- Maid Meets Mammal:The 'Animalized' Body of the Cosplay Maid Character in Japan
The true enjoyment of maid cafés is seeing the fictional characters of manga and anime come to real life.—Hayakawa Kiyoshi1
This article examines corporeality and the ubiquitous maid persona in Japan, paying particular attention to the phenomenon of "animalizing" her body in comic book simulacra, and the subsequent reification of this hybrid form inside maid cafés. In his discussion of the otaku2 subculture where he argues that the "grand narratives" of Japanese society have degenerated due to consumerism, critical theorist Azuma Hiroki draws heavily on the work of French philosopher Alexandre Kojève (Otaku 25-38). Azuma describes "animalization" as the process of humans rejecting their intersubjective desires and embracing the animal "need," which can be satisfied independently and is not contingent on the "other" (87). In a capitalist society this translates to the consumer need being fulfilled instantaneously, in a mechanical fashion, and devoid of high levels of social interaction. This communication deficiency is exemplified by fast food restaurants and sex workers accommodating the needs of everyday meals and sexual partners respectively, which, prior to the advent of the consumer society, were undertakings laden with inconvenient social exchanges. My use of the word "animalization" in this paper is far less metaphoric and allegorical than this construal, and refers to the addition of typically mammalian appendages to the body of the maid (such as tails and furry ears) to create a quasi-animal character. As we shall see, this type of animalization is discordant with Kojève's theory, and is in fact greatly dependent on the "other," particularly when it comes to the domain of the maid café and the interaction that takes place between patrons and quasi-animal maids inside them. I argue that animalizing the body of the maid in these establishments is an attempt to elicit both moe ("pseudo-romance," pronounced "mo-ay") and kawaii ("cuteness"). I also suggest that the principal objective of these responses is to mediate momentary escapism and to promote ease of communication between maid and customer. After providing a historical overview of the maid persona in Japan and considering the unadulterated human form of her body in erotic comic books, I introduce animal cosplay, moe, and kawaii, before discussing the body vis-à-vis the maid café.
It should be noted that despite the maid character's being a salient icon of Japanese popular culture, she has been largely ignored by scholarly circles both at home and abroad. While the reasons for this neglect are not conclusive, the current state of affairs [End Page 60] of academia in Japan suggests several possibilities. Tomoko Aoyama claims the marginalization of women and children in Japan has resulted in an academic disinterest of them as research subjects (285), while Mark McLelland asserts there is a lingering reticence amongst Japanese scholars to regard sexuality as a serious topic (61). According to him, sex (which would indubitably imbue any discourse on maids) is a particularly ungainly subject in Japan, and its status as a type of asobi (play) renders it a topic that respectable people should refrain from openly discussing. The reserve of Japanese academics to approach the otaku subculture (on which characters such as the maid rest heavily) is also a likely cause of her neglect. While in recent years there has been a tremendous surge in studies examining the otaku phenomenon (perhaps due to the government's Cool Japan initiative to promote manga and anime3 abroad),4 Hiroki Azuma claims that for a large part of their history they were maligned by the mainstream press as perverted sociopaths and deemed an unwholesome topic of research (Azuma, Superflat). This was due solely to an infamous incident in the late 1980s when a manga aficionado was arrested for murdering four young girls.5 English-language research on maids is also profoundly scarce, due, perhaps, to Timothy Iles' claim that academics are discouraged by the potential of discussions on otaku culture to result in never-ending critiques of contemporary Japanese society (1). Nevertheless, this article aims to shed light on the stifled Japanese maid, and approaches...