I recently watched a video from anime YouTuber Digibro, in which he laments that moe has lost its meaning and that constant disagreement on its definition has rendered the term useless.
“Moe” refers to an appeal-based euphoric sensation relating to characters. Put simply, when a character appeals to you so perfectly that you respond emotionally to that appeal, that’s moe. The term’s been extrapolated to refer to an art style, a pseudo-genre, and a set of tropes and archetypes, but all of these are fundamentally flawed in various ways.
Our relative lateness in catching up to the actual definition of moe has caused many Western anime fans to be trapped in one misconception or another. This ultimately ends up bogging down the discussion, leading many, Digibro included, to conclude that moe is no longer a worthwhile term.
The problem is that, despite handwringing from the anti-moe crowd and the growing apathy to moe discussion, moe soldiers on. We’re not necessarily seeing a second “moe boom,” but moe is growing in other ways. While it’s a stretch to call moe an art style or a genre, it could easily be considered a cultural movement at this point.
From Love Plus to maid cafes, anime figures to dakimakura, Gatebox to Ai Kizuna. Moe has permeated to the point where it’s growing into its own subculture of anime culture. Much of modern moe culture simply revolves around cute anime-style girls, an ideal of purity and cuteness, and a fun, light, fluffy atmosphere without necessarily having an anime, manga, or visual novel to back it all up.
Further, as more and more young Japanese people turn to virtual relationships with anime-style characters, the market for moe appeal will only swell. One might say it’s now more important than ever to understand what “moe” really is.
Abandoning the discussion because some people can’t agree on a definition is short-sighted at best. Moreover, it lets people with misconceptions about the concept dominate the discussion, often with negativity. It’s not constructive, and isn’t designed to be. Vocal anti-moe fans often derail discussions about moe with poorly-conceived concepts about it. The term “moe anime” largely came about as a way for people who dislike it to specifically describe anime they dislike.
As moe continues its steady march upward, it will be increasingly necessary to understand it. Otherwise, we risk misconceptions and false notions about it being widespread. Further, we risk it being vilified by people who stand to profit socially from vilifying it, harmless as it may be.