GS: The Deconstruction of Moe Subculture 01



Given my known readers (only about a third of you, shockingly, if not less – hi to all ye newbies!), I’m sure the concept of moe (pronounced, unlike the above character, as “mo-eh”) is familiar to you. At least, the general impressions of it. Cuteness is its calling card – but not just the sort of cute found in small puppies and kittens and children (unless you’re a sick fuck). It’s something about a particularly cute female, or even male, character designed specifically to get your heart rate up… amongst other things.

THIS is what I meant

THIS is what I meant

To put it succinctly, a moe character is one designed specifically to allure to the audience’s libido through cuteness. Note the latter qualifier – while it’s possible, theoretically, to make a mature, well-endowed diva moe (namely, via personality traits), it is not overbearing sexuality that creates a state of moe. Surprisingly, for a subject matter often derided by non-geeks as simplistic sexual fantasizing, there is a level of nuance in moe culture that has oft been overlooked. Or, at least, under-appreciated.

It’s the psychological aspects of moe that’s grabbed my attention, really. There’s a common line running through all of its major archetypes – something that links even the “Yamato Nadeshiko” subtype with the altogether too popular “Tsundere.” Or, at least, my gut instinct is indicating that such a common denominator exists.

The foundation of this instinct is, perhaps, simple enough to understand. In part, the detractors of moe subculture has it right in one: it is male fantasy. Trying to argue otherwise is an exercise in futility. The commercialization of sexual “cuteness” is a deliberate ploy at targeting the wallets of that sacred 18-24 male demographic that media groups all vie for – thus why activist groups in the US are always up in arms, not completely without reason, about the increased sexualization of the PG-13 and R releases of Hollywood. The individuals of that demographic are, by and large, amongst the largest consumers of media and media byproducts – and as a natural result of their age range, are especially susceptible to attacks on their libido.

But note that moe subculture does distinguish itself with the emphasis of “cuteness” as a form of sex appeal. And the reason for that probably stems from something intrinsic and fundamental about Japanese culture in general. It is no secret that there is a strongly patriarchial pattern to Japanese society – while equal rights for women, for the most part, is legally accepted, the actual practice in the workplace and at home is decidedly… traditional. There is still an overwhelmingly common cultural belief that a submissive woman is the feminine ideal, and evidence of this can be seen throughout all forms of the moe phenomena.

Vulnerability, submissiveness, clumsiness – even flatchestedness, schoolgirl uniforms, and lolicon in general: amongst the innumerable personality and physical characteristics that are considered moe, all of it are built around a character that is specifically vulnerable and in need of some form of care or protection. Or, at least, seem as if she does. While admittedly more than a little chauvinistic, moe plays upon that almost territorial sense of protectiveness.

Does this make moe inherently evil? Certainly, from a feminist’s standpoint, it’d clearly be fundamentally so, as it reduces women to objectified archetypes. And the feminist would be, for the most part, right. But also fundamentally wrong. It is one of the interesting paradoxes of moe – though vastly simplified compared to the Reality of a woman, it is nonetheless probably one of the healthier approaches to gender relations and gender interactions amongst first-world media cultures.

The rallying cry of the 2D fetishist is that the objects of their adoration have personalities – and it isn’t just lust that motivates them to spend so many hundreds of dollars on the artbooks, doujinshi, posters and figurines of a fictional character. An ad-hoc code and standard for moe character design has, over the last few years, slowly crystallized, driven by the twin forces of fan creation and canny marketing – a careful imprinting of significance and personality to everything from hairstyle to accessories to personality traits. And as the fans get more zealous and the marketers compete for more of their attention, more and more sophistication is lavished upon each new iteration of the major archetypes.

To what end? I cannot claim to have such long-reaching vision as to come with a definite conclusion as to the ultimate effects of the moe trend – but vague predictions can be made easily enough. In short, I am not convinced that the feminist would be fully right in disregarding or even disdaining moe. It would seem to me that, though a patriarchial trend is inherent to the subculture, its development may, in fact, be beneficial overall.

Why this is so is deserving of a whole separate article on its own – if not two or three or more. The complexities of the moe subculture can be picked apart almost endlessly, from the difference between ponytail and twintail hairstyles to the significance of stripes or plain white panties – a ridiculous thing to argue about, but be it never said that otaku aren’t willing to get absolutely silly about something they’re serious about.

But for Thoughtscream’s purpose, future geekscreams will deal with this: the social and cultural ramifications of cute anime girls, and the various archetypes that personify moe.

This promises to be an extensive, bizarre, and perhaps enlightening little undertaking. So come along as we commence…

The Deconstruction of Moe Subculture.

Haruhi-chan is pleased.

Haruhi-chan is pleased.


~ by Gonzo Mehum on February 11, 2009.

9 Responses to “GS: The Deconstruction of Moe Subculture 01”

  1. I love the “really overthinking this shit” tag haha.

    This is definitely getting me thinking about what moe is… I never really put much thought into it. “Cute girl is cute” was about the gist lol. The “moe plays upon that almost territorial sense of protectiveness” is really spot on. Nearly all moe qualities seem to be some form of weakness, save yandere I suppose.

    Yandere would be the exception right? lol, Looking forward to the next deconstruction post.

  2. Whilst I am an ardent critic of moe in all it’s forms, I must say that this was an interesting article to read.

    I must raise a question however; you state that you believe the benefits of moe outweigh the patriarchal underpinnings of the sub-culture, do you mind elaborating on this?

  3. “Why this is so is deserving of a whole separate article on its own.”

    As you’ll notice, this article is labeled as the first of a multiparter. I’ve the idea- it’s just going to take more than 1k words to address it.

  4. […] one and […]

  5. I’d love to see your opinions on Chivalry, then, especially as it derives from the same “patriarchal underpinnings” and “territoriality” that you mention.

    Also, try to watch your Straw Feminism next time. She could just as easily make the same argument about Buffy, about Lois Lane, or, for that matter, about any badly written superhero of either sex: they’re objectified archetypes.

  6. […] one, two and […]

  7. […] one, two, three and […]

  8. […] one, two, three, four, and […]

  9. […] Another blog, now defunct “The Thoughtscream”, notes in their analysis of moe that they feel it’s more of a power fantasy.  In some ways, they’re right; the traditional moe characters are often submissive, a trait […]

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