Reviewby Brian Ruh,
A collection of interviews between the author and various Japanese creators and critics on the topic of moe. The dialogues explore what moe is, how it is created, and why people are attracted to it. In the process, they discuss the anime / manga industry as well as contemporary relationships and gender roles in Japan.
Everyone in anime and manga fandom seems to have an opinion about moe, and most folks aren't terribly subtle about it. Mentioning moe can often be a great way of devolving a conversation and it can provide a reliable springboard from which to belly flop into a morass of personal bickering. That's the thing about moe – people's reactions are by definition intensely personal, meaning that folks who are attracted to fictional characters often see critiques of moe as attacks on their identity. The people criticizing moe, though, more often than not honestly do not comprehend the role that moe feelings play in the emotional lives of their fellow fans.
Partick W. Galbraith is ideally positioned tackle the multifaceted manifestations of these reactions in The Moe Manifesto, bringing to the subject a unique combination of academic rigor and fan devotion. Although he has a doctorate in Information Studies from the University of Tokyo and is currently working on another PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Duke, The Moe Manifesto plays down Galbraith's bona fides, emphasizing his fan credentials. In the introduction, Galbraith relates how he began to get tattoos of bishoujo characters as a teenager and, later, his experiences marching through the streets of Akihabara with the Revolutionary Moe Advocates Alliance in 2007. Galbraith is also the author of other anime-related books, including Otaku Spaces (2012) and The Otaku Encyclopedia (2009). (In the interest of disclosure, I said favorable things about The Otaku Encyclopedia in my old ANN column and consequently a pull quote of mine appears on the inside cover of The Moe Manifesto. This of course has no bearing on my opinion of the book.)
As one might be able to glean from the title and his experiences, Galbraith is not an impartial observer of moe. He is sympathetic toward those who find love and solace in the realm of fiction and expresses confusion about why someone would care how others get their emotional needs met. Galbraith says that he decided on the title The Moe Manifesto “in hopes of capturing some of the spirit of camaraderie that I felt on the streets of Akihabara in 2007.”
The Moe Manifesto is not, however, actually a manifesto (although I certainly cannot begrudge him the catchiness of such an alliterative title). Rather, it's a exploration of the many ways that moe has been created, consumed, and interpreted. Beginning with a short introduction outlining the history of the concept of moe, Galbraith discusses how the term came into being in the 1990s, as well as its earlier antecedents in the manga of Osamu Tezuka and Hideo Azuma. A point well worth mentioning is that quite a few of the anime titles beloved to many who might disdain having relationships with fictional characters –Castle of Cagliostro, Macross, Gundam, Sailor Moon, and Evangelion – are also foundational to the growth and development of moe. After this thorough, but whirlwind, introduction, the main section of the book moves on to dialogues between Galbraith and various Japanese writers and creators.
Some of the interviews are with figures that may be familiar to English-speaking fans, such as Eiji Otsuka (manga editor and author of MPD Psycho and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service), Noizi Ito (illustrator of the Haruhi Suzumiya and Shakugan no Shana light novels), and Humikane Shimada (character designer for Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer). Others, like Mari Kotani, Kaichiro Morikawa, Go Ito, Hiroki Azuma, and Tamaki Saito, might be more well known to those on the academic side of Japanese studies (Azuma and Saito have had books released in English in the last few years, though, so they may have wider name recognition). Of particular note are a pair of interviews that discuss the creation of two of the most well-known magical girl shows of the 1980s – Toshihiko Sato of the studio Production Reed describes what it was like bringing the Minky Momo series to life, while Studio Pierrot director Yuji Nunokawa goes into detail about the creation of the TV series Creamy Mami. Each dialogue orbits around moe and how the term has influenced the interviewee's approach to anime and manga.
One of the reasons I say that The Moe Manifesto isn't a manifesto per se is that there doesn't even seem to be a single agreement among the interviewees on what moe is, much less the role it plays in anime culture. In his introduction, Galbraith succinctly states that moe is an action (rather than a thing or description) done by someone in response to a fictional character. Therefore, a character is never moe, but rather is a character that inspires moe feelings of love and affection in an outside observer. By this reasoning, it's possible for two people to fully buy into the moe concept without ever reaching a consensus on the kinds of qualities that inspire such feelings in them, since it can be so subjective. I think Galbraith's definition is quite useful, although some of the creators Galbraith talks to have slightly different takes on moe.
Although accompanied by plenty of glossy illustrations, the interviews are of varying quality. The most frustrating dialogue in the book is probably the one with Strike Witches designer Shimada. As one of the primary creators responsible for the contemporary merging of cuteness and militarism, I was particularly interested in his take on such characters. After all, this connection is used for more than pure entertainment value – Shimada has designed materials for the Japan Self Defense Force that has reportedly led to an increase in enrollments. However, Shimada claims to have no real hobbies and does not consider himself to be particularly ambitious. In fact, he says that there “wasn't any logic” behind his decision to create works that pair military hardware with cute girls; he just sees himself as responding to market demand. He also claims to not really know what moe means and concludes by describing himself as “a follower, not a leader.” Similar sentiments are expressed by illustrator Noizi Ito, who claims to not pay attention to what character design elements are often considered moe, stating “I just draw what I like. If people think that it's moe, then I am very grateful.” It's unclear whether this lack of introspection among these creators is a calculated position or if they honestly give such little thought to their craft.
Most of the interviews are far more informative, though. For example, voice actor and artist Toromi details her career trajectory from working with a video game company to being an in-demand illustrator who has created cute caricatures of deities for a Buddhist temple. Also particularly interesting is the interview with Jun Maeda of the company Key, whose emotional visual novels like Kanon, Air, and Clannad became touchstones for the popularity of moe characters in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Overall, The Moe Manifesto is dense with information, yet easy to read and arranged in a logical progression. However, since Galbraith begins with such a strong, concise introduction, it is a little disappointing that the book does not have a corresponding conclusion to summarize and tie together the issues raised in the dialogues. The transition to a glossary and index following Tamaki Saito's concluding interview is rather sudden, making the ending of the book seem a little rough.
In spite of its strong content, there was something about The Moe Manifesto that left me unsatisfied. Underneath the basic, surface element of moe there seems to be a revolutionary potential that is frustratingly unfulfilled. Galbraith mentions it in his introduction when he discusses the work of Toru Honda (one of his interviewees), in which he says moe promotes a “love revolution” that entails “liberation from oppressive social and gender norms.” This view may be surprising to the detractors of moe, who often argue that it in fact reinforces an ideal of weakened femininity and supports standardized gender roles in Japanese society. In fact, when Galbraith asks Honda why he thinks moe characters are so young, he answers, “Because if makes them vulnerable, which inspires us to protect and nurture them. The character needs support, love, or care, even if she is strong and independent.” In this view, moe gives men who may be at a disadvantage in their careers or finances the opportunity to have genuinely emotionally fulfilling relationships with fictional characters. While this may be beneficial to the individuals and the greater community (as Honda puts it, “Forcing people to live up to impossible ideals so that they can participate in so-called reality creates so-called losers, who in despair might lash out at society”), this doesn't change the fundamental male-dominated nature of the relationships these individuals want to have. A true love revolution would be able to work through these issues and lift the “oppressive social and gender norms” for all parties.
Still, I'm not willing to write off the concept of moe entirely. Galbraith's interview with Kimio Ito highlights the discomfort he and others had with the standards of Japanese macho masculinity in the 1970s and their gravitation toward shoujo manga as an alternative. As Ito puts it, these are “boys and men who are attracted to the bright colors of girls' culture and reject the monotone of adult male culture.” This seems like an impulse that could have had fantastic results, creating new forms of masculinity and femininity. I think that there is still a potential for a “love revolution” in moe, but to date it remains unfulfilled and will remain so as long as there is no real self-introspection with regard to gender norms and roles among its devotees. I think a big part of this can be seen in the male-centered emphasis on moe throughout the book. Even though Galbraith's definition is gender-neutral, nearly all of the specific examples in The Moe Manifesto involve straight male viewers – female and non-heterosexual fans are barely even mentioned. But as interviewee Halko Momoi states, “Moe isn't bound to being male or female. The response transcends gender. Moe is a third gender.” This is a fascinating point of view, and certainly one worth exploring in more depth.
As a wide-ranging examination of moe in the anime and manga industry, The Moe Manifesto certainly fulfills its mission. It may even sway the minds of some moe naysayers, as it more fully fleshes out the moe impulse, how such characters are created, and the reasons why fans respond to them.
Overall : A-
+ Insights into the anime creative process. Perspectives on moe and what it means from people who are deeply connected to it. Copious illustrations support the text.
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