The Love Behind Anime: Patrick Galbraith’s “The Moé Manifesto”

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When it comes to Japan’s image in the global eye, kawaii—the “cute-ification” of just about everyone and everything—is a staple. However, lesser known is moe, an emphasis on the emotional response to fictional characters, as opposed to the characters themselves.

The moe phenomenon has been misrepresented and stigmatized as bizarre overseas. But Patrick Galbraith, author of The Moé Manifesto, the world’s first English book on the attraction, sets the record straight.

“Moe—which is the noun form of the verb moeru (which can mean ‘to sprout’ or ‘to burn’)—is a response to fictional characters,” explains the American author. “It has the connotation of something that gets your motor running.”

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding,” he says regarding fans of manga, anime and game. “It’s easy to look at images of Japanese men embracing pillows with their favorite characters and say, ‘Man, those guys are weird!’ It’s a joke; we laugh and move on.”

“The Moé Manifesto is an attempt to talk with people on the inside—creators, fans and critics of manga, anime and games in Japan—and get their perspective. It’s a manifesto in the sense that it’s a political statement: let’s take people and their lives seriously. Rather than point, laugh and dismiss, let’s listen to them and respect that we might not understand it immediately.”

The moe style is characterized by exaggerated features, such as unnaturally huge eyes and nonexistent mouths and noses. First used in girls’s comics, these elements were introduced to emphasize characters’s emotional responses, and were later adopted in men’s manga and anime, through which they became a standard.

“One interesting result is … ‘anti-realism.’ Cute girl characters don’t exactly look like real women. You can have characters that are attractive without any comparison to or connection to the ‘real’ thing.”

But exactly how important is sexual fantasy to moe? “I posed that question to Honda Toru,” Galbraith says of the moe guru. “He married a character from a PC game. He was attracted to her sexually, sure, but there’s something more to it. Honda describes that ‘something more’ as love.”

What surprised the author, though, was how robust the discourse on moe is in Japan. “Many of us can regonize the allure of comic book and cartoon characters, but how often do you hear people talk about marrying them—and what that might mean socially and economically? Or advocating [a] sexual orientation toward fictional characters?

“What surprised me most was how serious people took their relationships with fictional characters, which were described to me as life-saving—a reason for living, or an alternative way of life.”

Metropolis, issue 1073

Andrew “Plug” Lazonby: The brains behind Hostess Weekender

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English musician Andrew “Plug” Lazonby arrived in Japan over a decade ago to work for a music publisher. Sensing a need for a more personal approach to Japan for Western bands than was available, he and a hardworking crew launched Hostess out of a small wooden house near Meguro. Hostess is now one of Japan’s premier purveyors of independent music, handling releases of the likes of Radiohead in Japan. Metropolis talked to Lazonby ahead of his outfit’s thrice-yearly tune-fest Hostess Weekender.

What has changed, and what has stayed the same in Weekender’s approach?

The format – 10 bands, 2 days, 1 stage, and the broad spread programming-wise of amazing music has remained constant. The ticket prices have remained constant (and great value). The attention to detail both backstage in production and out-front in terms of the fan experience continue to gradually evolve—we make the show with us as fans in mind, so it has a little more than the usual club show, all aimed to make the process of getting lost in music a bit more fun.

What are Japanese music fans liking in the Hostess catalog at present?

We’ve had a nice year for music: from established hits by Atoms for Peace, Vampire Weekend, The National, Queens of the Stone Age, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Sigur Ros, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Four Tet and the rock album of the year by Arctic Monkeys, to great new works from Chvrches, Savages, Darkside, Daughter, Palma Violets, Omar Souleyman, King Krule and the emerging breakthrough band for 2014, Temples.  That’s the tip of the iceberg, another decent year for us to be doing what we do.

People talk about an excess of music festivals in Japan. Thoughts?

I think Fuji and Summersonic have their place, rightly so. Fuji as the rock festival, and Summersonic for the more pop-leaning audience.  We continue to have lots of artists performing at both.  The reason for HCW and reason why it stands apart from the rest though is it really being an enhanced club show experience rather than a festival. Festivals have multiple stages so you can drift from hit to hit if you so chose, without ever necessarily having to really engage deep with any particular show, whereas with HCW it’s about going headfirst all in to a relationship with each artist, for their whole performance, then having time to come down, eat, drink, meet friends, meet artists, browse and buy very affordable music at the well stocked and plentifully staffed Hostess Club shop…. then get ready for the next show.  The space in between is crucial if real music engagement is going to happen.

Where do you see Western rock’s fortunes heading in Japan?

I’ve been reading a lot about it being dead in the water!  The need to present everything as J-pop… I even read somewhere that the reason One Direction took a while to get off the ground in Japan was the market not having matured enough! Whatever that means. I can assure you it’s absolutely fine where we are.  Like the constantly growing audience who subscribe to HCW, we have a thing for musical integrity, we believe in it, and it drives us day by day—the view from where we all stand together is pretty good.

Metropolis, Nov 21, 2013