Friday, November 16, 2012

Girls und Moe: A Flower Blooms Within a Tank-Shaped Pot

When I first saw the Fall 2012 lineup months ago Girls und Panzer caught my eye, chiefly because I found the esoteric notion of little girls duking it out in tanks quite amusing. How often are the words "Girls" and "Panzer" paired together? Now, after having watched the first five episodes, I'm compelled to explore the idea of "moe" in depth; I think the word accurately describes what these adorable high schoolers have stirred within me.

The term didn't cross my mind much until I started watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a show full of cuddly fat-headed children with monstrous eyeballs and oodles of innocence. Writing a review on the series proved an incredibly difficult task, as I tried speaking of the intentional juxtaposition of these benign children dropped in the middle of a battle for the universe. After many a frustrating exchange with my senpai FushigiNaKuniNo, I steered clear of the term "moe," a term indistinguishable from "cute" in my eyes. Apparently, the term itself is ill-defined and in a state of flux.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Property of Shaft, Aniplex. 

Slice-of-life and magic and little girls had never been my cup of tea, but I was starting to spread my wings and try new things. At around the same time as I started Madoka, I had also begun to watch ClannadClannad is what really made me interested in this adorable girl phenomenon, in large part because I found the series ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS. Most harem shows go through the typical motions of introducing a lame ass dude who has the bizarre, innate ability to attract uninteresting girls from all corners of the globe. Clannad flipped that formula on its head, giving audiences a reason to care for the characters involved

Yes, Clannad also had the mutant moe look down to a tee. I couldn't look at the girls for a long time without wanting to throw up. And then something happened: Fuuko showed up, a enigmatic child who would carve wooden starfish after school. She appeared at random intervals and referred to herself in the third person. Fuuko was incredibly expressive and determined, handing out stars to whoever passed by, and unfazed by those who wouldn't accept them. I couldn't get enough of Fuuko. I wanted to hug and squeeze her out of existence, eat her like a tasty treat and hope she respawns so that I don't have to feel bad. Does it make sense? Not really. But that's how I felt.

Clannad. Property of Visual Arts/Key, Kyoto Animation.

I watched both Clannad and Madoka several months ago, so the feelings I may have felt for Madoka's Homura or Clannad's Fuuko sat in the periphery of my anime thoughts until Girls und Panzer came around. As I said before, tank warfare is a rather esoteric fixation; when it comes to machine warfare most anime use giant robots. Seeing tanks weave their way through forest and navigate around enemy fire is surprisingly exciting, involving more strategy than I ever bothered to think about. Girls und Panzer cleverly uses a combination of engaging action enacted through cute little girls to captivate me in ways I didn't know were possible. Perhaps the fact that these particular children are in danger, with their intensely disproportionate bodies and squeaky voices, is what heightens the excitement of tank fighting.

Part of what makes a moe character seems to be the possession of a unique quirk. One of my favorite characters in Girls und Panzer is Mako, who sloths about most of the time as if on the verge of narcolepsy. Her unwillingness to do anything strenuous conceals the fact that she's incredibly smart. In order to proceed into the next grade, she has to take Tankery to get extra credits; her constant tardiness to school puts her in danger of failing. When Nishizumi stumbles upon the sleeping Mako during a tank battle, she brings her into the tank for safety. Lo and behold, when the tank's driver is knocked out thanks to the impact of an enemy artillery shell, Mako reads the driving manual and instantly learns how to operate the tank and steer the crew out of danger.

Girls und Panzer. Property of Actas, Sentai Filmworks.

I particularly like Mako, but all of the Girls und Panzer cast is in possession of one trait or another that keeps me entertained. And they're all so... MOE! If the term literally translates to "something is blooming," like a flower, than moe adequately describes Girls und Panzer, which uses Tankery as a way to foster maturity, teamwork and other societal values within young girls. A flower is also blooming in my heart (I feel ridiculous even saying that) as my desire to swallow these moe blobs grows even stronger. Does this mark my dark spiral into raging pedophilia? No. Am I going to hang posters of little anime girls on my walls? No. But I am going to accept these unusual feelings in my chest and continue to watch Girls und Panzer, alone in my room, in my pajamas, covering my mouth to muffle the exclamations of laughter and amazement I'll undoubtedly make.

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