What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 3: Impact

Continuing on these string of posts, I have noted that moe characters are emotionally defined, thereby limiting how effectively we can create a checklist of traits, as well as citing that they elicit a protective instinct of a person of broken idealistic Japanese femininity.  Now comes the question of “how big is moe character design, exactly?”.  I mean, we could be analyzing an incredibly small portion of anime (which I actually wouldn’t put by me to be honest.  Someday I might do this).  So, is there any way to actually quantify how big this section of anime is, given that we already know it has had some pretty large days in the limelight.


The proper starting point for this question would to first ask “how big is the anime industry as a whole”?  Unfortunately, there’s no consistent or effective measure of industry.  Noted blogger Matt Alt, once attempted to identify this using revenue values.  However, they only quantify this once, with an estimated peak revenue of 241.5 billion yen per year (about 2.5 billion in American dollars (USD) at the time).  This peak value seems to be reasonably consistent, as other industry estimates at the time were generally in the mid to high 200 billion yen mark.  Project Haruhi had found some fairly similar revenue numbers, which I Alt got his numbers from.  Unfortunately, this page seems to have been hit by…something recently and doesn’t consistently show this beautiful graph of its page.  So I’ve screen shot it for you in case it doesn’t show up when you use the link above.  And, if you’re one of the guys running Project Haruhi, please have a fairly strong link to this graph.  It’s amazing for use and I would love it if you could keep it up consistently.  I don’t like stealing your stuff and uploading onto my own image accounts, since it’s almost feels like taking your hard work.

Seriously, just let me link to your website.  I'm getting hotlinking errors visiting it.

Now, I won’t got into details of the by year valuation of the industry.  The big thing to note here is the approximate size of the anime side of the industry: the worth of the animation and the DVDs that come with it. If there’s any questions of what that actually means, this industrial report, left online by Japan Economic Monthly, purely discusses the value of the animation itself.  The licensing to networks, the DVD sales, the rental value.  This means that these figures remove the stuff that fans tend to buy: feelies, figurines, costumes, etc.   If there is any doubt left, check the numbers and note how they match up to those in the graphic.

With this baseline, how does the rest of the industry, and more importantly to this article, the concept of moe characters, fall in?  Well, let’s start with something that I’ll have an impossible time proving: in terms of actual DVD sales, it’s very, very spread out.  I did a long, long delve into Oricon numbers, nicely put up by various sources including animenewsnetwork, but not a lot of shows typically defined as “moe character heavy” showed up.  Actually, DVD sales in Japan and in North America are reasonably similar: shows considered popular East of the Pacific are generally really popular on the Western side.  There are some small differences (such as shows I think “what?” on and others which I didn’t see pop up), but for the most part this is fairly consistent.  Though this is completely empirical evidence, I think there’s something to be said that moe character shows aren’t a strong influence on the industry.  And I guess this is to be expected to some degree.  I mean, while the characters themselves are used to add love to a show and create something for people to attach to, rarely do you see shows which run on them purely.  I think pointing straight to other flavours of the week would be similar.  Think about harem anime, something that if memory serves was a huge once upon a time.  It’s got a pretty simple premise for a male viewer to buy into, like moe characters – you get your choice of anybody who’d say yes and get to pick.  It ran pretty rampant as a influence once upon a time.  But rarely did shows use that as its selling point.  I can look back and can see lots of shows which used it, but weren’t based on it.  Martian Successor Nadesico, Elfen Lied, Haruhi Suzumiya…in all these shows, you’re given a host of female characters who attract very different crowds and would jump at the chance to be with the generic male lead.  But if you ask what the show is about, it’s simply not the existence of the harem genre.  Does that occur sometimes?  Yes.  I’m sure you could list a bunch on your own.  But I think the number of times it’s invoked without emphasis outweighs the number of shows which use it subtly or as a side note.  Tying this back to moe characters, I think the same applies: most instances of its use will be in small doses while few make a show about it.

In fact, using some numbers, such as those in the web-japan link, it seems the “moe industry” is estimated at about 30% of the market share. This number seems fairly consistent.  Galbraith (I refuse to stop using his article) notes a fairly similar market share, but on a more global level of all games, products, and goods purchased of the entire industry (25%).  That’s a fairly large part of the industry.  For a similar comparison, Firefox holds about the same amount of the browser ownership currently, hovering fairly close to 29%.  As an aside, I really feel old now.  I remember when everybody used Internet Explorer and when, as kids, you’d use “Ask Jeeves” to search for information.

From this we can determine infer a little:

  • First, we note that the top 10 DVDs never seem to hold many shows which would be best defined as a “moe character show”.  But at the same time, it holds a pretty strong part of the market.  Putting this together, I read that the sales are distributed fairly widely and sparsely between many different shows.  This means there’s probably a very spread market for shows heavily interacting with moe characters. And this makes intuitive sense to me.  Since moe character attraction is such a personal thing, and people are just so excellent at deciding on what the most attractive female is (for the record, it’s independent, self motivated, and self reliant women with red hair), each character will attract a different crowd.  At least from my view point, this seems to make sense.
  • Second, we can see that build as moe character shows don’t dominate.  They don’t have the same driving force as the big name shows.  This is taken directly from the DVD sales numbers.  The reasoning to this seems to be as above: attraction by having attractive characters is a limited opportunity prospect, since we have so many different ideas of what attractive characters look and act like.  It could almost be claimed that moe character shows have built themselves a niche…a small sector of the marketplace which they have called for themselves and dominate fairly well in.  Furthering this, we could claim that these shows also, within their own sector, stake out their own piece of land.  One could be “cute girls sipping tea and playing cards”, while another is “cute girls playing guitar”.  With that in mind, this sector is only a part of the whole and leaves limited room for expanding.  From this, I conclude that there’s unlikely going to be a show purely about moe characters that will rock the sales figures and will become synonymous with anime, as Pokemon or Naruto have.  This is a little distinct from the above as the first statement was that we have a distributed market, while here the statement is that the market has a limited ceiling.

Moe and Anime as a Whole

With a bit of a foundation left in here from the economic side of things, we can do a little discussing as to how moe characters have impacted anime in industry and in production as a whole.  I mean, it should be pretty obvious that it has likely surpassed the influences of, to quote examples above, harem shows at this point.

One realm to consider is the anime series released themselves.  In this regard, I don’t think there has been a strong influence.  As noted above, they have their roots in a large number of moderately successful shows.  For “driving trends”, I don’t see it happening.  There were concerns a few years ago that the phenomenon would swallow anime as a whole due to a slight outbreak of the genre heavily relying on moe characters (more on that later), but it seems to have cooled off.  I think, again they’ve found their niche: specialized shows for specialized tastes.  Not everyone want to watch a show that’s purely about the attraction of the viewer to the characters, to have entire shows just to feel that they have some anime character they want to protect.  And, past that, you’re catering to certain aesthetic tastes.  The group who wants to adore a character from Kanon may not want be drawn towards part of the cast of K-On!, for example.  Through all the turbulence of the economic recession, the biggest drivers of the area seem to be the ones we’ve always expected to lead the area.  Introduction of moe characters seems to have done nothing to that.

A different area that has grown from this though is the huge secondary market.  There seems to be a bulging industry outside of DVDs that have become relevant recently.  Well, I guess it’s slowly become relevant.  Psuedo-sexual objects, such as the harem genre and moe character design, have increasingly led way to the existence of maid cafes, for example.  This is discussed by Galbraith in his section labelled “Moe in relation to reality”.  He has another excellent discussion elsewhere, noting that this industry, which undoubtedly is being aided by anime, “boomed” in the mid-2000s.  And the single genre game changer there is the skyrocket of moe character design.  I know it’s wrong to connect dots without hard evidence, but this seems all to obvious in relation.  It’s not simply noted by Galbraith either.  Others have noted a booming secondary anime market, past the shows themselves.  An (and for good reason – this estimate is insane) analyst seems to peg the the total size of the market, DVDs inclusive, at 2 trillion yen, which is about nine times larger than the entire DVD industry.  While, again I’d take this estimate with a grain (or a glass) of salt, there’s something that needs to be said:  Let’s assume the estimate is even 5 or 6 times off the mark.  This means that there’s still a massive market for non-directly anime goods like figurines.

Moe Characters and the Economic Recession

This is where I’ll start driving into my own “reading between the lines”.  One of the largest complaints people have had was that moe characters and, by extension, moe character dominated shows were tearing the market apart in the late 2000’s.  They were dominating the market in terms of raw number of shows and the size of the market in terms of show value was shrinking.  Companies were folding left, right, and centre.  Everyone jumped to the conclusion that moe characters and shows were therefore killing the market.

I think there’s a much more reasonable explanation to this, and why I won’t say one of its impacts has been “killing the market”.

Let me start by repeating what I must have repeated twice by now: moe characters and their shows tend to have stable and loyal, albeit unspectacular, viewer counts.  They don’t wow anybody in their raw sales, but seem to do well enough to hold a good amount of the market.  Let’s call this point 1.  The anime industry isn’t run by idiots, as much as we’d imagine it to be.  There likely was someone, either directly like myself, or indirectly (through pursuit of money) noticing this.  They knew this sort of cause and effect.  This is point 2.   Now, in the time these shows began to dominate and take over the air, the entire developed world was in a huge economic recession.  Anybody watching news probably knew this and probably knows we’re still feeling the aftermath of it.  Point 3.  Finally, let’s make point 4 the fact that companies will pursue the best economic scenario.  Under typical circumstances, this is “maximize profits”.

Now, let’s put this together.  Think of yourself as a director of an anime company.  You’re trying to generate more money for your boss.  You know the people watching are hurting in the wallets, but you still need to get the money from them.  You also know your company is in a world of hurt.  You likely don’t have the resources to have as many failures as you would normally.  So you can’t do anything weird or experimental or the company could go under while you’re on watch.  So, you turn to the safe, stable side of things.  You turn to something that, while it might not be a home run, to use baseball analogies, but is an easy to get single.  You’ll get something.  That is the moe character usage and that is, honestly, why I think shows began driving that direction for a period of time.  Companies all instinctively pulled the same move to go into self preservation mode while the world was being told “we’re in the worst recession since the depression” and a flood of shows with moe characters was the result.


So, what was seen above?  Well, first: we can see that shows with large influence of moe characters have a fairly large part of the market, though they don’t set records.  They aren’t really banner shows, but collectively make money.  Second: these shows have created a fairly large secondary market.  Finally: these shows have impacted anime by being a safe refuge for companies to turn for quick cash (but not the best rates of return.  There aren’t wonders, just some spare change).

Of course, this all ignores the biggest impact that moe characters have had on fans as a whole: their divisiveness.  I honestly can’t remember many arguments that have divided fans as badly as “are moe characters good”?  I mean, we hear all these directors getting into it too.

And that will be the topic for next post: the controversy of moe characters.


2 responses to “What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 3: Impact

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

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.