Yes, I know the topic of moe has been done to death on this blog, but I feel like throwing my two cents in. However, I am shifting the focus a little bit: to the Superflat genre of anime. The Superflat movement is an artsy, postmodern movement that currently receives most attention in the West due to a) pretentious xenophilic art enthusiasts in America, and b) Takashi Murakami’s relationship with Louis Vuitton in designing decidedly anime-inspired designs with the obligatory art house-spin added to it. However, apart from the trendiness of the postmodern art movement, the Superflat movement’s biggest influence on anime stems from a much more mundane source: Studio Ghibli.
Miyazaki’s character designs are reflective of his stance on moe culture: the women drawn are anti-moe, and are given qualities that contrast with the archetypes of moe culture (note that for the sake of argument I’m generalizing moe to make a cultural point). From this deconstruction of the female as an object of beauty, Miyazaki seeks to unravel the “shallow emptiness” of Japanese consumer culture. However, the Superflat movement strikes me as, if anything, contradictory to its intent. Rather, I would contend that moe is a return to Japanese aesthetic values, and that through moe as a critical lens, Japan can regain, at least in part, its culture.
Moe is distinctly and utterly Japanese. Moe is one of the few instances in which Japan can take something authentically Japanese (anime) and celebrate it as an aesthetic design, in a country that is increasingly Westernized each year. Nearly every aspect of Japan is converging upon some sort of Western ideal, and yet moe as an aesthetic design is distinctly Japanese. Sure the origination of the anime aesthetic to begin with was influenced by American cartoons like Betty Boop, however it has evolved into something that represents Japan and Japan alone. Superflat, on the other hand, by reversing the tables on the moe design, is an increasingly Western encroachment into Japan’s culture. Feminism, environmentalism, even Socialism in Miyazaki’s older works, are all Western concepts that are at best introduced concepts into Japanese culture. Though one can possibly make the argument that feminism is an ideal that all should strive to, if feminism as a movement supplants the pre-existing distinctly Japanese anime art style, then it is achieving an ideal that comes with the cost of obscuring, if not eradicating, an integral aspect of Japanese society. Without the ability to appreciate the human body as heavily stylized and objectified (male or female; think Kabuki), anime loses a part of its identity that closely attaches itself to Japanese culture.
Perhaps viewing moe through a critical lens is giving it too much credit – it is, after all, primarily used for fanservice. However, I’m trying to get at the root of what moe represents moreso than what it is, and in that sense, it represents a highly idealized conception of aesthetic perfection, something that has been at the heart of Japanese culture stemming back to ancient times. I think that, if anything, moe is a means to return to that culture, away from the forced Westernization of Japanese society and a rediscovery of the design ethics. Hell, if all else fails at least we get to ogle some adorable eye candy.