This might end up being a bit of an odd post, but I think it might be interesting to some of you.

I’m not sure if the term “moe” is still fashionable. I don’t hear it much anymore. But most anime fans have come across it at some point. I recently had a comment declaring the greatness of Moe and I once again found myself trying to figure out exactly what moe is.

So I read these:

If you ever want to spend a fun afternoon regretting not having picked a better major, this is a decent reading list for it.

Anyways, in very broad strokes, the basic consensus is that Moe refers to an audience reaction to a character in a piece of media (anime, manga, games…) that includes very strong “feelings of affection” and is related to neoteny and the feeling of “cuteness” a character can evoke.

There is a lot of debate on whether Moe has overt components of sexualization. Most fans argue that it is a sentimental or emotional concept rather than a sexual one. However, most of the articles do agree that there are at the very least implicit elements. The majority of popular moe games in Japan will let you date the characters so there are some romantic considerations as well. I’ve seen it described as “a neologism used to describe a euphoric response to fantasy characters or representations of them.”

The word itself was originally, Moeru which is a Japanese verb meaning ‘to bud or sprout,’. It’s also a homonym for the Japanese verb ‘to burn.’ Hence the basic idea here was that it described a burning passion for characters that were innocent and just sprouting… Like a lot of otaku terminology, it’s credited to 2Chan and apparently started somewhere in the early ‘90s.

Although Moe was originally used pretty much exclusively in relation to female characters, the term is more about the reaction they elicit in fans than the characters themselves and therefore could be used for any character of any gender or species and so forth. I guess you could say that mii-kun of How to Keep a Mummy would be moe for some people. Mii-kun is very cute and innocent!

If you made it this far you are pretty much up to date on what I learned about the basic concept of Moe. Woohoo, one word of my title is explained. And if you read the articles, they are actually discussions and studies about how this concept has societal and psychological implications in real life. That’s a very interesting discussion in my opinion. I linked English language studies but most of them have a lot of Japanese sources which you can easily google translate if you are interested. Be warned, the language does get a bit creative when you do that.

This said I’m not going to talk about that here. Instead, I would like to focus on one particular aspect that came up a few times.

The overwhelming majority of these papers were written with regard to straight men. How they experience the concept of Moe and what impact it has on them. It should be said that all of them, both English and Japanese, seem to be written by men as well. However, there is an idea that comes up a few times. And that is that the concept “moe” for straight women is mostly found among fujoshi.

Another quick vocabulary lesson. Fujoshi literally means “rotten girl” in Japanese and was supposed to be a way to shame girls who liked Yaoi but it seems no one was particularly shamed and now the term is pretty neutral. It’s just shorthand for BL and Yaoi fans.

So what’s this about fujoshi and moe anyways. For this, let’s take a step back and explore the concept of moe just a but more. One of the characteristics of moe is that it’s closely tied to concepts of idealized femininity and purity. These are also central in Yaoi and the passion that fujoshi have for such characters is in fact more or less identical to moe. The sexual aspect of Yaoi is however much more openly accepted by its fanbase.

They have ships or singular characters they feel passionate about and defend ardently and have described emotional connection to these characters. However, the articles I read do point out one key difference and this is what fascinated me.

Fujoshi by definition exclude themselves from the object of their passion. They simply can’t be with their beloved Yaoi boys in a romantic or deeply emotional capacity, because then they wouldn’t be Yaoi boys anymore. Therefore, it is entirely fantasy and can only ever exist in that context. Let’s see if this explains it better:

Journalist Sugiura Yumiko explains this as the crucial difference between fujoshi and otaku, who approach fantasy as an alternative for things that they actually want but cannot realize in this world (Sugiura 2006).  A fujoshi, for example, would not ‘marry’ a two-dimensional character the way some otaku advocate; for fujoshi, the character is fantasy and exists for the sole purpose of play, something completely distinct from physical partners. This is not to say characters or fantasy are more or less important to fujoshi, but Sugiura states their approach is different.” (Sugiura, Yumiko. 2006. Otaku joshi kenkyuu [Study of Female Otaku]. Tokyo: Hara Shobou.)

Ok, so what does it matter? Well, here’s one theory. Actually, the theory might be too strong a word, let’s say speculation. Although the form of both these types of moe is similar, they use similar ideas and the associate media try to invoke similar feelings and reactions from their audience. And although fans of each genre are potentially trying to fulfill the same type of emotional need. Ultimately, the different approach creates different impacts that each have advantages and disadvantages.

One of the biggest implied pluses of the fujoshi self-exclusion from moe is that it can easily coexist with reality. The studies did look into how Otaku may, in some cases have difficulty with real-life relationships as the idealized moe doesn’t coincide with real-world experiences. i.e. 2D is best!

However, for the fujoshi, this overlap doesn’t really exist. They can playfully entertain fantasies of alternate Yaoi lifestyles for their partner, but their real-life relationship will always be a completely separate thing. As such, they don’t have to go through those particular obstacles when entering romantic relationships but also don’t have to give up or alter their fantasies.

Whether that is in fact a plus in the long run and whether some partners may not be comfortable with that is another story. But the initial impact on the person itself is much more positive.

In a related idea, because an inherent element of Fujoshi moe is that it has to be fantasy, it causes less frustration. There is no expectation or for a lot of people even desire, to live out that fantasy. It’s the same way that most people don’t get all that bummed out that they don’t get to fight dragons on the weekend. Fujoshi don’t really care that they never meet beautiful, nice boys like the ones in the Yaoi doujin. They aren’t supposed to. And if they did, it would sort of ruin it.

Now I don’t know enough about either moe or fujoshi to have a deep personal opinion on all of this. I don’t know anyone who is really hardcore on either end. At least I think I don’t. So I don,t have any personal experience to base opinions on. Moreover, I’ve only read these articles, so I’m not exactly an expert. I suspect that there are a lot more variables to consider and there is a lot more intricacy there.

However, I do see some of the logic. I also just like the idea that hardcore moe otakus and the equivalent of fujoshi for some reason. I’m not sure why but it amuses me. Probably because these two groups have not historically gotten along all that well.

And if there is even just a little bit of accuracy to these ideas, I think they point to some very interesting possibilities for how we can use anime and manga to make ourselves happier instead of angry. I mean there are a lot of angry anime fans across the board and that’s just wrong. It really should make us happy. It’s full of colours and cute characters!

I hope some of you found this interesting. And I would honestly really love to read your thoughts on the subject in the comments. I really latched on to these ideas when I read them and I wanted to share them with all of you explicitly so I could get more diverse opinions.

17 thoughts

  1. Can I just say first of as a yaoi fan I loved this post and had never thought of the similarities between the male moe perspective and the world of the fujoshi and just wow, my mind is blown because it is really obvious now that it has been said/ written about!

  2. Hmm, and here was I thinking that “moe” simply meant “cute girls being cute”….

    But on the basis of your thesis, would that make Kosuke Inukai from “Science Fell In Love So I Tried To Prove It” a hardcore moe otaku, while Ena Ibarada is a fujoshi? 🤔

    1. I’m basing it largely on the cited research so it might be limited but yeah, Moe to my knowledge has never been limited to cgdct even though the genre does rely heavily on it

  3. Moe is in the eye of the beholder. In the equation of my brain, adding sexualization changes the character type.. So if I see sexualization of a moe character, it isn’t moe anymore. If the character is young it becomes loli or possibly shouta. If they are older, it’s just another teen fantasy.

    But then, sexualization is also in the eye of the beholder. For me, simple nudity isn’t sexualization at all. In fact, nonsexual nudity can be used as proof of innocence. For many people, nudity is inherently sexual. They can’t take it any other way. If you don’t find something sexual, then it isn’t.

    OTOH a pedophile may find ANY depiction of a child to be sexual, no matter how moe it may be. If “innocence, purity, and positivity” get fetishized, that is something that happens in your head. And then we have to get into the subjective definitions of those 3 terms.

    We could also use the author’s intent as a determinant if something is sexual. A lot of “Death of the Author” advocates will disagree with that but I disagree with “Death of the Author” unless the author intends to be dead.

    It all happens in your head. Once you fetishize innocence it ceases to be innocent and is therefore no longer moe. I would argue that people who sexualize moe characters appropriated the term because it has fewer negative connotations than say, “innocence fetish.”

    1. So do you think that there is a difference in the realization of Moe in the more traditional sense versus Moe in the Fujoshi interpretation. In that the object of fantasy is inherently exclusive rather than potentially inclusive regardless of sexualization?

      1. I suppose i could say a conditional “yes” here.

        Moe and sexualization are reactions to a character. You can mix them together as you want but it is kind of like peanut butter and jelly. You still have a mixture and have not reverted to either peanut butter or jelly. Moe (which is driven largely by neoteny and is parental in nature) and sexuality are different biological drives and mediated by different hormones. Moe is associated with oxtocin while sex is with testosterone – in both males and females.

        Anya Forger is an example of what I consider an exclusively moe character but someone might have sexual feelings for her, so to them she’s not strictly moe any more. In the end, it depends on what you bring to the table. Some guys will have sexual feelings for ANY female character, no matter how moe she is presented.

        Anime in general is aimed at sexually frustrated teens and young adults, mostly male, so for maximum audience potential in that demographic, pure moe hardly exists in shounen.

        I have not often seen males portrayed in a way i’d consider moe. It happens but you have to look farther.

        I’m not expert in BL so I cannot comment on what fujoshi moe might be.

        1. I think sexualization is the wrong term even though it’s the one used in the papers. Fetishisation is probably closer. Like dawn mentioned, fetishisation of purity or innocence is very common

          1. When I think of “fetish,” I tend to define it in a sexual sense. But fetish has nonsexual definitions as well.

            Fetish – noun

            An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.

            An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence.

            Something, usually not considered sexual by culture, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification.

            I suppose the middle definition is compatible with moe.

  4. Yeah, the term moe has quieted down quite a bit, I think since about 2016? Before that you’d see yearly moe contests everywhere.

    I’ve never really consistently used the term for myself. It’s complicated, because it’d include everything from seinen CGDCT shows to shounen harems, and that tends to be very different takes sometimes. I’ve never really thought about the fujoshi connection. The passionate fandom connection is definitely there. The fantasy vs. wish-fulfillment angle isn’t something that would have occured to me. And now that it’s brought up, I’d say I might make a distinction between CGDCT which seems to be much more fantasy stuff than, say, shounen harem stuff. Of course, ultimately any reaction is possible; I’m talking about the formal traits of the show, more.

    For example, all those harems have, of course, a male protagonist. Some of those protagonists have character traits that make them their own person, but many are designed to blank self-instert entry points. No such identification figures exist BL, nor do they (usually) in CGDCT shows. Both leave the viewer with a voyeurist angle. There’s just no in-universe role for them to insert themselves in. (Again, that’s a formalist take. A fujoshi might well find her way into the story via the point of view of one of the characters rather than through generalised voyeurism. But the cliché here is the nosebleed in the shrubbery.)

    The biggest difference between the terms is that “moe” is primarily a reaction, and if you’re classifying shows at that you’re using cultural stereotypes as formal markers; that is a show is a moe show if it contains scenes that according to cultural stereotype invoke those feelings. Meanwhile, “fujoshi” is a term for a female fan of BL stories (“fudanshi” being the male BL fan, I think both straight and gay?). It’s far more precise and the genre precedes the reaction (which could be classified as a moe reaction, maybe?). It’s a bit of a maze really.

    As for sexualisation: it’s difficult. A frequent component is the fetishisation of innocence, purity, and positivity. It’s often but not always sexualised. Oddly enough, I feel that’s even true for the way anime portrays fujoshi on occasion. But that’s something that needs examples, and I can’t think of one right now.

    1. Sexualization may not be the right term, although it is the one used in the papers. Fetishisation is probably more accurate. I do think it was clear that the terms Moe and Fujoshi are not at all equivalent. More that bl creates effective Moe for Fujoshi and it’s the way they could observe it on a primarily female audience in Japan

  5. So I’ve heard of the moe term before . It became a meme of itself almost; like a few years ago I saw chart for King if the Hill that showed Bill as a Moe character lol and I think Hank was a Tsunadere lmao ! But not too familiar with the term fujoshi although I think Robotics Notes had a character like that . I totally spaced her name but she was like a bl otaku

  6. This is probably the most well-researched anime post I’ve ever read. I never knew that was what fujoshi meant. I always just thought it meant “female otaku”. I didn’t realize it referred to fans of bl. You learn something new everyday.

  7. Wow, very interesting post! Thank you for my word of the day, I had no idea what neoteny meant until now! I love how the term fujoshi was made just to shame girls and it totally didn’t work! Lol!

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