Moe desu
December 15, 2015 4:15 AM   Subscribe

This stressful, ongoing debate fuels the seeming paradox of an “endearing” military force. In Japan, where indirect communication is highly valued, cute illustrations have long played the role of tension-breakers and mediators in situations of conflict. Thus kawaii mascots, whether miniskirted girls or bunny-rabbit decoy launchers, are both a reflection of pop-cultural trends and a way to defuse the very touchy issues surrounding the military’s undeniable presence.
posted by MartinWisse (16 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
(See also about Japanese mascots)
posted by mmoncur at 4:32 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the author isn't reading a lot into the phenomenon that isn't necessarily there. These seem to me just a locally flavored adaptation of the paintings that graced the noses of US bombers in WWII. (You could say that American pilots didn't carry around dolls of the characters on their planes, but then they're not Japanese ... )

Japanese are not shy about speaking up against the self-defense forces and their newly expanded role, even as they face Chinese hegemony.
posted by oheso at 5:01 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Japanese media are shy of covering public opposition to the self-defense forces and Abe's ramrod tactics. That's a different kettle of maguro ... )
posted by oheso at 5:03 AM on December 15, 2015


oheso: "(Japanese media are shy of covering public opposition to the self-defense forces and Abe's ramrod tactics. That's a different kettle of maguro ... )"

That sentence is true, but it gives an inaccurate image of the media situation. It gives the impression that the media is generally pro-military. That's not the case. The media is pretty solidly against Abe's changes to the constitution, etc., it just doesn't report on the public's opposition much, except big protests in Okinawa. So the lead anchor will lead a news show or wrap up a special feature with a big speech expressing opposition to Abe's constitutional changes, but won't report on some protest in Tokyo. And, since protests don't really get reported on, people don't engage in them that much. It's not like you're going to get media coverage and draw attention to the topic of your protest. So you get a feedback cycle where protests don't get reported on, so they don't get big, so they aren't big enough to bother reporting on.

As far as the general topic of the article, I'm not sure about the general premise. In some sentences (like the pull quote in the post) it sounds like the author is describing the use of moe as unusual or something used in tense situations, whereas in others its described as something that has pervaded society. In my opinion, moe is being used by the SDF because 1) moe has become fucking universal (grumble grumble) and 2) militaries in general have a bad image and the SDF wants to improve their image. There are lots of ways to do that, and they chose moe. But if you see moe disappear that doesn't indicate that "the time to get worried is when the branches of the Japanese military abandon their kawaii trappings, because that would signal that citizens and soldiers had made their peace with the subject," it could mean a million things. The moe fad has passed. Blowback from women who hate moe. Finding that the kinds of recruits you attract with moe aren't the kind of recruits you want for the SDF. Etc., etc., etc.

Put another way: In the US, people will often start speeches with a joke to break the ice. You would not, though, conclude that "If a speaker starts a speech without a joke, it means there is no ice to break, and everyone is already comfortable and friendly and enjoying themselves."

(I just keep imagining layoff announcements, announcements about school shootings, announcements that nuclear missiles have been launched, etc., being interpreted as "casual friendly speeches" because they don't start with ice-breaking jokes)
posted by Bugbread at 5:42 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the author isn't reading a lot into the phenomenon that isn't necessarily there.

The author is Matt Alt, who knows his Japanese pop culture (and he's been posting pics of the research for this article on his twitter for the past weeks, like this or this or this one). The point is that while nose art pin ups were sexy, the JSDF goes apparently with moé, which is more like the cutesy little sister that you want to hug and protect, not the sexy lady you want to fuck.

FWIW, the reverse side is the militarization of moé, with mecha musume everywhere (anthropomorphic personifications of fighter planes or battle cruisers as cute little girls) or anime like Girls und Panzer (...what it says on the title).
posted by sukeban at 5:50 AM on December 15, 2015


The article ends with,
And then, as if to punctuate the thought, the Eastern Army Band launched into song. It was the overture from “Star Wars.”
...I've seen nerdier.
posted by sukeban at 6:08 AM on December 15, 2015


I have to admit it was a little jarring to see the large anime figures plastered on the sides of actual AH-1s.

The point is that while nose art pin ups were sexy

Just to note that WW2 featured plenty of nose art that wasn't sexy, though obviously there were lots of pinup girls. Some of it was just names, like Enola Gay or the more cartoonish Ding Hao! . Cartoon-style illustrations were also common; Little Buckaroo or Grimwood's Gremlins or Super Wabbit.

Anyway, even the cartoonish, notionally-cute ones seem different to me and read as more grim irony than the more or less sincere-attempt-at-cute I get from the pictures in the article.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:12 AM on December 15, 2015


Girls und Panzer: Introduction to Tankery

Studying Tankery means studying what it means to be a woman. Intense and strong like its steel, adorable like the clattering of its iron tracks, and of absolutely deadly passion like its main cannon.
posted by procrastinator at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Finding that the kinds of recruits you attract with moe aren't the kind of recruits you want for the SDF.

I am imagining "NEET Squad Elite" as an anime series but if it's already a trope, it's probably one that involves parallel universe timelines and giant mecha being piloted by otherwise-unemployable nerds, not a more realistic and probably depressing depiction of the daily work grind of people who barely qualified on the written and physical exams and are doomed to the lowest ranks of KP and stockrooms for their careers.
posted by ardgedee at 6:39 AM on December 15, 2015


ROU_Xenophobe: "Anyway, even the cartoonish, notionally-cute ones seem different to me and read as more grim irony than the more or less sincere-attempt-at-cute I get from the pictures in the article."

I think one reason you can have this gap is that the SDF doesn't kill people. Yes, they train to kill people, and, yes, if Japan is attacked they will kill people, but so far no-one in the SDF has ever actually killed anyone else in their capacity as an SDF member (I'm sure in private capacities there have been some murders, just as there are among the general public). So while, for example, the AH-1 is a killing machine, that particular AH-1 has never been used to kill anyone, nor have any of the others in the plane hangars, nor has the pilot, nor have any other pilots he knows. So the juxtaposition isn't as grim as it would be if you put a moe drawing on a US fighter jet.
posted by Bugbread at 6:42 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I responded with the following when a friend posted this article on his Facebook:
[X] anime nerds
[X] seppuku
[X] kawaii
[X] Godzilla
[X] "indirect communication"
[X] psychoanalyzing an entire country
[X] "my Japanese wife"
Oh, did I win Orientalist Bingo yet?

The only way this article could have a higher message than "check out those kooky Japanese" is if the JSDF's use of manga imagery is genuinely unusual. But it is not. At all. EVERYONE in Japan uses manga for ALL KINDS of marketing and communication. In less than two minutes of searching, I found this manga commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which explains basic labor law (so you can't say it's something targeted to kids). Every prefecture, and numerous other regional organizations and companies, even have their own mascot character. We are left to draw the conclusion that it would be much more worthy of an article if the JSDF did *not*, in fact, use manga imagery.

The really embarrassing thing here for this dime-a-dozen white "Japan expert" (and I assure you, I am thinking really hard right now about how pride cometh before a fall) is that he's actually conflating two different phenomena, the first being the JSDF's official use of manga imagery, and the second being the way in which the imperial Japanese military, the JSDF, and military themes in general appear in otaku fandom. I'm not a scholar of this by any means, but if I wanted to be, the first thing I'd look into, and the biggest gaping hole missing from the discussion in the article, is the long-standing 2channel coalition of otaku and netouyo, or Internet right-wingers (a coalition which, I might add, proves once again how often Japan is ten years ahead of the rest of us).

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention: while I will be the last one to whitewash the sexism and exploitative character design rampant among the otaku fandom and industry today, maybe if you find the juxtaposition of anime girls with the military unusual, the explanation is not to be found in a half-baked manipulation of hoary stereotypes, but in your own conception of gender.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2015


I think one reason you can have this gap is that the SDF doesn't kill people.

Yes, and the Japanese I know almost uniformly correct me anytime I mention the Japanese "military". "We don't have a military!".

While to my Western eyes it certainly _looks_ like a military, the point you bring up is actually an important difference. My country (US) has a military that has been at war in various countries for most of my life, and has killed many, many people. If you join the US military, especially since 9/11, you face the prospect of going to war and killing or being killed.

The Japanese SDF is not like that. Even with the recent change (which Abe pushed through despite overwhelming public opposition), they are not likely to be involved in any wars or shooting anytime soon. There is no plan to send Japanese troops to fight ISIS or anything like that.

I'm sure the SDF has good training and is prepared to fight if necessary, but most Japanese do not welcome the idea of military conflict and it is night and day from the US, where the major disagreement between parties comes down to _who_ we will bomb and _which_ wars we will engage in.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:18 PM on December 15, 2015


I would agree entirely if we were talking about generic kawaii characters or yuru-kyara, but it is unusual that they picked moe. Unfortunately, the article doesn't talk about that. Illustrated characters are not so universal that it would be weird not to use them, but they're not so uncommon that it would be weird to use them. Either way is non-noteworthy. But going with otaku-oriented moe is just weird and I have no hypotheses about what led to that decision.
posted by Bugbread at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2015


> I am imagining "NEET Squad Elite" as an anime series

Not quite NEETs with mecha or weapons, but otaku engaging in cultural imperialism through moe - Outbreak Company.
posted by needled at 5:01 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like how in that Girls und Panzer clip the girls all grow breasts when they're in uniform.
posted by lester at 8:36 PM on December 15, 2015


I think one reason you can have this gap is that the SDF doesn't kill people.

That makes a lot of sense to me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:40 PM on December 15, 2015


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