That’s right, my first article will be taking a brief glimpse at the monster that is moe in the anime industry. Many argue that moe is detrimental and many characters in anime are now based off this once-niche design. Brace yourselves because this is a long one in comparison to most of Shinigami-sama’s posts, and I’m anticipating that at some point, there may be some of you already wielding the closest weapon you have to you ready to jump through the screen at me.
First and foremost, there’s no established definition of moe. One can determine if a character is ‘moe’ through the style of the art – more often than not this entails oversized cute eyes, colourful hair in one of many trending haircuts each with their own fetishisms and then, arguably the most important aspect of moe, the personality; from the wide acclaimed tsundere to the newly named tsunshun, it’s impossible to define a single character as a true embodiment of moe, though many fanboys may proclaim their goddesses as such.
More to the point, why is moe in anime? It sells. Not the only reason, but most certainly a significant factor. With market trends since the early 2000’s, it’s almost concrete fact that much the anime industry’s financial successes frequently relies on moe appeal. Now before you find me dancing around with blue and white striped panties on my head with a mahou shoujo wand, I’ll note that without moe, much of the anime industry in the recent years would not have seen such booms with sales from series like the horror that was K-On (over 40,000 volumes, not to mention the albums- most of which I own) and Mahou Shoujo Madoka.
Wait a minute Tayau! Madoka isn’t all about moe! Damn right it’s not, and that’s my point; moe is detrimental given specific circumstances, and in others it’s a powerful tool. The term commonly referred to as “Moeblobs” define characters which have no character appeal other than moe. Wait a minute! That’s right, Madoka is riddled with moeblobs- at least at a first glance. I could write you a long list and get a chain of emails telling me I’m going to die a painful death in the name of Kuroneko, but I’d digress. If we take a look at an anime production, aside from a driven storyline (often involving an everlonging for a normal life, only to be consistently interrupted by indescribably whacky events that somehow leads our insensitive protagonist ending up naked in the centre of town running for his wretched life), the character is the most important aspect of an anime series. Dare I say that K-On! Would not have sold so much were it not for our beloved musically mediocre highschool girls and their love for tea and cake (another moe trait might I note). This analysis applies to Madoka.
“I tend to avoid moe anime when I see it”
The idea behind Madoka was to give us ever affectionate fans a handful of incredibly cute, colourful girls that make us baww at how innocent they are, and our first instincts were to either anticipate cute mahou shoujo magic or avoid such a show like the plague. It should be noted however that fortunately the marketing ploy in this case succeeded in not deterring fans with the original perceptions of the series.
To everybody’s surprise, the storyline proceeds to tear apart their lives and shove a handful of “let’s turn our girls into depressive psychopaths” and animate several scenes which would shock (more likely psychologically maim) anyone unsuspecting enough to think they were watching a happy-go-lucky anime (unless of course, you were aware of Urobochi’s brutality). Moe in this aspect was a tool utilised in a very unconventional manner, and it worked well, selling the second highest number of blu ray volumes to date, almost twice as much as K-On in comparison. So much so that the success is soon to be a trilogy of movies. But the two styles are contrasting in pretty much every way and I doubt a high school slasher involving five insane yet cute girls would have sold as well as Madoka on any level (Note to self possible Doujinshi).
This means that the anime industry cares more about story than moe! Maybe, but you’d be missing my point to think so. Moe is an ever evolving imprint in our anime industry, whether we are western or Japanese anime fans. Before the mass popularity of moe surged out, we can take a look at the period of earlier animation and take a look at the anime industry before 2000. Yes, you already guessed it, my example is Evangelion. As one of the best-selling anime of all time (and I say one of because the 90’s Evangelion never got a blu ray), Evangelion is the perfect comparison for our Madoka series. In fact, their styles are so similar that it’s shocking to think that Madoka was even considered revolutionary in the anime industry (especially considering Higurashi years beforehand) on its release. We find ourselves a handful of attractive characters, then proceed to terrorise the viewer relentlessly with symbolism and the gradual degradation of the characters. And like madoka, Evangelion sold over a hundred thousand copies on the charts, breaking every record set in its time.
“Hold your high horses! I don’t ever recall Evangelion with cute magic girls or maids, infact Evangelion was a brutal series with decapitations and crazy ass bitches!”
Ah, but this is where the analysis gets interesting. Take one of the most popular anime characters to date, Asuka Langley.
Indeed, she is a psychopathic, hormone riddled, overzealous teenage girl. Yet many of us find ourselves infatuated by her character for our various reasons-; be it her personality or her appearance and moe hairstyle. So much so that there are hundreds if not thousands of fanart of her online, with an emphasis on the moe appeal from her character. One could argue that a good number of Evangelion fans would not have appreciated Evangelion with so much approval from its viewers if their beloved Asuka was replaced with a prepubescent young boy holding the same personality (and shinji would probably proceed to guillotine the poor bastard instead of whacking off over his comatose body). Before you criticize me- yes I’m indeed drawing out extremes into circumstantial hypotheses, but this doesn’t disregard my original point; moe is a very powerful tool, sometimes more subtly utilized than one originally depicts.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the true target of every anime fan that’s ready to jump into a mob with their pitchforks and torches at the ready at the sound of the word moe.
An anime that relies entirely on moe.
More often than not, these are ecchi series that entice viewers with super-moe characters or the better-received slice-of-life anime. K-On! arguably falls under at least one of these categories, and every season we see a good number of shows that also follow this genre. Many of these shows sell enormous numbers (infinite stratos, over 33,000 and Idolmaster over 28,000) with what many would argue have very little to them other than good old moe. This is where the already controversial debate takes a turn for the hazardous. Whilst these shows sell a lot for the industry, one must question- if these shows did not exist, what would have filled their void? Many series with strong settings, plots and characters without dependence on moe have failed in sales in the past, Bartender, Natsu no Arashi and Casshern Sins to name a few. Now I’m not arguing that moe is absolutely vital to success in the industry, but one has to consider the reasons as to why these certain releases failed (Bartender failing even to enter the top 300 in the charts at all that year), and the lack of moe can arguably be one of them. On the other hand, mass sales have surged from series like Lucky Star selling over 30,000 volumes in a year and whilst there is some relatively amusing comedy in the series, there’s very little more to it than the moe. Bear in mind that during the same year as Lucky star, Kara no Kyoukai and Rebuild of Evangelion both outsold Lucky Star, there’s also evidence to suggest that the industry would survive without moe. Of course, if our bartender was a double D blonde haired girl with a knack for conversation, I’d place my bets on its immediate success given the unique quality of the writing to the show to accompany her.
However, if we were to take away our maid dresses, skin-tight outfits, nekomimi hairbands and striped panties, we would be left with a completely different industry. Even with our favourite seinen series, we have many characters- often main protagonists, who are heavy on the moe. One of my all-time favourites, Spice and Wolf, is a character whose main female lead is so moe that there are at least half a dozen new fanarts of her surging on the internet every day and whilst I myself don’t particularly find moe as appealing as many of my friends and associates, I can certainly appreciate its value in our industry. Ultimately, because of the vagueness of the subject and very little firm attributions from various series to compare, we’re left with only speculation as to why we have so much yap about moe along with its flaws and supremacy. The purpose of this article (other than to annoy half the readers) was to emphasise on the reasons as to why moe is around, and how valuable moe can be given the circumstances.
It’s been a pleasure to write this article (and possibly committing journalism suicide and ensuring my very short career here), my intentions were well and (mostly) pure, hoping to study some insights and critiques made on this topic in recent years. My personal tastes most certainly do not emphasise on moe, and where I may have appeared overly ardent I hope you could at least understand some of my viewpoints. If not, then I welcome your hate mail and spiteful remarks, or preferably a criticism in a comment below, where I’ll be happy to discuss this further with you.
Images: Asuka Langley (c) ©カラー ©GAINAX・カラー/Project Eva. ©カラー・GAINAX ©GAINAX・カラー
others: Jaynario of Studio-Puroto