to be inaccurate and adds to the usual stereotyping. Around 20% of the International Saimoe League voter base has always been female, for example, which you can easily confirm on the site’s meticulous statistics page (2012 and onward, here’s the 2012 page: http://2012.internationalsaimoe.com/statistics/aquamarine/)

    It is true, though, that moe has been marketed to male audiences more strongly than female audiences… until recent years. I feel that the current female moe marketing has already caught up with the male side, and indeed, the Animate closest to where I live at the moment is slightly skewed towards the female audience.

    Nowadays, it should be accepted that moe is something that a person of any gender can feel for a character of any gender, though males for female chars and females for male chars are by far the leading examples.

    (3) The “moe as an effect of parental instincts/desires” definition has been around for a long time, and it is the approach that has most influenced my personal take on moe. However, I feel that this approach was more influential in 2006, when I was first introduced to the term, and now holds little sway. This is not to say that moe content has been further sexualized or the like, rather that the definition of moe has broadened and became something vaguer, which brings us to-

    (4) I don’t know what you mean by “standard” in your usage of the phrase “standard definition” here, but the definition you provide there seems highly prejudiced and I only hear it used in media specials in need of a useful catchword which would cover all the “queer and nasty things otaku do”. I recommend the Japanese wikipedia article (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%90%8C%E3%81%88 「萌え」の意味論・語用論 section), which describes the popular definitions succinctly but comprehensively, and with no unnecessary bias.

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    • How’s it going, Cytrus? I was also wondering how common that kind of marriage was in Japanese society these days. It sounds like both the father and mother working outside the home is as common in Japan as it is in America.

      I also thought that the book was slanted toward looking at male otaku and moe as a male phenomenon. Even the women interviewed for the book gave that impression. Still, male moe otaku seem more common than their female counterparts.

      It’s good to know that other people have put forward the idea of moe flowing from parental instincts or desires. As for my standard definition for moe, I derived it from reading those interviews. The first part, “falling in love with an anime character,” is the most inclusive definition I could think of. The second clause is my attempt to describe the appeal of moe. Perhaps, this definition is prejudicial, but I don’t mean to be prejudiced against otaku. After all, I consider myself an otaku of sorts and could relate to the difficulties otaku are described as having. What you point out makes it sound like the work needs a few more interviews for a more well-rounded understanding of otaku; but, the people Galbraith talks to are from pretty diverse backgrounds.

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  2. Josh W says:

    This looks like one to add to the reading list; I’ve yet to read anything particularly investigative/scholarly on otakudom as such.

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    • The Moe Manifesto is the most complete work on the subject of moe I know. It also mentions many more works on the subject so that one can pursue one’s study of otakudom further. I’m very tempted to read Beautiful Fighting Girl, which was written by one of the interviewees.

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  3. Cytrus says:

    Sorry for the late reply. This year I’ve been having fun with a research scholarship program from the Japanese ministry of education – just finished and submitted the paper. You won’t be surprised to hear that I was researching patterns in historical and modern Japanese names (slightly different from what I do on the blog, since there are actual people involved, though :P). It’s all in Japanese, but if you’d be interested I can exchange for some of your own writings.

    Having thought things over one more time, I think I know why I take a somewhat guarded approach to the moe definition you summarize here. When writing for a general audience, you will likely go for the definition most commonly used by the media (as I mentioned before), meaning “moe as a (broad and vaguely defined) social issue”. Since I tend to look at otaku culture things from an inside perspective by default, that kind of definition ends up being of quarternary importance:
    1. Moe as a feeling
    2. Moe as a characteristic of a fictional character
    3. Moe as a genre type of a show
    4. Moe as a social phenomenon (or issue)

    Over the years, I’ve had to meditate a lot over point 2 in particular because of my involvement with ISML Profiles since 2008. Still, I guess I’d just have to read the book in question myself to form an opinion on how well the various aspects are represented.

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    • Reading a research paper written in Japanese…I’d say that’s beyond my ken (I still haven’t managed to finish a light novel yet), but the topic sounds amazing. I’d be happy to send you my fantasy novel (it’s about forty thousand words at the moment) once I finish editing it–if you enjoy reading epic fantasy. You’re one of my best commentators, and I’m always grateful for your insights.

      Some of the other stuff I’ve been reading
      made me focus more on the parts of the book describing moe as a social issue, but one of the author’s goals was to defend the phenomenon of moe to the wider audience. All the same, many of the interviews talk about how moe plays a part in the personal lives of the interviewees. Now, I need to find my next book on this topic. I’ll probably start with “Beautiful Fighting Girl” by Tamaki Saito.

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      • Cytrus says:

        I’d be more than happy to read your novel when it’s ready!

        The difference in difficulty between spoken and written Japanese is quite astounding, isn’t it -_-?

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      • Thank you! I’ll certainly send my novel to you when it’s completely polished.

        There are times when listening to Japanese that I think that I might be near fluency, but reading Japanese always disabuses me of that notion. 🙂

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