Out to Sea 01 – You must obey the fleet commander

There are moments in one’s life, moments that could be mistaken for clarity but are better described as moment’s of unwelcome awareness. These moments are generally filled with the mental friction of having the full realisation of what you’re doing grinding against your preconceived notions of self like a dirty old man at a disco. Change might be a constant but sometimes fully comprehending that change can make it feel more like a descent than a transition. I experienced one of those moments of unwelcome self-awareness a few days ago which is what lead to what you’re reading (in the interest of clarity, this dramatic build-up is not going to pay off). I’ll get into the exact details of it in a moment. But first some all important background.

I don’t consider myself an “Otaku”, not by the actual definition and usage of the word in its mother tongue nor its meaning in online colloquial English. Nor do I consider myself a member of any of the associated fandoms. While I’m a fan of lots of things I generally try to avoid the associated fan culture as its usually wall to wall misery (especially online). This extends from comics to cannabis (“stoner culture”, ye gods). Why does this matter? Well because despite not being part of various fandoms it’s also often impossible not to become at least passingly familiar with the trappings and proclivities of those fandoms (however stereotypical they might be). But engaging in them, dipping a toe into those memetic sewers, feels like the descent I mentioned above. Otaku culture, while not the worst,is replete, over-burdened one could say, with such things (and like a lot of primarily online fan cultures it seethes with a weird self loathing). Now some elements of the subject matter bleed into the surrounding fan culture and vice versa, an (unavoidable) example of that is moe.

As that Wikipedia article says, moe has become a palpable economic force, the particular cohort we’re interested in here is moe anthropomorphism. In short, and to save you the onerous task of clicking on the link, its turning into inanimate objects into cute little (generally female) characters. To narrow it down even further I’m going to talk about moe anthropomorphism featuring military vehicles, or in this case old military vehicles, such as tanks, ships and planes personified as cute girls. Konami produced a popular line of figures called mecha musume and the term is now generally used to describe the entire artstyle, anime such as Strike Witches also served to popularise it. “So what?” I hear you say. Well, I fucking hated it. It creeped me out for some reason (particularly the Strike Witches characters and their propeller legs, nightmare fuel).

I didn’t really buy into the whole idea of moe at all, don’t get me wrong, I thought such and such was cute and I certainly enjoyed some shows veritably dripping in moe (looking at you Lucky Star, K-On!, etc.) But I like to think, possibly erroneously, that I wasnt swayed purely by the “moe” of them and I certainly avoided the stereotypical behaviour of running around exclaiming x,y and z were moe. I maintained this stance largely unchanged for the last few years. I was aware that a Japanese browser game called Kantai Collection (Kantai Korekushon literally “Fleet Collection”, subtitled as “Combined Fleet Girls Collection”), commonly referred to as Kancolle, existed and that it was extremely popular. Both in Japan itself (e.g. elsewhere in the world Windows Tablets have ~3% market share, in Japan they have ~15%, due in large part to the fact that they can play Kancolle – they’re even advertised based on it) and among various online anime or game communities. I didn’t even think about check it out, mecha musume, browser game, japanese only and free to play all added up to a simple “No thank you” for me.

As this over-long preamble should have made painfully clear, I recently had cause to re-assess my thoughts on the game. Some other things changed of course, since dismissing it I ended up softening my feelings on browser games and free to play games thanks to good experiences with both. While Kancolle still has no complete fan translation it does have a number of plugins and third-party tools which make it easy to play in English. Most surprisingly to me, and the reason I bored you with the above paragraphs, is how my feelings on moe and mecha musume have softened.

Only, it doesn’t feel like my opinion has really changed, it feels that over the last few years an indelicate indulgence in online communities and certain elements of the Japanese media machine have simply eroded my opinions. That some kind of aesthetic dissipation has left me either incapable or unwilling to muster any kind of rejection. Everything is permitted. Or maybe I just changed my mind. While less dramatic that’s probably true, I like the designs for a lot of the “ship girls” in Kantai Collection but Strike Witches still gives me the creeps.

Amway, a week or so ago I just decided to give Kancolle a go. It felt like it was entirely out of the blue (well as entirely out of the blue as we like to fool ourselves any of our decisions are, dun, dun, dun). I was simply sitting at my computer, installing a new graphics driver actually, remembered it existed and decided to play.

As this is getting overlong, how that has worked out so far will be covered in the next post.

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