To boldly go where no otaku has gone before...
As many of my readers know, I've been a part of multiple fandom communities over my life. Currently, my main entertainment passion is anime, which is why this blog exists. There was a time, however, when Star Trek was not only my main entertainment passion, but was also what captivated the imagination of a young Grade 6 student, who would make a point to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation each and every weekday evening at 8:30 PM just before heading to bed to prepare for school the next day.
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard was a noble hero to me, and a fictional character that I looked up to, and enjoyed cheering on in episode after episode of TNG. In fact, I had an Elementary Teacher that even looked and acted a bit like Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, and he tended to treat me as a student wunderkind, not unlike one Wesley Crusher, I must admit. ^_^;;
Star Trek, in general, holds a similar (if not greater) spot in the hearts and minds of countless young (and old) adults all over the world, many of who have memories of it not unlike my own. Many consider its stories to have great and uplifting themes, and to include the exploration of sophisticated and contemporary ideas. It tackles certain social issues that some other contemporary shows chose to avoid. It's interesting to note that an episode of Star Trek: DS9, called Rejoined, was the first syndicated television episode to air that showed one woman kissing another woman passionately on the lips.
So... what does this all have to do with anime, or moe specifically?
Well, while the various Star Trek shows (TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise) have all received varying degrees of critical acclaim, and much serious attention and prestige from TV and movie critics as well as social commentators, its fandom is frequently much-maligned. The word "Trekkies" has, in many corners, become a derogatory term. Many people associate it with obsessive fanboys and fangirls who constantly cosplay, go absolutely insane in the celebration of their fandom, who lose it to an even worse degree if a prominent celebrity within the fandom happens to run across them, who search out expensive character models and merchandise like they were out of control Ferengis, and who are so incredibly caught up with the ideas and intricacies and tropes of their fandom that they've somewhat isolated themselves from the wider world and its social norms and mores.
... Does this commonly held assessment of Trekkies remind you of another prominent fandom group, good reader? ;)
What's that I hear you say? "Otakus"? Why, yes, there are quite a few valid comparisons that could be made between Trekkies and Otakus. Both are "nerd" or "geek" cultures, after all. Both have a fascination with foreign, if not fictional, languages. Both tend to become thoroughly immersed in the fictional worlds that so enthrall them. The only thing that I've seen more stunning than a Trekkies' ability to know every last tiny detail and nuance of the vast fictional universe of Star Trek, are the unspeakably elaborate and largely speculative debates over the in-canon universe of Nanoha Takamachi over at the Nanoha subforum of Anime Suki. ;)
So... we've established that Trekkies are a lot like Otakus. Now, from here, I'm going to demonstrate how Star Trek, and four of its more prominent characters, actually bear striking parallels with some of the most beloved moe characters of anime.
First, we have the originators - Captain Kirk and Asuka Langley Soryu.
Bold, brash, and daring, these two people pride themselves on their professional expertise, and their skill in combat. They can be cunning and emotionally explosive warriors when the need arises, as there is a vibrant libido and youth to both of them. They stand for Earth, and its safety, against whatever aliens, no matter how angelic or godly in appearance, they may be. They have endured the lost of dear family members, and this causes them great mental hardship. For Kirk, it makes him hate the Klingons, and for Asuka, it leaves her psychologically unhinged in general.
Both of these people are torridly tumultuous titans, who command respect and always rise to the occasion of grave danger. Their closest associates frequently question their high-strung emotionality, and wish that they would take a more logical and reserved course. But they are not reserved champions of Earth, but rather soar for the outer reaches of space, as they desire to protect their world and learn more about who would do it harm.
Capt. Kirk is the fantastically famous first Starfleet Captain that we ever see. His hot-headed commanding presence is hence etched on the mind of almost every passionate Star Trek fan. Likewise, Asuka Langley Soryu is perhaps the most prominent of all anime tsunderes, and is one of the most popular anime characters of all-time, earning her a permanent place of acclaim amongst otakus. These are both bright lights that never fade even though time leaves the Originators long behind.
Now we come to The Next Generation - the New Captain and the New Tsundere: Jean-Luc Picard and Haruhi Suzumiya
Oh what hams do we have here! Lovers of theatrical gestures, intrepid pioneering explorers, idealistic dreamers of the highest accord! They search out with such diligence for new lifeforms and alien civilizations. And yet, their cultural and national heritage (French and Japanese respectively) play a key role in shaping who they are. Jean-Luc loves singing farajaka, while Haruhi expects every Japanese person to celebrate Tanabata. But their cultural proclivities expand beyond their national boundaries, as Jean-Luc is virtually addicted to Earl Grey tea and could muse for ages about Shakespeare and Dixon Hill, while Haruhi celebrates Christmas with such gutso that even Santa himself would merrily approve.
Shocked at the similarities between these two characters, good reader? Well don't be - because there's more to come.
Jean-Luc Picard's immediate circle of friends and subordinates includes an empath, numerous people who have traveled through time, and a seemingly unemotional fountain of information in a non-human android.
Haruhi Suzumiya's immediate circle of friends and subordinates includes an ESPer, a girl who has traveled from the future, and a seemingly unemotional fountain of information in a non-human alien interface.
Oh, and they both love relying on their "Number 1s" and sending them on all the important and arduous away missions... ;)
But while TOS and TNG are fairly conventional Star Trek, reflecting wholeheartedly the vision of Gene Roddenberry, and while Asuka and Haruhi are fairly conventional tsunderes, reflecting wholeheartedly the vision of moe-loving Otakus, there are some Star Trek shows and moe characters that truly break the mold, and dare to be different. And when they do, their enemies (and even their friends) better watch out...
For now we head into Deep Space, with Captain Benjamin Sisko and Nanoha Takamachi
These two can be very kind and gregarious to their friends and loved ones, but they're all business when the time comes to deal with the threats to their friends and loved ones. In the Pale Moonlight of the White Devil, they realize that dastardly demonic tools might need to be used to defeat a diabolic Dominion of Numbers. They know its wrong, but they know that the alternative could be a lot worse. And so they sympathize with the Garaks and the Chronos who make the hard choices; the choices that nobody else wants to make.
And then they go Defiantly on to the battlefield to thoroughly crush their enemies, and to deal with villains with unlimited desires - villains like Gul Dukat and Jail Scaglietti. Gifted with mystical powers and abilities, they do not shy away from this extraordinary responsibility that has been thrusted upon them, but choose to be Emissaries of hope and strength for the people and churches that rely on them in times of need.
Befriending the Klingons and the Wolkenritter through earning their respect with superior firepower - this is their way of keeping the peace. It earns them important allies in future struggles.
And from here, I could go on to comparing Kirino with Captain Janeway... but I think that folks who know both probably don't need me to. ;) :-p
So what is my point here?
My point is that we have four beloved (to varying degrees) Starfleet Captains, all with their own distinctive character traits, and four beloved moe characters of great prominence, also with their own distinctive character traits... and oddly enough, you can pair up one such Captain with one such moe character, and the similarities between them is striking. Does this mean that moe character types are actually on par with the finest men of the Federation, the Undisputed Kings of Sci-Fi? Well, maybe some of them really are...
Perhaps we could argue that Star Trek is to sci-fi what moe is to anime. In other words, its a subgenre within a broader genre; an uniquely optimistic one (naively and with delusion, its critics would say) that openly explores idealistic notions that may seem hopelessly unrealistic, if not unappealing, to many.
Many Star Trek critics dislike its cashless vision of the future, seen by some as even supporting Communism!
Many moe critics dislike its lolicon fixation, seen by some as even pandering to Pedophiles!
Are these legitimate concerns... or are they the overstatements of people with an axe to grind, and a political vision to maintain?
Truthfully, I'm not entirely unsympathetic to either of these concerns... but nor do I think that they ruin Star Trek or moe animes and moe characters. And to the moe critic, I ask - is Star Trek's controversial cashless society of the future something that ruins it for you? Does it morally outrage you to the point that you can't appreciate the excellent Star Trek characters and stories that are out there?
If not... then should lolicon have a similar effect in how you view the much wider world of moe?
Lolicon and associated fetishes are to moe what a cashless Federation and technobabble are to Star Trek. In other words, even many fans of moe and/or Star Trek don't like it. But there's so much more to moe, and to the vision of Gene Roddenberry, than this alone.
And if people can see beyond the Trekkies to appreciate Star Trek on its own merits, then why can't the moe critics see beyond the Otakus to appreciate moe anime on its own merits? Is it really right to disavow an entire subgenre of a broader entertainment genre or medium just because of what it's most obsessive fans are like?
What's this I hear from the moe critic?
"At least no Trekkie is like those creepy Hikikomori pillow lovers!"
Ah, you mean folks like this guy?
Yeah, that is creepy, I'll admit.
But do you know what else is creepy?
People doing their duty to a fictional Federation by cosplaying as a Starfleet officer for real life jury duty...
Any reasonably large and passionate fandom has its rather eccentric members. I'm sure that with enough digging you could find comic book fans just as disturbing as these two, and Harry Potter fans just as disturbing as these two.
But nobody treats Star Trek, comic books, or Harry Potter like complete crap just because of their fanbase.
So, moe critics, maybe you should show enough maturity to do the same...
Oh, what's that one last grasp of a critique that I hear wavering in the wind?
"At least Star Trek doesn't champion silly airheaded fools!"
But maybe this isn't fair of me. I'm sure that Azusa *and* T'Pol would both be offended at me comparing their beloved superior to this other silly goofball... ;)
Time to boldly go where you've never gone before, moe critics - and that's to start evaluating moe anime and characters on its own merits, and not on the basis of its answer to Trekkies...