As Japan’s military expands, so too does the anime market
by Punch Rockgroin
Japan’s armed forces have been a question lately. With China quickly building up their naval presence, there is reason to worry. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agrees that a strengthening China is a bad thing, and wants to build up Japan’s forces accordingly. But not everyone agrees, no sir. Others think this increase in military strength is just Abe wanting to return to the old (read: before WW2 was ended in nuclear fire for Japan) ways and take the country back to war. But… thinking so much about such a serious matter is so stressing. The average otaku doesn’t want to think about the consequences of provoking an army that’s tens of millions strong. They’d rather think about cute girls in tanks, or guns as cute girls, or what airsoft would be like if they and their friends were all attractive teenage girls. Considering the industry is made of people like this as well, the world of military moé really wasn’t that much of a stretch.
Military moé softens the “iron and blood” with cute girls and the chance to make great friendships. Where the most serious consequence of “shooting” someone is usually their disqualification from a tournament. The most prominent example of this is Girls und Panzer, where high school girls practice the art of Sensha-do, or “the way of the tank” as a form of self-improvement. (I prefer the term “Panzerkraft” myself.) Other series prefer to explore something more open to civilians, that being the world of airsoft. Stella C3-bu and Sabugebu! the two current series. Or there’s the very Japanese idea of turning various forms of weapons into girls. Strike Witches, Upotte! and Kantai Collection (yes I know it’s a game, still the same premise) have cut out quite the niche for themselves. With all this, I’ve only ever seen one series that ever tried to explore elements of military life, and I would say Sora no Woto was really only half-good in this regard.
Can this rise in military moé be connected to a rise in Japanese nationalism? Possibly. Or is it more like that this is just the anime industry expanding into an area that seems to be the latest trend? I tend to think the latter is the more likely answer, but in the meantime, let’s give some of these series a quick once-over.
Armor has been a fascination of mine since I was small. With my father’s numerous books to pour over, I would find the ones with the most pictures and ask him about the ones that looked the best. Years later, I am a weeaboo who still likes armor. I originally looked at Girls und Panzer as a silly cash grab. And it is, but I was surprised to find that I liked it. High school girls that go to school on giant ships that serve as their platform for exploring the world, as well as the finer points of tank combat. But really the main point of the series is fan service, but not of the butts and boobies variety. Here, the tanks take center stage as various nations’ tanks are pitted against one another in situations that never actually happened. They sling “harmless” harmless explosive rounds at each other, and this is somehow calculated as a penetrating hit. The whole thing is ridiculous, but the series realizes this and runs away with the concept. As I’ve watched the whole thing, I can recommend the series if you have either an interest in armor from World War 2, or like an underdog story.
Tanks are cool and all, but there are those that prefer a more personal approach. There’s nothing like the directness of a gun, being that it’s your finger that causes a deadly reaction. The legal system rather frowns on murder though, but there is the non-lethal alternative of airsoft. Anime has more recent begun to dip into this territory, as a decent amount of its audience participates in what’s become a Call of Duty 360 no-scope re-enactment of sorts. Though it’s not military per se, it is certainly military-like in its goal. We’ve seen two series of the sort made in the past year, those being Stella C3-bu and Sabugebu! I’ve watched Stella all the way through, and was surprised with its message of, “Never lose the reason why you start something fun in the first place”. Still, yet the most surprising aspect is that it’s a Gainax series, and they can’t get past their trademark “bounce”. I can’t much comment on Sabugebu as I have only watched one episode, but it seems to have taken a much less serious approach and is more about girls in place of guys shooting each other with fake guns, and one of them imagining the situation as far more than it actually is.
But if you’re perfectly fine with suspension of disbelief, then maybe you’re a fan of those anthropomorphic creations of the anime and video industry. Specifically, Strike Witches, Upotte and the game that recently kicked Touhou off of its doujin throne, Kantai Collection. As far as I can tell, all of these series are purely about fan service, as about all I ever see is panty shots and the like. For example, the main character of Upotte is the human version of the FN FNC assault rifle and is named Funko-chan. Funko-chan wears a thong because the FNC has a skeleton stock. Or how the breast size of the various boat-chans in Kantai Collection is based on the displacement tonnage of the ships they represent. Unless they’re aircraft carriers, because then they’re as flat as…well that joke writes itself. And Strike Witches and the girls with piston engines on their legs, meaning that pants are impractical. It’s all very silly, but sells well because its audience loves it and spends ludicrous amounts of money on it.
On the flip side, one series tried to do a more serious examination of conflict. Sora no Woto made an attempt at this, but unlike its bugler, rather fell flat. The series asked the question that not many had asked: What is war like for those in the military but who are either in the reserves or not on the front? This sounds like an interesting premise, but it gets caught up too much in the moé aspect and not enough in the military. There was one episode that stood out amongst the rest, as it explored the PTSD that the series’ lieutenant experienced, going so far as to watching her comrades burn to death in a tank. There were a couple other good episodes, but it was too enthralled by how cute its cast was, and when it had to end, it did so on a rather predictable note. As such, it was disappointing.
Perhaps that is the best word to describe military moé: disappointing. It was never meant to be a serious dissection of war, why we choose to kill instead of talk, or even just the horrifying trials a soldier must go through during conflict. It takes away the consequences of war and makes them into a game. Though I gush over Girls und Panzer and I did get some enjoyment out of Stella, in general military moé is just fan service wrapped in camouflage. The military-obsessed otaku gobbles this up like an MRE, as it tickles him in no way a woman ever could. It’s usually not worth a watch unless you are into war and the military but have no intention of joining. Because war is way too high on death and sacrifice, and distinctly lacking in cute girls to fondle.
Maybe Look it Up:
Girls und Panzer: Media Factory / Sentai Filmworks
Stella C3-bu: Gainax / Sentai Filmworks
Sora no Woto: A-1 Pictures / Nozomi