Everybody has their own reasons to like a fictional character. A favourite fictional character can change someone’s perspective on life, or maybe the character “completes” their own self. Maybe they are impressed by the character’s strong motivation, or maybe it’s that the character is relatable. People’s response to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker could be seen as an example of the former, but what about characters who are relatable?
In that latter case, I’m not surprised that many people idolize Hachiman from Oregairu, whom Indonesian fans have even labeled as a kind of character who is “gue banget” (literally, “so me”). Characters like Hachiman’s could easily be relatable to teenagers’ sense of “lack”, to borrow the term from Yulius (2019), as they are in the phase of figuring out their self-identity. Hachiman shunned social life and isolated himself from those he considered “hypocrites” who enjoy their youth. Not gonna lie, I’ve been there myself before.
It’s true that in my high school days, Hachiman was a very relatable character. I foolishly think that he was my “ideal self”, without critically examining his character and philosophy. For years, I was trapped in the “Hachiman way” because I thought that by imitating his way of thinking, I was able to be my ideal self. I became a pessimistic person who always thinks negatively about everything. However, as I grew up, I drifted away from Hachiman, and instead, I curiously found myself again in a cute, moe characters.
I used to strongly reject the so-called “cute girls doing cute things (CGDCT)” anime. I just can’t relate to them, especially back in my high school days. There’s no conflict or any tension in their lives. They also do not criticize social reality. I thought of of anime like Is the Order a Rabbit? or Golden Mosaic as nothing but lolicon anime back then. But I’ve got to eat my own words as I come to enjoy moe anime more. Over time, there are even some characters from those moe anime that I found relatable, from Kaoruko Moeta from Comic Girls to Mikage Sakurai.
Before I explain why I now enjoy moe media, let’s make the term clear first. I learned a lot about it from Galbraith’s book, The Moe Manifesto (2014) that explores moe from the insiders’ perspectives. This term emerged in Japanese anime and manga bulletin boards in the ’90s. Originating from the word, moeru, this was meant to be the verb 燃える or “to burn”, indicating fiery passion for the character, but the computer conversion mistakenly turned into the similar sounding verb 萌える, which means “to bud”. Galbraith describes moe as an affectionate response to fictional characters, while the character that trigger that affection is called moe kyara. In similar tones, Condry (2011) describes moe as “yearning desire to care for, or nurture” the characters, but can also refer to a “heated sensual desire.”
Nowadays, moe is largely associated with CGDCT anime, even though initially the term could be used in reference to all bishoujo characters. But the idea is still the same, that moe characters “complete” the person who likes character through adoring the character. Azuma (in Galbraith, 2014) stated that this moe trend is less about narratives, and more about cute characters.The story doesn’t matter much to make the characters interesting to the audience. The creators can focus on the characters because they are what the audience desire in their own right.
Although the moe boom is said to have ended in 2009 (Higashimura in Galbraith, 2014), the market is still there. We can see it in Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kirara family of manga magazines, that publishes Is the Order a Rabbit? and Golden Mosaic. Their titles are what makes me come to like moe. The more I get into them, I found that characters in them are more relatable for me than characters from shounen anime or even Hachiman. Moe characters teach me how to “complete” myself by other means.
As mentioned before, the anime adapted from Manga Time Kirara magazines are mostly focused on the characters, not the story. One of the examples is Asteroid in Love, that had an anime adaptation airing in the winter 2020 season. The premise is simple, Mira Konohata meets Ao Manaka, and both of them want to fulfill their dream by joining their school’s Earth Sciences Club. But the character whom I identify with the most is neither Mira nor Ao, but one of the supporting characters, Mikage Sakurai or “Sakura-senpai”.
Seeing Mikage Sakurai in the anime feels like seeing myself in a mirror. Voiced by Nao Toyama, Mikage is cold and arrogant, a cynical and a skeptical, who doesn’t take criticism well and overly idealistic and perfectionist. She holds her ideals as something that others should follow. She thinks she can do everything by herself, but, she is also easily discouraged. She sets her standards so high that she becomes pessimistic about her chance of succeeding. When she feels insecure, she will stop trying and never takes her chances.
Mikage’s activity in the Earth Sciences Club becomes her turning point. When the club prepares for the cultural festival, she has to set aside her perfectionist nature and compromise with the club’s main goal. Mikage has to lower her standard or their activities aren’t going anywhere. Mikage agrees to this in her own kind of way. Mikage’s situation reminds me of my experience while in a community service program (KKN) as part of my studies. For me, that was my turning point.
The more I watched Asteroid in Love, the more I feel that Mikage is a version of me as a moe kyara. Me and Mikage have our own good sides and soft spots, but we also have our own insecurities. While her other friends already set their goals in life and actively pursuing them, Mikage still hesitates. She doesn’t have a concrete dream as the others are, and it makes her feels inferior. In episode 9, she admits that she always makes things complicated for herself. By that time, she has come into terms with her negative side as a part of her self.
Her experience hits me hard. As with Mikage, I have to accept that life is about the process and we need other people to move forward. When we accept that, life will be much easier. Just keep it simple and move on, is something me and Mikage only came to realize in our life’s turning point.
Conclusion: It’s Okay to Enjoy Moe
I do not think it is a problem to like CGDCT anime with all their moe kyara. It depends on how we perceive them, and approaching them without prejudice may lead to new perspectives, as suggested by the YouTuber Under the Scope in a video essay about cute girls anime.
The focus of moe media are the characters, and that is why we can easily focus on the character development. Because they are relatable, it is easy for us to find a character we can easily identify. We can improve ourselves by loving a moe kyara that we can identify with, because by loving them, we also learn to accept ourselves. It’s not just “nurturing” them with a “burning” passion, but we can also “nurture” ourselves along with them.
Mikage, for me, is a mirror, a reflection that changed my perception of my ideal self. For me, Hachiman was my ideal self because he “complements myself”. On the other hand, Mikage becomes my ideal self because she makes me “feel complete with my own self.” Accepting my own strengths and lack is something that Hachiman never taught me. Seeing how Mikage wants to move forward gave me a reason to finish my undergraduate thesis. Seeing her develop inspires me to improve myself too. She lets me love myself in the form of moe kyara.
- Barber, N. 2019. “Joker: Pembunuh Keji hingga Korban Perundungan, Siapa yang Pantas Perankan Musuh Batman Ini?” BBC Indonesia. Accesed from: https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/vert-cul-50011128 on March 27, 2020. (Indonesian Language)
- Condry, I. 2011. “Love Revolution: Anime, Masculinity, and the Future,” in Frühstück, S. & Walthall, A. (eds.). Recreating Japanese Men. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. CA. US.
- Galbraith, P. G. 2014. The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Look at the Worlds of Manga, Anime, and Gaming. Tuttle Publishing. North Clarendon. VT. US.
- Mulya, H.A. 2017. Perilaku Introvert pada Tokoh Hikigaya Hachiman dalam Anime Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabu Come wa Machigatteiru Karya Ai Yoshimura. Undergraduate thesis, Brawijaya University. (Indonesian Language)
- Under The Scope. 2018. “Cute Girls Anime is Good (and Feminist).” Accessed from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-9vRCpkL98 on March 27, 2020.
- Yulius, H. 2019. C*bul: Perbincangan Serius tentang Seksualitas Kontemporer. CV. Marjin Kiri. Tangerang. Indonesia. (Indonesian Language)
- Asteroid in Love. Season 1. Episodes 1, 5, 6, 9.
- My Youth Love Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected. Season 1. Episode 1.
The Indonesian Anime Times | Written by Rizki Maulana A. | Translated by Dany Muhammad | This opinion is the personal views of the author and does not represent the views and editorial policy of The Indonesian Times or KAORI Nusantara