Thoughts on Fandom Structure: Facilitating the Moe “Lifestyle”

In a recent conversation, I was presented an interesting question: why is that moe seems to engender the type of fandom which seems on some level staunchly devoted to it and has fans who can take attacks on moe personally? After some consideration, I thought of two reasons.

The first reason is that on some level, whether it be deep or shallow, I think moe fosters a very individual, perhaps even private connection. Regardless of the specifics and any sort of moral/aesthetic tastes, the idea (nebulous as it may be) begins to resonate with concepts such as catharsis, fantasy, sexual desire and identity, self-reflection, stress, and so on.

The second reason, and the one I’m more interested in for this post, has to do with the ease by which one can become a fan of moe. In a recent interview concerning Starcraft 2 fandom, commentator and personality Sean “Day[9]” Plott was asked why so many SC2 fans have a tendency to identify themselves as “Starcraft fans” and to put down other games as inferior products, to which he responded:

There’s a lot of people who are into Starcraft and it’s just become their identity because, honestly, there’s so much Starcraft content that you can watch it all day, every day, just like you can be into football or baseball. And so, rather than just say, “I like this,” they look down on other things.

I think these words can apply to moe as well, in the sense that not only is there so much of it currently available that you can watch and read nothing but moe genre titles and have your entire day filled, but that the system behind it actively promotes and encourages this sort of obsession. On the fiction-production side, you have this tendency towards characters who each possess easily expressed individuality, and so make it easy to define a favorite, and it’s a process that can be renewed with the next show and the show after that. On the merchandise side, you have figures, posters, limited edition DVD boxes, fan clubs, official events, and so on. If you’re into some show, there’s a good chance you can buy something related to it, and though there’s a lot of talk these days about how fandom is moving beyond expressing itself through simple consumption, it can’t be denied that it is still in its own way an expression of one’s self.

Obviously this model doesn’t only apply to moe or even just anime/manga, nor does every single fan of moe do this (and I want to make the point clear that I’m not characterizing an entire fanbase as having a singular mindset). However, when combined with that very personal connection which moe fosters, I think it creates a particular kind of devotion, which, while not entirely unique, more easily manifests itself as something just that personal.

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13 thoughts on “Thoughts on Fandom Structure: Facilitating the Moe “Lifestyle”

  1. Initially when you said “ease of” I thought it might have been some kind of thing similar to cognitive dissonance reinforced by society (ie; you like [insert subculture] so you are branded identity X) which plays with the first factor you mentioned.

    But I’m not so sure if just because something is “accessible” it makes this easier or worse. At least, I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at by what Day9 is saying.

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  2. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing lately (Penguindrum’s fault). One of the reasons that moe gets branded postmodern, or one of the things that makes it similar to other mass-media-era art phenomena, is that it seems to exist only to consume and grow and reinforce itself. A show with moe certainly can reflect upon the human condition, or do whatever “useful” art is supposed to do, but the practice of moe itself isn’t really about that — it’s about appreciating subdivisions of characters (emotionally, financially), and creating a taxonomy of character subdivisions. To be a “moe fan” is to participate in a project of massive scale. It’s TV Tropes, except mostly devoid of politics and history, and the wiki is imaginary (or at least decentralized). This is just a guess, but I’d say it’s easy for moe diehards to accuse other fans of not trying hard enough when their fandom requires so much of them.

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  3. You need to elaborate on the notion of “each [moe character] possess[ing] easily expressed individuality,” because this is where you lose me. That each ‘moe character’ is an agglomeration of ‘moe elements’ has always struck me as the antithesis of individuality — thus the otaku database — and is, I think, the primary reason why moe properties appear to me to resonate more as pornography than as narrative.

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    • While you may be able to point out recurring traits over many shows, when it comes to a single show in particular there tends to be clear divisions in terms of traits. The quiet one, the athletic one, the one whose parents are ghosts. When their traits are so clearly defined and categorized relative to each other within the context of a single work, it becomes easy to pick “favorites.”

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    • That comes out to me as saying that at a certain perspective, these “moe elements” (really dislike that phrase personally) end up being devoid of a meaning that comes off as anything more for self-gratification. But this could be just putting words in your mouth.

      Maybe we need some sort of “Moe Element” wiki of some sort to aggregate all of these “otaku database” (I dislike this term even more) subsets to provide more “meaning” to them.

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  4. I tend to think it’s more along the lines of the “personal connection”. Moe is, by its very definition, about the emotional connection you have with the subject — the impassioned emotional response the viewer has towards it. It’s not an art style, it’s not design choice, it’s not a database-like collection of tropes. Because it describes a reaction, not an action, people who approach shows seeking to establish this sort of emotional connection (or for whom it just comes naturally) can do so regardless of the genre and content of the work. There aren’t “so many moe shows”, but so many shows incorporate elements that people feel “moe” towards. So in a sense, *every* show is a “moe show”, and none are.

    When we’re talking about “moe” in the post here, we’re talking about moe towards (generally) female anime characters (and certain types of female anime characters). Establishing an emotional connection with a character is a fundamentally personal thing. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, particularly for the sort of characters that the “average fan” connects with, then you’re left with analysing the character and the show containing it on an almost-detached intellectual level. And for shows whose plot or premise essentially depends on your empathy towards the characters, without that the whole show can ring hollow. But an emotional connection trumps pure logic; it’s no different from how a parent would go extreme lengths to protect their child, or one would do almost anything to defend their significant other when slighted.

    I think it’s difficult for many “moe fans” (so to speak) to understand how it’s possible to *not connect* with “moe characters”. I mean, I imagine that most have one or two character types they generally find annoying or tend to not prefer, but to not be able to feel anything towards *any* of the characters seems unthinkable. And meanwhile, those who don’t feel that connection have a very hard time understanding what it is people could possibly see in these sorts of shows. They look at the purely-objective traits like: the character looks too young, or the character is overly-sexualized, or the character’s voice is too high/squeaky, or the character seems shallow and one-dimensional, or the character seems unoriginal… or perhaps they don’t even consider “the character” but just their role as an actor in the “play”. Rather than seeing it as critiquing a character in a show, the emotional connection means that it’s almost more like insulting a child or a dear friend. And the way some of these debates tend to go, there is a certain undercurrent (that sometimes bubbles to the surface) of “and you’re obviously mentally deficient if you like these shows” — again because it’s all cold and detached without any heart. Caring for the characters makes all the difference, and some people just can’t care for a character unless it meets a certain list of requirements that the average “moe anime” doesn’t meet.

    It’s probably worth saying that, to some people, mecha can produce the same sort of emotional connection and response. To some they’re just fictitious giant robots (so who cares?), but to others they represent a deeply-engrained part of their childhood, and a source of endless passion. But, for whatever reason, we don’t call this “mecha moe”, even though that’s really what it is, and we don’t call mecha shows “moe shows”, even though that’s what they are to many viewers. If you insult certain mecha shows, you’ll get the same sort of impassioned emotional response as you get towards the typical “anti-moe” commentators. The whole basis is an emotional connection to a fictional object. This is totally different from appreciating a well-written story, or admiring a well-animated scene. I wonder, but don’t know, if some people may have never actually felt “moe” towards any fictitious object in their lives, and so have literally no way of relating to the feeling at all.

    So, tl;dr: As was alluded to in one of the other comments, “moe” is a sort of emotional porn that causes the viewer to become addicted to the emotional connection they make with the moe subject, whether that subject is trains, mecha, anime heroines (or one specific sub-type or many), or whatever else. People who don’t establish these sorts of deep connections have a hard time understanding this irrational feeling/obsession and can feel off-put by what they see as an unacceptable degree of passion/obsession towards something they and others in the “general public” can’t or won’t understand or appreciate. There’s sometimes an assumption that this sort of passion/obsession is a sign of a lack of intelligence in the fan, but introverts can tend to be obsessive types, and what they are obsessed with isn’t always purely logical from an outside point of view. The problem may also be that some fans lack the eloquence (or desire) to try to bridge their emotional reaction with their objective/intelligent analysis, and so there’s a perception of “all passion, no brain”.

    In the end I guess all the basically supports/extends the points in the article (personal connection and potential for immersion), but taken from a bit of a different perspective.

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    • Would you, to a certain degree, classify shipping and having an OTP as a kind of moe? Or is the emotional attachment triggered by something else entirely? I ask because it would explain why ship wars are so easily triggered in fandoms that have even a hint of romance.

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  5. > why is that moe seems to engender the type of fandom which seems on some level staunchly devoted to it and has fans who can take attacks on moe personally?

    Does it? In the absence of properly collected supporting data, color me unconvinced that “moe fandom” is somehow more devoted or has a stronger tendency to take attacks on the object of its devotion personally than, say, fans of any random pop singer for teenagers or any soccer team.

    In fact, if we were to consider a relatively simple metric of fandom “rabidness” in their interactions with non-fans or competing fans, such as threats of violence, I wouldn’t be suprised to find that:
    1/ they are much more common among, say, soccer fans (and possibly also giant robot fans) than in moe fandom; and
    2/ they are more likely to be directed *at* fans of moe than they are to occur in moe fans’ responses to criticism.

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    • I will agree with you that soccer fans can and do take things more personally, especially given the degree to which soccer fandom is tied with nationality and national identity, but I feel like when it comes to giant robot fans, for example, insults and heated debates are centered around perceived notions of intelligence and thus also intellectual one-ups-manship. Certainly doesn’t give mecha fans any sort of high ground, but it just seems different from moe or indeed even soccer fans.

      Your second point may be more accurate in the sense that moe may make people more uncomfortable and thus garner more personal criticisms which results in more personal responses.

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      • That’s an interesting view of the giant robot fandom, but one which I suspect may be affected by significant selection bias.

        For example, would you say that the routinely vile gendered insults and sexual panic of male Gundam fans when faced with perceived homoerotic/gender-inclusive subtexts in AU shows qualify as “intellectual one-up-manship”? [More generally, in fact, it seems to me that (male) giant robot fandom can get especially vehement against what it sees as threats to “manliness”, which is one of its structuring values.]

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        • While I won’t deny that this is based on my personal experiences with various types of fandoms as opposed to a more rigidly structured study, I do think that the differences you speak of, particularly with how male giant robot fandom reacts poorly to threats to “manliness” have some interesting overlap with reactions to moe, and it has a lot to do with a tendency for nerds to be progressive in certain ways while staunchly conservative in others including in areas such as views on gender.

          For moe fandom, whether the moe is sexual or not, the jabs often take the form of criticisms of a fan’s developmental state, as if to say that someone’s mental growth has been stunted, many times implied to be on that sexual level. Moe and attacks on moe thus are rendered as extremely personal. Sometimes these feelings seem to mix with some kind of resentment, which creates this situation where a guy may love 2d women for making him feel that personal resonance but may hate real women for making him feel weak in the first place. I don’t consider misogyny a necessary component of moe, though, despite other people’s opinions.

          In giant robot fandom, you also have accusations of stunted growth both from within the genre’s fandom itself and from outside, but it tends to be tied into that intellectual oneupsmanship more thoroughly, I suspect because unlike moe, the genre of mecha is not so closely tied to the content and display of its characters, but rather the robots and the stories that come out of it. Certainly there are complaints about certain characters being overly homoerotic or there being catering to this or that type of person, but they’re usually seen as “anomalies” or “irregulars” in the structure of giant robot fandom, as opposed to being the defining factor of it, as is the case with moe. Because of the intellectual oneupsmansip though, the talk gets framed in terms of how fans of the pretty boys or Shinji or cute girl pilots are ill-equipped to appreciate the finer pleasure of giant robot anime. Here, the issue may just be that giant robot fandom has this “old boys club” while I don’t exactly sense that sort of thing from moe.

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  6. Let me just chime in here on the Day9 quote. I think it’s mostly PR bullshit, because he and other individuals in the business are in the process of building eSports. Their livelihood depends on making the fans look good. But we can say the same for the otaku industry. The industry doesn’t like to talk badly about its fans, because they make money off of them.

    Now, I honestly don’t think the hate for other games is that prevalent, it is however a characteristic of the most passionate. Why I personally think they think Starcraft is somehow superior to other games is because it’s one of those games where you really need to put a lot of effort to be good at. Seeing pros quit the game, for one reason or another, infuriates them, and what better way to infuriate a passionate fan of a game than to have a professional gamer dump Starcraft for some other game? That’s why Destiny gets a lot of flack these days. It happened when high-profile players put SC2 on hold for Skyrim, or Diablo III, or Dayz, lol.

    To me, both hardcore moe and hardcore Starcraft fans look very insecure, and although that’s not a parallel I wanted to set up in the beginning, it’s very much true. If you can’t handle yourself in an internet argument, like the fine gentlemen in this comment section are, then really, you’re being insecure about your tastes, which draws connections to immaturity.

    I’ve come to realize something while reading this post. I’m not too fond of moe anime these days, but when I think of moe characters that I truly like, as characters, not as part of a story, I realize I care about them because they were once empty vessels, only defined by weak characterization and tropes, that have now matured through various works and community. So in a sense they’ve become something more than just a combination of tropes. Out of this reason, I don’t think one can even be an honest all-encompasing “moe” fan, because there are too many empty vessels floating out there that have never become more than that because of our lack of interest.

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  7. Pingback: The Fandom of Plenty, the Fandom of Scarcity « OGIUE MANIAX

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