Shall We Say No to Moe?

K-On Asuza

“It seems that Ming has some issues with you,” my friend Yu told me.

Hearing her words, I shrugged and said nonchalantly, “I don’t care about his opinion.”

Yu stared me for a moment, “You are truly a tsundere.” She laughed, “I know you do care.”

Louise de la Valliere, zero no tsukaima

I was surprised, not because Yu misunderstood me and thought that I was lying about my feeling, but because she said “tsundere,” a term that is originally from a subculture within the anime realm and moe obsession.

There is no exact definition of moe, but it usually refers to female anime characters who are girlishly cute and naive. The moe obsession exemplifies the pursuit of a male audience’s visual pleasure that is discussed by Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey argues that, “a split between active/male and passive/female” fulfills male spectators’ fantasy as they see the male protagonist takes control of the heroine by winning her heart. One reason moe anime characters have a high popularity is that they are usually easily controlled by the hero because of their immaturity and vulnerability.

Moe: Strike Witches
Strike Witches: Moe.

As most people of my generation in Japan and China take an interest in anime, using terms from the moe subculture to describe people around us becomes prevailing; thus, women in reality are related with the female roles who are satisfying male’s gaze in the anime. So, does our embracing the transference of moe personalities to our perception of real people welcome Mulvey’s passive female model from the cinema into the real world and further reinforce the ingrained patriarchal ideology?

There is a list of personalities that are regarded as moe, and tsundere is one of them. An anime character with a tsundere personality usually possesses a buff exterior in order to conceal her innermost vulnerability. Mulvey argues that male spectators obtain their visual pleasure as their “screen surrogate,” the hero, “gain[s] control and possession of the woman within the diegesis.” tsundere characters are popular among male spectators, who get the sense of achievement as they see the tsundere heroine strip off her aloof and hostile veneer and disclose her affection for the male protagonist.

Rin: weak about strength
Rin: weak about strength

The recent anime Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works portrays the tsundere heroine Tosaka Rin, who appeared aggressive towards the male protagonist Emiya Shiro after he became her competitor for the Holy Grail. Yet, Rin’s tsundere nature determines that she is internally shy and afraid to reveal her true feelings towards Shiro, whom she supports and relies on. As the narrative progresses, the female supporting character deepened her feeling towards the male protagonist and eventually promised that she would always be at his side–she falls in love with Shiro and “becomes his property.”

Indeed, apart from Tusndere, nearly all moe personalities incorporate elements that satisfy male pleasure. “moe” is usually related with childlike loveliness and naivety, implying the vulnerability of the female character and her need to be protected (by the hero). Females with moe personalities are considered as appealing because they are innocuous and amenable, and the widespread moe obsession encourages the public to welcome sweet and unsophisticated females more than those strong and independent ones. For instance, before the dissemination of moe obsession, most women would not wear twin-tails because they thought that hairstyle was too childish for an adult. Yet ironically, the reason the twin-tails becomes popular now is exactly that the hairstyle is girlish and lovely.

Moreover, women are more likely to display their susceptibilities and their dependence on males, and acting cute or naïve in order to ask others a favor is not unusual. Mulvey contends that the passive female model on the screen reflects the prevalence of the phallocentric ideology in reality. Yet, now our pursuit of moe demonstrates that the female representation on the screen has influenced our view on how a woman should behave in the real world, and thus, reinforces the male dominance due to our preference for innocent and vulnerable women.

Because it is originally from anime, the moe obsession spread into the mainstream without people’s vigilance of its connotation of a passive/female model. While looking at the sexualized females in live action films (as Mulberry discussed), the spectators have a conscious awareness that they are viewing human bodies and subjecting the females to a “controlling and curious gaze.” However, for animation, because they are usually hand-drawn, the audience can more easily separate the anime characters from the females in reality. Though the anime characters are still exposed to the male gaze, the audience gets a vague sense that a moe female role reflects our patriarchal ideology. The moe culture thus spread quickly among the public without much opposition.

As moe culture gains popularity, characterizing women using the moe personalities becomes a trend. Women who are reticent and unemotional are described as mukuchi-kei, and women who are meek and reserved are called Yamato Nadeshiko. Telling a girl that she has a certain kind moe personality implies that she is as cute as the glamorized female characters in the anime rather than an overt insinuation that she is powerless. However, categorizing women into moe personalities, like tsundered or mukuchi-mei, is an imprudent generalization. The female representation within anime is usually stereotypical, but in the real world, people have subtle emotions, and their personalities are complex. For example, two anime roles with tsundere personality are similar to each other, but two girls considered as tsundere in reality are probably quite different. Labeled by terms that initially represent the moe characters, women are typecast as the stereotyped female representations on the screen that satisfy the male gaze. We are denying the existence of self-reliant and powerful women if we believe that the so-called moe personalities easily cover all the female personalities in reality.

A real woman performs moe poses for aspiring artists
A real woman performs moe poses for aspiring artists

So, shall we say no to moe? If the moe obsession was only limited among the anime fans, it would not become a serious issue. As I recall, the first time I encountered an anime character with a moe personality, I regarded her as endearing, even though she is another passive female model. However, as I see more people use moe as a commendatory word for women, I feel that the paragon for women becomes a susceptible girl who is submissive to the patriarchy. Because of the moe culture’s prevalence, it is nearly impossible for us to completely resist the moe culture, but we should be aware that the patriarchy on the screen has not died away. Instead, moe reinforces the dominant patriarchal ideology in the public’s consciousness.

2 thoughts on “Shall We Say No to Moe?

  1. I guess we gotta get rid of romance movies with those handsome men who give men too high standards to be masculine and sacrifice himself for women too?

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