Emotional Manipulation or Emotional Investment?

Icon-MOEHave you ever cried while watching an anime? Have you ever gotten angry at a character for doing something you find reprehensible? Have you ever pumped your fist in the air or jumped out of your seat in excitement when that mech you love does that really cool thing?

Congratulations: You’ve emotionally invested yourself in an anime.

The Anti-Moé Brigade likes to talk about separations between fantasy and reality, particularly when talking about moé fans. One of their favorite criticisms is how some of them “internalize” their entertainment to such a degree that they perceive any slights against the works of media they enjoy as slights against them personally. That’s a fair criticism, to an extent, but it’s important to understand that that’s in no way a quality unique to the moé fandom, and that, to be fair, some criticism of moé media can reasonably be perceived as slights against its consumers when expressed in certain ways. (“Moé is pedophilic,” “moé is sexist,” etc.)

In addition, the Anti-Moé Brigade also likes to point out how certain shows are “emotionally manipulative,” particularly when referring to Clannad, Air, Kanon, and similar works. To them, these shows present deliberately sympathetic characters in order to “manipulate” the viewer into feeling one way or another.

The specific use of the term “emotional manipulation,” however, muddies the conversation. It’s deliberately negative and paints any work accused of it in a bad light. The truth is, however, that most fiction strives to be “emotionally manipulative” and should do so. What kind of world would we be in if fiction never moved any of us to smiles, laughter, tears, or anger?

“Emotional manipulation” is part of what makes fiction so important to us. Further, I’d say that small breakdowns in the separation between fantasy and reality are part of what makes fiction work.

So, what is “real?” It’s a deceptively complex question. Tangibility comes to mind as a criterion, however, concepts aren’t exactly tangible, yet we often consider them real. We can’t see some things, but still know they’re real. Conversely, we can see some other things, but somehow know they aren’t real.

The notion of something having a noticeable effect on the world and environment around it, especially people, seems like a solid criterion for something being “real.” That being said, it would, to a certain extent, necessitate the reexamination of our separation between fantasy and reality when it comes to fiction.

Think about it: To a certain extent, we see fictional characters as real people. Otherwise, we’d find the idea of finding a character endearing, or crying about a character’s tragedy alien. What sense is there in crying over something that isn’t real? What sense is there laughing about things that aren’t real?

We accept things in fiction as real in their own way. We allow ourselves to be receptive to the “emotional manipulation” of fiction because we want to be manipulated. Nobody wants to just sit there, blankly watching a work of fiction, feeling nothing from it. We want to be engrossed, moved by fiction.

This is why the “emotional manipulation” argument doesn’t hold water, and why points about separating fantasy and reality aren’t all that productive. Those of us who want to be emotionally-manipulated will emotionally invest ourselves in the shows we wish to be affected by. It takes a certain amount of emotional investment on the part of the viewer to be emotionally affected by a work of fiction.

When the Anti-Moé Brigade calls Clannad “emotionally manipulative,” it’s likely because they didn’t emotionally invest themselves in it. When they question the concept of being endeared to cute anime girls, it’s likely because they find the idea of emotionally investing oneself in a cute anime girl to be silly, even though they no doubt are quick to emotionally invest themselves in works they enjoy.

Whether or not something is ”real” matters little. What we need to realize is that fiction has the capacity to affect people emotionally, and that it requires the viewer to be receptive to that in order for it to work. If someone chooses not to emotionally invest themselves in an anime, then is it really any surprise when they claim to see through the show’s “emotional manipulation?”


Stay frosty.


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2 thoughts on “Emotional Manipulation or Emotional Investment?”

  1. I feel that this post sums up perfectly about how I feel about “emotional manipulation”. I feel any type of media that tries to get a reaction out of someone, by their very nature, is manipulation. But the problem is, the word “manipulation” has a very negative connotation to it. I think you were spot on when you said that the only reason the Anti-Moe Brigade sees works like Clannad as manipulative is because they find the idea of crying over bishoujo characters silly. I’ve talked to some of these people, they just think there is something inherently shallow about moe. They think moe by nature is just fan pandering, so it can’t be deep. These people don’t seem to realize that moe isn’t just a business trying to sell characters to people. To me, moe is all about character love. Absolute enthusiasm and admiration for a character. I realize that what is moe to an otaku wouldn’t be moe to everyone else, but I find it difficult to believe that Maeda Jun created his works only for the intention to sell things. I think he put a lot of genuine effort into it, so I don’t believe for a second he’s trying to “trick” anyone into anything.

  2. I think what a lot of critics mean when they say “emotional manipulation” is very different than what the term actually means.

    I think what they usually mean is that a show feels overdramatic or is pushing to be something a lot more moving than it actually is. It’s when characters and plotlines haven’t been developed enough for the viewer to truly become invested. This is obviously going to differ from person to person, but I think the complaint can be valid if expressed correctly.

    For example, I personally thought the romance plot in the first part of SAO was overly sappy and failed to flesh out its participants adequately. The dialogue and over-dramatic music were not bad in themselves, but lacked the proper build-up and development needed to make me, the viewer, really care. As a result it came across as juvenile and lazy, atleast to me.

    Clearly many people both agree and disagree with that assessment for various reasons. But I think that’s what many critics mean by “emotional manipulation”. The idea that if you show people crying and play sappy music, you’re instantly supposed to care. In that sense I can sort of see where they’re coming from.

    But again, that’s not what the term actually means.

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