Moé Studies: Codifying Character Types

If any single concept can represent the decline of modern Japanimation, surely it’s the insidious spectre of moé, that catch-all term for all manner of things fetishized and patriarchal. As such, the Colony Drop Educational Society has prepared this introduction to the subject, comprising a brief survey of key literature and analysis of the power dynamics essential to moé‘s spread and appeal.

Before we can begin to discuss moé-related concepts and the artistic works they inform, we must first clearly define our terminology. Japanese culture and Wittgenstein scholarship journal Ecchi Attack wrote an excellent analysis of the term several years ago, but for the sake of completeness — and out of respect for our readers who are in environments unsuited to the viewing of cartoon genitalia — I shall provide a brief summary of its common usage.

Just what exactly is this “Moé“?

Moé, lit. “sprouting,” is a loanword from Japanese fandom, generally used to refer to characters or aspects of characters that elicit feelings of sympathy or adoration, such as personality or physical appearance, as well as related aesthetic styles. It is possible, for instance, to have a “cat ears moé,” or a “robot maid wearing thigh-high stockings reciting pi to thirty-six thousand decimal places moé,” but that sort of moé is not our focus. Crucially, when discussing the emotional aspects of moé, we inevitably address weak characters. Young girls are the most common subject of moé, though hardly exclusively so — Claudio from Ristorante Paradiso is a classic moé character, particularly in his passive, pathetic resistance to the heroine’s forceful courtship in the second episode of the series.

Historically, proponents of moé, such as comic artist Ken Akamatsu, have argued that moé is strictly a non-sexual subject. Feelings of moé are often compared with an urge to “protect” or “mother” the subject; heartwarming is the word of the day. Reverend Ragu calls bullshit on these arguments — after all, he writes, “Have we [otaku] ever done anything entirely pure and beautiful without the whole thing erected on a toothpick-thin foundation of sexual hangups? [… D]o we really want a girlfriend, or do we just want a puppy? A puppy we can fuck, presumably.”

The power differential is crucial to most sorts of moé character. Creating moé appeal is surprisingly straightforward — for easy results, try adorable flaws like a complete inability to cook despite domestic aspirations, a crippling fear brought about by past trauma, or hell, just put the character in a wheelchair. Even the supposedly self-sufficient and strong characters must be eventually emotionally undermined, leaving them in the perfect position for a bigger, stronger, and more masculine entity to support them.

The Tsundere & Problems At Home

One of the varieties of moé character well-known enough to get its own nickname is the tsundere, which, if you’ll allow me a bit of artistic license, can be translated as “bitchy-submissive.” The term comes from the personality arc of the character, stuck in a perpetual sort of puberty where acting standoffish, rude, or even physically abusive toward the object of your affection, at least in public, is considered healthy and even attractive. This is likely because most fans of Japanese cartoons are similarly developmentally disabled, unable to handle a relationship with a mature adult, and find the attentions of a petulant child both non-threatening and attractive. True to their “soft” side, however, the tsundere will eventually behave more sweetly and submissively around the object of their affections, if only in private. At her core, the tsundere wants nothing more than to be embraced by the patriarchal society that spawned her.

While I’m at it, why do otaku have such a hard-on for their sisters? It’s the convenience factor, right? She lives in your house, you’re more comfortable talking to her than scary women outside, and maybe she even has some misplaced respect or affection for you, Big Brother! Maybe you’ve got your wires crossed and misinterpret familial affection as something else entirely (Akamatsu’s “mothering”; see Ragu 2)! Whatever the reason, otaku fucking love little sister characters. They don’t have to be true, blood-related little sisters — half-siblings, step-siblings, adopted siblings, cousins, childhood neighbors, etc. can all qualify — but that sure makes it more exciting, doesn’t it?

The real beauty of the little sister character is all the different varieties you can use. Hell, you could make an entire series solely devoted to exploring the possibilities. It’s like a moé multiplier — throw it in with other popular features such as Chronic Illness, Self-Sacrificing Devotion and maybe even throw in a lil’ tsun tsun, and your hugpillow sales will launch into orbit. Not only is it an effective fan-baiting method, but it’s a handy way to give your protagonist instant characterization: the protagonist works hard to overthrow the government to create a better world for his sweet, crippled and blind little sister!

Nothing about the tsundere is particularly innovative — or even unique to Japanese cartoons; for an American cartoon example, consult Hey Arnold! — it’s just that around the turn of the century, fandom decided to officially codify and fetishize these traits. As usual, GAINAX’s masterwork Neon Genesis Evangelion is probably to blame, although Asuka remembers to have actual emotional and psychological reasons for her behavior. (Except in Evangelion 2.0: You can (not) advance, of course.)

But, as disgustingly prevalent as they are, the tsundere and even the little sister aren’t the most interesting trends in moé characterization. No, we’re concerned with far more imbalanced sorts than that. Recent years have brought about a particularly interesting new brand of moé character, one with much more obvious mental trauma than the tsundere‘s perpetual tweenhood. Perhaps it was natural, the twisted result of space cadets like Azumanga Daioh‘s “Osaka” taken to their logical conclusion, mixing with influences from darker and edgier and always-poorly copied fare like Eva, but in the past few years we’ve experienced the formal codification of new, unstable character types.

Good, Bad, I’m the Guy with the Cinder-Block

The recent Oriental Animated Video Denpa-teki na Kanojo, sometimes questionably translated as Electromagnetic Girlfriend, conveniently provides one-and-a-half examples of some of these new moé varieties. According to sophisticated Internet research and the consultation of subject matter experts, the title of the show basically means something like “that chick who keeps doing weird shit because she picks up strange radio waves in her brain,” so, if you’ll forgive me a bit of localization, I’ll call the show Tinfoil-Hat Girl.

Ms. Tinfoil is one of several women inexplicably attracted to protagonist Jyuu Jyuuzawa, an Ordinary High-School Student, who gets in fights a lot and likes to be left alone. (It’s based on a light novel; don’t expect any surprises.) He’s regularly chewed out by the Class President (glasses variant), who has a blatantly obvious crush on our hero which will get her killed fifteen minutes into the show, and Giddy Psychopath seems quite interested in slobbing his knob when she isn’t busy casually discussing the string of murders rocking the town, but Tinfoil is the real deal. Combining the face-hiding bangs and jet-black hair of a certain horror movie character so discredited that even girls’ comics play it for adorable laughs with excellent stalking skills and total submissive obedience to her chosen master, Tinfoil explains that in a past life, she served as a knight for King Jyuuzawa, and wishes for nothing more than to protect him and do his bidding. Good, noble, and obedient, willing to liberally apply stun-gun or cinder-block to the heads of her lord’s enemies in the hopes of being allowed to lap at his heels. “A puppy we can fuck,” indeed.

In other words, Tinfoil’s a schizophrenia-moé character. Nothing about her character is particularly new — after all, moé archetypes are all about defining, labeling, and fetishizing the familiar. It’s the common boys’ fiction conceit: a mysterious girl appearing to tell the “ordinary” protagonist about their mystical heritage and destiny and lead him off on the adventure, even as he rejects the claims and tries to avoid this weirdo girl who keeps breaking into his apartment and showing him creepy photographs. It’s not like it’s even especially uncommon for her to be (at least initially) more physically capable than the protagonist, because in the end, her emotional health is entirely in the hands of the male she bonds with — after all, that power dynamic is what moé is all about. Doesn’t matter if she’s humanity’s mightiest space marine, a smart-mouthed, axe-wielding, crimson valkyrie descending on the battlefield — outside her armor, she’ll still break down into tears when the protagonist shows her she’s not alone in her struggle, a lost child barely coming up to the chests of her comrades.

Wait, I’m getting sidetracked here.

Anyway, Tinfoil-Hat Girl is based on a mystery novel, and that means Jyuuzawa gets to play Boy Detective when he stumbles across the corpse of Class President while wandering the alleys one night, as all Japanese teenagers are wont to do. One lucky guess and a cryptic phone call later, he catches the killer, a crazy dude who believes the people he beats to death are alien invaders that he has to stop. But since he’s not secretly cute behind those bangs like Tinfoil, we don’t have to feel too bad when he kills himself off-screen during a bout of exposition. Oh, hey, we’ve got 20 minutes left — it’s time for the man behind the man to show up!

Violence, Glorious Violence!

Obviously, that man is actually a chick, Giddy Psychopath, who demonstrates her love for the protagonist with a roofie and a baseball bat. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the yandere! Combining your average misanthropic otaku‘s two favorite things — gruesome, torturous violence and little girls — a yandere character, named for master cleaver wielder Martin Yan, is a gal that initially appears normal and sweet and has an obvious attraction to the hero, but who ends up being a total violent nutjob who channels her love into liberal application of cutting utensils, against the hero or otherwise. A relative newcomer to the moé archetype collection, I trace the development of this character to two particular shining examples of otaku culture: the horror-moé visual novel series When They Cry and erotic entertainment software School Days.

Colony Drop apologizes for the use of the comically “censored” television version of this scene

In fact, School Days owes its notoriety entirely to its flirtation with the yandere. Were it not for the shock value of particular comically violent “bad endings,” the title would likely still be languishing in obscurity as yet another piece of interactive adult entertainment where a milquetoast douchebag nails pretty much everything with a vagina in the vicinity of his high school. Each subsequent adaptation has set the bar higher and higher, starting with simple endings like Girl A murdering the protagonist for knocking her up and then dumping her, or Girl B murdering Girl A for hooking up with the protagonist, eventually proceeding to chains of murder that end with Girl B sailing away on a yacht cradling the protagonist’s severed head, and so on. A brilliantly timed bit of Japanese media panic cemented the “Nice Boat” epic into the otaku’s collective consciousness.

And we mustn’t count out When They Cry, one of the breakout hits of the Japanese “doujin” indie scene. Pretty much every single character in Dragon Knight 07’s Groundhog Day-inspired epic has an opportunity to murder everyone who stands in the way of their happiness. As early as the first “loop” of the story, our protagonist, The Only Teenage Boy In Town, flees in horror when his irritatingly chipper classmate starts following him around and brandishing a cleaver, and it only gets worse from there. The yakuza heiress and her twin sister take turns killing for love and vengeance, everyone learns that courage and friendship can’t stop a bullet (but a bro will totally bury a body for you), and we can’t forget the one where the gal with the cleaver scatters home-made explosives around her school and holds everyone hostage, culminating in a Last Second Bomb Defusal and a rooftop melee with TOTBIT. Before she can land the final blow, however, she realizes that all she really wants is for TOTBIT to be there with her, forever! Touching.

That last bit is key. While the yandere‘s cleaver is certainly her most visible charm point, as with the other moé archetypes I’ve discussed, it’s the inner weakness that really seals the deal. The yandere isn’t that much of a stretch from the tsundere when you get down to it — one of them works through emotional assaults, temper-tantrums and other childish tactics, and the other just cuts out the middle-man with an axe. Heck, the latter is probably even more appealing to the kind of stunted man-children who watch these cartoons (really, who doesn’t enjoy gratuitous violence?). But even if otaku like the aesthetics of a dominant female, and probably even enjoy the verbal and physical abuse, at the end of the day, she’s still gotta break down cryin’ in his big, flabby arms and then go make him a sandwich.

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.


  1. This post should be inscribed in moe-show DVD insert sleeves.

    Dame yo, oniichan!

  2. This post has convinced me to never again watch moé shows. You just had to kill the mystique!

  3. Way back when, there was a truly excellent book by Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements called “The Erotic Anime Movie Guide”, which because of its title and terrible cover art probably never got taken as seriously as it should have. It came out at a time before the elements of moé had really been codified by the emerging 3G otaku, but it absolutely nailed the essential elements of how women and girls were represented in anime in a way that went way beyond erotica. Anyway, comparing McCarthy and Clements’ work back in the late 90s with what you write here, it’s really interesting seeing the fluid evolution (or perhaps devolution is a more accurate choice of word) of this freakshow over the years. I think the most striking aspect is the paradoxical way moé has become simultaneously more sophisticated and more infantile over time.

  4. Uhhhh I don’t think you have the right origin for the term yandere, or the correct words for the acronym OAV. But that makes total sense for someone who would go so far as to take such a sarcastic and cynical point of view towards Akamatsu-sensei’s teachings.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have better things to read than this drivel, such as taking care of my paraplegic myopic [s]waifu[/s] little sister who I’ve recently been reunited with after making childhood promises of marriage. Unfortunately she is also suffering from Space Aids. Maybe you guys should be a little more sensitive about this kind of material. It might hit close to home for some of us.

    By the way, “sensei” means teacher, or if I were to localize it like you, “great genius creator and cultural critic.”

  5. Patiently Waiting for the chronic masturbators to show up and start bitching about “feminism” and “free speech.” Guess they’re all too busy being disgusting somewhere.

  6. Is it bad when you read Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and you instantly recognize one of the characters (a loli) as tsundere? Does this go deeper than we realize?

  7. Laika: Russian space dog, launched into space as an experiment by the Soviets and left to die a lonely death in an isolated bubble, cut off from external stimuli. Laika also had trouble understanding irony.

    As for Murakami Haruki, I love him to death, but he can’t write women for toffee.

  8. Actually, someone might be able to help me here: is Laika being ultra clever and ironic too? I was ready to give it the benefit of the doubt until I remebered that it used the word “Uhhhh” at the start (the universal symbol denoting lack of self-awareness). The second paragraph is an excellent parody of the sort of misguided pretend-irony beloved of CD’s adorable 4chan playmates. If that’s the case, hats off and apologies.

  9. Yeah, Laika is one of the regulars in the IRC.

    Sgt. Phantom: There is, after all, nothing new under the sun!

  10. I definitely agree as far as moe in general is concerned, but from time to time it’s actually possible to tell an interesting tale regardless of the presence of the relevant character types you’ve skillfully described and exposed for what they are.

    For example, without really wanting to make a big deal out of this by nitpicking, at least When They Cry as a whole had an overarching mystery narrative, which continued into its second season, that extended above and beyond its obviously pandering elements.

    Those can be cynically and critically analyzed, of course, but was that really the point? Not really.

    In other words, while the author was certainly willing to exploit the appeal of said fetishes in numerous ways, he was actually trying to tell a slightly more complex story that didn’t entirely consist of “oh, she’s a crazy girl who is violent on the outside but really, really wants to be loved by the would-be protagonist” or something along those lines. That’s a more or less fair description of that specific situation, but the point of the story isn’t what happens in any particular loop in and of itself.

    It’s not necessarily that great of a story, in retrospect, but at least I will give him credit for being a bit more ambitious and creative than most of his peers in the field.

  11. As OGT pointed out, this sort of thing wasn’t invented by otaku, nor even by the Japanese. I suppose if a character is an object for the viewer’s gratification, it doesn’t particularly matter whether they are objectified physically, as with fan service, or emotionally, as with moe. In either case they are being customized to suit the taste, or at any rate the anticipated taste, of the audience.

    Maybe the difference is that, in anime, the emotional objectification includes the physical as part of the package, whereas it’s perhaps more possible to have non-moe characters who provide fan service (Misato, Revy, Faye, and Fujiko arguably fall into this category). So moe comes off as doubly indulgent.

    Are there examples of female moe characters who are designed not to be physically cute–unattractive, but emotionally comforting? I don’t mean “plain but pretty” types–I mean characters who are the female equivalent of Genshiken’s Madarame, Kuchiki, or Kugayama, who are actually designed not to be attractive male characters, in the same way Kousaka is designed to be an attractive male character.

    (Yes, I know Madarame is the most moe character in the series, but what I mean is something like, if they had made Ogiue look like Yabusaki).

  12. Nobody here is dumb enough to make the claim that the Japanese INVENTED the thematic tropes codified in moe — the main thing Jeff was trying to convey with this article is that moe has taken stuff that was merely trite in filthy gaijin TV/cinema and codified it into something just as trite and DOUBLY creepy, playing into the misogyny, perversion, cynicality and hopelessness that plagues Japanese anime fandom, reinforced by corporate cynicality and a pacifying Internet echo chamber.

    You get all the toothless sap of American pop-culture romance with the incredible, unflinching tedium of Japanese drama and the sexist trappings of Japanese culture in general. The perverted anime nuttiness is more of a colorful multiplier on that base (lack of) value than anything else.

  13. Good shit, keep calling em’ like you see them.

    I’m glad you guys are around to totally break down this bullshit “mystique” behind moe and boil it down to what it really is: pandering to emotionally stunted guys who never step foot outside their comfort zone.

    As a fellow otaku, I salute you. Hopefully we will all look back at these times and chuckle, thus validating Char when he stated that one does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth.

  14. The increasing dominance of the hardcore semen-on-dakimakura otaku as a consumer segment in the Japtoon market makes them a force to be reckoned with even by properties that aren’t explicit pedobait. Consequently, they rely on moe formulae as a conduit for creating appeal to a fandom that is severely stunted both socially and emotionally, akin to using drastic gestures and loud sounds to communicate with a retard. As Jeff pointed out, a concept like ‘tsundere’ is geared toward the cognitive model of ‘eternal puberty’. What I’m saying is that such models are not merely there to ‘maximize indulgence’ but are instead the only surrogate for characterization that is compatible with such a mindset.

    >> cynicality


  15. I like how you guys are describing all otaku as these dudes who are unable to interact with other people when in truth it’s exactly the opposite. Sure, the people you speak of exist, but from my observations they’re not a majority.

    In fact, I’ve seen more CD-esque fans be the type of people who can’t even speak properly in real life.

  16. Carl: SDS tells me there’s a fat chick in the moe mahjong player stampede of Saki, but that’s more a case of a token than anything else. I think they have one like that in Negima too?

    I can’t think of a genuinely ugly female character who’s set up to be moe-appealing: even characters who we are told are unattractive– I’m thinking, offhand, of Slayers’ Lina Inverse and Kimi ni Todoke’s heroine Sawako– are obviously not. In fact, those two draw some of their charm from their insecurity about their looks.

    I’m gonna go ahead and say not that Ugly Moe can’t be done, but nobody would ever want to unless it was to prove a point. Something close is Katawa Shoujo, the adventure game where you romance cute, disabled girls, but that’s not a commercial project.

    Sgt. Phantom: Known moe figure Haruko Momoi posted a Youtube link to a 90’s beeper ad on her Twitter a while back. It was about this girl rolling back and forth on her bed worrying about a guy’s call, but, you know, not because she liked him or anything. Momoi’s comment, of course, was “tsundere!” And she was right.

  17. I should say that it’s not necessarily the job of anime, or any entertainment medium, to teach you how to get along in real life. I think anime can and should do more that is constructive, challenging, and relevant, but it is not wrong to have an escapist show, or many escapist shows (when most, or all anime becomes escapist is when the problem arises).

    Just like the stereotypical moe anime presents a world of easy, vicarious emotional fulfillment, the stereotypical manly anime presents a world of easy, vicarious physical power. Again, nothing wrong with that–as fantasy, as entertainment, but Kenshiro is about as useful a role model in the real world as is Negi.

    I also suspect WAH is correct in his assertion that there are many otaku into moe who interact with people perfectly well. The equation isn’t that simple; it needs other things added, just like a love of violent films and games /= troubled loner.

    Speaking as someone not especially into moe (or manly), it’s been my observation that different people view moe in different ways, and you can’t necessarily get them to understand “the truth” about it, not because they’re stupid or delusional, but because–they’re different people.

    It works about as well as explaining to people why their political or religious beliefs are wrong, and are incompatible with life and the real world. Meanwhile, most of those people manage to mysteriously go on living in the real world, despite how their being a liberal or a conservative or an atheist or a fundamentalist should make it logically impossible.

    The person who seriously loves moe because they have no other life, and the person who seriously despises moe because it can be a substitute for life have this in common–they are both serious about moe. But the secret is, not everyone who enjoys moe actually takes it as seriously as its obsessives and its critics do. The law of the excluded middle applies to moe fans, too.

    The idea that the rise of moe has made anime fans less social doesn’t square with what you see at U.S. fan conventions. The irony is, anime might have been more vibrant creatively in the 1980s, but socially, the fan scene is much more healthy and balanced today.

  18. “this sort of thing wasn’t invented by otaku, nor even by the Japanese”

    Of course not. The difference with moé is in the consumption pattern.

    The anime character archetypes that McCarthy and Clements identify in their book are a product of supply-side circumstances, i.e. they’re a kind of shorthand used by writers who have to cram a full narrative arc into 22 minutes of screen time, often working under various commercial constraints as well. Their purpose is still subservient to the narrative and the consumer is passive in this case.

    Moé is the result of the consumer as an active participant. It comes from the otaku, using his implacable collector’s urge to break down and classify, deconstructing the repeated elements of the product and arranging them in a kind of database. In anime made under this consumption model the database is supreme and the narrative, like the characterisation, is merely a set of signifiers to be mixed, matched and reassembled.

    As a result, moé applies a different critical model to anime viewing, based on assumed shared prior knowledge of the database. When we apply a more traditional critical model to anime created under the conditions of this database consumption, it falls apart like a house of cards. In both its consumption and critical models, moé has more in common with pornography than it does with traditional narrative drama.

  19. >> The idea that the rise of moe has made anime fans less social doesn’t square with what you see at U.S. fan conventions. The irony is, anime might have been more vibrant creatively in the 1980s, but socially, the fan scene is much more healthy and balanced today.

    This sort of statement sort of seems to imply a bit more of a connection between convention audiences and core animation/manga fans than there actually seems to be. But then again the topic seems to have been derailed and has become about implying some sort of connection between social ability and preferences in said mediums. I don’t think this connection really matters all that much, more like it’s another jab to heap on top of the main point of this article.

    Nobody really cares about bums who are just watching moe to pass time, but the countless amount of people who sing its praises, buy into it’s consumer lifestyle, or defend it’s use in the medium as legitimate (and those that don’t even bother to question it,) are pretty problematic to any fan and scene that does want something more. Dotdash has pretty much got it on point with his last sentence. Though I don’t think I’d say that moe itself is a result, but more like the current state that moe is in is a conclusion of its commodification. Japanese media culture already has a fetish for appropriaton, imitation, and churning out a million similar acts all spewing slight varations of whatever popular catchphrase or meme is in at any given time (which isn’t all that bad sometimes, I love Billy Herington X Yugioh nico vids.) When you combine that with how awful the industry is now and how commercially focused it has been transformed into (MAKE THAT MONAAYYY~~~) I’m pretty sure if it wasn’t moe, then something else would’ve been milked dry and distilled into something as vapid and derivative as it is now. But right now it’s doubly offensive because that’s pretty much all you’re trying to sell me, and now you’re also telling me it’s good. It makes people who normally wouldn’t give two shits about what other people watch even more crotchity, forcing them deeper into whatever niche fandom troll cave they’ve been dwelling in. Some of us probably wouldn’t really mind this too much (in the beginning at least) if it was mecha, kaijuu, or yokai (not kids stuff!) but you can’t have pretend sex with those (not easily) and they don’t have little sisters either.

  20. >I like how you guys are describing all otaku as these dudes who are unable to interact with other people when in truth it’s exactly the opposite. Sure, the people you speak of exist, but from my observations they’re not a majority.

    Yes, but they’re still the brain-dead losers of the universe. Thanks.

  21. I think there is a risk in attempting to understand (deconstruct?) MOE in this way because it sort of ignores the other important aspect, merchandising.

    Above all else, NOW, whatever else goes on in a show, the character must be designed to appeal and fit certain visual cues because they will be placed on hug pillows and made into figures in sexually submissive poses. Otaku will buy these products BECAUSE of the visual appeal and often without the context of the show.

    This is intentional.

    And I am stunned by what I just found. OK, I was going to say something about how MOE has been made mainstream and used to sell things by discussing a line of model kits produced by Hasegawa, the ‘Egg’ planes. Example:
    Egg Planes started as a joke, when someone took a plastic egg and blended in parts from an airplane kit, but the concept took off and sometime back in the ’70s Hasegawa was cranking these out. they were cute, funny, and it did hook some kids into the world of plastic kit building.

    Now Hasegawa is reissuing the old kits and making new ones, and in order to push them, promote them, they have added cute young girl ‘pilots’ on the box art. NOTE THAT THERE IS NO FIGURE INCLUDED IN THE KIT, it’s just there on the box. Note that they are perfect examples of MOE. Yes, Otaku are buying these models just for the box tops.

    But that’s a gag item, right? You can’t call egg shaped parodies of real aircraft mainstream, even if Hasegawa IS a major kit maker. Sure, it’s a cynical marketing ploy but it doesn’t MEAN anything, right?

    Check this.

    A totally straight kit of the Zero fighter, by a company hailed for their quality and detail. And an uber-riffic MOE girl on the box.

    Looking at their other releases, this is something Sweet decided to do in the last couple of years, the MOEifying of their box tops.

    I guess straightforward paintings and pictures weren’t enough. Bah.

  22. I don’t mind you guys calling the shows I like whatever you’re calling them. Opinions are opinions, and if they’re based on substantial experience then they’re valid. I don’t really care.

    But I do care about this writing off of all fans of moe anime as these social retards who can’t form sentences when they speak. That’s not true at all. How many of you have actually been to Japan and have interacted with otaku closely? I bet very few of you have. While I can’t say my experience is indicative of the way “moe otaku” act as a whole, I was quite surprised when a lot of the people in my university’s manga club were all very fashionable and outgoing people. I keep bringing this guy up but, but I feel his existence is worth stressing to all the naysayers here. I met this guy who was a dakimakura and tapestry collector. Dude was addicted to these things. But at the same, the dude dressed in very fashionable clothing, and was able to get on well with everyone even–gasp–attractive girls (of which there were many in the manga club, actually)!

    Sure, at Comiket and other events the guys clad in only wife beaters who smell awful and such do appear, but really, they’re not the majority anymore. I mostly see a bunch of otherwise cool kids walking around both Akiba, Nakano and various other doujin events.

    (And honestly, I like wife beater guys. I met some at Wonder Festival and they were pretty cool. Out of their minds, but cool.)

  23. wah would have you believe that Yappies are the majority, but for the purposes of my narrative I’m going to ignore his personal anecdotes.

  24. I thought we were the Yappies! Hi, guys, let’s enjoy a bright anime life together!


  25. >Steve Harrison

    Yeah, the merchandising is important. The consumer patterns of the modern anime otaku require that any aspect of a character be interchangeable and easily recognisable free from the original story because the anime or manga itself is not the primary source of income. You have to be able to grasp a character’s inherent qualities immediately from looking at a plastic figurine.

    When a film critic analyses a movie or TV drama, they talk about whether the characters are “rounded”, whereas moé demands that the characters be comprised of multiple flat layers (e.g. she is a tsundere little sister, but also meganekko) each of which can be revealed by easily recognisable visual signifiers.

    Selling robot kits this way is one thing, but reducing the whole system of characterisation, narrative and drama to this sort of pick’n’mix level is what makes our beloved 3rd generation otaku so special.

  26. Yes because the characters in every single Go Nagai super robot show were so deep right.

  27. I think the tsundere trend is like a male version of the “bad boys” trend. Women loves dangerous loners who are vulnerable enough for fall in love of the main heroine. He can be verbally and even phisically abusive but it’s just that “he really cares”. For examples watch Twilight or read shoujo smut mangas (a way more disturbing version of the “bad boys” trend). I guess in both cases the fantasy is to domesticated a “wild animal”, but anime makes everything creepier, way, way creepier.

  28. Dude, awesome article.

    Wah, I honestly don’t care if moé fans are perfectly functioning human beings. The truth is that the entertainment that they consume does nothing more than contribute to a fantasy perception of women and human relationships in general.

    Unlike robot shows that create a fantasy world based around alien robots from space (something that requires great suspension of disbelief), moé shows create a fantasy based around experiences common to most otaku, like high school. That is one of the most important parts: a moé show must portray an environment that the viewer can easily place himself into, so that the fantasy relationship can be experienced in the first person. And personally, I’m not comfortable with placing those misogynistic relationships in the first person.

  29. Well, our friend Wild Arms seems to be miffed.

    Of course it can be said that Go Nagai or Leiji Matsumoto or Shotaro Ishinomori whip out their characters and re-use and recycle and there’s no difference…in some ways this may be so, on the surface.

    But take Koji Kabuto, the original, prototype Hot Blooded Youth filled with the fires of JUSTIC. Not alot of depth, but during the course of Mazinger Z he matures in his relationship with Sayaka, he tightens the bonds of brotherhood with Shiro, he turns a gang of J.D.s (look it up) into his best friends and allies, and not ONCE does he cry about his lot in life piloting a giant robot of DOOM and protecting Japan…errr, well, I guess the Earth.

    Then you get to Great Mazinger, and Tetsuya Tsurugi, and while they CLEARLY attempted to make him be Sonny Chiba (i.e. super SUPER BADAZZZMOFO) he actually turns out to be pretty much a neurotic insecure tool who is ALWAYS living in Koji’s shadow. The stupid helmet he has to wear is probably a factor in this.

    So, yeah. I don’t think that can be made as equal to “and this girl is different because her hair is GREEN and she wears GLASSES so…”

  30. I’m not miffed. I don’t care what you say about the shows, really (even if most of these opinions are based on (understandably) limited experience.)

    But this whole notion that otaku are these disgusting people is wrong. That’s only /some/ of them.

    That’s honestly all I care about.

  31. I was hoping there’d be more reactions to that Ecchi Attack thing.

  32. To be honest, while there are some shows that break out of this, such as Lucky Star, Potemayo, Azumanga Daioh and even (no matter how much this blog moans about it) Haruhi Suzimiya, most moé shows just stick to the basic archetypes and plot elements that run throughout the entire genre. And considering most moe shows are based on erotic games, or light novels, well, you can see where the cycle feeds onto itself…

  33. Breaking news flash for WeeabooArmsZero: those Go Nagai robot shows were for kids. The shows you feel an overwhelming need to defend are for emotionally stunted teenagers and adult losers with social and mental problems.

    That’s great that you met a few “fashionable” and “cool” people in that club at school, but since you’re not able to tell the difference between Mazinger Z and and whatever shitty thing moe fans are into today, I’m sorta doubting your ability to judge things with any accuracy.

  34. Okay, FreshPrince, seriously? You feel the need to say that? I know wah’s a big old school Gundam fan. I remember him saying he was officially over the franchise as a whole following 00 with it’s bishie-licious character art. So you can’t say he’s not into the robot shows at all.

    The fact that moé anime appeals to a rather creepy group of anime fans doesn’t mean that there’s shows that more well-adjusted fans can enjoy.

    Hell, way I see it, a lot of people probably look down on fans of “manly” shows for being fans of “childish, repetitive garbage”. Including the creepy moé fans. Like I said earlier, you can see how this goes in circles.

  35. “Yes because the characters in every single Go Nagai super robot show were so deep right.”

    No, obviously, but the difference is that in those shows the clichés are a product of the production culture, whereas with moé they are the product of the fan culture. With old robot shows you can say, “This fails on certain dramatic principles because the characters are poorly developed, but given that this is a 22 minute show about big robots fighting, I can suspend my disbelief.” On the other hand, the whole framework of a moé show is built on the shuffling around of variations on a series of character clichés. This is what the fans want, and if you’re really into your postmodernism and whathaveyou, I guess that’s a legitimate way of watching something. This is the bit I find interesting about it anyway.

    The problem that I have with moé is the same thing Jeff describes above. 1. It’s desperately misogynistic, and 2. all this guff about it being this platonic urge to protect is self-deceiving rubbish (and quite sexist anyway). At least pornography knows what it is. Moé pushes the same misogynist buttons but just wraps them in cotton wool and lets people pretend it’s all OK.

  36. It may be true, as Ogiue Maniax said recently, that the only real way to win an internet conversation is not to participate in one. But if you don’t mind my saying so, I think the assumption that fans of moe shows are necessarily of a certain personality type resembles the habits of logic that the writers of these moe series themselves display. That is; they assign imaginary and utterly two-dimensional characters traits based on a database; the critic of moe fans will then go one stage further, and then assign and reduce the real and three-dimensional people who watch these series to a set of traits.

    Although (unlike these moe characters) it would be possible to interact with these people in the audience and see if they are really what your database and theory say they are, the idea is dismissed as irrelevant. The 2-D analysis of 2-D characters is seen as sufficient to infer the essential nature of its audience. But while this is sufficient for talking about thoughts and images, to talk convincingly about people requires field work.

    I’d like to consider something that Vampt Vo said. “I honestly don’t care if moé fans are perfectly functioning human beings. The truth is that the entertainment that they consume does nothing more than contribute to a fantasy perception of women and human relationships in general.”

    It seems to me that if a moe fan is a perfectly functioning human being, that would necessarily mean they wouldn’t behave towards other humans based on the fantasy perception of women and human relationships seen in moe. But Vampt Vo didn’t say that they really behaved this way; in fact, although he suggested they could in fact actually be perfectly functioning human beings, what is to be condemned here is not what these fans are like in real life, nor how they really behave towards real people, but their “fantasy perception.” Yet these fans are themselves perceived through a admittedly willful lens of fantasy perception.

    The disturbed, loser moe fan is in some cases a reality. The New York Times recently made such a person the centerpiece of an article, in much the same way as if the Asahi Shimbun had done a report on evangelicals in America by centering the article around that guy with the cardboard sign you see downtown, covered in verses from Revelation.

    But to the critic, the moe fan is not a person; indeed, they are preferable to people, for they are an intellectual fetish object in a power dynamic of theory; the critic does not care, nor need to discover, what this pitiable little sister of theirs is like. It is sufficient to know what kind of TV shows they watch. The critic of the moe fan speaks in terms to establish a hierarchy, where the moe fan is implied to be a worse human being than the critic based on the fantasies they perceive. This is certainly a more mature form of domination than that of the moe fan, who only wanted dominance over fantasy characters.

    You will notice that none of this is a defense of moe; it is, however, a defense of human beings.

    I don’t want moe to be the dominant aspect of anime–any more than I think the answer is yet another seance of the hot-blooded ’70s shonen ethic. Rather, I would wish that anime keep moving forward. I think anime currently shows artistic decadence, and that decadence currently expresses itself through moe (I don’t think moe must be decadent, nor is moe the only possible mode of decadence for anime).

    I understand the aesthetic criticism of moe, and the great anger that arises from realizing the difference between what anime can be (and has shown it can be), and what it often is or has become. But I honestly don’t think it will help anime one bit to dismiss and consign the people who watch it and make it. Unless you are planning to produce an anime yourself, or have a new set of fans ready to replace the current ones, if there is to be change, it will come from them and not you. You can engage with these people and have a conversation. But you must be willing to see them as human beings first, not character types.

    Don’t confuse salting this fetid ground with giving it new life. Perhaps you think anime is now a corpse, sweet and rotten and full of pasty grubs burrowing away from the sunlight. The critic unwilling to engage moe fans as human beings thinks they stand above a lab table, observing this decay. But you are not up there, but below with these non-humans; you are only the second wave of anime’s decomposition; the cynical, hard-shelled beetles that find those maggots ever so tasty, tee hee. In this picture, the moe fan and their critics are indistinguishable parts of a disgusting mess, with the critic having the minor satisfaction of eating anime’s dead flesh only at second hand.

    Anime is not real, and anime characters are real; only people are real. If you want better anime–or even better anime fans–you must engage with the fan, the person, not with your construct of them. A person who abjures contact with other human beings or the necessity to know them, based on their theories about fantasy makes themselves less human. You have contempt for what anime has become; you have decided likewise to have contempt for the people who make it and buy it, and that is really the end of the matter. But there is no love there, no compassion, and certainly no future in these these theoretical conquests. They give a moment’s satisfaction, and land barren as semen on a hug pillow.

  37. Love and compassion?? A defense of human beings??? This isn’t a church (well, except maybe that church from Black Lagoon with the one-eyed nun). Here’s a newsflash: it wasn’t moe’s critics that transformed these juvenile fetishists to a database of characteristics – by adopting this “willful lens of fantasy perception”, they did so themselves. This reduction to human caricatures has been a thoroughly self-promoted one. An observer needn’t look beyond the typical anime blog to witness them scrambling to out-“otaku” each other with gleeful exhortations of onanistic delight, in that obnoxious web patois. “TOP 10 FAPWORTHY LOLIS”. “DELICIOUS FLAT CHEST IS WIN.” These are hardly rare, atypical occurrences – this shit is everywhere, from imageboards to blogs to anime conventions, with an industry increasingly eager to pamper them in an effort to forestall its accelerating decline. For decades, people have dismissed anime as disturbing cartoons for the social outcasts – and for once, there’s a kernel of common sense in that knee-jerk response.

    According to you, however, it’s the people criticise them who are the bigger losers, dehumanizing these poor souls with an analysis that robs them of their essence as humans. The otaku may be lusting to dominate a blind little girl in a wheelchair, but lurking in the shadow, there’s an even bigger creep wishing to dominate him – the dreaded CRITIC. I don’t purport to speak for Jeff or anyone else at Colony Drop, but that’s a crock of guilt-tripping bullshit and I ain’t buying it.

    >> But I honestly don’t think it will help anime one bit to dismiss
    >> and consign the people who watch it and make it. Unless you are
    >> planning to produce an anime yourself, or have a new set of fans
    >> ready to replace the current ones, if there is to be change, it
    >> will come from them and not you.

    Must one himself be a chef to point out that a meal tastes rotten? Moreover, why would change ever stem from the entrenched set of fans that is perfectly satisfied with an industry that descends deeper and deeper into the morass of catering to their crude urges? Should a diseased organ be retained simply because there’s no prosthetic to replace it, eventually infecting the entire organism? Even if it’s too late, maybe this degenerate symbiosis between an industry mired in a rut of rehashes, erotic game adaptations, and dinner bowls patterned after a moeblob character’s panties and the fans that gobble it all up should just come crashing to the ground. Afterward, perhaps years will pass and something new will finally come along, free of the fetters of the current market dynamic – and if it’s good, a set of new fans is sure to follow on its own accord. You wish for anime to move forward, yet at the same time opt to blithely cling to a status quo that as unwilling as it is incapable of doing so. From someone who evinces an understanding of the constrast between the highs that anime had once achieved and its current sordid state, a dismissal of both parties as parts of the same “disgusting mess” is myopic, if not downright disingenuous.

    The comparison with the hard-shelled grub-munching beetles is an apt one. Less so is your giddy, flippant mockery of the role these insects play in an ecosystem. Sure, chomping up the swarms of disgusting parasites writhing upon anime’s cadaver is a dirty job – but it is a necessary, fruitful, and – oh yeah – a pretty fun one (kids better get my MUSHIKING rookie card now)! The contempt for the people who buy and make the anime is well-deserved, and the fact that they’re human doesn’t absolve them from it. The critics are humans too, ones who care enough to raise a voice of dissent – a rallying cry for all who refuse to idly watch an entire art genre fall apart, and an air raid siren for the maggots. Let them scatter in fear. CARTHAGO DELENDA EST.

  38. With all due respect, Pete, you’re talking nonsense. You’re still dismissing a whole groups of fans of a genre not really worth talking about any more, putting them all under a singular stereotype despite the fact that there’s already been certain refutations of that stereotype on this very blog, and you’re spouting reactionary garbage over nothing a bunch of cartoons, even though it’s stopped becoming cool to do so.

    This isn’t a revolution, and you’re not Leon Trotsky. Grow up. Get over it.

  39. While FY was technically my first actual shojo anything I took a chance on, I didn’t really perceive it as “shojo”, as much as an action-comedy in the vein of Ranma 1/2. Though it is amusing, in retrospect, that an Evantologist considered that series to be the sign of the “decline” of anime, since I imagine a lot of people would love to time-travel back to the era when the internets and fansub groups always had something being name-dropped and passed around which seemed more appealing to casual fans, and not just hardcore otaku.

    And ironically, I tend to blame Eva for causing that latter phenomenon, since every new show or movie had to be the “be all, end all”, instead of just being fun. So, consequently, you had to actually be “in” on the game to appreciate it, rather than just watch if for its own sake. I mean, I can dig parodies, but when your material consists of listing random shit for a number of panels, like in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, it comes off lazy.

    So I think moe’s more of a reaction to the unnecessarily complicated storylines and emotional hand-wringing you see in contemporary anime and manga. It’s sort of like how the 90s shojo boom was a response to the previous decade’s over-reliance of over-the-top broken-bottle style hand-to-hand combat and souped-up giant robots which primarily served as toy commercials. Yeah, some of those titles were cool, just like some of the post-emovangelion stuff isn’t entirely full of shit. But when you’ve totally blown your wad on a particular artform, the next one inevitably takes over, when you’re not looking. That’s just the way of the world.

    Hell, I generally couldn’t stand that “let’s cut-and-paste old movies into new ones, and call it ironic” style of movie-making which succeeded the whole Lynch/Coen Bros./Burton dark comedy era of the late 80s, early 90s, but I did get to swap for some mature, non-trippy, real-to-life entertainment in the process. For example, there’s no way Wong Kar Wai would’ve even gotten the budget for the artsy flicks he did in the 90s in the 80s. Hell, Terry Gilliam actually made money with Time Bandits, and had the Monty Python connection, and he still got screwed over with Brazil. But money for 12 Monkeys and even Fear and Loathing? No problem.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, that while an old era of anime might be over, at least you don’t have to waste time on interpreting the meanings of these new shows. Nor do you have to deal with punk-ass male teens and pre-teens trying to impress you with lame acrobatics for half an hour. Finally, you don’t have to be versed in a ton of other older anime in order to get some obscure joke/reference which isn’t that funny or relevant to the main story. Yes, folks, it’s a brave new world.

  40. The water is getting pretty hot, I think the frog is starting to figure out he’s getting cooked.

    I see in the above one of the usual dismissals in the discussion of the robot shows (and by extension all anime pre-today), how they were ‘nothing but toy commercials’. Ohh dear oh dear, how base and common! A TV series that has no purpose but to sell toys and other branded products!

    It’s true. I mean, we must understand that ALL TV series exist only to fill the gaps between commercial breaks (yes, even PBS), and the entertainment value is naught but a scam to fix you in place in front of the all powerful Glass Teat. So, understanding that, we MUST acknowledge that with the overt or ‘hard’ commercialization of the classic Robot show, that success led to a lot of growth and change and evolution in anime. As the channels filled up, as companies fought for shelf space for their toys, anime studios had plenty of money coming in from eager sponsors vying for exposure.

    If one holds that Mobile Suit Gundam is superior to Mazinger Z because of it’s maturity of story (and you’re fooling yourself if you think that, because Gundam is nothing more than a ‘super robot’ show at it’s core, the real game changer was the earlier Zambot 3), one must understand that Gundam could not exist without the SUCCESS of Mazinger Z.

    Heck, it’s even more dramatic because the real Gundam Otaku knows the show was considered a failure in its first run, and without the HUGE SUCCESS of Space Battleship Yamato, and showing how you could market and sell products for a series EVEN AFTER IT OFF THE AIR (Bandai’s lesson for plamo) did Gundam come into its own and become the insane machine for namco/Bandai that it is now.

    All due to mass merchandising.

    But what do the MOE fans have? I’m *pretty sure* they don’t advertise the mostly nekkid submissive pose figures or the honestly disturbing hug pillows on TV, I suspect it’s mostly ads for the CDs, the DVDs and some branded food products (the every popular fish sausage). So how do they find out about the stuff? Specialist magazines, web sites, seeing the goods lined up in small specialty shops which are sequestered in little ‘ghettos’, word-of-mouth in the Intertubes and of course at insanely huge gatherings such as Comic Market and Wonder Fest where Otaku show off the products of their desire to wank to other Otaku.

    (which I admit is not fair to the guys who lovingly craft amazing stuff like the kaiju hand puppets and the super obscure ships from Yamato, but just watch the crush of people lining up to take PICTURES of semen covered Rei and bondage fetish Haruhi and Strike Witches chara with removable panties)

    Ya know, except for the mass gatherings of the Otaku, that sales pattern for MOE products sure seems a whole lot like how Porn works, doesn’t it?

  41. It cannot hurt to point out here that much of this moé renaissance has come from adaptations of adult-oriented visual novels, better known as “them datin’ sims with the sex scenes.” Alongside adaptations of similarly-afflicted “light novels,” they make up a fairly significant segment of the current television Japanimation market.

  42. “This isn’t a revolution, and you’re not Leon Trotsky. Grow up. Get over it.”

    If we’re making comparisons with left-wing revolutionaries, I think Gramsci’s closer to the mark. One way of looking at the way the third generation moé-type otaku have taken over anime is via the theory of cultural hegemony. For what it’s worth, I applaud Colony Drop’s attempts to wrestle the discourse onto their own terms.

    As for all the complaints of stereotyping fans, anime is neither created nor consumed in a vacuum and the content of the shows naturally reflects back on those who create and consume them. I don’t see how it’s possible to talk about a cultural phenomenon like this without employing generalisations, unless they’re going to preface every comment with something like, “Of course there are many kinds of moé fans, and lots of them are dead nice…” Other than that, all you’re really saying is, “I don’t like your tone. Why do you have to use such unkind words?”

    A few people have used the argument that it’s simply fantasy, which is fair enough. No one here (I think) is accusing anyone of actually creating a personal harem of mentally subnormal, crippled, emotionally retarded, squeaky-voiced, underage little sisters with enormous eyes — whether for the purpose of fucking them or merely petting them. That said, the existence of the fantasy suggests a corresponding deficiency in the reality that the values of the fantasy are able to soothe. Given that the main unifying point of moé character types is their emotional weakness and need for male domination, that area seems like a good starting place.

  43. Given that similar generalisation could be applied to fans of robot shows and shonen fighting shows so beloved by the outwardly anti-moe contingent, possibly as no-life losers who hang around toy stores at 4am to grab the latest Megazord, I’d have no doubt that the practice of generalisation would probably get to be the easy route.

  44. But the original post wasn’t about robot shows or shonen fighting shows, it was about moé.

  45. Robert, no, it doesn’t and you’re utterly wrong.

    The example of ‘no-life’ (or is that ANTI LIFE?) you post is really nothing to do with the American anime fan, or even the current AmeriOtaku ™, it’s the symptom of the scalper/hoarder, the lowlife who attempts to make a living by raping the toy aisles seeking that ONE RARE ITEM he can ‘flip’ for BIG MONEY but more often as not ending up missing the ‘window’ and like a dragon of old, living with a stack of toys he doesn’t love and won’t part with because they’re ‘valuable’. Ask the fanboys with cases of the ’94 Star Wars figures, unable to sell a single ‘monkey face Leia’ or ‘brown vest Luke’.

    This activity is all but unknown in Japan (festival exclusives are a different animal) and has no real relevance to anime here in America.

    Try again! You can do it!

  46. If you were going to analyse robot shows, you’d have to make generalisations, sure. The people who make and market them certainly would have made generalisations when deciding what kind of audience to target. Even the consumer buys into those generalisations to varying degrees (“Does this thing I’m buying suit the kind of person I am? The kind of person I want to be? If it’s a guilty pleasure, why do I feel guilty?”) Generalisations are what stop us from collapsing into a gibbering, neurotic heap every time we step outside.

    Anyway, this kind of arguing about the rules of the argument is tediously meta. No one from the pro-moé side has tried to fight their corner on the whole power dynamic/misogyny thing yet. Do they think it’s actually not misogynistic at all? Do they think it is, but that’s OK because [insert random non-moé thing] is just as bad? Do they just watch it for laffs without even noticing? What is it? I assume it’s not that they actually enjoy seeing girls treated like emotionally-dependant child/pet hybrids, because that would make them some kind of monster.

    >Steve Harrison
    Why all the capitals?

  47. Alright then.

    Robot fans can be seen as immature, childish people who probably haven’t grown up in any sense of the word, still think that Manowar covers are awesome, still play with their toys from back in the old days and still buy other toys, despite the strange looks they get from the cashier as they do, and have people hold them up as examples of People Who Can’t Get Laid.

    Either that, or ageing people filled with decrepit remorse that the world has left them behind, go on rants about how anime wasn’t like it was in the old days, and wave their cane at the kids who get on their lawn.

    Or young people who think that everything made before 2003 is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and there was no such thing as bad anime Back Then.

    Now where were we?

  48. Dotdash- an attempt to add to my ‘voice’, to be more emphatic in my speech. Since I can’t wave my hands around or other things in a pure text environment, I do that.

  49. Arguably, there can be moé shows without the creepy power dynamic, if you actually do the work and actually think of a series that is moé by the Akumatsu defintion of the term, and doesn’t try to inspire an erection.

    Yotsubato!, Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, Bottle Fairies, Kamichu! (apart from that one Beach episode) do this.

    The fact that there’s so few of these series that aren’t sexually oriented is just the sad thing about it.

  50. Robert, you’re willfully missing the point, at least the point I’m bringing to the party.

    It doesn’t MATTER if the show itself is stroke bait. It’s a factor to be sure but it’s not the key. It’s that the characters are designed to be taken out of the context of the show and put on hugpillows and insane pervy PVC figures.

    Oh, let’s take…ohhhh

    man, I don’t need to even say anything else, do I?

    And so everyone knows the enemy:

  51. I’m not sure I get what you’re saying here. The fact that some moe characters are put on official hug pillows or put in saucy poses aren’t endemic of EVERY moe series. Remember, a lot of hump pillows are made by fans, not just the official people…

    Besides… has anybody on Dengeki Daioh put Yotsuba on a wank pillow?

  52. Yotsuba&! is about as close as you’re ever going to get to the pure “soothing” effect proposed in Akamatsu’s contradictory “definition of moé,” if one mistakenly accepts that such a thing can even exist (which Akamatsu himself admits is impossible in the definition).

    Frankly, in order to qualify as a moé series, we’d have to refocus the series onto what underwear Yotsuba-tan wears and a pathetic attachment to a “big brother” audience-identification character, rather than making it about a little girl marveling at the world around her and making friends and actual childhood shit like that.

  53. Hugpillows are the ‘mainstream’ face of it, as far as the easy target of ‘look what those pervs buy!’ arguments, and I put that there just to remind folk of that reality.

    I’m more stunned by the ‘washable bathroom poster’. Yeah, read the description and then read between the lines.

  54. This thread is turning into “dear god I’m afraid of sex”

    Guys ADTRW is that way.

  55. Steve: So the problem is how things are taken out of context more than what is, since couldn’t you also say that things like fanfiction/fanart are examples of that?

  56. BigN:

    No, not as such, as fan produced items are by their very nature fetishist.

    I’m talking about the cynical intent at the very creation, the ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ nature.

    I think that bathroom poster I linked to sums it up rather well, even better than the Hugpillows.

    Read the official description. I’ll assume that it’s written without any ironic subtext as it’s perfectly in keeping with Japanese phrasing as well as fitting with the textbook definition of MOE. Wouldn’t be soothing to take a bath with your favorite character? How calming.

    And yet, look at the illo. Look at it. Not just the naked part, the entire position, the angle, the pose, the look on her face. Coldly, calculatingly designed for a guy to milk his meat missile at.

    “Oh, Steve, you’re just a stuck up old fart who’s seeing sex where there just isn’t any! YOU are the pervert!” yeah, I hear a couple of people getting ready with that. Dudes and Dudettes, it’s not even SUBLIMINAL. There’s any number of ways that same concept could have been drawn that wouldn’t OVERTLY appeal to the base male urge to wank. But it wasn’t done that way.

    And remember, it’s plastic coated for easy care!

  57. “Robot fans can be seen as immature, childish people who probably haven’t grown up in any sense of the word…”

    Great, get it off your chest. That’s the way!

    Moving on…

    Whether or not a male self-insert is there or not (and characters like Konata from Lucky Star and Nobue from Ichigo Marshmallow tend to function as avatars for the male audience), the presentation of characteristics of weakness, submissiveness, fragile self-image, emotional immaturity, and various levels of clumsiness as attractive or desirable still stands, with or without any explicit sexual angle.

    As Steve Harrison says, the characters as presented in the anime are only part of the total. The whole way modern otaku culture is structured means that these characters are expected to be taken out of context and echoed through multiple media, both “official” and fan-produced. And yes, fanfiction and fanart are part of that. (Of course this mainly refers to the situation in Japan. Western otaku aren’t really part of the whole interpenetrating producer/consumer symbiosis, so all they get is one way traffic, culturally speaking.)

  58. You’re still holding up one poster, of a character from one anime series, as endemic of an entire genre, fandom, and medium.

    Would you say the same thing of a Perfect Grade Gundam kit, in relation to an entire mecha genre and its fans?

    Just because certain groups of fans of all stripes like to put anime girls in compromising positions (I’ve been around fanfiction enough to figure that out) doesn’t mean the entire industry is built around it.

    And until there does turn out to be an official Yotsuba or Konata hump pillow or washable poster, I’m just going to think that.

  59. Actually, Robert, I just might. I just might at that.

    Maybe even more so, because the manufacturing costs of a laminated poster (magical cling technology notwithstanding) is insignificant compared to the cost of conceptualizing, designing, tooling, manufacturing, promoting, shipping and selling a Perfect Grade model.

    Yet clearly Bandai risked all that in the belief that they could not only make money but make a PROFIT on the product, because it would have appeal to the intended consumer.

    But you miss the mark, You should have pointed out the upcoming UMD Mazinger Z figure, made from titanium and carbon fiber and MSRP of TWO MILLION YEN.

    Thaaat’s right. 2 MILLION Yen for a f’ing toy. Excuse me, ‘adult collectable product’. Yeah, that’s a fetish item for the robot crowd. Fanboy gets that thing his internets penis will be huge, huh?

    But he’s not gonna be spankin’ that to his ‘castle of black iron’, unlike the people buying that laminated poster.

  60. Slightly tangential but, why the hate for Manowar covers Robert?

    Don’t be so quick to blame all the pervy merchandise on fans. Surely you’re familiar with the publication “Megami” and others like it? All official artwork of characters in often compromising poses and states of undress from cartoons with varying levels of “moe” appeal.

  61. But he’s not gonna be spankin’ that to his ‘castle of black iron’, unlike the people buying that laminated poster.

    Thanks to the internet, I’m pretty sure somebody would do that…

    Slightly tangential but, why the hate for Manowar covers Robert?

    I’m only making up examples of stereotypes here. I’ve never even listened to a Manowar song.

    I’m sure that I’ve ruined my reputation as a cool person on the Internet saying that now.

  62. Robert, I am sure, sadly, that you are correct, that somewhere, SOMEONE may be spanking his monkey to a Mazinger Z toy. There is photographic proof that there are some gals out there pleasuring themselves with such toys, or at least acting like it’s pleasing, for the enjoyment of..what, their clients? viewers? We need new language for some of the things involving the internet.

    Key difference. That’s a perversion, a kink involving the product utterly out of context of its creation, intended use, intended customer base, unlike the products of MOE.

  63. 64 comments, Jesus Horse-Mounted Christ. Heat is a beautiful thing…

    In all seriousness, I really don’t think this post is meant to attack moe FANS nearly so much as it is to attack moe ITSELF. No one here is dumb enough to BELIEVE (though it’s certainly fun to pretend!) that the total-creep semen-on-figure crowd is the MAJORITY of the moe consumer, nor that moe show enthusiasts are all a monolithic perverted block. (Perversion and fetishism, the wonderful things that they are, are not so easily typecast, whether or not anime is involved.)

    I think most of us, Jeff included, are far more worried about the THEMATIC bankruptcy of the moe phenomenon, and its depressing effect on originality (made even more pronounced by economic conditions that discourage expensive adventures into relatively uncharted anime territory) — the color of certain of its fanbase are, as I stated before, just an added bit of variably creepy color.

    My beef with moe is mostly just that so many of these shows and whatever source material they might draw from seem to spend a disturbing amount of creative energy courting the real creeps with their subject matter…for me, at least, I feel a very unsettling ambiguity about whether art is imitating life or vice versa where the real creeps of moe are concerned.

    It’s also that so many of the character types in these shows — even the more clever ones — rely so much on standard repertoire and story structure that it’s really hard to read these girls as compelling characters rather than projections of their creators’ personal fetishes (or whatever fetishes they think will command the highest DVD sales). Sure, tropes are everywhere in erotic fiction to begin with (so much of romance is a social construction anyway, I TOOK A COURSE IN THIS SHIT, YOU KNOW), but rarely are they so overwhelming as they are in moe shows. So many of these characters are little more than parrots for some of the most transparent and cynical erotic rhetoric imaginable…it really makes me worry about the people who take this stuff seriously (not necessarily wah-kun) that they can just shut off their brains and be led through such heavily telegraphed and condescending thematic motions so easily.

    Also, as Steve Harrison notes, I’m pretty sure nobody here would deny that there’s an element of, uh, manchild…hood…dom to robot fetishism versus moe fetishism. Everybody’s got their own little hangup like that (mine would probably be a fairly even split between video games and terrible old Hanna-Barbara cartoons…if you ever want a break from the insipidity and creative bankruptcy of anime, put on Boomerang and see if Hanna-Barbara can actually top them! It’s a real dead heat in my book…), and most of them are, if not innocent, then at least benign. The key difference, of course, is that it’s very difficult to imagine somebody jerking off to (or on) their HG 1/60 Zaku II Char Custom or whatever the fuck they have on their desk (although I’m sure there’s somebody out there who’s done it; that’s just probability in action). There’s also the fact that (most) mecha kits and similar merchandise aren’t nearly as immediately and arrestingly sexually charged as even the mildest of moe paraphrenalia. This isn’t to say that an excess of robots can’t also convince people that you might be a creep — it’s just that statues/posters/hugpillows/whatever of underage-looking schoolgirls will almost certainly elicit a much faster and stronger reaction of that sort.

    And just for the record, I’m not really acting as a robot apologist out of any sort of deep-seated robot fetish. (S-stupid robots! It’s not like I like you or anything…) Unlike most of CD, I’m not really big on robot shows unless they have some kind of wonderfully absurd and memorable gimmick (my favorite gimmick usually being the directorial presence of Yasuhiro Imagawa).

    The bottom line with moe is that moe is done best when it’s not the focus of a show’s production. Maybe it’s just me, but I find characters like Lum in Urusei Yatsura and Ai in Planetes much cuter than any moe-show character simply because they act like real human beings, rather than a bludgeon of manufactured “cuteness” being smashed over my head until I decide I want to buy their DVDs.

    Bottom line, don’t be such goddamned SAPS, people! Demand more of your entertainment, anime or otherwise!

    Steve: My smack-talk on H-B is done mostly out of love; I find much of the stuff so bad that it’s charming. From what little I have seen of The Banana Splits, however, I’m pretty sure I’d be terrified out of my mind if I watched it high. Even as a kids’ show, I’m really not sure WHAT they were going for with Danger Island…the “reject” animated shorts like The Arabian Knights were kinda neat, though.

  64. What Ben said.

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with old H-B cartoons. Space Ghost and Jonny Quest rocked my world, and a complete collection of Sealab 2020 (inspired by Irwin Allen’s ‘City Beneath the Sea’) would rock my world no end. And yes, even tho it’s reportedly impossible, a complete run of ‘The Banana Splits’ would be very nice.

    ahem.None of which I would spank it to. Just making sure that’s understood.

    But that’s it. I’m not interested in the people who love the MOE so much as I am, like Ben, just sad and angry and frustrated about how the MOE culture has STAGNATED the animated medium in Japan.

    Dare I say it? I dare, oh I dare. Just as MOE has taken over (seemingly) an entire generation, a generation that appears to have NO INTEREST in actually reproducing, then anime is in the same boat, becoming effectively sterile.

    And Anno has become Shinji, beating off to a damaged Asuka because bandaged Rei got him hot.

    …I have no idea why I typed that but somehow it seems meaningful and deep.

  65. As one of the American Old-Timers, I’m supposed to say that all the old shows rocked and everything new sucks. Unfortunately, I can’t say that. I like plenty of the new stuff, too (e.g. K-On!). I will say that anime in the days of Gowapper Godam 5 and Steel Jeeg was more vivid and had a lot more snap and bite than much of today’s product, but the ’70s was Japan’s siglo del oro. Things are tough all over these days; expecting modern-day Japan to come up with a show as full of bounce and brio as, say, Grendizer is like expecting modern-day America to make movies as wholesome and entertaining as The Sound of Music. The family-oriented, optimistic 1963 America that could make a movie like that is gone; ditto Expo ’70-era Japan, with all its energy and hope.

    (Note: I love the Zambot 3 OP…)

    As for moe: I don’t see what the big deal is. I like the kind of moe that induces warm, protective, big-brotherly feelings; I avoid the creepy pedo kind like the plague. When used as a means of inspiring warmth and caring in the hearts of the viewer, moe can be a force for good. (Case in point: /b/. Anyone pulling a Rule 34 on Yotsuba at 4chan is asking for trouble. If moe can inspire protective feelings in the hearts of that bunch of sociopaths…) When used as fap material for emotional retards incapable of having a normal relationship with an adult woman, moe is pathetic in the same way those Twilight novels are.

    Personally, I find the “junior idol” craze much more disturbing than moe. It may not be moral for grown men to lust after teenage girls, but it’s at least natural. But an adult male panting over a ten-year-old schoolkid? That’s just wrong. While I’ve always found Japan’s brash, pagan misogyny to be refreshing, little girls (and boys) should not be objects of lust, whether real or theoretical. Hands off the kinder!

    Moe is not the end of anime. It’s a marketing strategy, not an artistic movement. Besides, moe is so over. Machine musume is where it’s at these days.

  66. BChan — thanks for mentioning junior idol. I’m gonna go shower now…

  67. Maybe. Isn’t Ecchi Attack that blog where one of the writers “ironically” suggested slaughtering Japanese to save his erection?

  68. Many years ago, when we were young and stupid(er) and internet funny-people thought godawful hyperbole like that was the height of hilarity. When I redid the site in 2006 I redacted that bit because I, and the dude who wrote the piece, found it to be totally fucking offensive!

    Most of the older shit on the site was written when we were teenagers, or at least within spitting distance of our adolescence. I hope you can forgive our lack of good judgement and lapses of taste in light of that.

  69. But Trapped In The Closet was a work of mad genius 🙁

    Also: I am loving this. I am glad that there is someone out there again with their foot still in the bear trap expressing bafflement and exasperation and frustration with this ridiculous shit.

  70. Honestly, comparing moe to porn is probably a pretty good template for developing a less gross relationship to your hobby. You have to acknowledge what you’re doing first, is all, and the subgroup of otaku who refuse to do that is generally very, very scary.

  71. As a aging anime fan from Latin America, this “moe” thing baffles and fustrates me to no end. I used to hate the Naruto/One Piece/Bleach fanboys because of the single minded Shonen bullshit that premeated the anime scene here in Dominican Republic…that until i witness what was being shown in Japan since some years ago. Now, I like them now.

  72. I was with you.

    And then you got to when they cry.
    See, that series actually deconstructs Moe – instead of swallowing in it. It plays with it, and then goes into a completely different direction.

    The cleaver character you talk about is very misrepresented by you. The key point about her isn’t inner weakness. It’s the opposite: The scene actually proves the weakness of the male character, and her incredible strength of mine.
    The scene with the “love” (It’s actually just friendship) shows how much stronger she is. The main male character had EXACTLY the same scene.

    Except, in that circumstance, he killed his friends. The cleaver girl, however, manages to stop herself from doing that.

    Why is this strong? Because neither character actually wanted to murder. They do it due to a disease that causes massive paranoia and stress.
    The cleaver girl becomes the only one who manages to resist this disease due to her incredible inner strength. She defeats it. This is unprecedented in the series: Nobody else actually defeats this disease without a lot of medical help and years of treatment.

    This strength is actually shown as the story goes on. Were the example accurate as you mention it, she would be docile to the male character in the second season. But she isn’t, she doesn’t even show a particular romantic interest in him (the one who does is the Yakuza heiress). She continues to be the strongest character in the series, while the male character? Is replaced by the true main character, who is female. In the later parts, she uses the backside of her cleaver to knock people out (not killing anyone again) and is as much of a help to the female main character as the once-main character male.

    Moe is, indeed, a pretty bad concept. It’s as bad as shonen garbage. And the biggest danger it has is to confuse us into bashing series that actually don’t fall into the actual moe trap. When they Cry does precisely the opposite of what you criticize.

    Yes, when they cry has people breaking down in tears, both men and women.
    But at the end, the female characters are the strong ones. Docile characters they are not.

    Oh, and the female character stalking the main guy creepily in the beginning? That’s his imagination. Remember the paranoia disease I mentioned? Well, he had it at that point. He was seeing things. This the series actually says outright. His impression he had of her was simply an exaggeration created by his own mind.

    As said: When they Cry plays with expectations like that.

    I just want to break a lance for the series, because your article really is great otherwise. I’m female, gay, and a feminist. I cannot stand moe in all its forms, and am known to frequently bash the typical moe series.

    To me, when they Cry is actually a rare example of a story that does it right. It pretends to be moe, and then subverts the expectations completely.

  73. Whether or not it’s eventually subverted doesn’t change how these traits are used quite gleefully in When They Cry, and that they were certainly used as a tool to attract a certain kind of audience. Just because we’re told later on that what we were originally seeing was not “true events” doesn’t change that we had the experience of watching it without knowing this additional information and experiencing the series at face value. Particularly since, as you’ve pointed out, the subversion of most of these traits doesn’t happen until the last third or so of the first TV series, and it requires deliberately turning around and ignoring any situations where such moé elements are used openly throughout the rest of the show.

    I haven’t written what I’ve read in a year or so and it’s entirely possible that I’ve made a dramatic shift in my views in the meantime, but I should probably point out that it is possible to make a show with moé elements and still have it be a good show. That’s an incredibly difficult task if the moé elements are central to the show, but it can be done. You could probably even argue that When They Cry takes a good shot at it, but it doesn’t invalidate what I said in discussing the visual and character traits it exploits.

  74. As a frequent reader and reviewer of “adult-oriented visual novels” (VNs or eroge for short), and someone who read this entire comment backlog just because I found it super-interesting, I feel like attempting to respond to dotdash’s very old question.

    >>Anyway, this kind of arguing about the rules of the argument is tediously meta. No one from the pro-moé side has tried to fight their corner on the whole power dynamic/misogyny thing yet. Do they think it’s actually not misogynistic at all? Do they think it is, but that’s OK because [insert random non-moé thing] is just as bad? Do they just watch it for laffs without even noticing? What is it? I assume it’s not that they actually enjoy seeing girls treated like emotionally-dependant child/pet hybrids, because that would make them some kind of monster.

    Even when I do indulge in moe (my url aside, I usually prefer stuff with a plot), I find the “misogynistic” or “child/pet hybrid” or “weak girls who must bury their face in some masculine figure’s chest at least once” variety anywhere from disturbing to insulting. The kind of moe I like (which this article doesn’t mention) is most easily explained in sexual terms even though it can be non-sexual: Instead of you fucking a helpless girl, a perfectly capable girl wants to fuck you.

    Take the eroge Shuffle! ( for instance, which is easily my favorite (if we ignore all that plot/character/setting/writing style/non-moe stuff I usually critique VNs for). There the heroines are actively vying for your affection throughout. They’re very aware it’s a competition, which they not only acknowledge but seem to welcome. They don’t want to protagonist to comfort them so much as they want to make the protag happy. They only seem distraught and insecure when they worry they can’t make the protag happy. Best of all, none of them ever break down in tears and cling to the hero out of emotional weakness. In fact, the one time my favorite heroine did cry in her route was when the protag seriously hurt himself in a desperate effort to help her.

    Ben also made a great post about “transparent rhetoric” and “telegraphed motions” and such. Once again, I find this sort of thing insulting, and it damages my immersion to the point where I simply can’t find anyone cute/moe anymore. In my opinion, Shuffle! neatly averted this by giving its characters just a little (still more than most eroge) complexity and originality to them, then cranking up their positive traits far beyond anything in reality for wish fulfillment purposes.

    Just to add some irony to this: I once had a crush on a real life girl who was almost eerily similar to the aforementioned favorite heroine (and this was before I even played the game!), and though it never went anywhere we talked almost every day at school for about a year.

    This may all be irrelevant since I don’t watch anime nowadays and the kind of moe causing it to stagnate may very well be the kind I dislike (the one this article discussed) and no other. But since these two kinds inevitably overlap (protag’s not gonna be ecstatic about the relationship if the girl can’t emotionally depend on him), my two cents might still be worth something.

  75. >Ixrec

    What you’re saying makes sense. I think with the examples you give the argument still stands that these girls are beings who only exist for the benefit of a male viewer. But yes, it’s Eroge and the function of girls in Eroge is to please the central male character. Asking independent, self-motivated, Bechdel Test-slaying feminist heroines of Eroge misses the point of the medium — it’s possible for them to exist I suppose, but it’s not the reason why they exist.

    What’s interesting is the way that moe (the way of creating characters and the way the audience consumes the product) spills over into other media and other genres. It’s like if other types of drama started becoming populated with character types and genre tropes out of pornography (in fact, it’s not just like that, that’s precisely what it is in a lot of cases). In context, people might dislike or disagree with it, but at least it makes sense. In this new context, there’s dissonance and older viewers start to feel their media space is being violated and cheapened. Put another way, something that appears to be deep, multi-layered characterisation in the context of Eroge might not appear so in the context of a TV anime because the medium has different expectations. There the Eroge writer is forced by the medium to work within certain male fantasy tropes but tries to subvert that inherent shallowness with how he develops the character’s background — as a result, within the Eroge medium, he might rightly be praised for his originality. On the other hand, to the regular TV viewer watching the same story as an anime, the male fantasy tropes might seem to subvert the the writer’s attempts at adding depth. What was original in the context of Eroge is unremarkable in the context of a medium devoted to drama, and what is a standard feature of Eroge is actively harmful in a dramatic medium (to be honest, I could do without the attempts at story a lot of the time. If someone wants to make something sexy, why not just do it shamelessly? Why wrap it in cotton wool?)

    This is all relative though. I mean, old grumps like me who moan about dippy moe chicks still get hot under the collar thinking about which of the Knight Sabers they’d most like to take a tumble with. I wonder if part of what’s happened is just that there’s a generation gap in what kind of animated women different groups of perverts get their kicks out of.

  76. I mostly wanted to point out that moe can be (and imho should be) a lot less offensive than the original post implied. Of course moe characters are always meant as male wish-fulfillment, just as most bishonen are meant for female wish-fulfillment (admittedly the former is far more numerous and commercialized).

    I do however agree that being forced to include moe tropes or actual sexual content (as many eroge are) solely for marketability reasons is an unfair constraint upon the writer, and that some of the eroge I’ve read have suffered for this (like you said, most of them should stick to being pure porn or pure plot) just as I’m sure some anime have.

    But for the most part, the people making these games have been clever enough to keep the sex/moe from getting in the way of more important “dramatic” content. Hopefully it’s no different for the moe in anime, in which case these character types will simply pass their prime someday and something new will start to get popular.

  77. you are a dumass. please dont make post about information you derived from wikipedia. it is insulting to the japanese and the fans of their anime.

  78. all of you do realize that “moe” anime has been around forever right sailor moon, dn angel, wedding peach, galaxy angel, clamp school detectives, magic knight reyaerth, clover, x/1999, this ugly yet beautiful world, mahoromantic, steel angel kurumi, ufo ultramaiden valkyrie, ef a tale of mermories, ef a tale of melodies, gift eternal rainbow, da capo, code geass, toradoora, the sacred blacksmith,divergence eve, misaki chronicles, happy lesson,astroboy,and doremi. so “moe” anime isn’t anything new, it’s been around forever it just took us a decade to realize it. (this coming from a girl)

  79. hey guys, thanks for writing about Denpa-teki na Kanojo. I had never heard of that anime so I decided to watch it and WOW

    I actually liked it even though I am only into mech stuff(not really into anime)

    but I have two things to say

    first: why didn’t the guy hook up with the girl that said she was his servant???

    second: what the heck is with people getting stabbed with box cutters??

  80. Great read. Most anime blogs are stupid, but I enjoyed this.

  81. About expensive models:
    Do you guys realize that people have different incomes? To some rich Gundam fan buying an exclusive model may be no different to you going to a toy store and buying the cheapest model available.

    And why would them buying a model basing on their financial possibilities be any different from them buying a watch or a phone basing on their income level.

    And there’s nothing childish about collecting models and building models. Low quality models are for children because they don’t have income and have to hone their skills first. High quality models are for grown men looking for a mature way to relax (that is one that doesn’t involve drugs, alcohol, etc.).

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