What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 2: Appeal

So, some time ago, I posted the first of what I hope to be a few posts long discussion about moe and the intricacies of it.  In that article, I looked at attempting to define moe…what is it since we can’t outright discuss something that we can’t fully understand.  The conclusion through the links searched was that moe is something that we can’t strictly define as we would “pamphlet” or “calculator”.  Due to its origin of being a fan term and relying on subjective points, such as human emotion, there will be no effective way to outline a list of traits that, if you have them all, you’ll qualify as a moe character (the definition I’ll be looking into further now).

One area of thought that is consistent with moe characters is that they are attractive by nature.  So much so that the running gag during the production of Psycho Pass, the term was banned outright.  Going back to articles I had used previously, moe is commonly associated with an attraction or a love of the character.  This is TVtrope’s entire point of their second paragraphThis is tsurupeta’s first and most common definition of moeThis is more directly stated by Galbraith when he concludes that there is a strong connection between moe characters and sexualization (more on that later).  Putting this together, we can strongly note that the attraction and appeal of moe characters is something we can work on to identify and possibly consolidate our understanding around.

The Common Traits of Moe

So, when we first think about moe characters, we should consider that moe characters, while not always holding a consistent definition, hold specific traits in common.  This is commented on quite regularly, enough so that some blogs have created rule of thumb laws of moe.  There were a myriad of sources I used to compile this, but the key points can be distilled with the following:

  • The most notable identification is that the moe character is “cute”.  Anime is a realm where most characters, unless intentionally drawn ugly, are attractive, but this seems to stand out.  The status of “cute” is different from “sexually attractive”, but not entirely separated.  The character should be appealing to one’s visual senses, but doesn’t activate the traditional centres of feminine appeal for sexual attraction.  In this sense, traditional revealing outfits and the typical hourglass figure associated in western culture don’t necessarily apply.  But I do note that they aren’t entirely separated either.  Characters normally defined as being moe are sexually attractive, but are so through cuteness.  This part is fairly obvious I think..  We can separate what people would, crudely stated, define as “smoking hot” over “really, really cute”: the former conforms to the traditional definitions of attraction…again, easy visualization of the body shape in line with the ideal feminine body shape. While this isn’t to say that the latter can’t contain these traits (see likely the most commonly stated name for analysis: Mikuru Asahina), the identified cuteness isn’t the method that they are eliciting their attraction.
  • The character frequently adheres to much of the traditional submissiveness and innocence of Japanese femininity.  A separate character type often translated as yamato nadeshiko, which is seen as a traditional form of femininity, is was the traditional ideal in Japanese culture.  The points can vary depending on source, but the key notes are that a character (always female) is feminine, is devoted to her husband and is chaste before then, and, while outwardly looking weak, can cope with day-to-day household activity.  While ultimately danced around quite frequently, these strike to the core of moe characters in what they aim to create.  Which makes sense in all honesty.  Anime is a Japanese art and the appeal systems are most likely going to be based on ones that the Japanese writers know well.  Now, that isn’t to say that this is a hard and fast rule that a moe character hit all these traits, but this is the core and the characters are built around these values, though not perfectly.  A perfect alignment to the yamato nadeshiko character type is Cherche from Fire Emblem Awakening, who was admittedly designed to focus around being “a good wife and mother”.
  • Based on that…extremely frequent, to the point of parody I may imagine, is the use of traditional virtues…one of the “maiden”.  I love TVtropes for describing such things…I won’t deny it.  An easy page to look at for this is one known as the ingenue…this page kept popping up in my head as I read through definition after definition.  They don’t always have the same form, but a sense of innocence is formed around the character.  Often, this was historically shown with being an inexperienced character in romance, almost invariably being a virgin.
  • The character has a quirk which either makes her vulnerable.  I’m sure there are some teeth grinding using that definition, but I can’t think of a better way to say it.  The typical moe character is odd because of the way they act.  This nurtures the commonly associated “big brother syndrome” when people describe that they want to protect and nurture their favourite moe character…the seed to the attraction perhaps if I may be so bold.  In the traditional ideal image of Japanese femininity is perfectly capable of taking herself and invokes no such emotion.  A character who’s in need of protection because some aspect of them is either not ideal (ex – general weird mentality) or just isn’t comfortable with herself in society (ex – your favourite breast-related angst) creates a sense of “someone needs to protect them”.  And this is where that instinct kicks in…the older brother/sister in each of us wants to protect that character from the mean, nasty outside world.  A piece of me thinks that this is what drives the internet popularity contests for moe characters further than, let’s say, the oft used “tsundere” characters: people take in their moe character as something closer to their heart than other character types.

Synthesis of Traits

So, the traits listed above, I feel (and seem to be reflected in searches), are ones that are commonly associated with moe characters.  But what do those traits imply and mean?

I think this first part is obvious, but these traits point to the fact that moe is an appeal to the viewer in the form of emotional attraction…to project something onto the viewer that they can connect and feel attached to.  This is almost always exemplified by the feeling of love.  This concept is almost always noted as the building blocks of interaction when discussing moe.  From previous links, Galbraith notes that there is a “mild sexual attraction” and later on calls the characters “clearly eroticized”.  Some other people take this even further.  Another blog, now defunct “The Thoughtscream”, notes in their analysis of moe that they feel it’s more of a power fantasy.  In some ways, they’re right; the traditional moe characters are often submissive, a trait that is heavily ingrained in the image of ideal Japanese femininity.  While they may lash out on rare occasion or hold their ground, the defining point will often come down to the fact that the aren’t going to provide much resistance.  Of course, this deals primarily with the traditional concepts of moe.  The alternative is often a “nutbar” personality.  Someone who doesn’t exactly fit in with society.  This can also be consolidated within the notion of moe being a power fantasy since the character, again, just isn’t going to be part of society.  This automatically limits the field of possible opposition, assuming traditional romantic feelings.  You’re almost stuck on your own social island with the local quirky girl.  And with that, you have some power, or at least a shot.  That isn’t to say though that such romantic fantasies are limited to moe characters: tsundere characters are sometimes accused of being a childhood fantasy, that the girl you’re fawning over who’s acting mean to you could actually secretly love you.  That’s all a long aside though – the key point I wanted to make is that moe characters create emotional attachment, not unlike love, and that this emotion is created from their innocent, submissive nature and personality quick.

This leads directly into the second point that I observed, something that is less agreed upon…which is that moe characters are written to elicit emotional, loving attachment in the form of feelings of protection.  Flat out.  Searching all these articles, the one topic that I think is danced around a bit is that the emotion is a bit of a bodyguard to target relationship more than anything else.  And this is something that integrates well into our sketchy definitions.  Moe characters often are felt through a love of a 2D character.  This is exactly what this trait I’m defining here is exactly: love of an animated character.  Another common definition is that moe character give you “big brother” feelings.  This relationship in this situation is fairly similar: a moe character to the viewer is someone who can’t fit in.  They have a mental block of some type, but are cute and have a child-like innocence to them, something people typically find appealing.  Like I describe in the previous section, this makes you want to protect them from the dangers of the outside.  Because of this sort of emotion, people (such as The Thoughtscream) can sometimes claim it begins heading down the route of power fantasy, since you (typically the male) want to act out being the dominant personality, the one who acts to protect something else, in this case the moe character in question.  If I may even borrow a word from them, this can sound a bit chauvinistic at times due to my inability to word properly at 2 AM.

Another concept that seems to stand out is that traditional moe characters are an imperfection, where we focus on the quirks and the oddities that don’t conform with ideal concepts.  In this case, we look at how moe characters don’t conform to the ideals of Japanese femininity…a poor man’s version, if you will.  They hold many of the basic concepts: submissiven, outward weakness, chaste.  And from there, we add on some things that don’t exactly conform to that, which make them weaker than the ideals.  Innocence is often used, for example.  An innocent moe character almost becomes child-like.  In this situation, the emotional entanglement is that of a father figure, with the feeling of wanting to guide her through life.  A moe character with self-esteem issues causes viewers to want to throw themselves to them and act as an emotional crutch.  You become the piece that makes her life complete: the support and the caring.  Finally, with the eccentric moe characters, the attraction is that of being salvation.  Regular society frowns on such weirdness, something that goes double in more rigid societies.  And the emotional drawing is to be someone who’s along for the ride, who won’t get off or turn on them despite their unusual ways and thought processes. And this is ultimately what sparks the almost territorial feelings associated with moe characters.  You invest so much, you want to protect them so badly that you feel hurt when someone else comes along.  This could be for many reasons dependant on situation, but the fact that the emotion attached to these characters is the act of protection, it seems odd and uncomfortable when someone else decides to partake in it or attacks it.

With all that though, we ask: why throw in the traditional Japanese femininity?  The answer is fairly plain: they’re inoffensive.  When you want to attract someone and offend nobody, you use inoffensive traits.  A common example I give is harem anime protagonists.  They’re almost never quirky, though they may be unusually perverted or socially awkward (which never seems to impact their ability to connect with their female co-stars).  And, that’s about it.  They almost become viewer surrogates for that reason.  Here, it is used so the highlight of the personality is that their traits are imperfections that you want to protect.

Other Realms of Thought

A paper I’ll continually refer to is Galbraith.  He does a great job of summarizing many key points.  His paper came to a different conclusion and for completeness’ sake, I have posted it as well.  In his discussions, he compiles a series of quotes, which all highlight the focus of moe being on loyalty to someone, in this case, the viewer.  They won’t go around and betray them…they’ll always be there.  The quotes he lists include examples of maids and of animals.  Which raises an excellent point in that I feel that the attachment to moe characters, when you hear about it, almost sounds like the same love people have for dogs.  But that’s an aside.  Galbraith’s discussions identify moe characters as a sanctuary…and escape.  And from here, he points that moe characters must be flat in personality.  Their loyalty and inability to betray is compounded by the fact that they won’t change and won’t surrender their personality type to their surroundings.  This ties extremely well with many character traits, from the unique mentalities (who really don’t listen to their surroundings anyways) to the innocent (whose surroundings won’t really impact anyways), and is a thought that I’d give a lot of weight to.  I highly suggest a read over the “Otaku discussions of moe” when you get the chance.

As mentioned earlier too, The Thoughtscream also suggests that this comes much further down the lines of a power fantasy, that everything done is an attempt to emphasize cuteness and feminine vulnerability as sex appeal.  It goes as far as to also point to traditional Japanese patriarchy as part of the reasoning behind this.  They have a very good, lengthy discussion as the realms of moe characters as well, so I’d give the link above a good read over.

Wrap Up

This post looked at the intricacies of moe: why are we attracted to these characters?  From an analysis of common traits, the interpretation I’ve got is that the core of attraction to moe characters is the interaction of being the protector of a broken image of idealized femininity.  In this sense of acting as the protector, emotions of love are created.  Because one wants to protect the character so badly from the outside world, they develop a sense of territory as well, that they are there to protect them and that any incoming attacks, such as insult, instantly takes on a little more personal of a relationship.  I realize that this can sound a little controversial, so if you have any opinions on this (since I’m by no means an expert…just someone who reads into things too much and posts far past midnight), feel free to post them.  I think such a topic is a great realm of discussion.

Now that I’ve looked at this area however, the next step in looking at this phenomenon is exactly how big it is.  How far has moe gone and how much has in impacted anime as a whole?

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5 responses to “What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 2: Appeal

  1. Pingback: What Exactly Is Moe – Side Note | Lain's First Law

  2. Pingback: What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 3: Impact | Lain's First Law

  3. Pingback: What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 4: Conflict | Lain's First Law

  4. Pingback: Cultural Influences on Anime Preferences | Lain's First Law

  5. Pingback: A Beginner’s Guide To Anime | Lain's First Law

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