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Moe (萌え?, pronounced [mo.e]) is a Japanese slang word, and loanword that refers to feelings of strong affection mainly towards characters in anime, manga, and video games. Moe however, has also gained usage to refer to feelings of affection towards any subject. Moe can lead to sexual feelings and desires, however, thinking too heavily about it is considered outside the scope. The word Moe originated in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Japan and is of uncertain origin, although there are several theories on how it came into use. Moe characters have expanded through Japanese media, and have contributed positively to the Japanese economy. Contests both online, and in the real world exist for Moe-type things including one run by one of the Japanese game rating boards. Various notable commentators have also given their take on Moe, and its meaning.
Moe used in slang refers to feelings of affection, adoration, devotion, and excitement felt towards characters that appear in manga, anime, or video games. Characters that elicit feelings of moe are called "moe characters." The word has also evolved to be used regarding all kinds of topics. Included in the meaning of the word is the idea that "deep feelings felt towards a particular subject" is used in cases where a simple "like" is not enough to express the feeling. The common feature in all feelings of moe is that the subject of such feelings are things that one cannot possibly have a real relationship with, like fictional characters, idols, or inorganic substances. It can be considered a kind of "pseudo-romance," but it is not always seen to be the same as "romance."
The term's origin and etymology are unknown. Anime columnist John Oppliger has outlined several popular theories describing how the term would have stemmed from the name of anime heroines, such as Hotaru Tomoe from Sailor Moon (Tomoe is written as 土萌, relevant kanji is the same) or Moe Sagisawa from the 1993 anime Kyōryū Wakusei. Psychologist Tamaki Saitō identifies it as coming from the Japanese word for "budding", moeru (萌える?). Ken Kitabayashi of the Nomura Research Institute has defined moe as "being strongly attracted to one's ideals" Kitabayashi has identified the word "moe" to be a pun with the Japanese godan (五段?) verb for "to sprout", moyasu (萌やす?), and its homonym "to burn", moyasu (燃やす?). Along the same line of thought, Kitabayashi has identified it to be a pun with the Japanese ichidan (一段?) verb for "to sprout" moeru (萌える?) and its homonym "to burn" moeru (燃える?), which mean "to burn" (in the sense of one's heart burning, or burning with passion). Galbraith states that the term came from 2channel in the 1990s, discussing female characters who were "hybrids of the Lolicon (Lolita Complex) and bishoujo (beautiful girl) genres". This describes exactly Hotaru Tomoe, and coincides with her height of popularity in 2channel, giving strength to the theory that the term stemmed from her name. Another reason why the term could have originated from Hotaru Tomoe is her background story. The term has been associated with characters that give off the aura that they need to be protected because they are vulnerable, and Hotaru fits that category; in the manga, a lab accident kills her mother and leaves Hotaru severely injured.
Comiket organiser Ichikawa Koichi has described Lum Invader of Urusei Yatsura as being both the source of moe and the first tsundere. The character of Clarisse from Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) has also been cited as a potential ancestral example. According to Hiroki Azuma, as Rei Ayanami became a more prominent character among fans, she "changed the rules" governing what people regarded as moe-inspiring. The industry has since created many characters which share her traits of pale skin, blue hair and a "quiet personality".
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Moe characters have expanded within the Japanese media market. In 2004, the market for moe media such as printed media, video, and games was worth 88 billion yen; roughly one-third of the estimated 290 billion yen otaku market in Japan. In 2009, Brad Rice, editor-in-chief of Japanator, said that "moe has literally become an economic force... more and more products—especially shows—are geared towards include [sic] some moe (or be entirely made up of it) in order to sell better, both as a show and in the ancillary market where hardcore fans will buy excessive amounts of items related to the character of their desire... It's not as though creators go out with the intention of creating moe works, but there are many steps in the whole process of getting a manga and anime put together and released to the public, so somewhere in there is a conscious decision to include moe."
As the first decade of the 2000s unfolded, moé became increasing popular and recognized, invoking a commercial interest in manufacturing and exploiting moé. As this process occurred, moé evolved from being a non-sexual desire to hug, love, and protect to being a sexually sublimated fascination with cuteness. Moé shifted entirely from a two-way interchange between character and viewer to becoming distinctly a characteristic of particular characters or a focused fetish of viewers. Particularly anime including K-On, Lucky Star, and Moetan deliberately revolved around adorable, whimsical, clumsy, early-adolescent girl characters in order to evoke, enflame, and manipulate the interests and affections of viewers. These characters no longer evoked moé feelings; they were literally moé characters – not characters that naturally and unconsciously evoked a paternal reaction from viewers, but rather characters that were the physical manifestation of the defining characteristics of the moé movement. These girl characters were adorably cute, just a bit sexually appealing, and self-conscious but not yet cynical. They demanded notice and adoration from viewers rather than passively earning adoration and protective feelings.
At the same time moé was hitting its peak and beginning to evolve, it branched off into a parallel variety of moé, the pandering to particular niche fetishes. At least as early as 2002, the G-On Riders television series had consciously featured girls who wore glasses, to appeal to the "meganekko" fans, but the trend became more pronounced beginning in 2005 with anime that focused on satisfying one particular viewer obsession, for example: Kore ga Watashi no Goshujin-sama (moé for French maid outfits), Strike Witches (military moé), Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (yandere moé), Mayoi Neko Overrun (waitress uniform moé), Macademy Washoi & Asobi ni Ikuyo (nekomimi moé), and Upotte! (assault rifle moé).—John Oppliger, "Ask John: What Are the Defining Moé Anime?", 28 May 2012
With moe anthropomorphism, moe characteristics are applied to give human elements to non-human objects. The Gradius video game series features a spaceship named Vic Viper. For a spin-off game, moe is applied to Vic Viper to create Otomedius.
Sometimes feelings of moe towards fictional characters include "sexual excitement", or are understood in the context where "lots of beautiful girls and boobs appear." In these cases, feelings of pure affection that gradually become stronger over time can lead to these feelings of eroticism.
Moe, however, is also considered to have a decisive difference from pure eroticism. While light eroticism is generally welcomed as "moe," sexuality that is too heavy is considered outside the category of moe. In a light novel by Nagaru Tanigawa, one of the characters mentions that the distinction between moe and pure eroticism can be made based on whether one can still maintain feelings of affection even after one has indulged in masturbation. According to commentator, Tooru Honda who considers moe to be "romance within one's head," the ideal kind of love within moe is "romantic love."
Several informal contests or rankings for characters considered to be moe exist on the internet. One such contest is the Anime Saimoe Tournament, which has been organized by members of 2channel every year since 2002. Moe characters entering within the fiscal year starting July 1 and ending June 30 the following year are eligible. Each tournament has at least 280 moe characters. Spin-offs of the Saimoe Tournament include RPG Saimoe, which has video game characters, and SaiGAR, a competition between the "manliest men of anime". In 2006 and 2007, the Saimoe Tournament became an increasingly international event; 2channel users obliged foreign otaku by putting up an English version of their rules page. The International Saimoe League, also known as ISML, is another online popularity moe contest that is for a worldwide audience.
Moe contests also exist in magazine publications, and in the real world. The Moe Game Awards are given annually to bishōjo games published that year in various categories, such as background music, character design, fandisc, graphics, and erotic content. They were started in 2006 as the Bishōjo Game Awards, but their name was changed to Moe Game Awards in 2009. It is run by the Japanese game rating board Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS) and is described by them as "an R18 game industry version of the Academy Awards". Magazines that have Moe contests in them include the Japanese magazine Dengeki Moeoh which runs a column called "Moeoh Rankings" (萌王ランキング?) and features the top 10 moe characters of the month, as determined by reader votes.
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There are various interpretations on the concept of "moe," and various commentators have made a discussion on this subject. The psychologist Tamaki Saitō considers the "moe" used by otaku to be their particular kind of sexuality, embodied as a caricature. Saito points out that while otaku creations fulfill an abnormal impression of sexuality, otaku that actually carry on this impression in real life are few, and thus argues that it is something that sustains the otaku's sexuality and a fictional world, where fiction itself is their subject of desire and having no need for reality.
Critic Hiroki Azuma on the other hand rejects Saito's argument as "too complicated." Azuma argues that "to moe" is merely the act of analyzing each of of the character's moe characteristics and expending each of those characteristics in a background database, and is thus different from simply feelings of empathy. Azuma sees it as an otaku's consumer activities satisfying their desires among their limited relations and thus "becoming animalized," simplying Saito's idea of moe into the idea of attaining sexual excitement like signals within a database cut off from all relations, and is therefore nothing more than the deed of trained animals.
On the other hand, Honda Tooru argues against the idea that "moe" is simply "the act of going on heat in response to signals, and thus becoming animalized" and argues that this interpretation does not allow one to recall the essence of "moe." Honda considers "moe" to be the act of remembering ideals among the background signals, an act that necessarily arose as the romance denied by religion continues to be supported by materialism, and thus interprets it as a mental activity relevant to the context of mythology and religion. Furthermore, Honda asserts that this "becoming animalized" phenemonon only arose after the bubble period when people consumed real romance and sex like products, and says that as "moe" is commonly interpreted to be in a competition with the deed of hunting for romance in real life, it is thus the antithesis of male-dominant machoism. Also, while Saito doesn't distinguish "moe" from more violent kinds of sexual abnormalities and including works like those by Henry Darger and speaks of "moe" in the context of "battle bishojo" (beautiful girls that fight), Honda on the other hand treats "moe" as the polar opposite of the kind of more hunter-ish kind of sexuality that features in more fiendish works.
The anime director Kazuya Tsurumaki defines moe to be "the act of filling in missing information about characters on one's own." Accepting this view, the writer Junji Hotta explains that characters are born from human instinct, which is the exact reason why one can feel charmed about them much more than one could feel for real people. Toshio Okada says that while he himself has not fully understood "moe," he defines moe to be not just simply getting stirred emotionally by beautiful girls, but also the meta-viewpoint of seeing oneself falling into such a state.
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- Chibi (term)
- Figure moe zoku
- Kawaii, cuteness
- Moe anthropomorphism
- Moe book
- Moe sangyo
- Moeru Eitango Moetan
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- Towards a Cartography of Japanese Anime: Anno Hideaki's >>Evangelion<< - Through an interview with Hiroki Azuma dealing with Evangelion the article sheds light on the origins of the Moe phenomenon
- Cultural Critic Hiroki Azuma Describes Otaku Aesthetics
- Mondo Japan 2004: New language from OTAKU world "MOE"
- New York Times article on Moe phenomenon