Maoyu’s Dangerous Fantasy, Or I Want a Story About Coffee Next

A recent Gizmodo story about the first webcam kind of put the final spin on this Maoyu post. Supposedly the first webcam invented (I guess this is subject to some controversy) was made for the purpose to monitor a coffee machine, to see if it runs out before some U of Cambridge guys head to the kitchen. It’s a humorous story, but I think this is not the first time that I heard the dark beans driving technological progress.

Coffee has a hand in a much bigger event–the Renaissance. I suppose this is why Italians still set the standard for this cursed but magical drink (and its derivatives)? But it’s commonly thought that it was no coincidence that Europe’s caffeine intake went up as people switched from drinking stouts and ale to coffee, in correlation with the historic outpouring of cultural and scientific development of Europe in the 15th and 16th century. [Read more here, but it’s still just speculation.]

At the same time, coffee is one of those trade crops that can only be grown in the tropical zones. It’s a part of the economic motivator driving colonialism in the, well, age of colonialism. In some ways, today’s global coffee trade is not all that different than the patterns that were beginning from the 17th and 18th century.

Compare that with Maoyu’s super crop: Potato.

[Or for bonus points, LOL, Hyper Oats. And I’m not even fully joking.]

From Sakuracon 2013

In a lot of ways that’s where the magic happens in Maoyu. Simple but fundamentally revolutionary technological advances in agriculture can transform a world, bottom up. Actually the whole bottom-up approach to change is almost heart-warming to see. People no longer starve to death, and can thus spend more time engaging in education, civics, arts and trade. It’s the key formula to prosperity and the starting point of today’s socio-economic baseline.

How Maoyu paints this pretty image is done with a lot of magic, in the literal sense. Maybe that’s well and good. The cover that Maoyu’s magic flies under is that traditional sword and sorcery don’t cure societal ills–those things give a man a fish, but don’t teach him how to fish. The transformation of worlds in Maoyu gets a barometric representation in the life of the Big Sister Maid, who had to start learning from the point that she doesn’t know that she doesn’t know. It’s a convenient way to show us what society needs next.

This is where I kind of wish the story takes a turn and Maid Ane gets romantically hitched or something, in order to illustrate how complicated the sort of socio-economic changes just the Southern Kingdom has to go through to get to where it is at the end of the TV series.

I say this because in a lot of ways, from hindsight, Maoyu is too fantastic. It’s as smooth as the illusion of solutionism but framed in the fantasy of a nonexistent history. Of course it makes sense and everything works–because it’s built from the ground up by reverse engineering popular nerd hypotheticals. That is partly why I think Maoyu is brilliant otaku entertainment.  But mankind’s history is not some neat and bootstrapped magical adventure. Watching Maoyu do the magic pill to solve the problem of “third worlds” feels like it simply fails to tackle all the hard issues, and instead only go for the things nerds are comfortable in talking about.

It’s the things like how open-minded other educated elites in the human worlds are, or that the winter king (and his son) happens to be “good guys.” Or how the role of churches in Maoyu is barely a shadow of the role of churches in Europe during the 12th to 18th century. It’s all just too convenient.

My biggest pet peeve in this game is racism. I actually don’t blame Maoyu for basically sidestepping this issue, because I don’t really expect Japan to be able to handle it at any level of competence. What gets me is how people who actually think racism is a theme in the story. I mean, sure, it kind of is, but they never really deal with it. If there’s anything to take away from Maoyu about racism, is that it’s kind of the awkward, invisible gorilla in the room.

Anyway, being the solutionist nerd that I am, I quite enjoyed Maoyu. It’s definitely a feel-good piece. At the same time I feel it’s exactly the comfortable trap that too many people don’t realize that it can be. Maoyu is a fantasy in a post-modern sense, in every way. I just hope those who enjoy the show know that it’s all an illusion. You can’t have a story about potato revolutionizing the world without a great potato blight (and that’s your Psycho-Pass quiz answer). Just like how you can’t have a story about coffee changing the face of the world forever without talking about colonialism or fair trade or any of the subsequent issues. Until magic can turn villains into heroes, Maoyu’s application to reality is largely novel and questionably practical, much like how the Demon King … stopped being one.

Chief Maid is awesome!

PS. When I saw this scene in Maoyu 11, I felt like the two kids at the end of every Space Bros episode: Kakkoiiiii!


7 Responses to “Maoyu’s Dangerous Fantasy, Or I Want a Story About Coffee Next”

  • Lifesongsoa

    Novelty is the mark of good fantasy I think. It looks like one of her inventions does backfire on her… literally. The guns should make for an interesting twist if this anime continues.

    I agree on having more story with the Older Sister Maid at the center though. She was the strongest character in the anime in my opinion. Party because her themes were the only ones to see conclusion, but I am sure she could be much more if the writers wanted her to be.

    • omo

      I think the show would be a lot more engaging but a lot less fantastical if Maid Ane was the lead. Can’t have everything I guess.

      You’re right, I think it’s a great fantasy. A good fantasy are the ones that are the most attractive and the easiest to co-opt. Maoyu is exactly that.

      The best fantasies also happens to make you better if you buy in, and I’m kind of skeptical about this point on Maoyu.

    • enkiladu

      This is where I have issues with some of the folks lambasting Maoyu basically for being unrealistic. It’s a goddamn fantasy, of course things are unrealistic. In fact you hit the nail on the head when you said that the message of Maoyu is that sword and sorcery in the way that JRPG players understand it (i.e. Hero’s abilities) isn’t the main solution, or at least is the endgoal of the leads.

      It’s Civilization, not Crusader Kings, if you get my meaning. The target audience isn’t history otaku (they’re the ones that got angriest), but JRPG nerds, because the scenario here is basically an alternate path to the Dragon Quest ur-story.

    • omo

      I think I get what you’re saying. But it’s important that you don’t word it in such a way to reflect a common problem with people complaining about fantasy being too fantastic–confusing suspension of belief with the cover that explains it.

  • lifesongsoa

    By make you better you mean applicability right? I don’t think there is much applicability in the way the Demon King acts, she has all the answers after all. What I would like to see is more of her dark side.(And I don’t mean the ghost of Demon Kings past)

    Supposedly the Demon King a has a dark past as the Crimson Scholar before ever becoming the Demon King. Any applicability would be in the way the cast try to make the Demon King justified by moving her plan along without destroying the central kingdoms or attacking the demon lands in the process. In the first episode of season one she tells the Hero that they might be forced to get their hands dirty. She hasn’t been forced to do so yet, but I suspect that is the direction the story will take.

    It is pretty clear that this story is unfinished either way. I just hope that it will in fact get a sequel so that we can find out just how much the Demon King’s perspective is worth.

    • omo

      Well, it’s up to your interpretation. When I wrote it I had in my mind things like Soranowoto. It’s the sort of sombering fantasy that has an uplifting-despite-against-all-odds kind of spin. Thematically it is humane, I guess.

      I don’t get that vibe from Maoyu besides it’s simply painting the image that a world that is very rational and very meritocratic is better than one that is somewhat less rational and less meritocratic. But that’s my interpretation. I think it’s definitely not the case for others.

    • Lifesongsoa

      Ah, well economic fantasy probably(probably because there are only a handful of examples) has an innate bend toward being meritocratic I think. I am okay with looking at things from an amoral perspective. That is probably why I can enjoy economic fantasy so much. I can see where you are coming from though. Maoyu never did build up a good sense of atmosphere like Soranowoto.

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