Ask John: What Are the Defining Moé Anime?
What would you say are some essential moe shows? What shows would you recommend for someone who’se curious about what moe anime is like?
Although the term “moé” arose in Japanese fandom in the 1990s, it immigrated to America in the early 2000s. Conceptually moé originally referred to a passionate but asexual fascination with emerging adolescence. Moé originally referred to a feeling of affection and almost parental protectiveness over characters who were innocent, cute, and just on the verge of maturing of childhood. In other words, the moé character is the anime equivalent of the literary ingénue. Cuteness and emerging maturity rather than age were defining characteristics of moé status, allowing for characters like Steel Angel Kurumi to still be moé even though she wasn’t ostensibly a child. Kurumi had the fully-developed body of a young adult woman, but her consciousness and personality were still that of an ingénue, which evoked viewers’ desire to embrace and protect her from, essentially, the corruption of adulthood.
The anime exploitation of pure, original moé seems to have peaked around 2005. Kage Kara Mamoru! & Mamoru-kun ni Megami no Shukufuku wo! are shows that don’t explicitly have the visual appearance of stereotypical moé anime but are prime examples of the concept of moé. Kage Kara Mamoru! revolved around a teen girl who is completely oblivious to greed, jealousy, desire, lust, and other adult vices. Moreover, she literally has to be secretly watched over and protected by a friend who serves as the vicarious stand-in for the audience. Mamoru-kun likewise depicts an adorably small, rosy-cheeked boy who’s doted on and adored by a bigger, more mature girl. Mamoru-kun is the epitome of a male moé character.
Kamichu! revolved around a pouty, kind-hearted innocent who evoked paternal instincts in her friends, the supernatural beings that surrounded her, and the viewing audience. Petopeto-san likewise achieved the same impact but wasn’t as widely watched or recognized as Kamichu! The girls of Ichigo Mashimaro are adorable because they’re literally right on the edge of growing out of moé. They exhibit the first signs of adult cynicism yet are still childlike. Fushigi Hoshi no Futago Hime injected moé into shoujo anime, depicting a pair of precocious sisters whose childlike enthusiasm and idealism kept getting them into hair-raising dangers. The UG Ultimate Girls TV series and Koharu Biyori OVA series may be among the first anime to foreshadow the sexualization and fetishization of moé. While these two anime are certainly suggestive, they both have a playful, lighthearted tone of exploitation about them, unlike later anime that made its sexualization far more pointed.
The Binchotan TV series provided moé for an older viewing audience. Binchoutan had no hint of sex, nor did it even include any of the bishoujo characters now central to the moé phenomena. Binchoutan depicted adorably cute Smurf-sized girls who lived simple pastoral lifestyles. Their heartwarming simplicity evoked a strong sense of calm, peacefulness, and serene observation – in a word, moé. The adorable yet clumsy animals of Damekko Doubutsu evoked simultaneous affection and pity. Like Hello Kitty with cancer, the useless animals created a wellspring of asexual love and desire to cuddle and coddle.
As the first decade of the 2000s unfolded, moé became increasing popular and recognized, invoking a commercial interest in manufacturing and exploiting moé. As this process occurred, moé evolved from being a non-sexual desire to hug, love, and protect to being a sexually sublimated fascination with cuteness. Moé shifted entirely from a two-way interchange between character and viewer to becoming distinctly a characteristic of particular characters or a focused fetish of viewers. Particularly anime including K-On, Lucky Star, and Moetan deliberately revolved around adorable, whimsical, clumsy, early-adolescent girl characters in order to evoke, enflame, and manipulate the interests and affections of viewers. These characters no longer evoked moé feelings; they were literally moé characters – not characters that naturally and unconsciously evoked a paternal reaction from viewers, but rather characters that were the physical manifestation of the defining characteristics of the moé movement. These girl characters were adorably cute, just a bit sexually appealing, and self-conscious but not yet cynical. They demanded notice and adoration from viewers rather than passively earning adoration and protective feelings.
At the same time moé was hitting its peak and beginning to evolve, it branched off into a parallel variety of moé, the pandering to particular niche fetishes. At least as early as 2002, the G-On Riders television series had consciously featured girls who wore glasses, to appeal to the “meganekko” fans, but the trend became more pronounced beginning in 2005 with anime that focused on satisfying one particular viewer obsession, for example: Kore ga Watashi no Goshujin-sama (moé for French maid outfits), Strike Witches (military moé), Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (yandere moé), Mayoi Neko Overrun (waitress uniform moé), Macademy Washoi & Asobi ni Ikuyo (nekomimi moé), and Upotte! (assault rifle moé).