A Beginner’s Guide To Anime

I know this really isn’t my typical posting material but I thought this was interesting and useful stuff.  Hey, I’m a person who used extracurricular projects in grade school as an excuse to submit documents full of the history of anime.

I’ll keep this as more of a “what you need to know” than a true and working history of anime.

So, What IS Anime?

Well, we’re already in a bit of trouble.  “Anime” in Japan is basically an informal term for “animation” in the same way “sports fan” is short for “sports fanatic”.  So technically, if we use Japanese definitions, anime is just animation.

But I’m guessing you aren’t looking for that type of description, are you?  Well, to much of the world, anime refers to Japanese animation.  This differentiates itself from other types of animation such as those produced in Canada, USA, and Europe (often designated “Western Animation”) or China, South Korea, or the rest of Eastern Asia (“Eastern Animation”).  By definition, this basically limits anime to Japanese products.

The anime industry is quite large and operates on the order of billions of dollars (USD) per year.  It does a great deal of business within Japan but is something of a niche industry internationally.  As an example, some viewers from around the world called ex-Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō an otaku (more on this later).  Yet the popularity of anime doesn’t permeate as well.  Most common knowledge of anime alludes to either well-known younger audience series such as Pokemon or…well, hentai.  These two traits pronounce themselves within the common state of many cultures and is probably the only widespread exposure of anime to the world.  Further to the point, the world recognizes these aspects to such a degree that popular culture can reference such traits.

Why Does Anime Get Its Own Name?

Anime distinguishes itself from other animation groups, and therefore commonly requires distinction from other animation, because of a commonly noted difference in animation style; anime is quite often easy to separate from other animation because of a difference in artistic choice.  Again, these are extremely pronounced and leads to easy recognition in popular culture.

Previously, on Dragonball C

The most recognizable attribute of anime traditionally lies in facial features; large eyes, great attention to hair style, and decreased focus on other aspects typically herald anime.  It would come to no surprise that writers of a basic general tabletop RPG rule set called it Big Eyes, Small Mouth as that description fits much of the facial experience in a nutshell.  A major exception to both of these rules is Hiyao Miyazaki’s work, which emphasize more natural designs in both aspects.

Also, yes, this is probably a better character than the one she's based on.

Incidentally, this is not a real character…but was the first example I found. It follows typical convention.

Additionally, exaggerated expression typically associates itself with anime design.  To be honest, this is where you find most parody and recognition of anime tropes in non-anime environment.  Typical facial emotion reflects the emotion of the individual to an extreme degree; faces are blue and eyes blank when shocked or cheeks flush to a bright red when embarrassed.  TVtropes has an entire section’s worth of tropes about Japanese visual effects.  This anime aspect is absolutely iconic.  It’s probably also very easy to tell from the below images, but anime has a long streak of using non-traditional hair colours as it sees fit; it is common to use blue, green, pink, or purple hair.  Additionally, extremely unusual hair style is typical in series which focus less on realism; the character in the sequence, for example, has twin tails the size of her head.

I’ll go with…happy?

That’s certainly happy.

But character design alone isn’t where anime varies from other animation groups; anime focuses greatly on the detail of backgrounds.  When compared to other medium, anime typically reflects a high quality foreground and background.  I’d even argue that high quality frames is a hallmark of anime and it’s one of the rare mediums where compiling an all-star animation team together will reflect in an all-star animation product coming out extremely visually impressive.  I’ll stop it at that though as I think further description would only invite debate and hurt feelings by one person or another.

What Makes Anime So Popular?

This is a good question, isn’t it?  Above are reasons what makes anime different from other animated shows, but doesn’t necessarily contribute to what makes anime popular.

A major part of my reasoning is that anime taps into unexploited markets.  That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s just say this: it has audiences which don’t have a show otherwise.  If we focus on the Western markets for a second, a list of all animated television created by Western markets consist primarily of episodic television shows aimed at younger audiences (ex – Spongebob Squarepants) and episodic comedies that focus on older audiences (ex – The Simpsons).  Saturday morning cartoons and sitcoms, effectively.  Anime, by comparison, offers media for different audiences…so much so that there are entire loan words for the different target audiences (more on that later!).

Let’s just use the above anime as examples.  They both aim at older audiences than the typical “Saturday morning cartoon” and offers a non-comedic animated experience not found in the sitcoms; one aims for teenage viewers and the other at a mature audience.   They also contain aspects unlikely in other genres: one has an incredibly difficult to define genre (and is probably one of the top examples of a non-genre specific franchise out there) while the other is a psychological murder mystery.  Or multiple murder mystery.

Now, I can’t fully generalize; neither of my statements regarding Western animation or for anime fully describe the situation.  However, this is a terrific starting point for observing what makes anime unique at the moment.

So, I think the simple answer to read here is “because anime provides an experience they can’t find elsewhere: different combinations of demographics and genres that they cannot find in other animated media”.

Okay…where else can you find this?

What Are Anime’s Demographics and Genres?

I figure this is the obvious followup.  I’ll provide some basic descriptions below, though they hardly do any of them justice.

Common Anime Demographics

Each of the commonly used anime demographic names are directly ripped from the Japanese equivalent.  Remember that these are generalized demographics and anime tend to blur the line of which demographic they aim for.

  • Kokodomomuke.  Approximately stands for “intended for children”.  This typically is a little younger than the above mentioned “Saturday morning cartoons”.  A commonly known example, though probably still not entirely accurate, is the Hello Kitty franchise.
  • Shonen.  Target demographic is approximately preteen to teenage boys.  Anime with this demographic in mind likely cover the majority of your anime memory as it typically encompasses the often translated anime…Pokemon, Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece…most of those anime typically fall in this range.  But that’s the lower end of the spectrum.  One of the above anime also aims for the shonen demographic.  Incidentally, the shonen demographic is also the largest demographic in the anime market.  Shonen anime typically consist of more idealistic anime, have a mix of comedy and action, and focus on topics such as internal drive and ability…though these are a generalization and hardly the rule.
  • Shojo.  Target demographic is approximately preteen to teenage girls.  Anime aiming for the shojo demographic vary a bit from the shonen and typically focus a little more on the emotional aspect and a little less on the action.  That isn’t to say that there isn’t a mix of both (bear with me for a sentence or two as I get to addressing that) but that there’s a stronger pull on the emotional side than the action.  TVtropes provides an anecdotal example: if you have two main characters who are obviously mutual love interests, a shonen demographic anime more likely ends the series with the two characters falling in love while a shojo anime may make the relationship build earlier and focus on the relationship changes and struggles.  The most common example of a shojo oriented anime is Sailor Moon, though like the examples above it deals with a younger aspect in this audience.
  • Seinen.  Target demographic is, you guessed it, adult men.  Anime for this demographic begins to branch out far and wide, no longer tying itself to the typical action and idealistic roots…though, and I sound like a broken record, it might not tie itself to those roots to begin with.  Two common directions for seinen demographic anime include a dark and edgy version of shonen demographic anime or to turn for cute escapist characters.  The idea of a less black and white morality often begins the blur between a shonen and seinen demographic anime.  The ever common “gateway anime” Attack on Titan, for example, states a shonen demographic despite being brutal.  But the direction of escapism appears much easier and presents itself in a distinctive manner.  Seinen demographic anime also aims at areas the shonen demographic didn’t ever go in terms of experimental concepts.  Anime such as Ergo Proxy, Elfen Lied, Ghost in the Shell, and this blog’s namesake Serial Experiments Lain on the darker and experimental sides while CLANNAD, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica fill the other (the last of the three going on both sides of the spectrum)
  • Josei.  Target demographic, again easy to guess, is adult women.  Like all the above, the definition is somewhat vague.  They tend towards the same path of shonen to seinen demographics and open the doors on morality and idealism.  Recent trends include focus on daily life, homoerotic themes, and a darker look at romantic aspects which shojo anime typically either ignore or gloss over quickly.  A well known josei demographic series is Loveless, as is Eden of the East to my surprise.

Common Anime Unique Genres

Below is a list of genres that tend to stay inside anime more than others.  You’ll likely find examples outside anime but they are likely less numerous.

  • Harem.  A harem anime typically focuses on a main character and a wide swathe of viable love interests.  This most typically uses a set up of a male protagonist surrounded by an incredibly large number of female characters as love interests.  It’s so commonly accepted in this role that many call a female protagonist with a large number of male love interests a “Reverse Harem” anime.  It is rarely played as a dramatic situation, though there are exceptions.  A harem anime typically uses the protagonist’s situation as comedic bait.  Because the audience typically has the same gender as the protagonist, the supporting love interests often provide fanservice (see below).
  • Magical Girl.  Magical girl anime, as the name suggests, features magical girls as main protagonists…young girls which use magic.  That’s it.  This wide open concept actually makes it open for practically any combination of demographics listed above.  The varying amounts of action against relationship against everyday life focus easily cover all the above demographics.  In fact, while many consider magical girl anime a realm only for female audiences, the most famous recent examples of magical girl anime target male audiences.  The most popular genre of magical girl anime utilize a formal similar to superheroes and have villains which the protagonist magical girl fights.
  • Mecha.  Mecha anime simply utilize mecha.  That’s a roundabout description…so let’s describe mecha.  Mecha are robots, in essence.  Mecha often divide into two categories: super robot anime and real robot anime.  The former focuses on the robot as an extension of the robot’s controller (pilot).  By comparison, real robot anime typically have mecha which are much more expendable and reproducible.  In essence, they are weapons.  This vague overview of mecha anime allows for it to slot in combination with almost any other type of genre and target any demographic…though it lends itself very well to action heavy anime.
  • Slice of Life.  Okay.  Fine.  This really isn’t anime unique but it has a strong sway in anime and a great deal of slice of life content comes from anime.  Slice of Life anime are anime which focus on…well…life.  Following along the life of a protagonist.  School settings are quite popular for this type of anime as are coming-of-age narratives.  This type typically pushes away from action-heavy sequences and focuses on interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts.  An extreme interpretation of slice of life can create entire situations without conflict at all and simply focus on the lives of the characters instead of a grand narrative.
  • Yaoi.  A subset of romance anime which focus on romance between male characters.  The typical audience for yaoi work is a female demographic with there being further distinction for male/male romance anime for male audiences.  It’s kind of hard to describe yaoi as a genre (at least in the Western definition; Japan uses the term much differently), so I might just leave at this: there is a great variety of yaoi content from stereotypical romance that you’re probably thinking about to extremely dark and disturbing material.  This would deserve its own post to describe…so just take away the basic idea of what the term means and not the implications and subtleties of the genre itself, something that’d take far too long to explain in a post introducing anime.
  • Yuri.  A subset of romance anime which focus on, you guessed it, two female characters.  Like yaoi anime, there is a tendency of female demographics more than male demographic though there are are more pronounced male demographics in certain yuri anime.  Again, please note that the twists, turns, and history of this term is far too complicated for an introductory article…so focus on it as female romance.  Wikipedia contains articles which go into far greater detail on yaoi and yuri anime.

Note that both yaoi and yuri sometimes refer to sexually explicit content when used in Western settings.

So…how many is that?

Common Anime Terms

I’ll just start by saying that there is no way this list is anywhere near “complete”, but includes terms likely required for conversation about anime.  Not all will become common language for different readers…I’d be pretty concerned about certain combinations appearing together.  You’ll also note that a lot of these are Japanese.  Please note that some of the terms either are not used in such a sense and that the definitions provided regards how this fandom uses the terminology.

  • AMV.  Abbreviation for Animated (sometimes Anime) Music Video, a (mostly) fan production which combines mixing songs and visuals from at least one anime.  The song does not necessarily need to (and often times does not) come from any of the anime footage used.
  • Baka. “Idiot”.  Kind of.  It has different definitions, but the one you’ll probably hear it in regards to anime is for “idiot” or “stupid”.  It comes as part of anime’s character design as irritable characters often repeat the term.  Also note: some fans insert this word into their everyday lexicon because of the easy substitution for non-Japanese words.
  • Bishojo (Bishoujo).  “Pretty girl”.  There’s not much else to the term itself.  Anime warps around it though and traditions regarding this style of character are evident.  Namely, this character typically defines more as “being cute” than outright sex appeal and is younger looking, typically cutting off around 20 years old.
  • Bishonen.  “Pretty boy”.  Now this gets a little more confusing than the above definition for bishojo as the term “pretty”, if you want to stick to English terms, doesn’t really vary between the two definitions.  A bishonen character is actually quite effeminate and, like the definition above, refers to younger caracters.  Well, maybe.  The term is ambiguous since some groups define it simply as “an attractive male character”.
  • Chibi.  Literally?  It means “small” and refers to smaller and cuter characters.  That said, it’s misused enough that you should know this definition: Chibi and the art type of super-deformed often intertwine.  Super-deformed is a specific anime art style which extremely large heads compared to the rest of the body.  In anime where the super-deformed is not the normal animation, this choice typically adds a layer of comedy and lack of seriousness to the situation.
  • Dandere.  A character which is particularly shy and not really social but changes to warm and friendly under specific circumstances.
  • Dojikko.  A cute female character who is particularly clumsy.
  • Dojinshi.  Independently published or self-published works.  In the realm of anime, this typically refers to manga.  Note that since this refers to any independent publication, professional producers can add to the mix.  Works may use original characters or act as fan fiction.
  • Dub.  Short for “dubbed voices”.  The translation for the work in question comes in the form of replacing the original voices with new voice actors to speak in the audience’s native language.  There are strong rivalries and debates between the value of a dub vs sub (below).
  • Ecchi.  Approximation of the English “H”, used to represent a halfway point between standard production and hentai (below).  In other words, the product has sexually suggestive material. That’s a vague definition and encompasses anything from fairly benign material such as sexually based humour all the way up to nearly hentai.  This weird and vague definition makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish between ecchi and full-out hentai.
  • Fanservice (Fan service).  The simple definition is T&A.  The more complex one utilizes the idea of sexual humour and/or titillation.  But that still isn’t fair.  The idea of fanservice is easy enough (“servicing the fan” and giving them what they want) but it’s another nebulous concept as some consider climactic and visually gorgeous fights fanservice.  The most typical usage refers to sexual fan service though…that is, having characters in sexually amusing or titillating outfits (in fact, I’ll even use “fanservice” to mean “sexual fanservice”).  A well-known example of this is younger female characters in maid uniforms.  Alternatively, fanservice comes in the form of active choices to have a “shot” linger on attractive body parts for far longer than necessary or gratuitously show sexually attractive images (such as panties on a female character).
  • Hentai.  Approximate translation definition: perverted.  Common definition: anime, manga, and video games (with anime design) which have pornographic content.  Funny enough, the word itself is actually quite non-sexually based and you could find situations in which to use it.  From what I’ve heard too, many Japanese individuals find it quite amusing that non-Japanese speakers use the word in such a way.
  • Hikikomori.  An individual who actively chooses to isolate themselves from society.  Such individuals may exhibit extreme antisocial behaviours such as rarely leave their living quarters.  The concept is closely tied to otaku lifestyle but I wish you recognize them as two different entities.  There is currently research investigating this phenomenon in Japan as it appears primarily as a Japanese issue (though countries all over the world report cases).  Hermits might be a possible equivalent…though not really.
  • Kuudere.  A character which initially appears cold, dismissive, and cynical but has a hidden warmer and friendlier personality when approached sufficiently.  I might get into this some day but the concept of the second part of this in dandere, kuudere, tsundere, and yandere characters may exist as a development over time as oppose to being “hidden”.
  • Manga.  Simply, Japanese comics.  That’s probably the easiest way to think about it.
  • Megane.  A term for male characters who wear glasses.  This would suggest usage because there is a glasses fetish market out there.
  • Meganeko (Meganekko).  A term for female characters who wear glasses.  Again, this relates fairly closely to glasses fetishism.
  • Moe.  Oh boy.  Well, I’ve written an extensive amount on the subject and even that definition of moe might not agree to the common usage.  Let’s just say it’s that “big brother/sister” instinct drawn from an innocent, sweet, or naive young character, typically female.  It’s a strange and nebulous definition, I agree, but it’s tough to really draw a straight and narrow definition.
  • Otaku.  Literally, “you”.  That’s the actual term.  Of course, the usage shifted to something along the lines of “obsessive nerd” a while ago.  The implication of defining as “otaku” is having an obsession with a given interest, defaulting to manga or anime without further description.  The origin of the term certainly doesn’t provide much help in this regard.  I would also suggest that the term, even if it has a fairly benign origin, can carry heavily negative connotations (such as “gamer” might on Western news stations in stereotyping towards angry 12-year-olds or a fan of murder simulators)…please be careful when using it.
  • OVA.  Acronym for Original Video Animation.  Similar to “straight to DVD/video”, this refers to animation released directly without a TV or movie theatre release.
  • Sub.  Short for “subtitled”.  The original voices remain and translation the translation comes via subtitles.  Much like I mentioned above, there remains strong debate between fans of dubs and subs.
  • Tsundere.  A character which initially appears hostile, irritable, and angry but has a more approachable and friendly personality underneath.
  • Yandere.  A character which initially appears warm and friendly but has a more destructive side underneath.  This description varies a little from the other [x]dere definitions since the character reflects the friendly aspect first.  Note that the last part is intentionally ambiguous.  A common example of the destructive personality is a violently controlling personality.  If that character is a love interest, the situation may be that the individual puts so much into the relationship that they feel they must keep that relationship in their ideal bubble and will do anything, up to and including murder (for instance), to ensure that it happens.

…We done yet?

Recommended “Gateway” Anime

What follows is a brief listing of anime which present an effective introduction to anime.  You could easily treat me like a drug dealer here as I attempt to push anime into your life.

As a general pick, I find Attack on Titan as the a commonly noted modern anime.  It’s got an unusual art style for anime, is somewhat bleak, and contains some lovingly animated scenes.  I’ve yet to fully watch this anime myself to please take my recommendation of it with consideration.  The Slayers franchise is an older anime that hearkens a bit more of what you might remember as “anime”.  It features around the concepts of a typical fantasy genre but plays with comedy a great deal; the anime reaches around for different aspects of both a serious action franchise and a wacky slapstick comedy.  It’s got a little for everyone through the episodes produced in the 1990s (Slayers, Slayers Next, Slayers Try) and might only concern you if you weren’t a fan of the animation at the time.

It’s possible that you’re looking for some good old high fantasy but Slayers isn’t your type of anime.  A little more towards the female side is Magic Knight Rayearth.  It pulls a fairly serious narrative and doesn’t differentiate between comedy and action episodes nearly as much…instead using it as a drip at certain points in episodes.  Want one with a little more seriousness?  I’m not sure I’d qualify it as a great anime but try out the cliche-filled Record of Lodoss War, an anime founded on Dungeons and Dragons principles (though I guess Slayers is what happens in such a world when the players screw around with the genre’s seriousness).

Or maybe something with just lots of fights and high-octane action is what you want.  Berserk‘s high violence should sate you.  Some low fantasy violence always helps.  Or maybe Black Lagoon, where trigger happy…well…probably isn’t even enough to describe it.

The slice-of-life genre becomes quite interesting in anime.  I’d almost imminently state Haibane Renmei.  It not only provides the off kilter idea of a slice-of-life anime in an entirely unfamiliar setting but provides an incredible adventure with the characters themselves as you discover more about the world thrust upon you.  Welcome to the H.N.K.! provides a much more comedic look at the genre.  I’ll warn that it’s dark in its comedy.  Wanna break your heart instead?  Try the Clannad franchise.  Especially the finale.

Feeling a little more sci-fi?  Well, I always find mecha recommendations fun.  The Gundam franchise practically covers the entire spectrum of dramatic mecha anime.  Here, take a fan made sorter to find a Gundam anime which suits your needs.  I haven’t watched it, but others throw Code Geass‘ name into this range as well.  Need something that makes you feel like someone kicked your emotions around and threw them way?  Fine.  Watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, a dark and fairly confusing narrative.  Again though, it’s stupid dark.  Planning for something for laughs and a space opera?  Martian Successor Nadesico.  I will warn though that its comedy typically plays around expected tropes so you might miss some jokes or fun moments.  From the “not really my type of anime but worth considering” list is Tengen Toppa Gurren Laggan.  Take escalation to all new heights.

Of course, mecha do not comprise all sci-fi.  Ghost in the Shell is the iconic cyberpunk anime.  Of course, if you want one with about three pounds of introspection and much less action, have fun with Ergo Proxy.  Want to make it more impossible to understand but uniquely presented?  Well, Serial Experiments Lain works well.  Or, it confuses you the first time you watch since that’s kind of what I just implied.

It could be that you want an adventure.  Not characters, but a journey.  Well, try the apt named Kino’s Journey.  It’s about a teenager named Kino and Kino’s motorcycle as the pair travel.  Or maybe Trigun…a space western at its finest.  Speaking of space and adventures, Irresponsible Captain Tylor qualifies as a terrific addition if you’re already looking for a non-serious space opera or just love space operas at all.

Or did you want magical girls?  Well, the genre rarely plays straight these days.  A more combat oriented magical girl anime exists: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.  Make friends by beating the snot out of them in combat more reminiscent of mecha franchises than magical girls.  An extremely dark look at magical girls also exists: Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  Just be warned, twice now, that it is very dark.

Enough seriousness though.  Do you just want to laugh at comedy?  Something of a complete and raw sketch comedy anime, probably closest to the zero continuity of Western animated sitcoms?  Well, I’d say Galaxy Angel comes close.  Want even less sense (if that were even possible)?  Try the high-energy Excel Saga, an anime where continuity itself is a character.  I’m not sure it’s for everyone but the anime never takes itself seriously for a second and doesn’t even attempt to retain any sense of holding to its source material or to the laws of the universe itself.  And, while I’ve never found it my cup of tea, Gintama counts as famous comedy.

Or maybe you just want to, instead of having any of the above, just watch the “moe” characters do cute things?  K-On! famously defined this area…actually, come to think about it, that’s actually probably all you need to look at here.

Maybe you just want to defy genres period?  Go with Cowboy Bebop.  Just do it.  The Haruhi Suzumiya franchise also blends so many genres together…you’ll just get lost trying to keep track.

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What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 4: Conflict

Let’s start by covering the what has been stated before.  Moe characters are characters which are tough to provide solid definition on, since they appeal to human emotion.  These emotions, in fact, are created from a broken idealistic femininity, which generates a protective and nurturing instinct.  I’ve also noted that these characters, when used heavily in shows, attract a niche group of loyal fans.

Of course, no discussion on the matter really is complete without how many different opinions exist about the moe character type with varying opinions on the topic.  Seriously.  Those were the highlights from the top 20 Google results.  And it’s not limited to us fans either.  The legendary (and now retiring) Hiyao Miyazaki has been famous for his dislike of the moe character, though it should be noted that he had originally found them to be sympathetic characters.  The director of Psycho Pass, Motohiro Katsuyuki, was also on the books for saying that the term moe was forbidden from use during Psycho Pass‘ development.

So…what gives exactly?

The natural starting point for unravelling all this is to start by asking “what do people hate about moe characters”?  A bit of a backwards (and sometimes fallacy driven) approach, but I think it warrants merit here.  After all, we kind of have an idea why those who like moe characters like them…or at least, why I think they like them.  It’s good to look at the other side of the question.  A look into the most common arguments tend to focus around three primary concepts: moe characters as a dominating force in anime, moe characters as being too simple a character type, and moe characters as being sexual fodder.  What I have found myself though is that the first two tend to draw harder on the last argument, as the reasons seem to feed into the level of fan service applied to shows.

Let’s visit each in detail, shall we?

Moe Characters as a Dominating Force

This line of thought was much more common a few years ago, but in this belief, moe characters have become a dominant part of anime.  They are popular.  If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be having as many discussions over it, would we?  As mentioned before, moe driven shows seem to hold about 25-30% of the market value of anime, quite a large value.  And for a while, they seemed to become unstoppable, with studio after studio converting their character designs over to be more alone the lines of the concepts underlying moe characters.  Because of this, some have felt that moe characters are a plague that has started to consume the entire industry and is warping it into something different from what we had.  To some, it’s because it’s a cash cow that’s easy to milk.  To others, it’s because they just don’t like moe characters, god damn it.

I noticed this myself too.  I must admit I’ve never been the strongest fan of moe characters.  My interest tends to be far away from shows with lots of moe characters, though there are exceptions (Slice of life/coming of age anime Stellvia of the Universe is the first I can think of).  So I tend to shy away from anime when the trend hits strong, while I hold interest in more shows when there are fewer shows revolving around moe characters.  For a stretch of time, I passed series after series over without a second glance.  There was probably a stretch of about a year or so where I didn’t see any show that I was interested in.

I think this sentiment draws a lot from something I had noted previously: that, from the studio’s point of view, moe characters and shows revolving around them are safe gambles.  They don’t generate the best returns, nor do they break any new ground, but they keep the company afloat better to some degree.  Safe and small profit over risky and possible death.  If we look at debates about moe ruining anime, a lot of the topics with this concept at the centre take place in 2009 to 2011, right around the time the global recession started hitting anime the hardest.  This seems to coincide perfectly as a reaction to economic concerns.

Now, there’s something else worth noting here: many other character stereotypes exist.  Tsundere characters are probably just as prevalent, yet don’t generally receive as much flak.  When pressed on this, I think the reason moe characters get a harder ride starts to roll into the next point (or the final point)…

Moe Characters are Flat

This point of disagreement on moe characters stems from a flatness in the characters. They simply don’t change.  Shows with lots of moe characters tend to not have lots of character development and instead focus on cute girls doing cute things.  The front of this rage probably goes to the K-On! series, since it’s one of the most popular shows which epitomizes everything about the moe characters.  So, what’s bad about this?  Viewers of this type tend to want depth.  They want their character to grow and develop.  Shows where this doesn’t happen seem shallow since not much happens.  This isn’t the same as slice of life shows.  In those, the character can develop and change, despite a possible lack of true moving story.  In shows where there is nothing happening and little character development, there can be a sense of stillness and wasted time.

By nature, they aren’t going to be deep characters since they reflect a specific tone.  Their appeal requires them to be innocent and imperfect…and stay that way.  This limits character development from episode to episode greatly.  To change them too much would be to turn in their “moe” license and may even pull away some of the attraction that had won them fans to begin with.  I mean, and I’ll go to the extreme with a popular example since I don’t want to make this argument twice, let’s look at the famous Mikuru Asahina.  Describe her younger self.  The most common answer is “moe” or “moeblob”, the latter just describing how little else she actually does.  Now describe her if she stood up for herself, had a sense of self-confidence, and didn’t fold like a house of cards to every single demand.  Actually, that describes her older self.  Which pretty much sucks the moe characterization out the door…the most common description of the older self is more along the lines of “sexy”.  Well, that may be because of a change in drawing procedure for her, but I think you get my drift.  It’s not only me that has noticed this lack of character depth.  Galbraith (There.  I think I mentioned him in each post) has noted that moe characters are the result of flattening real personalities into a much simpler form.

Now, the question can also become “Why exactly do moe characters get flattened?  What is there possibly to gain?”.  Which leads into the final conflict line.

Moe Characters are Pseudo-Fan Service

From this standpoint, moe characters are the harbinger of pseudo-sexual components of a show.  Moe characters act as fan service, providing simple sexual gratification to their viewers.  They can be overt, such as T&A action, or much more covert.  And some people, myself included, tend to roll their eyes at sexual additions to their show.  While it may not be fair to moe characters, they are often associated with softcore fan service and more risque elements of shows, such as ecchi.

And this, I think, is the ultimate heart of the matter.  Why we argue and debate about moe characters so much.  The battle lines seem to come down to where we stand on pseudo-sexual elements.  I keep comparing moe characters to the use of harem in anime and I think something similar comes here.  Both tend to be signals of more intense sexual elements.  Both tend to have lots of love it or hate it elements.  Both tend to be very contentious.  Both are used to excite the audience in more covert ways…harem anime through providing a male audience surrogate to imagine they are, and moe characters to give the audience someone to emotionally bond to in a protective manner.

This tends to make sense when we look at some of the other elements around it.  Let’s return to Miyazaki for a second for an example.  Actually, first, let’s reflect on his films.  There are on the very low end for fan service for the most part.  Miyazaki is anti-moe characters these days.  He feels pretty strongly in relation to the sexualization of his characters and has felt the culture surrounding moe characters has driven closer to a power fantasy than anything else.  A lot of these sentiments easily transcend the field of moe characters and reach further into the line of where appropriate use of these type of traits.

This battle isn’t one that is left on Miyazaki’s feet alone.  There seems to be a much stronger sentiment about how the integration of sexual traits and anime has occurred.  Hideaki Anno is infamous for his handling of this.  He absolutely despised the otaku lifestyle around the time of Neon Genesis Evangelion to the point where, whether or not it’s true, many believe components of the protagonist (Shinji Ikari) is seen as a critique of the otaku culture, using the popular (at its time) apocalyptic story as background.  In the same theory, Anno was absolutely furious at how Asuka and Rei were treated by the fans, having become the sex symbol for anime.  The whole End of Evangelion hospital scene tends to make a whole lot of sense.  And takes “screw you audience” to a whole new level.  Go ahead and look up video of it if you’re not familiar.  I’ll wait.

Excuse me nurse. I can hear Anno screaming at a confused fan boy.  Again.

Wrap Up

From this, I think I’ve identified where I stand on the topic of moe characters and why they generate conflict.  It doesn’t seem to always be within moe characters themselves, but what comes with them.  Moe characters become synonymous with more sexually implicit elements of shows and the real discussion comes into whether or not these elements really belong in anime, and if they do to what quantity.  This debate isn’t being discussed only at the fan level, but creator level as well.

Conclusion

Over the past couple months, I’ve enjoyed writing my sometimes aimless thoughts about the moe character, what it is and why we’re talking about it.  It’s been a bit of an adventure as this is the first blog I’ve attempted to run and the first topic I picked has been quite a challenge to tackle.  The topic is massive and I’ve only but scratched the surface of what I really wanted to say.

So, where do we go from here?  Well, the foundation has been lain for a debate proper for those who want it.  I have felt I’ve placed a great starting point to debate the merits of moe characters by providing a background and hypothesis as to its appeal, its impact, and what exactly the debate circles around.  But honestly, I’m happy to put my thoughts in writing about such a vast and interesting topic to provide background for others to read.

Hopefully you’ve had some fun and have developed opinions of your own about the topic.  I don’t doubt that some of what I’ve said is wrong, so please point it out.

…But don’t take it too seriously, okay?  Anime is entertainment after all.

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.

“Moe”conomics

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.

Conclusion

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.

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?

What Exactly Is Moe? – Part 1: Definition

Moe.  Three simple letters.  It’s a term that has become synonymous with anime.  “Oh, [x] is so moe” or “This scene is moe”.  It’s a term thrown around early and often.  It sometimes feels like a verbal tic in dialogue.  The fame of this term has become so large that there are huge popularity contests designed to find the most “moe” character.  There are endless derivations on the term; moeblob describes a character who acts moe and nothing else (often used with negative connotation) and moe anthropomorphism is an increasing trend where we, as with any personification, turn something into a human form…in this case, with moe characteristics.  Just ask Trope-tan.  We get even more terms coined by other sites…see TVtropes’ Moe Couplet and Moe Stare.  As a fan, we can use it as an adjective or a genre.  Oh, and let’s not forget that moe has become the topic of serious debate…up there with harem and fan service as components of a show that are debated on as either a sexual outlet for a viewer or a legitimate tactic for ensuring decent viewer base and allowing for serious money to be spent on what really matter while selling out a small part of the show.

Despite all this information, I’m not sure we really know a great way to define moe.  In hard strict definitions, it’s tough to come up with a simple, hard and fast rule for what exactly the term means.  There are many reasons for this, including and not limited to the widespread usage, impossibility to translate the term effectively, and the act that it is at heart a fan term.  Really, the short way to look at is that if a friend of yours, who had no experience in watching anime, asked you “So…what is a “moe” character?”, it’d be tough to describe a character that perfectly inscribes all that.  And this is really something I’d like to explore and discuss in detail…what exactly are we talking about when we say “moe”?  Do bear in mind though that I’m no expert on these things.  There are entire semi-academic articles out there which do describe the topic in excruciating length.  I may post some at the end of this, but those are strictly a little above where I’d like to go.  I’m simply someone who has written up an article after a few too many late nights.  Heck, I’m writing this article well past midnight.

What Do We Know?

I’m a science major (Engineering to be exact).  When I don’t have enough information, I start looking for a base to work off of.  Something concrete I can work with and make logical connections as I build upwards from that…actually, first I look through my handbooks for tables about the subject since it’s likely somebody did some calculations on the subject before.  But my handbooks are worthless here so that’s irrelevant.  In this case, we have small facts…simple basic, boring Google searches can yield some basic information about the term, its history, and what people think of it.  The last part may come in handy later, but let’s just focus on what the term means at its root and build up.  Really, this is what this one post is going to be about greatly: a white paper on moe…what do we already know and how can we consolidate the contradictory parts together?

First, let’s look at the history of the word…where did it come from?  Why is it a term we use a lot?  Wikipedia lists some interesting facts aside from the obvious “we can’t really define it” point that sparks the whole discussion.  The primary that I’ll highlight is the nature of the word.  As I mentioned before, the term provides minimal help in giving us character traits or what exactly it means when directly translated over from Japanese.  It notes that the term, at its heart, is a pun.  Therein lies a major problem: as language outsiders, we don’t get the pun.  As such, we start already by having to approximate the term.  Have you ever tried translating a verbal pun into another language?  It just doesn’t really work.  Try explaining the “Why is 6 afraid of 7” joke into another language.  It isn’t a lot of fun.  A very famous case of this came to the forefront of the series Martian Successor Nadesico.  One of the characters, Izumi Maki, spoke in puns plenty of times.  The verbal puns were one of the largest components of her character.  When this couldn’t be translated through effectively, the translation team actually just wrote her a whole new set of jokes, such as ones about Gotham City and the phrase “Got ’em”.  This really highlights how far out of things outsiders to the language can really be.  Also notable on the Wikipedia page is that the origin of the term is up to question as well.  The origin is rarely spoken of with any level of true certainty…it almost ends up being described as something that has been existent for a while, but when or how it came into existence is shrouded in a mystery wrapped in an enigma which was once cared for by the Loch Ness Monster.  This sort of conundrum is fairly common with fan terminology, since there are no real records of who said what first.  We have many theories, but none which can be conclusively proven as of yet.

For those looking for an overview in the history of the word, the long and short of it is that it’s a verbal pun…but what it’s a pun of exactly is up in the air.  Some will claim that its a homonym that led to this term being used (the general translation used is frequently one of “budding” or “blooming”, while yet another homonym is “to burn”).  Another commonly used theory is one of relation to the ever popular Sailor Moon series.  In this series, the character Hotaru Tomoe, Sailor Saturn, was a fairly popular character and fits many of today’s modern definitions for a moe character.  With the verbal obvious similarities in her name and the term, the link can be pretty easy to see.  Of course, this is all just speculative since there is no proof of any of this.  This really leaves the origins in the place of “well, damned if I know”.

Like many other fan terminologies, the fact that it was developed by many people and used by many people for different things makes it hard to pinpoint a single definition or use of the term.  Today, the most frequent usage is generally in the “[x] is moe”, but it should be noted that many other usages of it have existed.  For this, I’ll defer to tsurupeta.info for a better description than I could ever provide.  I might not agree on all their terms or usages, but at the same time, I’m nowhere near active enough to really say that I can confirm or deny that they may have been used in such a manner at one point.  Further support for this spread usage is clearly evident on visiting a site I’ll quote early and often, TVtropes.  On its page defining moe, we can first see a concerning factor in that it’s a YMMV page.  For those unfamiliar with the cite, YMMV is “Your Mileage May Vary” and is reserved for pages which refer to tropes which are debated in nature.  This, in relevance to moe, hints to me that it’s an opinion based on one’s intrinsic perception.  There’s never going to be a hard check list of “meet these requirements, qualify as moe”.  This likely means that the result is something that is emotionally driven given the nature of what is being described.  In other words, what exactly moe is defined as will be subject to the perception of the viewer…what I may deem moe may not be the same as what you see it as.

Long story short: Nobody honestly really knows what moe is or how it came to be.  People, even academics have theories and that’s about it.  Since it’s a fan term, we can’t conclusively prove anything except that it’s a widespread, coverall term.  In this sense, we can see commonalities to some more comfortable English words.  For example, “feminist” can mean a wide variety of things, so much so that it’s much easier to break the term up into schools of thought.  Yet we use the term feminist to explain a wide variety of different opinions and beliefs from equal pay for equal work and qualifications to “insane nutbar down the street wanting to chop your nuts off”.  And, as such, we’ll never really get a strict, effective definition.  This may seem kind of silly to point out, since the post here is “What Exactly is Moe”…but this really leads to an argument that moe isn’t an exact thing.  There’s no science or perfect way to describe it since it, by nature, was never perfect in definition by virtue of being a fan term.  As one open to interpretation, it’s going to be unfair to say that someone is incorrect in saying that [x] isn’t moe.  It’s subjective and the matter of interpretation is left to the individual.  A similar example can be written into a science.  How safe do we need to make a bridge?  Is 1% chance of it breaking in a year safe?  Is 0.1%?  0.01%?  We have regulations on such things, but there’s no real good way to decide on a safety factor since the concept of 100% safe never actually exists outside the realm of thought.

Short long story short: Honestly, we know nothing about the term “moe”, other than it’s a widely spread term which, by nature of being originated as a fan term, is near impossible to describe and one in which we don’t have a way to identify how it got here…it just did at some point.  Again, this may seem weird that my “what exactly is…?” post ends up with a bit of a “it’s not exactly anything” answer…but fan terms are an oddity.

Extra Credit – Actual Trends

In all this chaos and madness, there is but a couple interesting points which refuse to die down.  The lesser is that the show Neon Genesis Evangelion was a huge factor in all this and the greater being that the character of Rei Ayanami in specific was the catalyst. One has to take into consideration the nature of the industry at the time.  Neon Genesis Evangelion was part of a fairly big genre at the time: an “after the end” show.  Apocalyptic shows ran rampant in the years leading up to the airing of Evangelion.  An extremely famous example, if needed for assistance in visualization, is Fist of the North Star.  Leading up to this, Evangelion was more of the same.  However, the character of Rei Ayanami was something unaccounted for.  Director Hideaki Anno had attempted to form a creepy individual, one which we couldn’t possibly relate to.  And that was Rei.  What ended up happening was impossible to predict in my mind…Rei became a popular character. Someone many people liked.  In a show full of easy to hate characters, she was the one we took into our arms.  Why this is has become an interesting area of debate.  A roundtable discussion once pointed to the rise of apocalyptic works and their sudden decline after the Aum Subway bombing.  In this theory, the bleak contrast of Evangelion’s hopeless world scenario, in which we see exactly how horribly things go when we leave the world in the hands of angst-ridden kids broke the back of this entire genre.  Before, these shows were an escape…you could stand up and say “The world needs saving?  Well, I can save it!” and replaced it with a void of nothingness due in no small part to the real world events occurring around them and how badly Evangelion broke basically everything.  This discussion furthered this point by suggesting that the final two episodes of Evangelion hurt things even worse since Anno, famous for his hatred of the otaku lifestyle, seemingly prepared a parody of the inevitable parody of a normal life for the Evangelion cast (which, and I’m not familiar with this enough, is suggested to be an event that had already started).  Regardless, it should be noted that Rei Ayanami will forever be a turning point and will probably be considered the harbinger of a shift towards moe trends, a point highlighted by Galbraith.   A common line of thought was that Rei’s presence brought about a new trend.  Why is questionable, but the need to see their fan favourites in positions where they aren’t being mentally and physically put through the wringer, seems to become the prevailing trend.

Wrap Up

So, for the speculative “can we create a hard definition to moe” part, it turns out there’s really no good way to define moe.  No simple formula to apply, no simple definition.  We get a general idea of what it’s supposed to be…but nothing concrete or anything that can’t be described greatly without learning by examples.  Terms like “generic cuteness” or “elicits the big brother instinct in all of us” are about as close as we get.  If you need to explain it to the friend mentioned at the beginning, just keep sticking to spinning your wheels until it gets through.

From here on out, I’ll be focusing on the character definition of moe, such as the must be have been said a million times “Mikuru is so moe” (emphasis theirs) type of statement.  This is probably the most relevant term, since the usage of moe as a term period has died out in recent years.

From here, the next step is to approach and understand the appeal of such a character.  Why are they so appealing anyways?  What makes a character with this incoherent blob of moe traits so popular?