Ookami-san and the Curious Ironies of Modern Moe

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 03 some meta going on right here

Consider the case of Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi, a show which, while ultimately unapologetic about its use of moe elements, is bound by the demands of its target audience (or something) to include one of those episodes. You know the one — the episode that goes beyond mere self-awareness, that subjects moe itself and its effect upon fans (though the two may be one) to proper scrutiny. This is no mere played-straight moe romp; this show knows the culture that birthed it. Or so it purports, anyway.

To be honest, and so you aren’t without perspective, I genuinely enjoy Ookami-san; I suppose that, after all, I’m one of those viewers who, consciously or otherwise, equates self-reference with an “intelligent” use of tropes and traditions. But I’m also a little troubled by the gulf between how the show deals with its female lead and how it presents most everyone else, and we probably have more to learn from that uncertain space than from the most genre-savvy of disembodied narrative voices.

Ookami-san and the Third Episode

We should start with the self-reference, I suppose, because it’s most visible; this is the sort of thing that might influence us overtly as we watch, if we’re inclined to let it.

And I suppose I am so inclined, in this case, as it’s been a little while since I’ve simultaneously laughed and fist-pumped at a single anime episode so hard as I did at Ookami-san 3.

The episode serves up a pageant-like contest (with overtones of — well, you know) between a character who, in terms of discrete moe elements, is perhaps somewhat lacking, or even “flat” (so to speak)…

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 03 daughter of the sea god

…and the school’s resident loli idol with a heart of obsidian, voiced, of course, by Rie Kugimiya.

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 03 and the rabbit i guess

Hilarity ensues.

No, well, there’s more to it than that. Predictably enough, our heroes find themselves saddled with the task of swinging the votes in favor of Otohime (as in Otohime), insofar as she’s their friend and all — which of course means they’ll have to deal with hardcore fans of Usami’s moe-moe. A daunting prospect, as you may imagine.

Things proceed well enough at first. Our heroes aren’t ignorant of their fictional circumstances; they know they have their work cut out for them, as, in having a boyfriend, Otohime commits that most heinous of offenses against potential fans. Moe is “pure,” after all. But Usami’s moe isn’t an unequivocal boon; the student body includes a fair number of moe-haters, and, at the outset, opinion seems divided fairly evenly between the moe paragon and the plain but genuine-seeming character. A campaign of defamation vs. Usami seems like just the thing Otohime needs to gain an edge.

Perhaps needless to say, however, this sort of thing never works; the other side has an annoying tendency to defame back. Otogi Bank must consider other strategies.

Thence plan B:

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 03 ringo as louise is pretty win you have to admit

I guess Zero no Tsukaima cosplay seemed like a good idea at the time (I’m not complaining). And it works, after a fashion.

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 03 one moe too few guys

It’s a twofold victory: Ringo succeeds at stealing votes from Usami (character overlap, after all), which was the primary objective of this impromptu photo shoot, but it isn’t lost upon anyone that Otohime’s in there, too, doing her best Henrietta impression. Remarkably, while the campaign to lessen Usami’s moe value failed practically as it began (or, rather, backfired practically as much as it worked), the effort to fight moe with moe evidently succeeds.

But it’s a short-lived success, as, when Usami shows up, both sides allow themselves to be goaded into verbal fisticuffs the likes of which just aren’t appropriate where moe is involved. It’s an aimless conflict from which no one emerges unscathed — this has become something of a recurring motif at this point.

And, once the motif is in place — and once we see where this episode’s going, metafiction-wise — it’s easy enough to guess how the whole thing ends: neither Otohime nor Usami wins the Miss Otogi contest. In fact, they both lose utterly, and Otohime only manages a single vote because her boyfriend (Urashima Tarou, of course) casts his ballot in accordance with the moral of the story, i.e. Otohime really only ever cared what Tarou thought of her anyway.

Now, let’s review. Pro-moe and anti-moe factions clash. Everyone loses. The fan who just wants to like what he likes and be left alone (in this case, Tarou — he’s unusually monogamous in this episode) knew how it would end, of course, but who cares about that guy, anyway?

In short: yes.

Never have I so adamantly agreed with a metafictional representation of the moe debate.

Ookami-san and Ookami-san

That considered, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the show’s eponymous character, who for all intents and purposes seems like a case study in tsundere. And this is unusual not simply because Ookami-san devotes an episode to poking fun at its roots, but also because, while most of the show’s female characters bear certain moe markers, they aren’t unequivocal moeblobs. Moe is often merely the catalyst for examinations of troubled pasts and personal faults (some of which threaten to undermine the moe reaction itself), and while this may be true of Ookami, to some extent, she’s played remarkably straight in a show that rarely resists diving beneath the surface.

Simply put, Ookami is the irritable yet sensible character whose independence is depicted as a fault, a mere byproduct of trust issues.

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 05 but i kind of wanted her to be

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 05 thought that was why you liked her ryoushi

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 05 the hell man

Our hero standing up for his woman, ladies and gentleman.

I have a problem with this; in a way I feel obligated to, tsundere fan though I may be. Maybe it’s my typically American valuation of self-reliance; maybe it’s my academic background in the humanities, which these days necessarily includes a healthy introduction to second-wave feminism. But, in any case, I have a hard time stomaching scenes in which, far from admiring how far Ookami has come as an independent young woman, certain characters contemplate how strange and unfeminine it is that Ookami won’t rely on anyone else.

It doesn’t help that, in Ryoushi’s case, there’s kind of an inconsistency here.

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 01 yeah i want to know too

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 01 the hell you say

How are we supposed to take this? Maybe Ryoushi spends too much time listening to other characters go on about Ookami’s chewy center (I’m looking at you, Ringo), and thus allows himself to be goaded into the “Ookami’s not strong!” rhetoric of the fifth episode. Maybe it’s wish-fulfillment on his part; Ookami’s physical competence looks nice from a distance, but when Ryoushi moves in for the kill, he discovers that he truly wants Ookami to be weak enough to require his manly protection, at the very least. Most probably — and this is what bothers me — Ookami’s self-defensive shell really is a flat-out weakness in the world the show constructs.

But, now, wait a minute. We’re supposed to wag our fingers at Ookami for not wearing her heart on her sleeve and making her personal hangups readily apparent to all? Allow me to rephrase: we’re supposed to demonize (or at least unfeminize) Ookami for her having reached a point at which her insecurities no longer prevent her from getting through the day — for doing something that everyone does?

“But Pontifus!” you cry. “You said you were a tsundere fan, but here you bemoan tsundere itself!” Yeah, fine; I never promised that my visceral responses to things would adhere strictly to logic (that being a patently absurd promise). But, in all fairness, a tsundere character is at the very least a character whose hard-won strengths I can recognize even if the narrative doesn’t, and whose weaknesses make some sort of sense in that we all have problems we don’t like to talk about, problems that may threaten our connections with others.

I maintain, though, that Ookami is a particularly egregious example in that her co-characters continually draw attention to her “weakness;” it’s something of a moderate-sized issue in the show as of my writing this (i.e. nine episodes in). It would even seem that both Ryoushi and Ringo have fallen in love with that perceived chink in their companion’s armor; Ringo’s typical advice to Ookami amounts not to “open up a little and combine your strengths with those of your friends,” but to “lean on this man the narrative so benevolently placed in your path, for such is the way of the girl.” And that seems a little troubling to me. Your mileage may vary.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s one other thing that gets under my skin a little. I’m talking about a certain scene in the seventh episode…

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 07 or whatever the kids call it these days

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 07 our hero ladies and gentlemen

It doesn’t bother Ryoushi that Ookami may have been a victim (read: a victim) of sexual assault. And, given how the scene is presented — Ryoushi’s in super-manly, admirable mode here — I can only assume that we’re supposed to interpret this as some heroic and benevolent act on his part.

It’s probably worth noting that Ryoushi is “rewarded” for said heroism/benevolence:

ookami-san to shichinin no nakamatachi 07 oh good

Oh, well, that’s one less thing to worry about, right?

No. I’m not buying it. He doesn’t hold sexual assault against a victim thereof — in no way does that make him a mighty hero, worthy of song and statuary; that just means he’s sane, much less decent. We should all aspire to Ryoushi’s accomplishment of not being a goddamn idiot.

Alright, wait — before you leap, mouth frothing, in the general direction of the comment form, let me explain. To some extent I’m willing to cut Ookami-san a break for this one, and to concede that my reading of this scene largely results from my acquaintance with victims of sexual assault who became objects of scorn for having been victims. We bring our experience into our art because that’s how consumption works; it can’t be helped.

There is, after all, a more reasoned way of reading this scene. Surely the writers responsible knew of the strange condition of otaku sexuality, the ability to consume all kinds of weird porn balanced mysteriously with a preference for “pure” women. This is a generalization, of course, but it’s a trend evident to many, the likes of psychologists (Tamaki Saitou) and cultural critics (Hiroki Azuma) included. And please note that I’m not trying to condemn anyone here (no, really); as a wise blogger once said,

This is, to me, no more and no less valid than demanding pettanko, nekomimi, dojikko, megane, or any other fetish of a show. True, when my friends in the US say something like “I won’t watch X show; it’s not moe,” they are aware on some level of how absurd that is, how very self-serving and subjective their criteria are. But so what? They are watching anime for their own enjoyment, and that is not something that other otaku tend to criticize as “unrealistic.” Nor is fan-rage something that otaku are incapable of appreciating… [moritheil, “On Kannagi and Virginity”]

In some ways we’re dealing with a fetish like any other. We don’t have to read too far into it; Ookami-san is capitalizing on how its audience tends to feel about a particular thing, which is hardly unique.

Still, we’re talking about a fetish which, in certain (3D) circumstances, can prove profoundly damaging. Maybe Ookami-san means to confront us with ourselves, to turn our scrutiny inward. And, really, I can only appreciate that sort of move — but then why take the easy way out and leave Ookami “pure” after all?

It’s a troubling scene, to be sure, and it may portend interesting things to come. But let’s let that simmer for now. The important thing to take away from this is that, as of the ninth episode, Ookami-san’s heroine proves strangely straightforward, given all the subversions and semi-subversions and interesting iterations going on around her.

Ookami-san and Those Ironies I Mentioned

And that’s weird, isn’t it? Ookami-san seems to be a moe show that actually subverts moe that actually doesn’t subvert moe, or subverts its subversion of (subverted?) moe, or something. Roland Barthes would wet himself at the prospect.

It seems like a proper mess. And maybe we shouldn’t untangle it; maybe it’s far more interesting as a proper mess. But we can’t just leave it lying there.

We see here evidence of a moe (if I may) in conflict with itself. The moe database or the moe hive mind or whatever has, like the dodongo that it is, swallowed some foreign, explosive things — criticism of itself, traditional ideas of plot and value — and now it has to change to accommodate those unfamiliar shapes, or else it’ll burst. And before you start going on about how that’s a good thing, please be aware that the explosion may prove well and truly nuclear. We aren’t talking about some small and isolated counterculture movement; we’re talking about moe, which, at this point, essentially shares a border with all things anime.

But I really don’t foresee an explosion. Ways of making and thinking about art aren’t so volatile; they shift, they divide and give rise to new things, though they generally remain more or less intact for quite a while afterward.

This seems terribly exciting to me. Perhaps we’re on a cusp, or perhaps the cusp is five or ten years off, but we’re seeing the first signs of moe’s going the way of the expansive, all-encompassing, socially-engaging narratives (e.g. UC Gundam, the Leijiverse, Mamoru Oshii’s resume) that preceded it atop the throne of popularity (and which remain the refuge of the old guard, as they’re so loudly wont to tell you). So what’s next?

It may be too early to tell, but, if nothing else, this brings us at last to those ironies.

Let’s pretend for a moment that there’s some motivated intent behind Ookami’s characterization. Intent isn’t something I generally require in my interpretations, but it’s something that many consumers still value, so, for the benefit of those consumers, let’s pretend.

In giving her qualities we recognize as admirable or valuable (to someone, if not to us personally) — besieged purity, the tsundere type — Ookami-san sets its heroine upon the familiar moe pedestal. The rest of the cast, narrator included, then comes along and proceeds to hammer at the pedestal until there isn’t much left. But Ookami remains a fairly straightforward sort of moe character. What keeps her aloft? Well, we do — and when we realize this, we realize also that Ookami’s weight is familiar to us, that we remember something that we allowed to be effaced: we were the pedestal all along.

What does it really mean to like a character like Ookami? Liking characters whose flaws more aptly evoke real human failings and idiosyncrasies — the sometimes cold Ringo, the unfaithful Tarou, the clingy and perhaps vindictive Otohime, the conceited Usami, the obsessive Tsurugaya, the airheaded Liszt, even the timid Ryoushi — feels at once more difficult and more natural. Initially, Ookami’s greatest problem seems to amount to an inability to embrace her own girlishness; when we learn that Ookami wasn’t explicitly sexually assaulted, the show bends over backwards to elicit from us a sigh of relief, while nonetheless making certain that there was still some sort of assault involved that we may or may not remember when we finish sighing.

What do our singular responses toward Ookami mean? What does it mean that we’ve learned to like a character type whose continued existence owes itself to our liking it? There’s a weight here and no pedestal to heft it for us. There has never been a pedestal.

Ookami-san does not seem to suffer from that ubiquitous complaint, the total inward-looking nature of moe and its products. Perhaps Ookami-san is a small mirror set in an intricate frame; perhaps my rage at the framing of Ookami’s “weakness” and “purity” is the rage of Caliban seeing his face in a glass.

These are things I’ve tolerated in shows that I’ve liked. I’m being confronted with my own value systems here. And the result may not be pretty — but it did inspire a hefty blog post, didn’t it?

Without presuming too much, maybe this is what we want now — after all, Ookami-san’s being animated suggests that the light novels became somewhat popular. Maybe this is why we tolerate nisiOisin’s crazy oceans of dialogue and Negima’s hundred-plus-chapter arcs. Maybe we’re ready to see our irrational loves honed into needles and turned against us in excruciatingly subtle ways; maybe we’re about to tumble headfirst into a sort of moe modernism, an upheaval that looks back with longing almost as often as it looks eagerly forward.

But let’s stop pretending now — we were pretending, remember? — and ask ourselves what it means if the disparity between Ookami and her supporting cast isn’t strictly “intentional.” That is, rather than interpreting it as a clever narrative move, let’s think of it as an accident.

At the very least it seems to demonstrate a tension or an irony evident in moe itself, an irony with which we’re familiar by now — the moe show must poke fun at itself and its viewers whenever it takes moe seriously (Strike Witches notwithstanding). And Ookami-san does this, certainly; maybe the supporting cast and the third episode give us enough of an excuse to watch the show for Ookami herself. I tend not to think that excuses are necessary, that we should ever apologize for what we like, but Ookami-san (among other shows) may suggest that my opinion is not that of the majority.

Or, then again, maybe there’s a kind of masochistic appeal to watching our preferences undermine themselves and our love for them. I do enjoy seeing my favored tropes scrutinized, when it’s done reasonably and not unkindly. But this brings us again to the idea of moe as a closed system — the moe show doesn’t often tackle broad cultural concerns, but can we really accuse moe of being wholly inward-focused when it wrangles social issues at the personal level? Surely an investigation of the virginity trope isn’t simply an investigation of virginity as trope.

Ookami-san is, after all, a singular example — but it’s an interesting example, I think, and I wonder how far the possibilities I broach here would go when applied to other franchises.

Further Reading

8C also sees some of these things happening.
Otou-san (cinco_bajeena?) has some relevant thoughts on Ookami’s sacred virginity and reflecting upon fetishes.
If you’re interested in all this crazy moe business, Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku is the place to start; check out Cuchlann’s commentary and mine.

About Pontifus

Doing it wrong on purpose since 2008.
This entry was posted in analysis, today's special guest writer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Ookami-san and the Curious Ironies of Modern Moe

  1. Vendredi says:

    I try to limit my dosage of Super Fanicom to once a week, due to the very real threat of potential cerebral hemorrage, and now here ghostlightning invites Pontifus to write a piece for his unsuspecting readers… oh horror upon horrors.

    Mind-blowing aside, I think you’re rather spot on in noting certain tensions that are inherent in the “moe paradigm” (and still after all this time we don’t have a better word!), partly, I think, as you note about the whole fixation on virginity, that moe ideals seem in part rooted in a very conservative, if not hidebound, view of women and acceptable female behaviour: the whole “man protects *his* woman” angle, for example. The entire tsundere archetype pretty much undermines the idea of feminine empowerment completely, depending on how harshly you read into it: at best it shows that women can’t be completely happy alone, and at the very worst it shows that a woman’s attempts at empowerment are just really all a false front.

    In this sense, it’s not surprising that humour is so often employed as to soften the edge – humour after all is one of the common avenues for expressing subversive or controversial opinions that run counter to the dominant politically correct ideals. I doubt all fans of moe are completely down with the gender norms of the previous few centuries (I’m sure some would be alright with it), but I think the whole emergence of the archetype is at least partly a response to the aftermath of the changes wrought by feminist movements around the world.

    Slightly related is 2dteleidoscope’s post about the growing obsession with manliness here:

    http://2dteleidoscope.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/old-spice-sengoku-basara-and-the-new-classic-man/

    Like the moe phenomenon, this too might stem from the perceived loss of classical masculine values also caused by the rise of feminist ideals. If this is the reading you take, then the implication that results is that the root causes behind “moe” and “GAR” are both rooted in the decline of the worth placed on traditional masculine ideals – moe and GAR, then, are simply two sides of the same coin. Both are essentially about an empowered male lead – GAR does so directly, and moe does so indirectly, by making the woman vulnerable. Or perhaps I might be getting it confused with the related “mamorism”.

    I’ll be off to drain out the bits of brain leaking out from my ears, then.

    • Pontifus says:

      Yeah, I’ve reached an arrangement with ghostlightning that’ll allow me to inflict myself upon his readers every once in a while. But I’m really trying to make these more accessible than Super Fanicom fare. No long quotes from theorists, anyway.

      It’s startling to think that what we’re seeing is a kind of response to female empowerment. Personally I’ve never read it that politically; a number of fans have this conservative mindset, and creators take advantage of that. But then we have to consider that some of these conservative-minded fans go on to become creators themselves. There may well be something there to think about. As you mention, I wonder whether the social conservatism comes from a sense of masculinity “lost” or “under attack.”

      In terms of character types, I do tend to think of the moe character and the GAR character as opposite ends of one spectrum, but that idea certainly becomes more interesting when we factor in the gender issues. To me the difference in visceral response seems to be that the GAR character is worthy of admiration and the moe character is a character whose admiration you desire, and we could ask why particular characters fill those particular roles, keeping gender issues in mind. Things would get weird if we allow for GAR women and moe men, which I think we’d have to do.

      • vendredi says:

        Part of the trouble is definitely how nebulous the terms actually are – just thinking about the moe-GAR spectrum you describe makes me think of several sliding scales, in addition to the “admiring/being admired by” scale you mention (at least in the casual way one usually thinks about the two terms):
        protector/object of protection
        masculine/feminine (well, this is more of dichotomy that stems from tradition… the gender theorists might take objection to this one)
        strength/weakness
        and so on and so forth.

        • Pontifus says:

          Yeah, any spectrum is going to be a temporary convenience, assuming it’s not really feasible to make a 42-dimension model. I do think masculine/feminine remains a useful gradient, though, as long as people think in those terms, even if it’s not necessarily desirable. Traditional gender roles always seem to be a big deal in anime, whether they’re valued, subverted, or ignored.

  2. Sorrow-kun says:

    Citizen_Kane_clapping.gif

    I too enjoy Ookami-san to the point that I can almost (almost) appreciate the confusing contradictions it presents about Ookami’s character and her background (and several other things). Certainly, the use of moe as a catalyst to explore characters at a deeper level isn’t new. Key has built an empire out of it. But I love the optimism of the idea that Ookami-san might be a first sign that moe is about to go through a state of upheaval (as it did through the middle part of the last decade). The question of whether this is a result of intent or accident is one we’ll never be able to answer with certainty. I’m kinda leaning towards “accident”. Just as Hollywood fumbled until very recently about what its films wanted to say about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I’m guessing it will take several works made with clear vision and strong intent before anime has a clear idea about where it wants to go with moe in the future, ie, what exactly post-moe is going to be.

    Moe will change. Art movements shift. It’s an inevitability. When it happens, it’s going to be an exciting and dynamic time to be around anime, just as it was during the middle part of the last decade.

    • Pontifus says:

      Yeah, we’re not going to see that perfect (by which I mean popular and influential) example of a nouveau-moe show for a while. I can understand why people aren’t terribly impressed with Ookami-san. But something like the Haruhi franchise seems like a precursor to that. Haruhi’s a pretty good example of what I’m foreseeing, too, in that it pokes fun at a lot of its own moe strategies. I’ve been wondering, actually, whether Haruhi was the start of what I’m seeing here, and we’re simply still in the period of it catching on, in the same way that moe of the 2000-2010 variety needed time to gain momentum.

  3. Alex Leavitt says:

    I’m just going to respond to the first paragraph of this essay (sorry for ignoring the rest):

    With the otaku-meta episodes of shows like this, do you think that it’s worthwhile to collect each episode across however many series contain them to craft some sort of in-anime “otaku discourse”? And what do you think that would reveal about the current state of Japanese otakudom, industry reflections of its primary audience, etc. etc.?

    • Pontifus says:

      Certainly it’d say something about how the industry views its consumers. As to whether it’d be worthwhile, though, I’m not sure — what would we do with that data once we had it? I figure it wouldn’t be terribly easy to sort out the specifics of who contributed to that collected discourse, and when, i.e. where are the points at which producers respond to fan concerns, where are they trying to appeal to a fan preference for meta-stuff, and where are they expressing their own opinions? Is it useful even if we can’t sort that out?

  4. I suspect that one of the main reasons for the discomfort/uneasiness about the portrayal of Ookami is just how darn blunt the anime is in presenting its point. Most of the works up to this point have been rather subtle, and have typically spent great deals of time explaining and justifying the contradictions in tsundere characters (think perhaps Shana for a good example of this). When you have a show that just basically comes right out and tells you, point blank: “yeah, this strong independent woman is just putting up a front to hide her unmet need for strong male leadership in her life”, and proceeds to hammer that point home time after time, it’s just impossible to ignore. In fact, it’s played so “matter-of-factly” here that it’s almost hard to say whether the author means all that much by it. It’s almost like the author is saying “yeah, so what?” It’s building on years of industry tradition and summarizing it into its simplest, rawest form, as if to say “you should already know this stuff, so we’ll skip the justifications and just move on”. It’s actually sort of the same way the author treats the fairy tales covered in the story — you’re just supposed to know what they are if you really want to get it, even if I would exactly call it entirely a “parody” either.

    And actually, I would say this is one of the more defining traits of modern “moe” shows; the stereotypes and characteristics have been refined to such a degree that a lot of shows are taking a “okay, so now what?” sort of attitude about it all. Some shows go unabashedly in one direction as if to say “this is what we are, and we don’t care” (shows like Strike Witches and Campanella come to mind here). Others have sort of evolved the Haruhi approach of calling attention to the moe tropes and moving on, or gone a more absurd/silly route about it all. I think it sort of reflects an understanding — perhaps partially begrudged? — of what is selling these days, and this sort of unspoken almost-honesty between the creators and the fans about whatever perceived pandering is going on. I think much of the core audience finds the little winks and nods to be almost endearing, like “ah, they know I exist; this show was really made for me”, even though many of these shows can be enjoyed without directly acknowledging it.

    Even though I think the last few years have been full of interesting examples that reflect the continuing evolution in “moe” anime (from Mayoi Neko Overrun’s director experiment, to Amagami’s multi-arc adaptation, to Bakemonogatari’s unprecedented success), it still isn’t clear to me exactly where this is all going to end up. A lot of pundits hope that the “post-moe anime world” is going to lead us back to the past (to their “glory days” of “good anime” as it were), but I think it more likely that it’s heading in a different direction entirely. Obviously, though, we’ll see…

    • Pontifus says:

      I’m convinced that some of the anti-moe sentiment in the west just comes from the kinds of stories that westerners tend to like. But, yeah, the old guard always wants to turn back time. I feel sort of sorry for them.

      Well, I think the bluntness of Ookami differs from the kind of straightforward moe characters we see in other shows. Strike Witches et al. are something like pastiche in the sense that, as you say, we get these assorted moe elements without any kind of underlying motivation or “point;” they just are what they are, and what they are is something that sells a lot of merchandise. Ookami, on the other hand, sets up a contrast with the characters around her, and so there seems to be something more going on there than “hey, look, here’s a tsunderekko!” It seems to be a step in some direction or another.

      That there might be a begrudging attitude present in moe shows is an interesting prospect. We might see crazy new things come out of a conflict between fans who want a certain thing and creators who would really rather be making something else. Maybe that’s where some of this structural contradiction comes from.

  5. Rakuen says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I read the whole thing.

    Just to respond in a general mindset to this, I think the scene in episode 7 has very little to do with Ookami’s purity and everything to do with Ryoushi’s answer. There’s a disparity between our public and private thoughts. Consider the “What if?” question. When it’s posed to us, we tend not to answer with what we actually think. Instead, we try to come up with the “right” answer. Would you give up your kidney for me? We say yes, because it sounds like the obvious answer. Now your friend is actually in need of a kidney. Is the answer still yes? If we’re truly honest with ourselves, a lot of us would probably say no. It’s this kind of disparity that makes Ryoushi’s answer significant. His nemesis here has been framed as a terrible person. The narrative built here leaves rape as a legitimate conclusion. Ryoushi isn’t getting a “What if?” question; he believes the scenario to be real. And, he answers that he wants Ookami the way she is.

    We can take this and apply it to another disparity: what we want versus what is. We all want a lot of things. I want a million dollars right now. We don’t get what we want though, instead, we have to deal with reality. Ryoushi wants Ookami to act a little more feminine. It would certainly make his job of courting her a hell of a lot easier. This is only what he wants though. What sits in front of him is Ookami as the strong and independent girl. Yet, he’s still willing to accept her as she is, outwardly tough attitude and all. We know this most certainly because it’s those qualities that attracted him to her in the first place.

    Beyond even this, though, is the tendency for opposites to balance over time. Ookami and Ryoushi are almost polar opposites. The former is headstrong, assertive, and tough. The latter is, well, he’s a bum. Over the course of the series, though, they’ve very slowly moved toward the center. Ryoushi is becoming more assertive, and Ookami is becoming a bit softer. While this might detract a bit from Ookami’s strong character, I don’t think this isn’t bad at all. Relationships aren’t idealistic, rather, they are filled with compromise. Each person knows what they want in another person. Each person also knows what they truly are. The molding from “what I am” to “what he/she wants” is certainly a long and belabored process. But a lot of times, it can happen without us even realizing it until the change has already manifested. Perhaps this is a real sign of love, I can’t say for certain.

    I suppose the bottom line is, yes, Ookami is turning moe on its head in a way. It’s not about the ideals, rather, it’s about the dynamics of reality.

    • Pontifus says:

      Very nice analysis of the character dynamics overall.

      But, well, here’s my take on the molestation issue. I get that sometimes people will say they’ll do things and not do them when circumstances require, but I don’t think this case is at all comparable to giving a kidney — I mean, really, how is Ryoushi personally inconvenienced by Ookami’s past? Perhaps his idea of social mores is violated, but that sort of thing is adaptable. It isn’t as if anyone’s cutting his organs out. All we really discover about him is that he’s neither selfish nor insecure when it counts, which is good, of course, but not unexpected in a hero.

      Bear in mind, though, that my experience is going to be different from yours (personally I found it rather easy to make the decision that Ryoushi does, when the chance arose, as have friends of mine, and we’re neither “heroes” nor even particularly exceptional), and that this will always be a very emotional sort of issue. And Ryoushi’s answer remains significant in what it says about how certain viewers might answer, so I don’t think you’re wrong to focus on how he acts here.

      • Rakuen says:

        Heh, well yeah, it’s a different situation from a kidney transplant. I just threw it out there because it was the first example I came up with that actually serious enough to use.

        And who’s to say you’re not a hero? We’re all the main characters of our own stories, after all. There’s no fine measure to what a hero is. A hero can be as dramatic as a doctor performing a successful operation, or something as mundane as a guy getting a little girl’s cat out of a tree. So, if you can easily and truthfully make a decision like that, I’d say there’s already a little hero in you. ;]

        • Pontifus says:

          Haha, I was such a little shit back then. One nice thing was the least I could do — but even then I don’t recall thinking I was particularly nice, just that I had exercised reason (also I was in love, etc. etc.). But I’m sure this has everything to do with my not having grown up in conditions that made me think of “purity” in the way that some of Ookami-san’s viewers think of it. It’s an issue that relies a great deal on perspective.

  6. Yumeka says:

    Sorry, you’re post was a little tl:dr, but I read the majority of it. I found it interesting because I just wrote a related post about how moe anime is changing:

    http://animeyume.com/blog/2010/09/02/moe-anime-isnt-dying-its-just-changing/

    To make it brief, Ookami-san is an example of moe without sexual implications – instead, she evokes respect, or perhaps sympathy, from her audience rather than wish-fulfillment (not my absolute opinion but my summarizing from the post I was referencing in my post). The necessity for a moe character to be “pure” is starting to change in favor of wanting to support them rather than “own” them (my waifu), much like how moe characters from pre-2005 used to be. I don’t think it’s completely changed yet of course, but it’s interesting to observe these shifts.

    • Pontifus says:

      I really don’t think we’re seeing any kind of “reversion,” so to speak; I’m fairly certain that mamoruism/the desire to protect and support and the idea of the waifu have coexisted for quite a while now. I know that some fans want things to go back to the way they were, but this is something that doesn’t happen in any significant way where art movements are concerned. Still, I’d say it’s likely that we’ll see old ways of doing things start to pop up in highly fragmentary form — old tropes haven’t been shut out of moe entirely. And of course these old ways aren’t gone yet, and will hang around for a while through the rising and falling popularity of other things.

      Interesting post, too.

  7. First idea: “We are the pedestal”

    Great stuff, what a great way to put it. Now forgive me for vulgarizing it: The pedestal is as stiff as a boner. When the object on top of the pedestal resembles reality more than fantasy, the boner softens and the pedestal is gone… the object “falls.”

    While there is moe beyond sexualization, as Yumeka says, it isn’t the dominant practice. Sexual gratification at some level is why people, at least otaku watch anime, or at least why they play VNs. The focus on the object on the moe pedestal is that of a wife/partner candidate.

    When you respect the object, chances are you’re looking at how being with her makes you respectable — at least in the eyes of those who you share standards of appreciation with.

    Now is this wrong?

    I don’t know. I remember a female friend from uni criticizing some feminists (I forgot which wave) at preferring weak men that allowed them to be strong, protective, dominant in ways men “used to be” while remaining intelligent, good-hearted, pure in the way that he doesn’t seem to objectify them aggressively and sexually, and yet remain a willing and yielding sexual partner. This man maybe bullied or at least remain on the fringes of the mainstream masculine community, but won’t feel less of a human being because the girlfriend will protect and provide and fulfill them.

    Sounds like moe and mamoru-ism to me in a lot of ways.

    Beyond gender politics, I think there is just this will to power in us wherein the strong wants to dominate/protect the weak. This will exists also within the weak, so they undermine the strong to make them weaker than they are and thereby fit within their sphere of protection/domination.

    • Pontifus says:

      lolboner

      Nah, that’s a good way of putting it. And you bring an interesting dimension in, namely what the “approval” of your waifu (or, among fandom, simply your choice of waifu) says about you and how you go about being a fan. It’s like we have two impulses to consider: “I want to be able to imagine the admiration of the waifu” and “I want people to admire my choice of waifu.” It really does sound oddly like a marriage in which the wife is expected to occupy a pedestal and act as a showpiece for the husband.

      Not sure what we can do with this yet, but it seems worth thinking about.

      • The latter of the two impulses is the more objectifying one, and the more egocentric one.

        In 3D practical terms, these things don’t completely disappear from a “sensitive” male’s considerations. The important thing is how these considerations remain as such: as considerations, and not as overriding determinants of decision-making. I’d be lying if I didn’t think my meatspace waifu isn’t a good match for me, or better than a good match. This consideration, among other things like infatuation, physical and intellectual qualities, are checklists in the database of mating — during mating; that is the beginning of the relationship (selection, claiming).

        The relationship itself is the real stuff of love, and isn’t really something anime narratives, and certainly anime non-narratives, are very capable of portraying (nor are they as interested in doing so, perhaps).

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  9. ZeroOBK says:

    Perhaps this isn’t quite on topic, but considering I have rather strong feelings about this anime, I want to speak (even if it just comes across as a bunch of jumbled ideas).

    “Our hero standing up for his woman, ladies and gentleman. I have a problem with this; in a way I feel obligated to, tsundere fan though I may be.”

    As another tsundere fan, I can understand. I don’t know about your circumstances, but my love of the tsundere comes largely from the tsundere’s independent spirit, which is why I find characters like Hitagi and Holo as being immensely more attractive than others. They can love and they can be frail, but they aren’t dependent on their partner and they aren’t always frail.

    But Ookami isn’t like that. She’s made of glass. The narrative makes every opportunity to point out that Ookami’s strength is superficial and that she NEEDS someone to depend on (and “a friend” just isn’t good enough to fill that role). No, perhaps “clay” is a better analogy of what Ookami is made of. She was betrayed and had some “traumatic experience” so its natural that she has trust issues. But we can’t have her distrusting Ryoushi, can we now? So the character that was meant to have trust issues from being betrayed by a loved one has been molded by the narrative so that she quickly learns to trust Ryoushi and even become attracted to him. The narrative seems to love constructing and then destroying Ookami’s established characterization.

    In comparison, Hitagi went through a traumatic experience. She obtained a “false strength” by throwing her “weight” away. She broke down and cried. The difference is in the recovery (if you could even call it that since no one can be completely healed from such an experience). After the recovery of her “weight”, she wasn’t the same as before, but she also didn’t revert to herself before the trauma. The idea of “femininity” wasn’t even factored into the equation. She got her emotions back, but she took time to reaffirm them, with no provocation from Araragi.

    • Pontifus says:

      This is related to something I’ve been thinking about since I wrote this post, and you’ve helped me sort it out.

      Specifically, I was wondering whether there must be a concrete divide between the character for whom the tsuntsun side is a weakness and the character for whom it’s more like a strength, and whether the latter is really “tsundere” at all, given the typical use of the word. But I’ve decided that the best (i.e. my favorite) sort of tsundere character is one whose qualities are both strength and weakness; it depends on the application and the circumstances. I like a tsunderekko who isn’t unequivocally admirable and awesome at everything, but one who gets some credit for being somewhat independent in the context of anime, a context that includes some troubling portrayals of women.

  10. ubiquitial says:

    oh god. After all that text, I can’t even begin on the comments.
    (Doesn’t anyone have a tl:dr version?)

  11. ubiquitial says:

    Also,
    “…Maybe Ookami-san means to confront us with ourselves, to turn our scrutiny inward. And, really, I can only appreciate that sort of move… ”

    Look at that fourth picture and explain this statement to me. Might I suggest the possibility that you’re reading too far into this?

    • Pontifus says:

      Man, you should know my answer to that question by now. I’m sure you’ve heard it from me before. “Overanalysis” doesn’t exist, and even if it does, I’d rather risk overanalyzing than giving up halfway, which to me is a far, far greater disservice to anyone who reads what I write.

      • ubiquitial says:

        I should, really. Surprised you remember me after all this time. I suppose you remember my counter to that, too. But I didn’t come here to argue. This was a very interesting and entertaining post, and I thank you for it.

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  15. Pingback: Princess Principal Shows That Moe Can Be Cool – Humble Ace

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