When 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.