It’s safe to say that moé and virtual love go hand-in-hand. Thus, many arguments imposed against moé can be applied to 2D love and vice-versa. The idea of synthetic relationships has cropped up several times within and without the anime community, but I feel like we’re not getting to the core of the issue with the discussion that’s been had about it so far.
A while ago, I was directed to a Youtube video that attempted to broach the topic of synthetic relationships in Japan (More recently, I was directed to another video that attempted the same thing, but my focus is on the first). While I’m appreciative of attempts to start a discussion that aren’t heavy-handed or heavily one-sided, the way the topic was brought up left a lot to be desired in terms of discussion, and I feel like that’s true for a lot of the discourse on this subject.
The problem is that the issue of synthetic relationships, when brought up, is treated as its own problem. It’s discussed as if it occurs in a vacuum, even when it is acknowledged that it does not occur in a vacuum. Even when outside contributing forces are mentioned, they’re never investigated or given proper attention as part of a problem. Everything boils down to “The birthrate is low, and young men would rather date not-real girls than real girls,” and the rare times a reason is given, it’s something simple and superficial like “Young men are afraid of real girls.”
Make no mistake: This is a complex issue; too complex, in fact, for me to do justice to here with my relative lack of expertise on the subject. I can, however, speak to the lack of complexity that I feel the issue has been approached with in discussions about it. As much as some people wring their hands over young Japanese men seemingly inexplicably turning to synthetic or virtual relationships, there is a reason these things happen. The presenter in the video mentioned that Japanese women are getting pickier with men, and that Japanese men are becoming more docile and complacent. This is a potentially major contributing factor he touched on, but he spent almost no time exploring it. Everyone wants to get to the bottom of the issue, but everyone’s too caught-up talking about the relatively superficial issue of this proliferation of synthetic relationships.
What’s really damning about most of these discussions is that they tend to come from a “this stuff is weird” standpoint. Rather than putting the superficial cultural differences behind them for a bit, getting in-depth, doing some research, and gaining an understanding about the deeper underlying causes beneath the superficial underlying causes of the growing popularity of synthetic relationships, they focus on the “weird Japan” aspect of it exclusively. Rather than talking about something real and doing some justice to what they themselves consider a serious topic, they simply do lip service to the seriousness and focus in on the superficial because that’s what’s weird and, in the case of the Anti-Moé Brigade and other people who would enjoy seeing dating sims and moé love become less prevalent, directly works to their ends.
Again, I wish my level of expertise on the subject was such that I could do it justice here, but since it isn’t, the best thing I can do is call out the lack of complexity that this complex issue has been dealt with thus far, and call for a deeper investigation into the topic. We need to go deeper than synthetic relationships. Their rising popularity is only a symptom of a bigger, further-reaching problem, and the focus on one singular, superficial issue isn’t doing anyone any favors, except for maybe misleading people into jumping on an anti-moé bandwagon.
Moé isn’t the problem here, and neither is the increasing popularity of synthetic relationships. The problem is that we have two clashing ideals from two groups (men and women) who need to work together in order for society to function, and if we’re going to fully understand the problem, we can’t just zero in exclusively on one single superficial aspect of the issue.
Serious issues deserve serious discussion. That’s the bottom line, and we’re still very far from that serious discussion if we’re still focusing on the “fake girlfriend” phenomenon.