Moenetics: The Rise of the Sophisticated Moe Series

Post to be broken up with ridiculously huge images, as is my tradition for longer essays, because otherwise there’s a huge wall of text and no one likes walls of text, least of all me, so you can either stay for the text or just stare at pretty pictures for a few minutes. Either way, you’ll hopefully have fun!

It’s occurred to me in the past couple of days, basking in the warm afterglow of finishing true tears (which, by the way, I think blogging it really helped me appreciate it much more than I would have without such, as doing the entries gave me the opportunity to properly think about each character’s motivations and emotions, even if most of those posts revolved around Noe), that anime in general and moe in particular is kind of undergoing a sort of sea change. We’ve seen, in the past six months, the airing of four very, from a historical perspective, odd galge/eroge conversion series: Kimikiss, ef – a tale of memories, Clannad, and true tears. They’re odd not in the sense that they’re quirky, but odd in the sense that they break from tradition

Three of them were handed to major creative directors–Kimikiss to Kasai Ken’ichi of Honey & Clover and Nodame Cantabile fame; ef to Shinbo Akiyuki’s very capable supervision hands, with Oonuma Shin providing a very strong initial showing; and true tears to Nishimura Junji, who directed Simoun, as well as a portion of that little-known series Ranma 1/2; Clannad to Kyoto Animation’s extremely competent Ishihara Tatsuya, responsible for Haruhi and Kanon. In addition to these four series, I’d like to throw in, partially because I’m very fond of it, and partially because it works very well with the concept, Nishimori Akira’s Hitohira (Nishimori also directed the extremely pleasant Petopeto-san, which I was probably one of the few people who genuinely liked it). I’ll probably talk more about true tears, ef, Clannad, and Hitohira, as I’ve seen them, and I haven’t had the chance to see Kimikiss yet, but all signs point to that series being excellent as well, so I look forward to it.

Whew.

What that all builds up to, then, is a discovery of what moe actually is. As a term. it has a flexible definition, and one way I’ve always looked at it is as a sort of bridging the gap between the male audience and the female audience, at least when accomplished properly. The concept of “cute girls” preys upon the male’s need for eye candy, and the frequently deep emotions and development of the “cute girl” into a more complex character is strongly reminiscent of shoujo characterization. Put another way, moe offers character-driven (or primarily character-driven) series featuring cute female characters and officially targeted at a male audience. It’s a kind of transference of shoujo sensibilities into seinen anime and manga–again, when accomplished properly.

The deep character focus of the five mentioned series (in Kimikiss’s case, it is assumed, but I don’t think I’m wrong) demonstrate moe in this sense effectively. Consider Hitohira, for starters: it’s an entirely character-driven series, as the plot exists only to further Mugi’s development as a character. She is a quite cute character, with somewhat exaggerated traits, but it’s clear to anyone who’s seen the series that she changes over the course of the series. In true shoujo form, we get a glimpse inside the person of Mugi, and then we get the joy of cheering her on as she slowly comes out of her shell. It’s the total opposite of what you’d think a guy would enjoy, but there’s certainly a small (yet devoted) male fanbase for the series.

The extreme example of this shift in narrative focus from “plot” to “character”, from characters existing solely as flat personalities (such as you’d see in a Da Capo series) with a quirky trait to characters existing as a complex whole, is of course true tears. As I’ve mentioned in my posts about the series, the six main characters are incredibly complex, and developed so well that I find it difficult to grasp how so many people have enjoyed the series seemingly without getting underneath the characters’ skin and trying to decipher how they work. (Then again, maybe all these sorts of people just read my blog, where I attempted to do that for them, to varying degrees of success depending on the person) This kind of depth of character is something you only see in shoujo and josei in anime, and is even what you get in women’s fiction here in America, such as The Time-Traveler’s Wife. It’s what females seem to thrive on, this depth of character, and true tears gives it in a package that both males and females can share, if they try hard enough.

On the Clannad front, you’ve got, at its heart, not a complex “love heptagon” plot, but rather the simple story of two people, Tomoya and Nagisa, who gradually fall in love as they help those around them. I haven’t quite seen the second half of this series yet, unfortunately, but I’m led to understand that the conclusion is decidedly Tomoya x Nagisa. The important thing about Clannad is that, while it may lack some of the character depth found in true tears, it makes up for it by telling a simple, honest story of a romance between two people. It’s almost like girl fanservice to see the little tantalizing bits of relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa, such as hands brushing against one another while walking. Again, here the package of sweet, almost girly romance is tied up with a wrapping of a number of cute girls designed to appeal to the male aesthetic.

ef is somewhat more complicated, but, like Clannad, it’s at its heart a tale of pure romance. Fans of love triangles got their fill with the Kei/Miyako arc, and fans of a tale of true love crossing all boundaries and impediments got their fill with Chihro and Renji. Again, the characters are drawn to the bishoujo style, but also, there’s depth of emotion here. The characters may be somewhat on the flat side, but ef truly shines at bringing out their raw emotions and showing to the viewer exactly what it is they’re feeling, which is a difficult act to accomplish. Part of that is due to the clever direction, of course, but there’s enough of it in the writing that it’s not wholly directorial.

On the whole, I think that this trend towards a more characterized moe (rather than an arbitrary character trait moe) is fast becoming the new wave of the future. We saw its beginnings back in 2006 with Toki o Kakeru Shoujo, I think, and there’s certainly proto-series of this type floating around that I’ve forgotten about from even earlier time periods. I’ve also noticed that as we’ve been getting more and more of these sorts of series, we get far less in the way of series along the lines of Rosario + Vampire, which offer little character depth but plenty of superficial and visceral enjoyment for males (and, it should be noted, females of a rather odd persuasion). I think that the enduring popularity of these series with the American and Japanese audience will only go to encourage the producers of anime to create more in the vein of the five series mentioned here.

Maybe someday I can write a post titled “Moe: The Rise from the Ashes” and everyone who hated moe will suddenly comprehend the concept and appreciate it for what it is supposed to be. Or maybe I’m just delusional, or overly hopeful, or both. Surely there’s some middle ground, right?

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6 Responses to “Moenetics: The Rise of the Sophisticated Moe Series”


  1. 1 Anonymous 1 April 2008 at 3:06 am

    Nice Post

  2. 2 CCY 3 April 2008 at 1:40 am

    Would that truly be called moe, though? Or would the characters just be more fleshed-out personalities infused with moe instead of one-dimensional images built off of it? (i.e. Think of Soujiro’s line from Lucky Star, tweaked: “Not I am moe, but I am also moe.”

    I enjoy moe personally but I think the word carries a kind of negative stigma that’s a bit more shallow than the sophisticated things we look for in characters.

    I do hope you’re right though, in that there are more fleshed-out and realistic moe-type characters nowadays though. You pretty much named four of my favorite series of the last season. XD

  3. 3 OGT 3 April 2008 at 8:12 am

    I firmly believe that moe, for me, is the product of quality character development. The thing here is that moe carried that definition, but as time went on the term became applied to characters with much less depth.

    Another way to look at the term “moe” is a feeling of love toward an anime character. It can be a superficial, “aww, she’s cute!” kind of love; or it can be a burning, eroticized love; or it can be a tender and passionate and deep-seated love. It’s all three of these things at once. I prefer the third kind, myself, but the term can mean the first two depending on the context and/or the person using the term.

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  1. 1 Just For ‘Fun’: A Condensed Theory of Moe « The Animanachronism Trackback on 1 April 2008 at 5:09 pm
  2. 2 Toradora!, or: A Taiga to Call My Own (and that fits in the palm of my hand) « Anime wa Bakuhatsu da! Trackback on 1 July 2008 at 10:33 pm

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