Demystifiying Moe

In the anime fandom, moe (often spelled moé) has been a hot-button for the last decade or more. Some love it, some hate it, but many don’t even know what it is.

Origins of Moe

Lynn Minmay (Superdimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love, 1984)

Lynn Minmay (Superdimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love, 1984)

The origins of the term moe (Pronounced mo-eh), are somewhat disputed, though experts point to early message boards, where otaku would use the verb “moeru” (to burn) to describe their “burning passion” for cute anime characters. Computers, however, would often parse it into the homophonous “moeru” (to bud). Given its origins, the term sees use among all walks of modern, tech-savvy otaku, as well as among fujoshi (hardcore yaoi fans).

From “moeru,” “moe” soon came to be used to describe the euphoric feeling felt by fans when characters appeal strongly to them.

It should be noted that, while the term “moe” came into being with the internet age, the concept of feeling strongly for a character has always been around. In addition, cute anime girls aren’t just a product of anime from the late 90s to the 2010s.

Moe Today

HMX-12 Multi (To Heart, 1999)

HMX-12 Multi (To Heart, 1999)

Commonly used among the anti-moe crowd, the term “moe anime” is erroneously used to describe any anime that focuses on cute girls. Treating moe like a genre is an oversimplification of the concept. That said, moe has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan, transcending otaku subculture. Cute anime girls are used to advertise everything, including the Self-Defense Forces.

Sometime during the mid-2000s (The exact date is still disputed) a “moe boom” occurred, according to fans. This supposedly marked a large increase in the number of “moe anime” being made, sparking a similar increase in the fandom debate surrounding moe. It’s inconclusive whether the “moe boom” ever ended.

The Moe Debate

The late 2000s saw something of a paradigm shift in the Western anime fandom. For the first time, we were starting to “catch up” with the Japanese fandom. That is to say, with the advent of streaming and simulcasts, the Western fandom could finally watch the same anime Japan was watching. Incidentally, this happened at a particularly moe-heavy point in time. A fandom that had gotten used to Toonami and Adult Swim, and revered anime like Cowboy Bebop as classics was suddenly inundated with Strike Witches, MM!, Chu-Bra!!, and OreImo.

This caused a rift within the fandom: The moe fans vs. the moe haters, the most virulent among which came to be known as the “Anti-Moe Brigade.”

The Moe Fandom

Tooru Yukimura (Aoharu x Machinegun, 2015)

Tooru Yukimura (Aoharu x Machinegun, 2015)

For the most part, the moe fans just want to watch their anime and fawn over their favorite characters in peace. They see value in moe as a type of appeal, in that it compels the viewer to care about the characters, fostering a deeper connection and investing the viewer in the characters and story in a way that couldn’t otherwise be achieved without the love-esque connection moe encourages.

In addition, many of them tout the wide potential of moe, pointing out that any character can be moe and that moe is in the eye of the beholder.

The Anti-Moe Brigade

Among those who dislike the proliferation of moe is a subset of fans that not only dislike it, but believe it to be harmful. Armed with accusations of “creepy,” “childish,” “sexist,” “pedophile,” and other damning assertions, they take to the debate by devaluing moe as simplistic and clichéd as best, and sexist and pedophilic at worst.

Other times, the very concept of moe itself is in the crosshairs, with assertions that its definition is too vague to mean anything.

Fueled by Misconceptions

The clash between the two sides often erupts into heated debates across internet forums and social media, often becoming hostile, but usually caused by a fundamental misunderstanding about moe. Again, the erroneous term “moe anime” is usually used by those who dislike cute anime girls to describe anime they dislike. Moe, by itself, is an emotion, extrapolated into a type of appeal based on that emotion.

Many accusations surrounding moe (Especially those of sexism and misogyny) fundamentally ignore both moe aimed at women and female moe fans, who have been an integral part of the moe fandom for as long as the concept has existed.

Moe fans are also often characterized with harmful stereotypes. They’re quite often characterized as creepy, lonely, antisocial, right-wing, often overweight, white men, despite the existence of many examples to the contrary.

Since the early 2000s, there has been a growing body of academic research on moe and other elements of fandom behaviour, many of which debunk common misconceptions of moe. Though these have gone largely ignored for most of the moe debate, they’re beginning to see citation among fans.

What is Moe?

Garma Zabi (Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion, 2016)

Garma Zabi (Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion, 2016)

Moe is what you make of it. Though many fans fine cute girls moe, there’s nothing stopping anyone from finding Guts from Berserk or Garma Zabi from Gundam moe. Moe is personal, but sharable. What’s moe to you might not be moe to me, but moe is moe and we can understand each other on that basis.


Further Reading

The Moe Manifesto (Book)
Moe - Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan
The Moe Image - Heisei Democracy