Moe: A Quick Primer

In my post yesterday, I threw out a word that I realized might have basically no meaning without context. This word was moe (萌え).

Moe is when you feel a strong feeling of affection or attraction toward a character in a piece of media. Usually there is a cuteness or kawaii (かわいい) factor. It’s very emotion-driven term. The word comes from moeru (萌える), which means to “blossom”. There’s a pun involved, though, because the word moe (燃え) means “burning”. If you didn’t notice, these words were written differently in Japanese.

Moe is something that actually gets the anime community a bit worked up. Some people argue that it’s ruining the genre. Others are obsessed with their animated waifus and husbandos. It’s a… complicated thing, to be honest.

Part of the issue is that moe is generally manufactured to explicitly appeal to men. The term started off as just a general affection that cannot be suppressed by otaku, but now tends to mean a very specific type of female character. She’s hyper cute, possibly clumsy, constantly flustered, and innately innocent.

Moe characters can be highly problematic. Some of them are obviously sexualized, which is disturbing when another key element is that they are childlike in most depictions. Moe can also be highly confusing to people outside of the community. For example, there’s a series of manga, anime, video games, and light novels about personified game consoles battling for dominance. It’s called Hyperdimension Neptunia (超次元ゲイム ネプテューヌ). Trying to explain, in depth, what these games are is a daunting task. And if I’m honest, these games are about building up the moe in the fanbase until they reach a fever pitch. It’s how they’ve managed to make sixteen games based off the premise. Fans get figures and body pillows of these characters.

If one’s moe for a character reaches a fever pitch, a fan might consider her his “waifu”. I want to make something super clear, by the way, because this is not a solely Japanese phenomenon. This is unified across many, many otaku from all nations. The idea of a waifu (or a husbando) is that she is who the living human being considers to be their actual significant other. Otaku build shrines to their waifu. They buy them birthday cakes.

A shrine to Mio from K-On!, courtesy of Reddit.

Sometimes, they marry them. Kondo Akihiko married Hatsune Miku in 2018. Hatsune Miku is a virtual reality singer designed by Crypton Future for their Vocaloid software. Kondo has a Gatebox, which creates a hologram and AI of Hatsune Miku and their own character, Azuma Hikari. Miku-chan and Hikari-chan are polygamous: Gatebox reports that they have issued 3,700 wedding certificates to owners of their product.

Moe as a concept for which it is difficult for me to come to a definite conclusion. I consider myself a lover of kawaii, or cute, culture. There are characters who are made to appeal to moe fans who I like. A lot of the anime which cashes in on moe depicts a solely female cast, with female friendship at the core. K-On! (a definitively moe title) is a tale of a group of girls learning to play instruments. Three of the songs from K-On! are on my favorites playlist. But sometimes, like when I tried playing Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection years ago, I get the distinct impression that this thing about girls is not necessarily for girls (mostly when I was tasked with giving one of these girls a bath and I quickly turned off the game). And I get uncomfortable with the idea of someone sexualizing these characters, or deciding that they have more value than real women.

I would like to point out a series which has moe characters which I believe has a lot of value. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a deconstruction of moe and magical girl tropes. It actually gets quite dark and the cuteness comes with a terrible price. I’ll talk about the series later down the road.

Next up, though, is The Ancient Magus’ Bride.

One response to “Moe: A Quick Primer”

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