How to write your own blog post on the moe decadence
The anime fandom is a cliquey bunch, and the aniblogosphere even more so. You have groups like the grumpy old timers, the enthusiastic, semi-literate dimwits, the Random Curiosity copycats, etc., who tend to stay among themselves and read little of what the others are writing.1
Among those, a particularly exclusive group is the bloggers you could call intellectual aestheticians, who unironically judge anime based on its adherence to (their understanding of) the conventional canons of high culture. Basically the people who consider that the only 2010 show worth watching was Yojouhan shinwa taikei—that's quite different from the old timers, mind you: those would rather mention SRT OG or some con screening of Eva 2.22. One of the core tenets of this group is that anime should be about creating art, and that it is becoming less and less successful at it as time goes by. Compared to some unspecified past when Sunrise and Studio Pierrot were putting out Golden Lion-grade magna opera at rapid-fire rate, I suppose? (It would be interesting to research the origins of that particular streak of international anime discourse, by the way; somehow, I doubt that it even existed in the 1980's, and my hunch is that it probably developed out of Eva mythological commentary in the late 90's. But I'm getting side-tracked.)
Now, the purpose of blogging is often less actual conversation than social status, and some anime blog posts can be difficult to understand until you read them in this light. Indeed, what else is the point of a post consisting of a ten-paragraph summary of a two-day old anime episode, 50 screenshots and one sentence at the end expressing the author's “impressions”? Intellectual aestheticians (let's say IA for short) are a bit more sophisticated in their status building, but they're just as industriously devoted to it. There are various manners they can go about it, but one singularly effective way of establishing your IA street cred is to discuss moe and its calamitous influence on all aspects of anime-as-an-art-form—the works themselves, the creators, the fandom, you name it. Because moe, you know, is the main reason for anime's artistic downfall since the aforementioned and still unspecified golden age. I mean, both Satou Dai and Yamakan superficially seem to be saying so, therefore it must be true.
The IA moe decadence blog post has all but become a genre in itself, and you'll find countless of those on IA blogs, none of which says anything really substantial about anime or moe. You may not need new ideas to write such a post, but do not believe that it doesn't require skill: it's actually a delicate exercise that is easily botched. In the worst case, you might end up talking about specific kid shows from the 80's you used to like that don't get made anymore, or somesuch grumpy old timer rambling, in lieu of the kind of refined cultural critique that is expected of self-repecting IAs.
So for the benefit of young aspiring IAs reading this post, I'd like to explain how you can write a moe decadence blog post that properly achieves its purpose of IA reputation building. Although, as I said, good instances of such writing are easy to come by, I will be using a recent and very competent example as a model: Moe Archetypes and the Organizational Man from prominent IA blog Behind The Nihon Review. We encourage readers to search the archives of that blog for more of the same, by the way. Of the best quality, guaranteed.
What do you need to write a good moe decadence blog post? We found that you ought to make the following points, preferably in order:
- Affirm the sorry state of anime in relationship with moe;
- Point out some deeper consequence of the moe trend;
- Put that consequence in a larger social context;
- Propose a theoretical (sociological, philosophical, etc.) explanation for the underlying social change;
- Deduce the historical inevitability of the moe decadence;
- Remain a beacon of enlightenment in this inescapable turmoil.
As you can see, it does require some work. Fortunately there is little actual thinking involved. Let's see in more details how you can proceed, and in particular how Akira from Behind The Nihon Review pulls it off in Moe Archetypes and the Organizational Man.
1. Affirm the sorry state of anime.
Remember that the purpose of this post is to assert your status as an IA, so it's only natural that you should devote your very first paragraph to spelling out the credo. This way, you can both catch the attention of your fellow IA readers and reassure them on your intent: you will not be challenging any of the commonly accepted opinions in the group, or bringing new material to the table, so they can read on without concern.
Some care should be given to the way you express this sentiment however. Callous language and unqualified rejection of contemporary anime are considered in bad taste. Do not refer to “pedoshit that makes me want to puke” or claim that “all moe sucks ass”. Rather, lament this era of “shallow characterization” and “lack of gripping narratives”. Additionally, paying lip service to the “quality anime” out there (Yojouhan something something) is advisable, even if you are going to talk about something else, as recognizing quality is what establishes IA judgment as a yardstick of good taste. Of course, decadence is the rule and quality the exception. Here's Akira's take:
Archetypes dominate anime— so much that when critics find shows and characters which defy classification, they are hailed as revolutionary. The focus of today’s article is not on those revolutionary shows. It’s about everything else— the vast majority of anime which seeks to articulate themselves within a tired niche.
Competent. It is important to note, by the way, that you are not expected to back up any claim, here (it is an article of faith), and even less to contrast the current state of anime with any former state, or the state of some other art form. You are very much expected not to. Rest assured that no troublemaker is going to bring up the fact that “Archetypes dominate Ancient Greek epics/Elizabethan theater/Western fairy tales/etc.” and ask why this is supposed to be a problem.
2. Point out some deeper consequence.
The credo is ultimately all you are going to say, but that alone doesn't make a blog post, so you need something to pad the piece. The usual trick is to assert that the moe trend threatens not only anime quality itself, but the very fabric of anime production and consumption. In particular, the reader themself should feel concerned, because even they are caught in the maelstrom of moe decadence. For example, you could propose that moe, being inherently exploitive, is numbing “our” collective morals in the face of texts that promote the sexualization of minors. Or that the demise of elaborate story-telling in the moe genre is threatening “our” very ability to engage with more challenging works of fiction. And set out to “analyze” those concerning evolutions.
Two points need to be stressed, though. The first is that, again, nobody expects you to substantiate those claims: vague and general assertions (“demise of elaborate story-telling”), problematic scare words (“exploitation”, “sexualization”) are quite welcome and will go unchallenged; there is no need to point to specific examples, or to bring up evidence that anything like the asserted “deep changes” is actually occurring, or to confront the forthcoming “analysis” to reality. The second point is that the use of the pronoun “we” here comes with a huge implied wink: while the reader and the author are both grammatically involved, their superior savviness sets them apart from the unwashed masses, who are the one really affected.
In our case, Akira develops his “moe archetype” theme, and contends that it leads to diminished critical reading of anime texts:
Often times, we use words like “cookie-cutter”, “stereotypical” and “flat” to describe characters that we find boring. Yet, despite our contempt for archetypes and characters which conform to archetypes, we find ourselves unable to articulate our preferences in anything other than the already-established vocabulary of moé and moé tropes. This is a puzzling conundrum, and one which merits analysis.
3. Put it in a larger social context.
The next step is to give an impressive-sounding description of the scope of the imaginary problem that you have brought up, and interpret it as a mere symptom within anime of large-scale historical, ideological or social movements. And be sure to make that a downward movement. “The decline of Confucean values in post-war Japan”, “the collapse of Japanese virility during the Lost Decade”, “the downfall of political and religious grand narratives in the secularized North after the Cold War”, “the consumerist corruption of wabi-sabi in post-Imperial Tokyo shopping malls”, you see what I mean.
Why would you do that? Not of course because you're actually interested in searching for deep-rooted causes of a problem you haven't even bothered justifying exists. No, the actual purpose is twofold: one, you're telling your readers that “THIS IS IMPORTANT” in big bold letters; two, you're establishing yourself as a man of vision, as expected of a refined IA. Back to Akira:
Ultimately, we are all creatures of history. It is very difficult for us to conceive of experiences and concepts which are completely alien to us. This leads one to suspect that the phenomenon of moé is the product of a historical process. It may be true that studios are simply lazy and unwilling to invest time and effort in conceiving of new, label-defying characters, but the problem runs much deeper. Cultural workers within the anime industry have, in some sense, lost the capacity to think of and articulate characters in a vocabulary which is different from the current industry standard of moé archetypes, and are therefore unable to conceive of characters which do not fall, at least somewhat, into one category or the other.
“We are all creatures of history” is a bit too cheesy a line for anything beyond a middle-school essay, but other than that, you just see that the guy has a good grasp of this exercise. Note also his very relevant references to “post-industrial societies” and “Japan’s oppressive corporate culture” later in the text.
4. Propose a theoretical explanation.
Now is the time to recall what the I in IA stands for. As a proud IA, you need to uphold your intellectual pretensions by giving your post a scholarly twist. I mean, everyone can make up cool-sounding phrases and turn something like moe into a far-reaching social phenomenon. It's even the standard mode of discourse about Japan, where Dentsu will happily shock upstanding citizens with NEETs, hikikomori and soushoku danshi.
The IA is expected to do better than that, namely put his assertions of social change on a credible academic foothold. It's a lot like Dentsu, except that the keyword du jour that you will put forward as an explanation needs to be traced back to some philosophical or sociological authority. It's completely fine for the concept behind that keyword, or at least your understanding and description of that concept, to be somewhat shallow, provided that you can put a respected person's name on it. For example, don't just write about “the downfall of political and religious grand narratives after the Cold War”; make it “the Lyotardian theory of incredulity towards metanarratives”. If you mention “the end of history”, put it in a “Fukuyaman perspective”. On nihonjinron, reference Watanabe Shouichi and his Western critics. And so on.
Akira chooses William H. Whyte. It's a bit of a borderline pick, as the guy doesn't even seem to hold a Ph.D. (horresco referens), but Akira presents him as a “sociologist” and nobody's really going to check, so I guess that's fine:
The rise of archetypical domination goes hand-in-hand with the rise of the post-industrial “organizational man.” The term “organizational man” was first employed by sociologist William Whyte Jr. to describe 1950s Americans, but I find it to be an apt metaphor for otaku:
The corporation man is the most conspicuous example [of the organizational man], but he is only one, for the collectivization is so visible in the corporation has affected almost every field… listen to them [organizational men] talk to each other over the front lawns of their suburbia and you cannot help but be struck by how well they grasp the common denominators which bind them… the word collective most of them can’t bring themselves to use… but they are keenly aware of how much more deeply beholden they are to organization.
One of the defining characteristics of the organizational man is his inability to articulate himself on his own terms. As described above, he is much more adept at grasping the commonalities between him and his fellow men. As time progresses, organizational men develop a mass-mediated consciousness [...]
In Japan’s oppressive corporate culture, the notion of cultural workers being organizational men is not at all implausible. The anime industry is a well-oiled machine [...] In order to expedite this process, cultural workers have developed a comprehensive lexicon for understanding their own production. Tropes such as tsundere most likely began as innovations, but quickly became hackneyed and tired as the collective consciousness of the anime industry assimilated the trope within its growing corpus of stock characters.
Fans are also organizational men, especially in Japan, where most anime fans tend to stick together in cliques and online communities. By grouping themselves with like-minded individuals, fans create mass-mediated group consciousnesses. It comes to no surprise, then, that fans are also unable to articulate themselves in terms other than the ones which the anime industry has pre-defined for them.
As you can see, the concept being used doesn't have to be fleshed out into something very sophisticated (the “organizational man” here is mostly used as a citable proxy for “groupthink”), nor does it have to be linked with the stated problem in any meaningful way (e.g. if anything, you could argue that societal change in contemporary Japan is rather a move away from social structures that suppress individual expression). And you don't need to let reality (e.g. the fact that words like tsundere originated in fan discourse itself, rather than by fiat of the industry; or the existence of TV Tropes) get in the way of your discourse.
If by any chance you realize that some of it all doesn't hold up to even cursory consideration, however, a few of your readers might too, so you should take preventative measures and add a footnote:
It’s not at all unlikely to suggest that archetypes were always extant. They are as old as literature itself. As discussed above, archetypes serve as a handy shorthand which serves to allow the reader to make assumptions about characters, which can then be either reinforced or subverted depending on the author’s choice. However, in the post-industrial age, the rise of the organizational man as dominant (especially within the world of anime) has made archetyping the dominant, if not only, form of discourse.
5. Deduce the inevitability of moe.
There is not much you can do against all-encompassing waves of social change, and we have just established that moe proceeds from just that, wherefore we must conclude that moe is a historical inevitability. Akira:
Thus, in a world in which both cultural workers and consumers are organizational men, there is no incentive to deviate from established cultural norms. What we are seeing here is much more than simple economics— it is an example of cultural hegemony, or spontaneous allegiance to dominant cultural trends and ideologies. The ideology of anime involves the use of tropes, and our acquiescence and use of terms like “tsundere” and “loli” to describe characters denotes our unchallenged allegiance to the rhetoric of anime.
It may not be immediately obvious why this is a convenient conclusion to draw from an IA perspective, but it's a handy justification for actually watching moe shows, rather than turning to boring zillion-episode kid shows from the 80's like the old timers do. It also makes it possible to take a so-called moderate stance on matters of anime quality (i.e. not have a strong opinion one way or the other), and resort to elusive tactics when people ask about how your vague and general statements apply to a specific show that is difficult to criticize, like Haruhi (whereas the old timers at least try to be self-consistent).
In fact, it even makes it possible to argue that the decadence you have spent a whole post describing is “not necessarily a bad thing”. This is a tad dishonest and difficult to reconcile with complaints about “cookie-cutter”, “stereotypical” and “flat” characters, but again, you get points for moderation and taking the intellectual high ground. Akira again:
I am not arguing that this is inherently undesirable. I am making an observation, not a critique. In a post-industrial society filled with mass media and instantaneous information transfer, it is perhaps impossible to be anything other than an organizational man.
6. Remain a beacon of enlightenment.
Finally, your final words should be devoted to reaffirm your IA status in apparently moderate but in effect hubristic terms. In the face of the necessary evil that is the moe wave, the IA's role is to exercise his spotless aesthetic judgment, and wade through piles of mediocrity to proudly elect the few remaining shows of some artistic merit in this day and age. Akira:
Finding new space for growth and radical departure from established norms is incredibly difficult— hence our lauding of the few who do manage to depart from established norms as visionaries.
A good effort but slightly lukewarm, aren't we? Fortunately, IA and co-blogger Sorrow-kun chimes in in the comment section to straighten that lack of conviction:
While I’m not going to dispute the idea that the otaku consumers are organizational men, I’m not sure I’d be willing to cover everyone involved in the industry with the same blanket. Most do, sure, but I’d be willing to say Yuasa is a genuine innovator. ABe as well, perhaps. Hell, I’d even contemplate saying the same about Nasu… just not when referring to his characters.
At which point I couldn't contain the hilarity any longer, and decided to write this post w.
Social media analysis is not nearly as fun as corpus ling, as far as I'm concerned, but you can easily identify such cliques by graph-based clustering: construct a graph between the blogs linked from, say, Anime Nano (with edges weighted by the number of links between each pair of blogs in the past year or so) and run a tool like CLUTO's
sclusteron the resulting adjacency matrix. Hint, hint! ↩