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Moe (萌え?, pronounced [mo.e]) is a Japanese slang word; in greater China, it is also a well known loanword. The word has come to be used to mean one particular kind of "adorable", one specific type of "cute", mainly as applied to fictional characters. Moe does not have one concrete definition, but rather has a variety of meanings. The term "moe" can be added onto the end of any personality trait or physical trait to create a new type of moe. According to the Japan Society and Patrick W. Galbraith it means - a rarefied, a euphoric response to fantasy characters or representations of them – however, one of the most famous instances of moe has been in response to the drama version of a living person. It is a pun derived from a Japanese word that literally means "budding," as with a plant that is about to flower, and thus it can also be used to mean "budding" as with a preadolescent girl. Since this word is also a homonym for "burning" pronounced moe (燃え?), there is also speculation that the word stems from the burning passion felt for the characters.
The word is occasionally spelled Moé, and was originally related to a strong interest in a particular type or style of character in video games, anime or manga. "Moe!" is also used within anime fandom as an interjection. Girls who create a feeling of moe are called moekko (萌えっ娘?) from "娘" meaning "female child".
The term's origin and etymology are unknown. Anime columnist John Oppliger has outlined several popular theories describing how the term would have stemmed from the name of anime heroines, such as Hotaru Tomoe from Sailor Moon (Tomoe is written as 土萌, relevant kanji is the same) or Moe Sagisawa from the 1993 anime Kyōryū Wakusei. Psychologist Tamaki Saitō identifies it as coming from the Japanese word for "budding", moeru (萌える?). Ken Kitabayashi of the Nomura Research Institute has defined moe as "being strongly attracted to one's ideals" Kitabayashi has identified the word "moe" to be a pun with the Japanese godan (五段?) verb for "to sprout", moyasu (萌やす?), and its homonym "to burn", moyasu (燃やす?). Along the same line of thought, Kitabayashi has identified it to be a pun with the Japanese ichidan (一段?) verb for "to sprout" moeru (萌える?) and its homonym "to burn" moeru (燃える?), which mean "to burn" (in the sense of one's heart burning, or burning with passion). Galbraith states that the term came from 2channel in the 1990s, discussing female characters who were "hybrids of the Lolicon (Lolita Complex) and bishoujo (beautiful girl) genres". This describes exactly Hotaru Tomoe, and coincides with her height of popularity in 2channel, giving strength to the theory that the term stemmed from her name. Another reason why the term could have originated from Hotaru Tomoe is her background story, especially in the manga. The term has been associated with characters that give off the aura that they need to be protected because they are vulnerable, and Hotaru fits that category; in the manga, her mother died in a lab accident, and she was severely injured from the same accident to the point where her father needed to give her cybernetic parts, and her father died in the manga later on, and in the anime, although she wasn't given cybernetic parts, and her father didn't die, her awkward civilian powers and seizures made her an outcast from her classmates. The vulnerability she displays in both cases makes Hotaru Tomoe a model example for moe, since fans of the series would feel compelled to protect her.
Comiket organiser Ichikawa Koichi has described Lum Invader of Urusei Yatsura as being both the source of moe and the first tsundere. The character of Clarisse from Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) has also been cited as a potential ancestral example. According to Hiroki Azuma, as Rei Ayanami became a more prominent character among fans, she "changed the rules" governing what people regarded as moe-inspiring. The industry has since created many characters which share her traits of pale skin, blue hair and a "quiet personality".
The archetype moe character is used in some anime and manga, such as Miyuki Takara of Lucky Star. The term moe is often also used to describe either a character who is, or a form of media containing, moekko, therefore Lucky Star is a moe-anime for example.
These characteristics are seen in many moe characters, but they do not define moe characters:
Moe characters have expanded within the Japanese media market. In 2004, the market for moe media such as printed media, video, and games was worth 88 billion yen; roughly one-third of the estimated 290 billion yen otaku market in Japan. In 2009, Brad Rice, editor-in-chief of "Japanator", said that "moe has literally become an economic force... more and more products—especially shows—are geared towards include [sic] some moe (or be entirely made up of it) in order to sell better, both as a show and in the ancillary market where hardcore fans will buy excessive amounts of items related to the character of their desire... It's not as though creators go out with the intention of creating moe works, but there are many steps in the whole process of getting a manga and anime put together and released to the public, so somewhere in there is a conscious decision to include moe."
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).—John Oppliger, "Ask John: What Are the Defining Moé Anime?", 28 May 2012
With moe anthropomorphism, moe characteristics are applied to give human elements to non-human objects. The Gradius video game series features a spaceship named Vic Viper. For a spin-off game, moe is applied to Vic Viper to create Otomedius.
Several informal contests or rankings for characters considered moe exist on the internet.
One such contest is the Anime Saimoe Tournament, which has been organized by members of 2channel every year since 2002.  Moe characters entering within the fiscal year starting July 1 and ending June 30 the following year are eligible. Each tournament has at least 280 moe characters. They must have any of the following qualifications:
Spin-offs of the Saimoe Tournament include RPG Saimoe, which exclusively features video game characters, and SaiGAR, a competition between the manliest men of anime; despite the participation of Takamachi Nanoha in SaiGAR 2007. In 2006 and 2007, the Saimoe Tournament became an increasingly international event; 2channel users obliged foreign otaku by putting up an English version of their rules page.
The International Saimoe League, also known as ISML, is a worldwide online popularity moe contest.
The Moe Game Awards are given annually to bishōjo games published that year in various categories, such as background music, character design, fandisc, graphics, and erotic content. They were started in 2006 as the Bishōjo Game Awards, but their name was changed to Moe Game Awards in 2009. It is run by the Japanese game rating board Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS) and is described by them as "an R18 game industry version of the Academy Awards".
There are various interpretations of what moe is today and in the past. Joseph L. Dela Pena argues that moe is a pure, protective feeling towards a female character, without the sexualization of lolicon also known as loli. Jason Thompson of Otaku USA regards moe when applied to young female characters or people as being an offshoot of the lolicon phenomenon and the role of cuteness in Japanese culture. Scott Von Schilling sees moe in this sense as being indicative of men in their thirties "longing for fatherhood".
In response to the growing otaku fetishization of cute female characters in anime and manga, Japanese animator and self-avowed feminist Hayao Miyazaki has stated:
It's difficult. They immediately become the subjects of lolicon fetishism. In a sense, if we want to depict someone who is affirmative to us, we have no choice but to make them as lovely as possible. But now, there are too many people who shamelessly depict [such heroines] as if they just want [such girls] as pets, and things are escalating more and more.—Hayao Miyazaki, "Why heroines in Miyazaki works: A collection of short excerpts"
Tamaki Saitō explains that a male fan's "position" is his position as a subject, which the male fan must establish before he can desire an object. In this view, moe characters are agents of the male fan's desire. Nariko Enomoto compares male fans to fujoshi, who she says are primarily attracted to phases of a relationship, for example the point at which a friendly relationship becomes romantic.