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.