One of the elements of relating to a character is seeing a bit of that character in yourself. I think the same goes for a character you hate. I find it hard to love or hate something I can not relate to and why would the opposite be any different?
What I am getting at are characters that have something about them that resonate with us. What that is can range from something that can either compel us to learn more or make us feel uncomfortable and want nothing to do with what we are watching.
I personally believe there is something to be learned from just about any activity someone can involve themselves in. What is learned may or may not be useful in everyday life but I don't think that anything engaging is completely meaningless or that any engaging activity is a complete waste of time.
This same logic can be applied to the anime I watch, the books I read and the games I play. The biggest example of this I can give is crediting a large portion of my English language knowledge as well as my initial interest in economics to playing MMORPG's. It may sound strange to some but for me at least it is true.
Going into a game for the sake of learning something or watching an anime purely to be enlightened is not what this hobby is about at least not for me. But I do find myself learning and thinking about things that might never cross my mind otherwise. And it is often enough that these are things that can be applied to real life or at the very least change the way I think. And so I want to take a moment to explore a few character tropes or character arch types I find myself drawn to and share my perspective. Hopefully in doing so I will challenge a few of you to do the same. "Dere"Kuudere
Neon Genesis Evangelion was the first anime I watched in full. My first experience with a character that fit into the Kuudere mold left an impact on me that I can still vividly recall. There is one moment in particular that really struck out at me the moment that Shinji first sees Rei naked in her room. Her reaction is well.. it isn't Rei has practically no reaction at all to the situation.
I will admit the character I was initially relating to was certainly not Rei but rather the very embarrassed Shinji. Having had a somewhat sheltered childhood seeing something like this caught me off guard. It wasn't until much later once I was passed being embarrassed that I would stop and question if Rei was a character that I was able to relate to as well.Yandere
I remember watching in horror as the girls of Higurashi would go from incredibly cute to incredibly deadly in a very short time frame each arc. Without necessarily condoning the actions of the characters I think the sense of loss the desire to protect and desire for control to the point of insanity all came across as very real. I think it was around this point that I started to realize that I was empathizing with more than Keiichi and that the female cast had an appeal that was not a simple sexual or romantic one.
Now I also realize that saying something about relating to the cast of Higurashi is kind of strange and can be easily misunderstood so take me relating to characters who nearly all turn into serial killers at one point or another as you will.Tsundere
Honestly this character type took the longest time of the 3 "Dere" types for me to warm up to. One of my first encounter with a Tsundere was Naru from Love Hina. While I enjoyed the anime on a certain level I never really got over the fact that Naru would beat the daylights out of Keitaro every opportunity she had. Thinking back on it now though Naru never once gave Keitaro any form of serious injury which leads me to think that much of what initially appears as a form of domestic violence is done for the sake of expression in the case of Naru embarrassment and frustration more so then any S/M fetish.
It would be several years later before I had my first run in with Rie Kugimiya as a flat chested tsundere in the form of Shakugan no Shana. Shana is the personality of the show. Or at least the personality of the main cast. Yuuji is a pretty forgettable character. I remember sometime back someone on Japanator posted about a 20 questions website that would guess the character you are thinking of. I can't recall the name of the site now but the one main character I was able to stump the site with was Yuuji.
By the time Shakugan No Shana rolled around I was already very much familiar with the idea that the main character does not need to be one I can relate to in order to be sold on a show so It really came as no surprise to me when I found this happening with Shana. Shana is both the main character and the love interest all at the same time. She is the one woman powerhouse of the show and the fact that she is a girl is only one small part of why. She is both the character we are able to relate to as well as the character we are supposed to fall for all at once. I think this embodies why its so hard to define what "moe" is. Its not as though Shana is physically unappealing but what is it that inspires us to consider her that way in the first place? I still don't have a solid answer for that question or more accurately my answer changes by the day but I think its worth pondering.The Magical Girl
Magical Girl Anime is the epitome of wish fulfillment. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and Mai Hime are the only two that have had much of an impact on my radar. In both cases we are given young and usually exclusively female characters who are forced into tough situations where they overcome despite all odds. In both cases the odds are highly stacked against the protagonists yet they still manage to win and again in both cases receive a very favorable happily ever after. I could be wrong but it seems to me that this is a staple of genre.
I believe there is a clearly definable factor at play with Nanoha and Mai Hime and that is watching the under dog win. The desire to see something impossible to witness a miracle happen in order for the story to have a positive end. This is not something exclusive to Magical Girl at all but having child like innocent characters really puts an emphasis on the underdog factor. I can't say this is true for the entire genre but from what I have watched it comes off as such to me. No Males Allowed
Lucky Star is the anime that brought this to surface. A type of anime where there are practically no male characters in sight. I believe that each of these stories have a character specially tailored to replace what would be the male character.
This is all purely speculation but it seems to me like its more acceptable to display a character who acts like their "true self" when they are a woman. Even in Shonen you can see that any character who acts according to their own logic is portrayed either as a delinquent or an idiot.
I have seen similar logic applied to understanding the mentality of fujoshi with yaoi romances. And so the target audience may be all that is appropriate to bring about this way of single gender story telling. Although there is a distinct difference in that all girls moe anime tends to have no romance at all. I think I have an explanation.
These types of stories always have a character that is crafted to relate to the target audience. To express what the audience is expected to be thinking and in doing so become the replacement for the male character we would expect to exist. This may not always be one single character but I can think of a few examples where it seems to me like it is. In Lucky Star its Konata with her laziness and love for games and anime. In K-On! its Azusa with her desire to be a real band.
My logic may not be perfect and to say they are crafted to relate really means little more then the show was a hit but I think its worth contemplating and am curious what others think.Modern and Future Anime
Ideas build on themselves. This can explain some of the evolution of anime from what it was even 5 years ago to what it is now. Often I will think I could show said anime to someone and if only they had the last 5 years worth of anime in mind they would enjoy it as much as I do. And that said when I watch something like Bakemonogatari I know I would not have been able to appreciate it as much as I have had Hitagi been my introduction to tsundere's. I likely would have hated her. Which says something about the way that challenging yourself with a foreign idea can change the way you think for better or worse.
I am not really worried about the industry because of it but seeing new anime like MM play off a true masochist angle or the way that both MM! and Working!! have a tsundere who is portrayed as having androphobia makes me wonder what lies in the future of anime. The ideas may not be new and the titles in my example may not be the biggest names in anime or even this year but I think the point still stands.
Do these anime with different ways of looking at old things need a knowledge of the old to be appreciated or can a new comer to anime come in and enjoy it as much as I can ? Or is anime digging its own grave by over reliance on in jokes and building in jokes off old in jokes instead of doing something more inspired ? I think that there is a level of truth to both sides of the story that "moe pandering" can be a bad thing buts its also something that sells and so modern "moe anime" is obviously doing something right.
I think a large portion of the latest anime has been really good and I don't have an answer for these questions just contemplation. Thanks for reading to anyone who has made it this far. Let me know what you think! I am in no way an expert and will not be offended by anyone who wishes to comment on or challenge anything I write.