Everybody’s Database

M134OpinionIcon-MOEWhen talking about otaku and moé, detractors tend to like bringing up terms like “database” and “checklist mentality” to describe the way moé fans consume their media. They see the proliferation of moé as an abandonment of narrative and a reduction of works to a database of traits.

Perhaps, however, this “database” is simply a different perspective of how we all consume media.

Consider TV Tropes. The massive wiki there serves to compile an expansive list of literary devices, character archetypes, genre conventions, and a plethora of other elements of art and media, spanning from some of the earliest known recorded stories (such as the Epic of Gilgamesh) to the bleeding edge of modern art and media (Homestuck, Grand Theft Auto V, Gundam Unicorn).

I wrote in the past how character archetypes are a heuristic. This extends to all tropes. Tropes (Literary devices, genre conventions, character archetypes, narrative techniques, game mechanics, etc.) are a set of classifications that we can use to describe things that are similar among various works of media in order to make them easier to think about on a basic level. Being a heuristic, tropes aren’t always accurate, but we don’t need them to be. The baseline they give us is a good enough jumping-off point, such that it’s trivial for us to fill in the gaps when we need to.

The “database” referred to by some in the Anti-Moé Brigade is this very heuristic at work. To fully understand how this follows, however, it’s important to recognize a couple things.

The first point that needs to be understood is that all works are derivative. That is to say, all works of art and media take inspiration from previous works to some extent. The second thing that needs to be understood is that, having understood that all works are derivative, the “database” is constantly being shifted, changed, and added to.

Take, for example, the yandere archetype. What may have been conceived as a response to, parody of, or criticism of the Yamato Nadeshiko archetype became its own thing. It was added to the database for future works to draw inspiration from.

For another example, take “real robot” mecha. Introduced as a counterpoint to the super robot shows that dominated the mecha genre, it managed to establish its own subgenre within mecha.

This is how elements of art and media are created. The criticism leveled at moé and moé fans is that moé fans have no appreciation for narrative and only consume media based on a “database” of moé traits and pseudonarrative attributes, filtered by a mental “checklist.” The fact is, even narrative is, and has always been, a database, and everyone has a checklist.

Let’s be real: Moé fans have different priorities when choosing what media to enjoy. They’re very character-oriented, rather than narrative-oriented. That’s how “cute girls doing cute things” shows about nothing can take off among the otaku community. The focus is on the characters and their interactions, and story, plot, and narrative all take a back seat to that. To some (Particularly those with an axe to grind against moé), this might seem like narrative is on the way out, to be replaced by characters created from a database of moé traits, prancing around onscreen with no overarching point to it.

Whether or not narrative is truly on its way out (Or just simply unpopular in anime due to lack of support) is another discussion, but the complaints about the development of a database are literally millennia too late.

Some might argue that the moé otaku “database” method of consumption is bad because moé characters are simply amalgamations of moé traits, taken from the database. While it might be true that some characters are little more than amalgamations of moé traits taken from a database, it’s also true that some stories are little more than amalgamations of tropes taken from a database.

This criticism also intersects with the notion that “moé shows” are “created cynically;” that “moé shows” are hastily cobbled together by studios to make a quick buck so they can put their passion into the shows they really want to make (Which, ostensibly, means “shows the Anti-Moé Brigade would enjoy.”). Discounting the fact that this is a pretty disgusting devaluation of these artists, animators, and other staff who often work for very little money, but still remain in this industry to make the works we all love as anime fans, this assertion implies that the product of these people’s hard work is often without value. Conveniently, the only time they do have value is when they’re something the Anti-Moé Brigade can get behind.

To the Anti-Moé Brigade, nothing moé can be created genuinely (Unless, perhaps, they happen to enjoy it). Likewise, nothing that isn’t moé draws from a “database.” The Anti-Moé Brigade changes the rules when moé comes into play. When moé comes to town, suddenly, the blood, sweat, and tears of the production staff mean nothing because it was “created cynically,” and the nuances of the characters are irrelevant because they’re “drawn from a database.”

People actually like and value moé? Inconceivable!

Everything draws from a database of elements from previous works? No way!

Anti-moé people like to pretend that moé was the first thing to ever iterate on itself and evolve gradually through the use of established elements in various different works, with occasional, yet ambitious, departures from the norm, the elements of which are eventually adopted and used in future works.

The rest of us live in the real world, where we understand that most, if not all art and media is, and always has been, like this. The database is real, but not in the way the Anti-Moé Brigade portrays it.


Stay frosty.


14 thoughts on “Everybody’s Database”

  1. Heaven forbid that a person has a set of character traits that they find personally favorable.

    Yeah, people need to realize that everyone has their own personal checklist.

    1. Also that the “checklist” extents past character designs and personality traits, and that it includes things like art style, theme, and story elements.

  2. “The rest of us live in the real world, where we understand that most, if not all art and media is, and always has been, like this. The database is real, but not in the way the Anti-Moé Brigade portrays it.”

    This is the understatement of the century. Japan has their cliches and we have ours. How many times have you heard a rap song about being hard, fucking bitches, consuming drugs and alcohol, selling paraphernalia, or how much better they are then you because they’ve got a mansion, a six figure salary, wear expensive clothing, have flashy cars, have flashy jewelry, consuming the finest alcohol, and so on?

    How many times have movies come out of Hollywood with the same cookie cutter plot lines delivering the same crap of “Mankind is Oppressive” like in Avatar, “Appreciation of hard work from those who live poorer lives than you” like in Cars, the “Moses Story” done in Gladiator, Aliens and Supernatural Phenomena like in the majority of M Night Shyamalan movies, superhero movies about the same characters like Batman/Superman/Spiderman? male fanservice done by Micheal Bay in the Transformers movies, or fanservice for females done with things like 50 Shades of Gray or the Twilight movies?

    Or how about the fact that when a particular medium becomes popular companies rehash the shit out of it for the sake of a safe bottom line. The fact of the matter is that those who criticize cute girl Japanese cartoons without taking into account that all media draws from this “Database” is being intellectually dishonest.

    1. I was going to comment giving my own two cents, but you actually said just about everything I wanted to say better than I ever could.

      But I actually think I might say my piece too. I hate the mentality that all moe is inherently crap, and is only good if it’s a show an anti moe individual happens to like. I’ve seen this argument from so many people who hate moe, it’s not even funny. If the person doesn’t like the work in question, they say it can never be meaningful or profound only just because the work is moe. They never explain how or why this would be the case. Their only argument is that it’s all bad because it’s “pandering” and it’s “unrealistic”. Nothing else. Their arguments are nonsensical to me. “It’s pandering, and pandering is bad. It’s unrealistic, and unrealistic things are bad.” They don’t go deeper into how a character is automatically just pandering otaku bait and can’t be anything more. I’ve told some of them that I can relate to moe characters quite a lot (in fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that I can relate to them even more than “non” moe characters), but they still go on to call a character “unrealistic” and go on with the mentality that unrealistic things are bad because they’re unrealistic.

      Then they go on to say that they can’t understand how someone could possibly see a show as anything more than just “otaku pandering moe schlock”. That’s what pisses me off more than their arguments that moe can’t be good unless it has elements that they like. It’s when these people can’t even FATHOM that there are people in the world who genuinely DO enjoy these works, and DO legitimately think these works are well written and valuable. They go ahead and assume the only reason why shows such as Clannad or K-ON are popular is because the fans are all mindless gullible people who either have shit taste, or don’t set their standards high enough.

      But, for me at least, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, when I saw Clannad for the first time, I had very high standards going into it, because I heard so many good things about it. Not only did it meet my standards, but it exceeded them and it became one of my all-time favorite anime series. I DO have standards, Anti-Moe Brigade. Just not YOUR standards.

  3. I realize that I am, at best, on the outermost periphery of Western fandom of anime. But can you tell me where all of you keep running into these anti-moe attitudes (I presume online)? If only so I know where not to bother going.

    1. That was an honest question on my part, but apparently I will not receive an answer for whatever reason. I withdraw the question.

      1. Pretty anywhere that anime is being discussed en masse, you will find haters.

        Ani-twitter, MAL, Hummingbird, 4chan, the ANN forums, etc. Nowhere is really safe.

        1. Once in a while you run into an anti-moe person but first hard accounts can tell you, 4chan’s a/ is actually one of the better places to discuss moe.

  4. This is the first I’ve heard of people criticizing moe for drawing from a database. Kind of silly. But even worse is that there’s no discussion on the database as a concept. That’s what’s interesting. Like how we are drawn to the database’s signs. Or how the database has formed and how the recycling of elements creates significance and intertextuality. Like how a very casual trait, glasses for example, can completely define a character in the moe context–smart, quiet, reserved, bookish, but also strong–self-contained, cool (sometimes), resistant to pressure (e.g. to get contacts, look less “nerdy”, be more outgoing, etc). How we might consume media with glasses girls because we covet these traits or because they reflect our ideal of a worldview. Or is the worldview unnecessary and we only want the character?

    The existence and proliferation of the database fragments and localizes narratives. Narratives can now be wholly implied by the signs rather than through a “proper” plot-narrative. So the individual pieces can tell their own story within a larger story. Keeping with the glasses thing, when Homura ditches her glasses, she becomes “harder” but also weaker as it means sacrificing a part of herself, losing a bit more through each iteration–she begins to forget her goal, becomes less kind. The glasses serve as an apt metaphor in hindsight, but it could hint ahead if you understand what the glasses imply in both the moe-chara sense and the larger symbolic meaning through improving sight. Wow, narrative depth!

    We see a similar play with Yuki Nagato in Melancholy vs. Disappearance–almost completely different characters with the glasses serving as the window into Yuki’s suppressed emotions. We’re not seeing MOECHARACTER#9723948, but rather Yuki’s “true self”. It’s a rather beautiful and bittersweet thing in the context of Melancholy. We like Yuki, not the glasses. To create a “new” character that people will invest in time and time again is something like magic. It’s more than “oh she wears glasses take my money again”; it’s everything that that implies within the world she lives in. It frames the character and enriches the work as a whole. Some might say she’s just moe-service, but she deepens the story by affirming Kyon’s adventures in the original universe (AKA THE NARRATIVE). Wow, moe fans actually caring about the story, the same one that makes characters important? Impossible!

    People forget that it’s the database and utilization of tropes that lends to new permutations. The database is always evolving. People who complain about a lack of depth in moe don’t realize how deep it actually is. Or rather, they restrict “depth” to often the most shallow narrative component, the explicit plot, rather than subtexts and intertexts. They don’t see meaning so they assume it’s not there. That’s incredibly lazy. Well in the end, you got it. It’s them arbitrating the standards of “good anime,” but really the arrogance of such criticisms are insulting.

    I feel it’s a twisting of ideas. As far as I know, and I haven’t finished it yet so forgive me if I’m wrong, but Hiroki Azuma does not criticize otaku regarding database consumption in his book Database Animals. Rather, he’s merely illustrating the progression of postmodern sign consumption in the otaku context. It’s all otaku, not just moe ota. And it refers less to K-On! and more to your Moetans and Di Gi Charats. Azuma’s idea is wonderfully complicated and interesting and it DOES have critical weight, but it’s fundamentally an issue of detachment and how one chooses to consume. He makes the mistake of contrasting character-consumption against narrative-consumption, when the two reinforce each other more often than not. To say the primacy of one or the other affects the quality of work is silly. Yes, “chara” consumption is definitely a thing, but sign commodification/consumption is also the norm now. Why are plot or setting more important than characters? They aren’t. Well, there’s a lot more to say about the topic, but I’ll stop there. At any rate, I hope people aren’t quoting Azuma in their criticisms because it would mean they missed the point, it seems.

    Anyway, really nice post. It got me thinking again!

  5. Most that use the term “database” to describe moe otaku are also those who prefer story over character. And when they want characters, to them it means someone who’s well rounded (ala 3D). Usually that translates as someone who’s “tragic” because someone who’s always happy to them is bad.

  6. “Let’s be real: Moé fans have different priorities when choosing what media to enjoy. They’re very character-oriented, rather than narrative-oriented. That’s how “cute girls doing cute things” shows about nothing can take off among the otaku community. The focus is on the characters and their interactions, and story, plot, and narrative all take a back seat to that. To some (Particularly those with an axe to grind against moé), this might seem like narrative is on the way out, to be replaced by characters created from a database of moé traits, prancing around onscreen with no overarching point to it.”

    Disagree on this point. While fans of “moe shows” do put a priority on the characters featured within a show, it’s incorrect to imply that those individuals don’t care about plot or story. Additionally, a plot doesn’t need to have an end goal (i.e.: hero beats up the big bad boss in his castle) in order to be a plot, so the whole “cute-girls-doing-nothing” phrase that is thrown around within the Anime community (particularly among AMB members) is a meaningless, throw-away phrase.

    1. You’re actually agreeing with his point. There’s no reason why plot is more important than characters. It’s also silly to make such clean separations between characters and plot when the two are usually intertwined.

      Anyway, properly used “Database” is used to refer to “grand nonnarrative” works where the “story” is nothing more than a setting to showcase the characters. Funny enough, one of the quintessential grand nonnarrative works seems to be Eva, but it’s regarded as a masterpiece. Well, people love to cherry-pick.

      “Additionally, a plot doesn’t need to have an end goal”

      Yessss. It deserves mention that many moe and gag shows are adaptations of yonkoma manga, which follow traditional kishoutenketsu narrative structure. This has substantially less focus on conflict than western narrative forms. As a result I think people see a show without having to overcome some huge odds or reach some final boss and they feel lacking. I’m not sure why gag series don’t get the same hate though. Maybe it’s because the intent (i.e. moe) isn’t as obvious as comedy to unseasoned watchers. Appreciation for moe IS developed over time, hence the concept of the “database.”

  7. A little late to the party, I am.

    “people need to realize that everyone has their own personal checklist.”

    I couldn’t agree anymore with VZ on this statement.

    I know, I keep repeating myself with this statement, but to me, the characters are an important aspect to a narrative. If I don’t care about those characters, then why should I care about the medium? And that can go for not just moe anime, but anime in general. This ties in with the whole checklist mentality issue because the characters are what is supposed to draw in the audience in my own opinion. Though, that’s not to say that checklist mentality will work all the time. Certain times, there’ll be a show that has a genki-type character (my personal favorite trope,) yet for some reason I tend to swing more for the dojikko/shrinking violet type. I’m no tsundere fan, but there are times when I find characters of those archetypes a lot more likable than usual.

    If the anti-moe brigade speaks true regarding checklist mentality, then why the fuck am I not hyped up for Strike Witches material? Why do I enjoy the likes of Non Non Biyori, GochiUsa, and Kin’iro Mosaic, yet don’t care for Lucky Star, @-Channel and Kill me Baby? I’d be all over Girls Und Panzer (due to it’s connection with Strike Witches) if this checklist mentality nonsense were to ring true.

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