Ask John: What is Moe?

What is “moe”?

The Japanese concept of “moe” (pronounced “moe-ey” with a long “O” followed by a long “A”) in regard to anime is a distinction of young, feminine innocence. The concept was quite popular among Japanese otaku during the early 2000’s but by some reports is already dying off. The word “moe” as it’s used relative to anime, is written with the kanji that literally means “to sprout.” There’s been some argument over the true origin of the term with suggestions including it being an abbreviation of the name Hotaru Tomoe (Sailor Saturn) from Sailormoon, it stemming from the name of the cute young female character Moe Sagisawa from the 1993 anime TV series Kyouryuu Wakusei (“Dinosaur Planet”), and it originating in the Japanese word “moero” meaning “burning” as in cute little anime characters that incite a “burning spirit” in their fans. But the most logical and commonly accepted theory is that the word comes from the idea of small, young anime girls that can be nurtured into maturity. The concept of “moe” is a recognition of a character’s innocent, childlike charm and can be represented through personality or speech or both.

The best way to understand the idea of “moe” characters is through examples. Sweet, innocent and feminine young anime girls including Sakura Kinomoto of Card Captor Sakura, Hotaru Tomoe of Sailormoon, most of the cast of Sister Princess, Saya from Peacemaker Kurogane, Tsubame Sanjou of Rurouni Kenshin, and Kokoro from Kokoro Toshokan are prime examples of “moe” characters. If we look to slightly more aged characters, Chi from Chobits, Kirika of Noir, Mahoro Ando and especially Minawa from Mahoromatic, and Kurumi from Steel Angel Kurumi are also “moe.” Kirika, Chi and Minawa are “moe” because they’re so cypheric and malleable. Mahoro and Kurumi are both “moe” as much for their cute speech patterns as for their uninhibited and exuberant personalities.

But the characteristics of “moe” are very strict. Girls that are too mature or strong willed cannot be considered “moe.” Girls that aren’t eager likewise aren’t “moe.” For example, none of the primary characters in Love Hina or Onegai Teacher are “moe” because they’re all too mature and independent. The concept of “moe” implies anime characters, usually but not exclusively female, that make viewers want to hug them and protect them and nurture them by playing the role of an elder brother or sister.

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