Moe Fundamentalism: Back to Basics

I regret nothing.

In all of our convoluted analysis of imagery, theme and plot, we seem to have forgotten about something very fundamental— the pleasure of watching anime.

This blog was originally named akira/scuro, but I intended never intended that name to be permanent. Just a placeholder while I figured out what I wanted this blog to be about. Now, I’ve finally figured it out (to a reasonable degree.)

Yesterday, I had a long, long chat with 2D-Teleidoscope about anime, love, life and everything in between. In one of the afternoon’s most surprising conclusions, we both decided that anime needed to go back to basics. So that’s what this blog will be about. Moe fundamentalism.

I am decisively not anti-moe. I thought I was for a while until I realized with horror that I fucking love Hoshii Miki. No amount of analysis can explain that. Maybe I’m too manque to understand my own attraction to Miki, or maybe there’s just no real reason. There’s just that je-ne-sais-quoi about Miki.

What I’ve decided is that that’s alright. Moe is not the problem with anime. We can try and fit shows into these little boxes all day long— “Type A”, “Type B”; explain characters in terms of tropes and archetypes— but at the end of the day, attempting to fit these critical frameworks on top of our anime simply ruins the viewing experience. To be sure, there are shows out there that are nothing more than an amalgamation of tropes— but no two characters are truly the same. When we simply think of any given character as a “tsundere”, we immediately conjure up assumptions and stereotypes.

We love labels. Just look at the proliferation of “x-dere” characters. We couldn’t think of a word to describe Kotonoha@School Days or Kaede@Shuffle!, so we created yandere. Lucky Star informed us that the then-“modern” tsundere had strayed away from its roots, so we have cooldere… and so on and so forth. We’ve come up with words to describe almost every class of character— osananajimi, imouto, inchou, et cetera.

Enough. These labels are useless. Let’s just talk about characters, without labeling them as anything. Kotonoha is Kotonoha. She’s a crazy bitch— but she’s also more than that. Defining her by the seminal event of her life (decapitating Sekai and slicing her stomach open) ignores everything else she’s done.

Back to Basics

Let’s talk about anime without all of these buzzwords. The elimination of tsundere from my vocabulary will not significantly hamper my ability to talk, intelligently, about anime. If anything, it will only enrich it.

I advocate moe without labels. I’m removing them from my vocabulary completely.

Anime should be about the emotions it evokes. Fear, joy, horror— whatever it is, we should engage these emotions without the use of rationalizing labels. This is what I will attempt to do from now on: talk intelligently about anime without resorting to too much analysis and using no mention of tropes and archetypes. We already have TV Tropes for that. It’s much more fascinating to me to write about the feelings and images that come up in my head while watching anime. It’s more visceral. It’s more real. It’s less detached, more effusive. I wish to capture the experience of being an anime viewer. Perhaps this approach is better, perhaps it is worse. Who knows?

In any case, I am a moe fundamentalist.

20 responses to “Moe Fundamentalism: Back to Basics

  1. You’re denuding language, which won’t work out. You’re right that labels are inadequate and always to some degree inaccurate, but they’re also essential for thought and discussion. ‘Moe without labels’ — anything without labels — is an empty page; anything that is actually said or written under that banner is hypocrisy. You also display a naive faith in your ability to access your own watching experience, which you really can’t. (For a start, it’s always re/membered.)

    I won’t wish you good luck, but I will wish you a rapid learning process.

    • Thank you for your insightful comment. Labels are indeed essential for thought and discussion, but I would argue that the current trend of endlessly creating new buzzwords to describe smaller and smaller subsets of characters is meaningless. I’m not trying to radically re-invent language and how we use it here. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t use labels as the starting point of discussion.

      There is a difference between my own experience and the memory of experience, and I argue that the memory of experience is more important, if you wish to split hairs about this kind of thing. Thank you for your comment; I will think a bit more critically about what I really want to convey with this post.

    • Yes, to speak or to write is to use labels. But that doesn’t necessitate that he use these particular labels. And if these labels are wanting… inaccurate… and loaded with undesired connotation, then he is more than free and able to remove them from his general lexicon concerning anime criticism.

      • You have a very rosy view of speaker freedom. Significantly altering one’s lexicon without notice leads to private language, which is madness and/or an impossibility (depending who you ask). Altering it with notice, meanwhile, always means wasted space and time, which is ugly and therefore unacceptable.

        The way to proceed is by salami-slicing the change you want to achieve into bits, and introducing those bits gradually and — this is crucial — in something so well-written and so important that your nudges and tilts will be widely adopted. A really good anime blogger (I offer this concept as a hypothesis, as I’ve never read one) would never say what they were going to do, they would simply do it, and then watch others follow suit.

        You will note that most manifestoes are issued by fringe groups and diasporas who have no power to bring about change. Governing parties and oppositions only produce them in the run up to an election, which is the brief moment in which they are at others’ mercy.

        By the way, Michael, about your own blogging – is it not all manifesto and no change?

        • I do not feel that the removal of a few words from my vocabulary can be considered a “significant” change in my lexicon.

          In addition, I am under the impression that you think I want to start some kind of social movement. I am completely uninterested in the actions of others, and I’m perfectly content with idly critiquing the way others do things without positing any kind of meaningful alternative. I do not care if other people follow suit. In this sense, I do not see my post as a “manifesto.” Rather, I see it as a statement of my own methodology, which I think is worth sharing precisely because commenters like you are around to debate the merits and shortcomings of my methodology. Once again, I think your comments are incredibly helpful and worth thinking about.

        • Private lexicon? Oh, please! Madness? Check your own hyperbole. Analysis of criticism is ugly and unacceptable? What kind of closed-off system of nonsense are you trying to get people to march under?

          My blogging: it’s 2 things. 1) writing technique experimentation. 2) simply writing about how I think criticism should be handled. Manifesto? I lead no movement. If people take a few bits here and there, modifying their own critical process, that’s fine. I’m simply getting some shit off my chest after reading the ‘sphere over the years, to state it as bluntly as I can.

          As for affecting change, yeah, leading by example, creating a mark that bloggers can aspire to, probably has the best shot. But not everyone is in that game. I’m not. I just want to write some criticism. For me. Doing it my way. Do you think I wrote ‘on genre’ for any audience actually out there? Now can your narrow views on what is ‘acceptable’ to publish accept that?

  2. I agree wholeheartedly.

    As unpleasant as they may be to me, I don’t entirely think tropes and archetypes are the issues in themselves. It’s more the tendency for them to discourage thoughtful discussion in favor of slapping as many one- or two-word labels on a character or situation as quickly as possible, distilling any possible depth and intricacies into their bare forms, THEN building insight on top of those generalizations with all their connotations intact. The cake is not the sum of its ingredients, as it were. To eat one in the manner of shoveling into your mouth raw sugar, eggs, etc. is setting yourself up for one shitty cake (if one can even still call it that).

    One thing of personal note is that I always have a hard time starting new series, being at the mercy of disbelief not yet suspended and introduction of characters and story, which is always a little awkward by nature. I can’t help but start off by seeing characters and situations as these archetypes they seem to fit, and I dread that. But through immersion and time, I come to learn about, understand, and love these characters through their interactions with others, in the choices they make, in their little quirks and nuances, and so on, and I treasure this. To go from here back to those simple labels does them injustice, and is a real shame for both memory of experience and discussion alike.

    To some extent, I think everyone must have a special character for them who Hoshii Miki is to you; I myself do: a character instilling in me that inexplicable feeling of which (I feel like) I would make impure even attempting to describe with words, but something along the lines of… fiery endearment. (Moeru, if you will!) A magical beacon of light that evades overanalysis and reality in a sea of ruthless consumption. One could do with a lot more of such a second wind of innocence, which I take is what fundamentalism of moe should be.

    I anticipate eagerly what will be your writing in the absence of these particular labels in the future, Akira. I don’t actually write or follow anime as much as anyone else coming here probably does, so I hope I haven’t been too obtuse.

    • We had this discussion earlier on twitter, so I won’t have the same discussion again. It’s nice to read your fleshed-out ideas, though. Once again, I intensely dislike fitting anime onto frameworks. I love, love, love the baking metaphor.

      I really like that you encapsulated my feelings towards Hoshii Miki as moeru. It’s the most visceral and genuine use of the word “moe” I’ve seen in a long time. You’re totally right in saying that fundamentalism, going back to basics, is all about trying to grasp that “wind of innocence.” I’m going back to a time where tsundere didn’t exist.

      Also, you should follow more anime. <3

  3. Oh labels, how I despise thee…

    To illustrate an anology, it’s the same with music. For example, you have Rock music. Further divided into Christian Rock, Hard Rock, Slow Rock, Glam Rock, Krautrock, Progressive Rock, Rockabilly, etc. They may/may not share similar song structure, but in the end, it’s all a matter of enjoying the song regardless of the subgenre.

    It seems that you are more visual/emotional character rather than rational. (like me) This is why I don’t participate in online discussions on anime lingua franca…

    And I do happen to like Miki too. I’m not sure why either, but maybe it has to do with her confident, perfectionist and bubbly nature which is countered by her somewhat lazy, heck care nature. (Somewhat like Miwako from Hidamari Sketch)

  4. I would love to read some blog posts about people actually enjoying anime rather than trashing them because of the appearance of a particular trope they don’t like or because X show did it better. I want people to take the filters off as well and just watch a show with the purpose of enjoying it rather than to have something to criticize or analyze in the their blog for a like-minded readership. I’m 100% behind you and moe fundamentalism.

  5. The only thing I would say is that it seems to me that “moe” itself is one of the words that almost needs to be excised from our vocabulary. While a certain portion of the viewership understands it well enough, to others it single-handedly represents everything they see as wrong or problematic in the last whatever-period of anime. So rather than “moe fundamentalism”, I think it’s really more “anime fundamentalism” or just plain “fandom”. It is “good enough” to simply enjoy something, though also good to talk about why.

    As Taka alludes to above, I think many people changed their viewing experience to adapt to the requirements of writing a blog (or contributing to Forums, etc.) and keeping up a certain appearance of being “above the fandom fray”. There’s a certain idea (misconception?) that the viewer needs to be abstracted so we can discuss and analyse anime in “objective” terms, as if performing an impartial scientific analysis. The focus on labels, archetypes, and traits can be a way to demonstrate that you can “see through” the motifs and inspirations behind the show, and are able to adeptly analyse the core of its construction. This is often coupled with a “damn you, anime, for lacking originality and always falling back on shallow archetypes and predictable traits” tirade, which is so “truthy” that it gets applause without a second thought. In this entire process, many people end up “seeing through” (or looking past) the actual characters being presented, and so miss the process of *actually watching the show*. Perhaps some might say “anime isn’t clever enough to hide its inspiration”, but I think we need to offer it the benefit of the doubt. Analysis performed as an outpouring of a personal experience is, to me at least, a lot more interesting and engaging than one that simply focuses on how many words one can use from their anime patterns lexicon to explain away anime in abstract.

    • I find value in analysis. Understanding historical undercurrents for cultural texts allows us to situate a work within its proper historical context, which helps us understand its motivations. I think that hating on anime has become chic, and also incredibly easy. Many irresponsible comments of “this is just like that other show” are being thrown around, and frankly, all of that is meaningless.

      The idea that we must abstract ourselves comes from our misguided belief that good reviews are objective reviews. Objective reviews are both useless and unobtainable. It’s far more interesting (and human) to simply talk about the work. Talk about why you liked it (or didn’t.) Reading a “biased” review helps readers understand the author, which is also fun and interesting.

      I call myself a “moe fundamentalist” because I see nothing wrong in indulging in moe. Sometimes, I just like girls that don’t exist. Fuck it. I’ll roll with it. We can’t just dismiss “moe” from our vocabulary because moe, as an artistic movement, is real. Getting rid of moe would be as absurd as getting rid of cubism. I’m just acknowledging the fact that there’s nothing inherently shitty about it.

      Finally, I don’t see a problem with being unable to hide inspirations. Usury is fine, as long as there is new content being created in the process. Just look at well-written, thoughtful fanfiction. It doesn’t hide its inspirations at all, with most characters being plagiarized from the works of others, yet it still manages to add value. Fair game, I say. The problem with most anime for most commentators these days is that they don’t add “enough” value, which is why they fall back on shallow archetypes and predictable traits.

      • Well, I admire your sort of cavalier attitude about liking what you like. I’m curious about the concept of “moe as an artistic movement”, how that would be defined, and how that’s juxtaposed with “moe as an emotion”. But again, I don’t really want to get bogged down in labels, and that has been debated ad nauseum with no conclusion in sight. Suffice it to say, “moe is”.

        In any case, as I synthesize those thoughts, it seems to me that one of major reasons why many commentators feel anime doesn’t add enough value could be precisely because they focus so much on the “objective” traits, and not on their personal experience. I have a bit of hard time believing that, when someone encounters a familiar anime plot line, archetype, or trait, the only thing that goes through their mind is “seen that before”. Perhaps a poor analogy, but that’s like going to a restaurant, having the best insert-food-here you’ve ever had, and dismissing it like “eaten that before”. So much effort is spent chronicling and detailing what the anime is (and being disappointed that it’s like other things already chronicled) that “not adding enough value” could be defined for some only as “give me something I’ve never chronicled before, because I need something new to say”. This is a real over-emphasis on “uniqueness”, that perhaps comes as a result of (or at the very least results in) an under-emphasis on “experience”. This may be when you know you need to stop chronicling and just start experiencing again; it’s time to get your sense of taste back. The value added in a work may not just be what the creators give, but what you take away. That implies that the viewer too contributes to the equation.

        Maybe this is overly-lofty, but I think you have to go into all fiction with a willingness to love it. Indeed, if you were to approach moe as if it’s inherently shitty, that alone would make it rather impossible to love any show that draws upon that as an emotional hook or key element. So maybe your “moe fundamentalism” isn’t so wrong after all, in contrast to what most other commentators seem to be saying. If you can’t bring yourself to genuinely fall in love with the world and the characters in the shows you watch, then all that remains is a worthless chronicle of labels, stereotypes, and traits that is more derivative than the worst “amalgamation of tropes”. When you remove all the humanity, there’s nothing left.

  6. Pingback: A Defense of Analysis (as if that’s necessary) «·

  7. You know, I usually avoid anime blogs because they just can’t find the right balance. Some sights focus solely on the entertainment value of some shows, which leaves me wanting more. I also like discussions that go beyond the show and can focus on the industry and culture behind it all. Other sites take a more “elitist” approach, but sometimes usually to the point where the negativity becomes overwhelming. I can understand that people have different tastes, but the constant critiquing is no longer constructive.

    This is exactly why I like your site. You acknowledge anime as both entertainment and as an expressive medium. This post is both fun (for me, more like a guilty pleasure) and yet insightful. If you’re ever in the New England area, I’ll gladly buy you a beer.

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