A few weeks ago I was skimming through new posts in my Google Reader when I came across this blog entry. For at least a year now, I’ve been a passive observer in the whole Internet discussion about moe anime, with nothing much to contribute to it myself along the way, but I’ve still enjoyed following the conversation regardless. What I found most interesting about this entry on Anime Yume wasn’t necessarily the conclusions that the author reached, but how the entry reads compared to a typical blog post about the subject from, say, two years ago. Fans used to argue about what the term meant. Then it became a topic ripe for moral discussion. Now that there seems to be a certain amount on consensus on what it might mean for individual fans, bloggers have moved on to studying its impact on the anime industry as a whole, as well as its still-uncertain future.
The point that I’m trying to get at here is that, for once, the Internet has facilitated a lengthy discussion that probably should have devolved into flaming and nonsense right from the get go, but for some reason never quite did. Along the way I learned a thing or two about the subject, as well as the anime blogosphere as a whole. Maybe there actually are people out there with thoughtful ideas about these things, and who’re interested in expressing them in thoughtful ways. Who knew? But I tend to enjoy the meta-aspects of the Internet more than most people, and love exploring the hows and the whys behind such seemingly trivial trends. Should such matters of small concern be treated seriously? Why not?
For the longest time I found the discussion about the subject of moe more interesting than the subject itself, primarily because I hadn’t viewed any series that could accurately be described as “being moe.” Until now, that is. Bamboo Blade was not only the first series that I watched in its entirety online, but also the first “moe” series that I’ve ever seen as well. I know, I know. Moe isn’t a genre, but a feeling, right? Well then, Bamboo Blade seems designed to provoke such feelings in the viewer. But to its credit, that’s not all that it accomplishes.
Bamboo Blade follows a year in the lives of the Muroe High School kendo team, as they grow from a disorganized, under-attended club into successful contenders. I really haven’t watched any sports-themed anime before this, so I don’t know how it measures up to others. There’s plenty of drama generated by the kendo matches, along with each member’s struggle to overcome their own individual challenges, etc. This isn’t extremely original, but neither are most of the greatest sports films, really. I think most viewers will know will they’re getting into with this series, and most won’t be disappointed by what they find.
Bamboo Blade is primarily a lighthearted series that’s steeped in lots of the visual iconography of comedic, shoujo anime. Characters often morph into chibi form, find themselves engulfed by a dark aura when angry, become translucent during moments of depression, and are often overtaken by extremely exaggerated displays of emotion toward each other. Danjuuro (aka “Dan-kun”), one of the few male members of the team, is drawn in an unflatteringly simple style that’s far removed from the more detailed treatment of all the other characters. He’s the butt of constant visual gags, not the least his being an absurd mismatch for Miyako, his strikingly beautiful girlfriend and fellow kendo teammate. Munroe’s kendo coach, Toraji Ishida, is often unmotivated, inept, and out of touch with his students, who often behave more maturely and responsibly than him. His biggest motivation for whipping his team into shape at the beginning of the school year? A year’s worth of free sushi courtesy of his longtime friend and rival, a coach at a neighboring high school. His students remain dimly aware of the wager as he struggles to transform his team from a poorly-disciplined bunch into a well-trained fighting force.
The series’ devotion to comedy, however, is cast aside during the kendo matches themselves, which take on a much more serious tone than the rest of the show. Like many action series — I’m thinking shonen titles like Naruto, or what little I’ve seen of Dragonball — the confrontations play out slowly and methodically, as characters reflect on their opponents moves and strategies via internal monologues. These scenes rely heavily on static images that can’t quite capture the true speed and flow of kendo — although it’s probably misguided of me to compare what’s supposed to be high school-level kendo matches to one like this — but do a good enough job of building tension and introducing kendo novices to the basics of the sport. I knew next to nothing about kendo before watching Bamboo Blade, but came away with a better appreciation of the sport than before.
As much as I emphasize the comedy and action aspects of the series, Bamboo Blade is, above all, a character-driven story, or at least a fine example of how such a likable ensemble cast can carry a series without being overtly complex or dark. Each of the characters has their own quirks and faults, some of which they confront via their practice of kendo, others which they address through the bonds they form with one another. Maybe this is standard fare for a high-school series, but nonetheless, it’s enjoyable to watch. And it’s a welcome relief from the standard relationship-derived angst and drama that most school series rely on.
Reading through so much discussion of moe on the Internet, specifically of series like Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, or K-On! (all unseen by myself*, for the record), I kept encountering one common refrain, which seems to sum up the moe trend and why so many fans seem to like it: “It’s just girls acting like girls!”/”Cute girls doing cute things!” This always struck me as a particularly retarded line of reasoning, but after watching this series, I think I can understand what they mean. Viewing all 26 episodes of the series is maybe as close as you can get to sitting in on the everyday lives of a group of (undeniably cute) high school girls, an experience that most viewers would certainly like (or at least would have liked) to undergo. And no matter what your preference, there’s probably at least one girl in the main cast that would suit your particular fancy. Kirino, the hard-working team captain, beams with a friendly, optimistic energy that’s hard to resist. Azuma, the bespectacled, academically-challenged late-addition to the team, is a formidable fighter who suffers from charmingly chronic clumsiness. The top-billed character of the entire cast, kendo prodigy Tamazaki, is the strongest member of the team, a fact made all the more surprising given her pint-sized stature and passive, demure demeanor. She was my favorite character, and I found her emotional development to be the most satisfying aspect of the series. Would I say that I’m “moe” for Tama? I don’t think so. I’d much rather have her for a daughter** than for a “waifu.” But to each their own.
Why did I choose to watch this series in the first place? Maybe I just wanted to try something completely different from my usual viewing regiment for a change. And maybe after years of skepticism about shows that, well, looked like this (for lack of a better word) I figured it was time to suck it up and take the plunge. I’m glad that I did. I think you’ll be too, even if you’re the kind of anime fan who’s still wary of this kind of thing. No matter what they try to tell you, or whatever your inner anime snob says, cute girls are nothing to be afraid of.
*LOL at me for starting an anime blog before I’ve seen any of these, which are probably 3 of the most blogged-about series ever.
**LOL at the thought of me ever being a father. Lately though, I’ve been thinking that I would like to have a child at some point in the future, but I always imagine her as some kind of precocious, gifted, intelligent, disciplined and self-motivated girl who would basically raise herself with plenty of hands-off parental support (much like Tama). More likely, in my hands she’d probably turn out to be some kind of brain-dead Internet 3.0 scene girl by the time she was 12. And any boy I’d have would probably end up like this kid. Better stick to the DINK plan instead.