Waiwai dropped a bomb on Friday with the English translation of a moe-bashing (among other things) interview with Mimei Sakamoto. ANN picked the story up on Sunday, it was posted to comments here yesterday, and now HD takes a crack at separating fiction from fact.

First off: go read the interview. It’s not really an interview, reading more like a journalist’s notes of an extended monologue (what questions, if any, were asked to prompt Sakamoto’s statements?), and comes across as some of the more extravagantly yellow writing I’ve seen in awhile. Before moving on to critique the meat of the article itself though, a bit of character assassination:

According to dormcat’s posts in the related ANN thread, Sakamoto’s background arguably does not help her credibility in discussions of this issue. I won’t repeat those allegations here, but do feel compelled to note that a certain style of Japanese journalism, much like its advertising, inserts unsubstantiated claims (“super popular!” “a must-read for all hip young Japanese!” “one of Japan’s most prominent women manga artists!”) to inflate the hype behind a particular story or product. This is usually done most stridently when the subject is the least well-known, and while ANN’s encyclopedia has its faults, the fact that “one of Japan’s most prominent women manga artists” didn’t have an entry in their database prior to the publication of this article doesn’t help her claim. Given her background and relative insignificance it is tempting to dismiss her position out of hand as publicity-hungry raving, but that would deny us the satisfaction of a more thorough examination of the article’s claims.

Without futher ado then, into the breach, my lads!

Claim #1: Geek culture has moved into the mainstream courtesy of the business of “moe.”

False. Reversed, this claim is closer to the truth: moe culture has moved into the Japanese mainstream courtesy of the business of geekery – that is, the recent development of a Japanese form of commodified “geek chic”. A-boys, the wave of Akibaphiles spawned by the increased attention the district has had in mainstream media over the past year or so, are hardly examples of “geek culture moving into the mainstream”. Instead, they’re the mainstream appropriating trappings of geek culture.

Phrased as it is currently, the article sets up “moe” as a malignant invasive force that is taking “the mainstream” by storm through its capitalist wiles. While the market for such goods has undeniably been growing over the past several years, to claim that it has progressed beyond a niche is a laughable assertion – if anything its recent public exposure has elevated it from obscurity to the level of “fetish kitsch”, adding maid cafes to the list of other wacky theme restaurants in Tokyo.

Claim #2: “Moe” … describes the warm feeling the otaku get when they see something they like.

True. This is the broader slang connotation the term has come to attain. However, if this is the operating definition through the article, equating moe with pedophilia becomes incoherent – train moe, car moe, skyscraper moe, etc. are all admissible as evidence, not to mention the adoption of the term by non-otaku women (to ends that are still under investigation, but certainly have nothing to do with young girls). Semantics, people!

Claim #3: People who mimic Densha Otoko in the hopes of landing a beautiful girlfriend are probably barking up the wrong tree.

True, most likely. But what does this have to do with moe (by any definition)?

Claim #4: Fans of moe are pedophiles, or repulsive perverts at the least.

False. This claim replaces the initially established definition of “moe” in the article with one that reads as equivalent to what has colloquially come to be known in English as “lolikon,” i.e. drawn child pornography. Whether the consumption of drawn child porn leads to sexual abuse of real children or not is the topic for an entirely different debate, but I do wish the author wouldn’t play so fast and loose with the “moe” moniker. “Moe” is either the harmless and increasingly ubiquitous slang for “warm feeling” that the article describes, or it is something much more complex, of which drawn child porn is only a small part. Once again: semantics, please. Please?

Claim #5: Otaku are perpetual criminals, have entered the mainstream, and started an otaku boom.

False. Sakamoto is ascribing a whole lot of power to individuals who she later says “would never go out and about in the world because they wouldn’t believe anything good could happen to them if they did so, anyway.” Is moe a cancer spread through cell phones that leet otaku hackers have invaded from the privacy of their bedrooms and/or parents’ basements, or is Sakamoto putting the cart before the horse again?

The recent otaku boom was sparked not by the otaku wave but by a couple of good storytellers, sustained by a background referent of iconography (Evangelion pachinko, anyone?), and promoted by savvy marketers and pop-culture spinners as the new hotness. The question underlying the fad’s longevity is the extent to which the background referent has permeated and become normalized in the public consciousness; once it becomes uncool to acknowledge the symbols they’ll fade away into marginality once again, where the “real otaku” have lurked all along.

Claim #6: People incapable of recognizing reality and being in normal loving relationships have been labeled as otaku, and are not real geeks.

False? She also seems to imply that because they have been labeled as such, we are therefore going through an otaku boom. This passage is one of the more glaring cesspools of undefined buzzwords that plague the article; she seems to be simultaneously using otaku as an umbrella category and dividing it into the “real otaku” and recently-minted “so-called otaku”, implying that the newer ones are more depraved and antisocial than their predecessors. I’m having trouble parsing her argument beyond this point, but a clear definition of otaku would help. A lot.

Claim #7: The otaku market paragraph.

True. This is spot on, an island of clarity in an otherwise incomprehensible rant. It also has nothing to do with the rest of her anti-moe thesis and is equally applicable to any sort of hobby or “boutique” consumption market. Instead of the same old platitudes, Sakamoto, how about a stab at a solution? According to your resume you’re just as invested in the success of this market as any of us.

Claim #8: I’m a fully-fledged otaku.

Does not compute. Provide a definition that sticks and we can make a judgement here.

As translated here by Waiwai this article reads as a pathetic and hysterical attempt to stir up controversy regarding a concept Sakamoto obviously does not understand but has become something of a cause celebre. The issues it raises are real: no matter what terminology is used to describe them, there is a growing underclass of antisocial parasite Japanese who are disconnected from the realities of everyday life and pragmatic concerns of promoting their own welfare. To say that otakuism is the cause of this phenomenon is grossly irresponsible, however, and presents a symptom of Japan’s social malaise as it root instead of merely a manifestation of broader and more troubling trends.

In summary: Sakamoto makes two sets of contradictory claims in this piece. First, that otaku are entering the cultural mainstream and are simultaneously antisocial recluses. Second, that “moe” is a warm feeling, and simultaneously is a form of pedophilia. The reality is far more complex: the otaku “industry” is by and large composed of individuals who don’t fit the repulsive mold she paints (or the Densha Otoko mold either), and “moe” is no more pedophilia than collecting pictures of dogs is bestiality.

There are deep social issues that arise when confronted with the prospect of a moe-obsessed society. I’m pretty sure moe and Kant’s categorical imperative wouldn’t get along too well… but claiming that an immoderate cultural fixation on “moe” – assuming such a fixation exists – is anything other than an outcropping of the equally complex social malaise currently gripping Japan is just silly.