'Just what on earth is moe?' is the question of the day

7:00 PM on 07.28.2009
'Just what on earth is moe?' is the question of the day photo

It's been the talk of the town recently: Lisa Katayama's piece for the New York Times entitled "Love in 2-D." You might have even caught the news off of our sister site Destructoid. Instead of just reporting on it, I wanted to take a minute and throw my hat into the moe ring.

While certainly not its intention, this article stands along with Jason Thompson's moe article from a few weeks back as major pillars of discussion about moe and its culture. So, I'd suggest you read both pieces, along with the commentary from Mutantfrog and Japan Probe that I linked above before heading into this. There's a lot to talk about here.

And what you'll find after the jump isn't some specific response to the articles above, but more trying to put my own thoughts on moe and what it means into a more concrete form. I'd really love for all of you to join me in sharing your own thoughts in the comments below.

What on Earth is moe?

That's a question that you really can't tackle. There's the budding/burning love definition tossed around a lot, but that really doesn't do much for me in trying to come to terms with the concept. I can point to shows like K-ON and most any romantic comedy, where I find myself excited whenever a particular character comes on screen. It does translate itself into an affection towards the character. Just look at my love of Kagami of Lucky Star, for example.

Really, it's nothing all that special when you think about it: it's the love of fictional characters. I think what distinguishes the "moe" from simply loving a character in any sort of work is the culture that surrounds it in Japan -- how aware everyone is about it, and how much of a commerce it's been boiled down to.


What I mean is that in the past several years, moe has literally become an economic force. You see towns with ailing tourism getting an otaku makeover, or businesses will moe-fy their products in order for it to sell more. And so more and more products -- especially shows -- are geared towards include some moe (or be entirely made up of it) in order to sell better, both as a show and in the ancillary market where hardcore fans will buy excessive amounts of items related to the character of their desire.

It's not as though creators go out with the intention of creating moe works, but there are many steps in the whole process of getting a manga and anime put together and released to the public, so somewhere in there is a conscious decision to include moe. While I'm a bit out of the current scene of what's happening in Japan, moe is still a driving force in what gets made and what is successful, although I have to wonder how long the trend will last.

The danger of moe

This is what both Katayama and Thompson were talking about, to an extent. From Thomspon's article, part of the danger of moe is the mixed motives people have in their love of moe -- especially towards underaged girls, one of the largest moe generators (just look at Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba, and the like.) 

Meanwhile, Katayama's article shows things from a state wheere people have crossed the line -- gone over into a more extreme level of 2-D love. While certainly not the norm, it is a headline grabber and a popular target. for lampooning otaku. To me, it shows the power of moe and how strongly it can affect those who have bad luck in life.

What moe means to me

Really, it depends on the character. A character like Kagami is someone who I'd want to marry. Someone like Triella from Gunslinger Girl is what I'd like to see in a daughter of my own. The thing is, all these characters represent idealized traits that I'd love to see. I don't expect to actually find someone who is just like Kagami, but if I found someone who was actually responsible, but had a much more personal side that also tolerated my otakudom? Sign me up.

That's the same feeling I got when talking with Topher about Yuki fromThe Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. She's the antithesis of the loud, noisy, and drunk girls you find all across the Eastern seaboard. Again, it's about the personality and what she represents. Sure, Yuki and Kagami look nice to both of us, but it's really the meaning behind the character that we're in love with, and I think that's true for a lot of people. We're not buying daimakura with girls on them, because the attraction simply doesn't work that way.

So, that's what moe means to me. What about for the rest of you? How do you view your own attractions towards fictional characters? What about the moe scene in general?

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