I recently found this link on MAL (from an anti-moe club) to an article about moe (I recommend reading it, it is quite insightful) and the article inspired me to finally write the post I’ve been meaning to write. Now I know that “moe” isn’t suppose to be a particular character trope or a specific something. It’s a feeling. I get it. I really do. And for the longest time, I had trouble making a case that the roots of moe come from a very specific type of moe. Thankfully, the article is written by someone who has the knowledge I was lacking and they laid out the claim I was desperately trying to make, but had no real historical proof to back it up. So here it is, what I always suspected but didn’t have any idea where I could research such a suspicion to back it up:

Today, while hardcore lolicon (and its young-boy equivalent, shota) still exists, the biggest descendant of lolicon has a new name, moe (“mo-eh”) . . . The word moe actually comes from a kanji meaning “to sprout.” “My vegetable love should grow,” to misuse a quote from Andrew Marvell—a slow budding affection, like a tender young plant. Or like an underage girl, unfortunately. The moe which makes me periodically ashamed to read manga in public, and which has caused a raging debate in the Otaku USA letter column, is a particular kind of moe which has its roots in the Japanese love of cuteness, domesticity and—one element among many—the lingering lolicon trend. It’s the moe of stories like Azumanga Daioh and Strawberry Marshmallow and Tori Koro and Yotsuba&!, in which adorable girls do adorable things.

The author himself admits that moe has come to mean just about anything, but that he here is talking about a very specific kind of moe. The one from whence the word originated. So I hope with that in mind, everyone understands I’m not speaking of the feeling but the phenomenon.

Nowadays, everyone can claim this or that makes them feel moe. Characters that were usually labelled as tsundere are called moe. The word seems to have lost all real categorical value. But as the author rightly points out, there is still something tying the phenomenon together. There are a set of specific characteristics that tie the phenomenon as a whole together, that cater to the majority of fans clamouring for moe. Those characteristics are exactly the ones Mr. Thompson pointed out above: cuteness, youthfulness, domesticity, and girlishness (as defined by patriarchal societies -i.e. cute girls doing cute things).

Mikuru in her maid get up.

Even the anime, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, says as much by having Haruhi pronounce their moe mascot to be Mikuru. What exactly are Mikuru’s traits? Oh let’s see: cuteness, youthfulness, domesticity (making drinks and playing the maid), girlishness (clumsy, soft spoken, passive, child-like, etc.) So even the anime industry itself admits this is exactly what moe entails. Say what you will about the vagueness of the definition, but Mikuru is the archetype of moe. And what does this archetype say? It says moe is traditional femininity with all its focus on a domestic, mentally diminutive, and child-like character.

Ah, but there is more:

Yes, the web of moe is like a complex mesh stretching from almost totally innocent titles like Azumanga Daioh, in which the reader gets to peep at the chaste world of girls, to yuri (lesbian) stories aimed at men (Strawberry Panic being one of the most pandering examples), to open lolicon fantasies. Of course, in pure moe, there’s never sex, just as in bishonen beautiful-boy manga (as opposed to true Boy’s Love) the characters just bicker suggestively and never actually rip each other’s clothes off and get down to it. In fact, it is often so sweet and gentle, like Azumanga, that it can be enjoyed at face value as a children’s manga—even though Dengeki Daioh, the magazine in which Azumanga ran, is aimed at teenage through twentysomething men. Blatant sexualiy would destroy the illusion of innocence that is part of the moe appeal.

Moe inherits not only stone age values about femininity but also female sexuality. The ideal is the untainted innocent virgin, who is oblivious to sexual desire. Experienced, sexually active women are icky. Definitely not waifu material.

Mr.Thompson puts it together best:

Even when moe girls are “competent,” like 10-year-old cook/laundrywoman/ dishwasher Sasami in Tenchi Muyo!, these little girls represent house and home and the most stereotypical view of womanhood—little mothers who cook and clean and aren’t as scary as real adult women. It’s no surprise that one of the manga formats which has embraced moe is four-panel manga, which, like traditional American comic strips, trades on a similar set of clichés: reassuring domestic situations, the warmth of family, and cute characters who never grow old.

So the problem of moe? Outside how awful it is about what constitutes womanhood and female sexuality, it also creates 1 dimensional female characters whose only purpose is to give male readers gratification by pandering to what they want to see in female characters, rather than actually having interesting female characters. These characters are rarely developed and they mean absolutely nothing to anyone except as a patriarchal fantasy about what an ideal woman is about. I’m not bashing cuteness in general. I love cute things (the moe art style doesn’t bother me at all, it’s the character trope that does), but the core of moe is problematic and this is exactly why. As such, I unashamedly state I dislike the moe phenomena and hope it passes soon (even if my cynical side tells me it won’t). What do you think about moe?

–SW

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