I commissioned up-and-coming artist Noodle (@EggNoodl on Twitter) to draw one of the characters from my upcoming novel “Do You Want to Be Normal?”
Her name is Jules O’Shaughnessy. She has the mind of a hardboiled PI and the body of a tiny teenage girl, and she loves black coffee. In the book, she is hired by a mysterious girl named Alyssa to spy on all of the clubs in her high school.
Check out the book when it’s out to learn more about her story. Also make sure to visit Noodle’s Twitter account for some more awesome artwork!
In the meantime, here are some other nice mug-related pictures to enjoy (one of which is referenced in Noodle’s illustration)!
If one searches for the phrase “anime moe problem” on Google, they can find several pages worth of articles, essays, and forum threads all decrying this genre of animation. When I tried this earlier today, my related searches were “moe ruined anime” and “anime is misogynistic.”
One of the articles featured prominently on the first page was one from Feminist commentary site “The Mary Sue” entitled “Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It.” It describes the general idea of the genre, as well as the author’s personal feelings on the topic:
As a woman keen to see increased representation of female characters on screen, I find moé alienating. Moments of cutesy clumsiness or misunderstandings only believable from a five-year-old are so far away from anything I experienced as a teenage girl with female friends my age that it is impossible for me to relate to those characters. Such moments have the same effect on me as sexual fanservice: I get yanked out of my immersion in the story, roll my eyes and either switch off entirely or wait for the anime to win me back over again. If we can acknowledge the genuinely positive aspects of moé while also criticizing the ways in which it contributes to a long-standing problem of female representation, perhaps we can build a more inclusive anime culture together.
Amelia Cook at The Mary Sue
The article also describes moe fans as “losers in the love market,” and explains that the viewers crave characters who are easily controlled and vulnerable.
To someone looking in from outside of the general anime fandom, there seems to be a significant issue with whatever this “moe” thing is.
There is, however, a problem with a lot of the commentary being provided, and that would be the lack of discussion with actual fans of the genre. If we want the perspective of someone who despises the genre, we can find that in spades, along with plenty of armchair psychology trying to explain what people enjoy in Moe. What we don’t see a lot of, however, are clear explanations from the people who are being analyzed.
This is why I decided to write this blog post. As someone who is completely enamored with the moe genre, I feel like I can add a useful perspective to future discussions of this topic. While I certainly don’t claim to be representative of all moe fans, I hope you still find this to be somewhat illuminating.
There was once a time when I actually couldn’t stand cute things. As I explained in my last few posts, I was an extremely edgy kid in high school. I liked violence, horror, and angry dissonant music. The moe anime genre, which hadn’t yet risen to prominence at the time, was so far removed from the things I enjoyed, the prospect of even giving those shows the time of day was laughable.
Fast forward to 2014.
I had recently been discharged from a 4-night stay in a local psych ward after a serious bout of depression and suicidal thoughts. This was the result of an incredibly abusive relationship, and I was in the midst of what the on-duty psychologist at the ward described as “PTSD symptoms.” It was difficult to sleep at night and, when I did, I had terrible nightmares where I had to re-live my abuse.
Regardless of these circumstances, I still had to earn a living. I was working night shift at a local company, which meant a lot of time all to myself. During a particularly slow night, I decided to look through some anime to see if anything looked appealing.
Thinking that I couldn’t possibly stomach something filled with the violence and intensity that I had previously sought after, I opted instead to check out a show called “K-on.” I had heard the name thrown around quite a lot, but had no idea what it was actually about. All I knew was that it had been dubbed a “cute girls doing cute things” show by many people on the internet.
K-on wasn’t my first run-in with moe, but it was the first time I had really sat down to gain an actual appreciation for these types of shows. After I saw the show’s lively opening for the first time, I was completely hooked:
K-on’s setting and characters contrasted so harshly with my own life, it instilled my viewing experience with a kind of happy-sad melancholia. The protagonists were all marshmallow-faced kind-hearted girls who just wanted to have a good time and support each other. Meanwhile, in my world, it seemed like everyone everyone around me was miserable and only wanted to drag everyone else down into the metaphorical mud.
Regardless, After each episode, I felt like some weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I could immerse myself in this fictional idealized version of reality for half an hour at a time, and it was enough to make everything else seem a little more bearable.
After finishing the first season of K-on, I moved on to a newer show called “Gochuumon wa Usagi Desuka?” which translates literally to “Is the Order a Rabbit?” Called “Gochiusa” for short, the show follows the employees of a small coffee shop called “Rabbit House” as they navigate both work and their daily lives.
To this day, Gochiusa remains one of my favorite shows ever. Not only did it have a sweet and relaxing atmosphere, but the characters all had distinct, well-written personalities that helped them feel more real. They all had flaws, even if said flaws were minor, and worked together to overcome their problems shortcomings. They cared for each other in a way rarely seen in real life, and some of the more emotional scenes actually made me tear up.
I distinctly remember an episode near the end of the second season that revolved around the characters going on a camping trip. One of the girls, Chino, had been given a hat by her co-worker, Cocoa, which ends up falling into a nearby river. Underestimating the strength of the stream, Chino climbs into the water to pursue it. She finds herself too weak to fight against the current and becomes stranded on a small patch of land.
After she is finally re-united with the rest of the group, Chino is scolded by a tearful Cocoa. “I don’t care about the hat!” she cries. “I care about you!” What would normally be considered a small speed-bump in a typical action anime is given great weight by the show, and ends up with easily ten times the emotional impact because of it. In instances like this, the simplicity of the genre can be used in its favor.
Moe is an idealized version of reality, that’s an undeniable truth of the genre, but that’s a component of a great deal of fiction. What exactly then is the “problem” with moe?
I think the resistance to this cute and sweet genre can be summed up in a segment written for Otaku USA in 2015 with the hyperbolic title “Why I Must Destroy Moe:”
Lie to yourself just this once, and you won’t be alone anymore. You’ll be surrounded by girls who all love you just the way you are, unconditionally; always smiling and happy unless you don’t want them to be, forever beautiful and grateful you’re there for them. They may not be real, but so what? They’re BETTER than real girls. You can never be normal anyway.
You may as well go all out! Such is the true heart of moe. It’s the blue pill that keeps you plugged into The Matrix, and nearly all male otaku these days are content to choose this until the day the delusion wears off and they commit suicide. Girls can never truly “know” of the appeal of moe just as guys can never truly “know” the appeal of yaoi, even when it’s explained.
Daryl Surat for Otaku USA magazine
While obviously written in a tongue-in-cheek, exaggerated manner, this attitude seems to be at the heart of the anxiety surrounding moe. It’s regarded by many of its critics to be a “relationship simulator” for lonely otaku, taking them out of the dating pool and forcing them into a life of fantasy and solitude.
This stems from a typical misconception regarding Otaku: that they’re all so immersed in their fantasy worlds, they neglect their actual lives. They’ve abandoned real interpersonal relationships for ones with fictional idealized characters.
While it’s true that a minority of otaku actually go so far as to consider one of these moe characters their “girlfriend,” those instances are few and far between. The English slang term “waifu” is thrown out often, but its primary purpose is to signify what someone’s favorite character is at the time, as opposed to an actual perceived “relationship.”
Many otaku, however, feed into the stereotypes surrounding their subculture. They embrace them as a way to spite their critics and double down on what they love, something I’ve certainly been guilty of on more than one occasion (I’m sort of a trouble-maker at heart <3).
This is something seen in many subcultures, from music genres, all the way to things like Dungeons & Dragons and video games. It’s extremely common to see self-referential jokes in the online video game community like “Gamers rise up!” Even the 2000’s-era “l33t speak” meme was a self-deprecating nod to the silliness and absurdity of internet culture.
Speaking of video games, it’s also a fact that a small minority of gamers tend to let their real-life responsibilities and relationships fall apart in favor of virtual worlds, something likely more common in video game communities than anime ones. It doesn’t mean that the medium itself is at fault. It’s on the consumers to manage their lives responsibly, not the content creators.
It also doesn’t mean that any of the people who do take things things too far can’t live a normal life, of course, and it’s not necessarily a path to suicide as the above excerpt suggests it is. Most people end up growing out of these things and either leave the hobby behind, or temper it in a way that interferes less with their responsibilities.
As I said before, I don’t claim to speak for all moe fans. However, in my case, my life has improved significantly since I became hooked on the genre. My depression has been far less severe, I’ve lost close to 80 pounds, and I’m working a far more fulfilling job. It’s not that moe necessarily caused these things to happen, but it definitely gave me the extra spark I needed to start cleaning up my life. It even led to my current writing hobby and, subsequently, this blog!
One of the facets of these show that isn’t discussed often is that the viewership doesn’t always want to “date” the characters; they may want to become them. This is especially true for myself. Seeing the characters looking beautiful and happy made me want to improve both my own appearance, as well as my personality. Not only did the genre help pull me from my depressive malaise, but it also made me want to become a genuinely more pleasant person.
Before I close this (admittedly long) post out, I want to address the idea that these shows only cater to a male audience. The most ironic part of the article from The Mary Sue that I started this post with was their choice of pictures. Almost every show referenced in it counters claims from the genre’s critics in interesting ways.
Take, for instance, “Love Live.”
Love Live certainly fits within the parameters of the moe genre. However, it has an incredibly large female fan base. When I was still attending university, the people at my school’s anime club who watched Love Live were almost exclusively women (much to my surprise). Even today, it’s not uncommon to see women at anime conventions cosplaying these characters. This shows that these idealized characters aren’t just bait for lonely otaku, and can be appreciated by a wide variety of people.
Another image used in the article was from “Sweetness and Lightning:”
The irony regarding this particular show is that the main character isn’t a young girl, but is instead a widower trying to take care of his young daughter. Each episode centers around a different recipe he cooks for her with the help of one of the students from the high school he works at.
The series still manages to provoke a warm, protective emotion from the reader, but in a slightly different way than most of the moe genre. It takes many of same themes, but manages to set itself apart in emotionally touching and creative ways.
Neither of these two shows I just mentioned can be firmly labelled as “for men” or “for women.” And if you think shows like K-on are written from a male perspective for other men, you haven’t done your research on who is writing these things.
And it may be obvious for me to point this out, but attempting to appeal to a male audience isn’t a bad thing. It’s natural to have a certain demographic in mind when creating a work of fiction. However, it pays to be honest when discussing these things, lest you leave out part of the larger picture and lose sight of the forest for the trees.
In my personal opinion, most people who find moe objectionable simply aren’t in the shows demographic. Perhaps they have their own personal hangups about this stuff, and it gives them a strong negative reaction to it. Perhaps a show they like was cancelled in favor of a “cute girls” show and they’ve held a grudge over it ever since.
Whatever the case, I feel that these people may change their minds if they simply gave the genre a chance and learned to generalize a little less about its demographic. And if they genuinely just don’t like it after that? That’s fine too.
Everyone has their own reasons for liking and disliking different things, and it’s not my place to change that. By all means, enjoy the things you love, no matter how silly or strange they may be! It’s part of what makes this life worth living!
Honestly, this is still just scratching the surface of what I have to say about these shows. I could go on for far longer on the subject, but I think I’ll save that for another time.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and maybe even learned something that you didn’t know before. As always, thank you very much for reading!
My last blog post included more than a few details about my media diet as a teenager, but there’s another facet of that topic that I have yet to explore: the infamous music genre called “Nu Metal.”
While most people now associate the label with cheese-factory acts like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, and Kid Rock, there are a lot of highly enjoyable acts that are often forgotten and overlooked. In this post, I hope to highlight the more enjoyable parts of the genre as well as illustrate why Nu Metal has its current reputation.
Growing up, my parents listened to a lot of Grunge music. Originating in the late 80s, Grunge was characterized by punk-influences, catchy distorted guitar riffs, and fairly poppy song structures.
It hit all the right notes for the 90s: it was angsty and rough around the edges, but still polished as poppy enough more mass consumption. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains dominated the radio playlists back then.
Grunge had a certain abrasiveness to it, but it usually seemed to take back seat to poppier sensibilities. Which begs the question: What if you used all of the same grunge influences, but made the music angrier, noisier, more abrasive, and edgy as all hell? Enter “Nu Metal,” my personal music genre of choice while growing up.
It’s not completely obvious where Nu-metal began. One can point to bands like Primus, Faith No More, and industrial metal group Godflesh as clear influences on the genre, but it’s debatable if any could fit snugly into the “nu-metal” label. While it might be a somewhat controversial statement, I’d give the title of first “Nu-Metal” album to Tool’s “Undertow,” released in 1993.
While it’s not as cheesy as later Nu Metal releases would be (or Tool releases, for that matter), Undertow had almost all of the emblematic elements of the genre: a heavy, distorted bass, fuzzy guitar riffs, heavily-affected vocals (complete with enraged screaming and growls), and delightfully edgy lyrics and song titles. Tool would later fall into a more mellow sound and weird self-indulgent time signatures, but the impact that Undertow had on mainstream rock was undeniable.
The true defining album for the Nu Metal genre, however, is the self-titled release from the band “Korn,” release a year after Undertow. This album was an absolute powerhouse, and flipped the grunge-saturated industry on its head. While later Korn releases aren’t really my cup of tea, I still come back to the self-titled album to this day.
The furious energy, the heavy bass, the guitar riffs that are so noisy and fuzzed, they barely even resemble notes, and last, but not least, the supremely edgy eye-catching cover art. It all comes together to create the perfect musical brew for an anti-social young man who feels like he’s been beaten down by society.
A lot of fantastic acts sprang forth, emboldened by releases like the ones described above. Bands like Spineshank, Slipknot, and (to a lesser extent) Linkin Park all joined the fray and turned the late 90s and early 2000s into an angsty distortion-tinged free-for-all.
If I had to pick an absolute favorite album from this era, it’d be fairly difficult. However, for the purposes of this blog post, I’d go with Cold’s self-title 1998 release.
This album pushes all the right buttons for me. It takes my favorite aspects of the genre (the anger, the energy, the fuzzy distortion, the noise, the edginess), and turns it all up to 11. To this day, I like to spin this record when I’m in a particularly bad mood. Vocalist “Scooter” Ward’s mumbles and screams are surprisingly cathartic to hear, and the heavy guitar and bass combo fit with his vocal style perfectly.
However, as I said earlier, Nu Metal is now a fairly infamous genre, and yet here I am praising the daylights out of it. If this is the good stuff, what does the bad stuff look like?
Hahaha… I guess I have to get into that now, don’t I? Well, here goes nothing… Allow me to introduce the one and only Kid Rock:
Kid Rocks music had all of the trapping of the Nu Metal genre: it was loud, catchy, heavy, and dripping with distortion. But behind the heavy facade, it was all so… hollow. To me, the tracks I posted above seem like they’re coming from a place of passion, anger, and frustration. But tracks like Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” and “Cowboy” seem so phony. They sound like someone putting on an act, trying to latch onto musical trends for cool points.
All you have to do is watch the video to see it all laid out plainly. It shows Kid Rock driving around in expensive cars and dressed in goofy outfits, as well as some clips of guys riding dirtbikes for some reason. Nothing about the video or song show that this music is coming from any real emotions or inspiration. It feels more like just a product made to play in the background of parties.
Also, speaking of awful “products:”
A lot of younger people may feel disgust at seeing phony corporate boy bands like “One Direction.” Well, this is how I feel when I watch the above music video. Adema’s lead singer was allegedly related to Korn’s Jonathan Davis somehow (I believe they were half brothers). On would hope that some of that raw energy from Korn’s early efforts would have rubbed off on him, but that apparently wasn’t the case.
Everything about Adema seems like an act formulated to appeal to both young Nu Metal fans and people who were previously into 90s boy bands. Not only were they dressed in the awful trendy clothes of the time period (complete with spiked hair and frosted tips), but they seemed to imitate the cheesy mannerisms of boy bands as well. On top of all of this, their music was clean and overproduced, to the point where it barely resembled early entries to the Nu Metal genre.
Go on, listen to “The Way You Like It” and then a track from Tool’s “Undertow” and hear the difference for yourself.
Between the rough-around-the-edges, passionate stuff, and the mass-produced party-friendly garbage, it’s easy to guess which one would win out. Mediocre Nu Metal-influenced trash would dominate the radio for about a decade, and everyone would be worse off because of it.
Speaking of which… HEY GUYS! REMEMBER P.O.D.?!
Trying to remain relevant as long as they could, some of the older bands continued plugging away at albums until they became parodies of themselves. Bands like Disturbed (with their breakout album The Sickness) and Korn diluted their sound into a tasteless formulaic sludge that could only appeal to the most dedicated fans.
For instance, you could compare a song like this to Korn’s self-titled and instantly see the toll that 10 years took on their sound. They ended up resembling Adema more and more as time went on.
Not all of the bands aged this bad, however. Deftones still puts out quality music to this day. Linkin Park also went on to release one of my favorite albums from them in the 2010s (A Thousand Suns).
Cold, which I spoke about above, tones their sound down significantly, but have some tracks I can still enjoy in a different way from their self-titled album. Their album “A Different Kind of Pain” feels personal and heartfelt, coming more from sadness and loneliness than from anger and rage.
Their song “Back Home,” written about vocalist Scooter Wards sister’s battle with cancer, is still one of my favorite tracks by the band.
Looking back on all of this in 2019 brings back great memories, as well as more than a little bitterness. The Nu Metal genre could have been something much better than what it turned into. However, that was the way the cards fell, and Nu Metal will forever be known as the rap-metal-infused diarrhea farm it became.
This was one of the most self-indulgent things I’ve ever written, however, I hope you still learned a little about the music of the 90s and 2000s by reading it. If you already knew all of this stuff, then hopefully I’ve at least elicited a warm sense of nostalgia.
I feel as though I’ve been many different people over my life, but if there’s a single through-line through all of the different identities and interests I’ve taken on, it’s my love of rebellious and transgressive artwork.
Back when I was in middle school and high school, animation from Japan, dubbed “anime,” was just starting to explode in popularity. At the time, edgy and violent Original Video Animations (OVAs) were in vogue so, being the curious youngster I was, I sought this stuff out and consumed as much of it as I could.
Properties like Hellsing, Akira, Devilman, Trigun, and Android Kikaider became part of my world. Even if it wasn’t appropriate for my age, I was excited every time I found a new edgy action show to latch onto.
American society at large, however, didn’t have the same sensibilities that I had. “Kids are Glued to a Violent Japanese Show” a panicked Wall Street Journal article from 1999 read, written shortly after the show premiered in the United States. Jack Thompson, infamous anti-violent video game activist, also began his crusade against popular games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto around the same time.
There was new news media-crafted specter looming over the country: violent entertainment that could appeal to teenagers.
Years later, after Thompson’s crusade was dead and buried, violent media is fairly uncontroversial. Crime rates didn’t spike as the moral panic suggested it would. In fact, the opposite was true. Violent crime has been on a steady decline since the 90s.
Meanwhile, I had taken a long break from anime, opting instead to give my attention to American superhero comics. This was before the Marvel cinematic universe had been established and comic books were still somewhat niche. It wasn’t until I joined an anime club at my local university that I found my new obsession…
Moe anime, a style of anime that focuses on cute girls and fairly benign story conflicts (for instance, two characters having an argument over something small and then making up later on), was incredibly unpopular even among the members of the club. I, however, ended up falling in love with the genre and sought out more of it.
K-on and Gochiusa were my primary entry points to the genre, with the later having a profound effect on me. I was incredibly depressed at this time, and these shows ended up making all of those negative emotions I was carrying around vanish for at least a short period of time.
Not only that, but these shows had a transgressive element to them. It felt rebellious to watch shows about cutesy schoolgirls as a grown man. At my age, people were supposed to have graduated from lighthearted animations, and they certainly weren’t expected to have a fondness for overly-cute pastel-colored characters.
Ironically, even though violent media had been somewhat normalized, these seemingly innocuous moe shows were starting to become more and more controversial. They were considered “infantilizing” due to the child-like behavior of some of the characters, and the occasional fanservice made them “sexist” and “objectifying.”
Not only had my interests changed over time, but so had the interests of the country’s moral panic regarding media. It was like I had traveled a thousand miles just to end up in the same place I started in. Looking back over it all, it’s actually quite humorous.
The panic over these shows has only increased over time, a phenomenon I attribute to a lot of new anime fans who have been thoroughly entrenched in modern critical theory. Not only have these people been sheltered from the more daring and transgressive parts of anime, but they believe it to be somehow harmful for adults to view this kind of material. I don’t necessarily blame them for this, considering I could have been convinced of the same thing had I not been so predisposed to enjoying controversial media in the first place.
Regardless, this is very much like the debate surrounding violent media over a decade ago. No measurable negative effects were felt from the media in question, and moe anime and other shows with copious amounts of fanservice will end up showing the same.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy moe and pervy romcoms regardless of the arguments swirling around on twitter. After all this time, I guess I still have that same rebellious spark I always had.
As much as I occasionally want to be someone else, the life I’ve lived has undoubtedly given me unique experiences to drawn upon in my creative endeavors.
When I began writing light novels, I took obvious inspiration from comedic school life stories like Oreimo and Oregairu, but their depictions of life in Japan were something that would have been impossible for me to emulate and, even if I could, I didn’t necessarily want to. So where did that leave me? I could certainly create a pastiche of the light novel writing style and the various character archetypes that come along with it, but the plots and character backstories would have to be something different entirely.
That brings me to the American Midwest, the place I was born and raised in. While not particularly regarded as an artistic capital of the world, the Midwest had nonetheless contributed a great deal to America’s cultural identity. Ever since the rise of Midwestern emo music in the 90s, the place has been associated with melancholic guitar tones and vocals that sound like they’re on the verge of crying. Films made in this part of America also have a reputation for being somewhat dark and morose (Fargo, anyone?)
From my lived experiences, it’s incredibly obvious why this media turns out the way it does. The Midwest is a strange mix of rural nothingness and grimy cityscapes. One mile, you’ll have open spaces consisting of desaturated fields of grass or corn, and the next you’ll be in the midst of urban decay. Go a mile further, and you’ll find ritzy mcmansions and designer clothing outlets. Time and space almost seem to warp here in this cocktail of aged Americana.
So then, what better place to use as the setting for my novels? It’s a far cry from Tokyo, with its tightly-placed buildings, beautiful urban aesthetic, and lively city centers. The Midwest is a lot colder, a lot quieter, and a lot lonelier… but even with all that considered, it’s still kinda cool. The best parts of living here aren’t incredibly obvious. They may need to be searched for, but they still exist.
Just visit any local shrift shop around here, and you’ll get a concentrated dose of what I’m talking about. You’ll find an eclectic mix of junk from a ton of different people with wildly varying interests. Collections of old video games, records, strange clothing that isn’t made anymore, weird niche electronics, ugly nick-nacks, silly Halloween decorations, etc… There’s a cauldron of liveliness and culture bubbling just below the worn, weathered and cold exterior.
I still constantly wish I had been born elsewhere, and in a different body (with more natural charisma to boot). But that doesn’t mean my life and experiences are valuable. Just like with those dusty old thrift shops, perhaps I can dig down deep inside myself to find nuggets of hope and wisdom that I can share with everyone in my writing. If anyone has picked up on this while reading my books, it means I’ve been successful. If not, then… I guess I’ll have to try harder next time!
One day, I may live somewhere new, and my personality may have changed dramatically, but right now, I don’t hate what I have to offer people. As someone who has struggled with depression and self-esteem for a long time, I think that’s a big accomplishment.