Monday, December 20, 2010

The Moe/Star Trek Connection AKA Defending Moe Part Two


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. ^_^;; 

So, suffice it to say that TNG was very influential in my formative years growing up. 

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!"
Oh... really?



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...

9 comments:

  1. I really can't agree with comparing Haruhi to Picard, since Picard has that sort of tact and elegance, while Haruhi is more abrasive. Honestly, Haruhi's more like Janeway. =p I still would have prefer the double facepalms of Kyon and Picard. Hell, Q= Haruhi :D

    Nanoha and Sisko is actually a good comparison. Both of them are what it seems to be the sole combat pragmatists in fairly incompetent organizations that constantly rely on technobabble to save their asses. But neither really relies on technobabble, but realize when force is necessary. Whether it's Raising Heart or the Defiant, they certainly strike with great vengeance and furious anger to all that would harm that is all and good.

    Honestly, these are the people you don't want to put a fight up with. I'd rather face the Borg, The Jemhadar, Yuki Nagato, Kanade from Angel Beats, and Freeza then have to deal with them. Not even main character willpower's gonna save you.

    After all, Sisko punched out a god. Kyon almost came close...

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  2. I'd say it's fear and/or cynicism that drive people to irrationally criticise moe.

    They either see moe as an indication that plot and character development is thrown out the window or that the show embodies pedophilia or some bullshit like that.

    It is true in some cases, but moe is hardly an indication of anything bad to come. It's same with the obsessive fans. Watching anime won't make you a lonely hikkimori pillow lover.

    Like I said, critics can be pretty irrational, so it's not like they're going to have any semblance of reason in their argument against moe.

    Also I doubt comparing anime to Star Trek is going to help. Do you know what else you can compare to anime fans? Sports fans.
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-big-picture/2522-A-Nerd-By-Any-Other-Name

    Yet no one will see sports fans in the same light as anime fans, they will always say "But it's different!" without elaborating how.

    Personality I think it's a waste of time to try defending moe. Haters gonna hate. Nothing we can say or do to change it.

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  3. Rail Tracer - You're probably right, yeah. However, for what it's worth, I did this partly just for a laughs.:)

    While there's some serious points in my blog entry here, I found it a bit amusing to compare some popular moe character to some popular Star Trek Captains.

    So, even if my blog falls on deaf ears, it was worth it just for some laughs.

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  4. I know what you mean, I've done similar things for the laughs.

    By the way, I took that recommendation and watched Sora no Woto. Just finished it recently.

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  5. Well, from a “serious debate” standpoint, you’re open to a number of counterattacks, notably that very few people find the implication of communism as offensive as the implication of pedophilia (at least at nowadays) and, of course, the idea we’ve discussed previously of “a character” vs. “an ideal/fantasy/etc”. But since this isn’t what I’d call a “serious debate post” I’ll leave those alone for now.

    The observation about how Star Trek and moe are both extremely idealistic is an interesting one, myself I’d also point out that both of them can be considered escapist fantasies, and that both have fans who wish reality could be closer to that fantasy (to varying degrees).

    I also agree that there’s a difference between “healthy interest” and “unhealthy obsession” among fans. The debate, I think, often centers on where you draw the line: is writing blog posts about K-On! season 1 episode 9 that can basically be summed up as “AZUSA IS SO CUTE!!!!” unhealthy? I would say no (particularly since that actually kind of is my opinion of that episode, I just didn’t go posting a lot about it), whereas a lot of moe critics seem to take it as a yes.

    (On a related note, I think my biggest beef with most anti-otaku types is that I feel that they have a tendency to oversimplify the otaku mindset.)

    As for the actual comparisons themselves, my ability to evaluate the comments is a bit limited: while my dad, brother and I are all sci-fi fans, I also come from a family that rarely watched TV when I was growing up (right up until I got into anime, in fact), so I haven’t seen a lot of any of the Star Trek series – in particular, I’d have trouble commenting on Janeway/Kirino (was Janeway actually that grouchy?) and Archer/Yui (although it does crack me up). This being said, the Kirk/Asuka and Sisko/Nanoha comparisons definitely feel as if they’re onto something. I agree with Archon though, Picard/Haruhi is a stretch because Picard is way more tactful and elegant… Haruhi doesn’t strike me as prone to “Patrick Stewart” speeches.

    @Railtracer:
    My best friend is a huge Vancouver Canucks fanboy along with being a computer geek, physics major, and anime fan and has also said that sports fans are essentially another kind of nerd.

    As for why people don’t like moe, I tend to think it stems from a number of factors. First, most “moe shows” don’t have the same “cool” factor many of the classic gateway anime (such as Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Evangelion, etc.) have – I think a lot of guys would be apprehensive about admitting to watching K-On! among an average group of guys. Second, because the companies that fund moe shows (ie. light novel publishers looking to promote their wares) seem to be way less deterred by the recession than other anime investors, there’s a perception that its taking over. That’s not to say that higher sales for moe titles aren’t also a factor, but I do think that the recession plays an important role.

    The accusation that plot and character development get thrown out the window in moe shows probably comes from the fact there’s a lot of slice of life shows (which actually can have decent character development, but it usually takes a while) and the fact that a lot of harem/fanservice shows have adopted a moe art style and character archetypes in the past few years. The fact that stuff like EF, Fate/Stay Night, Higurashi, etc. also tend to use moe seems not to get recognized as often (much to my annoyance).

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  6. 0utf0xZer0 - Well, this is a serious debate post in some ways.

    It's not a total defense of moe, but there are three key points I'm trying to make with this post.

    1) Other forms or genres/subgenres of entertainment (most notably Star Trek) are generally NOT judged on the basis of their fanbase. So moe shouldn't be considered complete crap just because of what people think of its fanbase either.

    2) Every reasonably large and passionate fandom has its disturbing members if you dig deep enough. Personally, I find that woman who cosplayed as a Starfleet Officer while attending real-life jury duty to be every bit as disturbing as any Hikokomori pillow lover (she's just disturbing for slightly different reasons). So I think that even the otaku/moe fanbase itself deserves a bit more slack. I'm certainly not saying that they're above criticism, just that the harsher moe critics (like our friends over at the Moe Sucks blog) probably should dial it down a bit. It really is over-the-top criticism when you consider that other large fandoms have their own disturbing eccentrics.

    3) That being moe does not preclude a character from being a great character. If Asuka and Nanoha actually compare pretty well to such great sci-fi characters as Kirk and Sisko than that says a lot about how moe characters can be great characters too.


    Now, all of that being said, this isn't a debate post so much as it's a post designed to steer debate in a different direction. I don't doubt that the moe critics can make some legitimate critiques of some moe animes and characters. But I want them to engage moe fans like you and I on *that* debate field, and to move off of their criticisms of the moe fanbase, which I think are really overplayed, a bit off-topic, and even a bit unprecedented (again, I do not recall *anybody* seriously suggesting that Star Trek is crap because some Trekkies are disturbing eccentrics).

    My arguments certainly aren't airtight (I'll certainly admit that communism doesn't cause as much widespread offense as pedophilia is, although I do think most North Americans wouldn't want to live under outright communism), but I think on the whole, they present some decent support for my three key points above.


    Anyway, glad you got a kick out of my Archer/Yui comparison. As for my Kirino/Janeway comparison... Janeway sometimes strikes me as tsundere towards Tom Paris. ;) She's also VERY bossy. But yeah, she's more deredere than Kirino is, lol!


    Finally, great points on why moe gets so much criticisms from some anime fans. While there's sadly not too much we can do to counter the "cool" basis for dislike, I do think that we can address the "lack of plot and character development" critique by simply promoting slice of life anime in general.

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  7. @0utf0xZer0

    Good points. "Normal" people do prefer cool things and say anime is for girls. Too bad they can't get over their bullshit pride, they'd be able to enjoy more things if they did.

    I find the accusations about no plot and character development are nonsensical, even if they are true. The same can be said for sitcoms, it doesn't stop them from being enjoyable. Still, shows like Higurashi that have a plot while using moe to a practical end should be more prevalent.

    Which leads to another point, most moe shows use moe as a superficial hook, like Strike Witches for example. It leads to critics perceiving moe shows to be purely superficial, regardless of whether it's true or not.

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  8. @Triple_R
    That is a good point... too much of the debate about "moe anime" is really about "moe otaku". I have to admit that I'm bad about this, simply because I have a fairly reactive approach to getting involved in debates: it means I'm letting them set the "field" of debate. Instead of pointing out the positive qualities of moe that I discuss with you, I end up focusing on countering the specific criticisms they bring up.

    @Railtracer:
    The "moe isn't cool" thing isn't applicable to normal people, there's quite a number of anime fans who think of anime as cool and tend to react pretty strongly to anything they think threatens that image.

    That moe shows come across to many people as being for girls is interesting. The early moe fandom drew heavily from shoujo works and arouse in large part from a generation of Japanese men who are often considered less "manly" than their predecessors.

    I've mentioned this to Triple_R before, but the writer for Higurashi actually considers Key's works to be one of his major inspirations. He pretty much tried to create a Key type work in the horror genre.

    Yeah, the fact its often used as a superficial hook creates an image problem. As does the fact that it's often associated with ecchi - I consider Strike Witches to be a fanservice show with moe characters rather than a pure moe show.

    (That said, I actually liked season 1 quite a bit. Season 2 felt weak though.)

    The other thing I think the moe genre needs to do is something that was covered in a recent Animesuki thread - it needs to borrow more elements from outside the moe genre. Higurashi borrowed horror elements and mixed them with moe. Haruhi borrowed sci-fi elements and mixed them with moe. THey were both great. But too many shows simply seem contain to work only from the "harem anime 101" playbook.

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  9. @0utf0xZer0

    I didn't know that. I'm kinda surprised that Higurashi was inspired by something written by Jun Maeda.

    Adding ecchi to moe does seem to be an especially touchy subject, even though a show like HSOTD isn't a problem with most people.

    None of the ecchi or moe actually bothered me. I love Strike Witches.

    I also think the moe genre should do more than just show the cute side of the character. Like how Higurashi shows each side of the characters, the extremity of their emotions or how Rika reacts to living through the same time passage repeatedly and knowing how it would end.

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