I've been playing Metal Gear Solid 4 on the PS3 for the last few weeks. Hugely anticipated, critically lauded, and brilliantly executed, it's undeniably the current cutting edge of Japanese game culture -- and one of the few recent international successes for an industry that's starting to struggle in the global marketplace. I had been wondering where all the military otaku went in this super-kawaii era we find ourselves living in. The answer seems obvious now: they're coding super-realistic military sims for video game companies. The attention -- make that love -- lavished on the firearms and other military hardware in this game borders on the fetishistic.
Speaking of which...
This is Japan, so even the hardest of hardcore military simulations has to feature a healthy dose of moé, that only-in-Japan fetishization of girlish innocence and naiveté. The relationship between introverted computer genius Hal "Otacon" Emmerich and his charge Sunny (seen above) is a diamond-polished window into the souls of the young men who work for Japanese game companies. A doe-eyed nine- or ten-year-old who resembles a child less than she does a scaled-down maid café waitress, she waits on her guardian hand and foot, cleaning, assisting with programming, and serving meals. The pair live as virtual hikikomori shut-ins on a high-tech aircraft that serves as a mobile base for the game's protagonist.
Ah, the ever-changing face of otaku wish fulfillment. Once upon a time otaku dreamed of being international ladykillers like Lupin the Third, giant robot pilots like Gundam's Char Aznable, and invulnerable martial artists like the Fist of the North Star. Now it appears the ideal lifestyle is one of a digital hermit set squarely in front of a computer monitor with an elementary schoolgirl in fetishwear at his beck and call. Could this be what Toshio Okada meant when he referred to otaku subculture as being "already dead"? Love it or hate it, the Otakon-Sunny relationship only really makes sense when it's viewed through the prism of the moé phenomenon.