Sorrow-kun has just given his opinion on the new season, and I’ve discovered that the new shows have a subtle, but important, shift in focus away from the “moexploitation” shows of past seasons. While I am not foolish or naive enough to conclude that Spring 2010 will be known as “The Season that Moe Died” (especially with Strike Witches 2 just around the corner, HNNNNNNGH), the shift is still interesting and worth examining.
Let’s first talk about “moexploitation” for a second. I define “moexploitation” as any show that uses moe as its primary selling point. Koji Kumeta and Yasu‘s (relatively) new syndication, Joshiraku (image above), parodies the moexploitation phenomena, and while Kumeta’s being a bit precious, he’s right: moexploitation shows throw plot out the window, and feature incredibly poor writing. I’ve already made several cases against moexploitation, so I won’t bore you with rehashes. Instead, I am going to focus more on the changes that I’ve seen in the past season.
The first thing that struck me about this season’s titles was the prominence of men in the main cast. Looking at shows like Arakawa Under the Bridge, Senkou no Night Raid, Durarara!! and most certainly Rainbow, the ratio of male to female characters is highly lopsided towards males. Even shows like Working!!, Angel Beats! and (arguably) B Gata H Kei deviate from the moexploitation trend set in earlier seasons. (I’ll come back to B Gata H Kei later, because I believe it deserves a closer examination.) Angel Beats! features a strong female presence (not to mention the greatest female antagonist in anime history), but the show seems to definitely be focused on bromance, not romance. Apart from very subtle hints here and there, Angel Beats! doesn’t really have any sort of overt romantic overtones that dominated shows such as Haruhi, which gives it a distinct and unique feel. Other shows are more overly androcentric. Durarara!!, while about a woman, is a show run by men. Rainbow doesn’t even have women in the main cast.
There is one show prominently missing from this list. I’m talking, of course, about K-On!! K-On!! is the epitome of moexploitation: no plot, no characterization— moeblobs running around, doing what amounts to little more than nothing. Sorrow-kun is absolutely correct when he says that we already know what game K-On!! is trying to play. All personal feelings aside, I believe that KyoAni‘s strategy of moexploitation with K-On!! represents more and more an obsolete and losing strategy for anime production. At some point, cynicism is going to take over the minds of even the most hardcore of otaku. (Indeed, even on 2ch, extreme displays of affection towards 2D moe characters are looked down upon and made fun of.)
Examining the character designs of major series this season, it seems to me that, more and more, studios are moving away from moe overloads. Even Angel Beats! has a distinctly “moe-but-not-really-that-moe” feel to it; I personally attribute this to Na-Ga‘s inability to draw correctly, but one can also point to it as evidence that moe is on the retreat. Senkou no Night Raid, Durarara!!, Rainbow and Arakawa Under the Bridge all pursue different approaches to character design; Durarara‘s characters have a distinctively edgy, modern feel; Senkou‘s female characters (character?) are moe, but in very subtle ways… and so on and so forth. What is clear is that these aforementioned shows do not rely on moe as a source of appeal.
I mentioned at the beginning of the article that I would devote a bit of time to pick apart B Gata H Kei. In terms of innovation and vision, B Gata H Kei may actually be the most innovative anime airing this season. For starters, it turns the harem genre completely upside down: instead of thirty billion girls fawning over one clueless guy, B Gata H Kei tells the story of a single woman try really hard at getting into some guy’s pants. For starters, Yamada is an interesting lead for a show of this nature. Most moe-style romantic comedies are told from the perspective of the male, and most shoujo romances are told from the perspective of the female. B Gata H Kei really is neither. Yamada is most definitely not a cookie-cutter moeblob. In fact, she’s your anti-moeblob. Bitchy, narcissistic, horny to the point of insanity, Yamada twists and perverts the moe rom-com genre in an innovative and refreshing way. B Gata H Kei demonstrates that there’s more than one way to avoid moexploitation. I can only hope that it gets better from here.
I’ve alluded to this earlier in the article, but there is also a dearth of romance anime this season. If we examine all the major shows this season, we have three action thrillers (Senkou, DRRR, Angel Beats), one very serious drama (Rainbow), two slice-of-life shows (Working!! and K-On!!) and two rom-coms (Arakawa, B H). Both rom-coms are fairly unconventional in nature. The slice-of-life shows this season are undoubtedly guilty of moexploitation, but I find Working!! far less offensive than K-On!! in that regard; I view Working!! in the same vein as Aria, Sketchbook and Azumanga Daioh. There’s less focus on displaying the cuteness of the cast and more focus on their quirky personalities. At least the characters of Working!! have personalities.
Finally, I believe last season’s Sora no Woto also deserves a quick look; I still remember the initial accusation of it being a K-On! clone. How wrong we all were for assuming such a thing! Sora no Woto actually breaks the moexploitation trend in fairly innovative ways; as I’ve discussed in my review, the show is an attempt to merge the moe aesthetic with more serious, dark themes. While not entirely successful, I believe that Sora no Woto represents a pretty important step forward. Not a bad first effort at all.
In short, the 2010 Spring Season has seen an influx of shows that focus more on storytelling and character interactions, and less reliance on moe as a selling point. Perhaps Anime no Chikara pioneered the way for more substantive moe-style shows; perhaps this season was simply a fluke and saw many adaptations of more serious, non-exploitative works. Whether this trend persists is yet to be seen, but if it does, Spring 2010 will be remembered as a watershed season. Either way, I fully intend on enjoying the ride.
Notes: Some of you will complain about my biased show selection; notably, I didn’t list KissxSis, Kaichou wa Meido Sama! and Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou in the shows on my list. I believe my list is fairly representative of the shows this season. If you wish to expand the analysis, I propose adding in shows like Ookiku Furikabutte, Uraboku, Saraiya Goyou, Giant Killing, Heroman, Hakuouki and Yojohan Shinwa Taikei. The proportion of moexploitation to non-moexploitation is still relatively low compared to other seasons. Remember that this theory is a work in progress, and I hope to spur some dialogue in order for me to refine and reflect on trends within the industry.
The translation of Koji Kumeta and Yasu’s Joshiraku is my own.
I promised offhand for an article about anime originals. The article is coming, but I wanted to wait for Senkou no Night Raid to progress a bit further before making any judgments.
Finally, I have a twitter. Follow me @Hofrenska, I’d love to hear from you guys outside of the comment box.