Dorothy Howard is a writer and researcher who covers topics in technology and contemporary art. She has bylines in DIS, Rhizome, The New Inquiry, Adult, Whitehot and Vol 1. Brooklyn, among others. She also creates Wikipedia entries. Dorothy is originally from Washington and currently based in Brooklyn.
Patrick W. Galbraith
Patrick W. Galbraith is a writer and researcher living in Tokyo. He is the author and co-editor of many books for general and academic audiences, including his most recent, The Moe Manifesto: An Insider's Look at the Worlds of Anima, Manga, and Gaming and Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan.
The July 2015 release of the Windows 10 operating system was also the debut of a new "OS-tan" avatar, Tōko Madobe (or, Madobe Touko), personified as a schoolgirl in a brand-inspired uniform complete with blue rectangle hairclips in the shape of the logo. Microsoft even created a backstory for the character: she's a 17-year old gamer visiting from 100 years in the future. In YouTube commercials, she's voiced by the actress Ai Nonaka.
Tōko's coming out was announced several days later on the Facebook page of Inori Aizawa, the "face" of Internet Explorer. Like her, Inori is precocious—she was "born" in 1995—both physically and intellectually, though this wasn't always the case; as testament to the thoroughness of the narrative, she informs us in the "About" section that she was once "clumsy" and "awkward," "an ugly duckling." Both are representative of the trend of Microsoft's Southeast Asian affiliates creating their own official mascots for launch campaigns by using a fandom vernacular as part of their promotional activities.
Found on fan Wikis and forums, OS-tan (female suffix "-tan", male suffix "-kuhn") are fan-generated character anthropomorphizations of hardware, software, and technology platforms said to have originated on the Futaba imageboard, which grew out of Japan's popular 2channel textboard. OS-tan and other computer-related personifications, like the 2001 manga series Chobits (ちょびっツ Chobittsu), which depicts a society of human and "persocom" (personal computer) co-habitation, can be grouped under the category of moe (萌 え) anthropomorphism, where human qualities are given to non-biological objects or concepts.
Moe is associated with otaku, or the community of hardcore fans of anime, manga and video games. It is the noun form of moeru (萌 える), a simple Japanese verb meaning "to bud" or "to sprout," which, in context, refers to the way that fan-based fantasy forms are prone to evolve through the production of manga, anime, game and novel images and their circulation in fan networks.
The use of OS-tan characters by corporations like Microsoft reflects the ongoing capitalist trend of mining and repurposing of digital subcultures found on the considerably less regulated social web, as well as the sexualization of digital technologies as a marketing strategy. Scholar Patrick W. Galbraith, author of The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime and Gaming, has tried to describe this cultural phenomenon: "Moe is affect in response to fantasy forms that emerged from information-consumer culture in Japan in the late stages of capitalism."
Moe personifications cover a variety of platforms including but not limited to: operating systems (Mac OS-tans, Linux-tan, the Windows-tans), antivirus clients (Dr. Norton, Miss McAfee), web browsers (Mozilla-tan, Firefox-tan, Chrome-tan, and Internet Explorer's Inori Aizawa, who appears in a trailer for the search engine), social networks (Facebook-tan, Tumblr-tan) and websites (KYM-tan), which are often depicted together (as these are often open simultaneously) and termed "the internet university." There are even hardware versions (Kindle-kuhn, Android-tan).
Why do people make these images? "There are so many variations of OS-tan of just a single console, web browser, or even phone for that matter. One person's depiction can vastly differ from another's, and that is what I love," Daryl Lalangan, a regular creator of OS-tan images on Deviantart, tells Hopes&Fears.
of Windows 10
Release date: July 31, 2015
Age: 17 years old
From: 100 years in the future
Strengths: genius-level tech skills, online gaming
Weaknesses: can be kind of an airhead
Fun fact: voiced by Ai Nonaka
As Galbraith suggests to Hopes&Fears via email: "These character images are created with the intention of sharing them with others… corporations respond to and capture some of the value of the activities of participatory cultures online, but there is a tendency for fans to be less motivated by profit. This leads to some pretty wild imaginings and creations."
In the OS-tan universe, fan culture and corporate promotion become indistinguishable. The first OS-tans were based on operating systems: amidst a discussion of the unreliability of the Windows "ME" Millennium Edition in 2003, images of Windows ME-tan made by message board participants were posted. Microsoft Windows 10's newest mascot is one of many examples of the company's subsumption of OS-tan subculture into its marketing strategy, with over 10 separate OS-tan representing their products through the past decade, some official, others not, including: Windows 95-tan, Windows 7-tan, the Windows 8-tan twins Yu & Ai, Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003-tan, Windows 98-tan, and Windows XP-tan.
"I first came across the OS-tan with Firefox-tan in 2006 or 2007, and since then I've really liked the idea and always wanted to create my own -tan design… but personally, I don't like something made by fans to become official," a hobby artist and Android-tan designer who calls himself Kazu NextDream told Hopes&Fears.
Sometimes identifying OS-tan as "official" or "unofficial" can get quite complicated; 2009 saw the release of Ubuntuchu!, originally Kantan Ubuntu!, a "romantic school comedy" comic created by Hiroshi Seo and released by ASCII Media Works Inc., where three students' fascination with learning about the operating system Ubuntu provides the central narrative arc.
Whether they were created from within or outside of corporations, these characters are more than mere logos—they often come with a full backstory that includes physical attributes, personality traits, social skills and, naturally, familial lineages. Apple-tans for instance, have been described as "family-centric" or "household-friendly", while some personifications include a family tree of past and current variations to show how a particular technology has evolved. From the "hippie" Apple I-tan mother figure, to the more mature yet rebellious younger sisters, Leopard-tan and Lion-tan, identity is at play.
While some see moe anthropomorphism as objectifying, others think it's a normal part of otaku. However, we can at least say that it reinforces a cult of personality in technology, sexualizing and gamifying corporate competition. As Galbraith points out, "Moe is made possible by flattening characters to surfaces upon which to project desires."
This technological eroticism is at its most literal with OS-tans, particularly in comics, which normalize and narrativize such platform-based fantasies. Of course, fembots are always created before their male counterparts; the male equivalent of OS-tans, OS-kuhns, App-kuhns and Malware-kuhns, have attracted a much smaller following. For their part, the OS-tans are often depicted as big-breasted, doe-eyed, precariously young female cosplayers. The male gaze seems to be a prevalent aspect of this subculture, where platforms play the role of submissive humanoid characters who are "at the command" of their creators and users.
of Internet Explorer
Release date: November 6, 2013
Birthday: August 16, 1995
Star sign: Leo
Blood type: A+
Likes: surfing the net, HTML5, karaoke, cats, mint-flavored ice cream
Dislikes: malware, online bullies
The official usage of OS-tans has been a source of debate amidst technology users, corporations and non-profits alike. Although some entities, like Microsoft, welcome this opportunity to reintegrate free, uncompensated, user-generated content into its marketing strategy, others, such as Wikipedia, are on the fence. Wikipe-tan, an unofficial mascot for Wikipedia created in 2006, and the official mascot of WikiProject Anime and Manga, has been the subject of ongoing debate within the Wikipedia community. Some have taken an oppositional stance on the use of the character to illustrate concepts in Wikipedia's official entries because, they argue, the use of cosplay images is problematic for their potential lack of objectivity and neutrality.
In 2011, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales stirred up a minor controversy when he revealed his disapproval of the organization's namesake OS-tan: "My removal of the sexualized version from [Wikimedia] Commons was in no way an endorsement of the standard versions. I don't like Wikipe-tan and never have. I recognize that some people do, and I'm not particularly agitated about it, but my name should not be invoked in a way that might lead some to believe that I approve."
In platform-based anthropomorphizing, the original corporate-issued technology product re-enters the commodity cycle through fan-based image circulation that is subsequently reabsorbed and recapitulated by the corporation, blurring the line between cultural producer and consumer. Windows 10's newest mascot is just one incarnation in what appears to be an expanding trajectory for this corporate-subcultural pastiche.